Mickle Fell G/NP-002 30th December 2010
Paul and I started planning for this activation back in January 2010. Our initial hope was to activate the summit on 1st May for the International SOTA Day when we would be able to spend as much time on the summit as the available daylight permitted. On application to the MoD, we were advised that we could not have access on that date, as the landowner did not wish to risk disturbance to the Black Grouse on the moors during their breeding season. We therefore opted to use it as our “betwixt Christmas and New Year” activation and settled on a date of Thursday 30th December 2010. Communications with the military were most excellent and a late application by David M0YDH to join us on the activation went through reasonably smoothly.
Having guests at my home on Wednesday 29th December did nothing to help me prepare for the activation and I did not actually get to bed until midnight. Even so, I awoke before the alarm at 02:20 and slipped downstairs to allow myself 10 minutes propped up on the end of the sofa in order to acclimatise to being awake before getting ready. It was not until I was ready to take the kit out to the car that I realised that I had not made up the power packs. This task caused me a delay of several minutes and it was 03:10 by the time that I drove off my driveway. Thankfully the roads were more or less deserted and I reached Paul’s house in Stourbridge at 04:20 as planned.
We left Paul’s house at 04:40 and arrived at David’s on the north side of Wolverhampton at 05:07. Four minutes later we were back on our way and heading north for the parking spot on the B6276 at NY831199 where we arrived at 07:45. The roads were clear all the way, but the parking area was still iced up and we had to take care as we got ourselves ready for the ascent. There was no mobile phone coverage at the parking spot (Orange and O2), so before setting off I drove back up the road to higher ground to phone the MoD guardhouse to log in as required as part of the permission. Once back at the parking spot I decided to park in a different position by the road to avoid the ice, which was unlikely be no better on our return since the temperature was just 4C.
It was 08:20 when we set off up the hill by the fence. The initial section was quite steep and David surged ahead of Paul and myself – well we do have a few years on him! At the top of the rise we checked our mobile phones and discovered that it would have been possible to phone the guardhouse from there before we accessed the MoD land proper – future activators please note. The initial ascent was followed by a descent and thereafter by undulating ground slowly rising to the base of Mickle Fell itself – around 8km distant. The first obstacle was a large stream – fortunately this had a rudimentary bridge across it. However, our hopes of a similar provision at the other streams that had to be crossed was not to be realised.
Conditions underfoot were quite reasonable. The snow was variable and soft, the frosted ground beneath provided good support, though it was a little slippery in places. We had to make regular detours to avoid areas that were beginning to melt and two of the larger streams were quite difficult to cross, requiring detours downstream to find suitable crossing points. David had a tracker running on our route - the effect of crossing the streams can clearly be seen on the track at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Summits/files/GPS%20Tracks/ . Hopes of being on the summit early were slowly eroded by these diversions.
The final ascent was quite steep. We had the choice of soft unstable snow or greasy grass. The grass proved to be the better option and we slowly and carefully ascended to reach a stile that gave access to the summit area. It was then a case of searching for the highest point in the mist. We took this to be a pile of stones that had obviously been erected for the purpose. It was now 11:30 – we were just 15 minutes early.
There were large snowdrifts at the summit and I chose to operate at the edge of one of these close to the highest point so that support for my pole would be easy. Paul and David decided to backtrack to near to the stile to utilise the fence for their HF activations. Before moving off David used his handheld and rucksack antenna to qualify the summit from the highest point, working G0AIH, G6MZX, 2E0HYE and G0KNN on 2m FM. By the time he had done this I was ready to go and was already making my first contact huddled down partly beneath my tarpaulin trying to keep out of the light drizzle that was being blown across the summit. Fortunately, the snow drift was deep enough to support my pole against the breeze.
It was 11:50 when I opened up on 144.333MHz to find Roger G4OWG ready and waiting. Signals were reasonable, but not spectacular. Although this summit is almost 800m above sea level, it soon became apparent that there were obstructions on many paths. After signing with Roger, a steady run ensued with two or three calling at the end of each QSO. At 12:01 I was called by Robert GW0PEB/P on Allt Fawr GW/NW-025, his signals being exceptionally strong. We moved to 70cms where there did not appear to be much difference in signal strength. Robert had completed his activation and had kindly waited for me to appear in order to make the S2S contacts. Returning to 2m, I got back into the run which included a further S2S with Ron GW4EVX/P on Moel y Gamelin GW/NW-042. With 20 contacts in the log, the frequency went quiet, so at 12:40 I moved to 432.222MHz and put out several calls on both SSB and CW over a period of 10 minutes without any reply. I then decided to try FM, so I quickly lowered the pole to flip the antenna vertical and then put several calls out on 433.500MHz – still no response. I knew there would be the possibility of some S2S contacts on 2m FM, so I moved down a band. Within a couple of minutes I was in contact with Ric GW0VMW/P on Moel Famau GW/NW-044, shortly followed by Simon M3IWN/P on St Sunday Crag G/LD-010 who was blisteringly strong. A look around the FM channels revealed no more potential S2S contacts, so I lowered the pole and erected the 30m dipole. Time was now pressing, so I decided not to self-spot and see what would happen. My first call on 10.119MHz at 13:18 brought back Gerd DL3GER, followed by Karl SM3AHM. Zsolt HG4UK/P on Bajtemetés HA/KM-031 then called in for a very welcome S2S, followed by a contact with Arpi HA3OD. The frequency then went quiet, so I then checked with Paul on our pre-arranged link frequency of 433.550MHz. He said they were packing up, so it was time for me to go QRT as well.
Paul opened up on 60m at 11:54 and was called by Pete EI7CC. The band was in a reasonable state and contacts came steadily in from around the UK. At 12:07 Paul worked Carolyn GW6WRW/P on Coity Mountain GW/SW-012 for an S2S. When asked, Carolyn advised that the view from her summit was just like that from ours – basically indescribable! Most of the contacts made were with regular chasers, but a few new calls were logged such as Peter GM4WCE and Phil G4UDU. Paul completed his 60m session at contact number 22, appropriately with the Mickle Fell Guru, John G4YSS. After a few CQ calls on 60m, Paul moved to 80m at around 12:54 and first in the log was Tony G8BVJ. Conditions on the band were reasonable and a total of 10 contacts were made in just 16 minutes, including the sole contact with mainland Europe – Andre ON4CAP. Paul’s final contact was with Jon M6HBS, logged at 13:10.
David decided to start his main activation at 12:11 on 4m FM and was immediately rewarded with an S2S contact with Alex GD7RNX/P on Slieau Freoaghane GD/GD-002. Contacts with Dave G6CRV, Barry G1JYB and Mike G4BLH followed to qualify the summit on the band. There was a pause in proceedings as David set up for HF. Once he came up on 40m SSB, he again managed a qualifying run of 4 starting with Jon M6HBS, with Berthold DF5WA taking the qualifying spot, but the operation was then prematurely terminated by an ON station that started up on David’s frequency. Unfortunately there wasn’t a clear frequency nearby, so undaunted he moved to 20m. There he worked Gino IK3DRO, Bostjan S57GB and Fran EA8CER, but a fourth contact evaded him and David went QRT around 13:30 with a total of 15 QSOs in the log and the summit qualified on 3 bands.
I was the last to finish my activation and it was 13:56 by the time that I set off from the summit to join Paul and David at the stile. The return trek was very much the same as the ascent, just that the steep sections were now slippery descents. The snow underfoot now very wet indeed and both David and myself managed to find sinkholes in a couple of deeper drifts. Unfortunately my gaiter failed to prevent the inrush of stale brown water that had been sitting on the hag beneath the snow. The streams had swollen somewhat during the day and on crossing the widest one my other boot got a slight dowsing. Having experienced this many times over the past few years, it was easy to ignore that I had damp feet and I managed to concentrate on the task in hand – what every activator just loves – an ascent on the way back to the car. At the top of the rise I phoned the guardroom to advise we were off the MoD land and then it was a careful descent down to the car which was now standing in a large puddle!
It took us 2 hours and 30 minutes to get from the summit to the car, which we reached just 11 minutes later than planned. After changing our footwear and stashing the kit, Paul treated us to a cup of soup having had the foresight to pack 3 cups and a large flask of water. We ate our sandwiches and these were followed by Sainsburys “Taste the Difference” Brandy Rich Mince Pies and a cup of coffee, again part of Paul’s planning. All this meant that we did not make our departure until 17:18, more than half an hour later than intended. We reached David’s house at 19:55 where we incurred further delay courtesy of a glass of ale that he supplied in lieu of a visit to a pub. Further hospitality at Paul’s house meant that I didn’t depart from Stourbridge until 22:00, the time I had intended to be home by, but that was a minor consideration. After all, this was the day that Paul and myself achieved completion of the North Pennines region.
The response from the regular chasers was absolutely brilliant once again - thanks to everyone who made contact with us, particularly to those that spotted us. Special thanks go to Robert G0PEB for his patience in waiting for me to appear and to Alex G7RNX for activating the Isle of Man summit especially to work David on 4m. Hopefully we will be out again on them thar hills in a few weeks time.
73, Gerald G4OIG
Photographs taken en route and at the summit can be seen at –