Easter NS Expedition

If it’s nearly Easter then it must be time for another expedition to the far North of Scotland!

Accommodation is booked for Tue 22nd onwards up near Wick. There aren’t too many big summits up here but lots of infrequently activated 1pt summits. The plan is to activate a spread of bands and modes whilst trying for uniques and 12m multipliers as the challenge is drawing to a close.

Target include Morven and his mates Smean, Scaraben & Maiden Pap (GM/NS-067, GM/NS-083, GM/NS-113, GM/NS-116). You can’t do them all in one day if you intend to play radio as well. But Morven and Smean and maybe Maiden Pap are SOTAble in one hit if you get an early start and don’t mince about on the way up and down. I’ll try for as many other NS/ES/CS summits as can be fitted in during my 3 days away.

Things to bag on the way up and down the A9 include Ord Ban ES-074, Mount Eagle NS-151, Hill of Nigg GM/NS-152, Tom Bailgeann GM/CS-113, Meall Mor GM/CS-109 & Creag nan Clag GM/CS-119.

It would be nice to pick up 8 uniques and 12m multipliers. Of course, all of this depends on the highly dependable Scottish weather. Watch out for alerts for next Tuesday onwards.


In reply to MM0FMF:
Andy, be careful at Easter not to pour any steaming liquids down a rabbit hole. The result will be a hot cross bunny…tee hee.

Elliott, K6EL
Chaser Clown

In reply to MM0FMF:
Of course,

all of this depends on the highly dependable Scottish weather.

Oh, it’s dependable, alright - but not in a good way!

I hope your plans include 40 and 60 SSB, I’ve got far too few ticks for NS summits!


Brian G8ADD

In reply to MM0FMF:

To catch a sight of you mincing up a hill would be worth getting up early with a camera! In fact, I might even be persuaded to come and have a stroll to get the legs back into gear again.


Barry GM4TOE

In reply to GM4TOE:

MOTA? Mincing on the air? Maybe not.

In reply to G8ADD:

I hope your plans include 40 and 60 SSB, I’ve got far too few ticks for NS

Yes. Much like the last 2 expeditions. Bit of HF and a bit of LF, some SSB some CW. I had a look at trying for some unactivated NS summits of which there are still many. But they’re all a bit of a slog. When you couple that with the cost of getting there and staying a few days and it’s hard to justify on a cost/benefit level. So bagging a bunch of easier ones seems to give more bang per buck. Having seen pictures of Morven and having seen it in the distance from my last NS trip, it’s a must do if possible.

I’ve checked the OFCOM Sitefinder web site and checked and all targets are LOS to a cell site for self spotting. Best choice is 3/O2/Vodaphone. B&B has Wifi. I’m just giving all the SOTA gear a good coat of looking at. It’s amazing how things degrade with regular use. I’ll take a bunch of spare patch leads etc. just-in-case.


I’m just packing the gear ready for this now. For a while I didn’t think I’d be well enough as I have been laid up with a really bad cold. That seems to be subsiding now. (Sudafed (pseudoephedrine hydrochloride) and Metformin is a drug mix I would advise you to avoid based on the interesting experience I had today!)

I’ve put generic alerts up for now and I’ll try to update with more accurate info as and when I know what I’ll be doing. It looks like I’ll be trying to out run the rain on the way North. Wednesday looks fair to good and that may be the day for the bigger walks. Thursday looks like I’ll be asking to board Mr. Noah’s Ark :frowning: Friday looks bonny for a few easy bags on the way back South.

Expected frequencies and modes:
CW: 14.062+/- 18.086+/- 21.062+/- 7.033+/- 24.906+/-
SSB: 7.118 14.285 18.145 24.945

The SSB freqs are pure guesses of course.

I should be able to spot by phone on most summits judging by Ofcom’s Sitefinder database of phone masts. However, I’m not going somewhere as remote as Caithness without some super spot technology. So I’ll be trying out my Iridium based satellite up link. I hope it works as well as it did from the shack window.


Day #1:

I knew I’d be racing the bad WX North but it beat me :frowning:

Ord Ban ES-074

My first SOTA failure! I got to the summit and set up and the WX looked OK. I sent a spot with my new satellite based spotting system. That worked FB and was the first time it has been tested live from a summit. The software needs more work but it’s viable now :slight_smile: Then the rain spots started. OK, a shower I can live with that. Then it got worse and worse. After 5mins cowering by a large rock I gave up, packed up and set off at Usain Bolt speed.

Mount Eagle NS-151

I have to pass this summit on the way North and there is hardly any effort needed. So that means I can walk along the tracks in the forest with an umbrella. Just like G4YSS does. So I was able to get to the AZ quite dry. Why not wear your wet weather gear? I’d have to dry it ready for the main walks, so it’s easier to not get it wet yet.
At the top I decided 24MHz in the middle of trees is going to be iffy so LF was the choice. 40m CW worked well but was quite quiet. I sent an SMS for a 40m SSB freq but it remained as barren as the Atacama Desert. Brian G4ZRP heard me, worked me and sent and SMS. Still no trade. I QSYd to a better frequency and managed to get a real net connection and was found by Phil G4OBK who was bemused to see several spots for the wrong frequency arrive. More damn SMS network delays. Time to investigate this further.

After 40m I switched to 30m CW. Not been here for a long time. Boy was there a pile up. There was something about 30m that mad me think that it will be my priority band once the 12m Challenge finishes.

  • 49 QSOs in the end in 1hr30 mins operating.
  • Satellite modem proven in the field.
  • Not too sure my new boot footbeds are the right ones for my feet. Old boots tomorrow.

Now to check the WX for tomorrow.

Andy, MM0FMF
somewhere in IO88

In reply to MM0FMF:
Hi Andy,
I also find 30m band very, very interesting with chances for short, medium and long distance contacts at a time. That’s why I’ve been using it on almost all of my activations.
A good and bad thing about 30m is that most of the chasers don’t have any beams for this band, with most of them using dipoles or long wire antennas, so in pretty much the same or similar working conditions. This is good.
The bad thing is that being the chasers without high gain beam antennas, the chances for a qrp activator to be copied very far away from the summit are less.
But another good thing is that the satisfaction, should a great DX take place, will be greater for both, the activator and the chaser, :slight_smile:
Best 73 de Guru - EA2IF

In reply to MM0FMF:

I sent a spot with my new satellite based spotting system.
That worked FB and was the first time it has been tested live from a
summit. The software needs more work but it’s viable now :slight_smile:

Ooooh, that sounds interesting. What are you using; Yellow Brick, De Lorme, or something else?

Of course this could have positive safety of life implications.


PS good luck with the rest of the trip.

In reply to MM0FMF:
Hi Andy,

nice to read that your SOTA Expedition is running well and it seems that you are feeling much better now.

Tomorrow I will be at home so I am looking forward to qsoing with you.

Best 73 and good luck.

David Quental

In reply to MW0WML:

It consists of an Iridium SBD modem unit (Rock7 Rockblock), antenna, USB serial interface and PSU, a Raspberry Pi, a USB Wifi dongle and a battery. You also need some device with Wifi (a phone, tablet). The modem has a 5F capacitor it charges slowly from the USB, so it takes 3 mins from cold to be ready. Then you can send a message every 30 secs.

The Pi boots and acts as a normal Wifi access point. If you plugged an ethernet cable in you could use it just like a home wifi router. On top of that it runs a tiny webserver. So you turn on the Pi with the Wifi dongle and modem attached and wait 3 minutes for the modem to charge its 5F (5 farads) capacitor. Then you surf to a local web page with your smartphone and you get to see the link status to the satellites. If it says OK, you enter the details of the summit, just like Spotlite and hit spot. 30secs later the spot appears on SOTAwatch.

The software is basic but functional and is a few hundred lines of Python code. That’s the only custom bit. Apart from the modem, all the parts came from Ebay, Pi (£30), Pi case (£3), a 5V PSU (£4), Wifi dongle (£6). The modem is a bit more, £159+VAT and data costs £8/month for access and ~15p for 50 bytes sent or received. You buy messages up front and they last until you use them. You buy access in monthly chunks. So you can buy some time and use some messages then leave it for 6 months and buy some more access. It’s not cheap like mobile phones, but phones don’t work everywhere and this will work when you can see enough sky for a GPS to work. If you can see a hemisphere of sky the link is always ready to TX/RX. With less sky visible, there are times when you may have to wait upto 7 minutes for a satellite.

The message arrives from me via satellite to Southampton eventually as and then is sent as an email to the server which handls SMS spots in North America. There it gets reformatted so it looks like the traffic that server deals with and is injected into SOTAwatch. Job done! I did think about bouncing it around the world a bit more but it’s gone me>satellite>more sats>Arizona>Southhampton>Washington State>UK !

Looking out the window it’s a bit foggy, I can hear the odd lorry on the A9 but I can’t seem them and it’s not 50m! Should be OK further inland.


Day #2:

There was serious fog. So much fog I drove up behind another car and only saw his lights at 20m from him. “Put you fog lights on numbnuts” I said. Ah, they are his foglights, his normal rear lights wear barely visible :frowning:

And the forecast was for it to get better near Kinbrace. The forecast was right but 4 hours late. By the time I got to Helmsdale the worst of the fog was gone. By Kinbrace there was lots of blue sky. Oh yes, could be good.

The drive from Helmsdale up Strath of Kildonan is sublime. 18miles of single track road but what a road. It follows the Helmsdale River, one of the best Salmon rivers in the world. All along the river there were posh Range Rovers parked up and the vehicles have special fittings so a fly fishing rod can be transported when set up. The views to the hills, covered in Gorse that is flowering were awesome. As were the old house you pass. For a single track road, I could go for long periods at the 35mph with taking any risks.

There’s parking for several cars near the the start of the track to Greamachary Farm. The walk starts with about 4.5km along a rough track to the now deserted farmhouse. It maybe used as a stalker’s refuge now though. The cloud was still low here, patches of blue but near the summit of the day the cloud reformed. And what a summit it was… Ben Griam Beg NS-091, so far unactivated. It’s trivial to do: walk 4.5km to Greamachary, cross the burn (old bridge is ok still) cross about 1km of blanket bog, climb a steep bank to the ridge, climb a damn silly steep summit cone. Ta Da! Maybe this is why it’s not been done before?

The bog was better than I expected. But it’s been quiet dry these last few weeks. After a wet spell this could be exceptionally wet, maybe dangerous. Heather, tussock grass, moss, bog, peat… lovely! The ground improves on the steeper parts butg it’s still dire. Of course it would be nice if I could see where I was going. Into the gloop and keep going up. Finally I reached the ridge. A massive herd of deer ran past. Onwards and upwards.

It gets silly now, the GPS said 841m horizontally to the summit and 150m to climb, steep but not bad. So having battled on I was saddened to see it say 380m to target and 120m to climb. Gordon Bennett was it steep. Being in the clag I couldn’t see how steep so I just kept swearing under my breath. Then bingo, trigpoint and a wind shelter. The shelter was no use, open to the wind. I dropped down behind the summit where it was quite sheltered.

First 40m CW then 40m SSB then 30m CW. All good stuff. I decided that I do this one summit properly as I was late leaving the B&B, later due to the fog, later still due to badly estimating the time to travel to Kinbrace and much later because I’m a flabby bloater who struggled to get up the steep bits over the rough ground! I got up to change the antenna for 20m and was almost blown over. The cloud had been coming and going and there had been sunny periods but I didn’t get a view. What I hadn’t noticed was the increase in wind speed. It was now manic. With ~2hr walk out and no idea if the WX would get worse I decided bail out. I realise there have been no opportunities for DX chasers, I shall try to remedy that.

It took 2hrs to get back to the car. By the time I was back to Greamachary Farm, Ben Giram Beg was clear of cloud. Damn! Well the cloud did come and go as I walked out. I got some photos but I think they will murky at best. I’ll push some up later.

Why Ben Griam Beg? Well this was my 250th unique and I though that deserved an unactivated summit. What better than one of the very remote NS summit? Morven, my primary target is about 8miles from where I am staying. It’s been foggy all day here and to do Morven in zero visibility seems a waste whne there are other summits. Maybe not as spectacular as Morven, but damn fine anyway.

Seeing a farmer on a quad bike with a newborn lamb in his arms and his dog with its paws on the handle bars escorting several hundred sheep. I had to wait 5min for them to pass and he stopped to thank me. Dude I’m on holiday and you’re working, of course I can wait!

Sitting on the lip of the boot (trunk) of the car looking at the summit eating a post walk orange. I was about 50m from the rail line and a train went past. The driver blew the train horn and waved at me. Where on earth does a train driver do that? Fantastic!

Actually doing 250 uniques!

I managed not to work Brian G4ZRP. He’s the man who got me into SOTA. I feel fairly bad for not getting him in the log.

The WX looks rubbish tomorrow till mid afternoon. So I’ll do tourist stuff (John O’Groats etc.) until the WX breaks.


In reply to MM0FMF:

Hi Andy - I think there was fog on the bands as well today. The QSB was wicked. So pleased to work you on 10MHz. It was good to be able to bag the second Griam - just need to get up there to activate them for two more completes. :slight_smile:

Hope the WX improves - very wet and dreary down here at the moment. Will be looking for you work permitting. Seems that I am becoming a chaser, but only for SOTA Complete you understand. Tell that to the guys outside the UK. :wink: Congrats on the 250.

73, Gerald G4OIG

In reply to MM0FMF:


Congratulations on the 250 uniques; disappointing conditions but you seem to have had a good day. Glad to catch you on Mount Eagle but I couldn’t hear you at all yesterday.


In reply to MM0FMF:
Hi Andy,
it seems that you have been a great time in NS. Yesterday I did not heard you, maybe today.
I hope your flu is gone.

Best 73 and a lot of fun.

David Quental

In reply to MM0FMF:
Congrats on the 250, Andy. Sorry to miss you, I hung on as long as I could before being dragged away, by the time I got back you were on CW!



In reply to MM0FMF:
Congratulations on the 250 uniques. I have to say that is one of the things I enjoy most about SOTA, doing new hills. I’ve repeated loads of hills in North Wales which I had ascended in the 30 years before I discovered SOTA, but the joy of new summits is hard to beat.

Thanks for the info on the Iridium set up. I am thinking of a Delorme InReach which would give me the chance to send text messages from anywhere.

For safety I carry a standard COSPAS/SARSAT PLB from McMurdo - their Fast Find 220.


In reply to MM0FMF:
Well done on the 250 uniques. I’ve been concentrating on uniques since getting MG (with a eye on completes). I’d been hoping to catch you on Mount Eagle to make that a complete for me, but I’m back at work this week :frowning:

I remember cowering by the large rock on Ord Ban: it rained on us too, but we did manage to activate it. Nice little hill, shame about the weather.

Hope you get better weather for the rest of the trip.


In reply to MM0FMF:

Hi Andy,

Congratulations on the 250 uniques. Enjoy the rest of your stay in NS! I’m only slightly jealous…

73 de Paul G4MD

Day #3:

As predicted it was foggy. And raining. And windy. Horrible in fact. I had no alternative but to have another cooked breakfast and hope the forecast for the afternoon was accurate. So far the WX forecasts had been blob on. Nothing to do on a wet morning? Well visit the Old Pulteney Distillery in Wick. I had to feel my way up the A9/A99 the fog was so thick!

This was the best distillery tour I’ve done. All distilleries are the same except they’re all unique! The buildings are so small here that everything is squeezed in and you get right up close and personal with the gear. This is a small distillery by Glenmorangie standards with only 2 stills. ISTR Glenmorangie has 10 stills. Best part was standing in the aging warehouse, the smell is sublime. Actually the best part was having a dram at 0945Z. Now can someone explain why a dram in a distillery tastes sublime when the last time I had a bottle of Old Pulteney I was not impressed. If it now tastes like what I had then I want a whole barrel of the stuff.

Next call John O’Groats. A craphole of a desolate place. Well the hotel is open now and has been painted and there was a nice coffee shop with a log burning stove helping to dry out bikers et al. And tat shops. Some of the worst in Scotland, tartan toilet paper and shortbread and ginger wigs. Yeuch! I got a photo of the signpost, 3230 miles to New York, 274miles to Edinburgh. Is it only 274miles back home? Why does it seem like I’ve been driving for a week? OK, ‘The Groots’ done, next Dunnet Head. Now I said to the XYL we’d been here many years back but she said we were going to but one of the kids felt sick so we didn’t go. Given the doubt I stopped here for a photo. Now it’s definite, I’ve visited Northern most point, Dunnet Head, Western most, Ardnamurchan Point, Eastern most, Cromer, Southern most, The Lizard. 4 ticks in boxes, done!

Next Dounreay… the white hot tip of British technology, the Fast Breader Reactor. Sadly UK Govs. (assorted flavours) found this to be a bit expensive so they pulled the plug in 1994. Since then they’ve spent a bazillion pounds taking away the ‘hot’ stuff. Still the famous reactor explosion containment vessel is a Grade II Listed building and is safe. Could do with some paint. Photo taken and that of HMS Vulcan where they build submarine reactors. By now the sun was breaking through so I hightailed it back to Dunbeath then up the strath to Braemore. The road is rough and narrow and you crest a rise and see Maiden Pap NS-116 for the 1st time. So stunning I nearly drove off the road. Down to the bridge and phone box and I parked up in blazing sun. Boots on, gear packed and we’re off at 1330Z. Having missed G4ZRP I’d arranged with Geoff G6MZX for him to contact Brian if Geoff heard me. I thought I’d call Brian from the phonebox… dead :frowning:

There wasn’t much time for more than Maiden Pap. I had to inject and eat around 1900Z so allowing for walking, driving, operating, there was time for just one summit. I followed the track to the end of the woods then headed straight for the summit. All the time thinking, “you can’t climb that without ropes”. Even though it’s less steep from the South, it looks impossible. The straight route is across bog. There’s lots of bog in Caithness. I was aiming for the Eastern ridge hoping it would be better ground for the final approach. Wrong! It’s bog on a slope. How do you get water on a slope? Come to Caithness!

As I got much nearer what looked impossible became just very, very steep. After a quick breather I went for it from the South. It’s good grass, heather surface and it’s very solid so I was able to go almost straight up without worry. There’s a flat bit at 471m, in the AZ and big enough for a 40m inverted V. This is where I lost my 5th tent peg. Down to 5 from the original 10 I bought in 2006. Damn!

I was just in and out of the mist here and it was blustery. But basically OK WX. Up went the 40m antenna. 40 SSB went well apart from the 2?0 station who thought he was working me, but actually was replying to Ian GW8OGI’s overs in our QSO. You didn’t work either of us! Very poor operating. Apart that it was FB on 40SSB. Then 40 CW. Then 24CW where I managed to qualify the summit but no DX really. Then 18CW. I managed to give a duff spot via satellite for 18CW, I was on NS-116 not NS-113. Funny I had no phone signal at the summit, but halfway up I had texts from Geoff G6MZX, Brian G4ZRP, my dentist rang asking if I could make a cancellation and so did a company locating some missing share certificates from my late mother’s estate. The phone didn’t stop. As I looked about at the lack of anything but hills and bogs it was quite amusing that the phone kept ringing!

I climbed to the topmost top and stood there looking out at not a lot. Morven was still misty at the top and murky about 4.5km distant. Smean’s Tors were misty but obvious. And Scaraben? Oh Scaraben looked the most sexy and desirable summit you have ever seen with her grey rocks and brown/green slopes and the most beautiful cloud cap forever billowing over the 3 tops. Wow!

Time to go, the descent was easy though looked a bit scary at first. Then down the slippery sloping bog to the flat bog. Squish! Squish! Squish! Squish! Squish! Squish! Then the path. Back through the buildings of Braemore Lodge I heard a sound known well to diesel geeks… a Lister twin powering a generator, there is no mains electricity at Braemore. In fact the woman who ran the B&B said mains electricity arrived in Dunbeath village as late as 1957.

I managed to get back to the B&B, showered and injected just in time to get the last meal at the restaurant. Otherwise I would have had a 30+mile drive to get a hot meal. Phew.

This summit alone on a sunny afternoon made the whole trip worth while. If it was all I had done I would be happy. As for the other Morven summits, well I am so envious of Ian MM0GYX who did them all last year. They have such a visual appeal I will have to come back to claim them one day. It’s just a case of getting the WX right but I now know where to stay.