Saturday 1st December 2007
After racking up the uniques during the summer and autumn, I had decided to start the winter bonus period with a two summit activation aimed at making a start towards redressing the summits to points balance. My choice was to activate the tried and tested pairing of Pen Y Fan SW-001 and Fan Fawr SW-005. Paul G4MD indicated that he would like to activate these summits as well and so we decided to plan the day as a joint activation. An outline schedule was prepared and developed, taking into account Paul’s claim that he would be slow up these large hills and my resurgent interest in activating 70cms and 23cms. The final programme for the day showed that we could just fit the two summits in between dawn and dusk. So, as seems to be the case for virtually all of my activations, it was once again down to an early start.
For once I had a surprisingly good night before the activation - that is if you can call 2245 to 0315 good. The alarm managed two rounds of bleeps before I silenced it and it was another two minutes before I rolled out of bed, certain that Bev was awake. Fortunately she went back to sleep, so I wasn’t in her bad books on this occasion. Rain during the evening had prevented me from loading the car, so the extra 5 minutes I had planned in on this occasion proved to be useful. I set off at the planned time of 0350 and with virtually empty roads was at Paul’s house in Stourbridge for 0510, where I was able to pull straight into his parking place as his car was sitting out on the road ready. After a quick cup of coffee and the transfer of my kit to Paul’s car, we were away by 0527, already ahead of schedule.
The direct route to the Brecon Beacons from Stourbridge is via Leominster down winding A roads. Paul was accustomed to driving this route and the satnav was only taken and used for reference. We were to be thankful later that I did not leave the satnav in my car. When we had some 20 miles still to travel on the 82 mile journey, the sky lit up momentarily which caused Paul and I to debate whether it was lightning. A second more distant flash a few minutes later seemed to indicate that this might be the case, however, we weren’t 100% certain. The low temperature seemed to indicate otherwise, but then came the rain and that settled the matter. It was still raining as we pulled into the parking spot south of the Storey Arms at 0717, a full 23 minutes ahead of schedule.
Our first port of call was the public convenience, thankfully open at this early hour and then we started to put on the layers and generally prepare for the ascent. Fortunately the rain had eased and it was getting lighter by the minute. As we were getting ready a car turned around near us, the window was wound down and the lady driver asked whether we were going up. Avoiding the obvious opening for a sarcastic response, we advised that we were and she informed us that she was extremely jealous. It seems this mountain has its followers.
Our casual preparation meant that it was 0747 by the time we set off, which was still 13 minutes ahead of schedule. The wind in the valley was quite light, but soon increased once we were out of the shelter of the trees and making our ascent proper. The route is very evenly graded and even though we were taking great care on the wet stoned sections of the track, we made steady if not spectacular progress. We only took a number of momentary pauses to take in our surroundings, immediate though they were in the poor visibility at the higher levels. It appeared that we were the first to go up the mountain, but as we by-passed Corn Du, a group of people appeared on the top, presumably having come up another route from a different starting point. They reached the summit of Pen Y Fan before us and were obviously on a mission as they set off again south east after a few minutes. That left us alone on the summit at 0904, just 1 hour and 17 minutes after leaving the car park. Our first action was to survey the best positions to operate from. Basically there was little choice - it was all waterlogged!
Paul retired to the southern edge of the summit plateau to avoid having wires anywhere near the main tracks and I chose a more convenient position closer to the summit. My first task was to gather some stones to raise the ground level so my equipment and myself could keep above the water level across the plateau. In the strong biting wind it took 26 minutes from the time of our arrival to get set up and operational. Speed was not of the essence since I had programmed in a whole hour on the summit and we had made our ascent in excellent time. My initial CQ half an hour earlier than planned at 0931 was answered by Stewart G0LGS and we made the customary move to 144.333MHz for a brief chat before Matt M3WDS headed a run of 10 chasers. The weather started to deteriorate and the rain came in, followed by sleet, snow and then briefly hail. At 0949, just as I was finishing an S2S contact with John M0JDK/P who was on SP-006, the band suddenly became very noisy. I immediately announced the occurrence of static rain and went temporarily QRT disconnecting the antenna lead from the 817. After a couple of minutes, Paul came over to see me, saying that the static was also hammering 5MHz, so there was little we could do other than wait, hunker down and try to avoid getting wet!
At 0954 I risked a check on the situation, but the noise was still there running at S9 plus, so I waited a while longer and I must have timed it right as at 0959 when I connected up again it was just stopping. A quick call to say I was back in business showed that a proportion of my audience had not deserted me and I made a further five contacts before the frequency went quiet. I then moved down to 144.320MHz to find Richard G4ERP/P on Great Mell Fell LD-035 and so I joined the queue to work him. Unfortunately Richard soon suffered the same fate with static as we had done and so went QRT before I could get through to him. I went back to make a final check on 144.333MHz and was called by Graham G4JZF which allowed us a bit of time to chat before the weather closed in again.
At 1020, having concluded operations on 5MHz, Paul came over to see how I was getting on. I advised that I would not be operating 70cms or 23cms due to the fact that the rain was now persistent, with periods of hail mixed in. However, as Paul walked back to pack up his kit, I couldn’t resist one last call for Don G0RQL to see whether we could have a quick try on the higher bands, but Don was not to be found, so I too started to dismantle the equipment. This was quite difficult as my hands were now very cold and worse still my gloves were sodden. It was a case of getting the kit packed away as quickly as possible hoping that the rig would not suffer. The FT-817 is good in this respect as it runs warm and I am certain that this kept the damp at bay. The FT-290R often used to mist up in bad weather conditions.
The rain continued as we made our descent at 1040. We met a member of the local MRT on the way down just beyond Corn Du, out on the mountain just for pleasure. We gave the standard explanation for the glass fibre poles and the 15 over 15 for 23cms hanging off the back of my pack was enough to show we were indeed serious loonies to be out with radio equipment in such weather. After saying farewell we made good progress downhill, sometimes having to protect our faces from the sharp hail that fell. Needless to say we appreciated the fact that we were well protected from the elements, which was not the case for one character that was ascending in shorts! Our descent took us just 47 minutes, despite extreme care being taken on the stoned up sections of the track.
Once back at the car it was a case of getting the damp kit into the back and then extracting our lunch. As we sat warming up and stoking the inner man, another heavy bout of hail descended and with it, dare I say, a feeling of gloom. I gave Paul a glance and could detect he was thinking the same as I was – Fan Fawr was going to be no picnic in this weather. I was concerned about the lack of a clearly defined route and the lack of shelter on the summit in the poor weather and was silently regretting not having prepared a Plan B on this occasion. Then I had a spark of an idea and disappeared out of my seat to recover the satnav from the back – how far was Craig Y Llyn SW-010? It turned out that it was just 15 miles by road and the decision to go for this summit, even without a map, was made more or less instantaneously. I knew the basic layout of the area from studying the maps on the OS website and Paul could recall some details as well, so at 1207 off we went.
The satnav took us to the lay-by overlooking the lake where I called Don G0NES by phone to advise of the change of summit and time. Don kindly posted this for us and it was then a case of sussing out the best means of access to the summit – easy when you have a map, but what you think you have logged mentally is not always easily discernable on the ground. I was convinced we could get nearer to the hill to avoid walking along the road and we found a suitable spot at the side of an access to Forestry Commission land. After getting our damp kit together we set off down the footpath opposite in the direction of the summit, but the ground was a quagmire, so we made the decision to retrace our steps and try the FC access road further along the road. As we made our way along a couple of men with lorries were collecting Portaloos, but it was not until 1330 when we were at the actual summit that we realised we were at a Wales Rally GB control point, there being portakabins, generators, masts and antennas in abundance up there.
Resisting the urge to cut ourselves a nice length of LDF2-50 or attempt to hijack a trailer versatower, we set up to the north of the summit. Paul selected a sheltered position in a firebreak under the shadow of their main antenna and I moved out to what is now the northern edge of the forest following logging operations, which placed me just a few hundred metres from the summit. Commencing operations at 1340 we were a little later than the time that I had told Don we would be operational, but there was no real rush. I started by looking around the band and found Frank GW3RMD/P on Carnedd Wen MW-012 on 144.320MHz. Contact was quickly made, Frank telling me about having to ford a river in order to gain access to the summit. The earlier activation of Pegwn Mawr MW-006 had similarly been difficult. I now felt that we had copped out somewhat, but looking up to see black clouds scudding across the sky to the north, I knew that we had made the sensible decision. Fan Fawr would be there to ascend on another day.
After working Frank, I moved up to 144.333MHz where I was called by Alistair GW0VMZ. Alistair advised me that I might have problems with rally control, but no-one had come out of the portakabins weilding a big stick, so obviously we weren’t bothering them and I could hear nothing of their transmissions. The summit was soon qualified and the run was a very decent 16 contacts. Signals exhibited deep QSB as the icy bands of weather passed by, but in general I found signals to be considerably stronger than they had been on Pen Y Fan. At 1410 I went over to see how Paul was getting on and he reported signals popping in and out of the noise to peak at S9 plus like a demented bird in an over-wound cuckoo clock! I took some photographs then returned to the rig to put out a final call and found Graham G4FUJ waiting for me. We had a pleasant chat as I got the peripheral bits of kit sorted out and as we were finishing off it started to hail. I packed some of it away in my sack, but it really didn’t matter as everything was soaked.
The descent to the car was easy and we were soon on our way northwards pleased to have bagged a couple of sets of bonus points and only two points overall dropped. It looked like we were going to be back relatively early for once, but had to take a detour en route to avoid a rather inconvenient Father Christmas parade. Anyway, we were back in Stourbridge by 1835 and after a brief stay for a coffee, I was on my own way home which I reached at 2015.
Overall, we had another excellent day out and the weather did not spoil it for us. Many thanks to everyone that made contact with us, particularly to those that placed the spots. The day has now left me with two problems – what summit do I couple Fan Fawr with and what will fit in a day as a replacement for Craig Y Llyn in the SW-010 / 012 / 014 trilogy? Back to the summits page and the Excel spreadsheet!
73 to all, Gerald