Drygarn Fawr MW-003 and Pen y Garn-goch MW-016
Sunday 7th December 2008
“It’s going to be nice on Sunday” - or something to that effect. Paul was referring to the weather forecast. Certainly the various websites indicated that we would most likely avoid getting wet for a change, though at the expense of low temperatures and icy conditions. The bit I liked was the forecast for 2 mph winds from a south-westerly direction. Perhaps I would get away without wrestling with the mast for once.
Recent activations had been preceded by a restful nights sleep – well, 5 hours at best. This time not so – after an initial couple of hours, I was back to checking my watch every half hour, so by 03:00 I decided to give up and go downstairs. Getting up before the alarm had one advantage – I would most likely get away without disturbing Bev. I got dressed and decided to relax on the settee before getting the routine under way - and yes, I fell asleep! Fortunately the alarm woke me at 03:30. The routine was slightly different this time – I had purchased soup to prepare: Heinz Mulligatawny would be a definite first for me.
Outside it was a balmy minus 4C with no wind. After de-icing the car, I got away at 04:04 and took my time to get over the 82 miles to Paul’s QTH, where I arrived at 05:28. Paul was driving again this time and we were away from Stourbridge by 05:46, the temperature still set at minus 4C. The 85 mile route to the parking spot for Drygarn Fawr MW-003 took us across country towards Leominster and seemed to encompass every B road possible. Fortunately the gritters had been out and we were not to meet untreated roads until we got within striking distance of the parking spot located to the south west of the summit in the Irfon valley. The temperature seemed to drop the further west we drove and having passed through Abergwesyn and a couple of kilometres before our destination, it had descended to minus 9C. It was a relatively mild minus 7C when we parked up near Llannerch yrfa at 08:06 just as the sun started casting its orange rays on the hillside above us.
Getting ready for the ascent in such low temperatures was not as bad as we expected. There was virtually no wind and once we had the extra layers on, we started to warm up considerably. We set off down the road to the track through the forest at 08:30, taking extra care where the track and the adjacent ford to Llannerch yrfa had spilled water onto the road which had frozen and been broken up and refrozen, several times over. The walk through the forest was around 3.2km and was very well graded, though quite slippery in places. There is a bridleway close by, but going on John BVE’s notes, we decided to use the track and footprints in the patches of snow that lay on the upper section of the track showed that others had taken this route in recent days. As we ascended I was able to get my circulation going and my hands back to being fully functional – unfortunately since I have undertaken winter activations I have suffered from Reynards Syndrome and believe me, it can be quite painful as chilled hands come back to life.
Once out of the forest we looked for the patch of light green grass described by John. I was looking for something a few metres square – it is in fact much larger than that. As suggested in John’s notes, I took a bearing of 22 degrees for the summit and we set off over the moor, soon picking up a well defined track which took us to the right of Drygarn Fach and down to the stream Arfon Gwesyn. Jumping a stream with a weighty backpack on can be difficult at the best of times. When the take off and landing spots are icy, it needs to be undertaken with care. I chose to use a part of the bank slightly off the track and successfully jumped the water – it was with a smile on my face that I then took a further couple of steps straight into a hidden ditch that was waist deep. Fortunately I was wearing full waterproof kit, but I had to slither out on my front as there was no purchase to be had on the side of the ditch. Remarkably, I was unscathed. Seeing my antics, Paul decided to use the track location to cross the stream and I stood by with a helping hand to ensure that no further disasters occurred. It was then a simple ascent avoiding the boggy patches straight to the summit, where we found both a trig and a very well constructed cairn.
By the time we had inspected the cairn it was 10:15 which was precisely the time scheduled. The sun was shining and there was a light, but cool breeze blowing, very much as forecast. The views from the summit were absolutely stunning and we could see for miles. There was a mist hanging over the Claerwen and Garreg-ddu reservoirs which enhanced the vision of peace and tranquility. I decided to set up adjacent to the cairn out of the breeze while Paul backtracked to the trig. Paul was soon up and running on 60m and started his excellent run of 24 contacts at 10:29. I could hear him already in QSO as I completed the assembly of my dual band yagi for 2m and 70cms. First up for Paul was John GW4BVE who kindly placed a spot on the reflector. The contacts were mainly with regular and some not so regular chasers, ending with an S2S contact with Steve G1INK/P on Aye Gill Pike NP-023. Paul also gave Bill EI2GO in Cork his inaugural QSO on 60m, the permit having just arrived. Paul attempted a move to 80m and despite 3.666MHz being clear and Nigel G0RXA having placed a spot for Paul, no QSOs were made.
My session on 2m SSB started slowly. A contest was in full swing and my usual frequency was occupied, so I made a number of calls slightly higher up the band to no avail. I therefore resorted to calling CQ on 144.300MHz which brought John GW4BVE straight back and we moved up to 144.338MHz where John also spotted me. After signing with John there was a gap before Roy G0SLR called me and then a continuous run followed to provide me with 20 contacts in all. A number of contest stations called in and I was happy to exchange a serial number for a name, many giving me their location as well as their locator – all very gentlemanly. Paul arrived to see how I was getting on just as I was completing on 2m. I moved over to 70cms to work Don G0RQL and Frank G3RMD on SSB (who kindly spotted me) and then called Phil G4OBK on CW, but nothing was heard either way. I went QRT at 11:45, fifteen minutes later than planned.
I took the opportunity to take some photographs before packing up the equipment. We started our descent at 11:58 and retraced our steps. Having the stream to cross we took extra care and the ascent up the opposite bank was not exactly what we wanted on our return to the car, but a more graded return near to Drygarn Fach had been discounted as this was considerably longer. This section of the walk was out of the cool breeze and we warmed up nicely with the effort before once more descending towards the light green patch of grass and the forest. In the forest we had to take care on the track which was showing a tendency to thaw in parts and both Paul and I managed one or two maneouvres that Torville and Dean would have been proud of. We reached the car at 13:16 where we had lunch before setting out to our second summit of the day, Pen y Garn-goch MW-016 precisely on our scheduled time of 13:30. We noted the temperature was still below zero – minus 0.5C to be precise.
The drive back up the valley took some time as the roads were on the verge of thawing with a light coating of water over the icy patches. Paul did well to get us to the parking spot to the east of Pen y Garn-goch for 14:00. Our ascent of this summit was rather unorthodox, to say the least. We started off up the unmarked zig zag track with a print out of the Google Earth view in hand – a map was no use in this instance since nothing is shown on the Ordnance Survey map. Paul suggested that we do what Richard G3CWI had done and cut off some of the zig zags, but which ones were we to cut off? We took an old steep track up the hillside that was visible on the Google Earth view, but this eventually became choked with self-set trees and brambles so we were forced to take to the hillside for a direct ascent through the firs in the direction of the trig. Eventually we met an old track which then joined the main track where we found positions to operate from. It was now 15:05 and we were already 20 minutes past our alert time. Knowing that I would most likely take considerably more time on air, Paul decided to search for the entry point into the inner sanctum wherein lay the trig, but he was not able to find it.
My operation started at 15:20, when after finding that my usual frequency was still occupied, I decided upon another CQ call on 144.300MHz. This brought back David G4ERW/P in IO90. After the QSO on 144.336MHz I called CQ without any success, so decided to trawl the band where I found Paul G4RRA and then the dulcit tones of Stewart G0LGS operating G8CQA/P. We had exchanged contest reports from Drygarn Fawr, so Stewart used his own call for this one. After another contact with a contest station, I called G4FOH/P who was sitting on my usual frequency of 144.333MHz. He did not copy me, but Don G0NES did and we moved up 3kHz to make the QSO. Don kindly spotted me and the run began, including an S2S with Richard G4ERP/P on Cleeve Common CE-001. I was informed that Phil G4OBK had not completed with Paul on 60m, so I made sure that I beamed up towards North Yorkshire and contact was duly made. Also during the run, I temporarily moved to 432.222MHz with Don G0RQL, but signals there were only 41 both ways. In an effort to check the performance of the dual band yagi against using the 2m section on 70cms, I stripped the 70cms elements off the boom. A later test with Don showed that the 2m beam marginally outperformed the 70cms one, although it was still only 41 each way. After operating on 2m, I returned to 70cms for Frank G3RMD, but he was unfortunately otherwise occupied. My total on this summit was 21 including the single 70cms contact with Don.
Paul started his 60m operation with a contact with Paul G0HNW at 15:33. His fifth contact was with Martyn M1MAJ who spotted him. In all he made 16 contacts before the band closed. Moving to 80m, Paul found that the band was very noisy and so he did not attempt to make any contacts on the band. Packing up at 16:00, Paul came round to my position while I was carrying out the 70cms test with Don G0RQL. I went QRT at 16:18 and was super quick packing up as it was now getting rather dark. We started our descent down the track at 16:23 and reached the car just as darkness became total at 16:52. No need for the LED torches on this occasion.
After getting back into “civvies”, we both enjoyed the soup that we had prepared some 12 hours previously. Mine had even been carried up Drygarn Fawr as “insurance”, but was most welcome at the end of our activations. I think soup will become a regular feature of the kit during this winter period. We departed from the parking spot at 17:12 with the temperature hovering just around zero and arrived back in Stourbridge at 19:15 where it was also around freezing. On the journey the temperature had swung between plus 1.5C and minus 1.5C, but it was all on the up as I journeyed on to Northampton where I arrived at 21:06.
This was an extremely enjoyable day of activation. The walk to Drygarn Fawr was really most enjoyable and the views from the summit quite stunning. I can only assume that this summit has not received many activations on account of the long walk in of around 5.5kms and its remoteness. This is one summit that I will be looking to return to in the future once I have run out of uniques.
Many thanks to everyone that came on to work us – without you the activations would not be as enjoyable. Particular thanks to John GW4BVE, Nigel G0RXA, Don G0NES, Martyn M1MAJ and Frank G3RMD for the spots…… also to Don G0RQL for the tests on 70cms which will hopefully help me sort out the dual band yagi in good time for my next outing.