Saturday 19th April 2008
This was yet another joint activation that had been discussed for weeks before execution. The distance from Stourbridge made this worthy of an early start to avoid operating in the dark and a late return time. So on this occasion I was up and out of bed at 03:00 local time (02:00UTC) and for once I managed to be deeply asleep when the alarm went off…. to my annoyance I could have quite easily rolled over and gone back to sleep, perhaps a symptom of a 5 week lay-off from SOTA activating.
I was on the road by precisely 02:30UTC and arrived at Stourbridge at 03:41 where Paul provided the now customary mug of coffee before we loaded my kit into his car. The weather was yet again rather grey with fine drizzle as we set off at 04:04. Fortunately the weather did not develop and we made our first parking spot to the south of Mynydd Marchywel, SW-021, at 06:16. Erring on the side of caution in the narrow lanes, Paul parked the car in an extended gate opening where the tarmac road surface formed a small lay-by.
Our ascent commenced at 06:32 and took the route suggested by John GW4BVE which uses a track shown on the OS map. While this was evidently at one time an established route, its continuity has long since been disrupted and this means that there are a couple of gates, a fence and walls to climb. We avoided some of these on our descent by taking a more direct route down across the fields. This area is potentially earmarked for a wind farm and there is a tall mast with wind speed measuring equipment close to the OA land a little further up. This could mean easier access in the future. Once within the OA land at the end of the track we found the quad bike track that can clearly be seen on Google Earth. We walked along the eastern edge of this to the forest at a higher level where there is a good track along its eastern edge. The strong wind blowing out of the north east was largely in our faces and this did not assist our progress, especially as both Paul and I were a little jaded after our time away from activating.
The track was blocked further up which necessitated a climb over barrier which had barbed wire across its top. The central section of barbed wire had been stretched and depressed through use showing the popularity of this route. Above 100 metres further on the track turned sharply right and left and just beyond the second right angled turn we found the ride which took us directly to the trig which stands in a clearing in the trees. We reached the trig at 07:29 and I suggested Paul use this to set up his mast and I moved away to find a reasonable patch amongst the rocks that were lying around. The wind was swirling around in the clearing, but I felt this was not especially strong and so I decided to risk mounting both the 2m and 70cms antennas on the mast. This would leave mounting the 23cms 15 over 15 as an option later – at least I had remembered it on this occasion!
Paul set the 60m dipole up on his pole and we were both ready to operate by 07:45, some 15 minutes ahead of our schedule. After a precautionary check on the Kent beacon which enabled me to orientate myself on the summit, I decided to start by making a call on my working frequency of 144.333MHz where I found Graham G4JZF ready waiting. Graham kindly placed a spot on the website and there followed a steady flow of contacts to make 11 contacts in all on 2m. I was especially pleased to give Phil G4OBK a unique and Mike GW0DSP a contact over a very difficult path. As I was finishing, Paul came over to say that he was struggling on 5MHz and had only made contact with a single GM station. I suggested he might try 2m FM as I was moving to 70cms and so a little after 08:15 we were both busy changing antennas. I swapped the 2m beam for the 23cms 15 over 15 and then called on 432.222MHz. Don G0RQL came back and we exchanged 59 reports. This looked good for 23cms, but all I could hear from him was a very weak carrier, so no contact was made on that band. Don runs 10 watts to a 19 element, so signals need to be 100% from him in order for my 280mW to stand any chance to get back to him.
After further calls on 70cms without any further success, I went to see how Paul was getting on to find he was having some rig problems on 2m and couldn’t get onto 145.500MHz. He decided to move back to 60m while I transferred my kit to his position and hooked up his antenna. Paul made another QSO into Scotland and then a rather scratchy one with Don G0RQL. Meanwhile I was calling on 145.500MHz with a view to getting takers for Paul, but amazingly there was no activity. I checked the Kent beacon and could copy it despite the beam being vertically polarised, so everything was working. On 60m Paul was called by Frank G3RMD, but the contact could not be completed. Time was getting on so I suggested that since we had another 3 summits to activate, we should not waste any more time on this one and leave completion of Paul’s qualification to our descent. As we approached the edge of the activation zone I walked further down and we made contact on 433.550MHz FM. It had taken 1 hour and 46 minutes for Paul to get his 4 contacts!
Even with the stop to make the qualifying QSO, we were back at the car at 10:07, just 40 minutes after leaving the summit - no doubt the wind assisted us. Amazingly we were ahead of schedule and even with some delay en route, we were parked up in Dyffryn Woods at 10:26. The ascent of Mynydd Drumau, SW-038, up good tracks brought us out onto the wind-swept hillside and we headed uphill over a steep grass field to the fence line to find shelter. Unfortunately the fence and wall was not easy to cross, so we decided to put up with the wind and operate from the east side of the wall. At this point I had allowed 15 minutes for lunch, but we had decided to take that when we were back at the car after the activation, so it was straight on with getting the activation under way.
We both used fence posts to support our poles and Paul was up and running at 11:12 to find 5MHz in much better shape. In all he made a steady run of 20 contacts on the band, headed by Ken GM0AXY and consisting almost totally of SOTA regulars. On 2m I checked the beacon and then called on 144.333MHz where this time Don G0RQL was waiting. Inside 20 minutes I had 9 calls in the log, though the low stature of this summit returned only mediocre signal reports. By 11:45 Paul was ready to pack up and I was up and running on 70cms to work Don G0RQL. That was my only QSO on the band despite beaming at Cheltenham and using CW in an effort to make contact with Frank G3RMD. It was turning out to be a relatively poor day on the band, particularly as I had made contacts with Frank from further west back in November 2007.
By 12:21 we were back at the car having lunch and 35 minutes later we were sat at the parking spot to the west of our next quest Foel Fynyddau, SW-029. My main concern on this summit was one of RF breakthrough – there are 4 towers on the summit, plus additional antennas on another structure. Fortunately my fears proved to be unfounded and even the Standard C710 handheld was totally unaffected by the barrage of RF. The ascent was straightforward up a track and along the edge of a section of forest. The summit sheltered us from the strong north-easterly wind for all but the last part of the ascent. It took us 30 minutes to get to our operating positions from the car, partly because I took time to carefully select my patch of heather to the west of an area of trees, while Paul found a bench seat to operate from. 5MHz was even better and Paul was up and running at 13:48 on his way to a total of 16 contacts headed by Paul G0HNW and again more or less totally SOTA regulars.
After a check on the Kent beacon, my first contact was again on 144.333MHz, Graham G3OHC being the watchman on this occasion. A total of 14 contacts made a respectable number on this summit, followed by the customary QSO with Don G0RQL on 70cms. Don was an end-stopping signal on 70cms this time (he asked whether I had moved to Devon), but there was still nothing positive on 23cms, just a weak carrier with undecipherable modulation…. and to further rub it in, once again I failed to get my 70cms RF over to Frank G3RMD in Cheltenham. At least we were having the best of the weather and my log sheet only showed the evidence of a few random spots of rain. Many that we worked were experiencing rain including Lyn GW8JLY in nearby Cardiff.
As usual Paul was packed up before me and had to wait a while as I packed up. The descent was easy and quick and we were back at the car by 15:06, giving us about 20 minutes in hand on our schedule. The route to the parking spot for Mynydd Dinas, SW-040, was only 5 minutes, but on arrival at the spot described by Peter G3TJE we were unsure as to where the new houses were. A bit of scouting located the correct parking spot and we parked up on the edge of the development. As we did so, a car pulled up at the gate to the farm just beyond. It was now 15:21.
We got ready and set off through the farm gate towards the hill. The car that had stopped at the gate was now stationery 100 metres beyond it and as we approached the driver got out and greeted us inquiring of our intentions. This character, in his 30’s, was adorned in camouflage clothing and was possibly the son of the farmer at Nant-y-Clais. A discussion ensued during which he advised that the bridleway had been neglected and was in very poor state and access to the hill required us to climb over barbed wire fences. He suggested that we approach the hill from Baglan Farm where we could park outside the farm and use the excellent tracks from that position. In good faith we decided to take his advice and so returned to the car and drove the mile or so over to Baglan Farm – this is the parking spot suggested by Richard G3CWI in his TomTom POI file. Unfortunately the spacious parking areas at the side of the road at the farm are adorned with “No Parking” notices. As we were debating whether to risk parking up, the farmer arrived, so enabling us to politely inquire whether we could park for a couple of hours while we went up the hill. We might as well have spared our breath as we were greeted by total negativity and an illogical argument that allowing us to park up would encourage others, including those wanting to park trailers. Such hospitality! Our only option was therefore to drive down to the edge of the built up area at Baglan and walk up from there. We set out at 15:58, now 18 minutes behind schedule. I can’t put Paul’s description of the farmer in print!
One correct bit of information that we had been given was that the tracks from Baglan Farm were in good order and we made good progress and so arrived at the summit at 16:28. The views over the Port Talbot area to the Bristol Channel were excellent from the ascent route despite a slight haze and well worth the bother of activating this lowly summit. I suggested that Paul utilise the trig point again to support his pole and I set up amongst the heather and brambles further to the east. 5MHz was still in reasonable form and Paul this time worked a steady run of 22 contacts, once again headed by Paul G0HNW. Finishing at around 17:15, Paul felt he could drag a few more out of the band, but the temperature was dropping fast and the cold wind starting to bite.
On 2m, I went through my usual routine of beacon checking before announcing my presence on 144.333MHz. Starting at 16:40, this time around it was Richard G4ERP who was patiently waiting for my arrival to head a relatively short run of 9 contacts in 25 minutes. After a short pause to change antennas, I worked Don G0RQL again on 70cms and the subsequent test on 23cms produced the same results as the previous summit. This was definitely not a day for the higher bands. I concluded operations at 17:20 and noticed Paul was already packing up. We set off back to the car at 17:35, where we managed a snack before our departure for Stourbridge at 18:24. A few miles down the M4 Paul encountered the inclement weather that we had been so fortunate to miss during the day. So near! Despite the rain that accompanied us most of the journey, Paul made good time and we were back at his house by 20:26, amazingly 4 minutes ahead of our projected time. After a welcome cup of coffee, I set off for home at 20:54, arriving there at 22:04 in time to feed Whisper and then get to bed at 22:45. It had been a long day. Needless to say, my head hardly hit the pillow before I was asleep!
Many thanks to everyone who worked us, particularly those who took the trouble to place spots on the SOTA website. My 2m logs show the stalwarts worked on every summit – G0RQL, G4JZF, G0NES, G3OHC and G0TRB, with G3RMD and G4ERP missing me on the first summit. When I worked Barry 2E0PXW from Foel Fynyddau he apologised for being out when I was QRV from the second summit. It is most encouraging to have such support, particularly when operating VHF and UHF from these relatively remote single point summits. Paul and I will be activating the even more remote south west summits (SW/MW) sometime soon, so we hope signals get back to you from there.
Best wishes to all,