24th to 26th February 2019
Being hooked on Uniques, Paul and myself have naturally been “radiating out” from our home area of the Midlands and there are now few summits south of the Glasgow – Edinburgh line that one or the other has not activated. This of course excludes the Kintyre peninsula which anyone with an inkling of geography will realise is a right pain to get to. Anyway, our focus is now north of the line and in time this will inevitably mean longer outings to make the travel up and down the country more financially (and environmentally) acceptable.
Given the uncertainty about the weather at this time of year, we had prepared quite a long list of possible summits so that we could “mix and match” as the expedition advanced to suit conditions and our inclination.
Sunday 24th February 2019
This outing started with the alarm set for 02:30 and for once I did not wake up before it went off. Being semi-retired I have got used to waking up naturally, most days but this certainly was not one of those days. After a quick bowl of cereal, essential to help get my medication down, I got the final odds and ends together and was away from Northampton by 02:58. Fog had been forecast and fog there was, but nothing that I couldn’t cope with. More troublesome was the overnight closure of a section of the M6, so Route Plan B went into operation which makes the approach to Stourbridge from the south using the M42. I was pleased to arrive at Paul’s house at 04:28 slightly earlier than planned. Paul was driving this trip and after transferring my kit to his vehicle, we were on our way heading north by 04:41… not on our usual route, but via Dudley as part of the M5 was also closed.
There were further roadworks on the M6 and these together with some fairly heavy fog patches delayed us somewhat such that we did not reach our customary breakfast stop at Tebay services unit around 07:30. Nevertheless, north of Tebay both road and weather conditions were considerably better, enabling us to arrive at the Todholes car park (NS672859) earlier than expected at 10:12, grabbing the last parking spot. As we got ready, we had a chat with the guy in the car parked next to ours. He was waiting for the mist to clear so he could go paragliding.
It was 10:35 by the time we set off for our first summit of the outing, Meikle Bin GM/SS-129. The weather was mild at around 8C with the promise of sun once the mists cleared. The route up this popular summit is clearly signposted and you could walk it without a map, but nevertheless we did check that we were taking the correct route from time to time. Several signposts pointing to an alternative “Main Carpark” along the way made us wonder whether we had missed a trick in the planning, but later inspection of the map comfortingly led us to believe that the route from there would have added at least a couple of km and more height gain to the ascent. It was still misty when we arrived at the summit at 12:15 after a leisurely ascent. After the customary touch on the trig point, our first task was to find a suitable position to operate from. As Paul moved off to the north he called me over and for a short length of time we both saw a Brocken spectre in the mist. This was a first for Paul and only the second one that I had seen. Unfortunately it was a fleeting glimpse, so I could not get a photograph of it. Shortly after this the mists cleared and the sun came out, though a cold breeze persisted throughout the activation. Sadly the views remained hazy which was a bit of a disappointment.
Hazy view from the summit.
Being over an hour earlier than planned, after setting up both antennas on the pole, I placed an apologetic self-spot. I checked the Kent beacon and then started on 2m SSB at 12:40, Don G0RQL calling me a few minutes later. Signals were very reasonable given the distance – 571km. Phil G4OBK being much closer was stronger and relative local Steve MM0XPZ a good 59 despite us being cross-polarised. When I signed with Steve there were no more callers, so I checked my phone to see a text from Mike G4BLH asking how long I would be on the summit. We agreed to meet up on 2m in about half an hour. That gave me time to get onto 30m, but I found that the auto-ATU was not working and the antenna was presenting a mismatch, so the 817 was not putting out full power. Thankfully it didn’t not stop me from making a run of 17 contacts on the band around Europe and getting as far as Serge RV9DC. In the run were three S2S contacts – Jirka OK2BDF/P on Hvízdalka OK/JM-065, Kurt HB90AFI/P on Bantiger HB/BE-110 and Bernd DL2DXA/P on Lösigberg DA/SX-262.
My set up just beyond the trig, Paul just out of sight
Before I moved to 20m, I appeared back on 144.333MHz and called Mike G4BLH/P. To my surprise, Brian G4ZRP came back to bag a quick contact before I worked Mike. After spending just 5 minutes on the band, I returned to HF. My preferred frequency of 14.064MHz was in use, so I moved down to 14.0625MHz, where the first few calls made went unanswered, but then Alexei RW3XZ called me at 13:53 with 59 reports each way. After this contact someone started to call CQ on top of me. Thankfully I found that 064 was now free and the RBN soon spotted me. Jan OK2PDT called me with reports each way the same as they had been on 30m a little earlier, followed by Rich N4EX and then Javier EA2GM/P on Paisano EA1/AT-208. Next up was Gary K3TCU, but he promptly disappeared not to be heard again and that was that – no more. Just 4 on 20m. As a consolation, I bagged a quick 2m FM contact with Andrew 2M0RSY/M using the handheld as I packed away the main kit.
Paul started on 60m, with Martyn GD3YUM making the log first at 12:48. Don G0RQL was next and then Allan GW4VPX/P on Fan Brycheiniog GW/SW-003, which brought back memories of our own activation of that summit in freezing snowbound conditions way back in January 2008. Contacts were generally slow in coming and the total of 12 worked on the band took almost half an hour. Nevertheless, the countries worked were GD, G, GW, EI and GI. Paul decided to move to 80m, but found it very difficult to self-spot, signals being there one minute and gone the next. In all just three were worked on the band – Graham G7LMF, Andy GM6ZAK and Gordon GM4OAS. Paul’s next intended move was to 40m, but the skip was long and the band was heaving with French contest stations. A check on SOTAwatch showed Andy MM0FMF was on Beinn an t-Sidhein GM/SS-127 on 17m SSB, so Paul quickly tuned up the doublet and called him. A successful ground wave contact ensued, much to Andy’s surprise and Paul’s delight, for the most unlikely S2S of the expedition!
Looking back at the summit as we start our descent.
A view from further down… note the new planting.
After packing away, we enjoyed a pleasant stroll back to the car which we reached at 16:00. There were still plenty of people around, many walking dogs in the forest. We were staying at the Stirling M80 Travelodge, so it was a short journey to get there. Being rather tired, after a welcome shower we met up for a burger (20% discount to Travelodge residents) and discussed the choice of summit to activate the following day. We opted for a single summit activation with a later start time – relative luxury!
I now had some checking to do on my kit to resolve the ATU failure. Thankfully this was easy to trace and found to be a blown fuse. Once the fuse had been replaced, new batteries installed and the kit checked out ready for the following day, I decided to have a reasonably early night.
Monday 25th February 2019
The alarm went off at 06:45… that was more like it and I was awake before it went off. Must be getting old. Even so, it was a bit of a rush to get out to the car by 07:20. We set off for the parking spot in the Pass of Leny (NN587091) at 07:25 which took us through the pleasant town of Callander. I hadn’t been there for at least 50 years. The number of parking places available was smaller than I had imagined, but we were first on parade, so it didn’t matter. Others soon joined us as we got ready for our ascent of Ben Ledi GM/SS-023 and once again we got into conversation before we set off at 08:20. Friendly lot these locals.
The route up to the summit is a very well maintained track with stepped sections. The weather was already quite warm and the temperature steadily increased as we ascended. Where the track crossed a forestry vehicle track, we were both surprised to be passed by a dog. The owner soon appeared behind us and we stopped briefly for a chat before he moved on ahead of us. It was calm and rather warm and humid – that was until we reached the right turn which took us onto the ridge up to the summit. In places the wind was rather strong and we wondered what it would be like at the top, but when arrived at 10:45 it was not as bad as we had feared. We managed to find suitable positions to set up and as we were almost ready to start our activations, the walkers that we had met at the parking spot arrived, soon to be followed by many others.
The view from my operating position to the north with Benvane GM/SS-031 along the ridge below.
The 2m set up before I changed over to HF… yes, only the Moxon on this trip!
I decided to set up for 2m for a start to reduce the load on the pole. Being ahead of schedule once again, I decided to start with 2m FM in the hope of picking up Mike G4BLH/P who was on Ingleborough G/NP-005, though only with a rucksack antenna. Unfortunately I did not hear anything of him, but a couple of calls brought contacts with Jim GM4VGR at 11:08 followed by Trevor MM0WCT. At 11:35 I changed the Moxon to horizontal polarisation and found Brian G4ZRP waiting for me on 144.333Mhz, followed by Steve MM0XPZ, Phil G4OBK and Don G0RQL, this one being a distance of 598km. Signal strengths were somewhat disappointing for the height of the summit. At 12:00 I changed the antenna, but then got into conversation with a couple of people. It was therefore 12:15 before I got onto 30m and first into the log was Serge RV9DC.I worked a total of 11 on the band and then the frequency went quiet. I moved to 20m a little after 11:30 and once again the RBN did the business with Eric F5JKK quickly on frequency. I was then surprised to be called by Bradley N9EN with a decent 579 signal coming in from Tennessee. My report was 559 showing the ATU was doing its job. The band was in decent form with good signals from both Europe and North America. I was pleased to work Gary K3TCU this time rather than just hear his call. Tony W4FOA, Les K4DY, John-Paul AB4PP and Albert N1AW also made the log and working Dov 4Z4DX was a new one for me from a summit. It was 13:18 when I went QRT and by this time Paul had already packed up and had joined me.
Vertigo, what vertigo?
Paul’s activation also went well, starting on 60m with Michael EI3GYB at 11:11. A steady run produced 20 contacts on the band, including ones with Dave G4IAR operating GB50WAB and Geoff G0GWY operating G7WAB. Paul was very popular as Ben Ledi sits in NN50 square which is of particular interest to WABers in this 50th anniversary year. Countries worked were EI, G, GM and GW. Moving to 80m at around 11:50, Karl 2E0FEH was quickly on frequency to be followed by Allan GW4VPX, Howard G3YZY and GB50WAB. A session on 40m produced a total of 7 contacts which included Frans PA0INA, Pedro EA2CKX and once again GB50WAB.
A last look around… summits abound!
Setting off down, the memorial cross in the background (Google for this if interested).
The beauty of single summit days is that it doesn’t really matter if you overstay on a summit. We had allocated an hour and a half for operating, but I had taken half as much again. Still, it didn’t really matter and we were only 15 minutes adrift when set off down the hill at 13:35. The first part was of the descent was quite pleasant, but once we had turned the corner and were sheltered from the wind it was somewhat warm and humid - unusual for a February day. Several individuals and groups were still making the ascent, some of whom were not really appropriately dressed or shod. We noted how our kit has changed over the years as we have gained experience on the hills.
Another Ben to the west of our position pokes its head above the clouds.
A last look back… a nice summit, but I doubt I will be here again.
At least it is easier to catch Paul up on the descents
Further down… now warm and clammy out of the wind - this was February!
It was strange being back at the car at 15:05 and equally so being back at the Travelodge by 15:53. This gave us ample time to relax before we met up at 17:30 to go for a bite to eat. I ended up having a bath to relax my muscles followed by a shower. Paul suggested we try the Pirnhall Inn just down the road and we both ended up having a steak. Over the meal we discussed the choice of summit for the following day and agreed a change to give us a later start, a bit more operating time and (hopefully) a slightly early return home. It would also allow us to be operating a bit earlier, in the hope of catching Don G0RQL who had indicated that he would be out later in the day.
Tuesday 26th February 2019
It was 07:10 when we set off for the parking spot on the B827 (NN780151). I had suggested to Paul that he read the walk reports on the hill on the internet, the result being that we concluded that the best access route was the southern approach to the hill rather than from the north. It was 07:36 when we parked up by the gate at end of the track that crossed the boggy grassland. We were pleased to see the quad bike track very much in evidence, contrary to the “faint track” described in one report. The area used to be a military training ground and is still marked on the 1:25,000 map as such. The summit had only been activated four times previously so many people may have been put off by this until recently. The only evidence we found of military activity was a smoke bomb canister which we naturally did not go near.
Ben Clach from the parking spot.
A short way from the parking spot we found a dead fox just off the track – presumably a road casualty that only made it part way home. We crossed the stream at NN779148, mentioned in one report as needing “particular note”, but clearly in evidence on the quad bike track. The track then became quite boggy with a little manoeuvring required. At the point where the track started to descend rapidly to the Corriebeagh Burn, we struck off to the right on a faint path across rough ground towards the summit. This soon disappeared, but a lone boulder in the middle of the rough area provided a useful guide to keep us in the right direction. After that there were further boulders to focus on. The rough grassland eventually gave way to heathery ground and higher up the summit plateau was “protected” by a mix of heather, rough tussocks and boggy ground. We headed for the highest point we could see, and comparison with the mapping on our GPSs led us to conclude that the position of the summit spot height on both the OS and Open Source maps was inaccurate. Not as though it mattered on this flat top hill.
Ben Vorlich and his friends in the haze.
I changed to slant polarisation after the contacts on 2m SSB.
The sun was now shining once again and there was a cool breeze blowing. However there was no shelter on this summit, so we just set up and hunkered down to operate. My first call on 144.333MHz brought Mike G4BLH/P straight back. Don G0RQL appeared at 10:16, just fitting in a quick contact before he had to go out – not bad for a distance of 605km under pretty much flat conditions. Mike and Don were the only callers on SSB, so I moved to FM. Jack GM4COX was monitoring the calling frequency and signals were excellent between us. Steve MM0XPZ followed on and I tilted the antenna to 45 degrees which significantly improved the signals. Robert GM4GUF down south in Biggar provided another solid contact, much to my surprise. The serial chats on FM left me a bit behind schedule and I did not appear on 30m until 11:08, about the time Paul finished his entire activation. Ambrosi HB9AGH was first into the log which totalled 11 for the band, including an s2s with Kurt HB90AFI/P on Le Noirmont HB/VD-037. A quick move to 20m produced contacts with Eric F5JKK and Wlodek SP5Z, but that was all. I went QRT at 11:35 and quickly dismantled the station, very much aware of the long drive ahead of us.
Paul found Brian G8ADD waiting for him when he appeared on 60m at 10:04. Quite a number of the regulars and WAB chasers from G, GM, GW and EI made Paul’s log of 19 contacts on the band. 80m produced six contacts, with Geoff GM4WHA first to call in and Jack GM4COX after several tries just managing a difficult contact to take the endstop position. 40m was running long skip and Paul had difficulty with placing a self-spot, so despite a protracted period of calling no contacts were made on the band from this one.
Summit swimming pool.
Boulders amongst the grassy tumps on the descent.
It was marginally easier getting down the hill than it had been up it, though still surprisingly hard work over the rough ground. The boulders that we had noted on the ascent provided us with useful markers and we joined the quad bike track at the position we had left it. We reached the car at 13:02 somewhat behind schedule knowing that we still had to find fuel and lunch. The first challenge was to get onto the A9 as there was a road closure in Braco which necessitated a detour. A trip to Sainsburys on the edge of Stirling solved the fuel issue, after which we decided on a comfort break and lunch back where we started the day, at the Stirling M80 services.
The long run south went smoothly enough, that is until we reached the roadworks. Another brief comfort break at Knutsford Services was the only further stop taken and we reached Paul’s house at 19:55. After a welcome brew and a chat, I left for home at 20:40, once again taking the southern route to avoid potential delays in the M6 roadworks and it was 22:00 when I arrived home.
The future will be more of the same, though we do intend to lengthen our outings to get better value for money. One significant issue is the travel distance which amounts to around 400 miles from Northampton. A lengthy drive combined with a summit activation needs to be carefully considered and Scotland has many summits that are unsuitable for first and last day activations. I am researching the GM/SS summits to determine how best to tackle them.
73, Gerald G4OIG