BLTN Activation Report

Better Late Than Never - More Lake District Summits
Sunday 25th April 2010 and Monday 26th April 2010

This was our first activation based around accommodation at the Travelodge in Cockermouth, which we can thoroughly recommend. This is one of their more recent buildings and for once the showers worked! We also found a brilliant little pub in a back street in Cockermouth which brewed its own ale which is a little gem. Pity we had to drive back to our accommodation, but perhaps it was better that we had to since we had Skiddaw G/LD-004 first up the following day.

The task during the first day of this sortie was to mop up the western-most summits in the Lakes. As usual, this required an early start with a departure from Northampton at 02:20z and stage 2 of the journey from Stourbridge at 04:00z. The weather was mixed as we headed north up the M6 heralding a day of limited sunshine and variable showers. We arrived at the large car park for Muncaster Castle at SD098967 some 20 minutes early at 07:10 and we were on our way towards the summit at 07:32. The ascent of this summit is a straightforward walk up Fell Lane, with only one chance of going wrong – at the small tarn. We managed to avoid an excursion up the west side of the water, keeping right at the junction and thence over rolling ground to the summit of Muncaster Fell G/LD-055 which is marked by a trig. The walk took us just 36 minutes and was an easy one for us after our 5 week lay-off from activating.

On this summit the ground falls away on all sides so we decided that it would be better if I were located on the highest spot and I used the trig to support my mast. Paul retired to level ground at a slightly lower level to set up for HF and was first to make a contact, 60m being found to be in decent order at 08:25z. The advantage of Paul operating 60m is that it provides an alert system for me on VHF. Don G0RQL was first into Paul’s log and after placing a spot Don went to look for me on 2m SSB. Paul had a steady run of contacts around the UK, including one with Bill GW4WSB/P on Sugar Loaf Mountain GW/SW-011. Geoff GM4WHA was worked without his /A suffix, the new home address having now been acknowledged. In all 19 contacts were made on 60m before Paul attempted a move to 80m at 09:08z. The absence of wall-to-wall Sunday morning nets and rag-chews was an ominous precursor to ten minutes of calling on 3.666 or thereabouts to absolutely no effect. Apart from a few very weak continental stations the band was dead, a condition that prevailed throughout the rest of the day.

Don G0RQL was my first contact on 2m with signals 53 both ways. We attempted a contact on 70cms while his spot “sunk in” and we just managed to exchange callsigns and reports before the QSB brought proceedings on that band to a halt. Back on 2m the troops had assembled with Bill G4USW heading the queue. Signals were quite weak all round, even with local stations. I worked Geoff 2W0BTR/P on Plynlimon GW/MW-001 for a rather unexpected S2S. Geoff said he would be on another summit later to tie in with our activation of Dent, our next target. The frequency went quiet after working Roger G0TRB for my 12th 2m SSB contact at 09:01. After an unanswered round of CQs, I moved to 70cms and was pleased to work Phil G4OBK on CW. At 09:15 I moved to 4m FM and was called by Alex G7RNX followed by John MW1FGQ. I tried a test on 23cms FM with John and copied him easily, but my 280mW only made a fleeting appearance at his QTH, probably courtesy of an aircraft reflection. Back on 4m I worked Dave G6CRV in Heysham, but failed to make a 4th contact on the band, David G6LKB having called in earlier, but now having mysteriously disappeared!

After packing up and taking a few photos in the mist, we started our descent at 09:51, getting back to the car by 10:23. A snack break had been programmed at this point and we stood at the car having soup and a roll while the car park filled with cars – it looked like being a decent day for Muncaster Castle. We set off for our next summit at 10:41, passing a traction engine about a mile up the road which was trundling to some undeclared destination. Paul had programmed his satnav for the next parking spot at the end of Nannycatch Road (NY041139), a mile or so out of Cleator Moor. This gave us easy access to the summit through the forest out to the Coast-to-Coast route which passes over Dent G/LD-045. The downside of this parking spot is that it is the local dog-walking spot – enough said!

The track through the forest is wide and well surfaced. We took a narrower track at NY042134 off to the right that climbed more steeply and swung left. After a while we exited the forest as the upper part has been felled and it was then a matter of keeping patient resisting the potential short-cut until we reached the Coast-to-Coast path. From here the summit was about 400m away, though we couldn’t see it in the mist. There was a strong wind blowing across the summit which I decided to brave, while Paul retired back down the hill to a more conducive position to set up for HF. It was now 11:58z and we were on schedule.

Paul was once again first on air, being pounced upon by Andy MM0FMF/P on Culter Fell GM/SS-049 at 12:13z. A second S2S was made for QSO number 4 when Bill GW4WSB/P was worked once again, this time on Ysgyryd Fawr GW/SW-016. Once again Paul worked 19 on 60m, ending his run with a contact with Tony G4ZIB in Kidderminster at 12:59z. As 80m was still being totally uncooperative, Paul decided to try listening in on 2m and despite his antenna being an HF doublet was surprised to find he could hear most of the stations I was working! He even picked up another S2S, this one being with Simon M1AVV/P on Harter Fell G/LD-028, with 59 reports exchanged both ways despite the unconventional antenna.

I took some time to get set up on the summit as I deployed a plastic tarpaulin to protect both the kit and myself from the rain that was coming across the summit from time to time. The running order this time was rather unusual in that I worked Laurie G6XLL first up followed by Brian G4ZRP and then David G2BOF. Andy MM0FMF/P on Culter Fell GM/SS-049 called in to overload the rig at 12:22z and we moved to 70cms to see what signals were like on that band. Geoff GM4WHA got sandwiched between the two QSOs with Andy. Needless to say Andy was also blisteringly strong on 70cms as the two summits are line-of-sight… Robert GM4GUF called into the QSO, but unfortunately we were not able to hear each other. I left them in QSO and returned to 2m SSB to find Sue G1OHH waiting. Colin 2E0XSD then caused more receiver overload from nearby Frizington. At 13:01z Richard GW3CWI/P was worked on Cyrn-y-Brain GW/NW-043, immediately followed by the second contact of the day with Geoff 2W0BTR/P who was now on Rhiw Gwrraid GW/MW-024. A few more QSOs later, I worked Tom and Jimmy, the EYP team who were with Richard on Cyrn-y-Brain and then a little later Simon M1AVV/P on Harter Fell G/LD-028. At 13:30z I moved back up to 70cms and worked Frank G3RMD on CW followed by Ray GM4CXM on SSB.

Going QRT at 13:40z with 26 QSOs in the bag, I had some difficulty in getting it all packed away in the squally rain and it was not until 13:58 that I was ready to set off. My departure coincided with a group of 4 people crossing the summit on the Coast-to-Coast path and I got into conversation with them. One of them turned out to be Scott WB8ICQ from Atlanta, Georgia. Paul was waiting further down the path and we chatted away explaining all things SOTA until we had to part ways. We reached the car at 14:26, now 20 minutes adrift of our schedule, but it was not an issue as we only had one summit remaining close to Cockermouth.

We arrived at the parking spot for Watch Hill G/LD-044 at NY158314 and carefully parked on the verge which was not particularly wide. An assessment of the route described by Richard G3CWI was made and we decided that it would be easier ascending through the woods rather than up the field alongside, purely on account of the fact that the fence now sports a considerable amount of barbed wire. The ascent was steep, but relatively easy and short and we reached the 254m spot-height in 20 minutes. It was now 15:30z, the time that we had alerted for, but we knew that it wouldn’t be a problem as on this easy summit we would be QRV very soon.

I used a fence post to support my pole which made things easy, having selected the grassy side in the field to operate from. Colin 2E0XSD was first in the log after a few CQ calls followed by Laurie G6XLL who kindly spotted me. David G2BOF was on frequency, but we weren’t immediately able to complete a contact., though we managed it a little later on. The surprise of this activation was being able to make a S2S with Stewart G0LGS/P on Walton Hill G/CE-002 with signals 41 both ways. I had to resort to CW to work Frank G3RMD and John G0TDM gave me a second contact on the mode. Calls on 70cms produced nothing whatsoever – I was not surprised.

Paul had moved down the hill at the edge of the wood to set up his station and he got under way on 60m with a contact with Steve GW7AAV who spotted him. The result was an hour long activation on the band which netted 27 stations, both near and far. The close in contacts were rather difficult, but nevertheless a significant number were achieved to provide a contact for those that were not able to hear me. I finished about 20 minutes before Paul on this occasion, so had ample time to pack away and make my way down to hear Paul’s last few contacts. 80m was still in the doldrums, so was not attempted from this summit though several stations contacted confirmed they had been listening for him on that band from the other summits.

The descent to the car was steep and we had to take care, but it only took eleven minutes. We decided to sort our kit out once we got to the Travelodge car park. After booking in and paying for the car park (yes, an extra £3 added to our expenditure), we convened in Paul’s room for food and an arm-twisting session relating to going down to the pub, which I must say Paul gave into very easily. In the town we found a little pub tucked away called The Bitter End that embodies Cumbria’s smallest brewery. We can certainly recommend this one to anyone who stops over in Cockermouth. Just don’t do what we did – alert for Skiddaw G/LD-004 early the following day. Such arrangements limit the intake of what was a most tasty ale (Lakeland Golden, 4.3% ABV – a light bitter very reminiscent of Paul’s beloved Black Country nectar - Batham’s Best Bitter).

Monday morning saw us on the road by 04:55z, with arrival at the parking spot beyond Underscar (NY281253) 21 minutes later. Needless to say, we were the first to park up. Our ascent started at 05:31, the route initially visible at least in part, but as we climbed conditions changed and from around the 500m level we were well and truly in the clag with visibility down to 30m. Without the benefit of views the ascent was somewhat boring, but we were well and truly freshened up when we reached the summit plateau as we became exposed to the rain and the strong wind that was blowing at that level. This got us talking about whether we would find the same on our second summit of the day, Knott G/LD-023. It was a trudge across the plateau to reach the trig and rough summit shelter and as we walked we quickly concocted and agreed an alternative plan for the remainder of the day.

On reaching the trig, Paul decided that it would be wise to use it to support his pole in the strong wind despite the fact that this meant that he would have to brave the weather. I decided to retreat to the summit shelter and set up my pole against the stone wall which I have done on many occasions when we have operated in poor weather conditions. Our hopes were lifted momentarily as the cloud cleared, but before I could get my camera out we were into the next bank of cloud and remained so thereafter.

Despite spending some time to move a number of large stones to support my pole, I was actually the first to get on. This was not surprising as Paul was having some difficulty setting up, and eventually only deployed his SOTApole to half height. Sue G1OHH was ready waiting for me, as was John G0TDM and I subsequently had a double spot in place before 08:00z. Signals were very mixed, partly on account of the beam dancing around and partly due to conditions. I was joined briefly in the shelter by a gentleman with a light Scottish accent who showed a real interest in what I was doing – he certainly knew all about Marilyns. I was able to demonstrate a QSO as I was working Colin 2E0XSD at the time and the strong signal allowed the headphones to be used as a loudspeaker which was audible even above the wind noise. After about 10 minutes, he declared that he had had enough exposure for the day and would make his way down. In all 2m SSB produced a steady run of 15 contacts before I moved to 70cms at 08:30z. On that band I worked John G0TDM on both SSB and CW, Mike G4BLH on SSB and Frank G3RMD on CW. A quick move to 2m FM netted John M0JBC/M in Lancashire and Keith G0EMM in Workington.

Paul found Frank G3RMD ready waiting on 60m when he opened up at 08:01z. The next 21 minutes produced a total of 11 contacts for Paul before he moved to 80m. Just 4 contacts were made on the lower band – Walt G3NYY, Frank G3RMD, Brian G8ADD and Don G0RQL. After almost 40 minutes of crouching behind the trig, Paul was relieved to conclude his activation and he was packed up before me and so came into the shelter to warm up a little before we descended.

It was 09:04z when we set off back across the summit plateau. Conditions seemed to be marginally better or had we just got used to being out in the wind and rain? Soon we were meeting others intent on topping out Skiddaw and half way down a little below the cloudbase we got into a discussion with a young lady about which was summit on the horizon was Scafell Pike. We were both so amazed that she was wearing a skirt and tights rather than trousers that neither of us noted what she was wearing on her feet!

We reached the car at 10:20 and as we had a snack and another tasty soup, the cloudbase started to lift – oh well, Knott could wait for another day. We had told everyone that we would activate High Rigg G/LD-044 next and so it would be. Being “off piste” as far as a schedule was concerned, we made the mistake of letting the satnav take us towards the summit from the west side. Four wheel drive the Quattro may be, but we decided that the track up from that side was too rough for the vehicle, so we back-tracked and detoured round to the east side and eventually parked up opposite St John’s Church (NY306224) at 11:18z.

The route to the summit started to the right of the youth centre along the road and was well defined, probably on account of the number of young feet that have trodden it. The initial section was quite steep and we found that we both had tired legs – this made us not feel so bad about changing our itinerary! The summit of High Rigg is a surprisingly pleasant rocky outcrop with enough grass to easily set up for VHF. Paul dropped down a level and used the flat area to the east of the summit to set up for HF. By now the weather was quite pleasant and the sun was out, so I stripped off a layer before setting up the kit.

Paul was first to make a contact at 12:08z, this thankfully being with Steve GW7AAV who could actually hear me, so I was to get a contact and a spot as well. There were a few less takers on 60m from this summit, the run of 9 contacts taking a little over 20 minutes and ending with Tony G4ZIB. Moving to 80m, Paul worked another 6 stations, headed by Don G0RQL and including Rodney EI7GAB.

Up on the outcrop, I was relieved to work Steve GW7AAV as this summit is extremely well screened on VHF and there is really only one way direction to beam. This would be a 2m SSB activation that would prove to be a real test. Even the path over to John G0TDM was screened and produced reports of just 53 both ways. Nevertheless, when there are dedicated chasers at the other end, the battle is half won. I think Mike G4BLH was surprised to hear me. No-one was above S5 and most were around S2. Still, I managed some decent distances down to Don G0RQL and Laurie G6XLL. It was also a pleasure to speak to Marjorie M3ULV after David G6LKB to tack another QSO onto the total. I didn’t quite manage double figures, but Paul provided a tenth contact on 70cms FM as we made our descent, so giving me my preferred minimum QSO count.

We reached the car at 13:27 and set off for the final summit of the day, Hallin Fell G/LD-043, Wainwright’s “Motorists Fell”, so declared as it lies at the end of Martindale which is not served by public transport. We parked up at NY330326 at 14:06 and started our ascent to be brought to a halt within a few hundred metres by someone that was descending. This person turned out to be the son of the late G4CJD – small world – amateur radio reference number 2. Little did we know there was more to come.

We reached the summit at 14:36 and spent a few minutes taking in the superb views up and down Ullswater. The summit cairn is something to behold in itself. Having satisfied our visual faculties, we selected a couple of spots away from the tracks across the summit and set up for our final activation of the day. While I was setting up, I called on 144.333 with the FM handheld to see if John G0TDM was around. John heard me, but didn’t quite suss out what was happening until I appeared on SSB at 14:50 all ready to go. John kindly spotted me and I was soon into a run which this time made the magic 10. At 15:24z I moved to 70cms to find Geoff G4WHA/M heading home up the M6. John followed and also worked me on CW when I changed to that mode to see whether I could get my signals down to Frank G3RMD. Unfortunately it was not to be on this occasion. David G6LKB had said he would be looking for me on 70cms, so I decided to change to vertical polarisation and duly worked him, followed to my complete surprise by Brian G4ZRP down on The Wirral. Geoff called back in, now GM4WHA/M to give me a report off the back of my beam. The activation concluded with a chat with David G6LKB on 2m FM until my battery pack said “that’s enough – go home!”.

Paul started on 60m as usual, first up being Don G0RQL followed by the faithful regulars and Peter EI7CC putting in an appearance on this one. Ian M0IAA also made the log and the session on the band finished with a contact with 60m guru Paul G0HNW. Moving to 80m at 15:41z, Paul added a further 6 contacts to his total of 13 on 60m, Ron GW4EVX putting in an appearance on 80m. Paul finished around 15:50 and as he was packing away he got into a conversation with a walker who turned out to be Guy M5GUY who was out for a walk. Hopefully a seed of interest in SOTA was sown by this exchange.

My session finished at 16:00z and I was ready for the descent in ten minutes. We had a last look at the spectacular views and started our descent a couple of minutes later. Guy had told Paul that he had a 2m FM handheld in the car and would like a QSO as we descended, but we were already at the car by the time Guy was ready. After stashing the kit and ridding ourselves of our boots and thermal layers, we had a snack before leaving for home at 16:54z. The run down to Stourbridge took just over 3 hours and it was 21:30z by the time I arrived at my home in Northampton. This was just 20 minutes later than originally planned.

So, another successful round of activations under the belt. We were particularly pleased with the support of the regular chasers when we changed our itinerary. Thanks to everyone who supported us on this round of summits and to those that kindly spotted us. The next couple of sorties are planned and we are working on plans for the autumn. This may seem to be mechanical to some involved in SOTA, but living so far from the summits, advance planning is an absolute necessity.

73, Gerald G4OIG

This may seem to be mechanical to some…

Not at all. I live somewhat closer to the summits than you, but nonetheless, sufficiently distant from remaining uniques that they need to be carefully planned either as holidays, overnighters or long day trips. Thankfully, Jimmy has already worked out the clusters of summits we will target over the summer, and thankfully I will continue to punctuate these with scoring and non-scoring repeats!

From from being mechanical, I find the research and planning is all part of the fun, and I suspect you do too!

Great report (again) which I enjoyed reading.