GM/ES-049 Ladylea Hill 609 m
Wednesday 8th March 2023
It had snowed for the previous two days. Sub-zero temperatures overnight preserved the fresh powder. I awoke to sunshine and blue skies on Wednesday - a real alpine scene all around. The only thing was, I had chores to do. Fortunately one of those was welding a Land Rover door. Not something I fancied doing in 10 cm of snow and freezing temperatures.
Mo was decorating the bathroom and decided she wouldn’t get out for a walk. At lunch, she could see I was restless, “chomping at the bit” if you like. Permission gained to go and do some SOTA, but where? Morven is a walk I can do from the house, but I’ve only ever activated it in winter. I’d like to save it for a summers day this year. I also discounted the five SOTA summits between my home and workplace - they will make good SOTA/commute/cycle activities in the summer. I didn’t have time for a big mountain and didn’t want to drive too far, so in the end settled for a 20 minute drive over to Strathdon and then up the minor road that heads north towards Glen Buchat. This led me to the foot of the short (2.3 km) walk up Ladylea Hill.
parking at NJ 335 176
I followed the forest track up to a dog-leg and then a long gradual ascent through a broad gap in the trees. A vehicle had gone before me, making the walking easier thanks to compacted snow under its tread.
up the main track
I was travelling pretty light. I wore my Buffalo shirt, Paramo trousers, Scarpa Manta boots, and all that was in my pack was the KX2 bag, the EFHW, back up 41’ random, 6 m mast, some water and my Nikon dSLR. Despite the freezing conditions, I was soon too warm. The Buffalo shirt allows for venting via zips, but that only does so much when one is puffing up a hill!
The large forest clearing was soon reached. From here, a narrower gap in the trees took me up to a fence, a style and the open hillside. I should have really brought snow shows, as the snow on the hill was deeper than expected. Often in Scotland, open slopes are scoured of snow by the wind. Not today though.
up the narrower gap, the trees still heavy with fresh snow and deep powder underfoot
random cairn half way up, with The Buck of Cabrach GM/ES-039 in the far distance
A sign at the deer fence informed me that the upper slopes had been planted with mixed woodland. No problem here as the vehicle track was still visible, although banked out with snow. Further on, I left the track and headed up through the heather and small trees. Hard going due to the snow not taking my weight and having to push through the springy heather. I can’t remember if there is a path up this bit, as I’ve only once been up here without snow cover.
climbing the recently planted slopes
A wonderful 360 degree view was revealed from the top. Nothing too dramatic nearby, due to the rounded summit, however the telephoto lens enabled me to capture some nice shots.
Ben A’An GM/ES-006, the tors just visible
Morven GM/ES-018 to the south
Station set up was simple thanks to a stout post at the cairn and no wind. The feedpoint of the EFHW was attached to the top of the walking poles, set at an angle. Their weight was enough to tension the antenna. 5 m of coax led to the KX2. The antenna was strung north to south.
EFHW, 49:1, 5 m coax
I decided to start on 40 m SSB and work up the bands, hopeful of some DX somewhere along the line. 17 stations went in the log on 40 m, then 20 m got another 15, with a mini pile-up. On 15 m, I was hopeful of North America, but this failed to materialise, with 5 EU contacts logged.
Now, my EFHW, 49:1 and RG-174 is a bit of a compromise on 10 m, but I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve had good results previously, working North and South American stations with this set up and 10 W. Two loud stations, one in Kuwait and one in Israel were booming through and working west coast USA, east coast USA and EU in their pile ups. I could hear both ends of every QSO. I couldn’t break the pile up and didn’t have the time to hang around in order to do so, but it gave me hope, so I spotted my own frequency and called CQ. Twenty minutes later and with not a single reply, I gave up and packed up. A bit of a disappointment really, but I guess there weren’t any chasers looking for me on 10 m, especially if they had worked me on the lower bands. Of course, I’d broken my own 2023 activating rule, which is to start on 10 m and work back the way…
It was 1600h. The sun was now lower in the sky, allowing me the chance to get some more photos on the way back down.
I’m guilty of being too hard on myself and I am an over-thinker. I trudged down from the top, stewing over the lack of contacts on 10 m and feeling thoroughly despondant, like I’d failed somehow. Utterly mad thoughts, I know. To break the cycle of thought, I practiced some mindfulness. I stopped and looked around me, using each sense in turn, to absorb my surroundings. My freezing hands and cheeks, the warm sun on my back, the crump of snow underfoot and, when I stopped, the utter silence. Visually, a panorama of sparkling white slopes, broken only by the darkness of the plantations. Low winter sun, blue skies. That’s why I’d come out today. To enjoy the atmosphere and make some contacts on the radio - I had 37 in all. I felt much better.
Walking back into the narrow passage through the trees, the only tracks visible being mine, completed my happiness. I was in a true winter wonderland and felt grateful that I’d experienced it. Indeed, I was the only human who had experienced it that day.
The Snowman Rally was last weekend, so I now have this years hat. They give you a different colour every year
The drive home was pleasant in the late afternoon sunshine. On the way down to the village, I took a short detour to view our local Munro, Mount Keen GM/ES-014, which has a reputation for being a “dull Munro”. Not in winter, it’s not.
Mount Keen rises up in the south