A Call to Arms

The Background
Gerald @G4OIG and I have been in conversation on and off for a couple of years via email and SMS. You see, Gerald likes his Uniques and has been planning and executing trips further and further north to feed his habit. His next trip was planned for 22/23/24th February 2024. “Could we manage a joint activation?”. Sure. I booked Friday 23rd off work. After a bit of back and forth chat, we decided to climb Morrone GM/CS-060, which rises from the highland village of Braemar, with tree clad (and nearby) Meall Alvie GM/ES-055 as a back up in case of poor weather.

The Call to Arms
I Whatsapped our group. That got immediate positive responses from Mike @MM7MWL, Chris @MM7RVC and Simon @GM4JXP. No firm plans were set, as we were still a couple of weeks out. Three days before D-Day and more WhatsApps. Simon had (wisely as it turned out) decided to sit it out and do an activation on the Saturday, withe a better forecast and still a chance of a S2S with Gerald. Chris and Mike were up for it and had chosen a couple of hills, so all good. Oh, and after our activations, we’d all meet for tea and medals at the Bothy cafe in Braemar, with Simon coming along for tea and no medal!

Thursday 22nd February 2024 - Disaster
I messaged Gerald. “I can tell you are on your way north. The temperature has dropped 5C and there’s fresh snow on the hills”. Later that day I heard from him. He’d been up a hill in the Central Highlands and had pulled a nasty groin strain on the hill. He was in a lot of pain and wasn’t going to attempt to drive up to Braemar. Damm! Last year he was stopped by snowdrifts and closed roads. Now this! Well, we’d all taken time off work (except Mike, who says he works but is really a gentleman of leisure) so we decided to go ahead anyway. The forecast was for sunny spells but a bit breezy, so -10C windchill on the summits.

Friday 23rd February 2024
This is my story, I’m sure the others will be along to add theirs.

I had a nice early morning drive up Deeside under blue skies, with frost on the ground. As I approached Braemar, the skies darkened, the temperature dropped and a glance up at Morrone showed cloud melting into the summit.

I set off from the duck pond car park at the top of Chapel Brae around 0910. The track is signposted and needs no further description except to say it’s a vehicle track that becomes single path, soon turning into an eroded mountain track, Despite the cool temperatures, I set off with just a base layer and thin hooded top, knowing I’d soon warm up on the climb. My bulky Buffalo mountain shirt was in my bag. Light snow fell. That wasn’t in the plan! I pressed on, hoping it was a passing shower, which thankfully it was.


ascending Morrone and a brief glimpse of sun

An hour later I could see the summit radio tower appear on the horizon. For the next ten minutes it didn’t seem to get any closer. It was pretty cold now, with an icy wind blowing across the summit. There was little snow, the recent thaw and wind scouring having seen to that.

Eventually I tapped the trig and then immediately retreated back 100m, aiming for hopeful shelter beneath a rocky outcrop I’d spotted on the way up.


quick summit selfie from Morrone GM/CS-060

Earlier in the week I’d made a new eight metre length of RG-58 type coax with waterproof BNC connectors at each end, the idea being it would allow me to get further from my antenna and into shelter, as well as reduce losses compared to my RG-174 on 28MHz. This allowed me to set up the 1/4 wave 10m band vertical above the rocky outcrop. I dropped down a couple of metres and gained partial shelter.

First things first though. A spot and a Whatsapp got Mike and Chris in the log from their nearby summits on 2m FM, followed by Hibby @MM0RFN who was at work at Westhill that day, some 50 miles east. Barely workeable with my VX7-r and Diamond whip and his Quansheng and rubber whip, but a satisfying QSO. I then settled down to do 10m SSB. Fresh snowfall blew across the summit and into my not-so-sheltered stance.


Mikes hill in the middle, with sunlight just kissing the summit

Mid-morning 10m can be a bit of a gamble, but I pulled in nine chasers in a rough arc from Romania through Greece to southern Spain and the Canaries. When that dried up, I thought that I’d better try at least another band or two. Lunch wasn’t until 1330 and I needed to kill time, despite the weather.


activating GM/CS-060

The problem here was I was using a monoband antenna and had only brought one mast. The 10m vertical uses its sloping radials as guys and I couldn’t be bothered re-guying the mast. In the end, I collapsed the Spiderbeams pole, keeping the 10m vertical in place. I hooked a carabiner into the top of the mast, threaded the EFHW through it and hoisted it back up. About six metres of the EFHW was roughly vertical, with the remaining 14m sloping gently down to crossed walking poles.

40m was a struggle with weak signals and fading, however, in addition to the usual inter-G contacts, I added a few Spanish for the first time in a while. No too bad for a low sloping wire with another antenna underneath it.

I was getting a bit cold by now, having been up there for almost an hour and a half. A glance at WhatsApp showed I wasn’t the only one. Everyone else was packing up and heading back for an earlier than planned lunch. I quickly packed up and headed back, the return journey taking as long, thanks to clearing weather allowing for photos and also stopping to watch RAF jets executing low flying exercises beneath me.


snowscape, with my rocky “shelter” in the middle


patchwork grouse moors, with Loch Callater in the distance


descending down to Braemar and the River Dee

The Lunch
By some miracle (given that getting all of us in the same room at the same time is akin to herding cats) we were all assembled outside the Bothy within a minute of each other. In Braemar it felt like a mild spring day, with warming sunshine. We spend the next wee while enjoying hot soup, sandwiches and cake and having a good old blether. We had one empty seat at the table for you Gerald. Hope you’re better and look forward to your next trip north!


clockwise - Fraser, Ann (Mikes wife), Mike, Simon, Chris

Addendum
When we parted, I headed to nearby Meall Alvie GM/ES-055, hoping for some late afternoon 10m DX. I did ask the others if they wanted to come, but they were all “busy”! It’s a well documented hill on here, so I’ll spare the detail of the short steep walk, however the tree lined summit offered perfect protection from the wind.


late afternoon walk to Meall Alvie

The 10m vertical and KX2 brought me a decent haul on 10m and 15m, reaching California for the first time (for me) on these bands. I was delighted to have summit to summit contacts with @WA7JTM Pete and @N6AN David.


10m, 15m DX. Also 17m to EU


Meall Alvie sheltered summit, complete with frozen bog

73,
Fraser MM0EFI

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Many thanks for the excellent write up and photographs of your day Fraser. I would have really loved to have been there despite the onerous conditions that you experienced on Morrone and to have occupied that empty chair in Braemar. Meeting like-minded activators is very much part of what I have come to treasure in doing SOTA.

As for me, well I’m fine. Bizarrely I have no ill after-effects whatsoever after what I experienced. It is as if nothing happened. I can only think it was a hernia that came and went all within the space of a couple of hours. I won’t know more until I am able to discuss it with someone at my GP surgery when I get back to Northampton. Even then I am not sure I will have an answer as I’m unlikely to get to see a medical professional.

I will drop a report onto the reflector when I’m back south next week. For a change I took photographs of my activation on Meall Tairneachan GM/CS-080 on an actual camera rather than my phone and unfortunately I don’t have the facilities to transfer them from the camera here in Northumberland.

73, Gerald

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Never one to miss an opportunity when Fraser @MM0EFI issues a Call to Arms, and when there is any chance of meeting up with my fellow north-east Scotland SOTA-ists - and those from farther afield - I set off from home with my constant hill companions, XYL Ann and SOTAdog Sula, in splendidly sunny February weather very early. A day early, in fact, because although we live just 90 minutes from Braemar, we spent a relaxing night at the excellent campsite there in eager anticipation of the coming activation next day.
Gerald @G4OIG has a unique place on my radio CV as, last year, during my very first CW activation, he was first in my log so I was particularly keen to meet him and had offered to buy the coffees for everyone after our respective activations.
Activation day dawned cold and clear as we headed just a couple of miles west from Braemar to Creag Bhalg (pron. Kraig Vallag), GM/ES-046, a 668-metre two pointer.
There is just about room for about three cars at the end of the Victoria Bridge which crosses the River Dee into the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate. The estate pleasingly welcomes walkers.


Victoria Bridge
The bridge was built in 1905, replacing an earlier wooden bridge of 1848. The arch at the bridge’s south end reads ‘1848 Queen Victoria 1848’ on the south side and ‘1905 Edward VII 1905’ on the north side, neatly commemorating the construction of both bridges and the reigning monarch at the time.
Across the bridge, through the estate and then up the narrowing but distinct paths, initially through pinewoods but latterly through thick heather, to the exposed summit cairns.
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Heather-clad climb to the summit
This summit might be relatively small but it offers fabulous views all round to its majestic Cairngorm neighbours. Not today though. The pleasant early-morning weather was giving way to thickening cloud which was laden with snow and by the time we reached the summit (just 70 minutes after setting out) winter had returned. The “gentle breeze” was now blowing hard in bone-chilling gusts, making erecting the mast on icy ground more of a task than normal.

Initial calls on 2m
As Fraser said, two quick QSOs on 2m with my FT4xe and Diamond whip with him on Morrone GM/CS-060 (two miles away and approx 200m higher than my summit) and Chris @MM7RVC on nearby Gellaig, GM/ES-036, got my log started and with my 41’ end-fed on my SOTAbeams Carbon6 pole feeding into my KX2, I opted to start my SSB HF fun on 20m. Signals were not good with plenty of QSB but I had 15 in the log in about 20 minutes across Europe and Scandinavia, including a best of the Canary Islands. It was going well when Ann tapped me on the shoulder. Looking up from the radio and log and following her gaze, it showed we were about to be enveloped in significant and unwelcome snow.

“Behind you…!”
So it proved, and as conditions worsened, and with the welcome prospect of coffee and cakes with the others in Braemar beckoning, I cut short the activation and we headed down fairly quickly. Ironically, of course, by the time we were back at the van, the sun was shining and a pleasant February day had returned. Such is the nature of the Scottish mountains at any time of year.


Snow showers hitting Morrone - and Fraser - a couple of miles to the south-east
Returning to Braemar to meet up with the others, I was grateful that Fraser had apparently suffered a memory lapse. When he first proposed this outing, I had rashly offered to buy lunch for everyone. Nobody mentioned that, so I certainly wasn’t going to remind them now that my wallet was apparently frozen shut …! :rofl:
Thanks everyone. Another great day - but Gerald, you were missed.
73 Mike :grinning:

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Great report as usual Fraser. I didn’t do much to earn my lunch - just a 30m drive from home in Aboyne. However, before leaving I did manage a QSO with Chris MM7RVC on 2m FM and one on 10m with Fraser. I missed the earlier 2m slot as everyone was early and in fact I had my beam pointing East, as I was trying to talk to Hibby, MM0RFN. I was a bit surprised to be called by Chris, from completely the opposite direction. Hibby couldn’t hear either of us. Anyway, excellent to meet up and it was a shame that Gerald couldn’t make it. Going forward, I plan to go up Coyles of Muick GM/ES-050 tomorrow (Feb 25th). Then from March 1st-6th I will be in Lanzarote and will do a few hills as EA8/G4JXP/P.

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I have been shamed into adding my part of the tale by the other excellent reports. I originally planned for Mona Gowan (GM/ES-034) until Fraser let slip that I had the hardest climb out of the four musketeers. Therefore, I rapidly changed my plans to Geallaig Hill (GM/ES-036) using the valid excuse that it was closer to the lunch RV.

Geallaig Hill is an easy-ish climb up a Land Rover track used by the gamekeepers on the Invercauld estate to maintain the hill for grouse shooting, hence the grouse butts on the way up.

Within sight of the trig point and summit, Fraser and I had a brief dalliance on 2m whilst I recovered my breath just as an RAF Typhoon came around the glen. Ah, the sound of freedom. As a complete contrast, just above me was a mountain hare in winter coat and a Ptarmigan which quickly flew off.

On arrival at the summit, I learnt lesson number one for the day and that is if you are going to touch the trig point (ritual), which is surrounded by a shelter cairn, take your pack off first as when you slip on the obviously icy stones and boulders, it will break your walking pole…doh.

I made a quick couple of QSOs on 2m with Mike and Fraser for some summit-to-summit action and erected the mast for Fraser’s excellent inverted V dipole. At this stage, the wind was not as forecast, and I managed to shelter on the leeward side of the cairn - I wasn’t going back in.

40m gave plenty of contacts across England, Wales and Scotland and one Polish QSO. Changing to 20m opened up Europe from the Canaries to Sweden. The call of hot soup became too great and after about an hour, it was time to get packed up and down the hill after the arrival of some snow grains that were being delivered at speed by the increasing wind strength.

Coming back down into the sunshine it was like a Spring day with the Cairngorms broadcasting all their usual beauty. I feel so lucky to have this wild place just a one-hour drive from the house.

The only disappointment of the day was a broken walking pole until I realised that Mike wasn’t going to buy lunch.

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You spent 90 minutes on a freezing cold summit with a QRP radio and a dipole on what was only your third SOTA HF activation. You worked 20m DX into N.Africa, having worked 20m USA DX last time. I asked you in the cafe if it was a defining moment - ie horrendous or loved it

You replied, “I’m hooked”. :grin:

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I can’t explain why, but it’s just clean, decent fun. Thank you for getting me hooked!

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Good to hear you’re well Gerald.

I contemplated taking my camera, knowing that there would be views to the main Cairngorm range. Glad I didn’t bother, as it was the one area that still remained in cloud.

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Looking at your pictures Mike and comparing them to mine from December 2022, there seems to be a half a metre of snow missing! I noticed the same on Morrone. Last time we were up there we could only see the tip of the stone cairn and there was no sign of the trig. On Friday it was fully uncovered. Quite a lean winter really, this year.

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Yes, and lean ones are becoming more prevalent. In the 1970s, February mid-term used to be the busiest spell for the Scottish ski industry at Glenshee and Cairngorm especially. When I worked in Aviemore in the 1980s, the ‘good’ years of skiable snow were declining and today what used to be thought of then as a ‘poor’ year would now be considered to be a ‘good’ one! Things are definitely changing…but it’s still usually freezing while activating a Cairngorm summit in search of a winter bonus! :cold_face:

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Sounds like an excellent adventure with a meet up afterwards.
One of my friends has taken to calling it “Trig and treat” when I send a picture of the trig point and the subsequent hot chocolate and cake.
Unfortunately I was stuck inside at work and not able to chase on Friday.
Andy
MM7MOX

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Sounds like the way forward!

Another great report @MM0EFI Fraser - I really enjoyed the read! Can you please send some snow down our way :grinning:

73, Ben
GW4BML

Cheers Ben. It was a nice day out. When Gerald @G4OIG dropped out, I did think of bringing you up as a sub. :rofl:

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Hahaa, I would of felt privileged :rofl:

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And you could have made it Ben… I gave Fraser 19 hours notice. :grinning:

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