Activation Report: Craig y Castell and Cadair Idri

Craig y Castell GW/NW-074 and Cadair Idris GW/NW-009
Tuesday 30th December 2008

Despite good intentions it was 23:00 before I got to bed. At 01:00 I was wide awake with the realisation that I had not changed the positions of my car on the driveway and so would have to move two vehicles at 03:30 before I could set off on this activation. Mentally adding a few minutes to my prep time, I amazingly went back to sleep to awake at 02:50, ten minutes before the alarm. Great, the in-built clock was working! No alarm meant no disturbance for Bev, so after the usual early breakfast and a number of other tasks, I was away from Northampton at 03:33 noting that the temperature was minus 0.5C. Would it be colder further west – I soon had my answer as it dropped to minus 2C as I got onto the M6.

I arrived at Paul’s QTH on time at 04:50 and after a quick cup of coffee and the transfer of kit, we were away on time at 05:05. The roads were clear and reasonably dry with little evidence of frost until we were well into Wales. The temperature dropped lower until it reached minus 4C as we approached Dolgellau, but it had gone even further to minus 5C at we reached the single car parking spot for Craig y Castell GW/NW-074 opposite Gellilwyd Fawr. I backed into the space to find I was too close to the bushes to get out my side of the car, but I just couldn’t be bothered to shuffle the car into a better position. It was only 07:11 and I really didn’t want to disturb the sleeping occupants of the nearby house.

We got ready by the light from the car interior and the boot light and were away up the nearby bridleway by 07:31. We took the route suggested by John GW4BVE and swung right after the derelict outbuilding to walk up and round the side of the rising ground. Our timing was more or less perfect as we could see sufficiently well to make our way without the use of lights. The frosty covering on the grass gave it an almost iridescent glow in the dawn light. I stopped briefly to look back the way we had come and realised that the initial climb had been quite steep, but it seemed my legs were working, so it looked good for the longer walk later on. Further along the path levelled out and we made reasonable progress. I had studied the statistics for this summit and had noted that most activations had been on 5MHz and 7MHz. Of the 4 operators that had used 2m for their activation, only 3 had actually qualified the summit. The maximum number of contacts was six, made by Richard G4ERP using his very successful portable station. I was therefore carrying a second backpack in which I had a 12AH SLAB and BNOS 180 watt linear. This added 8kg to my main 12kg pack, so I was pleased we only had around 40 minutes ascent time on this one!

Our route joined a Roman track and after passing through a gateway we turned left through a gap in the rather ramshackle low stone wall, across open ground and up towards the forest, before swinging right in the direction of the summit. A careful check of the map showed us which outcrop was the highest and we were soon stood atop this. It was now 08:08 and we were 27 minutes ahead of schedule. Checking the thermometer on my backpack, I noted it read minus 12C – arghh! Surely not! Well it didn’t feel that bad. I got out the latest addition to my kit, a digital thermometer which showed me that the pocket on my jacket was running at a cosy 6 degrees C. I placed the thermometer in a convenient position on my backpack and immediately watched the reading drop. The instrument is packaged in a plastic box and is isolated from any windchill effect, so I was happy it was reasonably accurate when it settled on minus 3.8C. We looked over to Cadair Idris–Penygadair and noted cloud spilling down over the edge – quite a sight to see indeed in the early morning light.

On the summit initially it was reasonably still and it was no problem setting up the kit. I was ready before Paul and was able to tell him that my first “whooaalo” into the mic had produced around 150 watts of RF. From previous experience I knew this would drop back quite quickly to between 100 and 120 watts, but this is still no mean amount of power when combined with the 5 element yagi that I use. However, we were early and this resulted in me making ten minutes of CQs until Roger G0TRB found me and kindly spotted me. Phil G4OBK was quickly on the case with super signals from the Vale of Pickering and then I had a contact with Don G0RQL down in Devon by scatter propagation, since to hear him I had to beam in an easterly direction. Of course Cadair Idris was towering above us at 893m when this summit is a mere 321m above sea level. There were no signals evident on the direct path. It was hard to find the best direction – Don gave me 41, but said later that I did peak at 53, though there was evidence of aircraft scatter during other contacts, so this may have been the reason for the signal peak. Graham G4JZF qualified the summit for me and Mike GW0DSP followed. He noted that Paul had not been spotted, so I did a quick flit across the heather to see where Paul was operating. Paul had just one contact in the log, that in the form of Paul G0HNW on 5MHz. Mike put a spot on for Paul, but it transpired the band was dead and it was not until Paul was able to find a clear frequency on 80m that things started to happen for him. After signing with Mike, I called CQ again and worked Peter M0COP and Frank G3RMD, but could not make it with Stewart G0LGS. Richard G4ERP was the last in my log, signing out at 09:10. A further 10 minutes of CQs produced nothing on SSB or FM other than a reduction in the battery voltage, so I decided to go QRT, well pleased with my lot of 8 contacts on the band. It had been worth carrying 20kg up the hill.

Once Paul had managed to find a spot clear of all the OT chat contacts on 80m, he was found by the ever-vigilant Frank G3RMD who spotted him. It was now 09:27 and I was taking a few photographs and I wandered down to Paul in time to hear the summit being qualified with a QSO with Graham G4JZF. Paul went on to work 20 stations in all on 80m, having to resort to contest style operation to conclude his operation by 09:54. Surprisingly, this left us only 14 minutes adrift relative to our schedule. I had packed up while Paul was working his run and in the chilly wind that had sprung up, was now hopping from one heather patch to another trying to get my feet back to life…… the digital thermometer had read minus 2.3C and had been scraped clean of frost before I packed it away! The one on my backpack was still hovering around minus 10C, but I have found out subsequently that this reads about 4 degrees low.

We left the summit at 10:10 and arrived back at the car at 10:35 – time for an early lunch before driving round to the car park at Ty Nant just up the valley. It was still hovering around minus 2C as we started our second ascent of the day up the Pony Path to Cadair Idris–Penygadair GW/NW-009. I carried my normal 2 x 3.3AH SLAB 2m / 70cms backpack load weighing around 13kg and Paul had a similar load to carry, though his was mainly additional clothing rather than kit. It was initially chilly on the north side of the hill and the path was well iced up in a number of locations, but conditions improved immensely as we reached the top of the main climb at a height of 500 metres and came out into the sun. The upper part of the path needs some attention in places as it deteriorates more or less to a boulder field. Paul’s ankles and my knees took the brunt of this landscape. Anyway, it was well worth it just for the view of the fluffy white clouds down in the valleys to the south which resembled the view from a plane.

We were due to be operational by 13:30, but did not reach the summit trig point until just past that time and then the setting up of our stations was delayed by a helicopter landing on the grass area to the east of the summit. This turned out to be nothing of significance - just someone with sufficient cash “out on a jolly”…… and from the comments that I heard, the action was more or less universally condemned by those on the summit.

Once the “landing pad” had been cleared, Paul descended to set up on HF leaving me to settle into a convenient position just down from the trig. As to be expected on a popular summit, we were both soon bombarded with questions about what we were doing – one chap thought I was erecting a tent – does a SOTAbeam SB5 look like a tent? Paul had the usual fishing “jokes” – if only they’d realise we have heard it all before. We were also visited by a chap who was holding a small handheld rig, though neither of us got his call. However, his face seemed familiar to me. Certainly, given the popularity of the mountain, there is an argument for activating this type of summit using a handheld, especially as the temperature up there was just 1C, falling to minus1C by the time we concluded our operations.

I switched on at 13:54 to hear a weak signal with a Scottish accent calling CQ on 144.300MHz. Unfortunately I was not able to resolve the callsign other than the GM prefix and portable as the suffix – was this Robin GM7PKT on Meall Mor GM/WS-234? Anyway, I called the station and then announced a QSY to 144.333MHz, but in doing so lost contact. Richard G4ERP was listening and he was first to exchange reports on my chosen frequency. My second contact, Frank G3RMD, kindly spotted me and a steady, but unexpectedly short run ensued. Just 13 contacts in 26 minutes, including Mike G4BLH in Nelson who was using his vertical antenna. Once things went quiet Richard gave me another call and we moved to 70cms. I worked Mike G4BLH on this band, still using his vertical and my third contact was with Don G0RQL who placed a spot for me. GW4BVE, G3RMD and G7HRP rounded off the 70cms action. Ian G7HRP in Leeds was particularly pleased with this last QSO as the path is to Cadair is obstructed from his QTH. I tried a few calls on 70cms FM and then 2m FM, but no further contacts were made.

On HF Paul was having a repeat of the morning’s escapade. He switched on 5MHz to find Andy MM0FMF/P on Meikle Bin GM/SS-129 and no-one else. Paul moved off one channel after working Andy, but had no calls, so he moved to 80m where he quickly found a clear frequency and was subsequently called by Robert 2E1EVJ/P on Botley Hill G/SE-005. Next in the log was Frank G3RMD with an accompanying spot and the total on 80m mounted to 21 including Declan EI9HQ and Andre ON4CAP. This brought Paul to precisely the same point as myself – end of operations – and at 14:54 we simultaneously went QRT.

We started our descent at 15:10. Very few people remained as we carefully made our way back down the Pony Path to arrive at the car for 16:45. After decanting all of our kit and getting back into more suitable clothing, we sat in the car and had soup and sandwiches before being the last to leave the car park at 17:15. The journey back was rather slow in comparison to that earlier in the day and we did not reach Stourbridge until 19:36. Paul kindly plied me with coffee and mince pies before I eventually left for home at 20:15 via the local petrol station, making home for 21:38. The temperature dropped slowly all the way - down to minus 3C at the end of my journey. Oh, in case you were wondering, a short one for me - just 366 miles round trip.

So, once again, another excellent day of activation. These two summits could not be more different. Not quite the sublime and the ridiculous, but not far off. The view of Craig y Castell as we ascended the Pony Path was amazing – initially it appeared quite substantial, became less and less prominent the higher we climbed until it was almost insignificant. For me, Craig y Castell was the better hill on account of there being no public up there, but then one would really need to have a reason to visit this hill. Maybe another one to revisit once I have finished my Uniques round.

Many thanks to G0TRB, GW0DSP, G3RMD, G0RQL and G7HRP for the spots and to everyone that came on to work us.

Happy New Year and 73. See you soon,

Gerald G4OIG

In reply to G4OIG:

Your elusive GM could have been John GM8OTI/p who was on Tinto. As for 5MHz, well it was a little weird. No great problems for me working people, the longer skip from GM is a help here. However, propagation to the NW/N. Wales area was not good on 5MHz. I heard GW7AAV call but he was about 41 instead of 59. I didn’t complete with him. I did work John GW4BVE who was a shadow of his normal strength. I heard Mike GW0DSP briefly but he was weak too. However, Paul was a very good signal. Long distance contacts were thumping in as Dave G4GKE and Mike G0BPU, both in Ipswich, were strong and gave me 57 & 58 reports.

It’s about 30 years since I was up Cadair Idris. I can remember it being a fair old hike for a tubby teenager. There were about 9 of us from school plus the teacher. I’m trying so hard to remember the route. I can remember that what kept me going was that we could see the Llyn Peninsula as we climbed. The seeing that day was brilliant as we could see Anglesey in the distance from the top. Looking at the map we probably came up the Pony Path. I do remember going down to one of the lakes, but which one I couldn’t tell you. What sticks in mind was when we realised we had to climb back up to the top to go down. D’Oh!

Ah memories. It’s amazing what you can remember when you try. I’m sure it was the Pony Path side because we drove past Trawsfynydd and discussed the nuclear power station, the teacher was my physics teacher at the time. Then getting lost somewhere near the coast (Afon Mawddach Estuary), the school minibus struggling to get up the hill as we turned of the main road at Abergywnant and finally parking near a phone box (Tynceunant?). I must go back and do it again one day.


In reply to G4OIG:
A good day’s operation planned military style. I know what you mean about not sleeping. It’s a handicap to start with and I don’t even attempt early nights anymore. Then there’s the 366 miles! It’s a good job you have a good motor but it’s the same as me, poor roads going mostly X-country.

Seems you were determined to qualify (and better) on VHF and 44 pounds is what it took. These small ones can be killers for getting out with simple gear. Interesting about the scatter. I was once shown how this could be used to clear a 500 foot cliff by beaming out to sea and scattering off waves, though I am not sure I believed it in that case.

Phil G4OBK puts out a great signal on whatever band. He wouldn’t let a small obstruction like the Pennines get in his way!

I too have been annoyed by helicopters twice this year; in fact wiped off the air. I don’t mind at all when it’s mil or rescue training but jollying is somewhat different and may be in contravention of some minimum altitude rule or other. You must have been anxious about how much time you might lose at this time of year.

I haven’t done too many of the Welsh ones and can barely pronounce some but NW9 looks like a good one. ‘North side’ was the clue and I can now see which way you went and where you got free of cloud. The last bit looks steep and as you say what a contrast with your 1st one.

You did a great job. In order of difficulty, I would say from easiest: 1) simple VHF. 2)HF. 3) ‘Real’ VHF. 4) 2 and 3 together. So very well done both of you and no holes fallen down.

Happy New Year and great to work you on 1.8 yesterday.

73, John G4YSS.

In reply to G4OIG:

Thanks for another superb report Gerald. It sounds like you and Paul had another cracking day in the hills. Well done.

Happy New Year and 73


In reply to G4OIG:
Another grand report (Grand Day Out?).
I could only hear you intermittently on Craig y Castell GW/NW-074 - there was a noisy thermostat somewhere that gave S4 noise for periods of 7-12 seconds. At one stage, when working Frank (G3RMD) your signal rose to an S5, before rapidly dwindling again. Most times you were audible, but I could only just tell it was your voice.
Completely missed you on the second summit (I think I’d dozed off in the other room!).
Anyway, HNY and look forward to working you on many more in 2009.
73 Graham G4FUJ

Many thanks for the comments all of you. We had a great day out - Don G0NES said that I sounded as though I was enjoying myself. Well, we always enjoy ourselves, even though some activations are best remembered over a pint in the pub in front of a log fire or as reference to the prevailing conditions. The 70mph gusts on Snowdon last February will long be remembered for that!

In reply to MM0FMF:

I wasn’t surprised that the 5MHz band didn’t work for Paul first thing, but even 3.5MHz was difficult for him. Maybe Paul should take up 160m or build a small 80m linear. With regards to the Pony Path, yes that’s the one from the north side - unfortunately it was too hazy to see the Lleyn Peninsula on Tuesday. I was just pleased to see Cadair Idris itself - like Snowdon, it has always been cloudy when I have been there in the past and I’ve seen nothing beyond a few metres.

With regards to the 2m GM station, I am certain that I would have heard Tinto as I managed to work Robert GM4GUF/P up that summit from Foel Offrwm NW-055 with good signals. John OTI was recorded as being loud in Devon by Don G0RQL, so would no doubt have been even stronger with me. The signals that I heard were much more in the noise - I do run a Gasfet preamp and use 5D-FB semi-rigid so I can often hear things I can’t possibly work with 20 watts.

In reply to G4YSS:

Yes John, we are military style planners, Hi. Taking the big linear was a way of best ensuring qualification… I don’t really intend to have to go back to qualify a summit unless I have to. Anyway there are two other factors here - I am aiming at MG (eventually) by qualifying unique summits on 144MHz or a higher band, which in itself is quite a task. Secondly I always try to provide the best signal I can for chasers - I did try a handheld activation once, but quite frankly didn’t like it. The contact with Don G0RQL was a real pleasure - by no means guaranteed with a lump of rock hovering 670m above me.

At 366 miles this was a short trip for me. I know that I am extremely priviledged to be able to do these trips and I am doing them now while I am able both financially and physically - the bus pass is rapidly approaching!

Many thanks for the 1.8MHz CW QSO which was the last of 2008 and certainly one of the best, if not the best, from home at least. I used the FT-817 at 5 watts to a 40m horizontal loop, copy only being possible here as almost everyone was off work and the factory QRM was at a low level. Well done on the extended activation.

In reply to GWODSP:

A real pleasure to work you from Craig y Castell Mike. I am pleased there is a path out in your direction. Support from the regular chasers is always very much appreciated by both Paul and myself.

In reply to G4FUJ:

So was it you that was calling me Graham and not Stewart? I was having difficulty at that point as Frank had gone down in QSB and was no longer Q5. Conditions were really weird, probably as the path is across the end of the Cadair Idiris massif and there must be some defraction happening as well as direct path, possibly combining and cancelling to create variable signals. Strange though as Richard G4ERP was well out of the noise at 55 with an S8 peak at one point (possibly aircraft scatter).

So I should be out on Sunday - not a usual day for me for fairly obvious reasons, but one to suit the NP activation. See you all soon on the bands.

73, Gerald

Postscript: for anyone who was wondering, Graham G4FUJ has since clarified that both he and Stewart G0LGS called me when I was activating Craig y Castell, so two potential contacts lost. C’est la vie.