When I tentatively started SOTA with my very first activation on Ben More (GM/SS-001) on the 9th June 2007 with my Yaesu 817 (with its rubber duck antenna) I had no idea where it was going to take me or how far. The first year my activations were a little haphazard (some would argue they still are) which meant that I missed out on one or two rare and unusual summits, one of which was Conachair (GM/SI-098), on St Kilda, which I visited later that month. Since then I’ve become evermore active in SOTA both activating and chasing.
Two and a half years on and with a SOTA target in the shape of half mountain-goat (500 activator points) on the horizon I wanted to have a day to remember, which meant actually planning something. I had been building up to this milestone over the last few weeks by catching up on various 1 point hills (most of the 2, 4 and 6 pointers being left for winter bonus period) and had only 9 points left to reach half goatdom.
For ages I’d been looking at the two 3000 footers of Elidir Fawr (GW/NW-005) and Y Garn (GW/NW-004) in Snowdonia (each one 8 points) both to be originally done as separate outings. My experience and fitness (carrying SLABs helps) has increased over the last couple of years as my excursions have become ever more adventurous to the point where I felt it would be possible for me to do both on the same day. My first thoughts were to do both mountains from the Nant Peris side which appeared, looking at various maps, had the option of getting down on more than one route. Plans were beginning to gel.
I’ve recently been walking with John (GW4BVE) and mentioned that I’d had Elidir Fawr and Y Garn in mind. John said he was up for a big walk and so the weather forecasts were watched for a settled period (as it happened we didn’t have too long to wait). John had also contacted Frank (G3RMD) who had also shown an interest in a big summit, so it looked like Team CFJ was going to be reunited.
The weather forecast was for a high pressure system to settle over the UK for a few days so at fairly short notice the day was chosen. The three of us met up at John’s home on Monday night in preparation for a very early start the next morning. After a short discussion we decided to start the walk from Richard’s (G3CWI) suggested parking spot by the gates to the service road to the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir; this would reduce the initial climb.
The sun had begun to rise when we had reached the start point and I was surprised to see another car parked there which I quickly discovered belonged to Robert (G0PEB); John had invited him along to join us on my day out.
The day started with a long walk up the service road to the plant entrance adjacent to the top reservoir stopping along the way to find a geocache just below the dam. From here an obvious track leads SW along the flanks of Elidir Fawr. Initially the path gently climbs the grassy slope but it soon becomes faint as height is gained on the slopes between Elidir Mawr and Elidir Fawr. Above us the craggy edge of Elidir Fawr became obscured by low cloud drifting down the valley side and we knew at some point we would have to climb the very steep scree to get to the summit. We worked our way up the loose shale in ever reducing visibility eventually finding a zig zag path leading to the SW part of the summit. As we crested the edge we were greeted by bright hazy sunshine and stunning views of the other nearby peaks poking above the clouds which obscured the valley below. It was still relatively early in the day and a cold breeze meant an extra layer of clothes were needed after the climb to keep out the chill.
As John and I wanted to do HF we stayed just off the boulder strewn summit to set up my big dipoles for 80, 60 and 40 metres while Frank and Robert disappeared into the mist which drifted over to operate VHF from the summit cairn. As there was so little room for more than one HF antenna without mutual interference we decided that it would be better to operate in tandem with me starting off on 5MHz. First contact was with Paul (G4MD/P) on Brown Willy (G/DC-002) for a S2S. Afterwards I had a nice run of 13 contacts before handing over to John to do 80 metres. When John had finished I tried 40 metres and added another 7 chasers to my total ending a very pleasant relaxed activation with my first objective accomplished, 499 activator points. Even though 60 seemed in good condition there appeared to be very deep fading on 40 meaning signals were either very good or none existent in quick succession depending on where in Europe the signals were coming from. After a few photographs and more comments about now wonderful the scenery was and how lucky we’d been with the weather we clambered over the rocky summit to where Frank and Robert were. By now the wispy clouds which occasionally drifted past had cleared giving a view of the route to the second summit of Y Garn via Bwich-y-Brecan. Before leaving the top I had one last task to perform, to look for the geocache. It was soon in my hands. Log book signed and travel bug liberated it was time to leave.
Heading East off the summit the path drops steeply down over the rough terrain of Bwich Marchlyn which leads to Bwich-y-Brecan a high level track past Foel-goch. After a gentle amble watching the mountain rescue helicopters training below us in the valley of Cwm Dudodyn we eventually reached the bottom of the path which climbed steeply towards the top of Y Garn. At a distance it looks like a very long gentle incline but the closer you get the worse it looks as it stretches above you. As I climbed the steep winding track the hotter I became and needed quite a few stops on the way up, by the summit I was in a T-shirt! The summit was bathed in beautiful warm sunshine with next to no breeze making it feel very pleasant, not what you would expect on a mountain in autumn. As the day had progressed the visibility had improved, the air had become clearer and the sky seemed full of helicopters; we were even treated to a flypast by an Apache at one point.
The summit of Y Garn had plenty of space for antennas but John and I decided to use the same equipment as on the previous summit namely my antenna (mainly because it is self supporting) and John’s 817 and amplifier. Frank and Robert again took to the high ground.
60 metres still appeared to be working well and first in the log was Brian (G8ADD) followed by Don (G0RQL) and Walt (G3NYY) in Tewkesbury and my qualifying contact was with John (G0TDM) just piping Rodger (G0TRB). On my fourth contact John open a small bottle of wine to celebrate my half goatdom and the completion of my last Welsh 8 pointer and another 3000-footer off the list. Once it went quiet John then took over to try 80 metres but struggled to make contacts as the band didn’t seem to be working very well. The reports he did get were very good but conditions seemed to be very sporadic. John had to hop onto to 60 to qualify the summit. While he operated I went in search of the geocache which proved to be a little harder to find than the previous one but with a little perseverance it was found. I then clambered back to the operating position to catch another S2S with GM4ZRP/P on Largo Law (GM/SS-259). I finished my milestone activation on Y Garn with 4 contacts on 40 metres with Terje (LA8BCA), Karim (F4CTJ), Fred (DL8DXL) and Jesenko (S51ZG).
As we packed away the temperature began to drop and the visibility started to reduce, it was time to make our way off the mountain. The route back retraced our steps back down Y Garn and along Bwich-y-Brecan to where the path branches off up the steep grassy side of Mynydd Perfedd. This last short climb really took it out on me and I had to have very frequent stops (I really do have to sort out my battery situation I sometimes carry far too much weight!) but eventually made it to the top but now I felt more like a half-dead goat. From Mynydd Perfedd there is a wide ridge with the occasional small boulder field to cross which feeds you towards Carnedd-y-Filiast over looking Marchlyn Mawr reservoir. From this summit the path leads NW steeply down across another boulder field (which I crossed very carefully) to a small pool where you then turn SW back to the reservoir service road. It was then a long plod back to the parking spot with very weary feet.
We finished the day with a meal at a pub in Nant Peris. Y Garn was my last of the Welsh SOTA big ones and I couldn’t have wished for better company, better weather or better views. Thank you to all the chasers who make all my trips on the hills brilliant (sorry if you weren’t mentioned) and especially to John, Frank and Robert for an absolutely fantastic day.
Equipment used: 80, 60, 40 metre hybrid fan dipole, Yaesu FT-817 and a Tokyo HL-50B amplifier (@ 25W) both run from a Li-Po battery pack.
Contacts: 20 on Elidir Fawr (GW/NW-005) and 19 on Y Garn (GW/NW004)
Route distance: 14.3km (8.8 miles)
Total assent: 987m
Carolyn (G6WRW) now planning the next 500 points.