Activation report - West of Wales Expedition

West Wales Expedition Day 1
Sunday 13th July 2008

This activation was long in the planning and thanks to Paul’s carefully analysis of the timings involved it went extremely smoothly. Of course that is the view after the event. Although 5 summit days were quite regular events, we nonetheless had some concerns over parking positions and so were keen to get slightly up on schedule in order to have a bit of time in hand.

I was up at 01:15UTC and away from home by 01:45 as planned. This gave me enough time to find a garage that was open in order to top up before I arrived at Paul’s house at 03:10, so avoiding the need to find fuel during the two day activation period. After packing two days worth of supplies and Paul’s kit into the car, we were off by 03:25 and had an easy journey over to the parking spot for Hirfynydd, GW/SW-017. I used my satnav to assist with the driving and as we approached the area near the summit, Paul used his satnav to guide me to the parking spot at SN852084 as he had programmed the precise location into his unit. Passing through the hamlet of Banwen the road became a track up into the forest which was clearly marked as a public by-way. We parked by the boulders that were blocking the route at 05:29, nearly an hour earlier than we had scheduled.

From the parking spot the view of the hill was nothing like we imagined it from the views on Google Earth and the Ordnance Map. The whole southern side of the hill has been denuded of trees and has become a huge open-cast quarry. The summit area could be seen on the skyline, so we were able to see where we were headed. Passing the boulders blocking the track we headed up the track beyond, shortly afterwards finding a link to another track that ran from where we had parked. This turned out to be the vehicular access to the mining operation, so we did briefly consider going back for the car in order to park further up, but decided that it was probably not the best thing to do given that we did not have prior permission. We therefore continued on foot. Within 500 metres there was a track off to the right which appeared to go to the summit, but we decided to stay on the track up to the mining area and in doing so take advantage of the even gradient. Once close to the summit it was then a case of cutting across to the trig point - this proved to be rather more difficult than expected negating much of the advantage gained by using the vehicular track. We arrived at 06:27, the ascent taking 43 minutes.

At the summit there was very little wind and we were immediately under attack by hoards of midges. Paul and I were using different insect sprays, but neither worked, the only relief coming when a light breath of wind periodically came across the summit dispersing the insects. Despite all this I was up and running on 2m SSB by 06:48. Having had no response to my initial calls on 2m SSB I took time to check the beacons and then self-spot and soon Roger G0TRB came up on my working frequency. A steady run of 10 contacts all with regular chasers ensued and a couple of CQ’s brought in Chris G4DJJ. I was aware that Richard G4ERP would be up on Watch Croft G/DC-007 and after the chat with Chris I moved down to 144.320MHz to find Richard for the first S2S of the day. After this I moved to 70cms and worked Don G0RQL at S9 both ways, so we undertook a quick trial on 1296.500MHz FM. This was partly successful as I could copy Don’s 10 watts at 57, but my 280mW was just not enough to get back to him, though Don could tell I was on frequency. My activation concluded with a contact with Frank G3RMD back on 70cms and an attempt at a 2 way CW contact with Phil G4OBK, unfortunately not successful though with signals definitely heard both ways. Over on HF, Paul set up on 80m and starting at 06:58 made 12 contacts before he moved over to 60m where he made 4 more. He was already in the process of dismantling his station when I ended my activation 07:55.

Our descent route was down the track we had seen on the ascent and we were back at the car by 08:36. We were in the process of preparing our kit for the next summit when a Range Rover pulled up alongside us. The very friendly driver engaged us in conversation and we learnt all about the mining operation, the effort to keep the public by-way open and a number of other local issues. We were warned that it was not safe to leave a vehicle where we had parked, so anyone intending to activate this summit should consider this. We had our photograph taken before he departed heading over to the mining operation enabling us to get underway to our next summit at 08:52.

Paul had planned that we should attempt to use the track to the north from Blaen Llynnant in order to get closer to the summit of Trichrug GW/SW-022 since our schedule was quite tight. The track turned out to be not what we expected from the views on Google Earth, but it was well within the capabilities of the Audi Quattro. We parked up on the outside of a wide bend at the 336m spot height close to where the footpath headed off towards the hill. As we got out of the car we heard a tractor approaching and feared that we might be turfed off our parking spot - even though the track does have public access status, we were unsure as to whether this included mechanical means of access. The tractor turned into the adjacent field and we were not challenged, even though the red car must have been highly visible. In order to maintain as low a profile as possible, we decided not to ascend the hill up its spine, but to move around to the north and ascend out of sight of the tractor and its driver. A permitted right of way apparently exists up to the summit from the north-east, but we ascended close to a wall from the north where there was evidence that others had ascended.

At the summit Paul and I used the remains of a fence to support our poles, the trig being to the south of the fence line and so not accessible without some effort. It was clear that the permitted right of way did actually extend to the spine of the hill to the west in the direction of the parking spot while keeping to the north of the fence, so we decided to keep to that side in order to operate. On this occasion Paul was in contact a few minutes before I was at 10:27 with an initial contact with Brian G4ZRP on 60m. A steady run of 14 contacts were made in 20 minutes, including an S2S with Robin GM7PKT/P on GM/WS-020. Moving to 80m, Paul then made another 8 contacts concluding around 11:05. On 2m SSB, my run started with a contact with Tristain M3VXX/P at Broadway Tower. The run was very similar to Paul’s with 15 contacts being made in 20 minutes before I moved to 70cms where I worked Don G0RQL on SSB, though I had to use CW on make the contact with Frank G3RMD. A few CQs out to the North North East unfortunately failed to net Phil or Graham.

After packing up, we descended down the spine of the hill and in doing so made sufficient time to take lunch at the car before departing at 11:45UTC. The tractor was still operational in the field nearby and again no challenge on our departure, so this looks a reasonable place to park and certainly one safer than on the bend in the public road as per the POI file entry. Our trip over to the next summit Mynydd Cynros GW/MW-034 was uneventful and it was not until we arrived in the minor road near the summit that we had anything to debate – that was where to park. Initially we pulled up in a long passing bay, but decided to move the car back to a grassy verge within the wooded area at SN613326. This location might get rather soft in wet weather, but it was firm enough to take the car and the comfort of having 4WD was reassuring. Setting out at 12:38 we walked back to the zig-zag path starting to the west of the summit and ascended the steady incline. Although this is not marked as a public right of way on the map, we later noted a sign indicating that that the land owner permits use of the tracks across his land.

The track got fainter as we approached the final section of the ascent which is in OA land. It was then a case of steady progress until we reached the summit. Nearby there is a clump of trees not shown on the map which might be useful for shelter, but is outside of the OA land. Conveniently the summit has a trig with an unblocked tube so I used that to support my pole while Paul set up using the fence running nearby. After a check on the beacons, I was up and running at 13:27 on 2m SSB with a decent run with Roger G0TRB once again heading the list and concluding with the double act of Carolyn GW6WRW/P and Helen MW3YHB/P on Great Rhos GW/MW-002. There were 18 contacts in all on this band and 70cms did not disappoint either. After contacts with Don and Frank on SSB, Phil’s CW was audible and we managed a complete contact without any problem. I took a listen to see whether I could copy Graham G3OHC, but could not hear him. While I was having this level of success, by contrast Paul was struggling on HF with a broken sky, managing only to make 4 contacts on 80m and with nothing at all on 60m. So who says HF is easy?

Our descent at 14:30 which was precisely on schedule brought us to a slightly different point at the edge of the OA land, but we worked out our position and were soon back on track. Thereafter it was a straightforward descent to the car and again no-one was seen. We arrived back at the car at 14:53 and were on our way again 5 minutes later arriving at the parking spot for Pen-crug-melyn GW/MW-036 at SN501282 at 15:30, yet another precise timing. The grassy verge where we were to park the car was blocked by a fallen branch, but Paul was not going to let this minor issue cause us a problem and so he man-handled it out of the way. The easy ascent is up the track to the property marked as Pen-crug-melyn and we followed the tip given by Richard G3CWI and cut off to the summit before the house came into view. We discovered later that we need not have bothered since the owners are very friendly and have actually provided a gate from their property onto the OA land, located just beyond a shed to the left of the track.

Paul used the trig on this summit and I moved a distance away to try to get a better take off towards the East past the trees near the house. Paul was in an S2S contact with Dave GW0AOD/P on Pen Llithrig y Wrach GW/NW-013 on 80m by 15:56. He then moved off to 60m for a run of 9 contacts before returning to 80m for another 3. I was slightly behind Paul in getting active on 2m SSB, though Graham G4FUJ was ready waiting on my working frequency. Fellow Cheltenham Mafia member Stewart G0LGS was next in line followed by Don G0RQL. Don alerted me to the fact that Steve 2W0KPO/P was QRV on 144.290MHz, so I made a temporary QSY to make the S2S before returning to 144.333MHz to pick up where I left off by working Barry 2E0PXW. Carolyn and Helen called in a little later to bag a second summit from me from Great Rhos. A number of contacts later I was finishing a contact with Jim EI3GE and Don called in to say Rob GD4RQJ/P on GD-002 was on 144.310MHz, but that he had been unable to attract his attention. Another QSY and another S2S was in the bag with Don following after me – a favour returned… that is certainly what it is all about. I concluded my operations with a contact with Don G0RQL on 70cms followed by an unsuccessful search for Phil. Frank was away from home for this summit, so no contacts with him on either band.

We used the gate out of the OA land and raised our hands in greeting to the owners of the house who were busy gardening. The quick descent to the car brought us back to the car by 17:00 and it was then off to the Travelodge at St Clears to book in before our final summit of the day. We checked the last orders time at the Little Chef next door to the Travelodge and then set off for nearby Brandy Hill GW/MW-037. This is a drive up summit and we parked in the gateway to the radio station on the summit at 17:57. Operating is only really possible from the grass verges and Paul and I set off in opposite directions to find suitable positions to set up on. I was up and running by 18:17 with a contact with John GW4BVE. After making contact number 8 with Roger G0TRB at 18:32, I moved to 70cms to work Don G0RQL. Don said that Graham G4JZF was looking for me on 2m, so I swapped antennas a second time to pick up Graham and a further 2m contact with Frank G3RMD followed. Moving back to 70cms in order to work Frank on that band, Phil G4OBK jumped the queue and made an entry in my log with signals peaking at 559 / 569. A CW contact with Frank followed and I looked for Graham G3OHC, but qualification of the summit on the band was to evade me. Still, not a bad effort from such a lowly summit.

Paul was getting reasonable results on HF despite the relatively late hour, with 60m still in good shape with 12 contacts on the band. 80m produced a further 4 contacts including the only contact over the Channel in the form of Peter ON3WAB. We were able to dismantle our stations about on schedule and set off back to St Clears at 19:14. After sorting out the car and taking the valuable kit into our rooms and putting the SLABs on charge, we went for a bite to eat before having a comparatively early night. It was to be a 04:30UTC alarm call for a departure at 05:00 for our second round of summits…….

73 de Gerald G4OIG

West Wales Expedition Day 2
Monday 14th July 2008

Monday morning dawned dull but dry in Carmarthen, fuelling our hopes that the weather would err on the better side of the forecast. We left the Travelodge spot on time at 05:00 in good spirits, looking forward to what was probably the harder of the two days of the expedition. As we headed North West towards the first summit of the day, the mist rolled in and the rain had started in earnest by the time we were parked up at the car park at SN075322 for the first summit, Foel Cwmcerwyn, GW/MW-011. Conditions were bleak with visibility of 50m and the rain blowing in horizontal sheets in front of us on a brisk wind from the South, reminiscent of our visit to Snowdon earlier in the year, though happily some 15 degrees warmer!

After a quick breakfast of cereal bars and orange Lucozade we donned the full wet weather gear and set off along the obvious path leading away from the car park. We were soon in the lee of the forest and conditions were not too bad although it was getting increasingly boggy underfoot. This reached it’s worst just beyond the crossing of the bridle paths at Bwlch Pennant, where some kind soul had in several places installed log crossings over the worst areas which we fortunately negotiated without mishap. As the ground rose beyond this, conditions underfoot improved, but exposure to the wind and rain increased, till rounding the end of the forest and turning to go South brought the wind into our faces. There is a very smart new kissing gate here and beyond a bit more quagmire. Visibility was still almost non-existent and we ended up following the fence for too long, eventually having to cut across to mount the summit through some pretty hard going heather and tussock. However, we eventually made the trig point at 06:54, just 4 minutes late.

Gerald took the trig point itself, while I settled down seeking the meagre shelter of a depression some 20m North and 5m lower. Setting up the HF dipole seemed to take an age in the wind and rain, and Gerald was into his third QSO before my first call was answered by Frank G3RMD – who, incidentally, had also given Gerald his first contact.

We both worked a good run of the usual suspects, Gerald employing his customary change to 70cm towards the end, where he had three particularly satisfying QSO’s, though unfortunately missing Frank G3RMD by a minute or so and hence not managing to qualify the summit on the band. Meanwhile I stuck with 80m making a decent total of 13 contacts. My run dried up a few minutes before Gerald was completed, so I was packed up and ready to go by the time he was and we set off at 07:54 down the now obvious Northward path that followed the spine of the hill. As we approached the quagmire just before the new gate, we noticed a stone set into the ground where the paths diverge – if only we’d known this on the way up; we had noted the stone in passing, but were oblivious as to it’s significance. The trek back from this point seemed to go very quickly and soon the red blur of Gerald’s car was visible through the clag. We arrived back at 08:43, a few minutes ahead of schedule, which gave us a little time to remove the soggiest of the clothing before departing on the short drive to the next summit, Mynydd Carningli GW/MW-033 at 08:53.

Ten minutes drive later we arrived at the large flat grass area at SN069373 that serves as the car park for MW-033. Almost miraculously the clag had lifted till it was just kissing the imposing craggy summit, the rain had stopped and the sun was breaking through. This raised our good spirits even further, but despite this we erred on the side of caution and retained the waterproof trousers for this one.

The initial climb is straight up the line of a long-disused inclined plane, doubtless used to move stone from the abandoned quarry below the summit. At the top of this still remains the stone structure that carried the working gear. From this point the way forward is not clear, paths leaving here in all directions. We chose to go straight ahead and soon got into a scramble over the fields of huge shattered rocks that litter the hillside. It was hard going until we approached the summit, where we happened upon a better path that wound it’s way upwards through the bilberries and bracken. Just below the summit pinnacle we came upon a small flattish area where I set up my dipole, while Gerald pushed on to the summit proper for his more compact VHF/UHF operation. Despite Gerald’s extra walk, we were set up at about the same time and once again first honours went to the same chaser for both of us – this time John GW4BVE.

Figuring that the sky should have woken up by this time, around 10:15, I started on 60m, but struggled to make three contacts; a change to 80m brought a further three, including a very hard work S2S with Dave, G6DTN/P on G/LD-035. Ten minutes calling after this produced no further replies, so I packed up and was ready to go when Gerald hove into view on the hillside, having had a run of 9 contacts on 2m SSB, one on 70cm SSB and one on 70cm CW.

We set off together and once again found the correct route on the way down, the good path we followed curving round the boulder fields and arriving back at the top of the inclined plane on the path to the right of the masonry headstock. We were soon back at the car at 11:25, again a few minutes ahead of schedule, and joyfully peeled off the waterproofs, the sun having dispatched the last of the mist and rain. We basked in it and enjoyed our lunch before setting off a couple of minutes ahead of schedule for the next target, Frenni Fawr GW/MW-028.

The parking spot to this summit is an extended “slip road” to a turn opposite the start of the path at SN209344 - a bit tight, but safe enough if you tuck right into the bank (however, watch out for the ditch, especially if you haven’t got 4WD…). By this time the sun had remembered it was actually summer and necessitated the deployment of the sunblock cream. We were thus five minutes late when at 12:25 we climbed over the gooly-catcher of a stile into the first field and started making our way upwards to the gate near the top corner. There is no defined path beyond this, but as someone once said, the only way is up so we made our way straight up the steep spine of the hill. We eventually arrived after a fairly hard but very satisfying slog at the top, where another stile takes you onto the access land and the trig point sits atop its own summit mound. Gerald took this vantage point and I set up on the very convenient fence that bounds the access land. I again kicked off on 60m at 13:05 and had a run of 8 contacts including a nice S2S with Andy MM0FMF/P on GM/CS-015. Then down to 80m for another four, starting with Dave G6DTN/P, this time on G/LD-037. In the meantime Gerald worked 12 regulars on 2m, then two on 70cm SSB finishing with another prized CW contact on 70cm with Phil G4OBK. This session he finished slightly ahead of me. We decided in discussion between ourselves while I packed up that this was an excellent summit and deserving of more attention. We set off down the hill right on time at 14:00 and arrived back at the car nine minutes ahead. This translated to a departure for the next summit, Rhos Ymryson, nine minutes ahead of schedule at 14:21.

I had spent a great deal of my (now distant) youth in this area and I settled into a nostalgic reverie as we drove through the familiar lanes. Most of the time gained was maintained, despite heavy local traffic and the narrowness of the roads, and we were parked up in the wide lay-by at SN459507, opposite the water board track to the covered reservoir that occupies the summit, by 15:10. We set off up the hill at 15:20, and made our way through a couple of unlocked gates on the short track eventually arriving at a locked gate to the reservoir compound itself. We operated from the gateway outside the compound, and the time gain allowed a leisurely set-up with activation starts within a minute of the alerted time of 15:45. I again began on 60m, stalwart supporter Frank G3RMD heading the run of five contacts. Despite heroic efforts by John GW4BVE battling unusual propagation conditions, we unfortunately didn’t complete on this one. Six contacts on 80m followed, finishing as I’d started with Frank G3RMD. Gerald clocked up nine on 2m, and qualified the summit on 70cm too with an SSB contact with G0RQL and CW contacts with G3RMD, G4OBK and G3OHC.

We were both done by 16:18 and a quick pack-up and rapid descent gained enough time to finish up the remnants of the sandwich mountain before departing in a mood verging on ecstatic for the final summit of the expedition bang on time. It was now 17:00

Thanks to a prolonged spell behind a slow-moving tractor, we arrived at the grassy car park for Hafod Ithel GW/MW-029 at SN608677 some three minutes behind schedule at 17:38. In our high spirits though, the short hop skip and jump to the summit took hardly any time at all and activation again started with clockwork precision at 17:59. Gerald made 13 contacts on 2m, starting with M0JDK who was waiting to pounce, apparently having set his alarm clock to warn of the impending activation. He finished with two contacts on 70cm, the last fittingly being with Frank G3RMD on CW. 60m was still fortunately playing ball for me; a healthy run of 17 contacts ensued, delightfully many of them with the “faithfuls” who had followed us through the expedition.

All this done, we dismantled in leisurely fashion and took time to observe our surroundings. To the North, a small wind farm’s rotors were turning, the uppermost blades disappearing into the lowering mist giving the scene a surreal feel. After a final check for escaped items of kit, we made our way down to the car with mixed emotions – exhilaration at the completion of an expedition that had run precisely to plan, but sadness that it was over. We took the time to have a look at the memorial to four Mynydd Bach poets opposite the parking spot (a bit impenetrable if you don’t speak Welsh, but interesting all the same). Then after calling our respective wives to tell them we were still extant, Gerald downed a can of Red Bull to bolster his concentration and we departed for home at 19:30, the precise time we had scheduled. Thanks to Sally Satnav the route was most interesting, taking us round lanes, through enchanting forests and up towering mountains in the increasing gloom, mist and rain until we eventually popped back out into civilisation at Rhayader and a quick journey home on more familiar roads.

As you can imagine our conversation on the journey was animated, recalling the high spots of what had been a wonderful expedition and – yes, you guessed it – planning the next. Watch this space…….

Finally, our sincere thanks to those who really made the expedition worthwhile – our loyal band of chasers. There are too many to mention individually for each summit, but every one contacted is appreciated for the company, support and assistance throughout the two days. We look forward to working you all on the next trip!

73 de Paul G4MD