Activation Report: The Slippery Witch Pair

Pen Llithrig Y Wrach NW-013 and Creigiau Gleision NW-028
Saturday 15th September 2007

I had this pair of summits on my “to do” list for some time. Therefore when the subject of further joint activations came up after Paul G4MD and I had activated Myarth SW-035 and Waun Fach SW-002, I put forward the suggestion that we might activate this pairing. It turned out that he had similar thoughts about the Slippery Witch pair and was keen to team up with me for the activation. The itinerary that I had already prepared was therefore revised to ensure that we were both happy with the timings and I planned in the detour via Stourbridge to pick him up.

The usual restless night preceded the activation and I was wide awake a good quarter of an hour before the alarm went off at 0245UTC. The sound caused Bev to roll over violently and emit what can only be described as a grunt. Not for the first time was I obviously not in her good books rising at that hour. Once out of bed I set about the usual pre-activation routine. However, despite having meticulously prepared everything the night before, I failed to get away within the 30 minutes I had allocated and I also left a litre of water in the fridge. Neither issue mattered - the roads were clear and I was actually 5 minutes early arriving at Paul’s house and the day was not hot enough for me to need all of the water that I actually did manage to take.

After a welcome cup of tea at Paul’s house, we left Stourbridge at 0506UTC and initially made a good pace towards along the A5 until we came up behind a slow pick up truck that tamed our progress. Despite the traffic we arrived at Capel Curig in good time, but did not initially find the car park at the western end. I should have looked for the WC sign instead! I drove beyond the village and this allowed me to orientate myself and on our return, the car park and the even more important toilets were located. The time was now 0730UTC and we were not alone in the car park as others were readying themselves for making ascents in the area. Several people were wearing shorts, but the discussion between Paul and myself was whether gaiters would be required. I suggested that we should start with them on which turned out to be an extremely wise decision since the heather was in abundance on the hills.

We used the route amply described by John GW4BVE on the summit page. Richard G4ERP had kindly provided me with the Garmin data for the two summits and I had this printed out from Memory Map as well as on the GPS. The weather was reasonable, though from time to time the hills were bathed in low cloud and the wind was gusting from the south west. Setting out slightly later than planned, we made very respectable progress until we were stood at the start of the steep section up to the summit of Pen Llithrig Y Wrach. As we started to gain height we located the “easier” route up the gulley to the west of the spine of the hill, but soon found that this was still steep enough to slow us up considerably. I found that I was having a lead-leg day and Paul was finding the going tough, so the ascent was sensibly undertaken in stages. Better to arrive late than not at all I kept telling myself and in making steady progress we arrived at the summit cairn at 1006UTC, 21 minutes behind schedule.

After taking in the views, it took a few minutes to sort out the best positions for our stations. In setting up the antennas I still managed to oversail the summit cairn with one leg of my HF dipole, but no-one that came to the summit while we were operating seemed to mind this intrusion, though I noted in the windy conditions no-one stopped for any length of time. The sun came out periodically and the temperature rose and dropped as conditions changed.

Paul started off on 5MHz SSB while I operated 144MHz SSB. My first contact at 1025UTC was with Frank G3RMD who told me that he couldn’t hear Paul on 60m. From several comments made during subsequent contacts, it appeared that conditions were generally long skip on 60m and Paul was having a difficult time of it. The situation on 2m was just the opposite and I enjoyed a good run of 15 in the space of 30 minutes, including an S2S with Robert G0PEB/P on Kinder Scout SP-001 who afterwards moved to 60m and worked Paul. As I was finishing off, Paul came over to announce that he had made just 8 contacts on 60m with many of the usual Chasers not appearing. It was then all change. Having erected both of my antennas before operating I was able to move straight onto 40m CW at 1100UTC to find Dan DH8DX/P on DM/TH-123 for a second S2S, after which I moved down a little and called CQ. In all I made 12 contacts on 40m CW, all with regular Chasers before the frequency went quiet at 1120. I could hear Paul was having a decent time of it on 2m FM, so out came my camera for some shots. In all Paul made 11 contacts on 2m FM using just the 817 to a slim jim, including S2S with Tom and Jimmy, the EYP duo who were on The Cloud SP-015, as well as a number of contacts with stations in Cumbria.

After packing up our stations, we had a brief lunch break before making our descent, still with a deficit of over twenty minutes relative to our schedule. It soon became evident that descending this hill was not that much easier than ascending it, particularly for Paul who was not able to emulate my springy rapid decent technique. Slow progress was made down the gulley before we came onto the level ground above the end of Llyn Cowlyd. From here I could see a track through the heather and in the hope of making up some time, I made the decision to opt for this route since it was more direct. Unfortunately what can be seen from a distance is often invisible close to and so it transpired on this occasion!

A fairly protracted period of heather hopping was now necessary before we cleared the vegetation. Annoyingly we could see walkers descending through the heather east of us, but the track continued to be elusive. Fortunately, once we were at the edge of the heather it was a relatively simple process to attain the ridge and find the path up through the rocks. I led Paul around the back of the summit area of Cregiau Gleision before taking the route up to the top, since this was the easiest option. Once on the summit it was evident that the 15mph wind on Pen Llithrig had doubled its speed and we sought what shelter we could find on the north and eastern flanks of the hill.

We used the same band order as before, though this time the situation was even worse for Paul on 60m. His first contact was with Paul G0HNW at 1426 and his last with G1YFF just ten minutes later - a total of only 4 contacts. Meanwhile I was off on a run again, this time 17 in all including an S2S with Andy M0FMF/P on Raw Head SP-016. My run left Paul listening to a deserted band for 20 minutes before we swapped modes and bands. 2m FM did not disappoint and Paul worked a run of 15 contacts between 1509 and 1534UTC. It was now my turn to suffer the fates of the HF bands. I found the 40m CW segment to be full of OH stations working a contest and even when I did find a clear frequency to call CQ, I could not hold it long enough to allow me to post an alert on SOTAWatch. Having to admit defeat, I reconfigured the dipole for 10MHz and checked the band. The problem this time was that it was full of Asian stations and I copied YB, UA9 and JA in quick succession. As I was playing SOTA and not DXing, I decided to abandon that band as well and annoyed with myself for not having elongated the dipole to resonate on 80m, I decided to have a look on 70cms FM using the dipole of the SB5 SOTA Beam. The boom on this antenna splits in two, so I was able to erect just the shorter section, which helped as the wind was now even stronger. After a couple of calls, I was contacted by Hugh GW0WWQ near Denbigh and we had a 10 minute chat. This brought me to the time that Paul was finishing on 2m and so we packed up ready for our descent.

We decided to walk the ridge path to Craig Wen and set out at 1600UTC. It was slightly boggy in sections, but otherwise the path was in good shape. The descent from Craig Wen was found to be much steeper than we had hoped, very much akin to the descent from Pen Llithrig and this took some time, Paul’s knees taking a bashing. I then made completely the wrong decision. Rather than heading east to locate the bridleway running between Blaen y nant and Capel Curig, I took the path south passing Crimpiau on its west side. The terrain here is such that the path veers south west and after a while it completely disappeared in the undergrowth mix of bracken, heather, bilberry and gorse. We ended up slowly skirting an area of particularly thick bracken along the side of a small stream before we regained the correct route. This once again became indistinct as we made our way towards Capel. Eventually we came out on the lowest section of the bridleway into Capel just 500 metres from the village.

The return walk took us two whole hours and so we did not leave Capel until the time that we should have been arriving back in Stourbridge. Surprisingly Paul has not “sent me to Coventry” for causing a second detour in two outings and is talking about further joint activations. The day gave us both two summits to add to our individual uniques totals and a useful 10 points in the saunter towards Mountain Goat status. We are now considering where we will go next - possibly a series of summits where the walk in is less than 500m so I can’t take the wrong route! Alternatively I will ensure that Paul does the planning and makes the decisions!

Thanks to everyone that came on to work us, particularly those that made duplicate contacts with the summits by operating on both 2m SSB and FM. I note that my 2m SSB and 40m CW logs are almost totally made up of Chaser contacts. Paul mentioned that he did not get held up by overly chatty contacts on 2m FM, so perhaps the news that SOTA activators are looking for quick contacts is becoming more widespread.

Until the next time…

Gerald G4OIG

In reply to G4OIG:

Thanks for the comprehensive write-up Gerald, an excellent expedition - “real activating” after my normal diet of molehills! And I also had a map and compass, so you can’t take all the blame for the slightly devious return route!

I’d just like to add the following brief notes:

Although the route back over Craig Wen was somewhat gruelling, it was well worth it for the view of the two summits together you get from there - I’d recommend taking a detour to have a look to anyone activating the pair.
60m conditions were rather strange, with excellent reports from Scotland and Devon, but very poor or non-existent signals from places in between. Apologies to those on 2m FM, I had great difficulty in the “pile-ups” - my newly constructed roll-up slim jim seems to work well, but so many strong stations together resulted in the radio being overwhelmed and a real problem pulling out callsigns.

If any one else is doing Creigiau Gleision soon, I think I left my headphones up there…

Looking forward to the next one,

73 de Paul G(W)4MD(/P)

In reply to G4OIG:

Excellent report Gerald.


Thanks for a superb write up Gerald, the reader can almost visualise the route by the way you have described it so graphically.

Well done to Paul and yourself on a cracking pair of summits.

73 Mike

Thanks for the comments - the reports I prepare will be something to read in my old age… if I make it, that is.

Like Paul I can recommend Craig Wen as a viewpoint, but not the descent route we took. It should be possible to backtrack to the normal route without losing much time.

Sorry to hear about the headphones Paul. Could they have come out of your pack when we stopped to re-hydrate on the descent? Just a thought.

73, Gerald

Onwards and upwards.