Ben Lawers GM/CS-001 in the mist

GM/CS-001 Ben Lawers
Thursday, 10th August 2023

As I hadn’t been up on the hills since April, my fitness, or rather the lack of, dictated my choice of summits for this outing. I was initially thinking of repeating my failed outing to activate GM/CS-010 and GM/CS-041 in April, but I decided to activate summits where the public would be around in case I needed assistance. As it happened everything went fine and I have had very few aches. My ankles and feet did suffer because the 11km route was all on established stony paths, whereas I often walk to summits over boggy or soft ground which although more challenging in some ways, is generally kinder on the feet.

I set out from my Northumberland base at 03:00 local time and the now familiar journey to the Ben Lawers car park run by the National Trust for Scotland went without a hitch. I arrived at 06:37, just as others were also arriving to wake up the camper van brigade ensconced in the car park. Once out of my car, it wasn’t long before the local midge population descended and it was then a rush to get ready and set off… of course I’d forgotten to pack my repellant! I was on my way by 06:58 on the route to Ben Lawers described on the Walkhighlands website.

Typical view of the excellent path on the lower section of the walk.

As I said, the route is on man made paths the entire way. It starts at the 430m level and with 690m of ascent there is very little height lost en route to the 1103m high HEMA summit of Beinn Ghlas GM/HCS-012. Thankfully I soon left midgeland behind and made good progress to where a new deer fence was under construction at around 650m. Shortly after this, the track split and I took the route on the right to directly ascend to Beinn Ghlas which I would activate first. At this point the track steepened sharply and I soon entered the mist layer which restricted visibility to around 20m. The dampness created a heavy dew which made the stony path rather slippery so I proceeded with caution. I took a short pause every so often and a longer break at 825m where there was a large boulder to perch on. I had allowed an extremely generous 3 hours for the 4km ascent on account of not being hill-fit. I reached the wet and windy summit at 09:32 to find the smallest summit cairn I have ever seen.

Beinn Ghlas summit cairn… blink and you’ll miss it.

After a quick photo of the inadequate summit marker and checking on OSMAnd that this actually was the summit, the first thing I wanted was to find was shelter. To the north-west was a steep drop-off, so I looked on the south-east side and found a large rock formation which provided exactly what I was looking for. I checked this was within the activation zone before setting up. A gap in the rocks also provided an easy means of supporting the pole, though I found that the pole needed some maintenance before I could get up and running on 40m SSB at 10:10 local (09:10z). I made a total of 15 contacts before the run dried up which was good enough for me, so it was onwards and upwards and I was off to Ben Lawers at 10:15z.

Eroded trig point on the summit of Ben Lawers.

I had dried out when I set off, but the weather was to get worse before it got better. The walk between the summits took an hour plus another 5 minutes chatting to the maintenance crew working on the path, one of whom was an ex-military radio op. I was surprised that they were out there working in the poor weather conditions. It was still very misty with drizzle in the air when I reached the summit at 11:20z, so I dropped down to a grassy area to set up where it was much calmer, at least initially. As I was putting up the antenna it actually started to rain, but thankfully it eased as I settled down to operate. Unfortunately as I sat down, so did another 10 people… some under my antenna. The hazard of activating a popular summit at lunchtime.

In the mist… with the trig and topograph behind.

I did wonder whether I would have further issues on account of the weather and indeed I did. The 817 mic was damp and refused to work so I stuffed it inside my jacket and prepared to start on 40m CW. This mode was also blighted by the damp, the 817 deciding the narrow gap on the straight key was equal to key down, so out came the tool kit once again to allow me to open the gap right up. As a result, my morse was not exactly brilliant. Once I had it keying okay, I put out a call and Phillippe ON7GO was first in the log at 12:08z. After making a number of contacts, I heard /P coming through the pile up. An S2S with Bruno HB9CBR/P on Hasenmatt HB/SO-001 was the result. In all I worked 23 on 40m CW around G, GW, ON, PA and DL. Signals further afield were rather weak and I only scraped contacts with Manuel EA2DT and Graziano IW2NXI.

The frequency went quiet at 12:33z, so I tried SSB and success… the mic had dried out. Declan EI6FR was first to call me at 12:36z followed by a string of regular chasers. Pedro EA2CKX managed to get through and at the end of the run so did SP6KEP. In all 15 were worked on 40m SSB. At this point I realised that the wind had changed direction and I was now getting rather chilled, but I was conscious that there was little other than northern Europe in my log. I had already decided that I didn’t want to change antennas to run 2m and I was tempted to call it a day at this point, but I decided to give 30m a quick try. Tonnie PA9CW was first in the log on the band at 12:59z to be followed by another 19. The run included several G calls, PA44WFF/P in PAFF-0234, Colm EI9FY/P on Sorrell Hill EI/IE-014 and Tom HB9EVF/P on Aeugsterberg HB/ZH-012.

Set up on the summit… untidy, but it sufficed.

After packing up, I left the summit at 13:55z (14:55 local) and took the direct route back to reach the car park at 16:50 local. It was 21:21 local when I got back to base courtesy of roadwork delays… 356 miles, 7 hours 45 minutes on the road. Still damp when I got in (me and the kit), but I’d had one brilliant day. Can’t wait to get out again… I must be mad!

73, Gerald G4OIG


I think all of us on here suffer from the same kind of madness!

Thanks for an excellent report and photos. I’m glad you were able to take to the mountains again and have a successful activation.

73, Matthew M0JSB


Well done Gerald. I activated the same peak about 2 weeks ago and judging from your photo, set up in exactly the same spot.


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I was lucky, only 3 people came and sat next to me!

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I was hoping for some decent views, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Anyway, there are plenty more summits in the area to activate, so I will be able to get some worthwhile photos in time. At least the propagation was reasonable for me on this one. :grinning:

73, Gerald


Thanks Gerald for a report I enjoyed reading. Also for the route info. I must say you got me quite interested. Looks like a bag of cement is needed.

According to the missus, we should to be going up near Pitlochry next month so here’s hoping for decent WX and just as important, a low midge count!
Thanks again - useful.
73, John

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Hi John,

I hope that you get up to Pitlochry in a midge-free and dry period. I will keep a look out for your alerts and hopefully manage a contact sometime during your stay.

If I were activating Ben Lawers again, I’d take the route that I descended on to the coll between the summits and then on up to Lawers summit. I gathered from the maintenance crew that the path up Beinn Ghlas was laid sometime in the 80s or 90s. It was laid in the old style of ramming rocks in tight angled to the slope of the ground and infilling between with grit. While this has worn well over the years, the rocks become slippery in wet weather and can cause problems for the unwary. The paths are now being laid as stone steps with grit surfaced sections on the flatter areas between which, although taxing stepping up, is much safer. The maintenance crew are a team of just 4 people. I spoke with 2 of them on the ascent and a third had joined them by the time that I descended. I thanked them for their invaluable work, especially working out in the wet. It is hard physical work!

73, Gerald


Thanks Gerald,
I will favour that way too if I get there that is? Thanks for the slippy path tip. In my case more care is needed on made-up paths than natural. It may be due to muscle monotony but I am more likely to fall, especially on the descents if the back edge of the boot heel doesn’t clear cleanly.

I hope there’ll be some HF at some point and I can work you but there wasn’t in June. All VHFM I’m afraid. At one time I was asking myself how I could add further challenge. Nowadays it’s much more likely to be the easy option! Sad isn’t it. HI.

I was looking at your photos. Looks like a coat but maybe a combined ground sheet and sit mat. Looks good. The weather doesn’t though. Murk and damp. No wonder the rig complained. Hoping for better but not really expecting it. Pessimist!
73, John

I have to be careful in my Berghaus Kibo winter boots. The soles are super grippy and I have to ensure my steps have adequate clearance. Usually there’s no problem in snow of course!

Well none of us are getting any younger John. Amazingly it’s 5 years since I was “replumbed” and I’m doing okay so far. Part of my problem (and perhaps yours) is that I cannot attain hill fitness as my time between outings is taken up with other things. I have to do these activations with the fitness level I have without any real preparation. Four mile walks around the area I live in, even with a heavy backpack, are never going to properly prepare me for the hills.

I can see simplification of the kit becoming part of what I will have to do in time. That will limit my options for operating. I’m currently carrying around 10kg with my water ration. Something will have to go sometime… maybe my beloved 2m SSB, which unfortunately was a casualty of the weather on this outing.

Nothing so complicated John. It’s just a 1.8m x 1.2m tarp with a separate rubberised sit mat. I usually open the tarp out to half its area. The full length comes in useful for making a combined sitting area and wind break against a fence or using my walking poles with suitable guying. I take a larger tarp when I doing the S2S events so I can rig a reasonable shelter.

Part of the problem for me is that I am not a fair weather activator. I have to get out there in whatever the weather throws at me. It is not often possible to adjust dates and when I have been able to, it hasn’t been entirely plain sailing (Beinn Corranaich last April). How I can maintain all-weather capability going forwards, I’m not sure. It’s something that occupies quite a bit of my thinking time!

73, Gerald


Much the same mind wrestling that I recognize in myself. When I was working I had no choice but to go out in all weathers. Now I try to pick and chose but when fixed dates clash with unsuitable weather eg VHF-NFD or new-year camp-overs, I’m back to no choice. I doubt there’ll be any more of the latter. A ‘survivable’ forecast only comes once in 5-years.

OK on the tarp. Now I see. I don’t have one but maybe I should. You could configure it in different ways with your walking poles but I don’t use those so it wouldn’t be as versatile. I can see that it would be good for fences in an L-shape.

I certainly struggle more mentally than physically at the moment as in the past but you’re right; walking around home doesn’t deliver the goods for SOTA as my walking friend Will(iam) found out when he first came out with me.

I tried winter boots only once - Ben Nevis in February 2006. I didn’t like them. Soles too stiff. Made me fall over on the way down on that block path. Two 7.5Ah Lead acids right in the back of the neck hurt quite a bit. I would much rather break the rule and strap my crampons onto standard boots for the odd occasion. Terrible I know!

You inspired my to revisit the route for Lawers. That’s not to say I’ll try it though but there’s the option.

You and I will keep doing what we can with what we’ve got. At least we’ve got the advantage of experience which counts for quite a lot.

All the best, John


As in…

Well Hill GM/SS-112 June 2014

Scaw’d Fell GM/SS-142 December 2018

A tarp also lends itself to other configurations, often untidy, but who cares! As for walking poles, well Paul G4MD kindly bought me a pair of super lightweight Leki poles some years ago. For a while they were not utilised… surely poles are for old fogies, aren’t they? Anyway, we were doing the two Lomond hills and Bishop Hill in Fife and approached West Lomond GM/SS-154 up a steep and slippery grassy slope. For the first time out came the poles and they made it so easy that they are now used almost every ascent. Maybe I’ve become an old fogie! :grinning:

73, Gerald

P.S. My winter boots are only B1 rated and have some flexibility, but they weigh quite a bit.


Be careful where you sit down on Ben Lawers, it is home to some very plants, one of which seems confined only to the activation zone. Climate change seems to be the problem. Getting too warm for them, even in Scotland. :frowning:


Useful! There’s some proofed nylon tent flysheet material somewhere in the house. One could be made for use on appropriate tops but maybe it’s too thin.

I do call myself a codger sometimes. It started off as a joke but now?..

Even if I had some, I probably wouldn’t use poles for going up but when it’s steep and ‘terraced’ an antenna section comes in very handy to safeguard me down gently. Saves knees too.

Pretty plant. I will try not to damage it if I see one or any other alpines. Thanks for the heads-up.

73, John


Use what you’ve got I say, but maybe peg it down?. Mine has luminescent yellow tape on it so I can find it if it takes off. I lost a tarp on a summit once in a hoolie, but that is one of the perils of being an all-weather activator. Just stood up and it was gone - searched a long distance down wind, but no sign. :frowning:

Walking poles are great for assisting with steep descents and crossing streams of course. Having 4 “feet” on the ground is better than 2 on such occasions. I well remember the “3 points on the rock face at all times” rule I learnt back in my teens when I spent many happy days climbing Derbyshire gritstone. :grinning:

73, Gerald


Me too! Great North Road and Valkerie being some the most memorable climbs I did in the dark Peak. Higgar Tor is memorable for different reasons. Scary, skin shredding & overhanging!


Yep and some cracking chimneys as well on various routes. My climbing partner almost got stuck in one… he had the guidebook in a front pocket and he had to ask me for some slack to wriggle down a bit to get the book out. It took quite a bit of effort to get free. He had been able to take all four points off the rock, well and truly jammed in… :joy: