Pillar and High Stile
15th and 16th October 2011
This was, for us, the most brilliantly conceived pair of activations carried out to date. Paul and I have been activating summit together since August 2007 and we have travelled far and wide throughout England and Wales. In July 2008 we carried out our first “round” of activations that required an overnight stop in a Travelodge in south-west Wales. Little did we know at the time that this would become the format for many of our joint activations and we have stayed in quite a few Travelodges since. More recently we have stayed at the Cockermouth Travelodge on a number of occasions and have spent some enjoyable evenings in The Bitter End gastro pub as a result.
So, coming towards completion of the SOTA summits in England, we were left with four LD summits, reasonably centrally located: Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Pillar and High Stile. We drew up several options for activating these, some of which were based around overnight stays at Cockermouth. There seemed to be no optimum solution to these summits – should we use Wasdale Head as the access point and activate the first three from there? We concluded that that would be a hard day indeed. So how should we split them up? While we were still pondering this issue, the pressure of work intervened and Paul found the opportunity for taking a single day off work, let alone two, became increasingly difficult.
Still without a clear picture as to how we should proceed, I suggested that we activate Great Gable and Kirk Fell as a single day of activation, even though this inevitably meant an earlier start than usual from Northampton and a really late return. This was successfully carried out on Saturday 18th September, leaving us with Pillar and High Stile to complete. At least now we could see the options available to us: either Pillar from Wasdale Head, overnight at Cockermouth, then High Stile from Buttermere the following day or the more adventurous idea formulated by Paul to tackle the pair from Ennerdale and stay overnight at Black Sail Youth Hostel. After much discussion, we decided upon the latter. Paul has used Youth Hostels on his lone activations, notably most recently in the Scottish Borders area, but for me this would be something that I had not experienced for well over 40 years. I must admit to having had a sense of trepidation as the date for the activation got nearer.
Key to getting a good start on this outing was the permission that Paul obtained for us to park at Ennerdale Youth Hostel. Fortunately they had only a few people staying overnight on Saturday 15th October when we had booked in for Black Sail, which being remote does not have any parking. Paul worked up an itinerary that provided me with a very lazy start out from Northampton at 05:10z. As a change to our usual routine, we met up near to Junction 9 on the M6 at 06:14z, Paul’s wife Ness kindly providing the means for me to shorten my journey. The route to Ennerdale from the rendezvous point was via Cockermouth and totalled 208 miles. We arrived at the Youth Hostel at 09:40z. Usually Paul and I would be on our first summit by this time or probably on the way to our second!
After taking time to ensure our backpacks were correctly packed, we set out for our first summit, Pillar G/LD-006, at 10:14z. The weather was a mixture of sun and cloud and the first part was of our route was a pleasant and easy stroll along the track towards Black Sail. The climb only started after the crossing of the River Liza, the initial stage being through a ride in the forest cutting diagonally across the hillside. After crossing another vehicle track, the path took us up the side of the hill until we were below Pillar Rock. The route was getting steep and rocky and regular stops had to be taken just to settle ourselves. Both Paul and I were carrying more weight than we were used to, about 15kg in my case. The steepness of the climb affected not just ourselves, but other groups that were ascending via this path and they were much more lightly loaded than we were. Naturally we were soon trailing them as it got even steeper. In places we were actually rock climbing and the route was quite exposed. This meant that we had to proceed with great care and we were relieved to reach the summit plateau at 13:55z. Once the pressure of the climb was off, my leg muscles went into spasm and I must have looked like an old man hobbling across to the trig point. We were greeted heartily by our fellow climbers who were sitting in the summit shelter!
Seeing an old fence post not far from the summit, Paul went off to investigate its use for supporting his pole. I decided to retire to a small unoccupied stone shelter that I could see close to the edge of the summit plateau overlooking Ennerdale. My first task was to put on my jacket, hat and neck warmer, as even within the shelter the effects of the cold wind that was blowing across the summit were evident. I ate my lunch while I was setting up and after checking the Kent beacon, got onto my usual 144.333MHz operating frequency at 14:19z just 4 minutes later than I had alerted for. Bob G6ODU was first into the log, though he was not the only caller. John G0TDM kindly spotted me and appeared at number 4 on the log sheet. The run on 2m SSB was steady and I had 14 in the log inside half an hour. I then moved up to 70cm SSB and worked Mike G4BLH/M and Geoff G6MZX/M who were on a high spot near Mike’s QTH. Bob G6ODU followed and then I used CW to work Frank G3RMD and John G0TDM. Once the frequency went quiet, a QSO with Mike G4BLH was set up on 23cm FM. This was successful and Geoff G6MZX followed for his first summit on the band. Although Mike had QRO available at his end (10 watts), his antenna was only a 5/8 over 5/8. My set up was the usual 280mW to a quadruple quad. Needless to say, Mike was 59 with me. After this, I moved to 2m FM and worked another 5, with just one more on 70cm FM. This was Colin 2E0XSD who offered to spot me, but by now I could see Paul was packing up and it was 15:25z, so I decided to go QRT – and I was starting to shiver!
After considering that the available support post was rather too close to the main path to the summit coming up from Black Sail Pass, Paul decided to move to my side of the summit to set up. This was not easy given the strength of the wind and it took some time to get the antenna set up. The only means of shelter available to Paul was his backpack, so it was a case of keeping a low profile as he operated. It was 14:25z when Paul opened up on 60m, with Mark G0VOF waiting to pounce. Mark and also John G0TDM simultaneously spotted Paul at 14:27z. Contacts came in a slow but orderly fashion, with many chasers reporting noise levels on a par with Paul’s signals and several of those that I worked on 2m told me that Paul was not audible to them. Just 13 contacts were made on the band. At 15:00z, Paul moved to 80m and was very grateful that Frank G3RMD, was there to meet him and get the show rolling. Mark G0VOF and Don G0RQL (who had an absolutely stinking cold) soon found their way into the log despite the poor conditions, and to Paul’s delight Brian G8ADD eventually provided contact number 4 that qualified the summit on the lower band. Frank and Mark provided spots. Don told Paul that he was looking for me on 2m SSB, but unfortunately I was on 70cm and 23cm at the time.
After a snack bar and a drink to keep us going, we set off from the summit at 15:44z. It took us longer than we expected to get down the Black Sail Youth Hostel, which we reached at 17:20z, but this was in good time for the evening meal at 18:00z. I must say that I was rather surprised by the quality of the meal, given how remote this hostel is – homemade vegetable soup with homemade bread, beef stew with potatoes and red cabbage, apple crumble and custard. All good fare and what was required after a hard day in the hills. Naturally this was accompanied by some Jennings ale. The hostel was almost full, with a group of 10 walkers from Leeds who had set out from Seathwaite and a group of 3 lads who were doing around circuit of the main summits in the area from a base in Keswick.
After a night of rather disrupted sleep (for me), during which everyone in the dormitory made at least one trip to the smallest room (some several times due to the consumption of alcohol), we got up at 06:10z. Following a light breakfast of cereal, toast and coffee, we eventually said our goodbyes at 07:25z. The route to our second summit of this trip, High Stile G/LD-012, was quite pleasant with a mixture of steep sections and some fairly level sections. The first pull up was to the summit of Seat at 561m. There was perhaps a little more up and down across the ridge than we expected, but we arrived at the intermediate summit of High Crag LDW-065 at 09:10z as planned, which I briefly activated for WOTA using 2m FM from the C520 handheld fitted with a Yaesu 817 rubber duck. We reached High Stile in the mist at 10:00z, 15 minutes adrift from our alert time. Paul decided to use a convenient fence post, while I attempted to ascertain which part of the summit was the highest point. After a wander around, I found a rock close to the highest point that would afford me some shelter and set up the pole which was easily guyed into the soft ground. Cue rain shower and cold gusty wind!
It wasn’t long before we had company on the summit, courtesy of the local MRT on exercise who came over to see what Paul and I were up to. They didn’t stay long and we were alone by the time we started our activations. Once again I was first on with John G0TDM first in the log at 10:19z. It was Geoff G6MZX who kindly spotted me and was the next to be worked. Once again the run was steady, but it petered out with just 13 worked on 2m SSB in half an hour of operation. I moved to 70cm SSB and worked Bob G6ODU and Brian G4ZRP, but thereafter no-one else on the mode despite Bob spotting me. With activity on SSB down on what was expected, I changed to vertical polarisation and FM. A rather surprised Mark M0WCR answered my first call, followed by Geoff GMWHA. Moving to 2m FM, Colin 2E0XSD headed a pleasing run of 10 contacts on the mode and a move back to 70cm netted a further 3 to bring my total to 30 QSOs. It was now 11:44z and I imagined that somewhere our there in the mist Paul would be packing up – I was proved to be correct when 5 minutes later he appeared.
Paul had set up using a convenient fence post to the North of the summit proper, and for a change found a little shelter behind a substantial rock. Tuning up on 60m proved to be problematic, and a high SWR severely limited his power output on 60m. Despite this Carolyn G6WRW immediately responded to his enquiry as to whether the frequency was in use and in fairly short order GW4ZPL and G0NES joined her in the log. The fourth and qualifying contact that completed G for Paul was provided by a still rough-sounding G0RQL, surely a fitting way to do it – Don having by pure chance having been contact number 4 on a goodly proportion of Paul’s activations.
A further 7 struggling contacts ensued, ending with a difficult contact with Brian G4ZRP at 10:48z. When after a further 5 minutes’ calling no-one replied, Paul grasped the nettle and tried drastic retuning, having assumed that one of the legs of his dipole had broken. Halving the inductance in the ATU brought the antenna to resonance and a call with the full 5 watts going out immediately brought Geoff GM4WHA back with the best report received so far. Another short run brought much better reports and after a chat with Pete M0COP, Paul moved to 80m where spookily enough the antenna tuned up with ATU settings exactly as usual. Carolyn G6WRW was once again waiting to get things started, and four contacts including the omnipresent Frank G3RMD were soon in the log. Eight minutes calling without further response gave Paul the excuse to go QRT at 1130z, well satisfied that the summit, like Pillar yesterday, had been qualified on 60m and 80m. The cause of the aberrant tuning on 60m never was discovered, the dipole being intact on testing on return to base.
It was 12:06z when we left the summit, following the ridge along to Red Pike LDW-062. Cue another brief WOTA activation while Paul sought out the route down to Ennerdale. The path was rather vague at the top, marked by infrequent cairns, but soon became well-defined and now below the mist level we could see our way. Although not too steep a gradient, the path certainly gave the knees a work out and we were relieved finally to reach the track close to Ennerdale Youth Hostel along which we had set out almost 28 hours earlier. We reached the car at 14:02z and after stowing our kit, had a late lunch of ham cobs from the coolbox courtesy of Paul’s XYL, Ness. The return journey took a while longer than expected due to heavy traffic on the M6, but we met up with Ness at 18:35z and I reached home at 19:38z.
So that was how we completed the English SOTA summits. The focus now moves to activating some of the GM/SS summits and this will be after a short break. Planning has already started and it looks as though we will be looking for accommodation for 3 or 4 nights to cut down on the travelling. Naturally these sorties will only be possible a few times a year, so we intend to carry out “training” activations on some of the summits that we have enjoyed during the past five years or so of SOTA operations……… but don’t look for us under our G4 calls.
73, Gerald G4OIG
Ennerdale YH (140m) to Pillar (892m) – 800m ascent, 5.6km
Pillar to Black Sail – 3.8km
Black Sail (290m) to High Stile (806m) – 607m ascent, 4.2 km
High Stile to Ennerdale YH – 3.8km