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Activation Report: More LD's

Lake District Summits
Sunday 28th February 2010 and Monday 1st March 2010

This was the second trip based around a cheap overnight stop at Penrith Travelodge, but this time we had forked out a whole £12 for the luxury of a room each. As the weekend approached we had several alternative itineraries mapped out, some in more detail than others. However, the continuing snowy conditions in Cumbria put paid to our main plans on account of avalanche conditions in the area that we wanted to go. It had been our intention to carry out a sortie planned to scoop a bumper 51 points by activating Stony Cove Pike and High Street on the first day followed by Seat Sandal, Fairfield and St Sunday Crag on the second. Safety had to come first, but how safe had we to play it? We wouldn’t know until we got to the Lake District.

The question was still hanging in the air when I arrived at Paul’s QTH at 04:46 on the Sunday morning. We needed to make a decision and after a short discussion as we headed north up the M6 through the ever-expanding roadworks, we agreed to play it fairly safe and go with my suggestion of Black Combe LD-030 and Whitfell LD-032. My preference was based on the fact that the south-west part of Cumbria was supposed to be sunny and for once the forecast proved to be correct.

After a lengthy trip of just over 3 hours, we arrived at the small lay-by on the A595 close to the church at Whicham. It was 08:10 and before us we had an ascent over some 3.7km starting from just 40m above sea level up to the 600m summit, with one stiff section and the remainder reasonably well graded. I had posted an outline intention on SOTAwatch for 09:00, a time that we could not possibly make, but at least it signalled that we would be out and about. I posted another alert just before we set off up the hill which gave an updated ETA of 10:30, but I stupidly noted that we were “ascending now” – well that could have been anytime as alerts don’t show the time of posting. I guess I was in need of a refreshing walk and did we get one!

The track from the south up Black Combe was in excellent condition. At around 450m we found the edge of the white stuff and it got deeper the higher we went. There was very little ice on the track and only a light covering of snow further up. For the final 300m to the summit we took to the snow proper to find it about 30cm deep and light and powdery more or less right up to the summit shelter where it was well trodden and icy. There was a cool breeze flowing over the summit, so being alone we decided to make use of the shelter, Paul on the outside and me inside sat against the trig which I used to support the pole. Paul had some fun trying to minimise the number of pegs required to set up the HF antenna by adopting the CWI principle of guying, but still managed to turn a number of aluminium pegs into very good imitations of pigs tails!

Blissfully unaware of Paul’s trials I was on air just after the alerted time to find Sue G1OHH in Lancaster waiting for me. This gave us time for a bit of chat before the pack assembled – and assemble it did! The locals got in early on account of their signal strengths and those farther afield had to wait awhile. At 11:00 I was called by Rich operating the Northern Ireland DX Club call MN0NID/P which confused me as I‘d never heard an MN call, let alone worked one before. The run continued after the chat with Rich, a slightly longer exchange with John G0TDM at 11:20 allowing me the opportunity to change logsheets in readiness to log Robert G0PEB on the Isle of Wight. After 23 contacts the frequency went quiet, so I decided to move to 70cms using CW before moving to SSB. The key provided contacts with Mike G4BLH, Frank G3RMD and Phil G4OBK. Phil reported a fuzzy note to my keying, so after signing with him I changed the battery and put out several calls on SSB, but this failed to bring in any more contacts.

Paul eventually mastered the antenna erection issue and was QRV by 10:45 to find Carolyn G6WRW waiting on 5MHz. The band was in good condition and it was a case of chasers forming an orderly queue. In all Paul managed to work 25 stations on the band around G, GM, GW, GI and EI and ending with Jim G1PPP. At around 11:40 Paul put a call on 80m and worked Ron GW4EVX, Carolyn G6WRW and Frank G3RMD. After a few more calls without reply, Paul went QRT at 11:50.

Towards the latter part of our activation the summit had become the focus of attention for several groups of walkers and we were now happily sharing the shelter with them – inside and outside! Both of us were engaged in conversation as we packed up and we then set off down the hill at 12:15 to reach the car by 13:06. We had announced our second summit would be Whitfell LD-032 with an approximate ETA of 14:30, but the amount of activity on Black Combe had delayed us somewhat, so it was anyone’s guess as to when we would appear. There was no danger of us running out of daylight, so we took the opportunity to grab some food and a cup of soup at the car before we set off en route to our next parking spot.

While we were on our way, it transpired that I was heading for a parking spot which was not where Paul expected it to be. The ascent route that I was working to was from Bigert Mire in the east, whereas Paul had details for an ascent from the south that had been described by Rob G4RQJ. As I was working to the CWI parking spot in the GPS, my route won the day, but there was more confusion to come. On reaching Bigert Mire there was nowhere to park up and no-one was about to ask, so I had to return some 750m to park on a grass verge further south. This added time to the walk. In addition, David G6LKB had told me to go left around the crag on the ascent – of course he was referring to the route from the south……

Trying to find the elusive crag did delay us slightly as we read the map time and again, but after an hour or so walking, we got to the summit at 15:18 – late on parade by anyone’s standards! I used the pile of stones at the summit to support my pole while Paul dropped down the hill some way to find a spot out of the cold wind. This time he was on before me at 15:34 and was quickly into a run headed by Graham G3OHC. Paul’s log included calls form G, GM and EI with good strengths once again. In all 23 contacts were in the bag by the time the frequency went quite at 16:12. A check on 80m revealed long skip with a lot of strong European traffic, so Paul decided to call it a day at around 16:15.

I was up and running by 15:36 to find Frank G3RMD ready waiting for me. Signals were considerably better than from Black Combe over many paths, probably on account of the take off towards the south south east. In all I worked 19 contacts on 2m SSB, including one with Dave GW4UPO/P on the Great Orme. Unfortunately the rain was hammering down where he was, so he didn’t get out of the car to provide me with an S2S on this occasion. At 16:12 I moved to 70cms and again tried CW first, working Frank G3RMD and Phil G4OBK. Unfortunately Mike G4BLH was out at the time. As I was making these contacts, it started to snow, so I wasn’t for hanging about and after a few unanswered calls on SSB I went QRT at 16:24. Looking at the thermometer, I saw the temperature had dropped to below 3C and the wind was biting, so I was keen to get off the hill as soon as possible.

Paul joined me at the summit as I was finishing off packing away, the snow fortunately having come to nothing. We set off down the hill at 16:35 and arrived at the car at 17:28. As we had quite a journey round to Penrith, I opted to change back into my shoes and by 17:38 we were on our way, the first quest being to find petrol. There was a filling station way along the A595 and after refuelling, we set off east to the M6 where we headed north to reach our accommodation by 19:04. It started to sleet during the journey, so we wondered what was happening on the hills.

Once we had booked in and transferred our kit to our rooms, we met up in Paul’s room to despatch the excellent food that he had prepared. Although it was Paul’s birthday, neither of us was sufficiently awake to make it down to the local to celebrate and we had both forgotten to pack some beers. So it was off for a shower and an early night with the alarms set to achieve a departure time of 06:25.

My alarm went off at 05:45 and I allowed myself a 5 minute lie in as the kit was dry for once and had needed very little attention other than opening up to allow any condensation to disperse. I knocked on Paul’s door at 06:15 and we booked out and were on our way ten minutes later. It was minus 2C as we motored towards Patterdale for our first summit of the day, Place Fell LD-027. The roads were fortunately clear, but there was evidence of some new snow having fallen overnight. The lay-by by the hotel in Patterdale had just one car in it, so there was plenty of room for us and as we got ready for the ascent, many of the locals passing by bid us a good morning. The day was certainly off to a good start.

We started off north eastwards down the minor road towards Rooking at 07:00 and easily found the route to Boredale Hause. The initial part was quite steep, but soon levelled out. Part way along we took the higher route, turning left off the main track to swing immediately right past the only tree on the hillside and this took us up and left to the col where we turned left to head north towards the summit. As we walked along, the crisp snow crunched beneath each footfall. The track has been much improved and there are steps up the steeper sections, though much of this was under snow and only the occasional step poked out. We took care along Steel Edge – yes we were carrying our ice axes, but the snow supported us easily and soon we were on flatter ground and from there it was easy going to the summit.

The trig on Place Fell is positioned on a rocky outcrop. We both climbed it to touch the stonework and then Paul dropped down to a level area of ground and found a position facing the sun out of the wind. Meanwhile I once again used the stonework to support my pole and tried to get what shelter I could from the cool breeze. It was 0.5C on the summit and somewhat below zero with the wind chill factored in.

Paul was on spot on time at 09:00 to find Carolyn G6WRW activating Cefn yr Ystrad GW/SW-008. After working Carolyn, Paul moved to FL and worked through a steady run to finish with Phil G4OBK/P on Dodd Fell Hill G/NP-016. Carolyn joined them to make it a 3 way S2S……. or should that be S3S? Once again signals were excellent and in all Paul worked 25 by the time he had finished at around 10:00.

Up on the rocky outcrop, I found John G0TDM waiting for me at 09:03. John started to put a spot on for me, but Mike G4BLH beat him to it and was also second into my log. Next came the first of what was to be 4 contacts with Geoff G4WHA. The second contact with him came after I had worked Don G0RQL for my 7th 2m SSB contact – an invitation to try on 23cms was quickly taken. Once I had sorted out which polarisation Geoff was using, I had him pushing the S meter over to S9 on the C710 despite Great Mell Fell appearing to be obstructing the path between us. Returning to 2m I found more chasers assembled and another 7 contacts were soon in the log, Frank G3RMD being worked on CW. At 09:45 I moved to 70cms where John G0TDM was waiting followed by my third contact with Geoff G4WHA. An attempt to work Mike G4BLH using CW failed with signals well into the noise. After this John came back on and asked whether I had 4m – cue change of antenna to the slim jim and by 10:05 I had 4 more contacts in the log including further ones with John and Geoff.

We were now adrift of our schedule – Paul had prepared an outline schedule the previous evening. With me having extra kit to pack away, we did not start our descent until 10:30, half an hour late. However, we made very good progress on the descent on the track that was rapidly defrosting. We were amused to receive several tentative enquiries as to conditions from couples that were ascending the hill – the result of us sporting our ice axes! The car was reached ahead of schedule and had a quick snack of soup before getting on the road to our second hill, Harter Fell LD-027, at 11:38.

Our planning now started to go awry. The road down to Ambleside from the Kirkstone Pass was signed as being close, but proved to be open. Once we had negotiated a busy Ambleside, we took the Coniston road and turned right to Little Langdale with the intention of driving over Wrynose Pass. At Fell Foot we turned a sharp left bend to find a sign blocking out way – Road Closed! There had been no prior notification. We had no option, but to back-track and head south to access Dunnerdale from the other end – a considerable detour. So near yet so far!

After driving through Coniston and along the south side of Broughton Moor. we eventually reached the parking spot to the east of the hill at 13:06, now over half an hour late. The ascent of the hill started well enough, but once past The Birks, a delapidated farmhouse owned by a school PTA, we were into felled forest territory. Part way up the hill our route was blocked by a pile of debris and we skirted around it – unfortunately we took the wrong side and lost the track. After trying to ascertain our position, we decided to gain height through the felled forest and after some time we came out beyond what had been the edge of the forest. Here the GPS signal was much clearer and it showed us as being a few hundred metres north of where we needed to be, so we back-tracked and having crossed a fence line at a convenient point met up with the path. Now the fact that we had only had soup before leaving Patterdale cut in and we found ourselves somewhat lacking in energy. I posted a spot advising that we were delayed and a while later it was a relief to finally reach the summit and hour later than planned.

There was a cold wind whipping across the summit, so I rejected the trig in favour of shelter amongst the rocks nearby. Paul went further down the hill to find a convenient spot to set up. The first thing was to get some energy and we both made short work of our energy bars – I even considered breaking out my Kendal mintcake! We will be certain to make sure that we take enough food on board in future.

Paul was first on air to find Graham G3OHC and others waiting on 5MHz. He had a good run starting at 15:38 with the skip lengthening to provide a contact with Aage LA1ENA at the end of a run of 17 contacts on the band. Moving to 80m, Paul found Rodney EI7GAB to head a run of another 10 contacts which included a first – a contact with Switzerland, Juerg HB9BIN taking the honour. Andre ON4CAP was also worked on the band along with Peter EI7CC and a number of regular G, GM and GW chasers.

On 2m SSB, Steve GW7AAV was waiting when I opened at 15:40. Despite being tucked into the landscape, I managed to get a reasonable signal out and worked 11 on SSB before deploying the key. Doing so allowed me to work Mike G4BLH and Graham G3OHC. At 16:12 I moved up to 70cms and again started on CW which brought contacts with Mike G4BLH and Phil G4OBK before the battery volts got to the level where the 857 starts to distort. Having erected the 4m slim jim along with the dual-band yagi, I put a number of calls out on 70.45MHz, but to no avail and so after a quick call for late-comers on 2m SSB, I went QRT at 16:30.

We started our descent at 16:48 and followed the track down the hill. Further down we found the steep shale section that we had missed on the ascent and were quite pleased to have made the error! The conditions under foot on this section were not very pleasant, but concentrating and taking great care we maintained good progress and were back at the car an hour after we had left the summit. After transferring the kit to the car and getting out of our walking gear, we sat at a picnic table by the river to finish the remaining food and have some more soup. Although it was a chilly 0C and the light was fading fast, it provided a magical moment to end this trip to the Lakes.

Our departure for home should have originally been at 17:00, but it was 18:22 by the time we drove out the car park. We had, of course, to return down Dunnerdale to join the A595 at the same position we had the day previous after activating Whitfell. A steady journey east and then south down the M6 got us to Stourbridge by 21:45. After transferring Paul’s kit and a very welcome cup of coffee, I was back on the road at 22:02 and reached home at 23:22.

The level of support that we received on our activations was most pleasing. We are particularly grateful for those that looked out for us on a weekday. To make 25 contacts on 5MHz on a Monday morning is what one might call a result! For me the level of activity on 70cms CW was particularly pleasing and I probably will adopt the CW-first principle in future. Thanks to everyone that contacted us across the six bands that we activated. Hopefully we will speak to many of you when we are next out in the Lakes.

73, Gerald G4OIG