As I have already said, things didn’t quite go to plan on this one & my intention to work 80m so late in the afternoon turned out to be a mistake.
After the longer than usual “Snowy season” we have had in the UK this winter, as a motorcyclist I have had to resort to using the bus to get to work on numerous occasions & have even had to walk there or back when the weather proved too much for the local bus companies & services were cancelled without notice. This did of course mean I didn’t miss one day at work due to the snow, & was only at worst 35 minutes late
Of course, this has seriously restricted my access to the countryside & on more than one occasion I had to abandon any attempt at activating a local summit as the journey there would be extremely perilous to say the least. This has meant that apart from the odd walk to work I have not had any serious exercise since September when I activated G/SP-009 Hailstorm Hill in absolutely glorious weather. I was invited on an activation of two Northern Pennine summits with Scott 2E0RCS on 23rd January, but did not see his text message until very late so Scott ended up activating G/NP-010 on his own. I have to say that the original two summits planned would have been considerably more difficult & I would certainly have held him back, if I managed to climb them at all!
So, after having had to abandon attempting a couple of relatively easy (easy, in that I am familiar with them) local summits I thought I really should make the effort to activate something on Sunday 7th February as the weather was not a limiting factor & I really did / do need the exercise!
Of my nearest local summits the easiest would be the sub 500 Metre G/SP-014 Longridge Fell & G/SP-012 Easington Fell, but I wished to take advantage of the winter season to earn some bonus points which left me a choice of three summits. The one I am most familiar with by far is G/SP-005 Pendle Hill, which I have climbed many times since my childhood.
I am certain that the more experienced activators have a checklist & can be packed & away within minutes, but even though I mentioned to Tony 2E0LAE when he was activating G/SP-004 Shining Tor at 11:40z that I was intending activating a summit myself that day, it was still 13:50z before I finally had everything packed & set off on my way to Pendle Hill.
It has not gone un-noticed that I tend to carry way too much weight in my rucksack, but I do like my FT897D & it will take a lot for me change my ways. I had however looked at reducing the weight I carry & after removing both internal batteries I found I could lose 2.5 Kgs. The day before, I relented, as I didn’t want to depend entirely on one 7Ah SLAB & I put one of the internal NiMh batteries back into the radio. Another thing I did was to get a couple of small 500ml water bottles, much lighter to carry that a 2L bottle of Diet Coke! I am quite new at this exertion lark, but after hydrating myself before the climb I found that I only consumed 250ml of water throughout the whole ascent & descent.
The journey was quite pleasant & I was a little surprised to see the odd patch of Snow in the higher gulleys of Pendle as I passed on the A59. Once off the main road & on to country lanes I noticed that the temperature felt a little chillier so I kept a very keen eye out for Black Ice which is deadly on two wheels. On arrival at the usual parking spot for the ascent via the track past Pendleside farm I was also surprised to see so many cars parked there on what was a pretty grey day.
The top half of Pendle was covered in cloud & with the wind being minimal it was not going to budge, there were noticeably fewer patches of snow on the south eastern face than there were on the northern face of the Hill, but they were enough to persuade me to keep my hi-vis coat on for extra warmth if needed.
From Pendleside there are two paths to the summit, the one to the left is longer but much less steep, the one to the right is shorter, but much steeper & is in the form of stone steps. Having chosen the longer path last time with slightly less weight in my pack I thought I’d have a go at the steeper, shorter path this time. With this being the first time I have been out since September, I have to say it was extremely difficult, & I actually found it easier avoiding the steps & walking to the side of them. I was passed by several couples, families & dog walkers & at one point by a fell runner. I had to take regular rest breaks & during one of these I noticed a runner approaching the base of the hill. He was not moving very fast, but he proceeded to climb the steep path below me at the same speed he had travelled along the level farm track. He took the time to say hello to everyone he passed on the way up & the most frustrating thing for me personally was that as he passed me & we exchanged pleasantries, he wasn’t even out of breath!
He was in his 60’s & I’m only 44
He had obviously looked after himself…the less said about me the better.
During one of my rest stops I was passed by a young couple, & it was quite obvious that the male had been talked into going for a walk by the female, as she knew the hill & he asked her “are we nearly there yet?” as they passed me. If only I’d known, with the hill being in cloud I was literally only 20ft below the summit plateau.
What a relief to be on level-ish ground, my pace picked up significantly & I headed off in the direction of the summit trig point.
There was very little wind at the summit, but with the gentle breeze coming from the east I decided to set up very close to where I set up for the RSGB 144MHz backpackers contest last year, about 20m west & about 2m lower than the trig point. The land had not changed much but I did find a couple of convenient small rocks that would help to make a relatively comfortable operating position. Whilst setting up my 80/60/40 link dipole a nice gentleman who was simply out for a stroll asked me if I was setting up a radio station, so we had a very nice chat about how far I could get with it, & about amateur radio the SOTA programme.
My intention as always was to work as many bands as possible to give as many chasers as possible the chance of working the summit. The band I have found to bring the quickest response has for the past year been 60m, which in the UK is only available to full licence holders with a 5MHz NOV. As that band has “gone long” or basically lost it’s NVIS properties by quite early afternoon of late, I thought it prudent to start on that band in order to take advantage of any remaining NVIS propagation. My first CQ SOTA call at 15:53 was answered by John G0TDM in Penrith who was a solid 59 with me while he gave me 58, so the band was still working well for NVIS at that time thank goodness
There then followed a steady stream of regular SOTA chasers & activators, who gave me a call for which I am very grateful. They were all solid 59 or better with the noise floor at the summit of Pendle Hill being S1 or less, absolutely marvellous!
After 30 minutes & 22 very nice QSO’s, ending with a totally unexpected call from LA8BCA , who although he didn’t sound as loud as some of the UK stations registered a definite S9 on my radio’s meter, I definitely needed to get up & stretch my legs. The rock I had bean leaning on which at first at first was surprisingly comfortable, was after about 20 minutes starting to dig into my ribs. When a couple of final calls on 60m brought no further takers I announced I would be moving to 3.666MHz SSB at 16:30z.
I stretched my legs, then after connecting the 80m links in my aerial I listened on 3.666MHz. There were stations on either side of that frequency & if I was to call there I am certain there would have been some difficulty. I looked around 80m, & after several minutes found that there wasn’t a 2.7KHz slot available anywhere in the normal phone portion of the band. I looked at the CW portion of the band & could find more than enough space, but with cold fingers & extremely poor CW skills I needed to find a clear phone frequency. I went to 160m, & although I could hear some quite loud CW, I could not get a reasonable SWR with the gear I had available. I looked on 40m & found a clear frequency at 7.185MHz but then I happened to see my watch & that it was starting to go dark.
I very reluctantly decided to call it a day, pack up, & make my way back down the hill.
My sincerest apologies to anybody waiting for me on 80m at this point.
After packing up I started to make my way back down the hill.
For my descent I chose the longer & less steep path. Despite the lack of wind at the summit, there was considerable wind at the top of the path, which I think is caused by any wind hitting the south eastern face being funnelled up through a small gap in the edge of the summit plateau.
There were occasional patches of frozen compacted slush on the steep path on the way up, but on the less steep path on the way down these patches of solid ice were more substantial. If I had not been using my walking poles I would have ended up on my backside.
I arrived back at the parking spot to find my bike alone, & in one piece
Thank you again good people of Pendle.
On reflection, I could certainly do with arriving on summit earlier, carrying less weight & with the confidence to use CW if necessary. After all, as many of us did, I had to pass a test at 12wpm, & that does seem so slow now, & it is the best human readable mode in weak signal conditions.
A short video is now online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1PyG6NrYo0
Thank you to all stations that worked me,