Scafell Pike - Saturday 17th July 2010
At the end of June my points tally stood at a tantilising 10 points off Goatdom. This would be an important, but secondary milestone for me in my SOTA career as, along with Paul G4MD, I am a very keen Uniques activator. Paul suggested that it might be appropriate for me to attain the 10 points with a single activation – in reality that meant either Scafell Pike or Helvellyn. Initially I wasn’t fussed either way, but looking at the Hill-bagging website one evening, I saw the potential for a full day of activating by adding four Wainwright summits to the schedule in return for around 2km extra distance on the return from the summit fo Scafell Pike. The scheme was rather speculative as it would be highly weather dependent, but on paper it worked out well, getting us back to the car by 5.40 p.m. – about as late as we could push it in order to undertake the 272 mile journey home.
At fairly short notice, Paul and I booked up 17th July with our station managers and alerts were duly posted. The alarm was set for 01.30z, but for various reasons I didn’t manage to get to bed early and so had just 2 hours sleep on board before carrying out the activation. All went smoothly at home and I was on the road for 02:04, picking up Paul at Stourbridge and making the parking spot at Seathwaite by 06:53z. The parking area was already heaving, a tent even occupying one spot! We found a place under a tree and started to get ready. It had been raining intermittently since Preston. Fortunately it was having one its quieter phases as we prepared for the ascent, but it got heavier as we set out at 07:20.
The walk up to Stockley Bridge was reasonably pleasant despite the weather. It quickly became apparent that the humidity level was so high that our jackets were not breathing sufficiently and I certainly had condensation on the inside of mine. This provided a warm clammy feeling. Hardly pleasant, but we had been out activating in weather far worse than this in the past.
From Stockley Bridge we had decided to take the Grains Gill route. This was perhaps a mistake given the conditions as the rocks underfoot were extremely slippery. We had to take great care on several sections, but we eventually made the col beneath Great End. From there we cut up to Esk Hause and turned right towards the west, not as though we could see much as the rain continued and visibility from around the 600m level was generally down to 10 metres or so. As we approached Broad Crag, a couple of walkers passed us. I was in the lead at the time and had my head down battling against the wind and rain which was quite heavy. It was an easy thing just to play follow my leader across the rock fields on that part of the path, but suddenly I found that they had come to a halt and were peering somewhat anxiously into the gloom. I turned round to consult Paul – no Paul! After a while out of the gloom Paul caught up with me looking somewhat relieved. Conferring with our fellow walkers, it appeared that they had suddenly lost the line of cairns that mark the route and it was now a question of re-finding it.
Back-tracking was easier said than done in the featureless landscape and initially we were misled by what looked like a path, but after taking a couple of GPS readings and consulting the map we saw that it was taking us in the wrong direction. Taking a compass bearing for the summit, we set off again through the murk, over slippery rock fields only to find ourselves at the top of a crag. Now it was my turn to compound the situation by declaring that we should go to the right, rather than to the left to get around this obstacle. After a couple of minutes traversing boulders I re-ordered my brain, consulted the map once more and countermanded my decision, suggesting that we traverse left. From the position we were at, we were able to pass beneath the crag and shortly thereafter we intersected the proper path not far from the final ascent to the summit of Scafell Pike.
The extra distance walked seemed to drag on my resources and the final push up the steep slope to the summit took considerable effort. Once at the summit I realised that I was indeed running on empty. I never eat immediately before an ascent as I don’t find it easy to digest food while taking exercise. On this occasion, the last thing I had eaten was at a bowl of cereal 01.45 and it was now 11:42. The first task therefore was to have something to eat and once I had a couple of energy bars inside me, I felt much better.
The summit area was crowded in spite of the dire weather conditions. Everyone seemed to be shouting, so we decided to move away from the masses to set up our stations. Perhaps poor visibility makes people deaf or the murk was reflecting the voices, who knows, but it was far from a pleasant experience as I could hear them even with headphones on. Paul and I sat about 5 metres apart and operated in a sitting position with our poles supported between our knees. At one point my pole collapsed in the strong cold wind that was buffeting us, but at least the rain was only light during our operating period.
I expected Paul to be first on air, but in fact I made the first contact which came after a couple of CQ calls on 70cms SSB. Mike GW0DSP/M near Abergele called in and was surprised to head the log as it was now 12:00 and we had alerted for 11:15. Mike G4BLH out at his local high spot called me once I had signed and then new chaser Bob G6ODU called in. Mike DSP called me under his alternative LFX call for QSO number 4 and then I had a very pleasing run of S2S contacts. First up was Rick M0RCP/P on Great Shunner Fell NP-006, then David 2E0DAI/P on Lingmoor Fell LD-040 and then Andy M0FMF/P on Lambrigg Fell LD-046. All had waited for us to turn up and it was a real pleasure to make contact with them. All were sheltering from the weather. David’s father was sheltering inside a couple of survival bags, both of them now keen to get off the hill and down to the pub and Andy was having his own trials with low battery power and hiding behind the wall up on Lambrigg. It was a shame that Andy’s batteries expired just as we tried to make contact on 23cms and although he briefly heard me, we did not make contact on that band.
After the 23cms attempt with Andy, I was called by Mike G4BLH to say that he had heard me. On trying to make contact, we found that what he had heard was probably an aircraft reflection and in order to make contact direct I had to lower the 70cms pole and stand up with the 23cms kit. Mike was 53 with me, but he only copied me 31 – a good contact nonetheless. Back on 70cms I found Iain MW3WJZ/P eagerly waiting for an S2S from Arenig Fach NW-027, another one to have waited for me. I then had a run of contacts up to around 13:00z when I was able to change mode to CW. Despite calling for several minutes, there was nothing to be heard from Frank G3RMD. John G0TDM was also looking for me and through a QSP via Paul, I arranged to try to make contact. Nothing was heard from John with the beam at 3 metres above ground, horizontally polarised, but once I had lowered the pole and held the beam vertically polarised by hand, contact was made. It was quite a feat holding the antenna in my left hand and keying with my right. I think in future I will have to use a crossed yagi for 70cms as many people seem to run simple verticals on the band. Thanks to Tom M1EYP who was listening on his vertical and who kindly spotted me, but did not make contact.
John G0TDM had been Paul’s first contact on 2m SSB and the one to place a spot. The activation on 2m was a leisurely affair with no more than two calling at any one time, yet Paul was in continuous contact for an hour from 12:03. Several of the longer distant stations struggled with Paul’s barefoot 817 to the 3 element SOTAbeam, but in all a decent total of 19 contacts was made. This included Iain MW3WJZ/P, Rick M0RCP/P and also Walt G3NYY/P on Ruardean WB-021. Looking at Paul’s log at the car later in the day, it became apparent why I was not able to make contact with Frank G3RMD and Don G0RQL on 70cms - they had not been particularly strong on 2m. Everyone that spoke to Paul that could not hear me on 70cms passed on their best wishes for Goatdom, so many thanks to everyone for that, indeed to also those that sent personal emails before and after the event.
Operations concluded at 13:15z and as I was packing the kit away, Paul came over and presented me with a bottle of Bathams ale to celebrate the event. It was 13:35 when we set off down the still wet and slippery path. Progress was quite slow and the rain did not let up until 14:00 when finally we were able to lower the hoods on our jackets. The sections of path over the boulder fields were particularly treacherous and care had to be taken. As we approached Esk Hause, we had to make a decision as to whether or not we would activate the nearby Wainwright summit of Great End. We were well over an hour behind schedule, rather wet and visibility was also still very poor, probably 20 metres at best. We therefore decided to give Great End a miss and consider Esk Pike and Allen Crags a little later. On reaching the point where we would branch off for these summits, we decided that we were too far behind schedule and that it would be foolish to activate them. Conditions down to Grains Gill continued to be rather slippery, but eventually at 15:30z the sun finally came out. The car was reached at 16:22, just 18 minutes before our scheduled time – the weather had prevented us from activating the Wainwrights, but there will no doubt be opportunities to activate some in the future.
After removing our outer layers of clothing, we both discovered that the wind had driven rain water up our waterproof trousers beneath our jackets and our under layers were damp. In my case this meant that I had to sit on a towel for the return journey, but that was no hardship. After excellent soup and “buns” provided by Paul, we got on the road at 17:15 and with some delay experienced near the M6 / M5 junction, we got to Paul’s house for 20:58. My eventual arrival at home was at 22:45z. It had been a long day on just 2 hours sleep and I was exhausted!
So Mountain Goat attained. It has been quite a challenge to get this far living in the SOTA wasteland of the East Midlands. It is an 80 mile journey just to get to Paul’s house. For this trip it was 544 miles from start to finish – if only I could get points for driving!
Do I feel elated or different? Well no. I don’t feel any different and certainly I don’t feel elated in the way that several people have suggested might be the case. I guess this is purely down to the fact that I am a Uniques freak and there is definitely a very interesting life to be had after MG. That is, of course, not in any way to diminish what I have achieved nor the congratulations that I have received from fellow SOTAists. The actual physical achievement is an entirely separate thing as far as my mind is concerned and I am extremely grateful to have the health at 58 to enable me to accomplish the task. Paul has certainly been a major factor in helping me achieve MG status – the value of his companionship is beyond measure. He is coming up on the rails, so we will be continuing apace and no doubt it won’t be long before I am carrying a bottle of ale up another summit for another MG celebration.
73, Gerald G4OIG