More GM/SS summits - 28th to 30th December 2012
Paul and I had not been out on a joint activation since August, so we decided to use the period between Christmas and New Year to get together to activate some more GM/SS summits. Paul booked the Dumfries Travelodge for the nights of 28th and 29th December and we started to make plans - well, we started, but the weather kept us guessing right up to the last minute as to what summits might be best under the circumstances.
Green Lowther GM/SS-056
By Thursday 27th December it was clear that whatever summit we were going to activate the following day, we were in for a severely wet experience. I had several “first day” itineraries set out, each optimised around two summits with good well-defined access, some of it along tracks. However, I came to the conclusion that it would be best to activate just a single summit to avoid having to expose the equipment to the weather twice. Despite the fact that it meant travelling further, I came up with an itinerary for Green Lowther, which actually allowed what for us would be a comparatively late start.
My alarm went off at 04:00 and I went into the usual routine, careful not to wake family members that were still with us after Christmas. Outside it was a balmy 8 degrees C, slightly damp, with a light breeze. The journey to Paul’s QTH in Stourbridge was easy and I arrived more or less on time. After loading the car with Paul’s kit and the food for the outing, we set off northwards at 06:08. The forecast was for heavy rain up the western side of the country, but we were fortunate enough to only run through fairly light showers until we reached Lancaster and thereafter none of the showers were particularly heavy.
We broke our journey with a stop at Tebay services and reached the parking spot close to the NATS service buildings at Wanlockhead at 10:40. A stiff breeze was blowing with some of the wet stuff in it, but the way that I had positioned the car allowed us to use the boot and doors for shelter while we kitted up. We started the ascent at 11:05 which was 40 minutes ahead of schedule. As we gained height up the NATS access road, the wind and rain slowly increased and from around the 450m level, snow was lying.
After an hour and a half walking, we were stood at the trig-point wondering where we could find shelter. I took a couple of quick pictures before stowing the camera in an inside pocket - it would not come out again until we were at our accommodation later in the day. It took some time to find a reasonably sheltered position, which happened to be in the most unlikely spot. The wind and rain was coming in from the south / south-west and it was on this side of the summit that we found a place of relative calm alongside a fence. The steep slope just beyond the fence was thrusting the air and wet stuff above our position, so apart from the odd period when it hailed, we kept reasonably dry.
The fence provided a suitable support for our poles and we managed to get our antennas up to their usual height, though I was a little concerned as the elements on my 2m yagi were bending in the wind. Despite being almost an hour early, it took just two calls on 144.333MHz SSB to get a response at 13:07, Geoff GM4WHA keeping a check on my usual frequency. The first few contacts came relatively slowly, but thereafter the activation went at a reasonable pace to put 10 contacts into my log in just over half an hour. I moved to 432.222MHz at 13:48 and put several calls out, but there was no response, so I decided to change the antenna to vertical polarisation and try 2m FM. This resulted in a run of 4 contacts, including a chat with Jack GM4COX to complete the activation.
Paul opted for a 5MHz only activation on account of the weather conditions and quickly found Paul G0HNW on the band. Conditions on the band were quite reasonable and a steady run of contacts produced a total of 21 for the band. This included Robert GW0PEB/P at his parents’ home in Criccieth and a rare contact with Mike LA5SAA. Paul concluded his activation just before 14:00 and had packed up some time before me as I did not complete with Jack until 14:18.
Once I had packed away my kit, we descended as rapidly as we could, the weather conditions having worsened somewhat during our time at the summit. The rain was now quite heavy and it stung our faces, so we used a couple of the short-cuts that cross the zig-zig section of roadway to pick up a bit of time and were back at the car by 15:35, an hour after setting out. After stowing the kit and changing out of our boots, we set off for the Travelodge, arriving there at 16:42.
The first task was to take all of the equipment out of the backpacks and get the drying process under way. We then made a second visit to the car to collect some food. As we ate our way through an excellent array of sandwiches, salad, cheeses and unmentionable calories provided by Paul, we considered the itineraries that I had prepared. The forecast was for continuing bad weather, so we decided to revise our itineraries to avoid having to walk using headlamps. The result was a change from Colt Hill SS-116 to Bogrie Hill SS-205 for the following morning and a move to an altogether different pair of hills on the Sunday. Using the internet connection on my mobile phone, the alerts were duly altered and after a beer (just one), it was a reasonably early night for both of us.
Bogrie Hill GM/SS-205
I set my alarm for 06:15 - so late! - well, it was the holiday period. I ate breakfast while I repacked the backpack and was out at the car for 06:45. Unusually Paul ran a little late, but we were away from Dumfries by 07:02 and arrived at the small quarry by the road to the south of Bogrie Hill some 32 minutes later. The dawn weather was quite pleasant and it looked as though it would be a better day than forecast - 6 degrees C and a light wind at the car. It took us 48 minutes to get to the summit on a slightly circuitous route, since we took advantage of a couple of quad bike tracks that meandered somewhat.
As a summit, Bogrie Hill has it all - trig, fence posts, wall - right luxury for SOTA activations. We both opted for positions against the wall to get out of the cold wind that was strong enough to make our poles bend. The two halves of Paul’s antenna billowed out like sails and once again I noticed the elements on my 2m beam bending. At least it wasn’t too difficult to keep the beam pointed in the direction I wanted it, not least until I turned it to vertical polarisation. That seemed to present a greater wind loading and I ended up with the beam at just 1.7m above ground so that I could hold it steady.
I was first to get on air and I found Bob G6ODU ready waiting for me. The run of contacts was not without its challenges. Matt G8XYJ could not hear me, yet he was 54 with me. I also tried to work Mike G4BLH without success. Jack GM4COX called me on CW which provided a moment of indecision as I wondered whether to move to the mode or stay on SSB. In the event, we did work cross-mode. Then when I moved to CW, I worked Richard G4ERP who was on SSB. With a dozen complete contacts in the log, I moved up to 432.222MHz and was surprised to find Geoff GM4WHA there. However, no-one else was around on the band. 2m FM provided a couple of contacts with the beam positioned by hand.
Paul came up on 60m to find Don G0RQL ready and waiting. Indeed there were a number of people waiting to work Paul and he had a good run of 18 contacts around G, GW and GM ending with Stewart G0LGS at 09:34. Paul then moved to 80m and was quickly found by Brian G8ADD. A total of 10 contacts were made on the band, with half of the contacts being with people that Paul had not worked on 60m. Victor GI4ONL added a fourth country to Paul’s tally for the summit.
Both of us went QRT at around 10:05, slightly over-running our allotted time for the activation. As we started our descent at 10:25 it seemed that the weather was taking a turn for the worse with dark clouds rolling in from the south. Thankfully we were spared a wetting, only being hit by a short sharp hail shower a few minutes after we set out. Just as the hail hit us, I managed to step into a hole between a couple of grass tumps which had me off my feet.
Despite leaving the summit later than intended, we were back at the car by 10:54. As we ate a quick snack and changed the batteries in our backpacks, Paul suggested that we take a look to see whether we could park closer to the entrance to the wind farm on our next summit as it would save us several hundred metres road walk. The route took us through the delightful village of Moniaive and out westwards on the B729. We passed the parking spot noted by Neil 2M0NCM and motored on to the entrance of the wind farm. Here I managed to carefully position the car on the verge a little to the east - absolutely no worries having the Quattro of course and it wasn’t particularly boggy anyway.
Wether Hill GM/SS-147
It was 12:00 by the time we set out along the access road for the summit of Wether Hill. Although this was somewhat later than planned, we estimated that we were about on schedule given the slightly shorter route. With a good surface under foot we made good progress and only had to endure a couple of brief hail showers during our ascent. Thankfully, the weather seemed to be improving with lighter skies and lightening winds. Close to turbine 13 we struck left up a bank to reach the summit plateau where we were pleased to find that this summit also has a convenient wall and fence to provide shelter and support for the poles. All in all it looked to be set fair for a good activation.
We were more or less spot on schedule when we arrived on the summit and my first call on 144.333MHz at the alerted time of 13:45 brought Colin G4UXH straight back. The run set off at a decent pace, with Jack GM4COX once again calling me on CW, the contact providing a new summit for him. Tom G0WTD called me at 14:05 requesting a contest report, which I duly provided, but was unable to give him the locator reference as I had left my papers in the car. Don G0NES later kindly provided this for me, but I was actually left alone by those working the contest. That was until GM4AFF came and sat on my frequency. I had little choice, but to work him and then move to 432.222Mhz where once again I failed to make any contacts, though GW8ASD was a decent signal with me.
With the improved weather conditions I had taken the opportunity to erect the multi-band dipole and so was spoilt by having a choice of 7 or 10MHz to work. As I had not been on 7MHz CW from a summit for a while, I decided to run that band. 7.032MHz was already in use for SOTA, though I could hardly copy OK1DCS/P and 7.034MHz was being used by someone running an FF reference, so I conveniently slotted in between. After a couple of CQ calls, SP8BBK responded at 14:35, but strangely did not give me a report before signing. I didn’t have to wait long though as Axel DL6KVA was soon on frequency to start the run proper, though it was the RBN that actually spotted me. Soon the inevitable pile up was in full swing and, as usual, it was extremely difficult to pull calls out of the pile. I also had a couple of people call me a second time for a QSO just to add to the stress. In all I worked 25 different calls around DL, G, PA, OM, S5, HA, LY, HB9 and SP, many signals being 599 in the excellent conditions. John G4WSX completed the run to close the activation at 15:08.
Paul once again chose 60m to begin his activation. Brian G8ADD was ready waiting with other regular chasers hot on his heels. In all Paul worked 26 on the band in little over half an hour mainly around G and GM, with Dave EI0DB making a welcome entry into the log. Robert GW0PEB/P on Foel Fenlli GW/NW-051 was last to be worked on the band, so Paul was able to pass the frequency over to him. On moving to 80m, Frank G3RMD was first in the log to head a run of 9 contacts. Ricky MW6GWR completed the activation for Paul at 14:40.
I had just finished my activation when Paul arrived at my operating position, so once again I was the one to delay our departure from the summit. At least the weather was still fair while he waited for me to pack up and the sun had shown its face a couple of times during the time that we had been on the summit. The temperature was definitely dropping though - just 4 degrees C now. We set off downhill at 15:23 and the descent took us 1 hour and 10 minutes. During the descent my right hand began to ache, though it did not occur to me that I had hurt it when I had fallen on Bogrie Hill. There was a slight swelling, but thankfully it did not seem to be much of a problem.
It was still fairly light when we reached the car and in a relaxed mood we had a celebratory snack once we had stowed the kit and changed out of our boots. The temperature was now down to just 1 degree C - would it be a cold one tomorrow?
Once again the kit was spread out when we got to the Travelodge to remove any damp that had got in during the day. After showers and a change into clean clothes, we met up and walked to the local bistro pub where we enjoyed a meal and a couple of drinks.
Turner Cleuch Law GM/SS-140
The schedule for Sunday required a slightly earlier start and we left the Travelodge at 06:30. There was a light wind and it was dry and about 2 degrees C. The drive across to Moffat was quite pleasant. There we took the A708 across towards Selkirk. This road peaks at Horseman Rig at around 330m before descending to the Tibbie Shiels Inn. I would say that the road west of the summit is one that I will try to avoid in future, whereas to the east the road is considerably less twisty and a lot smoother! In places I had to drive through water and snow was lying on the ground as we approached Turner Cleuch Law. We had chosen the ascent route described by Colwyn MM6YCJ so that we could take advantage of the forestry track and sheltered forest ride. The parking spot was reached at 07:45 by the B709 just as dawn was breaking and the temperature was down at zero.
We started our ascent at 08:00 and reached the summit 45 minutes later. En route we met a forestry worker who had presumably stayed on site in the rather damp looking caravan that stood by the track part way along. The ascent up the forest ride was particularly pleasing with a thin layer of snow covering the ground. The morning was rather chilly and the cold wind at the summit made the zero degree temperature feel rather cold indeed. Paul took advantage of the shelter provided by the forest and wall while I constructed a shelter using my tarpaulin against the fence close to the highest point.
Surprisingly, despite having to construct a shelter, I was actually the first to be in QSO at 09:08, with Colin G4UXH calling me on 144.333MHz before I could even speak into the microphone. When I did speak it was evident that there was a problem with my audio. Colin reported that the audio did not sound like me, in fact to get any output from the rig I had to speak directly into the mic, not across it. With the low temperature I suspected that damp had got into the mic and had frozen. Having to speak directly into it did not help the situation. Anyway, I managed to exchange reports with 5 stations before I moved to CW. Having full output on the mode thankfully confirmed that the rig itself was not the issue. I worked Frank G3RMD on the key before moving back to shouting into the mic on SSB to work Graham G4JZF and Mark G0VOF. Returning to CW, I had another contact with Mark followed by an excellent contact with Phil G4OBK - 589 / 579. After that I decided enough was enough and even though it was only 09:36, I started to pack up without even thinking of 70cm. There was now some snow falling and, with the strong cold wind, this was not the time and place for an extended stay!
Paul came up on 60m at 09:11 to find Don G0RQL ready and waiting. Although signals were not quite as good as they had been the previous day, there were still plenty of takers and Paul worked an excellent run of 24 contacts, ending with John G3JRL at 09:52. Mark G0VOF then called back in and offered Paul a spot for 80m which was accepted and although conditions were not particularly good on the lower band, Paul did work 4 to qualify the summit on both bands.
Paul was just finishing off as I arrived at his position at 10:02. To me it felt positively balmy down by the wall, in fact I noted Paul had been sitting on rather damp mossy ground. The ground had been rock hard at the summit. We set off downhill at 10:22. Being quite keen to get back to the car in good time, in my haste I failed to take sufficient care on the steep slope between the forest ride and the track and tripped up on some vegetation. With the slope, the weight of the backpack actually took me over and I ended up head facing downhill with my arms and legs in the air, laughing out loud. I had to unhitch the backpack to get back on my feet. Thankfully I had jettisoned the pole and antenna as I went over so the fall had caused no further damage to my hand.
Despite my minor mishap, we reached the car in 31 minutes and were soon on our way to the parking spot for Cacra. I had not allowed for a break at this point, but we grabbed a cereal bar as we motored the few miles past the Tushielaw Inn to the parking spot by the cattle grid on the B711. We started the ascent at 11:15 and after making good progress up the Landrover track, we struck off left to reach the summit plateau, being blown there by an increasingly strong wind. The problem with this flat topped summit is that there is little shelter and as I needed to be as close to the highest point as possible, I was left with little option other than to hunker down just on the north side of a small rise in the ground. Running HF, Paul operated from further down the same slope where it was slightly more sheltered. It was 0.8 degrees C at my position and 1.6 degrees C at his - the benefit of running HF for what it was worth.
We arrived at the summit at 12:00 precisely on schedule, but it took us both a while to get set up. Paul was first to be in QSO at 12:23, Mark G0VOF heading the run of contacts. Conditions had deteriorated somewhat on 60m and a wide range of reports were given and received. The summit was qualified within a short period thanks to regular chasers and Paul went on to work a total of 16 mainly around G and GM, with Dave EI0DB once more calling in. The frequency went quiet at around 13:00 after Paul signed with David M0IOK and after a couple more calls, Paul decided to call it a day.
On 2m, it was Colin G4UXH who was once again first into the log at 12:24, confirming that my mic problem was still with me. The band was now exhibiting deep QSB and the lower summit height did not help matters. It took 3 attempts over the best part of half an hour to work Graham G4JZF. Others were more fortunate and got reports passed first time. I used CW for a few contacts to give my voice a rest. Shouting into a defective mic was not fun, so with 14 contacts in the log and the frequency having gone quiet, I decided to go QRT, this being at 12:58.
With another successful activation in the bag and reasonably dry kit, we packed up and started our descent at 13:25. By cutting a couple of corners, admittedly through boggy ground, we made it back to the car in just 25 minutes. Once we had stowed the kit and changed our footwear, it was time for lunch - and what a lunch! It was also cue rain as the first light band of rain came by.
Setting out at 14:38, the journey home was uneventful despite the atrocious weather experienced as we went over Shap summit. We took a break at Knutsford services and reached Stourbridge at 19:23, 7 minutes early. It was 21:22 when I got back to Northampton.
So another round of summits activated and not ones that we initially expected to ascend. The combination of the weather and the short daylight hours shaped this trip which was our first up north of the border at a year-end. Plans are already in place for another trip in a couple of months. With a little more daylight available, we have a few itineraries ready and waiting to be fulfilled.
Our thanks, as always, to the dedicated band of chasers, both on 5MHz and 144MHz SSB. The support that we receive really does make these activations a pleasure and we look forward to many more.
73, Gerald G4OIG