It took a couple of months to get this group of activations off the ground. I had not been out activating with Paul G4MD since our outing to Orkney in late April / early May, a far cry indeed from those times when we were to be found ascending a group of Welsh summits every fortnight. Since May we had both bagged a couple of GM summits on our separate family holidays and I had activated five summits in the Algarve, but even so the total number of summits for 2012 were looking rather poor.
After considering various options we decided to aim for six single point summits in the Dumfries area rather than two or three larger summits further north or west. This would increase our uniques total, but not do much for our points. However, since achieving Mountain Goat points have not been so important. The proposed summits would fit in well with our fitness level, which was not as good as it used to be, but even so, there were some ascent times of about an hour or more which would give us a decent work-out.
Shortage of holiday time meant that we had to programme the activations for the August Bank Holiday. I set the alarm for 01:50z on the Sunday morning and, as has become customary prior to activations, did not get to bed much before midnight. All went pretty much to plan for a start and we took a comfort break at Tebay services where a breakfast croissant went down well. We refuelled at Dumfries and headed for our first summit, Bishop Forest Hill GM/SS-228, only to find that we were approaching it from the north rather than the south. Turning our mental maps upside down, we located the start of a barely discernible track at NX841802 which would be our ascent route and parked the car on the rather soft verge just along the road. It was now 08:20z and I had already been awake for six and a half hours. To cap it all, it had started to rain!
The ascent route was quite clear on the ground until we reached the corner of the forest. From that point it was a straight ascent up fairly steep rough and uneven ground which warmed us up nicely ready for the chilling that we received at the summit courtesy of a brisk wind. The 1.7km ascent took us 43 minutes, which reflected our level of fitness, much as the teachers used to write in my school reports: “fair only”. Paul decided to move downhill to find space for his antenna and ended up using a convenient post set within a stone wall. I used the trig to support my pole and set up the 2m/70cms beam together with the 30m/20m vertical that I had used in Portugal.
The rain had petered out by the time that we started our activations. I was first on air at 09:38z to find Graham G4JZF waiting for me despite being more than 20 minutes ahead of our alerted time. Conditions were average with some deep QSB present, but I worked 9 of the regular 2m SSB chasers without any problem. Moving to 70cms, I tried a contact with Don G0RQL, but we could only just detect each other – unfortunately I was without a preamp and linear on this occasion. Further calls on the band did not raise any response, so I tried 2m FM where I heard and called Robin GM7PKT/P on Ben Nevis GM/WS-001. Jack GM4COX/P on Stuchd an Lochain GM/CS-032 beat me to it and I was not able to break into their QSO as my beam was horizontally polarised.
Thinking that I ought to move on, I changed to 30m where I found that I had a near perfect match with the vertical. After a few calls on 10.119MHz, I was called by Jan F6ACV with good signals between us. No-one followed on, but a few more calls produced a call from Vlado OM1AX, who then promptly disappeared. The run got under way eventually when Terje LA8BCA called and kindly spotted me. In all I worked 17 stations around F, LA, OM. DL, OE, CT, OK, and HB9, receiving reports between 339 and 599. It was a pleasure to work David CT1DRB who I had spoken to on the telephone after my activations in the Algarve. The frequency went quiet at 10:35z, so I moved back to 2m FM to work Robert GM4GUF/P on Tinto GM/SS-064. An announced a move down to 145.400MHz did not produce any further contacts, though I have subsequently learnt that Robin did copy me before I made the QSY.
Paul set up for 60m and was soon called at 09:41z by Frank G3RMD. Frank spotted Paul and a leisurely run totalling 14 contacts ensued round G, GW, GI and GM with signals up and down quite a bit. After working John G8DYK at 10:11z, the frequency went quiet, so Paul moved down to 80m, found a clear frequency and spotted himself using the MM0FMF text service. The skip turned out to be rather short on 80m, with three contacts coming from GM and two from G to qualify the summit on both bands.
We both packed up at about the same time and I started my descent from the trig at 10:59z. It took 23 minutes to reach the car where we had a quick snack before setting off for our second summit, Bennan GM/SS-224.
Paul had worked out a route starting at NX833764 to the south-east of the summit, but we ended up parking on the verge at NX829763 near the Cleugh Burn. Not that it mattered much as we found our way up the hillside easily enough, partly following a quad bike track to a convenient gate. Higher up, the monument on the summit made an easy visual target. The ascent took us 37 minutes for the 1.4km walk to get us to the summit for 12:32z. I set up about 20 metres south of the monument, while Paul went north to find another wall.
On this summit we both managed to make our first contact at 12:58z. Once again Paul started on 60m where Mark GO0VOF was waiting despite us being early by over half an hour. The run on the band totalled just 9 contacts into G and GW. Around 13:30z, Paul moved onto 80m to find the band dead, so he retuned the antenna for 40m and put out some calls. First up was a contact with GB2FOL, the Festival of Light special event station in Norfolk, then Charlie EI7IP called in. Christine GM4YMM was the first SOTA regular and a number of other chasers followed. Paul had reached a total of 10 contacts and was at the point of signing with Rob PA0B, when he noticed that he had no power output. The rig was still receiving, but would not transmit. He therefore had no option but to call it a day at 14:15z.
My first contact was with Brian G4ZRP who just beat Graham G4JZF on the call. Graham spotted me and so did Mark GO0VOF who I eventually worked as contact number 14, just before my final 2m SSB contact from the summit which was with Mike G4BLH. Several people said that there was an EI contest on and I did manage to work Michael EI9GGB/P on Tara Hill EI/IE-065, but that was all. My move up to 70cms SSB was covered by a spot placed by Mark GO0VOF, but yet again, no contacts were forthcoming.
As I had some time in hand and with the weather now warm and sunny, I decided to give 2m FM a try using the handheld and found Richard G1JTD/P on Great End, G/LDW-005. A pleasant chat with Jack GM3OXK near Dumfries followed and then Liz MO6EPW and Colin MO0XSD put more entries into my log, before I took a quick break for a snack. Moving to 30m, I put out several calls on 10.119MHz, but it took a self-spot to get the ball rolling. Juerg HB9BIN was first to respond at 14:14z and a further ten contacts around EA, DL, OZ, F and OM were made to bring the time to 14:25z and an end to my activation. As I finished slightly late, Paul appeared on the summit while I was still packing away.
We started our descent at 14:39z and made it back to the car in 23 minutes. This gave us time to assess the problem with Paul’s rig, which thankfully turned out to be a dying LiPO and not the FT-817 itself. We left the parking spot at 15:20z precisely at the appointed time on the itinerary, but here Murphy threw a spanner into the works. I had programmed the satnav for the third summit, but had set the wrong co-ordinates! In fact, it took us to one of the potential parking spots for Woodhead Hill GM/SS-269, whereas we should have been heading for See Morris Hill GM/SS-274. Fortunately See Morris Hill is one of the hills that Richard G3CWI has in his satnav data file, so we used that instead. Apologise profusely, reverse course 5 miles, etc., etc.
I had been a little worried about the parking spot for See Morris Hill as it wasn’t clear from the description that I had read. It turned out to be an ample area at the entrance to the private road, the start of which is set back from the main public road. The cattle grid on the boundary has been filled in, so the livestock gate adjacent to it is no longer used and the tarmac remaining on the public side provides a useful parking position. The detour set us back 10 minutes and we did not start our ascent until 15:55z, but we still reached the summit on time at 16:30z. Again I used the trig, while Paul set off downhill to the corner of the compound surrounding the extensive microwave transmitting station on the summit.
Starting at 16:44z, I quickly worked Roger G0TRB who kindly spotted me. Next I was called by Bill GM3PMB near Ayr. Although signals were very comfortable with my beam south, I could not resist turning it at him, which made me disappear as far as the waiting chasers were concerned. This caused great consternation and Paul received quite a few comments from his contacts on 60m. With the beam back in the appropriate direction, the run proper started and I ended up with 12 in the log, Ron GW4EVX being the final contact on the band. On 10.119MHz I made a number of calls without success, so again I resorted to a self-spot which produced another five contacts with DL, ON, SM. EA and OZ before the frequency went quiet. I shut down at 17:45z, completely forgetting to try 2m FM with the handheld, so losing the chance to work Liz MO6EPW who was on Dent G/LD-045.
Paul was QRV on 60m by 16:50z and worked Mark GO0VOF who spotted him. Propagation was still good at this hour and Paul worked a total of 15 contacts around G, GW and GM. Mark helped orchestrate a move to 80m at 17:24z and was first in the log to be followed by Frank G3RMD, Don G0RQL and eventually John G3WGQ. This qualified the summit on the band, so with no more calls, Paul decided to close down pretty much at the same time as myself.
We set off back to the car at 18:01 and bizarrely this descent also took 23 minutes, the same as the previous two summits. After unloading the kit and clothing into the car, changing boots and generally reorganising odds and ends, we set off for the Travelodge at 18:36z and arrived there 13 minutes later, just 4 minutes adrift of our itinerary. After booking into our rooms, a quick shower and a change of clothes, we were back on the road, this time into Dumfries to locate the Robert the Bruce pub where we knew we could still get a pie and a decent pint at that relatively late hour. …and the ale? Red MacGregor from the Orkney Brewery Company of course, what else would you expect us to drink?
Neither of us had a restful night. In his room on the ground floor Paul was awoken by screaming. I didn’t need noise to awake me, just a blinding head which was soon cured by a couple of Ibuprofen. That will teach me to scimp on rehydration! Anyway, 04:30z came soon enough, breakfast consisting of a cup of tea and a couple of cereal bars. When we met at the car 25 minutes later the weather was dull and overcast, but we knew it would not stay that way.
We got underway at 04:58z and reached the parking spot at NX750844 for our first summit, Fell Hill GM/SS-217 at 05:37z. It had started raining en route and was now doing its best to put us off activating, but we had experienced worse. The track to Fell Farm was in an awful condition. It wasn’t long before I found a soft spot and sank in with both feet to half way up my gaiters. No need to wash them off, the rain did that. Where the track had disintegrated into pot holes, there were pond skaters on the water indicating a measure of permanence associated with the wet stuff. It was a case of constantly evaluating where you could put your feet. Part of the track ran through a forest and here it was even wetter and only marginally less boggy with long grass covering the track. Even getting past the deserted Fell Farm took some effort, so it was with some relief that we reached the fellside and the climb proper began.
Paul’s mapping GPS came in very handy to keep us on course for the summit. As we gained height, the wind strengthened and at the summit it was gusting to around 40 mph. The ascent had taken us 1 hour and 23 minutes. It was 07:17z and we were just two minutes behind schedule. I set up at the trig once more, thankful of the little shelter that it provided. Paul used the large constructed cairn about 30 metres from the trig for shelter, though setting up the antennas got us both a soaking.
The weather conditions delayed the start to both our activations. I set up the beam for just 2m and managed to raise it to around 4 metres as the wind was coming from the direction I wanted the beam to be in. My first contact at 07:36z was with Graham G4JZF, who was monitoring 144.333MHz and he kindly spotted me. Within a quarter of an hour I had 11 in the log. When the frequency went quiet, I covered up the equipment and went to see how Paul was getting on. We agreed a few more minutes would be worthwhile, so I put some calls out on 70cms while Paul stayed on 60m.
Andrew G4AFI was the first into Paul’s log at 07:41z, closely followed by Graham G4JZF. Paul had 9 in the log when I visited him and later had a contact with John G0TDM to get him into double figures. Conditions weren’t letting up any and if anything had deteriorated somewhat during the activation, so we dismantled our stations at 07:58z and were on our way back to the car 19 minutes later. It took us 1 hour and 4 minutes to descend the hill and negotiate the track which now resembled a small river. A number of frogs of various sizes and colours were seen. Well at least we had something of interest to look at in the poor visibility.
On the descent we discussed the options available to us. Our next summit was to be Bogrie Hill GM/SS-205 which required a trackless walk-in of around 1.5km taking an estimated 55 minutes and thereafter a similar ascent to Wauk Hill GM/SS-241 which would take over an hour to reach from the parking spot. Neither of these summits was particularly appealing as we were decidedly damp and my left boot had been breached at some point and the inside was now somewhat squelchy. I had fresh boots and socks available, but just could not be bothered to change them - besides it would mean having to clean two pairs when I got home!
Keen to get some value for the time and expense committed to the outing, we both reached the same conclusion at the same time. We would head for Mochrum Fell GM/SS-205 and when Paul told me that he had read a report of how to get the car around the back of the hill to shorten the walk, the deal was done. I would say that the track around the hill required care and I was pleased that I had four wheel drive, but ground clearance was an issue at certain points. It was 10:04z when we arrived at the parking spot. I had no mobile signal with O2, so Paul used his Orange phone to announce our position and an estimated activation time of 10:50z.
The ascent required a short walk along a forest ride followed by a direct assault of the hillside. That would have been fine were it not for the felling that has taken place on the hill and the strong cross wind which almost had us over a number of times. Thankfully the ascent took just 21 minutes. Conditions at the trig were absolutely vile and about the worst that I have ever experienced on an activation. Erecting an antenna was a problem, in fact I only managed to get the beam up to around 1.8m, but I knew that this was the only option. From experience I estimated the gusts to be around 60mph and the rain stung my face as I set up the station. Despite the virtual mayhem happening around me, I was amazed at how calm I felt as I crouched by the trig. Obviously I am getting to be an old hand at this wet weather activating!
It was 10:50z by the time that I was ready and my first call brought back Graham G4JZF and another assured spot. Bob GO6ODU called next, but I had to ask him to QRX as the wind had pulled the log sheet from under its retaining clip and it was flapping about like mad. It took me a couple of minutes to sort out the wet paper. Thankfully it was of the waterproof variety. Bob had actually disappeared when I was ready to go, but he called in later. In all I worked 9 stations in 15 minutes before the frequency went quiet. I moved up to 70cms SSB and put a few calls out, but in doing so I unfortunately missed Frank G3RMD who I later learned was looking for me. After a few minutes on 70cms with no response, I decided it was time to close the station and after risking the camera taking a couple of photos, I packed up.
Paul retreated downhill to get out of the worst of the wind, but was still getting a considerable lashing by the rain. He strapped his pole to a dead tree and set up his 60m dipole as a near horizontal vee back to the slope of the hill. This arrangement matched okay and a steady run of 13 contacts were made around G, GW and GI starting with Frank G3RMD and ending with John GW4ZPL. It was 11:25z when Paul made final calls and closed down.
The descent was marginally more comfortable than the ascent as we kept downwind of the hill as much as possible. I think we were both surprised to find that we had managed the scramble over the felled branches in just 14 minutes. It took some time to get the wet gear off and put on dry socks and footwear, but by 12:22z we were sat tucking into the food that Paul had brought for our lunches.
Having advised that we would not be activating a third summit, lunch was a leisurely affair and we didn’t start our journey home until 12:47z. All went well initially and we stopped off for a caffeine shot at Tebay services. Thereafter it was delay on delay and we did not arrive back at Paul’s house until 19:07z. After coffee and a snack, I set off for home, which I reached at 21:12z. I think we may give August Bank Holiday a miss another year.
Despite the dire weather on the second day, the activations were very enjoyable. I particularly like the combination of VHF/UHF SSB and HF CW. It was a pity that the weather restricted us to single band activations on the final two summits. As usual we are grateful for all the contacts that we made and particularly thank those that placed spots. The date for our next outing has not yet been set, but we are working on it. There are still plenty of summits around Dumfries to activate.
73, Gerald G4OIG