An Unusual Birthday Treat

Unlikely DX from Tap o’ Noth GM/ES-054

Not a Traditional MM0EFI Birthday
Mo always insists on some kind of expedition on my birthday. They generally don’t end all that well. Previous birthday expeds:
Mo found an off road bike route to Aboyne. We’d cycle there and have lunch. The 10 mile ride was “undulating”. We had a nice lunch and stepped out of the cafe to find 2” of freshly fallen snow on the ground and on our bikes. The ride home was arduous. We were glad to get back home and get the fire on, and didn’t move from it for some time.

One year we took the train from Crianlarich to Tyndrum, with the aim of walking a section of the West Highland way back to Crianlarich. We’d backpacked the entire route in summer, so no problem…Heavy snowdrifts and more “undulations” made this a bit of an epic and we got back in darkness.

Then there was the time she took me to Aberfoyle for a couple of days. A nice 15 mile hike in the woods, she said. It unexpectedly snowed heavily all day. We got back exhausted, and were in bed by 1930.

One year, The Beast from the East snow storm hit just before my birthday. Not a day for the hills, so Mo suggested a walk around Loch Muick. We barely got there in Dora the Explorer, having tackled deep snow on the road and having to stop to dig a ladies car out of a drift. We parked up, noting half a metre of snow on the picnic benches and headed for the loch. After wading through waist deep drifts for half a mile to get to the loch, it simply wasn’t there, nor was the track around it. The whole lot was under metres of ice and snow. The following year we returned to Loch Muick in much leaner but icier conditions and ended up being involved in a mountain rescue. Yes, that was also on my birthday.

The SOTA 20th birthday was also my 51st. We were in Glen Coe for a few days. Just managed to get up The Pap of Glencoe without getting the clothes ripped off our back by 50mph winds. Testament to the 7m Spiderbeams pole which was bending at 90° during the activation but didn’t break. Yes, it was Mo’s idea.

Finally, my 50th was during the 2021 lock down. Had a lovely day on Lochnagar in Alpine conditions and sunshine, probably breaking the law at the time. Managed to work Wales on 2m with the handheld, but no SOTA points allowed at that time. That one I actually enjoyed though.

Saturday 2nd March 2024
Mo had been harping on about going out all week. The plan was for a leisurely start, an early afternoon hike, and then a drive to ABZ for an overnight stay. Sunday morning and we were off to Geneva for the week. I was non-committal for obvious reasons! As the weekend drew nearer, the forecast improved. There had been fresh snowfall on Friday but it hadn’t amounted to much. By 1000 on Saturday morning I had convinced myself that we’d be OK on something local and not too high. Tap o’Noth GM/ES-054 fitted the bill perfectly. Just 563m ASL and a reasonable path all the way, making it just under 5km for the round trip. What’s the worst that could happen?
I had packed a lightweight SOTA bag for the holiday, so to keep thing really simple all I took was my little HF “Go Case” and the Quansheng UV-5K, complete with a very cheap looking and untried Amazon telescopic whip. It didn’t really matter – I’d likely only be talking to @MM7MWL Mike and @MM7RVC Chris, who both lived nearby. For HF I had the KX2 and a 41’ random wire along with my carbon 6 pole, retrieved from my luggage.
Anyway, I posted an alert. Something like “WARC bands only”. The ARRL contest was on all weekend. HF was going to be a zoo.
We left home at 12 noon, stopping at the excellent Tarland cafe for some lunch. It was just 30 minutes drive to the trail car park from there. We eventually started up the hill path at 1330 and it took us around 50 minutes to complete the hike.


heading up

There was a little bit more snow on the trail than I expected. The slippery spring snow kind that sits on un-frozen ground. However, it is a decent track at a reasonable grade. We enjoyed glimpses of sun and clearing skies as we ascended, however an icy continental wind blew in from the east coast. I was already concerned about shelter, more for Mo than me. Just about every Scottish Hill cairn/shelter is shaped to protect summiteers from the prevailing south-westerly winds. Tap o’Noth is no different.


summit selfie from Tap o’Noth

The summit contains the very ancient remains of an Iron Age hill Fort and this shapes the summit plateau into a shallow cauldron. The wind wasn’t so bad inside the bowl and Mo found a spot to settle down. I’d hoped for a guyless set up, however most of the rock was down a scree slope and I needed to be on top. I spotted a wee tree, a dwarf pine, barely 50cm tall and its trunk no thicker than my mast. Young enough to retain some suppleness I supposed, so I went for that. It was probably too supple, to be honest. Once I’d rigged the wire over it and extended the mast, it did bend over a bit in the wind, but held.


me and the wee tree

Activating Tap o’Noth
With HF set up, I took out the £6 handheld and £8 antenna. This Quansheng has a firmware package that allows rx down in the HF bands, but today I was only interested in one frequency- 145.500Mhz. A Spot and a WhatsApp saw Mike come straight back to me. No Chris though.


2m and exposure to the elements

A couple more CQ’s and no response. Then I thought I heard something. I had the squelch fully open and when I turned the volume down, holding the radio right to my ear and inside the hood of my mountain shirt, I just about heard some characters of a callsign. Eventually I pieced this together and thanks to the patience of @GM0HLV, some 95km north, I logged the contact. A further contact followed, a bit closer this time, with MM1FAS, 40km NW in Elgin, who was just as weak thanks to a poor path.

Three in the log. Time for HF. Despite my promise of a WARC only activation, I couldn’t resist a tune around on 10m, mainly because the radio was on this band when I turned it on. Yes, it was a zoo, with super loud contest stations and much splatter. Then suddenly I found a slice of unoccupied real estate. I quickly placed a spot on and called CQ. To my amazement NT2A came straight back to me from Staten Island! I then added the fabulous pair of @F4WBN and @WW4D to my log before being wiped out by nearby strong signal splatter.


on 10m SSB with the 41’ wire. Wee tree standing steadfast.

Now I had an appetite for more! I tuned right up to 28.8xx looking for another sliver of space and found one, but no sooner had I self-spotted and started calling, a contest station just a couple of KHz down started to wipe me out. I could hear chasers calling, but struggled to respond. Soon though, I established the regular interval of the CQ calls from the automated station. By timing my transmissions in between these, and with a huge amount of patience from the chasers, I managed to add two SV stations, @N4MJ and finally @KE9AJ Joe, whom I’d last spoken with from Pikes Peak, Colorado. Alright then!

10m was now becoming brain damaging, so I dropped down to 17m as promised. The irony is that it wasn’t much better than 10m. The band was packed with non-contesting refugees and I struggled, just adding three to the log. Anyway, my time was up. It was bloody freezing sitting by the trig on the rim of the summit. I’d been operating for just 20 minutes – enough in these conditions.


ODX was Joe over in Illininois


looks like Spring down there

Pack up was quick, however the wee tree got its own back on me as I tried to retrieve my velcro straps from around its trunk. The thick fur of stubby pine needles were extremely sharp, like a puppy’s teeth. It hurt like hell getting my mast back and I was left with irritatingly itchy hands and wrists for a good couple of hours afterwards. Kudos to the tree though, a tough critter surviving up there on that exposed summit.

The walk down was uneventful but slippery and it was surprising how quickly the sporadic weak sunlight had melted the snow. Even more surprising was the WhatsApp message from Chris, who, having sensed improving weather had decided to nip up nearby Bennachie (Oxen Craig GM/ES-061) for a summit to summit attempt. I turned on the Quansheng and did manage a quick chase, but we were almost back at the car at this point.


chasing @MM7RVC


the antenna cost more than the radio. Love the black & gold colour scheme

Anyway, the rest of the day went well, with an uneventful drive to Aberdeen Airport. We didn’t even break down on the railway crossing at Insch. The hotel was fine, with pizza, wine and beer consumed. As I write this on 3rd March, I have no obvious signs of food poisoning or hypothermia. I seem to have all of my limbs, with the only damage being the stab wounds left by the tree.

I think I got off lightly this year.

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Hello Fraser,

belated happy birthday. Greetings to Mo. Fine doing by her to organise memory for each of your birthday :+1:.

73 Ludwig

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March 2nd is now in my diary for next year when it seems that I would be wise to stay in bed wrapped in cotton wool given your past misadventures on that date! Thanks for the short QSOs in times of time and distance. Maybe work you from HB-land next week, I hope. 73 Mike :grinning:

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Hi Fraser,
An eventful walk but fortunately uneventful on the way to the airport, I was sorry to miss you on 2m. I heard you but you couldn’t hear me from Miekle Bin GM/SS-129. I heard your end of the QSO’s with MM7MWL and MM1FAS.
You were right about the contesting on 10m and 15m was the same, it was packed with stations.
Hope you have a good week in Switzerland.
Andy
MM7MOX

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Wow! That would have been a nice QSO.

170km and over the top of Lochnagar.

I need to do some A/B testing with the Quansheng and a decent Yaesu handheld. I’ve got a niggle that the rx could be better.

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Absolutely the right thing to do Mike. This year was the first time I remember it not snowing on 2nd March.

Ludwig. Please help me. She is a maniac. :rofl:

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It could be said that it takes one to know one…:rofl:

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Hi Fraser,
Your signal report would have been 4/1 to my summit.
I think the FT818 has quite a sensitive receiver but I’m going to have to do something directional for a transmit antenna I think. The flowerpot I made does well, but I’m thinking about a 3 element yagi that I can dismantle for SOTA. My colleague at work lashed one up with some screwed rod and a bit of wood, and he managed a satellite QSO to Spain via the ISS from the roof at work a couple of weeks ago.
The radio propogation today from Minch moor GM/SS-133 was a bit strange, 40m was ok to England, Wales and Belgium but 15m barely worked. 20m was ok in to Europe and I managed to get 9H4CM on Gozo on 10m but couldn’t get through the pile up to PY3PDR in South America even though he was 5/5 to me.
Regards
Andy

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