Activation Report: Mellbreak + 3

Return to the Lakes
30th and 31st January 2011

Having completed the NP region summits on 30th December, Paul and I took stock of what we had left to activate to complete all of the English summits. In common, ignoring the “mopping up sorties” that would be required on our own accounts, there were just 21 summits remaining for joint activations in the Lake District. Early January was a period of much planning and spurred on by the offer of cheap accommodation at our favourite Travelodge at Cockermouth, a series of activations were planned. The first would be at the end of January making it a long month to endure without any action, though as it happened, we would both be busy with work and family.

The first day’s schedule was set up around the usual 03:00 departure from Northampton. After picking up Paul at Stourbridge, we motored northwards with the satnav set for the village of Loweswater, not far from Cockermouth. In all, the journey was not far off 300 miles. Nevertheless, I was in a reasonable state as we pulled up at the parking spot at NY140209 (thanks Steve G1INK) at 07:54 for our first summit - Mellbreak G/LD-036. The hill looked like it could be a real challenge from the parking spot, but I had allowed plenty of time in the itinerary so that we could take it steadily and that’s how we approached it. We are not as fit as we used to be when we were tearing around 4 or 5 Welsh summits in a day!

We set off for the summit at 08:13 and the initial section along the bridleway enabled us to get ourselves from “sitting in the car for hours” mode to walking mode. This section of the walk also enabled me to start to get used to my new Berghaus Kibo 4 season boots which were not at all necessary for the ascent under the conditions that greeted us, but I needed to see how they would perform. Under the circumstances they had if anything rather too much grip, but I was soon glad of the traction once we started the main part of the ascent up Mellbreak’s northern face. The route is part scree, part scramble, part track through heather, exposed in places and care was required, but overall it was a quite an exhilarating experience and just what we needed to set us up for the two days. Once at the northern summit it was an easy yomp across the top of the hill, descending then re-ascending some 60m to finish just 3m higher on the southern summit which we reached at 09:51. There was a cool wind blowing so I hunkered down close to the highest point while Paul sought shelter further down the slope where there was less windchill.

I was first on air, initially checking the Kent beacon and then seeking out Robert GW0PEB/P on Mynydd Mawr GW/NW-026 for a guaranteed S2S. I had heard Bill GW4WSB/P on GW/MW-008, so once I had signed with Robert I moved to Bill’s normal working frequency and joined the melee calling him. Unfortunately despite giving it my all, I was to be unsuccessful. I therefore moved to my usual frequency of 144.333MHz and my first CQ brought back Paul G4RRA to start the ball rolling. Stewart G0LGS kindly spotted me, but unfortunately he was unable to make contact. The “London Mafia” were also to lose out on this one, the tally on 2m SSB eventually reaching 12 contacts. At 11:00 I moved to 70cms and expended battery power on SSB, CW and FM without making any contacts. Ten minutes later I gave up and moved to the 2m FM calling frequency, my call being immediately answered by Ron G0UQC in Keswick who was a stonking 59++. The signal must have just slid over the col between Crag Hill and Eel Crag to the east of Grasmoor G/LD-009. After a chat with Ron, I worked Julian G4ILO in Cockermouth, then a breathy Colin G4UXH/P en route to Seat Sandall G/LD-022, another Colin in the form of 2E0XSD and finally David M0YDH/P on Great Rigg LDW-054. QRT was at 11:30.

Paul’s activation went smoothly, starting with a chat on 60m with John GW4BVE who spotted him. A steady run of 11 contacts were made on the band, including a rare and interesting QSO with Grahame OZ1KGV and finishing with an exuberant Brian G4ZRP who desperately wanted Mellbreak as one of his 2 outstanding LD’s, the other predictably being Swinside. At 10:45, Paul moved down to 80m and was found by Don G0RQL. Once Don’s spot was noted, another steady run ensued to put several G’s and GM’s into the log and also Peter EI7CC. In all 12 contacts were made on 80m, Bob G6ODU slipping in at the end to make contact with Paul to compliment the contact that he had made earlier with me on 2m. I was in action on 2m FM when Paul completed his activation, so he started to get his station packed away while I finished making my final few contacts.

We set off back to the car at 11:45, which happened to be the time we were scheduled for. The steeper parts of the route were a little ankle-breaking, but again we took it carefully and arrived back at the car by 12:50 in good time for a quick snack lunch. Mindful we had a reputedly hard ascent to our second summit of the day we kept the snack light and then set off to the car parking spot at NY141214 which was thankfully free, there being just sufficient space for a single vehicle. After taking a few photographs and checking that we had all our kit, we set off for Low Fell G/LD-042 at 13:06, nine minutes ahead of our schedule.

The route chosen was that described by Roger G4OWG and it was everything he said it would be – steep and awkward. The upper part of the ascent was also rather slippery, something which caught me out when we made our descent later. Grippy boots were a help, but the grassy sections were treacherous. We reached the summit at 14:22 and as per the arrangement on the earlier summit, I hunkered down close to the highest point while Paul back-tracked and found a fence to assist with the mounting of his pole.

On this summit we hit the air at the same time at 14:44, Paul finding Phil G4OBK for his first QSO on 60m, receiving spots from Phil and also from Stewart G0LGS. Many people were out looking for this summit and Paul made an excellent run of 21 contacts on the band around G, GW, GM, GI and EI. Don G0RQL once again on the ball when the move to 80m was made and he provided the spot, securing another run of 6 on the band. Don was the only person to work Paul on both bands.

My first contact on 2m SSB was with Julian G4ILO, with Mark MM1MPB following in close order and providing the spot for me. Despite my slight concern that this summit might be difficult to qualify, contacts came in good order. Roger G4OWG noted that the path between us should not have been possible and indeed a check on the direct path when back at home confirmed this. I managed to work Laurie G6XLL, but not David G2BOF. My greatest disappointment was not to work Don G0RQL, something I did not quite understand given his usual omni-presence. A short session on 2m FM bagged G0ORO, 2E0XSD and a totally unexpected S2S with Phil M0AYB/P on High Rigg G/LD-044. Once I had packed up, I fired up the handheld and worked Steve G0MTD operating MX0WRC as I walked across to Paul’s position.

We set off downhill at 16:06, having to take it extremely carefully on the steep sections. At one point I lost my footing on a grassy section and had to grab the fence to the side of me, but other than that there were no other problems. We arrived at the car at 16:52 and I took the opportunity to change my footwear before driving to the Travelodge in Cockermouth. I am used to driving in my usual Kayland boots, but these new ones were an unknown factor. Once we had checked in, we made our usual routine phone calls home and then had something to eat before getting ready to go out. A taxi was ordered to take us down to The Bitter End pub where we spent a very enjoyable evening chatting over a few pints of Bitter End Bitter, their excellent Lakeland Golden unfortunately not being on tap. The taxi picked us up at 22:30.

During our conversations in the pub, we realised that there might be insufficient light for us to work to the itinerary that I had prepared for the following morning. Paul had also assumed that I had set the route to Blake Fell G/LD-031 from Felldyke to the west of the summit, but I had based my itinerary on a route from the east at Loweswater. The pros and cons of the two routes were discussed and since the Felldyke route via Cogra Moss offered a track walk for much of the ascent, we opted for that in preference to my route. We also set a later start time to avoid walking too far in the dark and although Paul was confident that we could make our alerted time as we would be walking on forestry tracks, I nonetheless posted the possibility of the activation being put back half an hour. In the event Paul’s estimated time proved to be spot on.

My alarm was set for 06:00 which allowed me ample time to have my Special K + Jordans Country Crisp before we met up at the car twenty minutes later. Navigation was a case of settlng the satnav for Lamplugh and then navigating through the minor roads by map to find the car park at Felldyke. It was 06:50 and still dark when we pulled into the car park and we quietly made our preparations as there are houses adjacent to the parking spot. Twenty minutes later we were on our way, our route lit up by my LED headlamp and the approaching dawn. The route is amply described by Richard G4ERP on the summit page. It provides easy walking up to the edge of the forest – then the stiff climb started! It was very calm in the forest section, but once out of the protection of the trees, the wind affected us and the higher up we climbed, the stronger it got. We took great care on the steep ascent as it was rather slippery underfoot and bit by bit we neared the summit in the face of an increasingly strong wind. The summit was reached at 08:40 and I was pleased to find that it had a shelter, though it was not particularly high. Thankfully, for once the entrance was downwind. Paul decided to retreat to lower ground to find a calmer spot to set up for HF.

I used my tarpaulin within the summit shelter to get the best protection I could and just about managed to get my antenna up at around 2 metres above ground. There were spits of rain in the strong wind, so the pole got wet and I was unable to tape the joints together. I therefore had to resort to controlling it by hand above the line of the shelter and even with gloves on my hand soon became numb. In view of these difficulties, I was pleased to find John G0TDM ready waiting for me on frequency at 09:00. After a chat with John, his spot did the business and I worked 13 in just over half an hour. I then picked up Colin 2E0XSD on FM, but no further calls were received despite Colin spotting me. A few calls on 70cms also solicited no response, but that was hardly surprising given the problem that I was having controlling the beam. The strong wind almost blew me off my feet when I stood up to lower the pole at 09:45.

Conditions lower down the hill were slightly better for Paul and he managed to erect the HF station with the antenna end on into the wind. His first call on 60m was answered by Roger G4OWG who spotted him. In a little over quarter of an hour Paul had 11 contacts logged ranging from Don G0RQL down in Devon to Julian G4ILO in nearby Cockermouth. Don was again on hand to pick up with Paul on 80m, though it was Frank G3RMD who placed the spot. Another 11 contacts were made on the band, this time including Scotland through Barry GM4TOE and Andy MM0USU.

Packing up in the wind and rain was interesting to say the least. It took a couple of attempts to control my plastic tarpaulin before I could fold it up and put it into my backpack. Paul also had to take care dismantling his antenna and he was finishing off his packing as I joined him. Fortunately I was able to locate him in the 20m visibility. We started our descent at 10:05 and this time it was Paul who was soon to fall foul of the slippery conditions. We both had to take to the vegetation adjacent to the path on the steep section, but checking our rate of descent when we reached the forest, we were very surprised to find that we had only taken 13 minutes to get that far. In all it took just over the hour to get back to the car.

As we were now half an hour ahead of our schedule, there was time for a relaxing lunch. I changed out of my boots for the drive south and east to Hard Knott Pass where we would ascend our final summit of this outing. The journey took us 54 minutes and we arrived at the parking spot for Hard Knott G/LD-034 at NY231014 at 12:22. The trip up the 1 in 4 gradient out of Eskdale was rather hairy with the 4 wheel drive skipping on the extremely uneven road surface. As we gained height, the mists rolled in and neither of us was surprised to see the parking spot completely devoid of vehicles when we arrived.

It took a few minutes for me to get my boots back on and then we were ready for the off at 12:35. Visibility was poor as we made our way up the hillside and this made us take regular checks on the map and GPS to ensure that we were not wandering off course. Walking across the frozen water-logged ground was eerie, with the ground sinking beneath our feet and an accompanying cracking sound. The track appeared and disappeared and not until we were close to the summit proper did we pick up on a clear approach. A further check on the GPS showed we had the correct lump. Even with all the checking, the ascent took just 31 minutes.

Having adopted our usual strategy in respect of operating positions, I set up by a large rock and bungied my pole to it. There was a breeze running across the summit, but nothing like it had been on Blake Fell and it was quite pleasant sitting operating without the need for protection from the elements. I was first on air at 13:25 and it took a couple of calls to raise Bob G6ODU. Graham G4JZF and Laurie G6XLL were on the frequency and they both spotted me, later making the log as contacts 6 and 7. Signals were far stronger on this summit than they had been further north and it looked quite promising for some 70cms contacts - these would be the first recorded for SOTA from this summit. I was surprised how many people said that this was a new summit for them.

The run of 17 contacts on 2m SSB was relatively unrushed and it wasn’t until 14:15 that I moved to 432.222MHz. Don G0RQL was quickly on the case and he made contact just as my battery pack started to die. David G6LKB and Rob G4RQJ managed to decipher my SSB-FM hybrid modulation before I called it a day at 14:28. Unfortunately Frank G3RMD was to miss out on making a contact on this occasion. After shutting down the 857, I fired up the C520 handheld and changed the beam polarisation to vertical. David G6LKB was monitoring the 2m FM calling frequency and the two Colins, XSD and UXH called in afterwards. I then moved to 70cms FM to work Colin G4UXH, but my 5 watts was insufficient to make a contact though I could hear his 40 watts clearly. David G6LKB attempted to assist and when I said I needed just one more to qualify the summit on 70cms he went to get Marjorie to the microphone, but while he did so Bob G6ODU called in to complete qualification on 70cms. It was 14:54 when I went QRT.

Paul found a very convenient fence post quite close to the summit to fix his pole to. His first contact on 60m at 13:30 was with Don G0RQL who placed a spot and others followed on quickly. However, the activation of Hard Knott was to be rather more complex than the other summits had been. The run on 60m ended with a contact with Don G0NES. Paul then moved to 80m at 14:02 with Don G0RQL and though he gave Don a 44 report, Don could not hear him. After 10 minutes fruitless calling on 80m, Paul decided to move back to 60m and made a further 3 contacts before trying 80m again at 14:23. This time his first call was immediately answered by Paul G0HNW, with reports of 59 passed both ways. Another 7 contacts were made on 80m including G0RQL who was now 56, though the report back was only 37. Paul closed down at 14:38 after working Tony G8BVJ.

Dismantling our stations was an interesting experience. We found our antennas and poles iced up. It took some effort to telescope the poles and in removing the elements from my 2m / 70cms antenna, small tubes of ice about 1mm thick were shed. I photographed one piece for the record. We set off down the hill at 15:11 and the descent was relatively quick aided by Paul’s GPS. We reached the car in 20 minutes and after stashing the kit and changing into more appropriate footwear, we had a what can only be described as mini-feast before setting off home at 16:10. So much for burning off the calories!

Rob G4RQJ had warned me that there had been an accident on Wrynose Pass in the morning and on reaching Cockley Beck we found ithe pass was still closed, presumably on account of ice. We therefore had no option other than to drive down Dunnerdale to Duddon Bridge to join the A595. This incurred more time penalties than road mile penalties, but we were only 34 minutes adrift of our schedule by the time we got to Paul’s QTH at 19:54. After an excellent cup of coffee, I set off for Northampton at 20:20 and arrived home at 21:38.

So that was another 4 summits conquered and activated. The steep climbs were challenging, but enjoyable nonetheless. The points weren’t particularly important, but the sortie did move us on another 16 and from hereon with the exception of Swinside, just 4, 6 and 8 point summits remain for us to climb and activate in the Lake District.

Thanks to everyone for the contacts that we made and for the high level of support that you provided. Apologies to those that were unfortunate enough to miss out on contacts for one reason or another. Our next outing will be on 19th February, so keep an eye on the alerts page of SOTAwatch for where we will appear next.

73, Gerald G4OIG