Last week I said about the best laid plans et al, once again we were plagued by unforeseen circumstances! The ETD was planned for 08:00 and surprisingly that became the ATD and we set course for the Sperrins expecting to have some snow on the tops. As it turned out, not only was there snow on the tops, there was also quite a lot on the roads. This considerably increased our journey time, we had estimated 1.5 hours, but it actually took nearly 2 hours.
At one point conversation came to an abrupt end when we almost became a 2 man bobsleigh! We were travelling at about 25 MPH and came onto a downhill section of road, Victor, (GI4ONL), tried to apply the brakes but this resulted in locked wheels converting the Land Rover into the aforesaid bobsleigh. Despite trying gentle cadence braking we were still accelerating with a sharp left hand bend about 100 Metres away. At our present speed, and the snow, it was very doubtful if we could have successfully negotiated the turn - HELP! Thankfully an entrance lane-way into a field appeared on our left hand side and Victor somehow managed to steer the sleigh, I mean Land Rover, onto it and we just stopped before running out of road and falling into a deep ditch. Who needs cardiovascular exercise with moments like this. After selecting low ratio and diff lock we slowly continued downhill into the village of Cranagh and got onto a better road. Eventually we arrived at our parking spot after driving along a deeply rutted farm track where ONL exhibited the off-road capability of the Land Rover. At one point JST suggested we should be in a Massey Ferguson but was suitably impressed with the performance of the Landy. Time to get the gear on, let’s see, boots, over-trousers, gaiters, gloves, hats, walking poles, coats packed on top of rucksacks, ok looking good, wow these packs feel heavy. Oops nearly forgot to get the yagi off the roof and stowed on JST’s back! Ready? Ok, onwards and upwards, OMG do we really have 2.5K of this to climb. This being grassy tussocks interspersed with boggy holes making the going quite appalling. Eventually we got onto what we thought was slightly better terrain, but this was false hope because the gaps between the tussocks were filled with snowdrift resulting in some of the slowest progress imaginable. After 1.5 hours of this torturous slog we reached the top. The summit is an unexciting meeting of fences but this is offset by the view it encompasses.
We are getting pretty slick at getting the stations set up and were QRV within 15 minutes and tried to send a spot BUT once again on a summit no phone signal; damn. ONL called on 7.029 & called & called. Finally a response, EI2CL, Mike, who kindly sent a spot, thanks Mike, and from then on several more contacts. On 2 Metres JST was struggling and eventually made 5 contacts before his battery died. The temperature was 0.4° above freezing and there was a strong NW wind so we assume in some way this contributed to the short lifespan of the slab. GI4ONL also noticed the 817 was only reporting 11.5 volts from his similar battery, strange!
For the descent we thought we would try a slightly different route which turned out to be even more laborious than the ascent, but we got back to the Land Rover in just over an hour. Now for the best bit of the day, lunch. Once again Mrs JST had excelled, and once again we consumed way too much food - but it would have been impolite to bring it home.
Fully, (over), fed and watered we headed for the second summit G!/SM-006 with a journey time of 45 minutes predicted by the Tom-Tom. Forty five minutes later we arrived at the Forest Park only to be greeted with signs saying the barriers would be locked at dusk. Let’s see, time to the top 1 hour, set-up, work and pack-up 1 hour, return journey 1 hour = 3 hours minimum, current time 16:00, ah, Houston we have a problem! After finding and ringing the phone number for the ranger we got a voicemail saying this service was only available Mon - Fri. What now? We looked at the barriers and pondered at off-road exits but eventually agreed we couldn’t take the chance of being locked in and decided to abort and head for home. A few miles later we noticed a forest track with a locked barrier, and after a quick consultation of the map it appeared to go to the top - game on. This entrance was off a main road so no chance of a lock-in here. Originally we had hoped for a 2.5Km track through the Forest Park but this one measured approx. 4Km, oh well, here we go. It was now 16:40 and we sent a spot estimating QRV at 17:40, perhaps a little optimistic but we were on top by 17:45 and QRV by 18:00. Time to spot, this is unreal, no bloody signal yet again! ONL had the 1st contact, GW4ZPL who kindly spotted us and JST easily got more than the required 4 contacts, his best DX being Colin & Liz in Cumbria. Amazingly, at 18:20, there was still enough daylight to see the log but it was diminishing rapidly so we decided to go QRT plus it was getting very cold. Time for head torches. We were packed up and ready to go by 18:40 but waited another 10 minutes to marvel at the view, we could see for miles in every direction. A surprise treat was watching the Space Station passing overhead, this took about 3 minutes and as it faded into oblivion we started the trek back to the Land Rover. There is something quite eerie about trudging through a forest in total darkness. At 20:00 we set off for home with an ETA of 21:30 and arrived exactly on cue to be greeted by Carol, (Mrs JST), who had lovingly prepared dinner for us.
This had been a long, but enjoyable, day and neither of us would require sleeping lessons.
To all the chasers, thanks for the contacts.
So, until the next time, 73, we are the Victors (GI4ONL & MI0JST)