Fan Fawr SW-005 and Coity Mountain SW-012
Saturday 2nd February 2008
After a protracted period of four weeks during which Saturdays were taken up by family business, I was pleased to get out for a day in the hills. Paul G4MD had managed to activate Great Rhos MW-002, Gwaunceste MW-010 and The Begwyns SW-025 the week previous and was fortunately allowed a pass to carry out activations two weeks in succession. Our aim was to continue our sorties into South Wales with the activation of Fan Fawr SW-005 (abandoned in December 2007 due to bad weather) and Coity Mountain SW-012.
Working to an extremely slack itinerary which was intended to make allowances for bad weather and a relatively low level of fitness, I got up at 03:45 and left home at 04:14, having plied Bev with a cup of tea. The weather was calm, dry and the temperature minus 3.5 degrees Celsius. Fortunately the dry air meant that I did not have to clear the car windscreen and the roads appeared to have been salted and gritted allowing me to make good progress out to the motorway. The journey to Paul’s house in Stourbridge was largely uneventful, with just two sleepy lorry drivers allowing their vehicles to slip into the lane that I was occupying just as I approached them. Little wonder accidents happen!
I arrived at Paul’s house early at 05:30 where I accepted the usual welcome cup of coffee after which we transferred my kit to Paul’s car, setting off from Stourbridge at 05:54. The temperature during our journey varied enormously from minus 1.5 degrees to plus 1.5 degrees, often swinging across freezing point within a couple of miles, the change presumably being wind influenced. Paul made good progress to the parking spot opposite the Storey Arms where we arrived at 07:46. Already the crowds intent on ascending Pen Y Fan SW-001 were arriving in droves and the car park quickly filled up. We received a number of rather bemused looks as we unloaded the kit, strapped fishing poles and coaxial cables to rucksacks and set off, complete with the 23cms quadruple quad antenna in my hand. No-one inquired as to what we were up to, presumably due to everybody being happy that these two strange persons were not joining them on Pen Y Fan, but were intent on ascending Fan Fawr.
We started walking at 08:09 in a chilly minus 0.5 degrees Celsius and light wind of about 10 mph. The first thing we found was that the tracks were heavily iced up, so care had to be taken to avoid the obvious base over apex trick. We decided to make our ascent via the north side of the hill, this hopefully providing us with a more gentle gradient and fewer icy patches. As we rounded the northern edge of the hill, the wind speed started to increase and we soon found the gradient steepening up to around the 700 metre level where the hill started to flatten out. As we approached the summit we joined the main access route and arrived at the cairn at 09:20 shortly behind two walkers. This pair did ask what we were up to and immediately grasped the fact that we were intending a decent length of stay on the summit and so wished us all the best in coping with the wind chill before they set off in a southerly direction.
The sub-zero temperature was clearly in evidence in the expanse of solid ice lying in the depression around the cairn. I remarked to Paul that it was a shame that I had forgotten my ice skates, but that was not what we were up there for. Paul took a quick look over the eastern edge of the hill hoping to find some shelter from the cold westerly wind which was running at about 20mph, gusting higher. Unfortunately the sharp drop off, so typical of the Brecon hills, did not provide us with a suitable site to set up on, so we set about finding a couple of depressions in the landscape to the west of the summit.
I opted for setting up on all three bands from the start and it took a while to erect the mast and antennas. Paul was up and running on 5MHz by 09:42 a few minutes before I was. His run of contacts comprised 11 across G and 5 around GW, with Graham G4FUJ and Stewart G0LGS being the “bookends”. Switching on with the rig that had been preset on 144.333MHz, I was immediately aware of Richard GW4ERP/P activating nearby Fan Brycheiniog SW-003 on 144.320MHz and when I tuned down to him, he was just signing with Stewart G0LGS. I called in to make his second contact before moving up to 144.350MHz. Stewart followed me up and headed a run of 16 contacts. Paul concluded his operation at 10:08 and then wandered over to see how I was getting on. He advised that he couldn’t give 80m a try as he had left a patch lead in the car. Unfortunately I do not use 259’s and so all my spare cables did not have the correct connectors on them and I had not got any adaptors with me.
My run on 2m ended with a contact with Peter G3TJE/P operating from his local HuMP, Brent Knoll. His FT-817 running barefoot to its whip produced an amazing signal. After a brief chat with Peter, I moved up to 70cms to find Don G0RQL waiting on my working frequency of 432.222MHz and with signals at 59 both ways we decided to try a test on 1297.500MHz FM, unfortunately without success. Peter G3TJE/P then called in on 70cms and again he was 59 plus. Contacts with Frank G3RMD and Stewart G0LGS qualified the summit for me on the band… this is becoming something of a habit. Many thanks chaps!
I concluded my operation at 10:40, by which time Paul had finished studying the landscape and was busily packing up his station. Packing up the 3 bands in the cold wind took some time and it was not until 11:07 that we were once again at the cairn and ready to descend. Before setting off down the main track we had a conversation with three walkers at the cairn. After saying farewell, we started our descent to find that despite the fact that the temperature had risen a few degrees, we still had to take care on the frozen ground and iced-up path. A number of walkers were now making the ascent and greeted us with varying levels of welcome. We made good time and were back at the car by 11:47 where the wind had dropped somewhat and the temperature was 4 degrees Celsius. The car park was still buzzing with activity while we had a quick lunch and then set off for our second summit at 12:03 - according to our itinerary we should have still been on our descent!
Paul had programmed in the parking spot on the west side of Coity Mountain SW-012. It was our intention to take the route described by Richard G4ERP and we were pleased to see the lay-by parking was empty on our arrival at 12:42. The ascent route was reasonably straightforward with a couple of alternative routes presenting themselves, which caused some debate, but they in fact led to the same point. As we ascended I was aware of the possibility of making contact with Richard GW4ERP/P who was now on Craig y Llyn SW-010. My 817 was packed in the rucksack, but it was not a problem as I had told Richard by email that I might give him a call on FM. That was based on the assumption that he would be on 144.320MHz, but by the time that we were high enough to make contact, Richard had moved on to 70cms and was nearing the end of his activation. A couple of calls using the C528 on 432.220MHz did the trick and both Paul and I soon had some chaser points in the bag and Richard another couple of contacts in his log.
At the top of the valley we easily found the wide track heading north and then moved off to the north east towards the summit of Coity Mountain. The activation area of this summit is huge, so we wandered around and tried to find an area with some shelter, but eventually gave up and settled on a couple of large clumps of heather. A light sprinkling of rain on the ascent showed that the weather could still be an issue during our activation. This time I left the 23cms antenna off the mast. My initial call on 144.333MHz was immediately answered by Richard GW4ERP who was now mobile heading towards us. Richard said that he was considering activating Mynydd Carn y Cefn SW-014 just across the valley from us, but the weather subsequently put paid to that idea. After speaking to Richard, Frank G3RMD called in, followed by John G7MWW and Graham G4JZF. During the contact with Graham it started to snow quite heavily and I decided to put my waterproof trousers on. Stage one was achieved while still in QSO, but I had to call a halt to the proceedings for a few minutes while I finished sorting myself out. On returning to 2m, Stewart G0LGS was waiting to pick up the reins and the run on 2m went quickly thereafter, totaling 15 in all.
Over on 5MHz Paul had a problem. FE was in use and chasers were not listening one channel down. He was therefore forced to tail end the contact on FE to work Dave G3YXM, usually to be found on 160m. Moving down to 5.3715MHz after this QSO, Paul made contact with Roger G0TRB and a good run began bringing in a total of 21 G, 1 GM and 3 GW contacts, many being with new chasers. At one stage Paul was working two people a minute. Frank G3RMD concluded Paul’s run at around 15:01. By this time I had moved to 70cms and had G3RMD and Kevin 2W0HAK in the log. Next was Don G0RQL who was followed by three members of the Cheltenham Mafia - M0RAR, G4FUJ and G0LGS. Finally I had a surprise - a call from Graham G4JZF who was using his 2m beam. This made a total of 7 contacts on 70cms, which was a super way to end the activation. Yet another summit qualified on the band.
The worst of the weather had passed by the time we started to pack up, though the wind was still quite strong and it took 20 minutes to get everything cleared of the residual snow and packed away. We started our descent at 15:40 and arrived back at the car at 16:25. At the final stile by the road, Paul drew my attention to the finger-post which had been sawn off, the word “Footpath” no longer in evidence. Paul swears that it was complete when we made our ascent. Most strange!
After decanting the kit into the car and a snack, we set off for Stourbridge at 16:45, a whole hour ahead of our itinerary. This translated itself to me getting home to Northampton by 20:20 - well in time for a meal and a well-earned beer before hitting the sack.
Once again our thanks go to all those that contacted us. Paul had good day on 5MHz with a total of 41 contacts. I was especially pleased and encouraged by the results on 70cms - the band appears to be going from strength to strength. Particular thanks go to those that wrestled with a slow website and spotted us. If all is well, we will be out on another joint activation next weekend (Saturday 9th February) to give a few more points away from SW-004 and SW-014.
As for those who are wondering about 23cms - well, I am reviewing the issue. I have no proof that the quadruple quad performs as it should and more tests are needed. The problem is that while signals may be 59 both ways with Don G0RQL on 70cms, there is a large disparity between the ERP that we can generate on the two bands. My 280mW of 23cms FM from the C710 to an antenna which gives (in theory) 11dB of gain, with a cable / connector loss of around 1dB, only produces 2.8W ERP. At Don’s QTH, the 35mW to his 19 element yagi produces somewhat less ERP. By comparison, my 70cms set up produces 25W to a 7dB antenna with less than 0.6dB loss in the cable / connectors - around 110W ERP and Don’s set up is superior to mine. Little wonder it hasn’t worked out so far on 23cms, but activations from DC-001 and SC-001 are in my program…
73, Gerald G4OIG