Manod Mawr NW-035 and Allt Fawr NW-025
Monday 2nd March 2009
Unusually for me this was a late arrangement and one without a firm itinerary. I spent some time during the Sunday evening pondering which would be the best pair of summits to activate without using one of the itineraries that Paul G4MD and I had drawn up for joint activations. With Manod Mawr and Allt Fawr decided upon and a rough itinerary sketched out, I posted approximate times on the SOTA website and got everything together before getting some sleep. In practice I was to arrive early on the first summit due to setting out earlier than I had originally intended and late on the second due to overrunning on the first combined with bad and deteriorating weather conditions.
As most involved in SOTA will know, my main interest is to activate using 144MHz and higher frequencies. However, on occasion I have used 5MHz SSB and 7MHz CW in addition to VHF and I thought that this would be an opportunity to do some HF activating, particularly since Paul would not be with me on this occasion. Being a little concerned that I had not allowed sufficient time to get through 5 bands, I set the alarm earlier than I originally planned and was away from home by 03:40. I arrived at the parking spot in the lay-by on the A470 just to the south of Blaenau Ffestiniog (SH706436) at 06:50 after a fairly lazy journey. As I set off for Manod Mawr at 07:05 taking the footpath directly opposite the lay-by which took me over the disused railway (tracks remain) and into the fields beyond. A marker stone to the right of the path confirmed that this was indeed the route to Manod Mawr and with the help of a 1:25,000 scale map print out, the way was reasonably easy to follow. I made good progress to the abandoned farmhouse located at SH714437. The route passes behind the building and through a rather quaint rusty iron gate and out onto the hillside. I walked into cloud at around 350m with visibility reducing to around 100m, slowly worsening as I gained height. I met the end of the track at SH718445 and ascended until I was more or less west of the summit at SH719447. There was no view of Llyn y Manod that lay below me in the valley between Manod Mawr and Manod Bach. I decided to attempt a direct assault on the hillside with the summit only around 0.5km away, but the incline was steep and needed both hands for much of the way and as a result the going was slow. It didn’t help that my legs seem not to want to be doing what they were doing!
On the summit visibility was down to around 25 metres and there was a chilly 20mph wind blowing. After a reconnoitre of the summit area, I settled down in some rocks which afforded me the best shelter and slowly started to get set up. It was now 09:00. Initially I put up the dual band beam for 144 / 432MHz and the Slim Jim for 70MHz with the pole bungied to a convenient rock. Opening up on 144.333MHz at 09:20, I realised I had posted for 10:00 and so would be unlikely to find anyone listening. How right I was……. and no-one was listening on 144.300MHz either! After several CQ calls, I decided to try a self-spot at 09:37, but when I checked, it didn’t seem to have worked. I was therefore very relieved when Graham G3OHC came back to me on 144.333MHz. I later found that the self-spot had actually taken and after a brief chat with Graham, I got into a steady run of contacts which resulted in 16 calls in the log by 10:12. Last in line was Nick G0HIK, who was first in line when I moved up to 70cms. Mike G4BLH was second in the log for the band and he spotted me. Graham G3OHC made it three for the band, but after several minutes of beam swinging, I could not hear anyone else calling, so announced a move to 70.450MHz FM. Mike G4BLH said he would be listening. Unfortunately nothing was heard either way on the band.
At 10:28, I decided to move to HF and after taking several minutes to dismantle the VHF antennas and erect the HF multiband dipole, I was QRV on 5.3985MHz at 10:36 to find Tim G4YTD monitoring the frequency. Carolyn G6WRW was pleased to be next in line as she had only been able to give me 31 during our 144MHz contact earlier. Don G0RQL followed on, telling me that my appearance on FE had initiated 4 spots! This was certainly the place to be despite the QSB and the run eventually totalled 19 contacts. After finishing with Dave G3RDQ in Hampshire, the frequency went quiet and Frank G3RMD called back in for a chat. He had copied me on both 144MHz and 432MHz, but I hadn’t heard him – it seems there is a first time for everything! Frank kindly spotted my next move up to 7.032MHz CW where after a few calls Aage LA1ENA called me. I soon found I was a bit rusty – activating is entirely different to chasing and I had a bit of a struggle to separate calls out, but everyone was most patient and between 11:09 and 11:26 I had 15 contacts in 10 DXCC in the log. Once the frequency went quiet at 10:27, I announced I was going QRT and someone kindly sent me an extra set of 73’s which made me smile.
It took a while to dismantle the station and after a drink, a chocolate bar and checking that I had left nothing behind, I set out at 11:50, well aware that I would not make the second summit by 14:00 as I had alerted. I did not retrace my steps down the steep hillside, but set out on the heading of 322 degrees that John GW4BVE had given me during our QSO on 144MHz. This route was much easier and I can recommend it for ascending the hill. I reached an abandoned building at SH72105 45097 with the track just beyond at SH72065 45124 (note 10 figure references). Turning left onto the track, I then walked down to where started my ascent up the hillside and thereafter retraced my steps to arrive at the car by 12:45.
After lunch at the car, it was short drive northwards up the A470 to reach the parking spot for Allt Fawr GW/NW-025. The recent roadworks have realigned the road slightly east of the former road and part of this has thankfully been left by the Highways Authority to provide parking for around 8 cars at the end of the quarry track. I started my ascent at 13:16 and this gave the signal for the rain to start. With the rain I just couldn’t be bothered to use the GPS – I knew the route to the summit, but I should not have been so lazy. I was soon at the ventilation shaft for the railway tunnel, but once on the hillside as I started to ascend the gully, my legs once again started to complain and progress was slow. The ground underfoot was a mixture of boggy patches and grass tussocks – occasionally I picked up the track, for what it was worth, but it was very easy to lose. It was just a case of an uphill slog in the rain and by the time I reached the end of Llyn Iwerddon I was quite exhausted. For one brief minute, I did wonder whether to abandon the ascent, but decided I had driven too far just to go home for just a single summit.
A temporary lull in the rain allowed me to take a few photographs and have a short rest before heading out for the col to the north of Allt Fawr which was visible just below the cloudbase. Conditions underfoot were quite greasy and I had to take care on the steeper parts of the track between the col and the summit. Even at this higher level where I would have expected the trampling feet to have been rather more concentrated and the track more defined, the route to the summit seemed to disappear at regular intervals. In the dense mist and driving rain I could see little and many hopes were dashed as false summit after false summit came into view. Eventually I found the rock formation I was looking for (see the Geograph website) – I had arrived. It was now 14:55.
After taking a photograph of the summit, I was almost blown off my feet and so spent several minutes tramping around the summit area to find the best position to operate from. Eventually I settled by a small rock and decided to use a G4YSS tactic and phone a friend. It was Mike G4BLH who received my call requesting a spot in order to announce my imminent activation. I managed to set up the pole using the guys, though the strong cold wind restricted the height to which I could raise my antenna. Anyway, I was not to be disappointed as my first call on 144.333MHz at 15:08 resulted in a contact with Mike and after a brief chat a decent run got underway. I had to hold the pole to keep the beam more or less on heading and rain ran down my arm as a result. I reminded myself that I really need to find a way of locking the pole sections together when the pole is not fully extended without weakening them.
As I worked down the run, the weather started to deteriorate and visibility reduced to around 20 metres. However, I was 80% dry, reasonably warm and ready for a full activation if things didn’t get worse. The best VHF contact of the day was a QSO with Andre ON4CAP who was an excellent 55 with me. Graham G4JZF rolled out the call GB40WAB for another special one for the log. Last in the log for 144MHz was Tony M6ADL making ia decent total of 21 contacts – not bad for a weekday. Moving to 70cms, I worked Mike G4BLH and was in the process of calling for other contacts when a rapid change in the weather from rain to sleet called an abrupt halt to the proceedings. I glanced at the thermometer – it was down to 2.1 degrees C. After weighing up the situation, I put out a call to see whether Mike was still monitoring. Fortunately he was, so I requested a post advising I was going QRT due to the bad weather and that there was to be no 5MHz SSB or 7MHz CW from this summit. It was with a very real sense of disappointment that I quickly lowered the mast and packed the equipment away. Despite taking great care, I still managed to get the front of the 817 wet and everything else was soaking. Before putting the cap on the end of the pole I inverted it and was greeted by half a litre of water – oh such fun!
At 16:08 I started making my way down. Not far below the summit, the sleet turned to rain and the wind was not so strong, but I was outside the activation zone and so was not able to reset for an HF activation. The track was now running in water to a depth of around 50mm and I had to take great care not to descend faster than I intended. Conditions improved the further down I got, but I still managed to miss the marker that I had left indicating the position where I had attained the col on my ascent. Fortunately I had only gone around 20 metres past it before I realised and set off down the slippery slope to Llyn Iwerddon. The wet conditions underfoot were with me all the way down to the quarry track which was tiring and even once I was on the good flat surface, my legs only wanted to make a certain pace. I arrived back at the car at 17:03 and took shelter behind the boot lid while I changed out of my wet weather clothing. The wet rucksack and equipment was placed in the car to start the drying out process during the journey home.
After a snack and a phone call home, I was pleased to be on my way, though still disappointed about the second activation being cut short. It was headlights on from the start despite it only being 17:33 as I left the parking spot. A little over 3 hours later I was home. I only achieved 75% of what I set out to achieve, but it was still a good day overall.
Many thanks to everyone that came on to work me. The results for a week day were quite unexpected and I was really pleased to have so many contacts. I would like to thank everyone that placed a spot – I know many were deleted so I can’t thank you all individually, but your help is much appreciated. My particular thanks to John GW4BVE for advising me on the decent route from Manod Mawr and to Mike G4BLH for taking the phone call and watching over my operations from Allt Fawr.
73 to all,
FT-817ND plus Microset VUR30 dual band 144 / 432MHz linear with Gasfet preamp – 20W nominal output. Dual band yagi (5 and 8 elements), 5m 5D-FB semi rigid coax, 5m pole, Wire multi-band dipole for 5, 7 and 10MHz, 3 x 3.3AH SLAB (NW-035) / 12AH SLAB (NW-025). Total weight incl survival kit, water, food, etc: 15kg
Manod Mawr NW-035, 661m asl
3.8 deg C, rising to 6 deg C briefly, dropping back to 4.2 deg C, cold strong wind
2m SSB – 16, 70cms SSB – 3, 60m SSB – 19, 40m CW – 15
Allt Fawr NW-025, 698m asl
3.6 deg C, dropping to 2.1 deg C, cold strong wind, horizontal rain turning to sleet
2m SSB – 21, 70cms SSB – 1
Total distance walked – 10.3km taking 5 hours 27 minutes; total ascent 820m
Mileage driven – 358 miles