Rhobell Fawr GW/NW-021
17th December 2011
After a couple of “training” activations in the Welsh Borders in November, Paul and I were keen to get back into Wales and onto the higher summits. For personal reasons, I wanted to start the show on Rhobell Fawr NW-021, so a couple of itineraries were set up, with Y Garn NW-037 and Foel Goch NW-039 being the alternative number two summits.
A brief rain shower around midnight followed by sub-zero temperatures meant that I had to de-ice the car before setting out from home at 04:00. I got about 300 metres before I had to stop and carry out further de-icing which left me wondering whether this was the start of what would turn out to be a difficult day. Once on the M1, the overhead signs indicated the closure of a section of the M6. Undeterred I chose the alternative M45, A46, M40, M42, A491 route to get to Paul’s QTH in Stourbridge and arrived just 3 minutes late. So far so good.
It was still a couple of degrees below freezing when we set out from Stourbridge at 05:40. Some care was needed as it appeared that the authorities had been frugal in applying salt to the road surface, but the A5 was thankfully clear and as we drove north-west, the temperature rose to a few degrees above freezing. There was some ice on the minor road after we left the A494 at Rhydymain and I kept well away from the open side of the road up to the forest. I was pleased to have the benefit of four wheel drive and we reached the parking spot at SH793245 at 07:55, ten minutes ahead of schedule. Snow was lying to a depth of a couple of inches, so I was careful to park up on the part of the track that was the most level. The surface beneath the snow was beginning to thaw and I didn’t fancy having to walk an extra few metres to collect my vehicle from a ditch after the activation.
Setting out at 08:20, it took us an hour and a half to get to the summit. I had allowed what I considered to be a generous one hour and a quarter, but the lying snow made progress difficult over the terrain. We slipped a lot on the rocks beneath the snow and occasionally managed to find a hidden drift that took us thigh deep into the white stuff. At the summit it was blowing a gale and we found it difficult to keep our footing. After the obligatory touch on the trig point, Paul decided to retreat downhill to seek shelter by a wall, leaving me crouched down by the trig point contemplating the possibility of operating at that position. After five minutes deliberation, common sense prevailed – I would have to operate from a less than optimal position on this occasion and so too descended to find a position by some rocks out of the main force of the wind. The weather, however was soon to deteriorate to blizzard conditions with a near white-out which meant that I couldn’t see Paul’s antenna pole despite him only being about 15 metres from me.
Getting the stations set up took some time as it was bitter cold and the wind was swirling around making it difficult to keep the powder snow out of our backpacks. Once set up, I put out a call to find Robert GW0PEB/P waiting for me which was a very pleasant surprise. After a chat with Robert, I was called in succession by Karen 2E0XYL (many thanks for the spot), Bob G6ODU, Stewart G0LGS and Graham G4FUJ. Thereafter I spent a while trying to get out to those who I was told were looking for me – Graham G4JZF, Roger G0TRB and Brian G4ZRP. Robert was monitoring my operation and suggested that Don G0RQL might be looking for me as well, but a few calls down to the south brought no response. John GW4ZPL on frequency, but couldn’t hear me. Robert told me that he was using a vertical, so I decided to change polarisation. This was not easy to achieve as lowering the pole presented me with a severely iced antenna which I had to breathe upon to free the bolts. Anyway, once I was back in action, an attempt to contact John was made, but unfortunately nothing was heard either way. Further calls on vertical polarisation did not produce any more contacts, so I decided to move to FM. After exchanging improved reports with Karen, calls to all points of the compass produced no replies, so I went QRT at 11:00.
I heard Paul start calling a couple of minutes before I was ready to go. It was obviously not going his way from the off and it took him until 10:34 before Don G0OOC in Horsham called him, this despite Paul being his alerted frequency of 3.666MHz. As there were no further takers on 80m, Paul moved to 40m and spent some time trying to find a clear spot – not easy when a contest is in full swing. Eventually he managed to locate a clear frequency and thankfully at 10:54 Don G0RQL called in. Don’s spot brought about a rapid-fire run of 20 contacts in just 26 minutes. The last half dozen contacts were made with the antenna lying on the snow after it was blown off the pole, a gust having bent the top section horizontal. Paul’s frequency was then occupied by a contest station and as we were running late, Paul decided that it was time to go QRT. I had joined Paul at his operating position for the last couple of contacts and hunkered down while he carefully packed his kit away after clearing it of several inches of snow that had built up during the activation.
… then Murphy waved his magic wand and the blizzard stopped, the clouds parted and we could see across the valley which was bathed in sunshine. Ain’t that just the way!
We started our descent at 11:45 and despite further slips and slides we reached the car at 12:30. After a quick snack and opening up the kit to the warm air in the car to start the drying process, we set off for our second summit, Foel Goch. With about 8 miles to drive as we approached Bala, Paul exclaimed “I don’t like the look of that”. Sitting right over the area where we were headed were dark clouds that were obviously dumping something unpleasant on the land. We arrived at the parking spot to find the temperature had plummeted to freezing and we were in the middle of a sleet storm. This was not exactly the kind of weather we would have chosen for an activation and since these “training” activations are supposed to be fun, we decided not to spoil what had been an enjoyable day up to that point.
Paul phoned home to get the alert changed to show the cancellation of the activation – thankfully just achieved before the phone signal dropped out. The sleet persisted until we were several miles past Llangollen and thereafter we drove through rain until we reached Stourbridge.
So many thanks to everyone that came on the bands to work us – we really appreciate the effort that you make. This activation provided some of the most challenging conditions in terms of actual operating that we have ever experienced, but despite that we had a really enjoyable time out in the snow.