Fan Brycheiniog SW-003 and Black Mountain SW-041
Saturday 5th January 2008
As Paul G4MD and I were motoring home after activating Pen Y Fan and Craig Y Llyn on 1st December, our thoughts naturally turned to which summits we could activate jointly the next time we had a mutually free date. We worked out that 29th December would be the likely date, but an extended period of social events over Christmas and the New Year intervened. While Paul managed a number of ventures over the holiday period, some of which were accompanied by members of the family, I had to wait until after New Year to get the opportunity to rid myself of shack fever.
Our intended target was to activate the pairing of Fan Gyhirich SW-006 and Fan Nedd SW-007, but timing was an issue with the short daylight hours available. We therefore decided to put this on hold pending further consideration as to the means of access and I put forward Fan Brycheiniog SW-003 as a summit that I would like to activate. Paul came up with the brilliant suggestion of activating the summit in conjunction with the newly rescheduled Black Mountain, now SW-041. An itinerary was drawn up and agreed and with the final descent being at dusk, we agreed that we should tackle the hill from Gospel Pass as this avoided the steep descent down the northern face of Hay Bluff.
An usually restful night preceded the activation, though I was still wide awake a good ten minutes before the alarm went off at 0330UTC. Once out of bed I set about the usual pre-activation routine, but was soon joined downstairs by Bev who was seeking anti-histamine tablets as she was having problems breathing. This put into motion the need to prepare a brew for her and so, despite having meticulously prepared everything the night before, I failed to get away within the standard 30 minutes allowed between rising and departure. To add to my delay, the car alarm system decided to play up and ensured that all the neighbourhood knew that I was once again off on a jaunt at an ungodly hour! Getting away at 0408UTC I found the roads to be relatively clear and I therefore arrived at 0523 at Paul’s house where a welcome cup of coffee was waiting.
After packing Paul’s kit into my car, we left Stourbridge at 0548UTC and made reasonable and steady progress towards our goal. The route is essentially across country via Leominster to Brecon and the roads do not allow matters to be rushed. Fortunately the satnav timing has a small amount of bunce in-built (at least relative to my driving) and so we arrived at the parking spot for Fan Brycheiniog at 0800 some 5 minutes ahead of schedule. We had a few showers en route, but the weather was now clear. The temperature of the gusting wind that greeted us as we got out of the car made us debate how many layers to don and we both eventually decided on 4. As we set off at 0820 I already had cold hands and was pleased that I had remembered to take my ski gloves.
The parking spot denoted by Sally Satnav (G3CWI POI file) is at around 476 metres. The route starts with a descent to around 450m. If this is an issue, I would recommend the parking available a little further south down the road which is at the lower level, there being another path across the fell from this location. Underfoot the ground was generally a mix of grass, shallow peaty hag and ground cover vegetation which we repeatedly referred to as being squidgy (semi-liquid - Roget’s Thesaurus, an ample description). The previous afternoon and night had seen 25mm or so of rain fall and most of it seemed to be sitting on the surface of the ground. This seemed to be the normal state of the ground here as the tracks were often wide with areas where detours were in evidence. At one point I managed to depress an area of vegetation well below the water level and had it not have been for my waterproof trousers and gaiters I would have had boots full of water. As it was, only my left boot took in a small amount of water.
We soon reached the River Tawe which was fast flowing even at this position close to its source. Care was taken crossing this to avoid a damp start to the day and thereafter the ground started to rise and the southern end of Llyn y Fan Fawr was eventually reached. We had expected to see the lake much earlier, but you are virtually on top of it before it comes into view. Here we took a short pause before tackling the steep section up the eastern flank of the mountain. The track was now stone / shale underfoot which helped us ascend the steeper sections, though some areas of ice had to be carefully negotiated. Further up the track has been made up similar to that up Pen y Fan and one section is large stone slabs like those on Black Mountain SW-041. Overall, the path is well graded and a relatively easy ascent if taken at a steady pace. Under the conditions, it took us 1 hour and 47 minutes. We reached the trig at 1007UTC and noticed some snow lying where the strong wind had allowed it to remain.
With the strength of the wind it took us a while to set up our antennas. Getting the pegs into the semi-frozen ground was not particularly easy. I was only able to erect the mast with the 2m 5 element beam on it and the wind determined the direction the antenna settled in. Paul also had some difficulty setting up his HF dipole under the conditions. We both decided to operate from the circular shelter close to the trig point and were pleased this had been constructed as the wind chill was significant.
After checking the Angus beacon on 144.450MHz, I opened up on 2m SSB at 1030UTC with a CQ call on 144.300MHz to which I received no response. In contrast, a QSY and brief call on my nominated frequency of 144.333MHz resulted in a huge pile up - it seems that the alerts system works! Paul had a similar result on 5MHz on his initial announcement. Alastair GW0VMZ managed first slot with me and then again with Paul when he opened up at 1034UTC. I worked my way down the list of callers, several of which also worked Paul. Paul made an S2S with Dave GW4AOD/P on Moel Famau at 1040UTC and a little later I worked Steve 2W0KPO/P and John MW0JDK/P on the same summit. Paul made a total of 22 contacts ending with Robin GM7PKT at 1110UTC. My total was 17 on 2m SSB, including a contact with a very “rustic” sounding Don G0NES suffering with flu and ending with a chat with Sean M0VGP using a FT-290R on internal batteries with its whip indoors. Sean assures me that he will soon be taking the rig up the hills once again.
Paul started to dismantle his station while I set up for a second phase of operation on 70cms SSB. Here Don G0RQL was 59+ and contacts with Frank G3RMD, Stewart G0LGS and Geoff M3SFN gave me qualification of the summit on the higher band. Although I did not say so at the time, I was being affected by a carrier swishing back and forth across the frequency. I thought this could have been one of two things - instability in the preamplifier or interference, deliberate or accidental. Tests have subsequently shown the preamplifier to be unconditionally stable under all voltage and load conditions and the problem did not occur on Black Mountain.
At 1125UTC a quick trial on 23cms FM was attempted with Don G0RQL holding the 15 over 15 yagi above my head, but in the strong cold wind I was getting cold and so had to abandon the attempt. Had the weather conditions been better, a contact might have been feasible. I will try to check the path and bearing down to Devon before I next take the 23cms kit out on a summit so that the chance of making a contact is improved.
The temperature had risen while we had been on the summit and the ground outside of the shelter was now extremely muddy. This created a number of dance-like moves as I skated around collecting all the bits. Trying to keep the dirt out of the connectors was a priority. Eventually we were ready to descend by 1150UTC, some 20 minutes behind schedule. We found the path below the lake to be even more fluid than on our ascent and in avoiding the worst areas we drifted off the course of our ascent and eventually ended up at the lower parking spot referred to earlier. This meant a walk up the road of some 600 metres, but overall we were quick on the hoof and were back at the car precisely on schedule at 1300UTC.
We sat in the car for lunch and looked across at Fan Gyhirich SW-006 - it didn’t look that pleasant from our position and we were pleased we had put it on hold pending further consideration of the ascent route. Suitably refreshed, we set off for our second summit of the day at 1324UTC and arrived at the Gospel Pass parking spot exactly an hour later. We started our ascent at 1430UTC to find conditions underfoot better than previously, at least initially. The ascent from this position gets the hard work out of the way at the beginning of the walk and it was not until we were at the top of the steep section that we felt the full force of the wind. We also found the track awash requiring regular detours, so it was a relief to eventually see the trig at Hay Bluff come into view. From there it was easy, but as we reached the top plateau the question was where to operate. We had both decided to operate in the traditional manner as GW’s, so finding a spot to the west of the path was what was needed. In the end we decided just to seek the deepest heather patches that we could find and set up as best we could, there being no shelter on this summit.
On this occasion I decided to set up both the 2m and 70cms antennas on the mast as I could sit at the bottom of the mast. This was a good decision and I was soon up and running with both bands on board. Once again the crowds were ready waiting on 144.333MHz, with Graham G4JZF taking the top slot at 1550UTC, some 10 minutes later than the posted time. Signals were generally 59 which is what is expected from this summit, though I did have to turn my antenna towards Don G0RQL to achieve this result. Unfortunately the run came to an abrupt halt after QSO number 13 at 1607UTC with the occurrence of static rain just as Mike GW0DSP called in. I glanced over in Paul’s direction to see what was happening on 5MHz Paul and he did not seem to be affected, However, after a run of 17 contacts he was similarly halted by static at 1610UTC, ironically also just as he was attempting to contact Mike GW0DSP.
As the static cut in on 2m, in a flash of inspiration I announced to an unheard audience a move to 432.200MHz. This proved to be successful with contacts with Stewart G0LGS, Dave 2E0IXC, Richard G4ERP and Don G0RQL enabling me once more to qualify the summit on the higher band. Stewart then called me and asked for a test on 1297.500MHz FM and I was able to hear him at 54 on the whip, but he could not copy my 280mW. Unfortunately I had decided to leave the 15 over 15 in the car - such is life!
Paul again packed up while I was working the higher bands and it was now a race against time to get the kit together in the progressive rain / snow / hail. What had fitted easily into containers at home just would not now fit as I packed away, the situation being exacerbated by cold hands and being in a rush. Needless to say that I have since reviewed my packaging! We started our descent at 1650UTC and despite the rapid onset of darkness we were back at the car by 1735UTC, just 10 minutes behind schedule. On the final part of the descent we opted to plough through the mess along the track, knowing that irrespective of where we placed our feet, we would be involved in a clean up operation the following day. It took us over 25 minutes to divest ourselves of our damp kit and clothing and the final part of the schedule was well and truly out of the window by the time we were sat in the car eating our second set of sandwiches. We set off for Stourbridge at 1814UTC and arrived there at 2004UTC. After a refreshing cup of coffee and a phone call to Bev, I was once more underway at 2035UTC and back home at 2150UTC, tired but happy with 20 points in the bag… I am a Uniques person, but it is still pleasing to earn a few points on occasion.
Our thanks go to all those that contacted us. Paul had a particularly pleasing day on 5MHz with a total of 39 contacts that would have been rather higher in number had we not been affected by the static. I was personally pleased and encouraged by the results on 70cms. As usual particular thanks go to those that spotted us on the various bands. It looks like we may be out on another joint activation at the beginning of February with individual efforts before then. We look forward to working you from wherever we end up.
73, Gerald G4OIG