I had originally booked accommodation with a view to having several days activating summits in early December 2022. However, the weather had other ideas with high winds and rain forecast and my car had an issue with its turbo. I decided to cancel rather than risk having problems. Family matters then intervened and it was a full 3 months before an opportunity arose to get back onto the hills.
In preparation for this outing I travelled up to Northumberland in order to use the /A QTH at Amble as a launch pad for the outing. I would return via the same route. This proved to be an extremely sensible proposal as a 420 mile (670km) drive before tackling a hill is not for the feint-hearted and while I have done it in the past, I now have to consider that I am older and have a certain medical history!
Sunday 5th March 2023 – Deuchary Hill GM/CS-108 and Blath Bhalg GM/CS-094
I set out from Amble at 03:40z with a 167 mile journey to get me to Guay, the parking spot for Deuchary Hill GM/CS-108 as recently used by Andy MM0FMF and Paul M0SNA. It was 06:45z when I arrived and parked up in front of the stone blocks. The 4.6km route up the hill is straightforward on estate tracks, grassy quad bike tracks and finally a well used path up to the summit. I had prepared myself a GPS track using Google Earth which proved to be useful – well it would have had my GPS64 not thrown a wobbly. I didn’t want to miss the correct track as there are a number of them, particularly at the start of the walk. Eventually after some delay I managed to get the unit to operate correctly, a new set of batteries doing the trick.
The upper part of the track to Deuchary Hill.
The second half of the walk is very pleasant and I took some time to take in the scenery. There is a delightful lochan near to the summit. I was a little later than I had planned when I arrived at the trig point at 09:25z, so after finding a sheltered spot just below the summit, I set up the pole with just the 2m beam to get things under way. Mike G4BLH/P was first into the log at 09:40z. I was then quickly pounced on by 4 stations operating in the contest that was running. I was pleased to get Stuart MM7SWM and Peter GM0VEK in the log to make 7 on the mode. A move to FM without changing the beam polarisation netted another 4. Annoyingly I found the FT-817 was giving me 5kHz channel spacing, but I could live with that.
2m set up on Deuchary Hill.
At 10:15z I took the beam down and strung out the HF link dipole for 60/40/30m. As I was doing so a walker with his dog approached from the south and he remarked on the dipole, showing he had some knowledge of what I was up to. 60m was in strange shape and despite self-spotting and running around 30 watts out, my calls went unanswered for quite a while. Eventually John GM7PBB on the Isle of Lewis called me at 10:27z, to be followed by Colin M0XTA in Essex. So 40m it would have to be. I found a clear frequency and put up a self-spot. Esther GI0AZA and Ian GI0AZB were quickly on frequency to be followed by a steady flow of callers. I had 20 worked on 40m by 11:00z when the frequency went quiet. This put me half an hour behind schedule, so I decided to abandon 30m CW – apologies to those that were hoping to work me on the band.
The view from Deuchary Hill.
Looking back at Deuchary Hill.
The lochan near the summit of Deuchary Hill.
The walk back to the car was very pleasant and I managed to reduce the deficit to just 14 minutes. By the time I was ready to ascend my second summit, Blath Bhalg GM/CS-094, that had reduced to just 10 minutes. However, I was not to make up time, but lose some ascending the narrow heathery track. What I had not realised was that there is a steep drop and climb shortly before the final climb up to the summit. The 3.5km walk was certainly harder than the map suggested.
The walk up to Blath Bhalg - the summit is well behind these lumps.
Looking north while ascending Blath Bhalg.
Unfortunately there is no alternative to the route set out on the GPS track kindly submitted to SOTAlas by Gerald MW0WML. At least my GPS was still working okay, but as I ascended I realised that I was now getting some pain in my right hip.
It was 14:30z when I set up the 2m beam and once again Mike G4BLH/P was first into the log at 14:54z, but with signals at least 2 S points down on the previous summit. Stuart MM7SWM, Derek G1ZJQ, Bryn GW4ZHI and Alan G1XYS completed the SSB stint, before I moved to FM. Ken GM0AXY responded to my call and we moved to 145.475MHz… well Ken did. I tried to, but the 817 was now working to 10kHz spacing! Then things went wrong, big time. The weather had closed in and I was now sat in freezing mist with 20 metre visibility. Ken said he couldn’t copy me any more and then the rig decided to go into repeater mode. I was not pleased!
I gave up on 2m FM and strung out the HF dipole – don’t you just love summits covered by heather! Eventually I got sorted on 60m SSB and Don G0RQL responded. He gave me a 44 report and then lost me. I realised the mic was freezing up as it had for Paul M0SNA when he was on Deuchary Hill a month earlier, so I warmed it up inside my jacket for a minute or so which allowed me to work Paul G4IPB, but then it stopped working all together. With the temperature dropping and my annoyance rising, I decided to call it a day, so there was no 40m or 30m on this one. I was so annoyed that I even forgot to take any photographs of the set up on the hill.
Ironically after running behind time all day, I reached the car spot on 17:00z as scheduled and was even 2 minutes early arriving at the Perth Broxden Travelodge. After booking in, having a shower and a call home, I decided to have a meal at the Harvester restaurant next door. This gave me time to check the latest weather forecast and consider the following day’s summits. Although I was keen to get up Meall Corranaich GM/CS-010 and Meall a’Choire Leith GM/CS-041 during a winter bonus period, I decided in view of my equipment issues and the continuing ache in my hip, I would take it somewhat easier. A relative lie-in would be welcome as well.
Monday 6th March 2023 – Meall Buidhe GM/SS-060
With the worst of the weather forecast for the east, I decided to head west to an area I have become familiar with over the past few years. Meall Buidhe GM/SS-060 near Lochearnhead would provide a straightforward ascent from the car park just off the major A85 road. I set the alarm for 07:00z, but was woken slightly earlier. After a leisurely breakfast, I set off from Perth at 08:45z as planned. My itinerary allowed for a gentle ascent to favour my hip which had woken me during the night. I had initially thought it was my hip joint, but after applying Ibuprofen gel the pain went away quite quickly… I was now thinking it was a strained muscle.
I started the ascent up the access track to the transmitter station located on the north side of the hill at 10:10z. A faint track across the heathery hillside was easily visible at the 5th bend in the track, as indeed was the gate in the deer fence. Thereafter the route was less distinct and it was a case of avoiding the heather as much as possible which meant a less than direct approach to the summit which I reached at 12:00z. Slow yes, but at least I was not in any greater pain than when I set off.
Looking back from where I have come on the ascent of Meall Buidhe.
Looking up to where I have to go.
The wind was very strong at the summit cairn and it was bitterly cold, so I quickly took a few photographs and continued to the south side of the hill. There it was much more sheltered and to add to the pleasure of the day, the sun was quite warm. It was lovely sitting there on the hillside looking down to Lochearnhead. I had decided to use the back up transceiver for this activation, the Icom IC-703+ which does not have 2m. I did have the 2m beam, my small FM handheld and the 2m linear with me to try 2m FM if I had time, but the main activation would be on HF, though without the HF linear.
Meall Buidhe summit cairn.
I set up the HF dipole across the side of the hill and set the IC-703 to 10 watts. The moment I pressed the PTT I got feedback. By backing off the power, I could just about manage 1 watt out on 60m without any issues. On 40m I could get 7 watts out before it fed back, so 40m it would have to be. I found 7.118MHz free and self-spotted, Robert M0RWX was soon on frequency to head a run of 23 contacts. More or less everyone was 59 with the exception of Pedro EA2CKX who managed to defy the short skip and get into the log. When the run finished I had a chat with Don G0RQL for a few minutes before going to find and then work Adrian 2E0HHM on Hensbarrow Downs G/DC-008.
The set up on Meall Buidhe.
This time I was determined to get onto 30m CW and first in the log was Bruno HB9CBR. To my surprise it was soon clear that the band was well and truly open to the UK as Alex G7KSE called me with 59 signals both ways to make the 4th contact on the band. Contacts with other UK stations followed. S2S contacts were made with Juerg HB9BIN/P on HB/BL-005 and Uli HB9CGA/P on HB/TG-004. In all I made 46 contacts on the band of which 16 were inter-UK. After the main run, I texted my long-time activation partner Paul G4MD and suggested we might try a contact on 30m as he had been unable to hear me on 40m. We then had our first CW contact ever, the first for Paul since 2008.
Looking down to Lochearnhead with Ben Vorlich SS-008 and Stuc A’Chroin SS-010 taking centre stage.
During the time I was operating the sun came and went, with clouds dropping graupel on me from time to time. I was tempted to try other bands, but it was now 14:30z and the temperature was dropping fast. It took a while to get everything into the backpack without getting snow or graupel in there and I had just finished when another batch of the white stuff arrived. I set off down to the car at 14:59z and it took me just over an hour to get back the car, the hard surface of the lower track section sending shooting pains around my hip. When I reached Perth at 17:20z I was so stiff I could hardly get out the car which is very unusual for me. A shower and another appointment with the Ibuprofen gel sorted it out before a meal at the Harvester restaurant.
Back at the Travelodge I exchanged texts with Fraser MM0EFI in order to ascertain conditions to the north of me. Fraser kindly referred me to the snowgates website as I was planning to head up Glenshee to climb Ben Gulabin GM/CS-077. The hill can be seen on the Glenshee snowgate webcam. I would leave the decision until morning. I certainly didn’t fancy my original target of Corwharn GM/ES-048 followed by Meall Mor GM/ES-058 in the state I was in, that was if I could actually get to them. I must admit the idea of another lie-in helped settle my mind – I must be getting old!
Tuesday 7th March 2023 Meall Dearg GM/SS-076
Another 06:45z awakening and I was out of bed at 07:00z. Onto the Glenshee snowgate webcam – darn it, gates closed! Now where? I sifted through all the info I had with me. Could I manage Cruach Ardrain SS-004 or An Caisteal GM/SS-007? No, I decided that although I had researched these summits at length, I needed to be fully fit to tackle either of them. Something with less ascent would be required. After some deliberation I settled on Meall Dearg GM/SS-076 and decided to check out whether a short steep ascent from the east would be practical. If I didn’t like it, I would take the long route from Amulree.
Once again I planned to leave Perth at 08:45z, but somehow managed to be 10 minutes late. Though it was sub-zero, the car was not frosted and the roads were in good shape. When I viewed the eastern approach I didn’t like the look of the copious amount of heather on the hillside, so a start from Amulree it would have to be. I parked up in the village hall car park and put a donation into the honesty box before getting ready. There was no particular rush with this activation as I would be heading back south to the /A QTH afterwards, so I had allowed 2 hours 40 minutes for the 7.8km walk with 440m of ascent.
I set off from the car park at 10:00z and after a short road walk, set off along the track by the farm and past the kennels, the dogs going ballistic at my presence on the track. At one point I managed to get slightly off my intended route and I ended up walking a distance of 8km to reach the summit in 3 hours and 20 minutes. Well, I did take two rest stops en route to ease the pain in my hip and walking into the very cold wind was wearing.
The final “off piste” stage of the walk to Meall Dearg.
At 12:40z, as I was a short distance from the summit, a text alert arrived on my phone. It was Mike G4BLH saying he was at his portable spot awaiting my call on 40m. Unfortunately I had forgotten to update my alert time when I had established the start would be from Amulree. Mike had to wait another hour for a contact as I was slow getting up the final section. After visiting the trig and taking a few photographs, I retreated back down the hill a short distance to find a flatter part where I set up. This time the IC-703 would only let me use 5 watts out before feedback occurred. I discovered an issue with a connection on the mic lead, so I ended up holding the connection and the mic in one hand and logging with the other with no way to protect the log from the graupel that fell from time to time. Many of the chasers I had worked the previous day called in and the log totalled 22 when I made the move to 30m CW.
Looking north from Meall Dearg.
The set up on Meall Dearg.
Gerhard OE6GND was first into the log at 14:16z. From the start there was a lot of over-calling and with most chasers being netted on me it was difficult to pick out callsigns from the melee. Many were not listening either which was disappointing. This slowed up progress, but I worked my way through the pile up to end up with a total of 38 contacts on the band. Inter-UK conditions were not as good as the previous day and only 8 made the log. I received a text from Paul G4MD to say that at best I was 22 with him, so no contact on this occasion.
Looking back at Meall Dearg from the track as I descend.
Meall Dearg from further away with Schiehallion GM/CS-005 in the distance.
It was 14:56z when I went QRT and I was ready to descend by 15:15z. Once again I just managed to have everything stowed away before more graupel fell. I took the descent at a steady pace and still managed to miss the turn off the main track, so replicating the minor navigational error that I had made on the ascent. On the final part of the walk at around 17:25z, as I approached the kennels I could see the gate onto the track was open and a young lady was tending to the dogs. Suddenly the dogs burst out through the gate and came bounding up to me. The largest, something like an Irish Wolfhound, took hold of my walking poles in its mouth. However, not getting satisfaction with that, it decided to sink its teeth into my left leg! Thankfully the pack were called back into the kennels and when I told the young lady what had happened, I did receive a “sorry about that”. I inspected the wound and decided that I would live until I got to the car 800m away.
Once I had stashed the kit and changed my footwear, I painstakingly cleaned the wound and sent a photo of it to my wife. She suggested that I go to hospital to get it checked and maybe get a tetanus jab. It was now 18:00z and I could see myself spending many hours in the hospital, but thankfully the exceptionally professional and pleasant staff at Perth Royal Infirmary A and E had me registered, checked, patched up and jabbed within half an hour. After food and drink I eventually set off south at 20:05z and arrived at my destination at 22:55z.
Many thanks to everyone that came on to work me and apologies for there being no 30m CW on the first day or indeed 2m thereafter. The FT-817 has been checked and found to work fine, though it still insists on giving twice the FM channel spacing that is set in the menu – bizarre! Exactly how it managed to get into repeater mode… well ask the Gremlin in my backpack. The 817 mic is working fine – it was just the weather that killed it. I have yet to check the IC-703, but I suspect a poor connection and an unscreened cable may be the reason for the feedback - testing required.
The right hip is still aching and I am not entirely convinced it is a strained muscle – it might be a trapped nerve. My left leg is still sore, but hey that’s what you get from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now to plan the next outing and find out if I can buy chainmail walking trousers.