Saturday 22nd November 2008
Paul suggested the three summits of Holyhead Mountain, Mynydd Bodafon and The Great Orme as a potential pre-winter bonus activation and offered to drive what would be a lengthy distance from Stourbridge. Paul also prepared the itinerary, setting the start time at our usual 05:40 departure from Stourbridge - this meant another 03:30 alarm call for me.
An email was received from Mike G4BLH on the Friday evening……. a reminder to pack the antenna (23cms) and the SLABs. I certainly made sure they were out by the door before I went to bed so as to avoid a second round of ribbing. The weather was surprisingly calm as I packed the car and made my departure spot on time at 04:00, noting that the temperature was just 4 degrees C. Roadworks were still in place to the north of Birmingham, but I still arrived at Paul’s at 05:18. Paul had already packed his kit into the car, so after a quick coffee and the transfer of my kit, we were away early just 14 minutes later. Our route took us northwards to meet the A5, with 3 hours and 20 minutes scheduled for the 141 miles to Holyhead.
Paul made good time across country on the route which is very familiar to him. The temperature hovered between 3 and 5 degrees, with intermittent bouts of rain, some of which we quite heavy. As we approached Capel Curig, we were surprised see the top of Moel Siabod NW-010 in the clear in the grey dawn and further along the area around Pen Llithrig y Wrach NW-013 and Carnedd Llewellyn NW-002 sported a layer of snow. Tryfan was in cloud, but what we could see of it looked cold and menacing.
Once through the mountains, Paul’s satnav decided to treat us to a detour through the streets of Bangor and thence to the Menai Bridge, a bit of nostalgia for me as this area was where the family often came for our holidays in the late 50’s / early 60’s. Shortly afterwards we passed through the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch evoking even more nostalgia, before we reached the A55 and the relatively new dual carriageway to Holyhead. So a big thumbs up to the satnav on this occasion. Satnavs however are only as good as the data put into them and it turned out that the CWI POI parking spot was not the quarry car park at the foot of Holyhead Mountain NW-069, but at the end of a minor road slightly further south. Eleven minutes of the fifteen gained on the journey were spent re-routing ourselves to the correct position where we eventually arrived at 08:56. As we got ready to make our ascent, a light shower arrived which made the decision for us as to whether we should put on our waterproof trousers. That set the scene for the day.
Using the footpath out of the car park to gain access to the track up the side of the quarry and onto the top, we heeded Tom EYP’s notes regarding potential short cuts that produce no time saving. Higher up where we were exposed to the sea, the wind speed increased dramatically and we were dampened periodically by icy rain and so we were thankful when the path turned south and we had the wind behind us. In these conditions we were careful with our footing on the rather slippery path and the distance to the summit turned out to be somewhat more than had been estimated, so the ascent took us 42 minutes rather than the 35 minutes allowed.
At the summit, the wind was gusting strongly and it took us both a lot of time to get set up. I used the rocks around the trig to support my mast, but could only get two sections erected before the 5 element beam started to rotate like a helicopter blade. I used the mast guys paired up to tether the beam in a specific direction, with the outer end of the guys wrapped around a strategically positioned rock. While I was sorting this out, Paul was taking several attempts to raise his mast with the 60m dipole attached. This kept collapsing in the wind before he could get it vertical. After considerable effort, we both eventually succeeded in getting our antennas sorted out. I was QRV by 10:12, with Mike G4BLH sitting in his car near Longridge Fell first to make the log. My run of 12 on 2m SSB included all the usual “suspects” at strengths varying from 1 to 7, several of whom I am sure where rather amused by my regular “wait a minute” requests to allow me to move the beam to the correct direction. The frequency was clear by 10:35 which enabled me to move to 70cms SSB / CW where absolutely no-one was heard. Mike BLH later said that he copied me, but was maneouvring the car to a better position at the time!
Paul settled into the shelter downwind of the trig and eventually got underway at 10:22 with Mike GW0DSP first in the log. He quickly worked his way through 15 contacts in just 13 minutes despite being affected by the usual 60m QSB. Peter EI7CC made the roll call amongst the regulars, several of which I had worked on 2m. In the interest of safety, Paul decided that the mast had to be taken down as soon as possible and so he started to pack up as I moved to 70cms. I gave the band about 10 minutes of air time on both SSB and CW before moving to 4m for which I set up the slim jim that I had made during the previous week. The first call on 70.450MHz using my newly acquired Ascom SE550 running 10 watts output brought Mike straight back and we were immediately joined by John MW1FGQ. We moved down 25kHz, exchanged reports and then I set up the C710 on 1297.500MHz with the 15 over 15. Communication on 70.425MHz was periodically interrupted by a large carrier with low deviation modulation on it, which presumably was a driver stage leaking through on a local transmitter. Working around this, several minutes were spent trying to make contact on 23cms using 4m as talkback, but calls to both Mike and John produced nothing either way, this despite John putting out 10 watts. So near, yet so far. Still, I was very pleased with my first 4m SOTA activation - less so seeing all the kit I had to pack up! Anyway, just 14 minutes after going QRT we were ready to make our descent, which we did down a track that we had spotted on the ascent and in doing so saved ourselves a few minutes.
We got back to the car at 11:40, just 15 minutes behind schedule. The 21 mile drive over to Mynydd Bodafon NW-071 went smoothly though the time deficit remained the same. The ascent to this summit is very easy and straightforward, though we did rather go at it and ended up gasping in the cold air. Even though this was the middle of the day, it was still only 5 degrees C. I used the trig to support the mast while Paul set up lower down to take advantage of the slightly flatter ground. Again I was first on at 12:55 with Graham G4FUJ ready waiting to head the log, Despite this being a lower summit, signals were considerably better than they had been on Holyhead Mountain, with many signals at S9. My tally of 15 contacts on 2m SSB in 28 minutes included a contact with Nick G0HIK/P at work on a rig in the Irish Sea and two S2S contacts with Geoff MW3SFN/P on Aberedw Hill GW/MW-022 and Iain M3WJZ/P on High Stile G/LD-012. After announcing a move to 432.222MHz, I worked Mike G4BLH still out near Longridge Fell. As Mike wanted to get off home, we tried 23cms and exchanged reports of 55 / 51. In my excitement, I managed to tread on my headphones – more repair work required! After 23cms we tried 4m where we made it 4 out of 4. When I signed with Mike I was called by Phil GW7PEO in Prestatyn who was an excellent signal with me on 70.425MHz between bursts of the same interference that I had experienced on Holyhead Mountain. After all this I remounted the 70cms beam and put some calls out, but it was now 13:45 so all potential contacts had unfortunately evaporated.
Paul started up on 60m at 13:00 and Frank G3RMD was waiting for him. Having been able to erect a more stable antenna, the run was less frantic this time with 20 contacts being made in a little over half and hour. Once again Peter EI7CC made the log which also included a contact with Bob EI3GRB. Conditions were up and down as usual, but Paul nonetheless was very satisfied when he came up to see me at the trig after packing up. At this stage I was still in QSO!
With the absence of contacts on 70cms, I went QRT at 13:50 and was faced with another marathon pack away. The advantage of knowing where things go in the tightly packed backpack was not borne out on this occasion. The wind had increased and it was now much colder and in my haste I had to make several attempts to get all the caps, cables and connectors in their correct boxes. I eventually managed to complete the task and was surprised to see I had only taken 15 minutes. While we had been operating a group of walkers had joined us and were now taking lunch in the lee of the summit. Paul went over to speak to them as I sorted myself out. A few photos and a six minute lope downhill brought us quickly back to the car and, thankfully at last, our lunch. We were just 9 minutes behind schedule leaving the parking spot.
The route back to “mainland” Wales was via the A55 and the Britannia Bridge and thence to Llandudno. The snow on the Snowdonia peaks was even more prevalent from a northern viewpoint. Also prevalent were the Christmas shoppers in Llandudno! The town was heaving and we lost some time before we managed to escape the throng to drive up to The Great Orme, NW-070. As suggested by Mike GW0DSP, we parked at the far end of the car park after paying our dues (60p winter period charge) and we operated from the grassy slope beyond where we parked. Paul took advantage of a lower position to get out of the wind, while I just lay on the ground to minimise exposure. At least the fence provided a very secure support for the mast and using tie wraps I was able to stabilise the beam heading without recourse to other measures. The temperature was now down at 2 degrees C with the wind chill factor making it very cold indeed.
Once again I was first up and running with a contact with Mike G4BLH, now back at his home. Frank G3RMD was second in the log, an excellent contact over a difficult path. More regulars followed interspersed with a few less regular calls and an 8 minute natter with Howarth GW3TMP. Nick G0HIK/P was still a huge signal from the middle of the Irish Sea. During my run of 13 contacts on 2m SSB, I was asked several times what frequency Paul was on – it appeared that 60m was up to its old tricks. Paul had in fact just a single contact with Don G0RQL in his log and the GM beacon was S9. It was time to try another tack, so he ran over to the car and collected his ATU to match the dipole for 80m. Mike GW0DSP came up and asked me what frequency Paul would be using and after a search 3.680MHz was found to be reasonably clear, in spite of the DL contest that was taking place. Mike kindly spotted Paul which resulted in another 8 contacts in the log for Paul. Back to my own operations, I moved to 70cms SSB and worked Mike G4BLH though signals were quite weak. Graham G3OHC followed on and then Mel G8EOP. The light was going rapidly, so I decided to move to 4m where both Mike and John MW1FGQ were 59. Further tests were carried out on 23cms, but nothing was heard once again. I went QRT at 16:38 and was joined by Paul shortly afterwards. I managed to get everything packed away just before it got too dark to see clearly and it was then a short stroll back to the car to take off our jackets, waterproofs, boots, etc before having a bite to eat.
Taking stock of the day while we had our snack, we came to the conclusion that the three summits had been rather pleasant, despite their low ranking and relatively easy access. We agreed that the main challenge of the day was the travel distances involved. By the time we departed at 17:15, Paul still had almost 3 hours driving to do and myself another 1 hour 20 minutes after that. We arrived at Stourbridge at 20:08 – I later totted up the driving time: 8 hours (315 miles) for Paul alone! The total distance for the day was 479 miles.
Our return route was via the A470 and A5 and back across country to Stourbridge. The usual “debriefing” chat was quite intense, mainly planning for the forthcoming winter bonus period. After these activations I have come to the conclusion that I need to simplify my operations during the winter bonus period – activating 4 bands in a 45 minute operating period is just too hectic and will be near impossible in poor weather conditions. Hopefully this will allow me to focus on some improvements ready for next Spring.
As usual, many thanks to everyone that came on to work us. Particular thanks to Don G0RQL, Mike GW0DSP, Frank G3RMD and Mike G4BLH for the spots. It is pleasing to see so many regulars in the log despite these being not particularly rare single point summits. It is our plan to provide a few more points over the coming months and maybe a few rare ones as well.