Esgair Ddu, Mynydd Cwmcelli and Foel Offwrm
Saturday 7th June 2008
Looking back, I am not sure why I set my sights on Esgair Ddu GW/MW-020, but whatever the reason it had been on my mind for some time. The summit had only been activated by Richard G3CWI, John GW4BVE and Peter G3TJE, so I guess I saw it as an opportunity to offer a unique to those that had missed those activations. To add to the value of the activation, I decided to add the two reasonably rare summits of NW-052 and NW-055 to the itinerary and by teaming up with Paul G4MD, the means by which to offer these summits was increased. Having just three summits to plan, a fairly loose itinerary was established based around a core period of an hour on each summit. This meant a fairly early start and a late return to Northampton.
I set the alarm for 02:15UTC and in the event was wide awake well before this. It is always amazing what I can do on only a few hours sleep, especially when SOTA is involved. Everything was ready to go out to the car, so it was a very leisurely start to the day in order to get away by 02:40. There was no sense in rushing since I had planned to be at Stourbridge to pick up Paul by 04:00. Despite some roadworks on the motorway just north of Birmingham, I managed to arrive 5 minutes early. After the customary coffee, the next stage of the journey went similarly smoothly and we arrived at the parking spot at the end of a long passing bay (SH892105) on a minor road to the east of Esgair Ddu at 05:56, some 19 minutes ahead of schedule. Once out of the car we met our first problem – Welsh midges! It seemed that my red car was attracting them and we were obviously on their breakfast menu once they arrived at the diner. Both Paul and I had prepared ourselves with repellant sprays, but neither was a total success and we inevitably got bitten while getting set up for the ascent.
Our route from the east was chosen on account of it being shorter than that used by John GW4BVE which would have added time to the schedule. Setting out at 06:16, we made rapid progress on good farm tracks towards a derelict farmhouse called Craig-for. The tracks were found to provide a rather more direct than the line of the bridleway shown on the OS map. The farmhouse is close to the edge of the OA land, which we accessed by passing to the rear and then along fairly faint tracks up the hillside which seemed to be maintained by sheep rather than people. These took us over into a small valley which had a dry stream bed, the path being rather more distinct by this time as it crossed over from left to right part way up. This is a short stiff climb, maybe of around 120 metres ascent in little more than 200 metres horizontal distance, but quite manageable when combined with a number of stops for photographic opportunities – indeed I took some photographs down the valley as the views were worth taking in. Once at the top of this section we were at the 390 metre level, with a section of bog between us and the base of the summit area at around 420 metres. The dry stream bed had suggested that the bog would be reasonably benign and with care we were able to get across this, though having to lift our feet over tussocks of vegetation we found to be rather tiring. The final push was an ascent of some 40 metres up a bank. With the remnants of the morning mist still clinging on, it was more a case of heading uphill more by sense than sight, until we reached the summit.
Once at the summit, the sun broke through the mist revealing a large reasonably flat area with a fence running on its west side. Paul chose to set up using the fence and I deployed the guys to set up the mast on the highest point. It was now 07:20 and I was first to be up and running with a contact at 07:36 with Frank G3RMD who was monitoring my working frequency of 144.333MHz despite having placed an alert time of 08:00. I had been rather concerned that this would be a problem summit for VHF, but signals were reasonable with evidence of very deep QSB. Following a spot by Frank, a neat run of regular chasers were worked to provide a total of 10 contacts for the band from Don G0RQL down in Devon to Chris G4DJJ up in Skipton. Moving to 70cms SSB just after 08:00, I managed to complete with Frank with 41 reports both ways, but the QSB brought the contact to a conclusion and prevented completion with Don G0RQL. Although Frank kindly spotted me on 432.222MHz, further calls brought no response and I therefore decided to move to HF at 08:15.
Paul started off on 5MHz slightly later than I did on 2m which made it possible for Frank G3RMD to be first in Paul’s log and the one to spot Paul’s presence on the band. Conditions on 5MHz were rather unstable with deep fading from 59 down to the noise. Paul made steady progress making contacts with 14 chasers in all by 08:10. As I moved to 7MHz CW, Paul moved over to 3.5MHz SSB where once again he was spotted by Frank. 80m was slow going for Paul and he managed just 5 contacts including one with Mike G4BLH/P before calling it a day at around 08:35. On 40m CW, my first S2S of the day was though finding G4ELZ/P on Christ Cross G/DC-005 on 7.032MHz. After working Jeff, I moved down to find a clear frequency which I did on 7.0305MHz. My initial call was heard by Eric SM1TDE who was a good 599 with me indicating that the band was in good shape. As I have been concentrating on VHF and UHF for several months, this was my first SOTA contact with Sweden. Eric kindly spotted me which opened the floodgates and I was left with a big grin on my face trying to decipher calls out of the masses that came onto the frequency. It was soon apparent that I was rather rusty and so slow getting into the swing of CW operating, so apologies to those hoping for a bit slicker operation from me. I hope no-one gave up as a result. In all I worked 16 on the band before the frequency cleared at 0851. There were some notable firsts for me besides that with Eric – a first with Norway when I worked Aage LA1ENA and another with 9A7W in Croatia. I also worked Ingemar SM6CMU for the first time from a SOTA summit.
Paul was partly packed up by the time I had finished on 7MHz and with three antennas to dismantle and pack away, our descent did not start until 09:10. On the way down I was pleased I had decided to put on gaiters as I managed to find a good sized sink hole and went in up to my knee in what turned out to be mainly water, but within 15 minutes I was completely dry again. The descent was a reversal of our ascent route, during which we met the first human contact of the day, a farm worker on a tractor who seemed very friendly and we shared gate opening and shutting duties between us. We arrived back at the car at 09:51 where we were relieved to see the midge hoards had largely departed. This enabled us to have a sandwich and a drink before setting off to our second summit of the day, Mynydd Cwmcelli, GW/NW-052 at 10:09.
The parking spot for this summit was that described by John GW4BVE at SH814104. Paul had pre-programmed his satnav for this, the timing being a bit of a guess since the satnav treated the road through Dovey Forest as a track and as such passable at something like 4 mph. As it is good quality tarmac road, we arrived at the parking spot at 10:29 and subsequently set off on our ascent at 10:36, almost 40 minutes ahead of schedule. The route initially was along a gravel track before we took to a rather more pedestrian route off to the right. This slowly gained height in the direction of the summit and was rather wet and boggy in places, but we managed to keep fairly dry, though we left some pretty impressive footprints in the mud. Views of the summit appeared above the trees further along before the track turned left to run in line with the main axis of the hill and steepened significantly until we got to the edge of the forest where there was a gate. Once out of the forest we skirted around the east side of the hill and came around towards its southern edge where we noted scramble bikes had used the area, including the extremely steep face of the hill itself. As recommended by John, we followed a sheep trail running clockwise around the hill gaining height bit by bit and once out onto the main top area, it was a case of then moving towards the trigpoint. The summit area itself is surrounded by a deep natural moat feature which could have been a problem had we been in mist, but it was a clear and sunny day with a fresh breeze and quite pleasant.
At the summit I elected to use the trig to support the mast and Paul set up a little distance away. This time Paul was first away on 5MHz at 11:28 with a contact with Paul G0HNW, a spot being placed by Martyn M1MAJ who was to be worked further down the run. The second contact was with Ken GM0AXY who also placed a spot while Christine GM4YMM followed. Paul’s total was another 14 contacts on the band, which included another contact with Mike G4BLH/P and one with Robin GM7PKT/P on The Saddle GM/WS-051. Peter ON3WAB reported on Paul’s signals by way of a spot. Paul announced a move to 80m and was spotted by Frank G3RMD whom he worked on the band as well as G4JZF and G3RDQ, but there were no other contacts.
Over on 2m, I started once again with contact with Frank G3RMD at 11:33 who kindly spotted me. The distances worked were the same as the previous summit, the run this time including a “long time no see” contact with Quentin GW3BV. Once it had gone quiet, I tuned around to find Robert GM4GUF/P just finishing a QSO on 144.360MHz, so I called him to find that he was on Tinto, GM/SS-064. This brought the 2m total once again up to 10 contacts. Announcing a move to 70cms, I tried CW on 432.222MHz to have a very reasonable contact with Frank at 539 both ways. I then beamed towards Don G0RQL and we made a scratchy, but complete QSO on SSB with signals running at 41 / 31. It was now 12:16 and Paul had wandered over to see what was happening. He suggested that I might like to use his doublet on 40m rather than set up my multiband dipole, so I decanted my station over to his position and used my 5DFB feeder to link into his ATU. A contest was now running on the band and after side-stepping a few non-SOTA callers, I came upon Lutz DJ3AX/P on DM/TH-292 at 12:36 for another S2S contact. Lutz was nearing the end of his run, so I waited patiently for the frequency to clear and then called. This resulted in near bedlam with Peter DL8YR coming out the top of the pile. Peter kindly spotted me which added to the mayhem. The total came to a very respectable 22 contacts on the band in DL, ON, F, SM, HB9 and G. While all this was happening, Paul was taking the opportunity for a doze in the sunshine, the dry springy heather on the summit making a very comfortable base to lie on. I suspect that the click of the morse was rather hypnotic. CW is definitely not a spectator sport!
I went QRT at 13:07 and we then set about getting off the summit as soon as we could as Paul brought my attention to some dark clouds that had moved in overhead. Fortunately these dropped only a few spots of rain and we were able to make our descent in reasonable time to get back to the car by 13:52. We resisted the opportunity to play Lemmings off the southern edge of the hill – it looked even worse from the top! What the bikers must be thinking of when they take their bikes over the edge, I don’t know.
We set off for our final summit, Foel Offrwm GW/NW-055, at 13:58, having to retrace our route through Dovey Forest in order to get to the A470. The satnav indicated the fastest route was in a southerly direction, but our progress was halted a couple of miles down the road where it was blocked by at least one car on fire. I consulted the map and turned the car around to take the alternative route towards Dolgellau and thence to the parking for Foel Offwrm at SH745211. The parking here serves the Precipice Walk above Llyn Cynwch and so is a decent tarmac car park. We decanted our kit and set off at 14:50, now 15 minutes behind schedule caused by the delay on the road. We used the route described by John GW4BVE and ascended by the side of the stone wall that eventually runs close to the summit. We found this to be quite an arduous ascent as it was now rather hot in the late afternoon sun. Even so, we made it to the summit by 15:30 where we rested for a few minutes taking in the excellent views of Cadair Idiris, the Mawddach estuary and the Rhinogs before setting up. The summit again was covered by short stubby heather, so it was easy to get a comfortable operating position. Again I chose to get as high as I reasonably could while Paul set up a little to the north-west of me.
Aware that I might have some difficulty in qualifying this summit on 2m, I nevertheless adopted my usual strategy of calling directly on 144.333MHz and this time Roger G0TRB was first in the queue, with signals at 55 both ways. Despite the fact that I was 15 minutes late, it was good have someone waiting ready for me to come on and so enable me to be off the mark straight away. Needless to say, Frank was close on Roger’s heels! Roger kindly spotted me and others followed Frank, including Martin G0HZL/A in Blackpool running just 3 watts to a 7 element ZL special. Obviously there is a route that way through Snowdonia. Mike GW0DSP made me aware of the presence of Iain M3WJZ/P on High Street, G/LD-011 and I was about to move to the FM section to find him when Iain called me on my frequency. Signals were 53 both ways. After the contact with Iain, Jim EI3GE called me with the loudest signal of the day, coming in straight down the estuary! At 16:20 I moved to 432.222MHz CW / SSB, but heard absolutely nothing from either Frank or Don. I then moved over to 7MHz CW at 16:30 where I managed to find a reasonably clear spot amongst the NFD stations on 7.033MHz. Just Frank DL2EF and Peter DL8YR worked me before the frequency went quiet. With there being a high level of contest activity on the band, I decided to try 10.118MHz to see whether the SOTA CW fraternity were ensconced there, but that resulted in no contacts whatsoever. I was then side-tracked by a hill-bagger who had ascended the hill and that effectively ended my operations for the day, so I didn’t get back onto 7MHz.
On 5MHz Paul started at 15:50 with a contact with Frank G3RMD which must have been immediately after Frank had worked me. Frank spotted Paul and a steady run resulted, the total yet again being 14 contacts on the band with a further report from Peter ON3WAB via a spot. Paul G0HNW gave a fascinating insight into the strange conditions that had prevailed on 5MHz during the day. He was using two receive antennas, one vertical and one horizontal, connected to separate receivers and speakers in a “diversity” system. He described how Paul’s voice had moved from one speaker to the other, then back again over a fairly short time period. This suggested that the deep fading being experienced was not due to changes in the reflectivity of the ionosphere, but to the constantly changing polarisation of the reflected signal. This was fascinating stuff and worthy of more experiment and investigation! All respect to Paul G0HNW for his ingenuity.
At 16:18 Paul moved to 80m with another spot having been placed by Frank, which brought contacts with Jimmy M3EYP/P and Tom M1EYP/P on The Cloud G/SP-015, Graham G3OHC and Caroline M3ZCB, ending around 16:48. I had now more or less concluded my conversation with the hill-bagger (a Scot by the way), so we decided to pack up and descend. I took some photographs, though the sun was not in an ideal position for the views out towards the west. We took care on our descent as this is a steep hill and we were back at the car by 17:40, amazingly just 20 minutes behind schedule. After getting back into our “civvies” and some food and drink, we set off homewards at 17:58, reaching Stourbridge at 20:07 and eventually Northampton at 22:00.
Both Paul and I found these three summits to be extremely enjoyable. All three are single point summits in the 400m range, but each has its own distinct character. Each approach was different and each summit provided excellent views of the higher summits around. This was a good walking day as well as a good radio day and one that will be remembered for a long time. Undoubtedly the excellent weather helped.
Many thanks to all those that contacted us, especially to those that spotted us. Once again Frank G3RMD seemed to be omnipresent. I am sure he has had us fitted with trackers! As to where to next, I think more rare Welsh single pointers is a reasonably safe bet.
73, Gerald G4OIG