Many factors influenced this idea. Perhaps the earliest were in the relatively early days of SOTA, and reading about the backpacking SOTA expeditions of John G4YSS, Jon GM4ZFZ and Richard G3CWI. I certainly wanted to try that for myself, and had indeed sampled it with a cheap £7 tent on local hills, to at least get some ideas about what I would need to do it properly.
I was also interested to see how many QSOs I could make in a single activation, and I wanted to file a highly competitive entry in the August session of the RSGB 2m UK Activity Contest series. All this came together to plan an overnight stay on Cadair Berwyn GW/NW-012, 830m ASL, with activations on the 2nd and 3rd of August 2011.
In the planning and prep phase, I exchanged emails with Phil Facey, proprietor of the Tan y Pistyll cafe, a usual start point for Cadair Berwyn. Phil said there was free parking back down the road a bit, or overnight parking in his locked field and retreat campsite for £4. I decided to go for that, and Phil emailed me the access code for the gate, as I would be arriving before the cafe opened.
Also required was a proper backpacking tent, and I went for the Karrimor Ultralite, which I picked up from my local Millets at a reduced price. I did consider getting a lightweight self-inflating air mat as well, but decided to take one of my existing foam sleep mats. This will be reviewed for next time, as I didn’t have the most comfortable night’s sleep!
A lightweight down sleeping bag was also needed, and I picked up a duck down mummy bag from Tesco - for £7! This was light, and kept me warm at night, so proved good value. The killer was going to be the two 7Ah SLABs I figured I would need to operate HF CW all day then a 2.5 hour VHF SSB contest!
The rucksack was quite a weight when I picked it up, with the radio, key, mike, 40m dipole, 20m MM, SB5, decent Aircell 7 feeder, plus 2 litres of water and three meals worth of grub added. Furthermore, it was a hot and humid morning when I arrived at Tan y Pistyll, so the microfleece and Berghaus jacket were added to that!
I had set off from Macclesfield around 5.30am on Tuesday 2nd August 2011, and made for the M56. Chester services provided the McDonalds breakfast before I turned down the M53, A55 and A483 towards Oswestry. From here, the directions were simple - follow the B4396 until I saw the right turning for the waterfall.
At the cafe, I entered the code and the gate swung open for me. Before setting off, I downed a bottle of Tropicana orange & mango juice, a bottle of water, a can of Red Bull and a Mars Bar. I wasn’t going to allow hydration or energy shortcomings get in the way!
I pulled on the heavy pack, and it was - heavy. But comfortable, so I powered myself along with my Leki poles and climbed into the field with the public footpath. It was rapid progress along the track to the footbridge, and I looked forward to one of my favourite sections of walking in SOTAland. This is the path that contours along the side of the U-shaped valley up to Llyn Lluncaws, quickly gaining height, but without the usual physical strain associated with doing so.
After negotiating the boggy section, I was climbing steeply up above Llyn Lluncaws. Halfway up, I was tired and decided to sit on a rock for a while, and pore over the map. Once resumed, I was mindful to work my left a little to avoid the exposure of where the path is very close to a steep edge for a time. I overcompensated and worked my way on steep grassy ground that slowed my progress. When I attained the main path just below Moel Sych, I stopped for another rest and a snack, and 'phoned Jimmy with a progress update.
The rest did me good and I was up Moel Sych in no time when I got going again, and the traverse from there onto Cadair Berwyn was similarly rapid. So far so good, I had reached the summit of Cadair Berwyn with my heavy pack in reasonable time. I paced around assessing the best place to pitch my tent, and selected a grassy area in between the large stone shelter and the rocky outcrop at the true summit.
The Karrimor Ultralite went up reasoanbly well and should be a breeze to put up and down in the future. I decided to set out my sleeping mat and mummy bag before erecting the 40m dipole. The weather was nice, so I sat outside the tent and began my activation on 40m CW. But after only a few QSOs, the rain started to come down, so I announced “QRX RAIN” and dragged everything inside the tent. Some stations continued to call me repeatedly, while some tried to tell them about the QRX, and others just sent “HI”!
The first run of contacts stopped after 20 on 40m CW and 1 on 40m SSB. It was time to put up the 20m vertical with groundplane and enter the Lion’s Den of the WFF pile-up! This then brought about a run of 82 QSOs in 63 minutes.
With the frequency empty, and the weather much improved, I decided on a change of scenary. I walked up to the very summit and perched on the rock there with my handheld, with a very steep and long drop plunging ominously beneath my feet. I tried not to look down, but as I was only using handheld with rubber duck at this point, I needed the best vantage point possible.
It ended up being a pleasant interlude of 15 contacts on 2m FM, mostly with known friends, acquaintences and family(!) and a further six on 70cm FM. The first S2S of the activation came with MW6BDV/P on GW/NW-055.
I returned to the main stations to play 20m once again, and the hour gap had been sufficient to liven up the interest in working me once again. I worked pretty much continuously for the next 2.5 hours, all CW apart from one S2S QSO with HB9BQU/P on HB/OW-025. A CW S2S was made with CT1BWW/P on CT/MN-033. Another break with the handheld brought only Ron GW4EVX on 2m FM before a mad session on 20m CW of 27 QSOs in 18 minutes! I put the 40m dipole up again, but attracted only five more stations into the log.
It was now about 50 minutes before the start of the 2m contest, so I had my dinner - aromatic duck wrap and Ginsters Pepper Steak Slice (recommended by some Manchester comedian who once did the warm up slot for a blues band gig I did) and made the decision to set the SB5 up right on the summit.
The wind had dropped considerably, so I felt it would be OK to set up right at the top. I spotted an (apparently well-known) “armchair rock” at the summit that I could sit in for the contest, and set up the SB5 at 4m AGL on the SOTA pole close by. I carried up my 817, SLAB, microphone etc up from the tent and settled down for the contest.
It was very busy, and finding a frequency was difficult. This certainly affected my QSO rate in the first hour, as I was playing S+P instead of running, but at least it meant that the bulk of the multiplier squares were safely in the log. By the end of the contest at 10.30pm BST, I had made 86 contacts, into 16 UK multiplier squares. Outside the UK, I worked F1VNR/P in JO10AT and my best DX - DF0MU, 727km into JO32PC. S2S contacts were made with 2E0DHT/P on Winter Hill G/SP-010, Matt M3WDS/P on Cleeve Hill G/CE-001 and an astonishing genuine 59 both ways QSO with Robert GM4GUF/P on Tinto GM/SS-064.
It had been a good contest, but I felt I ended up short by around 20 QSOs and 2 multipliers. At the time of writing I am 2nd in the AL section behind M0MST/P (IO92) but ahead of G4HGI (IO83). The night was still mild and still, so I flipped the SB5 over to vertical polarisation and called on 2m FM. To my surprise, this initiated a most enjoyable hour of chatter, distributed across 22 contacts.
I then needed to spend some time carefully dismantling the 2m set up in the dark on Cadair Berwyn’s summit, before re-erecting the 20m antenna next to the tent. 20m CW ops resumed at 2330z, and were also enjoyable as I received calls from known SOTA chasers in North America. As well as USA and Canada, I also worked 7X (Algeria) and CE (Chile) which were very satisfying. Mark G0VOF in Blackburn was also worked!
In fact Mark was the first to call me after midnight UTC (1am BST) to claim his “double points”, and I was rather pleased that VE2JCW amd NS7P did likewise. After working seven, no-one else called, and I couldn’t find any DX that I wanted to call. I was absolutely shattered, so rather pleased to be bedding down in my new duck down mummy bag.
In the morning, I put up the 40m dipole, hoping for a Cloud-before-work style pile-up on 7.032MHz CW, but it wasn’t to be with only F5CEL being worked. I would have liked to have called again on 2m FM via the handheld prior to leaving the summit, but I had exhausted the battery.
After packing everything away, my rucksack was not as heavy, as the weather was not as great as the previous day, so I had my fleece and jacket on. Also, I had eaten nearly all my food, and drunk a good proportion of my water. I cracked on with the descent, but found myself clutching for the map when the ground in front of me appeared to be rising up again!
It turned out I had missed the swing to the left to descend the way I had ascended, but it as OK as this was the path that took a more direct route back to the cafe. The steeper descending required towards to top of the waterfall was not so welcome, but I was soon on the old mine track and droppng down to the footbridge.
Back at the cafe car park, I bumped into Phil Facey. I thanked him for his email help in the planning stage, and to my surprise he started asking me about amateur radio, and how he could go about getting into it! It seemed he was already well aware of radio amateurs beginning their SOTA ascents of Cadair Berwyn from that point. Maybe the Tan y Pistyll will become an iconic amateur radio/SOTA cafe in the future!
A chocolate fudge brownie and a can of Red Bull was, by design, waiting for me in my car. I was worried that I was going to be feeling very tired for the drive home, but this sugar and caffeine fix seemed to work, as did spending most of the journey chatting on repeaters to my son Jimmy M3EYP.
The final totals for the activations were as follows:
Tuesday 2nd August: 369 QSOs
40m CW: 25
40m SSB: 1
20m CW: 212
20m SSB: 1
2m FM: 38
2m SSB: 86
70cm FM: 6
DXCCs: 41 - 4X, 7X, 9A, CE, CT, DL, E7, EA, ES, EX, F, G, GD, GI, GM, GW, HA, HB, I, IS0, LY, LZ, OE, OH, OK, OM, ON, OZ, PA, RA, S5, SM, SP, SV, UA9, UN, UR, VE, W, YO, YU
Wednesday 3rd August: 8 QSOs
40m CW: 1
20m CW: 7
DXCCs: 4 - F, G, VE, W
Many thanks to all the SOTA chasers that worked me.