The SOTA VHF Fun Day plus one.
Sunday 3rd January 2010 and Monday 4th January 2010
It was back in October that Paul and I booked accommodation for these two days of activating. Once again we took advantage of the £9 offer from Travelodge and having found rooms at the Lancaster services, we established a programme around the location. We were both very keen to complete the SP’s by activating Fair Snape Fell SP-007 and then there was Cracoe Fell NP-032 for which it would be “third time lucky”. The other summits were less of an issue as we still had a number of Uniques within the NP’s to choose from.
It was an early start once again from Northampton. The alarm woke me up at 02:00 and I was on my way by 02:30, the temperature being a very respectable minus 0.5C with little wind. I picked Paul up at Stourbridge and we set off northwards at 04:06, soon to encounter the extensive sections of roadworks, all with their 50mph average speed cameras. Even with this delay, we made the M6/M55 junction in good time and left the motorway and headed north on the A6 into Broughton, just to the north of Preston. There we took the B5269 towards Longridge and found road conditions quite good - that was until we got to Goosnargh where the route took to heavily iced minor roads that had not been gritted. We had 6 miles to go to the parking spot, but the Quattro took it all in its stride. Other than being temporarily nudged one way or another by large chunks of ice on the road surface, the vehicle only slewed slightly once and that was about 100 metres from the parking spot. I turned the car around and parked up at 06:30 – bizarrely precisely on schedule!
The moon was almost full and with the snow it was easy to see to get ready for the ascent without having to use additional lighting. The temperature was a mean minus 5C and there was a light breeze. We joked about the conditions that we had experienced when we activated Fan Brycheiniog back in the winter of 2008 - this morning was like a tropical paradise in comparison. It was 06:52 when we set off up the lane towards the farm at Fell Foot and conditions were reasonable underfoot until we reached the steep section of hillside beyond the gate. This was well iced up and we had to take care, but soon we were past the worst and making reasonable progress in the crisp powder snow. It was certainly quite magical walking in the snow beneath moonlight – an entirely new experience for us both. Our route took us straight up heading towards the summit of Parlick and then to the right and onto the track around the east side of the hill. The snow was quite deep in places and this slowed our progress. Once through the gate between Parlick and Fair Snape, we decided to head for the true summit rather than the trig point as this looked a better path and in the event we stopped slightly short of the highest point as we were late on parade – it was 08:23.
Paul dug a snowhole into the side of a drift and set up for HF while I used a fence post to support my pole and used my tarpaulin to provide me with some shelter. The wind was stronger on the summit than it had been at the parking spot and I was glad of my Buff which I used balaclava style to give my face some protection. The temperature was a cool minus 3.8C. Once set up, I opened up on 144.333MHz at 08:36 and found Mark G0VOF waiting for me. Mark spotted me and a respectable pile up followed. I made a total of 15 contacts on 2m SSB which took me to 09:10 when I moved to 70cms SSB. Graham GW0HUS was ready waiting for me, as was John MW1FGQ, both having been worked on 2m. Mike G4BLH made a third contact for me and then I was called by Roger G4OWG to make it four in all for the band. After a few calls for late-comers, I abandoned my shelter and held the quadruple quad aloft and worked both John MW1FGQ and Mike G4BLH on 23cms FM. QRT was at 09:24.
Paul found 60m to be in fair condition given the early hour. Frank G3RMD was waiting on FE for him and QSB was evident on the signals. Terje LA8BCA was second in the log, showing the skip was relatively long. Aage LA1ENA and Arne LA8IC were also worked as well as a further four G calls, some like Mark G0VOF making the path by ground wave. At 08:55 the frequency went quiet and after several unanswered calls, Paul moved to 80m only to find wall to wall Sunday morning chat activity – generally people discussing what Christmas presents they had received! Failing to find a suitable slot anywhere near to 3,666MHz, Paul decided to call it a day on HF and he came over to me to let me know what was happening. Once he had packed up, he took out his 2m FM handheld and worked Allen 2E0WXL and Lee M0LMP. The snow hole provided useful shelter until I was packed up and ready to descend.
We set off down at 09:36 and arrived at the car at 10:28 after several “in it up to our backsides” sessions. After resetting the equipment for operation in the VHF Fun Day event, we set off at 10:36 and headed across country on more icy roads to Cracoe Fell NP-032. As we reached the B6265, it started to snow and it was still coming down as we got the kit out of the car and started our ascent. The temperature was now minus 4C, with just a slight breeze at around 200m asl. The weather cleared a little after we left the farm track. It was quite slippery underfoot with the new snow lying on ice and we had to take great care not to fall over, particularly on the steeper sections. Once onto the higher ground where snow was at depth, the hazard was knee deep snow rather than ice. Having to lift one leg after another was rather tiring and although we were not cutting the trail, it was hard going. It certainly seemed a long way from the cross to the obelisk and we did not arrive there until 13:25 and so were late for the party!
I suggested that we might use the rocks at the summit to operate from as the tops of them were largely free of snow. Skirting one section of rock, I managed to find a sink hole and was provided with a boot full of very cold stagnant water for my efforts! I’m sure that it froze inside my boot during the activation, but I wasn’t going to bother taking my boot off until we got back to the car. For the Fun Day activation, I had elected to operate 2m FM while Paul would operate 2m SSB, both of us running our 817’s barefoot to beam antennas. Despite working in close proximity, I only had some minor cross-mod issues when working strong stations and generally it worked out quite well. On switch on, Paul wondered whether his equipment had failed, but everything was okay and he went on to make contact with 5 summits and a total of 18 stations. On FM, I made contact with 6 summits and 25 stations before moving to 70cms SSB where I worked Roger G4OWG, Mike G4BLH and John MW1FGQ. In turning the beam at John, I unfortunately missed Graham G3OHC calling me. Contacts were also made with Mike and John on 23cms FM.
It was 15:24 when we set off down the hill. The track had been improved by a number of walkers that had visited the summit during our activation. Even so, we occasionally got it wrong and managed to get in deep. The sunset was absolutely brilliant and Pendle SP-005 was beautifully outlined against the glow. Red sunsets are quite a feature of our descents during the winter months and this was one of the best that we had seen. Our spirits weren’t at all dampened by both of us going flat on our backsides on the steep icy section by the trees and we reached the car at 16:50, just as darkness fell. After loading all of the kit into the car and getting out of our waterproof clothing and boots, we took the opportunity to have soup and a tasty ham roll before setting off to the Craven Heiffer pub to meet up with Rick M0RCP and Geoff G6MZX. The Tetleys on tap there seemed to be much improved over what it used to be – either that or my taste buds have been damaged!
After a very pleasant chat in the pub, we departed en mass and Paul and I set off to the Travelodge at Lancaster, arriving there at 19:40 to find the car park totally iced up. Again this was not a problem for the Quattro and fortunately both Paul and I managed to stay vertical while transferring our bags to our accommodation. Once we had sorted things out and phoned home, Paul called in at my room and we collected some food and soup from the car to refresh the inner man. The pub visit had made us a little later than our usual time, so it was not until after 21:00 that I got back to my room where I had a shower and sorted more of the kit before retiring. The alarm was set for 05:45, but somehow I knew my body clock would go off before it by the usual 5 minutes.
Paul and I met up at 06:20 and went out to the car to find the temperature was the same as it had been during the previous evening – a fairly chilly minus 5C. We set off at 06:30 and found the temperature started to drop the farther east we motored. At one point it was down to minus 9C, but had risen to minus 7C by the time we reached Stainforth where we took the road towards Halton Gill. It was roughly 4 miles to the parking spot and the condition of the road deteriorated soon after we left the village. The snow had been cleared by tractor and 4x4 rather than snow plough and the road was basically a single track road surfaced with snow, with ice and snow banked up at least 50cm each side. Between the wheel tracks snow was banked up as well and in many places the undertray beneath the gearbox hit the packed snow, but fortunately at no time did we lose traction or slide sideways. Part way along we met a vehicle coming in the opposite direction – as fortune would have it, we met at a slightly wider section and there was just enough room for us to pass.
We were due to arrive at the parking spot for Pen-y-ghent NP-010 at Dale Head Farm at 07:35 and this we actually achieved despite the conditions. However, the banked up snow prevented me parking the Quattro and after a couple of attempts to get onto the parking spot, we decided to go farther on to see what the situation was down the road. About 200 metres before the Blishmire cattle grid, the snow on the left side of the road levelled out down to road level and I suggested that we might park up there. This I managed to do by running the car in backwards at an angle of 45 degrees to the road until it was brought to a halt by the snow building up behind the wheels. Running back and forth several times extended the tracks to take the car well off the road and so by 07:40 we were ready for at least one summit. The farmer at Rainscar had seen us pass and walked down with his dogs to see us. Satisfied that we had parked up appropriately and were well kitted out, he returned wishing us all the best for our walk, but no doubt wondering what brought such loonies to the area to walk in the snow when it was minus 7C.
From this spot, we decided that an activation of Fountains Fell NP-017 would be the best option, so at 08:00 we set out down the road to the cattle grid and then off right up an unseen path which lay somewhere beneath the 50cm of snow that covered the valley. On the ascent, Paul cut the trail for most of the way – my excuse was that his feet are bigger than mine so I could step into his footprints more easily! Truth be known, I doubt that I could have made the ascent on my own. It was extremely tiring, especially on the bottom and top sections. The traverse section in the middle of the ascent was somewhat easier going and in places we could see the snow was only a thin covering as rabbits had scratched through to feed on the grass beneath. The problem with this was that only a foot-width away, the snow was often knee deep! It was a case of constantly assessing which was the best route and quite often we got it wrong. An ice-axe would have been useful on some of the steeper sections, but we took it carefully and managed by kicking steps into the frozen wall of snow.
At the top we decided not to bother walking across to the 668m high point and set up a few metres lower. Paul found a relatively sheltered position by the wall where he stuck his pole straight into the deep snow. I used one of the stone cairns to support my pole and sat in the best position to minimise the effect of the wind. It was still minus 6C when we arrived, but the temperature started to rise as the sun warmed the air. By 11:00 it was up to minus 3C.
This time Paul was up and running first, finding Robert GW0PEB/P on FE activating the summit of Yr Eifl NW-075. Paul waited until Robert had finished his activation and then took over the frequency, Don G0RQL heading a run that provided a further 12 contacts on 60m. The band was in good fettle, conditions extending across to Peter EI7CC. A little after 10:30, Paul moved to 80m where he was found and spotted by Graham G3OHC. Nine contacts in all were made on the band around G, GI, ON and GM. A contact with Roger G4OWG concluded the activation at around 11:00.
Roger was the first contact in my log when I opened up on 144.333MHz at 10:06. The run of 11 contacts was very steady, but was brought to an abrupt halt when the rig failed as I was chatting to Frank G3RMD. A quick test showed me this was probably the same fault that I had experienced in May 2009 when I was on Fridd Cocyn NW-063. Just 2m was affected – failed switching diodes again. I moved to 70cms SSB and made contact with Mike G4BLH followed by John MW1FGQ. Signals were not particularly strong, though I did agree with John that I would give 23cms FM a try. After a few CQ calls, I was called simultaneously by three stations, all extremely weak. I managed to pick out Graham G3OHC and turned the beam to optimise his signal and we completed the QSO on SSB. There was another station on SSB calling and one (a G0) on CW, but I couldn’t make out either callsign, so I decided to try 23cm with John as time was passing. On 23cm we both heard a fleeting signal, but didn’t make a QSO – no doubt the signals were courtesy of a jet out of Manchester airport.
Before packing up, I ran across to photograph Paul as he finished his activation and then took some general shots across the summit. We packed up and set off at 11:15 and were back at the car for 12:05. At one point we had a near collision with a rabbit which came straight at us, jinking left and right as it ran, but otherwise the descent was uneventful. At the car the temperature had risen to minus 5C and we had soup and rolls before setting off back up the road towards Stainforth. This time there were no on-coming vehicles to pass and once again the Quattro handled the conditions in exemplary manner. We were soon back onto tarmac and on our way to our final summit of the outing, Arnside Knott LD-058.
The trip up the A65 was made at a steady pace with quite a bit of traffic on the move. The roads were icy as we approached Arnside and the road up to the car park was well iced up. We were not particularly surprised to find the car park devoid of any other cars and even at this coastal position it was still minus 2C. It was 35 years since I had been up Arnside Knott and there seemed to be more trees than back then, but once we had scaled the icy slopes, the landscape was a little more familiar. However, I still could not pinpoint the precise location that Richard G4CZP and I had operated contests from using his Liner 2. We visited the trig and I noted the presence of a lady and her two daughters seated on a nearby log, taking advantage of the last day of the school holidays. It was considerably warmer on the summit than at the car and we experienced temperatures several degrees above freezing while we set up and operated.
Paul moved to a flat area to the west while I set up near to the summit, using a small tree stump to support the pole. Conditions on 60m were still reasonable and Paul’s call brought in John G0TDM who placed a spot. In all 10 contacts were made on the band with the skip towards the end of the session extending as far as Terje LA8BCA and Alan MM0XXP. Brian G8ADD assisted Paul with the moved to 80m and placed a spot which produced another 8 contacts once Brian had signed off. The final contacts were with Andrew M0LKB and his wife Sheri-Lynn G6VXE who live not far from me.
With the 817 out of action on 2m, I was limited to using the my old Standard C520. My first call at 14:24 brought back David G6LKB and we moved to 145.400MHz. After a pleasant chat with David, the summit was qualified with contacts with Jordan M3TMX, Sue G1OHH and Rob G4RQJ. John MW1FGQ then called me and we QSY’d to 70cms and made contact on SSB. Returning to 2m I found Geoff G6MZX waiting for me and another 4 contacts brought the total to 11 for the summit by which time Paul had packed up and was stood by me listening to the contacts being made. I went QRT at 15:28 and we were on our way down by 15:42. Back at the car we had more soup and rolls before setting off home at 16:20. Initially the roads were very icy and I had to take care, but once onto the A6 we quickly got to the M6 and the main part of the journey home began. There were a few hold ups due to the amount of traffic and also the delays due to the roadworks, but we reached Stourbridge by 19:19 which was quite a reasonable time. After decanting Paul’s kit and a refreshing cup of coffee, I set off for home arriving there at 21:05, so ending the 609 mile trip.
As usual we enjoyed the following of many keen chasers and I would like to thank everyone that we worked. Particular thanks to our spotters: G4BLH, G3RMD, G3OHC, G4OWG, G6LKB, G0TDM and G8ADD. Also many thanks to Chris 2E0FSR who instigated the VHF Fun Day, but, was unfortunately unable to participate himself due to illness and poor road conditions at his QTH.
Since the activations, the weather has worsened considerably and as I write the final section of this report, temperatures of minus 21.6C are being reported in Scotland. The question is whether the snow will disappear for our next outing. Somehow I doubt it, but at the very least, Paul and I will be out somewhere in the north-west at the end of January and we look forward to working many of you then.
73, Gerald G4OIG