Plynlimon MW-001, Disgwylfa Fawr MW-038 and Pen y Garn MW-004
Friday 7th March 2008
A week of total uncertainty preceded this day of activation. I had planned to carry out activations on two consecutive days, 7th and 8th March, and I had a number of itineraries drawn up in outline. However, the fact that the electricity would be cut off at the office on Monday 10th March changed my ideas and I opted to change my dates to the 8th and 10th March. At least doing it this way there was a good chance that I would have dry boots for both days and a decent night’s sleep between activations. Then another factor played its hand - the weather, with torrential rain forecast for the Saturday and violent storms coming in off the Atlantic for the Monday. So it was back to square one with regular visits to the Met Office, BBC weather and MWIS websites to check on the progress of the low sitting to the north of the UK in the hope that the weather would change in my favour. Unfortunately the usual fickle nature of the forecast seemed to have got lost on this occasion - the forecasts remained much the same. By Thursday 6th March I was in total panic mode - would I get out at all?
All week I had been planning that one of my days of activation would be spent in the Lake District, with LD-007, 011 and 022 as the primary targets for a decent 31 points to boost my saunter towards MG status. Unfortunately MWIS was indicating the likelihood of snow, hail or heavy rain in various measures on my chosen days which was not exactly encouraging. On Thursday afternoon I decided to look at the situation from another angle and see where the weather would be best. Mid Wales appeared to offer the least opportunity to get a soaking, so it was then a matter of mentally setting the Lake District to one side and refocusing on which summits I would be best activating and cobbling together an itinerary. I had already paired MW-004 and MW-038 together as a possible activation and by pulling and pushing the timings, shortening my activation periods and ignoring lunch I managed to shoehorn in Plynlimon MW-001 with the likelihood of a descent from the final summit at dusk. For this I selected MW-004 as the route through the forest was known to be of a good standard. The downside would be leaving the long walk in / out until the third summit.
Keeping to the “standard” 04:00 planned departure, I fell off the sofa at 03:30. Bev had been ill earlier in the week and needed some undisturbed sleep, so this “escape” was indeed a stealth operation. The need to be extra quiet translated itself into me being 8 minutes late leaving home, but I knew that I had some bunce in the travel times as I usually better the satnav figures. I drove through the predicted wet weather front as I approached the M6 / M54 junction and after Telford it was substantially clear. It was still fine, but a little blustery when I arrived at the parking at the farmhouse at Eisteddfa Gurig at 06:55 - nice to park on tarmac for a change, but the car park charge is now £3.00. The temperature was a fairly amenable 5 degrees and I was up and ready for the off by 07:15, all kitted out for everything the weather could throw at me - gaiters, waterproofs, two pairs of gloves, the lot. The curtains were still drawn at the house, so I decided to take the risk of getting the car clamped and set off without paying my dues.
The first task on my route up Plynlimon MW-001 was how to get through the farmyard. I took one look at the firmly locked gates, considered the loudly barking dogs and decided to cut out this hazard completely by walking west along the A44 a short way to where I could access the OA land directly. One section of the fence was fortunately just below crotch height so there was no climbing to be done until I was over the barbed wire, then it was a case of ascending the fairly steep hillside and over to where the tracks are situated. I descended to the lower track, which after a short distance turned sharp right and went up the valley on the east side of the hill. It was only while I was on this section of the walk that I realised that I had left my camera at home, so it was down to making best use of the one built into my mobile phone.
I made good progress to the point where the footpath leaves the track just before the abandoned mine and then set off left up the footpath. Initially I found this to be rather slippery, due more to the fact that this was the first outing for my new Kayland Contact 1000 boots rather than the ground underfoot. At the 600m line there was snow lying, not to any thickness, but sufficient to cover my toes. The mists closed in quickly at 700m and visibility went down to 20 metres, but the path is fairly well defined, so I did not have any real problem finding the ladder stile over the fence. This was very icy and I had to take great care climbing it. Shades of my visit to The Cheviot last Easter. After a quick visit to the trig over the awkward rocks at the summit, I retired to the spacious summit shelter to get out of the wind which was now quite strong, running at around 40 mph.
The time was 08:30 and I was somewhat early, my first alert being for 09:00. I set up the 5 element SOTAbeam on the pole which I bungied to the inside of the stone shelter. Unfortunately the wind was too strong to have the beam any higher than 2m. With this less than optimum station I was hoping that I might have an audience to avoid extensive CQ calls and fortunately there was Frank G3RMD ready waiting on my working frequency of 144.333MHz. Frank kindly spotted me and after a brief chat during which I was showered with hail, Alistair GW0VMZ headed a short run which concluded with a contact with Quentin GW3BV. Frank then called me back and said that Mike GW0DSP was looking for me, but despite calling for quite a while in his direction nothing was heard. At 09:15 I decided to move to 70cms and so set up the 6 element DL6WU on the mast in place of the SOTAbeam. Switching on the 70cms linear I noted the SLAB suddenly fold, so it was down to basics and running the 817 barefoot I made contact with Frank, followed by a very relieved Don G0RQL who had been out and had missed me on 2m. I put a few calls out after working Don, but there were no further takers, so I went QRT at 09:25 and packed up.
Despite having new boots, my feet were now quite cold, so I was pleased to get the circulation going again when I set off at 09:38. Visibility was improving and following a line of marker posts I ended up taking a slightly different line on my descent and arrived at the track below where I had left it on the ascent. As I was descending, I realised that my last calls on 70cms had not been to the north east where Graham G3OHC would have been waiting for me, so I made a mental note to offer a profound apology if I worked him on 2m on my next summit. Once on the track I made good progress and retracing my steps across the OA land to the A44, I was back at the farmhouse by 10:25 where now there were signs of life. I went to pay my dues and advised that I had done my climbing before paying on account of the time of ascent, the lady seemingly appreciative of not being brought to the door at 07:15. At the car a quick change of SLAB, a Blueberry Muffin and a drink of water preceded my departure at 10:32.
The route to Disgwylfa Fawr MW-038 was just 5 miles along the A44 and a further 2 miles up a single track road with passing places. The car seemed unusually skitty and I thought this might be the road surface, but the reason was to be revealed in due course. I parked opposite a footpath sign on the edge of the track entrance to a small farm located about half a kilometre down the track. The access to the OA land was down the track, passing to the right of the farm, then up a small rise and immediately past the small wind turbine serving the farm. The path, well slightly crushed grass, then continued across a section of soft ground to a gate and then left to a stream. The local sheep showed me where to cross the stream, where I was able to test the waterproofing of my boots. It was then a case of walking up the spine of the hill which was quite steep, necessitating a few stops en route. This seemed to take an age, but arriving at the summit at 11:32, I found that the ascent had taken me just 38 minutes, bettering my estimate of 45 minutes. I was now almost 45 minutes ahead of schedule, but time would soon be taken up battling with the wind, there being no shelter of any description on this summit and nothing but a very small pile of stones to mark the highest point. As Disgwylfa Fawr sits behind larger summits, I decided to shun the opportunity for shelter downwind of the summit and set up next to the pile of stones in the full force of the wind, which seemed to be even stronger than earlier. The upside was that it was now more or less wall to wall sunshine, the warmth of which I could feel despite the wind.
It took me 18 minutes to assemble everything in the strong wind. I guyed the pole with three guys upwind and a single one downwind and settled down in the shallow dip at the summit using my rucksack to form a fairly ineffective windbreak. Trying 144.333MHz first at 11:50, I realised I was pushing it as I was now 40 minutes early and I knew Frank G3RMD, the most likely candidate to be listening on that frequency, was not at home. A call on 144.300MHz however brought back Graham G3OHC, followed by a QSY to my working frequency and there the required apology was duly offered. After working Graham there was a pause before Mike GW0DSP called in to make contact and with an apology for me - he had been trying to work me on vertical polarisation when I was on Plynlimon. Such is life! Steve GW7AAV made it into the log next followed by more regular chasers, including a most welcome contact with Mick 2E0HJD. The run finished with an excellent contact with Andre ON4CAP in JO11, so it would appear Disgwlyfa Fawr is not that screened after all. I moved to 70cms at 12:27 and again Graham was waiting on 432.222MHz followed by the ever-present and enthusiastic Don G0RQL. As I said, no Frank this time around, so I went QRT at 12:36 and started to dismantle the station. In the strong wind the task became arduous and I had to make a number of trips down the hill to collect a number of items that “escaped”. Eventually I had it all packed away and was ready for the off at 13:03. Despite all this, I would say that this summit would make a rather pleasant summit on which to play radio on a warm summer’s day. There are good views of Plynlimon, Drosgol, Banc-Llechwedd Mawr and a number of other summits.
I arrived back at the car at 13:25 where I decided to award myself a lunch break. The ham salad sandwiches tasted superb - it is amazing how simple fare can please when I am out in the field. I topped up my energy reserves with a bottle of Tropical fruit favoured Lucozade and then set off at 13:45 for the parking spot for Pen y Garn MW-004, the journey taking 17 minutes. On arrival at the car park near the arch on the B4574 (the road now by-passes the arch), I checked my bearings, packed a fresh SLAB retaining that used on the previous summit in the rucksack and then pocketed my LED headlamp and a spare battery. Descent was planned for dusk and with my tendency to overstay on the last summit of the day, I was not going to be caught out on this occasion!
Access to the summit was along a forest road running north-east from the car park and I set off along this at 14:12. While only authorised vehicles are permitted access, the route is a PROW and the hardcore surface made good walking. My boots were doing fine, with only my ankles mildly affected by the newness. It had been my intention to change into my old boots before making this ascent in order to give my feet a rest, but I did not find this to be necessary, presumably due to the nature of modern footwear materials. Part way along the four and a half kilometre road section of the ascent I referred to some notes relating to access that were produced by John GW4BVE. I decided to take his route and to go beyond where the forest ends on the right side of the road in order to take advantage of the easier access route up the hillside to the summit. The climb up the hill was still rather steep and despite being a reasonably tall person I had some difficulty with the two stiles over the fences that run across the hill. This was largely because the ground beneath them had been worn away and it was difficult to get a grip on the boards with my new boots and with 15kg on my back. Beyond these hurdles the gradient eased and the trig and adjacent stone shelter soon came into view. The obligatory touch of the trig point was carried out before I sought shelter from the wind once again. It was now 15:25 and while the sun continued to shine it was quite pleasant. However, cloud periodically weakened its strength, marking the change in the weather that had been forecast for later in the day.
Once again I bungied the pole inside the stone shelter and mounted the SOTAbeam at around 2 metres which was about all it would safely take in the wind. Once again it was Graham G3OHC who was first in the log, closely followed by Frank G3RMD. It soon became obvious that a few more chasers were in their shacks at this time of the day and there was a steady stream of contacts, but by 16:13 I was beginning to wonder where the Birmingham Mafia were. I need not have worried, as a couple of minutes later Don G0NES called in. He gave Graham G4JZF a ring on the landline, but found that it was on answerphone. Just as Don was telling me this news, up came Graham, so the log at last took on an air of normality. Mick 2E0HJD then called in for a second time, having made contact earlier. He asked me to look for Steve GW7AAV and while I could hear him at 52, unfortunately we were not able to complete. Conditions seemed to have deteriorated from earlier in the day. After this attempt, John GW4BVE, Grant G4ILI and Matt M3WDS called in to make the run on 2m up to a respectable total of 14.
Arrangements were made with Grant for an attempt to be made on 70cms using vertical polarisation. To save myself the bother of having to change over the clamp on the antenna, I held the 6 element above my head and put a call out running just the 5 watts from the 817. Grant heard me straight away and we exchanged 51 reports. On signing Frank called in on his vertical and then Quentin GW3BV called me for a third contact with the antenna handheld. The change to horizontal polarisation gave me a chance to catch up with the log. Having then drained the SLAB, I changed over to see what power I could extract from the SLAB that I had taken up the second summit. Fortunately this had recovered sufficiently and contact was made with Don G0RQL, Frank G3RMD (at only marginally better strength) and Matt M3WDS in succession. I then turned the beam north east for Graham G3OHC, but nothing was heard from him, so apologies again are due, particularly as Graham apparently had spotted me.
All this activity brought me close to my scheduled time. I closed at 17:00 after a few final CQs on 70cms which required more SLAB / internal battery pack juggling - basically I flattened the lot! I was ready to depart by 17:15 and the descent took me one hour and five minutes, including the time taken en route to collect some frog spawn for Bev to use while teaching - no doubt we will have Welsh frogs to add to the Cumbrian ones collected last Easter on the descent from Sighty Crag SB-005. All good fun!
At the car I was pleased to find that I had dry socks, with the eVent liner in my boots having worked very well indeed. After a snack and a drink, I set off for home at 18:40, the car continuing to feel a little strange for the first few miles back to the A44. I arrived home without a hitch at 21:46. Unbeknown to me, I had driven with a slow puncture for much of the day, this fact only revealing itself on Saturday morning when I had a completely flat tyre to deal with.
My thanks go to all those that came on to make contact and also to anyone that tried without success. Thanks especially to those that placed spots on the website - spots certainly help on a weekday when there are naturally fewer chasers. In hindsight, running ahead of schedule it would have been possible to work HF from the final summit, but as this was not part of the plan I left the dipole in the car. I do aim to get back to doing some 5MHz SSB and 7MHz CW once the pressure on summit time is reduced as the days lengthen.
73, Gerald G4OIG
GW/MW-001 9 QSOs 144MHz + 2 QSOs 432MHz
GW/MW-038 10 QSOs 144MHz + 2 QSOs 432MHz
GW/MW-004 14 QSOs 144MHz + 5 QSOs 432MHz