Activation Report: SS-170 / SS-245

Cairnsmore (Black Craig of Dee) SS-170 and White Top of Culreoch SS-245
Saturday 6th October 2007

Earlier this year I was very impressed by the activation of a number of previously unactivated summits in the Shetlands carried out by Paul G4MD. This, together with recent discussions on the SOTAWatch reflector relating to wanted summits started me considering whether there might be a possibility of myself carrying out a modest activation of a couple of previously unactivated summits before only the inaccessible ones remained. Living where I do in Northampton, I was faced with one of two options. Either travel north to Scotland or south to France. The latter option carried a significant cost and time penalty in the form of taking the car across the channel, so I was left with the southern part of GM as the only viable location. I knew Jack GM4COX had activated all of the 2 point summits south of the Edinburgh to Glasgow line, so it was a fairly simple matter to work through the unactivated single point summits and evaluate their accessibility. This provided me with a short list of about six summits which was then narrowed down to just three, two of which could be accessed from a single parking spot - SS-170 Cairnsmore and SS-181 Fell of Fleet. I opted for these as my main target and worked out a suitable schedule. I also set up contingency schedules in case I had problems and had to bring the third summit, SS-245 White Top of Culreoch into play. The estimated total walking distance for SS-170 and SS-181 was 22km, so time was an issue.

With a considerable drive of over 300 miles required in order just to get to these summits, I decided to make it a weekend of radio and plan a second day of activating. The Lake District was the logical area to consider, but I decided to use this venture as an opportunity to extend my activations in the North Pennines area, particularly in respect of activating those summits further north at a greater distance from home. Acknowledging that I would undoubtedly be tired from all the driving and walking, I decided to keep to relatively simple summits and so decided on NP-006 Great Shunner Fell, NP-030 Lovely Seat and NP-018 Nine Standards Rigg. Myke G6DDQ kindly suggested NP-016 Dodd Fell Hill as an alternative for my third summit if time was tight.

From a posting on the SOTAWatch reflector, I noted that Andy MM0FMF was going to be in Dumfries and Galloway activating and contesting over the weekend. I therefore sent him an email to advise him of my intentions. It turned out that Andy was planning to activate SS-096 Craignaw and SS-073 Mullwharchar close to my summits, so we agreed to meet up at the contest site on the Saturday evening to compare notes and partake of a little social activity.

So with the weather set fair for the weekend, I set out at 5 minutes past 1 on Saturday morning after little more than a doze on the settee. It soon became evident that I was running on a strong mix of adrenalin and expectation and there was absolutely no chance that I would fall asleep. Driving the entire 316 miles in one stretch (which is what I am used to doing since family are spread around the UK) and despite finding fog at Dumfries, I arrived at the parking spot for the summits at 10 minutes to six (0450 UTC). This was more than an hour ahead of schedule. Time for a kip I thought, so I settled down under a blanket…… but sleep inevitably failed to materialise.

I was ready to start my ascent at 0605 UTC just as dawn was breaking. The route from the parking spot at NX548751 was initially a section of some 3 kilometres east along the Reivers road towards Laggan O’ Dee. Unfortunately the 1:25000 OS map did not show the parking areas further along. As I passed these I just knew that I should have checked the 1:50000 map. It was still foggy as I made my way along the road and there was little to be seen beyond 100 metres. At NX573747 I took the spur off to the left towards the north and for once the route shown on the map seemed to be a reasonably accurate representation of what was on the ground. Towards the end of the track at NX572752 I took the right fork to where the forest had been felled. At least this meant that I wouldn’t have to find my way through trees.

I thought that it might be possible to avoid the felled area and use the firebreak instead, but I discovered this was a strip of tall very wet grass about 1 metre high, so I soon became wet. Moving to the felled area I found that progress was much quicker and considerably drier hopping from one stump to another. Unfortunately the reasonable progress made over this ground was not maintained once I reached the edge of the forest. Here the ground became a mix of coarse grass tussocks and heather which was an ankle-breaking surface to walk on. I had to take great care as every step onto a tussock usually made the boot slip sideways down into the rotting vegetation of previous years hidden beneath the surface. I tried everything I could to safely maintain best progress, but whether I walked on the tussocks, the sparse heather or in the recesses between, it was slow going. Above the 350 metre contour there was a slight improvement, but on the higher reaches of this 493 metre hill there were small crags and slippery moss encrusted stone slabs to avoid. The generous 1 hour 45 minutes that I had allowed for the 4.5 kilometres / 343 metre ascent turned out to be a 2 hour 15 minute slog.

At the summit there was a convenient trig point and a cairn with an inadequate and poorly maintained shelter on its eastern side. I set up the 5 element SOTAbeam on the SOTApole and checked the beacons. All seemed to be well with the Kent beacon peaking a decent strength 8. I opened up on 144.300 at 0835 UTC, which was surprisingly only 20 minutes behind schedule. My very first CQ running 25 watts was answered by Bruce G7PAL located near Burton on Trent. Mike GW0DSP was hot on Bruce’s heels heading a run of regular chasers to provide a total of 20 contacts in 50 minutes, the best DX being Don G0RQL. Several people asked what my intentions were for later on and I advised that all being well when I got down to the car I would be activating SS-245 during the afternoon rather than SS-181. After taking down the 2m beam I erected the HF dipole and moved to 60m to make a further 10 contacts headed by Graham G4JZF. On moving to 40m CW, I found Dan DH8DX operating from OE/VB-205 on 7.032 for my initial contact. I then moved down 1kHz where Dieter DL7VKD soon found me and a pile up duly ensued encompassing DL, F, HB9, G, PA, LX, GM and OK. In all 17 contacts in 40 minutes on 40m CW. When the frequency went quiet I called Andy on 2m FM, but received no response. Quick CQ calls on 6m and 70cms similarly brought silence. So that’s that I thought – first one in the bag. To say I was well chuffed would be an understatement.

By the time that I had completed the activation it was 1105UTC and the fog had lifted so I was able to see more of the summit. Although somewhat boggy in parts, this summit is quite pleasant with a number of small ponds. Views out from the summit were unfortunately marred by the mist. After leaving a brief message on the answerphone at home announcing my continued presence on this earth, I started my descent at 1125UTC. Despite the difficulty presented by the poor ground and detours to avoid the crags, many unseen from above, I was back at the car in 1 hour 30 minutes. This was the time that I had allowed for the descent, but I was now almost 2 hours behind my schedule. I ate a late lunch, prepared the equipment for the next summit and then set off for the parking spot for SS-245 which gives a walk of some 2 kilometres to the summit. I parked at NX610623 where there is a small level grassed area to the left of the entrance to the track used by logging vehicles. The time was now 1405 UTC. While driving I had made the decision to activate this summit just using 2m and 70cms because of the restricted time available and the fact that I was likely to have to operate within the forest on this summit. I just hoped that I could qualify the summit on VHF.

I had read a MARHOFN report about access to this summit and decided to use the deer run described therein which is against the fence along the east side of the hill. This is reached from a position near NX604624 after one kilometre or so of track. Initially I found myself between the fence and the wall on the forest boundary and so had to climb over, but it was clear thereafter. In parts, there was dense bracken, but the ground under-foot was nice and firm and so I made reasonable progress. Towards the top there were some steeper sections and tiredness was finally starting to creep in, but I arrived at the summit in little more than an hour.

As mentioned before, I expected to have to operate within the forest, but the edge to the east of the highest point is set on a steep slope. Fortunately using my GPS I was able to find a fairly level spot at around 331 metres elevation just outside of the tree line. Basically my aim was to point the beams east of south and see what happened. I erected the SOTApole complete with the SB5 and my 70cms homebrew 6 element DL6WU beam. My initial call on 2m SSB at 1530 UTC running 25 watts was immediately answered by Stewart G0LGS. This time the run was shorter with only 13 making contact. Signals were similar to the previous summit, but the path down to Don G0RQL in Devon was significantly better with 58 / 59 signal reports exchanged. On completing the run on 2m, I moved quickly to 70cms, again using 25 watts. Contacts were quickly made with Frank G3RMD (51 out / 41 in) and Don G0RQL (51 both ways), but there were then no further takers. Tuning around I found Colin operating GM3HAM/P at the Lothian Radio Society contest site, so I called in to work him and announce my intention to join them.

At 1632 I decided to call it a day and so set about dismantling the station. After carefully packing everything away ready for the following day, I set off down the way that I had come at 1650 UTC and just 27 minutes later was at the car. Within another half hour I had met up with Colin and the other club members and was discussing where Andy had got to. A quick phone call revealed that Andy was almost on site and after helping him set up his tent, we all decanted to the Masonic Arms in Gatehouse of Fleet for a well earned and much looked forward to drink and meal. It was really pleasant being in company and all in all this really made the weekend for me. We were back at the contest site around 10.30 p.m. and after saying my goodbyes, I gracefully retired to seek slumber in preference to downing a wee dram with the lads - a sensible decision given that I had to be away by 4 a.m. It was not long before I got to sleep!

So what of the first day of this weekend? I had learnt several things. Firstly that I need to allow extra time on a route that hasn’t been described in detail before. I did not find the following description on the Geograph website until after the activation - “This hill is just 493m high, but will give a bigger struggle than many hills twice as high. Deep heather and bog, forestry and tussocky grass all defend the summit, which is relatively benign, with widespread granite slabs.” Says it all! Secondly, to allow extra time on the summits - previously unactivated summits are much sought after. Also more bands means more time. On this occasion 1 hour of activation time was only a little over half of what was needed for 2m SSB, 60m SSB and 40m CW.

Many thanks to everyone that came on to make contact. I easily achieved my aim of qualifying the summits on VHF. My only regret is the lack of HF from SS-245, but that will come from someone else in due course.

I am preparing a separate report for the North Pennines part of the activation and will sum up my thoughts at the end of that.

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