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Activation Report: 4 SC Summits


Saturday 24th November 2007

During a discussion with Paul G4MD, it came to light that he had just 4 summits to activate to complete the South Central group. These were the Dorset (SC-009 and SC-011) and Wiltshire (SC-007 and SC-008) pairs. Activation of these summits would mean a lot of travelling, so it seemed sensible for us to make this a joint activation. However, there was no sense me travelling over to Stourbridge when we were heading south, so we arranged to meet up in a public car park a few miles south of the M4 junction with the Bath A46 road. This meant that Paul would have around 160 miles to travel and we would use my car to travel to the summits.

The evening and night prior to activation day ran its usual course, though I managed to get to bed at a reasonable time having packed the rucksack the evening previous. On this occasion Paul had a similarly early start on account of having to make a delivery to Bristol. As is often the case, I was wide awake before the alarm and so rolled out of bed at 0320. This gave me a little more time to make my departure, useful since my black car had turned white overnight and the temperature was down to minus 5C. I set off at just after 0400 and made just 200 metres from home before the inside of the windscreen froze up causing me to come to a halt for 10 minutes. I learnt later that Paul was experiencing similar conditions in Stourbridge, but fortunately he is located in a less rural position, so did not have such difficulty.

I arrived at the arranged meeting place at 0605, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Paul was similarly sharp, despite the Bristol detour, arriving just 10 minutes later. His kit was transferred to my vehicle and after stowing everything that might be considered nickable out of sight, he secured his car and we were off by 0624, our first target being the parking spot for Long Knoll SC-007.

Long Knoll is an amazing sight from the north. It just rises out of the surrounding ground and while not especially high it certainly dominates the plain in front of it. We parked up near to the bottom of the track up the eastern end of the hill at 0705, prepared ourselves and our kit and commenced our ascent up through the wood at 0722. The dawn was crisp with a heavy frost lying on the ground, the south-eastern sky banded with greys and orange as the sun started to make its slow way over the horizon. We paused briefly to take photographs of this natural wonder. A little higher up in the wood on the northern flank of the hill an unseen bird of prey let us know it had spotted us. All around birds were flitting through the undergrowth and everything seemed to be set fair for the day.

By the time that we had arrived at the trig point, the sun was fully showing its face. Paul used his trig-kit: a home made timber wedge and a strap to mount his pole to the trig point while I moved slightly back downhill to select the most vertical of the fence posts to support my pole. Respite from the chilly breeze that was blowing from the south west came in the form of a shallow ditch on the north side of the fence, while Paul sheltered behind the trig point. A local passed by with his two dogs out for their early morning walk. Things were going to plan and I made my first call on 2m SSB at 0807, some 8 minutes ahead of schedule. Richard G4ERP was ready waiting on 144.300MHz and we made the customary QSY to 144.33MHz. My run on 2m SSB totalled 14, many of those with 5MHz capability asking whether Paul was up and running on the band. As I could hear Paul’s voice I knew he was transmitting, but apparently no-one was able to copy him.

At around 0830 towards the end of my 2m session, Paul came over and confirmed that 5MHz was not yet open, but he advised that he would go back and try again in the hope that it would open shortly. I announced his intentions on 2m, apologised for making a general broadcast and then moved up to 70cms where I put a call out on 432.200MHz where I was called by Dave G4UKP. We moved to 432.222MHZ where further contacts were made with Stewart G0LGS, Don G0RQL and Des G0RBD. I could hear Paul now giving a 22 report so things were at last happening for him, but the measure of his frustration was evident to hear.

Paul’s first contact was with Alistair GW0VMZ at 0833, but matters were slow to improve. A number of chasers stood by while conditions came up and made good their earlier contacts by making a decent second contact which Paul logged as that for the summit. After all the difficulty, Paul managed a commendable total of 16 contacts in G, GM and GW. While Paul was finishing off, I packed up – unusual since Paul normally has to wait for me to finish.

We started our descent at 0921 and were back at the car by 0945. In his note about this summit Richard G4ERP refers to the difficulty with this parking spot, indeed it is rather dangerous as it is just past a blind bend. I wound the window down and hung my head out and listened until I was 100% certain that no vehicles were approaching. I then moved off quickly, turning around a short distance up the road before heading back south towards our next summit, Hardown Hill SC-011, amazingly just 11 minutes behind schedule.

The route down south took us down to the A303, then west and south again. On the minor roads there were still some icy patches and the ABS cut in when I braked. I also had a scramble to get the 1.4 tons of Audi under way at a couple of junctions. We arrived at the lay-by parking to the east of Hardown Hill at 1102, just 7 minutes adrift. The track up the hill was easy to find from Richard’s directions and we were soon up on the summit. The summit is heath land with rampant gorse, still partly in bloom. Apparently it is a riot of colour earlier in the year, but it still managed to be very pleasant in November. To the south we could easily see the Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast, with the sea beyond. We selected our operating positions, set up our stations and were on for 1135.

This time Paul was straight into the fray, working Paul G0HNW first, with contacts in G, GM and GW making up a sizeable run of 19 contacts. This time it was his turn to be questioned about my non-appearance. On 2m SSB it took me a full 13 minutes of calling before Don G0NES found me and the reason was immediately apparent – I was just 4 by 2 with him. I checked the kit and all was working fine, so it was the down to making the best of it. Everyone worked was Q5 with me, just very weak…. except of course Don G0RQL who was 59+. Richard G4ERP was the only other person to put a decent signal into me at 59. I didn’t complete with Stewart G0LGS on this one which was down to strange conditions as he peaked S6, yet I managed a contact with Barry M3PXW at just S1 each way. I also worked Peter G3TJE who was using him 5MHz dipole, since signals from me were better on that than on his vertical. On 70cms Don G0RQL was the only taker, with 58 / 55 reports exchanged.

Paul closed down as I was making my final few contacts and we packed up and started our descent at 1235. We were soon back at the car where we had lunch. My plan for the next summit, Lewesdon Hill SC-009, was to find a parking spot on the east side of the hill in the hope of an easy ascent via Lewesdon Hill Lane from Stoke Knapp. On arrival, what had looked like a potential parking spot on Google Earth turned out to be a private drive and despite a search, I could find nowhere to park. We therefore headed for Broadwinsor. Parking here was easy on the one way system and we set off at 1343 to find the path south to the hill. It had been my intention to avoid this footpath on the grounds that being through the fields it would most likely be muddy, but we found that this was only the case where there were gates. Once into the wooded area on the northern side of the hill, the walking became difficult as the incline steepened sharply, the soft ground beneath a heavy carpet of leaves shifting at each step. However, we made the summit at 1415, just 15 minutes adrift of our scheduled time.

The summit of Lewesdon Hill is within trees, so Paul chose the grassy central area to set up on 5MHz while I operated from close to the actual summit, using a fallen tree to support the pole. I was first to be operational, my initial call being heard by Graham G4JZF. Signals appeared to be better than on Hardown Hill, but were still not very good, with only Don G0RQL putting in a 59 signal. My run of 10 contacts on 2m was split into two sections by tests on both 70cms and 23cms with Don. We made contact on 70cms with 57 / 54 reports, but nothing was heard on 23cms FM due to the low power being used and the lack of a decent antenna at my end. On 5MHz, Paul again had an excellent run on 5MHz, making 17 contacts in under 20 minutes. Needless to say, he was once again waiting for me to finish off!

We were back at the car by 1551, departing 6 minutes later for Win Green SC-008 our final summit of the day. We were now 17 minutes behind schedule and I hoped to make up some time en route, but I hadn’t allowed for Yeovil at the end of a pre-Christmas shopping day. Despite the frustration of sitting in traffic, this cost us only a few minutes delay and we arrived at the parking spot at 1725. It was now dark and all looked well for the final activation of the day……… that was until we opened the car doors! What greeted us was a strong wind and spots of rain.

Win Green is a high point in open rolling countryside and the summit, marked by a clump of trees around a tumulus, was clearly visible from the car park. We only had a short walk ahead of us, but as we were getting prepared a squally shower hit us which caused us to reconsider our operating tactics. In view of the deteriorating weather we opted to utilise the fence posts along the northern edge of the car park to support our poles, the entire parking area being within the activation zone. Despite the easy means of supporting the poles, the strong wind and rain made setting up the equipment in the dark very difficult.

I erected both my 2m and 70cms antennas and Paul set up his station for 2m FM. Starting at 1749, I was torn between calling CQ on the calling frequency and announcing my presence directly on 144.333MHz in case any chasers were monitoring. What happened was rather bizarre – I called on 144.300MHz and got no response, but on announcing my presence on 144.333MHz I was called by Geoff G3NAQ who has no interest in SOTA. Even more bizarrely he criticised my microphone technique saying I was speaking too close to the mic – I tried to explain that I was out in the open in a gale being lashed by rain squalls. After being asked every detail as to why I was stupidly operating out in the open (what a time to have to explain about SOTA!), I was eventually released to find Graham G4JZF and Don G0NES waiting to make quick contacts. Des G0RBD in Chippenham called in for me to qualify the summit and further contacts with G4ERP, G3RMD, 2E0NBR and G0RQL made a half respectable total under the conditions. I moved to 70cms, but found the linear was permanently switched to transmit, presumably due to the wet conditions. I therefore was reduced to working Don barefoot on the FT-817 with 53 / 51 reports, signing off at 1816.

Over on 2m FM Paul was finding it very hard going and I could see the relief on his face when I went over to him and suggested that we call it a day. He had managed to qualify the summit, but was disappointed at the lack of a decent result since this was his final SC. He told me that he would be back during daylight hours at some future date. While I generally ran back and forth between the operating position and the car decanting damp equipment, Paul packed up in the more traditional manner in readiness for transferring his kit back to his car later on. I was intending to operate mobile on the way back to give some WAB squares to Don G0NES and Graham G4JZF, so it was handy just to litter the back of the car with my kit. I took the BNOS linear out of the boot ready for setting up when we got to where we had left Paul’s car. We then ate our remaining food and settled ourselves for 10 minutes before making our departure at 1840, which happened to be precisely on our scheduled time.

The change over north of Bath went smoothly. I set up for QRO mobile with a halo mounted on the rear of my car and Paul decanted his kit, then said his farewells and set off for home. After making a phone call to Bev, I got underway and later at 2100, when I was on the A420 between Swindon and Faringdon, I called Don on 144.333 as arranged. We immediately made contact and Graham was on frequency as well ready to work me as I drove through the various WAB squares. John M0JDK called in for a couple of sessions having been out activating during the day as well.

Many thanks to everyone that came on to make contact with us and thanks to those that spotted us on the website. The day allowed Paul to complete his set of SC’s and me to start mine. There was nothing particularly challenging about these hills, but the countryside was very pleasant and being in company made the day special. I know that we both would say that the highlight of the day was ascending Long Knoll at sunrise……… just amazing!

73, Gerald G4OIG


In reply to G4OIG:

Thanks for the detailed write-up Gerald, I’ll just add the following comments specific to my operations…

Although I was anticipating trouble with 5 megs at the end of the day, I’d not considered I might be too early for short skip propagation in the morning, so it was with dismay that on firing up at 0808 I was greeted with S8 noise, some static crashes and bangs and not a lot more. Initial CQ’s brought no replies, and a listen for the beacons at 0815 yielded 229 reception of ‘RAL and ‘WES, and 579 for ORK. So there was propagation, but quite long skip at this point.

Further calls eventually produced a 22 report in response to my 33 report to Don, G0RQL at 0830 although exchanges were not fully completed; Alistair GW0VMZ in Merthyr gave me 33 in reply to my 44 at 0833 for the first valid QSO of the day – this may have been a ground wave contact. There followed a very borderline contact with John GW4BVE at 0836, where reports of 22 and 21 were exchanged.

At around this time, quite a dramatic change occurred. Over the space of a couple of minutes, band noise dropped markedly and by 0839 conditions were good enough to give me a solid contact with Robert G0PEB on the Isle of Wight. At 0843 I worked Ken GM0AXY near Edinburgh with 57/58 reports being exchanged, and that started a run of ten solid contacts, although with reports varying with no discernable geographic pattern from 31 to 59, between 0844 and 0857. There followed a couple of contacts with Don G0RQL in Devon (33/23) at 0859 (thanks for hanging on for me!) and Arthur GW1LDY near Chester (33/31) at 0900, where reports were down, just to show the band still had a few tricks up it’s sleeve.

The session was concluded at 0901 with a return visit to GW4BVE, where this time I gave 55 and received 59. Quite a change over a period of 25 minutes!

All in all working through the period where the band was just opening was a fascinating and unexpected experience, if initially very frustrating.

The next two activations (Hardown Hill, SC-011 between 1135 and 1206, and Lewesdon Hill, SC-009 between 1438 and 1458) both gave consistent contacts with reports generally 57 to 59. Interestingly, ten chasers worked me on all three summits – an analysis of how their reports varied during the day may prove interesting when I get time to do it!

Finally, Win Green and an apology to the chasers who had been following me all day – despite the best of intentions, when met with the foul conditions prevailing by the time we reached this summit I could not bring myself to set up the dipole even to check whether the band was open. Instead I resorted to 2m FM, struggling to work just four fairly local stations before scurrying back into the relative warm and peace of Gerald’s car. A big disappointment, as this was my last SC to activate and I was hoping for a bang rather than a whimper to go out on. Definitely one to revisit when I overcome my fetish for uniques!

Many thanks to all who worked me during the day, and to Gerald G4OIG for chauffeuring me around on an expedition that was my idea in the first place. I hope your beautiful leather seats aren’t permanently scarred…

73 de Paul G4MD


In reply to G4MD:

From what I can remember of 5MHz propagation from last year in December/January time I was pretty sure of good propagation from GM to NW England (approx 200 miles) between 1100Z and 1400Z. Propagation over longer paths was available earlier and later. From what I remember the speed at which the band collapsed was very impressive. Over a few 10’s of minutes it went from very good to non-existant.