Saturday 8th November 2008
The strong possibility of foul weather in West Wales brought Plan B into play on this occasion. The slopes of Cadair Idiris GW/NW-009 and its sidekick Craig y Castell GW/NW-074 were sidelined until we could be assured of a more pleasant day and Paul and I headed north to get another taste of the popular South Pennines summits.
The day started at 03:25 when I woke some 5 minutes ahead of the alarm. The well rehearsed preparation for the day swung into action and I was away from Northampton by 03:58. The temperature was a reasonable 7 degrees with cloud cover and no rain – that arrived as I passed Coventry some 30 minutes down the road. Roadworks on the M6 north of Birmingham delayed me somewhat, but I was still 5 minutes ahead of schedule when I arrived at Paul’s QTH at 05:15. Paul was in a relaxed mood and we spent a little longer than usual catching up on the past month while having a coffee before we got underway on part 2 of the journey at 05:42.
Our first target was the village of Shawforth to the south west of Freeholds Top G/SP-011. We were working to the CWI POI file in the satnav and this seemingly brought us to a spot that was built up without an obvious parking spot. I continued a little way up the road and pulled into a road on the right that offered parking between a car spray business and a row of houses. Paul checked our precise position with his satnav (so much quicker and more sensitive than mine) and this showed us to be within striking distance of the start of the footpath up to the summit. After a bit of indecision as to whether we could “better” our position, we started to get ready for our ascent. It was then that I realised that my rehearsed preparations had failed on this occasion. I had not picked up my 23cms beam from the utility room and worse still there were 4 SLABs still on charge on the worktop! Paul usually takes a spare SLAB on activations, but had left it at home this time, so I was reduced to seeing what power the internal battery pack in the FT-817 could provide – fortunately I had charged this up during the previous week. It was going to be an interesting day with just 2.5 watts available rather than the usual 20 watts.
We set off on foot back down the main road through Shawforth at 08:02 two minutes behind schedule. Taking a private road on our left, we cut the corner to the footpath towards the summit. On seeing the steep slope to our right where the footpath joined our route, we knew we had made the correct decision! The route continued up the very uneven road and eventually came out onto farm land where we crossed two fields diagonally. We were pleased to see the right of way was being maintained, with a relatively new stile having been erected. With a projected ascent time of 45 minutes, we made good progress and cancelled out the two minutes deficit despite finding the summit area extremely boggy after the recent wet weather. Although I had actually seen photographs of the summit area, it was still a surprise to see the small lake adjacent to the trig point. Not quite “shades of Glasgwm” (GW.NW-015), but still fairly remarkable. It had been 9 degrees at the car, but with a strong wind blowing and rain in the air it was considerably cooler at 454 metres asl. We therefore sought shelter behind a wall running roughly north from the summit. Paul set up on 60m using the adjacent fence to support his pole, while I decided to rig a suitable support against the wall using my bungie cords so that I could turn the antenna easily…. well, that was the idea – the strong wind had other intentions and it became a constant battle.
Precisely on schedule, we both opened up at 09:00. The first call that I made on my usual frequency of 144.333MHz found Mike G4BLH ready waiting for me at one of his local portable locations. Signals were huge both ways which bode well for the higher bands. Mike suggested that I continue on 2m SSB and a steady run of well known chasers quickly brought the total to 10 contacts with Don G0RQL down in Devon being the best DX. Signals were inevitably down in respect to my normal activations – not only had I considerably less power, I was also without the benefit of a gasfet preamp. Several people advised that the summit was a new one for them which was extremely pleasing and rather unexpected given the popularity of the SP’s. At 09:26 I moved to 432.222MHz SSB and made contact with Mike BLH and we then moved onto 1297.500MHz FM where we exchanged moderate signal strength reports – that was until Mike got out of his car and it became 59 both ways. Mike was running 100mW, my C710 puts out 280mW and we were both using rubber duck antennas. After the 23cms contact I moved back to 70cms and worked Graham G3OHC with signals as good if not better than on 2m. Unfortunately I was not able to raise Frank G3RMD, even using CW.
On 60m Paul found the skip to be relatively short, with Mike GW0DSP first in the log. A steady of contacts gave Paul a total of 15 in 25 minutes. Signals were up and down as is often the case on the band, but this proved to be a somewhat better than average activation. Many contacts noted the summit was a unique, as much a surprise to Paul as it was to me. After his run finished, Paul came over and helped out by taking over the control of my mast in the strong wind. This was particularly useful in respect of my attempt to make contact with Frank, as keying and mast holding don’t go well together. With nothing heard, I went QRT at 09:37. On taking down my mast, I found the cap at the bottom had split – fortunately Paul had some electrical tape with him which effected a decent repair for the day. We started our descent at 09:52 and were back at the car by 10:24 where we had a snack before setting off for our next summit, Hail Storm Hill G/SP-009.
We parked up at Cowpe at 10:43, again following the CWI POI file instructions. The ascent through the scrap yard seemed to us to be considerably more pleasant than Richard’s description and we met the very friendly owner with whom we had a good 5 minutes chat before resuming our walk. We chose to ascend by the reservoir and after negotiating a boggy section through reeds we steadily made the fairly steep climb, stopping occasionally (and genuinely) for photographic opportunities of which there were several. Higher up we turned left along a track with a well worn stone carriageway in order to get to the trig point by 11:42. Paul chose to utilise the back of a stone shelter to get some respite from the strong wind and periodic showery rain (the front being open to the weather), while I used the trig point to support my mast and provide some shelter. The Waterlog came into use for this summit.
Paul was first on at 11:58 with Mike GW0DSP again first into the log. The summit provided another excellent run, this time totalling 19 in just 26 minutes. A contest entrant would be reasonably pleased with such a rate. EI7CC and EI9HQ were amongst the more regular contacts on the band which really pleased Paul as this was his first time on the band since EI operators were granted access.
My operation started at 12:00 and Mike G4BLH was once again waiting at his portable location. Mike GW0DSP followed on. We then decided to go straight to 23cms where once again I exchanged 59 reports with Mike BLH, but nothing was heard from Mike DSP and he didn’t hear me either. Back on 2m, a lengthy run of another 19 contacts ensued, including an S2S with Iain M3WJZ/P on Whernside G/NP-004. Apologies to those to the south that had to wait while this contact took priority – the delay being compounded by the ensuing pile up from the north. Again Paul came over once he had finished on 60m to help with mast control and I concluded on 2m at 12:34. The weather was now looking somewhat threatening and we were both getting cold, so we made a decision to get off the hill as quickly as possible. A quick QSO was made with Mike BLH on 70cms SSB using the 2m antenna allowing me to go QRT at 12:39. Apologies to those waiting to see whether I appeared on the band from this summit. We packed up as another brief shower hit us and were away to the more sheltered side of the hill at 12:52. Our route back to the car was down a more direct and steeper route and we were able to have lunch back at the car at 13:25, some 10 minutes ahead of our schedule.
The drive over to the parking spot to the south east of Winter Hill G/SP-010 allowed our lunch time to go down. We found the parking spot to be taken up by an MPV, so I carefully parked the Quattro on the raised verge, taking great care not to get too close to the small stream that ran alongside. This car is certainly useful in awkward parking situations. We started our ascent up the excellent track towards the summit at 14:30 and once on the top we found that we had to detour around the TV station to gain access to the area where the trig is located. With the weather still rather inclement from time to time, we decided to use the delapidated stone wall to the south-east of the masts to provide shelter and to support for our masts. I used a bungie cord looped around the mast and piled several courses of stones on top of the cord to retain it, positioning the mast on the windward side of the wall.
Being 15 minutes early, I put a call out at 15:30 on 144.333MHz and Mike BLH once again came straight back. This time he was still en route to his chosen portable site, so I proceeded to call CQ while he completed his journey. With no calls being received, Mike announced his arrival at his portable site and we moved straight to 23cms FM with signals once again being 59 both ways. We then moved directly to 70cms SSB to exchange more 59 reports and this allowed Mike to make a quick turn round for home to see what he could achieve from there. After speaking to Mike on 70cms, John MW1FGQ called me and after exchanging 59 reports, we moved to 23cms where signals were 57 / 55, my relative QRP producing the lower signal strength, but still a reasonable result. I then moved back to 2m where Mike DSP was waiting. We also tried 23cms and were successful for Mike’s first contact on the band, with reports of 56 / 54. So 7 QSOs in the bag and only 3 calls worked. Mike therefore came up on 2m SSB with his old call GW1LFX to qualify the summit for me on my Half Mountain Goat activation. After this a steady run of contacts brought the 2m total up to 17 and the time to 16:16. Moving back to 70cms SSB, I just about got out the words CQ and the internal battery died. I could see Paul had finished on 60m, so I dashed over to borrow his SLAB and after a few minutes fiddling with the connections, came up with 20 watts into the 6 element. Mike DSP was waiting with his 817 and rubber duck to make it 3 out of 3 with me. Roy G0SLR followed and then the connection to the SLAB failed just as Mike G4BLH called me asking me to turn my beam as he couldn’t copy very well. This I did after reconnecting the SLAB - this resulted in my weak and watery signal jumping to 59 plus…. signified by the word “OUCH!” from Mike. Graham G3OHC followed after Mike and then I turned the beam back south for Frank G3RMD, but once again unfortunately I did not hear anything from him. The total was 26 for the summit with QRT at 16:38. All in all a very satisfactory activation for my 500th point.
I had been totally unaware that Paul had initially had a struggle on 60m. He did not make his first contact until 15:38 and that was with Paul G0HNW. For a start signals were in and out like a cuckoo clock, but eventually the band settled a little and Paul made a very respectable 16 contacts including one with Robin GM7PKT before he concluded his operation at 16:10. By the time I had finished, darkness was fast approaching, so it was a case of quickly packing away and we started our descent at 16:50 with our torches at the ready. I stopped on the descent to take a couple of photographs of the light show created by the urban area to the south. Half an hour later in complete darkness we were back at the car where we decanted everything, had something to eat and made phone calls to our good ladies before setting off for home at 17:40. The predicted heavy rain and high winds were met head on around Stafford, so it was 19:44 when we arrived at Stourbridge. After a coffee I left at 20:10 in torrential rain to arrive home by 21:34 – not bad going considering the weather.
So, a day of surprises all round – surprise at my stupidity in forgetting the most basic element of the station, surprise at how well the 2.5 watts from the 817 worked from these summits, surprise at how many people were pleased to work unique summits and, to top it all, surprise at how accurate the Met Office weather forecast was!
Many thanks to everyone that came on to work us. Particular thanks to Mike GW0DSP for the spots. Hopefully we will be able to get some more single point uniques activated before the winter bonus – we look forward to speaking to you then.