At last - the Porthmadog trip report

The Porthmadog Expedition
Friday 11th December 2009 to Sunday 13th December 2009

Six months in the planning – yes, the Travelodge was booked for a two day activation back in June. More recently the idea of extending it came to mind as one way of mopping up some of the remaining North Wales summits in our quest for completion of the area. A second night was therefore booked at the Travelodge and everything made ready for a 6 summit, 40 point extravaganza.

Day 1

The first day required an early start from Northampton. It was a chilly minus 1.5 degrees C as I set out at 03:03 and the temperature was amazingly even as I motored over to Stourbridge. At Junction 6 on the M6 I was diverted off the motorway and in view of the very poor directions provided, I decided to go straight through the centre of Birmingham and out on the A456. This resulted at a slightly late arrival at Paul’s house at 04:25. After the usual welcome cup of coffee we were back on the road by 04:44 and arrived at the parking spot for our first summit, Rhinog Fawr GW/NW-023, at 07:06. We had decided to tackle the summit from the east and the final section is down a winding minor road off the A470, complete with ponies and sheep. A particular hazard was avoiding the piles of pony dung lying in the road up to the large well surfaced parking spot at SH685302 close to Graigddu-isaf farm. We came to the conclusion that the animals preferred standing on the tarmac road surface rather than the damp ground, hence the prevalence of the aforementioned deposits!

A beautiful dawn greeted us as we got ready. Starting out at 07:30, we found the initial section of the track to be very boggy despite the forest in this area having been felled. After joining a short section of vehicle track, we then turned right and headed west through the forest, initially on a decent track by the side of a stream. This soon deteriorated and a fairly major diversion was required at one point. The waterfall marked on the map was somewhat less spectacular than we expected, but overall this was pleasant walking countryside despite the boggy ground. A little after 2 kilometres walk we exited from the forest to see Rhinog Fawr at close quarters – up an un-scaleable face! Following instructions taken from a hill-bagging website, we followed the track westwards over difficult ground for another 500 metres before turning left to head around a rocky prominence. Some distance further on we reached the eastern end of Llyn Du. We then skirted the southern side of the lake and eventually found a steep rough track up a mixture of rocks, scree and heather heading towards the summit. This was extremely difficult terrain, not helped by icy patches. We eventually reached the summit at 09:45 on schedule, but the walk had taken us all of the 15 minutes that we had gained on the road.

After visiting the trig, Paul decided to drop down a little to flatter ground to get out of the wind and set up for HF. I elected to bag the summit shelter which was initially a cosy 4 degrees C, actually rising to 6 degrees. The wind was strong and I could only use two sections of the pole, but it sufficed. My initial calls on 144.333MHz at 10:00 went without response, so I decided to check the beacons – all present including the French beacon I hear from home. Back on my frequency, I eventually got a response from Brian G8ADD who kindly spotted me so bringing a number of regulars onto the frequency. I found that controlling the beam in the high winds was the main issue for me. Despite this handicap, I managed to work 8 stations on SSB including Steve G7AAV/M who was on the Wirral. The frequency went quiet at 10:25, so after a round of calls I decided something different was on the cards – 2m CW. This brought an immediate response from Reg G3WPF and after a chat I announced a move to 70cms and at 10:42 was able to exchange reports with Reg on that band. Changing to SSB, I went on to work Don G0RQL and Mike G4BLH. Knowing that Frank G3RMD and John GW4BVE were due to activate GW/MW-007 at 10:00, I returned to 2m SSB to see whether they were QRV, but unfortunately they had been delayed. Reluctantly I went QRT at 11:00.

Paul opened up 60m to find the band in reasonable shape. His initial announcement on FE resulted in several calls at good strength and David G3RDQ was first in line to make it into the log. There was evidence of a shifting propagation pattern as some stations faded away to come back strongly some minutes later. In all Paul made a good run of 11 contacts. Geoff G6MZX placed the spot for Paul and was the first to pick up Paul and spot him when he moved to 3.663MHz at 10:32. 80m yielded an excellent 8 contacts despite Paul feeling that the way the antenna was rigged, running uphill into the wind, was not producing the best results. Paul finished at 10:45 and like me waited a while for the RMD / BVE team to appear, but started to dismantle the kit about the same time as I did. We had an appointment with a second summit!

The recommended descent was down the track to the north-west…. but we were heading east! Anyway, starting down at 11:15 and following the instructions given, we found it comparatively easy to make our descent – certainly this was a much easier route than had we tried to retrace our steps. The track eventually brought us down to near the western end of Llyn Du and then passed the southern side to join up with our ascent route. Thereafter it was around the rocky outcrop and back to the forest, but the walking was no easier going downhill than uphill and time was slipping away from us. We eventually made it to the car by 13:05 where it was a balmy 8 degrees C. We bagged a quick lunch and a coffee before setting out for our second summit, Moel Ysgyfarnogod GW/NW-038.

Our route for this summit was again from the east, all as described by Richard G4ERP. We couldn’t see the track from the car when we arrived at Cefn Clawdd farm – blind as bats! I attempted to park on the left hand verge by the farm gate, but the car sank into the soft ground a good 10cm. I therefore decided to extract it while I could, turn round and park on a much firmer piece of ground that I had spotted about 200 metres back along the road. With the four wheel drive this maneouvre was not a problem, but I would warn others against parking by the farm – besides, it’s too close to those yapping dogs!

It was 13:50 when we set off back up the road towards the farm – the track heading off to the right was easy to spot on foot and it provided reasonable walking for around 2 kilometres until it faded out. Paul marked the end of the track on his GPS in case we couldn’t find it on our descent in the dark. It was then a case of ascending a rather steep grassy hillside, trying to avoid the tussocks as best we could, to pass through a gateway in a wall. Thereafter we found more steep ground up to the summit. Once on the summit I suggested Paul might use the trig to support his pole and I made myself a small shelter against the pile of stones close by, using the stones to support my pole. We were late on parade despite having made up 12 minutes on our projected ascent time and there were more problems to come.

Opening up at 15:25, I found Roger G0TRB waiting on my usual frequency and as a result of his spot I soon had 11 contacts in the bag. Several regulars mentioned that Paul was not spotted on HF and the problem was revealed when Paul came over at around 15:45 to tell me that 60m was dead and 80m was full of long-skip Europeans. He would therefore try 2m FM. After I had worked Graham G3OHC at 15:55, Don G0NES called back in to ask how Paul was getting on and to find out I legged it across the summit - yes, I actually ran! Paul had two in the bag, but there were no more takers. I therefore suggested that he use my kit to qualify the summit and in the end Paul netted a total of 7 contacts as G0NES, G0PEB, G4JZF, G0TRB and G0RQL had all stayed around my frequency waiting to hear what the outcome was. Many thanks chaps!

Paul signed with Don G0RQL at 16:06. The temperature had dropped from 5 degrees down to 3 degrees and the wind was rather chilly, so we packed up quickly and set off down the hill at 16:20 into the dusk. We easily managed to get to the track while there was sufficient light and even thereafter we had a very enjoyable walk in near darkness without using our headlamps. It was quite an experience and one that I won’t forget for a long time. We reached the car at 17:24 and stowed our kit before setting off for the Travelodge, well satisfied with the days events, but showing signs of tiredness. After booking in and sorting the kit out in our rooms, we met up in Paul’s room to scoff some of the excellent sarnies that he had prepared and have a brew and a blueberry muffin. We were both shattered, so I decided to go off to my room where I had a refreshing shower before retiring at 20:00. I just about made 21:00 before it was lights out and sleep came very easily.

Day 2.

The body clock went off shortly before the alarm which was set for 05:45. Half an hour later, I tapped on Paul’s door and we made our way out to the car park. It was a comfortable 3.5 degrees C and it looked good for our first summit of the day, Moel Eilio GW/NW-022. We arrived at the parking spot at SH550599 near Waunfawr at 07:00 and found a van parked up. Presuming that there were people asleep in the van, we decided to park in a wide gateway opposite the main parking area and were ready for our ascent by 07:17. It was now just light enough to see our way along the track heading east as it skirted the forest. Soon we were out into the open and then it was a case of locating and following the motorway of a track to the summit. To the east we could see the main Snowdon range heavily shrouded in cloud, but fortunately it remained clear where we were.

As we ascended, the strong wind coming in from the north-east chilled the sides of our faces, the effect of which was almost as good as having an injection at the dentists. Matters were not helped by the fact that I was having one of my slow days and the steeper parts of the ascent route were rather slippery as well. Fortunately we were slightly ahead of schedule and we made the summit by 08:36. After due consideration, Paul decided to use the fence just below the summit as his operating position and he used a tarpaulin fastened to the fence to form a wind break. Initially I decided to set up on the outside of the summit shelter on the side away from the wind, but it kept changing direction, so I opted for operating from within the shelter with the pole bungied to the stonework. Even with this arrangement, it was a challenge to keep the pole vertical, let alone the beam on heading! It was a chilly 1.7 degrees C inside the shelter with a chill from the gusting wind – I could only imagine what Paul was experiencing outside by the fence.

Graham G4FUJ provided us both with our first contacts. He was waiting on 144.333MHz when I opened at 08:54 and then moved over to 60m to work Paul. Conditions on 2m were fair though not especially good. There was a lot of deep QSB, but this did not spoil things for me and I made a steady run of contacts, temporarily interrupted by a brief QSY to 70cms to work Don G0RQL with signals at 55 / 53. In all I worked 16 on 2m SSB before returning to 70cms to find that there were no further takers, though Frank G3RMD did manage to copy something of my CW, but nothing when I was on SSB. After a round of calls I decided to go QRT at 09:50.

Paul had an excellent run on 60m with the band in good fettle. In all 17 stations were worked before the frequency went quiet and at 09:30 he moved to 80m to find another hoard waiting for him. Another 13 contacts were made on that band with conditions stretching over to Andre ON4CAP and up to Steve GM7UAU. Paul’s timing was almost in sync with my own and after a somewhat challenging time packing up the stations in the high wind, we were ready for the descent by 10:14.

Our descent was punctuated by brief conversations with people now ascending the hill. One walker was a member of the local MRT and knew all about amateur radio if not so much about SOTA. Conditions under-foot were little better than on the ascent, but we were back at the car for 11:00 where we had a well-earned snack and a cup of coffee before we set of for our second summit.

For the ascent of Moel-ddu GW/NW-045, we were intending to use the instructions provided by Roger MW0IDX. We found the parking spot easily enough and parked close to the fence to avoid creating an obstruction, though the gate close by looked like it was not used. It was 6 degrees at the parking spot and the weather was rather pleasant. Setting off up the track at 12:10, we made an initial error as we struck off left off the track at the wrong bend – it pays to read and re-read instructions. Anyway, there wasn’t much lost and we were soon crossing the ground picking up the landscape features described in Roger’s account. However, being over-keen we did manage to get too high up the hillside and missed the gate in the wall, having to find a suitable position to scale it avoiding the barbed wire. Once we found the stream and where it passed through a wall running uphill towards the summit, it was then easy to navigate and pleasant walking, even if it was a steep pull up from the stream. Rather than make a direct assault on the hill, we elected to head left for the col and around right to the summit which is a double peak separated by a significant trough, both peaks being within a common activation zone. I decided to shelter by one summit cairn, while Paul dropped downhill a little to a flatter area to set up for HF.

Both Paul and I were on air for 13:56. Roger G0TRB was ready waiting for me and Brian G8ADD was waiting for Paul. 60m was still in good order and contact number two was an S2S with Jack GM4COX/P on Tinto GM/SS-064. Two further S2S contacts were made on 60m – Andy MM0FMF/P was on Black Mount GM/SS-158 and Robin GM7PKT/P on Beinn a Mhonicag GM/CS-101. In all Paul worked a total of 20 contacts on the band around G, GM, GW and EI. At 14:31 Paul worked MM5OHA and then moved to 80m where Paul initially found 3.666MHz clear, but was soon usurped by a DL net and had to move up 3kHz. A total of 4 contacts were made before the move, with just one after. Andre ON4CAP and Steve GM7UAU made it into the 80m log for the second time in the day.

On 2m SSB, I found Roger G0TRB waiting for me. Conditions seemed to be a little more stable than in the morning with less QSB, but this was significant enough to delay contact being made with Robert G0PEB on the Isle of Wight who I heard at 14:14, but wasn’t worked until 14:28. In all I worked 16 on 2m SSB which was better than I had expected. I was not able to work Frank G3RMD on 70cms, but managed a contact with Don G0RQL using SSB. However, the contact was rather marginal and certainly not as good as the one that I had had from nearby Moel-y-Gest GW/NW-067 in the summer. As Paul was still in QSO when I finished with Don on 70cms SSB, I decided to try CW and FM, but nothing was heard on either mode.

As we packed up at 14:55 I noted that the temperature on the summit had dropped from 5 degrees C down to 2.8 degrees C. It was certainly quite chilly in the strong breeze. At 15:10 as we started to descend I decided to put out a call on 145.500MHz FM. Alan GW1ALV down in Pembrokeshire responded and we had a brief QSO until my 1W to the rubber duck wasn’t good enough for us to continue. Further calls failed to raise any locals, so I pocketed the rig as we exited the activation zone and we then retraced our steps down the hillside. It was easier to follow Roger’s instructions on the descent and we found the gate in the wall and made it back to the car by 16:09. We decided to get back to the Travelodge before sorting the kit out even though it was a balmy 6 degrees C at the car.

Being back at our accommodation gave us plenty of time to make calls to home, have showers and get changed into our best bib and tucker ready to go out for something to eat. We met up at 17:30 and went into Porthmadog to Spooners for a bevvy and some food and being quite tired after two days of activating decided on an early return to base. Amazingly, I was actually in bed watching TV by 19:40 – something totally unknown except for the odd occasion that I have been ill. I phoned home again and just about made 21:00 before falling asleep – the TV was still on when I awoke about 23:00. Fortunately I found it easy to get back to sleep once I had switched it off.

Day 3

Another body clock start and I was ready packed and knocking on Paul’s door at 06:15. It was minus 1 degree C, so I had to defrost the car and we also had to repack our over-night bags. It was therefore 06:34 before we set off towards our first summit of the day, Yr Eifl GW/NW-075. We arrived at the large parking spot while it was still dark and set off at 07:15 walking into the dawn. Without the benefit of light it was not easy to see the easiest route, so we initially kept parallel with a wall and then struck northwards until we found the motorway track that we couldn’t see in the dark. At a junction in the track, we elected to go straight on and take a more direct ascent to the summit rather than swing around the right side of the hill, but the frost on the rocky outcrops made the going difficult and caused us some delay. Anyway, despite this we still managed to arrive at the summit ahead of schedule.

Paul decided to set up below the summit on a flattish section of ground while I commandeered the sunken summit shelter. It was around freezing and very slippery under-foot with the frost. I bungied the pole to a vertical section of rock and was operational for 08:39 to find Graham G4FUJ listening on my working frequency. It was Robert G0PEB who spotted me and I later worked him – twice in fact, as Robert called back in with an improved report - signals peaked 53 both ways. At 09:25 I moved to 70cms and despite putting calls out on SSB, CW and FM did not hear anyone. Before packing up I decided to see whether anyone else was around and found John MW0JDK/P on Tal y Fan NW-040 for an S2S which was promptly seconded by a contact with Steve MW0KPO/P on the same summit. In all I made 18 contacts on 2m.

It took Paul a little longer to get set up and his first QSO was at 08:43, once again with Graham G4FUJ. Interestingly the spot was placed by Mark M3RHJ who of course is not licensed for 60m operation. Unfortunately Mark did not make contact with Paul on 80m later on. Paul had a good run on 60m with all contacts being into England with the exception of the final contact which was with Terje LA8BCA – a very respectable total of 16 QSOs in all. At 09:15 Paul worked David G3RDQ on 80m who headed a run of 7 contacts on the band including Steve GM7UAU and John GW3GUX. John told Paul that he was looking for me, but by that time I was busy listening to white noise on 70cms. Such is life!

Once we had packed up, we set off down the hill at 09:52 using the circuitous route that we had shunned on the ascent. This quickly took us back to the car, though we were verbally accosted by a couple out for a walk on what was now becoming quite a pleasant day. Even with this delay, it was 10:30 when we reached the car. I decided to change out of my boots as I now had over 60 miles to drive down into mid-Wales. Our timings from hereon were a bit of a guess with the road travel and lunch elements rolled into the equation, but we reached the parking spot at SH949129 designated by John GW4BVE at 12:25, precisely on schedule. From this location, the route to the summit of Carnedd Wen GW/MW-012 starts with a 400 metre road walk in an easterly direction. Paul suggested that we investigate the possibility of parking further along the road as he thought that he had seen something that might resemble a lay-by at that position on Google Earth. It turned out that his eyes hadn’t deceived him and we were soon parked up in a lay-by capable of taking 3 or 4 cars. No road walk for us.

We set out from the car at 12:40 and walked down a tarmac surfaced side road which then took us past a farm. At a farm-gate which crossed the track, the farmer’s wife was outside talking to another lady. She asked of our intentions and we said that we would like to use the track up to the forest that surrounds the summit. She said that she would grant permission if we went down on bended knee – well, somewhat to her amusement I did just that and so we were given permission to use the track. Most of the track is across OA land, but it appears that there is a 50 metre section that is outside of the access area. We were advised that access would be granted provided that permission was requested.

The track provided us with a very evenly graded route and I was able to maintain a very steady pace which actually was given as 4.5km / hour on Paul’s GPS. Even with the slightly late start from the car and the discourse at the farm, we made the summit in good time. After taking a while to check out the area, we started to set up our stations by the side of the track at 14:08. Paul soon found he had to move his kit further down to get sufficient space to set up the HF antenna without impeding access – not as though we saw anyone during our stay, but the effort certainly had to be made.

On switch on I found a station operating on 144.330MHz, so decided that I would need to move away from my usual frequency. A quick call on 144.333MHz at 14:24 raised Stewart G0LGS and we QSY’d to 144.340MHz. Despite being within a heavily forested area, I found that I was able to get out quite well and for the next half hour I was occupied working chasers. The run ended with a contact with Alan G7RHF who lives on the side of Brown Clee G/WB-002 who was running a TS780. I asked him for a QSY to 70cms, but Alan said that he was reluctant to attack the rat’s nest of cables behind the rig, so I wasn’t able to obtain my first contact on the higher band. I had worked Walt G3NYY/P who was on Birdlip Hill near Cheltenham during the run on 2m and had arranged to meet him on 70cms at 15:15, so I had a few minutes to kill. For some unknown reason I decided to put a call out on 144.340MHz on CW and was very surprised when this provided a contact with Mike GW0DSP. Walt was chatting on 432.222MHz with Stewart G0LGS when I moved there and I managed to work them both. As I packed up I noted the temperature had dropped to 2.2 degrees C from 4 degrees and the light was already starting to drop – time to move!

Paul had relocated to an open area out of sight of my position. Once set up, he switched on 60m to find Steve GW1INK/P on Foel Fenlli NW-051. After working Steve, Paul moved channel and was called by Andy MM0FMF/P on Black Hill SS-167 who had been waiting for him. After the contact with Andy, a few chasers called in and then Ron GW4EVX/P on Cyrn-y-Brain NW-043. More regulars followed to give Paul 20 contacts in little over half an hour. Moving to 80m, Paul found Chris MW1DTJ/P on Moel Famau NW-044 for a 4th S2S. Skip on 80m started to lengthen and Peter EI7CC, Peter DL8YR and Mike DJ5AV made it into Paul’s log to round off an excellent activation.

It was 15:40 when Paul went QRT and 15:54 as we started our ascent. The excellent track allowed us to make good progress and the GPS indicated that we were achieving 5.2km / hour. It was more or less dark by the time we reached the farm, but we managed to get back to the car by 16:58 without having to use lights. After unloading the kit into the car and shedding several layers of clothing, we ate our remaining provisions before setting off homewards at 17:22. We made Stourbridge by 19:08 and I was home in Northampton by 20:53 giving me time to pack away most of the kit before feeding Whisper and retiring to bed.

Overall the three day format was a brilliant success, very much helped by the excellent weather. The cold temperatures experienced were tolerable and not sufficient to cause us any problems on the roads and although we had to take care on the ascents, nothing was anywhere near the edge of our comfort zone. Each of the six summits was different. From the rugged heather and boulder approach up Rhinog Fawr to the track up Carnedd Wen, we enjoyed every minute.

Many thanks to everyone that came on to work us, particularly to those who placed spots. We were certainly not disappointed by the support that we received across the bands and the equipment performed impeccably, even if the sky did not when we were on Moel Ysgyfarnogod. Well, we had to have one hiccup along the way.

Mni 73,

Gerald G4OIG

Rhinog Fawr GW/NW-023
GW4MD/P – 60m SSB: 11, 80m SSB: 8
GW4OIG/P – 2m SSB: 8, 2m CW:1, 70cms SSB: 2, 70cms CW: 1

Moel Ysgyfarnogod GW/NW-038
GW4MD/P – 2m FM: 2, 2m SSB: 5
GW4OIG/P – 2m SSB: 11

Moel Eilio GW/NW-022
GW4MD/P – 60m SSB: 17, 80m SSB: 13
GW4OIG/P – 2m SSB: 16, 70cms SSB: 1

Moel-ddu GW/NW-045
GW4MD/P – 60m SSB: 20, 80m SSB: 5
GW4OIG/P – 2m SSB: 16, 2m FM:1, 70cms SSB: 1

Yr Eifl GW/NW-075
GW4MD/P – 60m SSB: 16, 80m SSB: 7
GW4OIG/P – 2m SSB: 18

Carnedd Wen GW/MW-012
GW4MD/P – 60m SSB: 20, 80m SSB: 9
GW4OIG/P – 2m SSB: 15, 2m CW: 1, 70cms SSB: 2