Activation of St Sunday Crag & Fairfield in the Lake District, UK, 24 June 2017
G/LD-010, St Sunday Crag, 841m, 8 points also Wainwright LDW-013
G/LD-007, Fairfield, 873m, 8 points also Wainwright LDW-022
The Weather Report
HOW WINDY? (ON THE SUMMITS): Westerly: 20-30mph increasing 40mph perhaps 45mph later.
EFFECT OF WIND ON YOU?: Walking arduous or later difficult on higher areas. Significant windchill later.
HOW WET?: Isolated showers. Risk of an odd shower here and there, mainly western Fells, elsewhere mainly dry.
CLOUD ON THE HILLS?: Breaking above tops. Many western fells shrouded in cloud at first, but tending to lift and break by afternoon. Further east any early cloud dispersing quickly to become mainly cloud free.
CHANCE OF CLOUD FREE SUMMITS?: 70%
SUNSHINE AND AIR CLARITY? Sunny periods developing on most if not all hills, with good visibility. Poor in hill fog at first, especially on western fells.
HOW COLD? (AT 750M): 6 to 8C, but feeling more like freezing in the wind.
FREEZING LEVEL: Above summits
- Yeasu FT-270 2m 5W FM waterproof handheld
- Yaesu FT-817 5W all mode, all band transceiver (in drybag)
- Slim-G 2m antenna
- Sotabeams Quad Bander 20/30/40/80 dipole
- 8 metre squid pole with guying kit
- 5AH 4 cell LiPo (not used)
- Waterproof log book
- Jetboil Zip Carbon cooker, Aldi instant cappuccino
- Sitmat (not used)
- Several protein bars
- 1.5L water
- Haglofs Jacket & Trousers, thin puffer jacket for warmth, Wicking technical top, Merino Wool Socks, Walking Boots
- Animal Rucksack with drybag in main compartment
Approx pack weight with water: 6.5KG
Start time: 05:20 UTC, End Time: 12:30 UTC, Total Ascent: approx 1200 metres, Total Distance: 12km
Temperature at Dunmail Raise: 10 degC
The more I do SOTA and the more activation reports I read the more lucky I feel to live in Windermere - up at 04:45 UTC (even in BST that sounds early to me!) and beginning my ascent from Dunmail Raise at 05:20 UTC. Dunmail Raise isn’t necessarily the best approach for Fairfield - you can also ascend via Great Rigg on the ‘horseshoe’ from Grasmere. I’m still trying to curtail my ‘direct’ approach to hills, i.e. straight up the side, to consider the tightness of contour lines and to try and mentally convert into the pain and pounding heart that is sure to result. As always I felt like I was on the clock and as a consequence had changed my alert to include Seat Sandal and Fairfield only, considering St Sunday Crag to be too far for the time I had available.
Anyway, I thought I’d done a good job in following Raise Beck on the ‘reasonable’ ascent to Grisedale Tarn. FAIL. On the way back down I saw the fork in the path through the gorse at the bottom of Seat Sandal that I should have taken. Shame I didn’t notice it on the way up. There were quite a few cars parked on the verge at Dunmail Raise and I found out later that the 20-odd folk I passed during my ascent and descent of Seat Sandal were on a 10 peak challenge - which explained why they were there at stupid o’clock in the morning.
The ascent of Seat Sandal is via quite a thin, muddy trail that meaner’s its’ way directly up the north-east side of Seat Sandal. Footing wasn’t too bad but I wouldn’t have wanted to climb after heavy rainfall. This is what caught my eye about Seat Sandal on Wikipedia:
Seat Sandal is distinctive in that its drainage reaches the sea at more widely spread points than any other Lakeland Fell, with Raise Beck going through Thirlmere and Derwent Water to reach the Irish Sea at Workington, Tongue Beck going through the lakes of Grasmere and Windermere to reach Morecambe Bay and Grisedale Beck draining into Ullswater and then to the sea at the Solway Firth. However, this is true only as a result of the diversion of Raise Beck north to feed Thirlmere Reservoir.
So several breaks to lower the heartbeat later I reach the summit. Being here this early in the morning was not the plan as the chances of catching anyone on 2m was slim. I turned the FT-270 on and was surprised that someone was on 145.500 calling for help. Once we’d QSY’d I was told that he’d been in a car accident on a back road near Pendle Hill north of Burnley and was stuck in a ditch, his phone had died and all he had working was his transceiver. Not being a member of a recovery service I was unsure who I could call to help out, but as we were getting to the point of contact details for me to phone the police someone turned up on site. The main thing, I think, was that he was therefore located.
At this point I decided to press on (the clock always ticking in my head!). Nothing else was heard.
Traversing to Deepdale Hause
The descent over the back side of Seat Sandal was predictably steep, the last group of 10 peak walkers I was to see for quite some time was slowly, quietly traversing the path to the summit past me. A great view of Grisedale Tarn is afforded during the descent with Fairfield looming in the cloud to my right.
I really wasn’t happy to be dropping height. I wanted to find a way to St Sunday Crag (which just looked so enticing in the distance) so decided to skip Fairfield summit and traverse the north-east side without any clear path to follow. This mostly involved following sheep tracks and cursing the rocky-under grass ground which caused several trip-ups. Eventually I found the track leading up to Deepdale Hause from Grisedale Tarn and the subsequent ascending traverse continued without incident.
Ridge line to St Sunday Crag Summit
This is what it’s all about! With a tail wind the walk was easy and the views into the valleys with Grisedale Forest to the East and Deepdale Common to the west are awe inspiring. The rolling ridge line is fairly easy going, it widens and narrows in various places. The Cairn on St Sunday Crag is a fairly Heath Robinson affair although it did work to protect you from the worst of the wind, which had strengthen by now to about 30mph I would estimate.
First Activation - St Sunday Crag
It took me several attempts to get the squid pole relatively secure with a combination of guying (not easy given the rocky nature of the summit) and rock-loading the base. The Slim G antenna worked just fine hooked up to the FT-270 and I got four contacts on 2m with the regulars: John in Penrith, Simon on Walney Island, Geoff in Annan and also Neil on the Wirral giving me that magic four contacts. At just after 9am on a Saturday morning I decided that HF might be a good option to try now. After a quick brew with my new toy, a Jetboil (highly recommended. I suggested it as a father’s day present). I texted my wife at this point to say I’d reached St Sunday Crag and had christened my JetBoil. “Living the dream” was the text back. Well, yeah actually I had to agree! The HF setup was tricky. The Sotabeam quad-bander is an awesome bit of kit for the weight but it sure takes a lot of width! A check of the compass indicated that across the crag was the best East-West orientation. Once I’d got the North end pegged I found I had very little room on the South end before the steep drop off. Tread carefully! The guying I’d used on the pole for the 2m activation remained, with the additional guy at the balun adding to support but also causing the pole to flex in two places.
With the wind strengthening I found the pole to be the weakest link. Several times during activation it would slide back inside itself. The moisture wasn’t helping to keep the sections friction locked. Now I understand why taping the joints is sometimes required. Something else to carry in future!
A self-spot via text message brought in two chasers, Ken from Leicestershire and Andy from Staffordshire. With the combination of frequent pole collapses and what was clearly a strengthening wind with the occasional rain show I decided to pack up and head back. Having only passed one walker on the way out to the summit and seen no-one for over an hour I was starting to feel a little lonely and exposed!
Back to Fairfield
The walk back to Fairfield, in the end, was fairly uneventful with the wind being constant rather than gusty. At one point just before Cofa Pike I observed the end-cap on the squid pole was missing, darn! A quick somewhat hopeful retrace of my steps found it - I was glad I put reflective tape on it - also a Godsend during my frequent night activity! I was in two minds at this point whether to tackle Cofa Pike - the path just seemed to run out. However, I thought it unlikely that it was just be a dead-end and was right - the path then traverses for a while to the North East before tackling the rocky outcrop itself in a series of turns and short scrambles.
Fairfield itself is a fairly ugly summit in my opinion with boulder fields to be traversed to the trig point and two substantial horseshoe shelters. There were now a few walkers in view doing the usual ‘summit shuffle’ between the trig point, selfies and taking in the views. I got myself embedded in one and initially activated using the FT-270 on the handheld antenna.
First Fairfield Activation
This was an activation of two halves. Finally a QSO with Mike Hunter on Raw Head (we’ve chatted several times on the Sota Facebook forum) and I didn’t even realise it was him! Doing a good job of keeping 2m alive Mike! Then John from Penrith, Clive on Walney Island then Colin out-and-about in Wales. Geoff from Annan had told me during the St Sunday Crag activation that he struggled with activations on Fairfield due to the issue of having Helvellyn in the way! So I thought I’d give the Slim-G another try ‘just in case’ that helped. With the squid pole embedded in the rocks on the outside of the shelter at about 45 degrees I had the Slim-G up at around 3 metres with the coax dangling above my head.
Sharing a Shelter
At this point a large group of walkers appeared ‘out of the blue’. Clearly on an organised trip of some sort the leader took one look at me with a squid pole above my head and assessed the situation carefully. She told me there were a large group of walkers in need of a break from the wind (which was constant 45mph at this point) and did I mind sharing! Of course not - I gathered up my bag and scattered belonging and instantly went from a company of one to around 20! I got the feeling that these folk weren’t seasoned hikers and as it came to pass from subsequent conversations there were on a 40 mile, 24 hour walk in aid of Mind the mental health charity. Apart from putting my foot in it at one point (by suggesting in the evening that they go see the local school production of Chicago, um, where was my brain at that point?) I did have a chat with several, explained what the crazy radio stuff was about, and found that this was the first time in the Lakes for several of them, let alone on a hike! Suffice to say later that evening I added to the sponsorship, I have great admiration for folk who put themselves so far out of their comfort zone for a good cause. I’m hoping it won’t put too may off for a return visit!
Second Fairfield Activation
With the Slim-G up I got another five contacts in the log including Les on Walney, Martyn and Caroline on their way up the M6, Geoff in Annan (at 5/1, but still a result!) and Neil on the Wirral. The FT-270’s battery died half way through the QSO with Geoff so I thank him for his patience whilst I swapped to the FT-817 and also put the Slim-G back on the squid pole several times as the supporting ring was blown off the top until I finally got the message and trapped the coax at the bottom in the shelter stones. Oh, and Sue in Lancaster caught my final call before I went QRT - I need to add her to the log.
Descent from Fairfield
I met another group of Mind Hiker’s on the way down Fairfield, offering my encouragement where necessary. After a couple of snaps of Grizedale Tarn I took the correct path to the right at the base of Seat Sandle past the tarn and on the descent to the left of Raise Beck. Actually this was fairly steep and rocky in places but eventually you can see Dunmail Raise and the end is in sight!
- Having failed to activate Coniston Old Man once due to being ill prepared for rain I doubled up this time with the FT-270 & FT-817. However, if I am doing HF in the future I will only take the FT-817. Under cover of the dry bag it should be fine (I may even find some hard plastic to form a rain cover within the dry bag. However, I think I got it mostly right with the backpack weight.
- Logging. Man I suck at logging. The waterproof notepad was a really good idea. Paper in your pockets generally gets wet either from perspiration or rain. The pad worked very well, so I’ll be using it again. However, I ended up doing a mixture of pad and phone logging, and I always confuse myself whether signal reports are TX or RX. Must get better!
- The Jetboil was great, don’t regret that purchase, a hot drink goes a long way to help the body and brain feel better.
- 1.5 litres of water was about right, wouldn’t have wanted any less.
- Don’t be afraid to backtrack if you think you’re on the wrong path. Five minutes of thinking, reading the map and backtracking can save a whole heap of pain! Having said that twice I followed my instincts and I was right, so I guess it’s a lottery!
- Get your summit references right (thanks to John in Penrith for several corrections)! SOTA activation 101 but it keeps catching me out, especially when I can’t find that scrap of paper I’ve written them on the night before!