Llan Ddu Fawr MW-005 and Crugiau Merched MW-021
Tuesday 5th August 2008
9 p.m. Monday 4th August 2008 – panic sets in! Having a problem with my internet connection at the time meant emails were rather slow in arriving and the communication between Paul G4MD and myself over the course of the past week or so had been rather staccato to say the least. Anyway, the message basically was yes, let’s go for it. The activation was on, so it was a case of getting the SLABs on for a top up charge, checking the kit had not been raided for non-SOTA operations and then preparing what food I could find. By 10.30 p.m. I was really for the final bits to be put in place and so after feeding Whisper, I got to bed to get some sleep by about 11.15 p.m.
It was a dull, but fine morning as I left Northampton at 03.35 a.m. (02:35UTC). I arrived at Paul’s house at 03:55 UTC and after the usual coffee, we were away from Stourbridge by 04:15, Paul having borrowed his wife’s car for the day. The route took us over to Rhyader and then across country towards Aberystwyth, which gave us déjà vu in reverse since we had travelled this route in the reverse direction on the way back from our West Wales Expedition some three weeks previous. We were not far out of Stourbridge when the rain started and it was still tippling down when we arrived at the parking spot to the south of Llan Ddu Fawr. Unusually for me, I found myself completely disorientated, with south and north transposed since we accessed the minor road from the west and not the east as I had imagined. The “knobbly” landscape of the area did not help. It is very interesting visually, but you have to look to the lakes for reference points as to position. We found the parking spot close to a cattle grid and the access route that we had studied on Google Earth which seemed to start well enough. The problem was the rain which was now quite heavy. We did not want to start off with wet clothes beneath our waterproof layers if it could be helped. Fortunately the sky looked brighter to the south-west, so we waited for some 20 minutes, by which time the rain was light enough for us to get kitted up.
We started our ascent at 07:30 some 15 minutes behind schedule. I had accidentally alerted for 09:30 using my mobile phone en route (which was 30 minutes later than we intended), so we had plenty of time in hand. Not knowing what condition we would find the ground to be in, we had allowed a very generous 1 hour 30 minutes for the ascent. It soon became clear that good quality footwear was essential as we were walking through a 50mm layer of water, even where there were no boggy bits. The ground beneath however supported us and we were able to make good progress, given that special care was required in those areas that were boggy. Generally the track was quite easy to follow, but became faint in certain areas and confused by animal tracks. Despite veering too far east at one point and having to back-track about 200 metres, we managed to make our ascent in just over the hour. Below the summit area, we encountered a couple of large boggy patches, but by taking our lead from the route that animals had taken, we easily found a way through. The trig point on this summit is surrounded by a reasonably generous stone shelter, but this is not in particularly good condition. The entrance was in the direction of the prevailing wind and rain, so we both took up positions on the outside of the shelter where we could gain some respite from the weather. It took around 20 minutes for us to get set up and operational.
Paul decided to go straight for 60m and made a decent run of 13 contacts headed by John GW4BVE at 08:58 and being mainly with regular chasers. Paul was intending to activate 80m as well, but the weather worsened somewhat and the wind moved direction, so leaving Paul exposed. He therefore decided to pack up and seek shelter closer to my position. My run on 2m started a little earlier than Paul’s, also with John GW4BVE, with Roger G0TRB, Graham G3OHC and Graham G4JZF providing the qualifying contacts. A few more CQs brought in Arthur GW1LDY and then I had a full 15 minutes before Dave G0ELJ called me. Moving to 70cms at around 09:30, I managed an excellent contact on CW with Graham G3OHC. Unfortunately neither Frank G3RMD nor Don G0RQL were available for contacts on this occasion.
Paul had already joined me on my side of the shelter while I was in contact with Graham, so after a few more CQ calls on 70cms, I decided to call it a day at around 09:50 and we were making our descent about 20 minutes later. Paul had tracked our ascent on his GPS, so we cut southwards from the summit and picked up the track at a convenient point close to where where we had crossed between the two boggy areas on our ascent. Regular checks kept us on track and we were back at the car by 10:50 where we ate a leisurely lunch before setting off for our second summit, Crugiau Merched MW-021.
We arrived at the farmhouse of Bwlch-y-Rhiw at 12:10 where, in the suggested manner, we politely asked the lady occupier about parking. A position adjacent to the farm outbuildings was immediately granted and we had a short conversation with her about the mist and the boggy conditions on the hill before we parked up. Ten minutes later we were making our ascent, initially through a pair of farm gates and up a very boggy field with water cascading down it. It was a steep climb from the start and we had to take care crossing the field to the gate in the top left hand corner that gave us access onto the hillside. Thereafter it continued steeply and higher up there was some scrambling where we had to take extreme care on the wet ground, but after some 40 minutes we were within sight of the trig point. We visited the trig and inspected the stone shelter adjacent, which we found would not provide us with much shelter. We therefore decided to investigate the other stone structure on the summit plateau, which proved to be far more suitable and large enough for both of us to comfortably operate from. These shelters appear to be the remains of some former civilisation, possibly some form of round house construction. Anyway, we were most grateful for the shelter in the wind and rain that still persisted.
Once again Paul started on 60m which was not in such good condition as earlier in the day. Again John GW4BVE headlined in his log at 13:41. After making 5 contacts the frequency went quite, so Paul moved to 80m where he found conditions to be somewhat better and he worked a further 9 contacts between 13:54 and 14:10. On 2m, Graham G3OHC was first in the log as I opened up at 13:30, closely followed by John GW4BVE at 13:33 who was pleased to have the final GW/MW in the bag. Roger G0TRB followed and then Mike GW0DSP made contact to complete his chaser record for all of GW. A further 5 contacts followed, one notably being with Pete M0COP down in the Stretton valley. At 14:00 I moved over to 70cms, but despite calling for quite a while, a second contact with Graham was to evade me. I went QRT at 14:15 when my second SLAB decided it had had enough and it called “time” of its own accord. In the strengthening wind and rain Paul took some time to get the antenna in without tangling it in the rocks of the shelter, so I was packed up and had already had a snack by the time he was ready for the descent
We set off down the hill at around 14:41 and even taking care on the wet ground, we were back at the car by 15:13. As we shed our waterproofs a white van drew up and so started a 30 minute chat with the local farmer that owns the outbuildings against which we had parked. It was rather bizarre standing in the rain eating the last of our food while we chatted about a wide range of subjects putting the world to right, but certainly a good ending to another excellent activation. We eventually set off for Stourbridge some 10 minutes later than we had intended, feeling much richer for the encounter and that we had kept the spirit of SOTA intact for future activations of this hill.
The journey back was largely uneventful, the route initially being through some delightful countryside and then on through Builth Wells. A short pause in our journey due to a broken down vehicle allowed me to recover a can of Red Bull from my bag which allowed me to put off the “energy drop” until I was safely back home in Northampton. The 10 minutes deficit was maintained to Stourbridge where we arrived at a very respectful 18:30.
Thanks to everyone that came on to work us. Particular thanks to those that placed spots for us. Apologies to anyone that wanted either or both of these summits, but missed us as a result of the lack of prior announcement. Llan Ddu Fawr is certainly not as daunting from the south as it is from the south west and hopefully it will receive many more activations in the future. Crugiau Merched is straightforward and makes a good companion summit to Llan Ddu Fawr, though it could easily be activated in conjunction with MW-003 and MW-016.