Dale Head and Robinson
22nd May 2011
Perhaps this should be sub-titled “The Unintentional Summit” or perhaps “3 for the price of 2”.
A week of intense weather forecast watching left both Paul and myself still not knowing which summits we would be tackling on this outing. I got out of bed at 01:30z on the Sunday morning to be greeted by rather dreary weather, but the rain at least managed to hold off until I had packed the car and was ready for the off. We had at least decided to start the day using our “standard” 03:00 local departure from Northampton / 04:40 local departure from Stourbridge. After that, all was to be decided.
As we travelled north up the M6 we discussed the pros and cons of the various itineraries we had at our disposal. We decided that in view of the rain showers and 70mph winds forecast we would leave our planned activation of Grisedale Pike and Grasmoor until a later date and activate Dale Head and Robinson instead. Paul’s recently mended arm was untested on an activation and we did not want to take on too much given the poor weather conditions.
The wind fair blew us up the motorway and we arrived at Honister Slate Mine at 06:51z. Here in the pass at around 350m it was blustery, but dry. That was until we got out of the car - cue half an hour of heavy rain! This was the first time that we had to delay our preparations, but after the rain it brightened up somewhat and we were soon sorted out. We looked for someone to give the £5 parking fee to, but after walking around the mine premises we had to admit defeat. The ascent of Dale Head LD-020 took a little over an hour and was very straightforward and we were on the summit by 08:48z. As expected, it was extremely windy up on the top. Paul offered me the convenient fence post close to the summit cairn and then moved off to seek a less exposed position. For once I wasn’t particularly keen to be the one operating VHF!
I decided to minimise the head load on the pole and so only assembled the 2m elements on the beam. However, even at a low height, it was evident that this would be too much for the pole in the strong wind, so I reduced the antenna down to a dipole. Even this was moving around quite a bit. After setting up the antenna I started to assemble the equipment and while bending over my backpack a strong gust actually blew me over sideways. Every piece of kit had to be weighed down with stones to stop it taking off and setting up took some time. It was not until 09:19 that I made my first contact – John G0TDM was thankfully monitoring 144.333MHz. David G6LKB followed on, then the static rain and the hail. Thankfully the rain was short lived and I was soon back on air, with a QSY up 3kHz to avoid a contest station. Then another strong gust of wind took out the antenna pole cracking it just above the top of the fence post it was lashed to. I quickly recovered the remnant and requested a QRX while I sorted the kit out. Thereafter things went a little more smoothly thank goodness.
In all I worked 10 on SSB. It took a few overs to get the report over to Mike G4BLH, but we made it okay. I thought that I copied Don G0RQL and Graham G4JZF, but neither responded to my calls to them. John G0TDM told me that Derek 2E0MIX and Heather M6UXH were QRV on Souther Fell LDW-163, so once 144.336MHz went quiet I moved to FM to work them. Then Tony G1OAE was worked on both 2m FM and 70cms FM. After this I checked my 2m SSB frequency again and announced a move up to 432.222MHz SSB where I found Bob G6ODU. After Bob there were no more takers so I decided to go QRT, but resetting the rig to 2m in readiness for the next activation I found Frank G3RMD calling me on CW. After a scramble to deploy the key, I was pleased to make the QSO with him.
A little further down the hill, Paul eventually managed to deploy the 60m monoband dipole, though with the apex only a few metres above ground. Like me, Paul was deposited on the ground by a strong gust of wind and he too suffered for a short time with the static rain and hail. John GW4BVE was first in the log and he provided a spot for Paul. A total of 14 contacts made on the band between 09:22 and 09:49z with regular chasers around GW, G and GM. Signals were reasonable, given the low level of the antenna and overall Paul was pleased to have a decent log. The use of the dipole limited the activation somewhat, but under the conditions, this was the most sensible option for HF. Finishing before me, he packed away and climbed back up to the summit to arrive just as I was making contact with Frank.
After taking photographs of the excellent views from the summit, particularly down into the Newlands Valley with the beck in full spate, we set out towards Robinson LD-021 at 10:30z. It was extremely blustery on Hindscarth Edge and we often took two steps forwards and one back, but heads down we made reasonable progress. We had set up the itinerary to allow for difficult conditions and expected the walk to Robinson to take us around an hour and a quarter, but at 11:12z we were surprised to find ourselves on a summit complete with a wind shelter – time to check the GPS. Our position turned out to be the summit of Hindscarth LDW-073, confirmed by Paul’s latest gadgetry. Fighting against the conditions we had missed the left turn to Robinson. Forever the opportunist, I removed the C520 handheld from my backpack and started calling on 2m FM. My reward was a QSO with Colin G4UXH/M who was acting as chauffeur for Derek and Heather who I had worked earlier. So, another WOTA summit bagged.
As we were about to set out from Hindscarth, a couple of local walkers joined us and it transpired they were also headed for Robinson. We followed them over towards Littledale Edge and then onto the top of Robinson, which we reached at 12:10z. It looked like the summit shelter would offer me a means of supporting the remains of my pole and Paul decided to retrace our steps to find a position to set up for HF. I didn’t attempt to get anything more than a dipole up as the wind seemed even stronger at this location, though perhaps it was a little less gusty than it had been earlier.
I was QRV by 12:25z and after a few calls Clive GM4FZH came back to me. Taking a peek over the edge of the summit shelter it seemed that we would soon be hit by a heavy shower. Fortunately I was able to make contact with John G0TDM before it hit – more static rain and hail. I disconnected the coax and got a mild shock for my trouble – better that than a dead 857. I wondered what to do now as the cloud seemed to be quite dense and the rain and hail was rushing past me at speed. Recalling an activation that I had carried out in static rain back in December 2006 on Gwaunceste Hill, GW/MW-010, I decided to deploy the handheld and rubber duck. At least using this kit the noise level was only s4 now, not 60dB over 9. A couple of calls on the calling frequency netted me a contact with Colin 2E0XSD followed by the all-important qualifier from Dave M6DHV. Another contact with Colin G4UXH/M made the log look decent and then the shower petered out. I was back up on 144.336MHz at 13:00z where I found a number of loyal chasers ready waiting, John G0TDM having provided an advisory service on our situation through the SOTAwatch spots facility. In amongst the run was a most welcome S2S contact with Rhys GW4RWR/P on Cadair Berwyn GW/NW-012. The session ended with a couple of contacts with Tony G1OAE on 2m and 70cms and I closed down at 13:17z.
Once again it took Paul slightly longer to set up for HF and he was not QRV until 12:30z. Steve GW7AAV was first in the log and provided the spot. He was followed by Martin GW4CQZ and next up was Don G0RQL, but then the static rain and hail hit. It was 12:35z and for the next 25 minutes the band was unusable. Paul had the same thought as me and just as I ended on 2m FM, Paul came up on the band and Tony G1OAE provided contact number 4. Without the protection of the summit shelter, Paul had well and truly taken the brunt of the storm and decided that the best option was to call it a day. It was 13:25z when I set out from the summit and a few minutes later we were both making our descent to Dalegarth. We had a bus to catch!
The descent was extremely steep and difficult to negotiate with the damp slippery ground. I was having to carry my broken pole and Paul was similarly reduced to one hand on account of the injury received a couple of months previous. If it was on time the bus would be departing from Buttermere at 14:25z. It was quite a close run in the end as we arrived at Dalegarth at 14:23z. My legs were shaking with the effort as we stood waiting for the bus, but at least we got a visual reward for our efforts – a red squirrel crossed the road no more than 30 metres from us.
The bus journey took around 13 minutes and we were back at the car for 14:43z. After stashing the kit, Paul went off to find someone to pay the parking fee to, only to return a while later with a rather bemused look on his face - they had refused to take the payment saying that they only charged when it was busy. What nice people!
After a snack we set off north, arriving at Cockermouth Travelodge at 15:40z. Once we had booked in the first job was to check out the kit and start the drying process for anything that had got damp. We met up at 17:00z and drove down into town to our favourite pub for some their excellent ale and food. This was to be a fairly quick visit as we were both tired and we needed to get back to debate what we would be doing the following day. Speaking to Paul’s wife on the phone, we found out that MWIS were forecasting 110 mph gusts on the tops, so all the LD summits would be out of bounds. We therefore decided that subject to the weather in the morning, we would probably head into Scotland to pick up a couple of SS summits. I suggested a relatively late start and 07:00z was set for meeting up in the car park.
The sound of heavy rain woke me at 04:20z. By 06:30z the rain was near horizontal and I donned my waterproofs to get out to the car, rather than in preparation for an activation. Once we had everything into the car, we sat and discussed the pros and cons of driving north to Langholm to activate Calkin Rig and Grange Fell. Getting wet when out on the hills is one thing and that has happened to us many times. We have even set out in the wet, but nothing as heavy as the rain was this day and with the high winds we knew it had all the ingredients for a rather unpleasant day of activations. Therefore there was only one way to go – south and home.
So for the first time since we started SOTA over 5 years ago, the weather stopped us activating. The hills will be there for us to climb over the coming months and most of the outstanding LD summits have itineraries set out for them. All being well we will be back up there in a few weeks.
73 to all, Gerald G4OIG
Postscript - for those that are wondering - yes, I have repaired my pole!