G4YSS Activation Report for G/LD-001 & G/LD-005, 25-November-08
SCAFELL PIKE & GREAT GABLE, LF-QRO.
Further evaluation of RCM 8.8 Ah Lithium Polymer 10C battery pack (2 x 2.2 and 1 x 4.4 Ah).
See ‘Comments’ section near end of report.
G4YSS, using SARS (Scarborough Amateur Radio Society) Club-Call: GX4BP/P. (Unaccompanied).
All times: UTC on 25-11-08.
After taking the logs from last weeks activation of Blencathra & Helvellyn (LD8 & LD3) down to Monday’s SARS meeting, it was agreed that I could hang on to GX4BP for a further week. That was fortunate because I had big plans or should I say, some big hills in mind, classics too, from which to air it.
The secretary asked how I thought I could be QRV on Scafell Pike by 09:30 the next morning when I was sitting in a meeting in Scarborough, with just 12 hours to go. The answer: A lot of luck and an alarm clock set for 02:50. ‘OK, we don’t mind if you miss the second half of the meeting; namely The Eddystone-Swann Quiz for ‘Bright Sparks’ with giant light-bulb trophy to match. I really enjoy that quiz so regretted shuffling off home for bed by 10:30pm.
Bob (G0WHO) was right; despite a reasonable weather forecast, a challenging day lay ahead. England’s highest mountain; Scafell Pike is remote from any energy efficient start point that an ‘East Coaster’ on a day trip can reasonably reach without breaking down in tears. That leaves us with Seathwaite and a long walk in. Furthermore, the WX was predicted to be sub-zero and quite windy. Sunshine was forecast but we’d heard that funny joke last week, when both LD8 & LD3 had been clagged-in every minute Will & I had been on them.
After the successes of the previous week especially on 160m, I was determined to use QRO but this time there could be no midday return to the car for victuals and a battery change. I had combined LD1 with other summits once only in the past but just using lightweight gear. I’d also done it twice on its own with SLAB powered HF QRO and 160m included. Being saddled with a heavy pack for a not inconsiderable distance and faced with 4,300 feet of combined ascent, would be more of a challenge. With likely summit durations resulting from two multi band / mode activations, the time factor was critical (as usual) and at this time of year, the expedition would certainly have to be pushed into darkness at both ends.
Warm clothing would be the priority so water was a problem. I could only take ¾ of a litre with a limit of two sandwiches and some choc-bars for lunch. Lead-Acid was out of the question so I would be placing my trust in Li-Po. This would be the final field test for my ‘experimental’ lightweight battery; an 11V (nominal) 8.8 Ah ‘composite’ comprising of one 4.4 Ah & two 2.2 Ah Li-Po units in parallel. It was tested on Helvellyn a week before, where 75 minutes of QRO had 40% discharged it. One final question needed an answer. In supplying an IC706 Mk2G, (rated for 13.8 V +/- 15% - 11.7V min) from an 11V nominal battery, would the remaining 60% be realisable, especially in freezing conditions? Furthermore, it would need to be up to the job of providing full power on 160m at the very end of the second activation.
Heavy rain and hail beating on the window didn’t help but it was one of those nights where you lie awake waiting for the alarm to go off. I was up before it, at 02:45.
The 140 mile drive to Seathwaite took from 03:05 to 06:00 and there was a full choice of parking spaces. It was gratifying to see starlight replace driving rain, somewhere along the A66. After displaying my itinerary note and having completed the vile task of pre-hydrating on 1.3 litres of cold water, I was walking by Maglight, in a cold northerly wind at 06:20. When I almost ended up in somebody’s garden, I realised that I should have been using my headlight!
After Stockley Bridge and just before the footbridge at NY 2346 0992, the torch batteries died but by then it was just about light enough to manage without. Here could be seen the dark moody barrier to progress formed by Great End and Lingmell. With their sprinkling of snow in the dawn light, they seemed to be saying, ‘Pass here at your peril.’ I shuddered a little and averted my eyes. Next were Sty Head and the Corridor, which enabled a preliminary look at Green and Great Gable, with their crowns of wispy frozen snow. After the minor scramble at NY 2189 0852 (a kind of Hillary Step in miniature), Peirs Gill was somewhat iced up but there had been minimal flow and it was passable without the instep spikes I’d put in my pack.
After that, ice & frozen snow increased but it was rarely more than an inch or two deep and by 08:37 I was summitting LD1 into the rising sun. The sight of the large top cairn, illuminated as it was and looking like a jewelled and gold encrusted palace, was a fine sight. I noticed two poppy wreaths left over from Remembrance Day but the bronze plaque was unreadable under ice. Taking out the camera, I found that the cold had got to the batteries, which meant frozen fingers and two attempts at replacing them with AAA inside AA adaptors. Thoughts turned to the effects of cold on the rig battery. In 6 years of SOTA, I have experienced cold more severe but with a wind of 25 or 30 mph and a temperature of minus 4C, even a short time without gloves has a startling effect.
The next problem was to erect the dipole over this rocky tundra but a little respite from the wind was conveniently available on the sunny side of the cairn. It took perhaps 10 sessions of walking up and down the 40 metre long antennal before it looked anything like workable. The main problem was that the support mast and end sticks would not hold up in the frozen rocks and the mast kept falling over. The wire caught on every snow encrusted obstruction and mittens I had to be doffed again, this time to unravel a serious tangle. In all, a precious 50 minutes was squandered but before the announced QRV time of 09:30, I had an aerial with Top Band coils fitted and tuned. Sitting down on the map case with the rig in the sack, I was at last ready to go.
SCAFELL PIKE, G/LD-001, 978m, 10 pts, 08:37 to 11:27, minus 4 deg C, 25 to 30 mph wind, sunshine, 50mm of lying snow. IO84JK – NY20. IC706 2G (lightened). Link-dipole with 160m coils & 8.8 Ah Li-Po battery.
‘CQ from GX4BP/P.’ What a great response! Expecting full ‘daylight band conditions’ by this late hour and perhaps three QSO’s if I was lucky, it was a shock to hear no fewer than 14 stations lining up behind David G3RDQ (QTH Hampshire). Not only that, but one op was actually located in Belgium! I know I was using full power most of the time but it was nevertheless surprising to receive four 599 RST’s.
With this many on 160m, I began to worry about the time again, hoping that there would be fewer on 80m. By the end, Top Band had swallowed 35 minutes but that was partly my own fault. Small irritations such as time wrestling with mitten / CW key incompatibilities, the log / pencil and the biting cold coupled to the fact that I seemed to be ‘full’ of water which continually made ‘bids for freedom’ all ate up the time.
Here is a list of callsigns worked on 160 from LD1: G3RDQ, EI2CL, G4BLH, G4SSH, EI7CC, G4OWG, G4OBK, G3WPF, G0NES, GW0DSP, G0TDM, G7GQL, GX0ANT, ON4CAP & (new to me) GW3UEP
Given the great conditions on 160, I was expecting even better coverage on 3.5. This was quickly confirmed when Dan ON4ON picked up the CQ at 10:00 UTC. 80m proved its worth again for SOTA. In all, 24 chasers from G, GM, GW, EI, ON, DL & SM collected top points. Reports, with the rig set to about 30W, were mostly between 569 & 589 and the session used up only 32 minutes; quite quick for me!
More time was needed to find a clear spot but the switch to SSB produced another 18 QSO’s starting with a line-of-sight QSO with G6LKB, Dave in Ulverston. I think the rig was left on 30W for this session. It was characterised with long lists of callsigns which I struggled to write down on the fickle logsheet. By 11:00, I was able to leave the QRG to Frank and Carolyn (G3RMD & G6WRW) and get ready to leave.
70.450 FM: A few off-chance calls on 4FM from the IC-E90 went unanswered but I hadn’t announced it and really didn’t have the time or a decent aerial anyway.
The Walk-to Great Gable:
Scafell Pike is an immensely popular mountain but despite that, for almost 3 hours I had enjoyed solitary status and was half way back to the corridor before meeting another person just prior to noon. Starting the descent at 11:27 took me close to a self imposed deadline so anxiety about the prospect of trying to find my way off the seriously rocky & iced up Great Gable in the dark, took my attention. Roy G4SSH had posted a QRV for Gable of 14:00 but could I make it in time over this slippery surface where going down would be more difficult than ascending? Some final images were secured before moving off.
Managing to pass the stretcher box at Sty Head and start the ascent of Gt.Gable by 12:46, was reasonable enough but with flagging energy levels and fitness in question, the uphill pace became little better than pathetic. In the event, a modest undertaking of some 420m of height gain and less than a mile of distance, cost me almost another hour!
Like the last, this summit was free of visitors, the sun was still shining and the wind had dropped considerably. In the absence of the threat of hypothermia, antenna preparation went much more smoothly and I was ready to send CQ 15 minutes after arriving. After tuning 3.557, I reached for the key but just then, ’Excuse me, which way is Honister Pass?’ It was a girl on her own and she was holding out a rudimentary walk guide with dotted lines depicting routes between principle summits and a few relevant start points. I felt obliged to spend 10 minutes pointing out cairn-marked routes off the top, as there was a choice of two. At least she had a compass.
GREAT GABLE, G/LD-005, 899m, 8 pts, 13:43 to 15:39. Wind <5 mph. 1 deg, dropping to minus 3C. Sunshine. IO84JL – NY21. 30mm of lying snow. IC706 2G (lightened). Link-dipole with 160m coils & 8.8Ah ‘experimental’ Li-Po (already part used on LD1).
Roy (G4SSH) was right on the ball this time. Without a phoned warning, he came straight back with a 569 report. D-Layer attenuation had been greater in the afternoon on Helvellyn a week ago but there was little sign of its effect today. The rig was set up for 40W but I could have been more frugal. A total of 20 regular chasers from G, GW, EI, F, ON, DL HB & SM collected 8 points, missing an extra two points by just one metre!
Logging the first dozen stations in as many minutes helped dispel worries about time but just when I thought I’d cracked it, the British Military arrived. After being ‘wiped out’ on Ben Nevis back in September, I thought I was due a break. However this helicopter was equally close and just as noisy as the last. It meant that I couldn’t even hear my own sidetone in hat and hood covered earphones, let alone copy incoming signals. At one stage I thought that the CW key plug had been accidentally pulled out, so I started to take the rig from the backpack to fix the problem. All I could do was to wait but it kept hovering feet above the summit’s northern edge (luckily I’d set up just south of the top) then it would fly away, only to return coming ever closer. I think chasers understand these problems but it must be galling if you’re due out at the supermarket with the XYL standing at the door.
Again a small QSY to a clear spot was required but after Don G0RQL found the new frequency, in came 23 eager chasers. It’s nice to feel wanted and maybe that’s one of the reasons we activate. I can’t say that sweating my way up to these places, sitting around in sub-zero temperatures or fell walking in the dark provide much in the way of attractions these days. Notable in this batch were S51ZG and an S2S with Alan MM1BJP/P on SOTA GM/SS-207 Beinn Dearg, up near Callander. Also Mick 2E0HJD called in with his upgraded callsign of M0PVA to say hello but could barely hear my 50W signals in encroaching adjacent channel QRM which somewhat spoilt this session’s closing stages. However, well done to Mick in passing the full RAE.
By now things were starting to become a little unpleasant round the ‘regions.’ Somehow in all the excitement I had managed to shuffle off the map case, melting the frozen snow beneath and now feeling cold & soggy down to my calves. Such is the life of an activator and we must accept such things as the norm but getting vertical enough to fix the 160m coils in place was noticeably more difficult than had been the case in the morning.
Not knowing how the band would react is all part of the fun but requests for Top Band came in from more than one source and had been mentally noted. Actually, I was just as keen as anyone to get Gable onto this frequency having used 2FM for all but one of my previous 3-summit ‘big rounds’ which included it. Having ‘christened’ LD5 for SOTA on 26-Aug-02 and never missing a year since, it took me until 2007 to make the upgrade from 2m FM to 80m / 40m. It’s also my favourite LD mountain which I see every day as I go out. On the wall in my hall is a framed photo of it, complete with a dusting of snow just like today but evidently taken from somewhere near Glaramara.
It was an encouragement to hear a weak signal on 1.832, even before adding the coils. Sliding up 800 Hz to clear this unknown CQ call and increasing to 100W, I put out a CQ of my own. A 599 + 50 dB signal smashed its way through my receiver. I could have rectified it and recharged the battery! It was of course Phil, G4OBK who became the first SOTA chaser to work Gt.Gable on 160. Evidently, he had not worked it on any band before today. After Phil came G3RMD which I mistakenly wrote down at the time as G3ROI (same Morse elements, exhausted brain, wrong letter-breaks)! After Frank, EI2CL, G4SSH, G3RDQ, EI7CC, G0TDM, G4RQJ all called in, with finally Mike GW0DSP rounding it off.
I sincerely hope that no one else called because by then the 8.8 Ah battery had been fully depleted. After the QSO with Phil I had started to hear the ominous buzzing sound behind my TX sidetone. This is not an intended ICOM design feature but it is an effective indicator of under-voltage. When you hear this, you know the ‘end is nigh.’ You can often give chasers a warning but the only practical way to deal with it is reduce power until it catches up with you again a couple of QSO’s down the log. So that’s why I began to sound like a rude Brusque DX station, ‘599 – 73.’ Not only that, at my age after a long day I was also beginning to lose the plot; body and mind. I listened one last time, heard nothing and tried to send ‘Battery…QRT’ but the rig cut out part-way through the Q-code.
The last of a handful of people that had visited the summit had all gone down as had the temperature; quite dramatically. The sun dropped behind a distant layer of cloud in the west. Clearing up went smoothly with little snagging and the attention turned to getting down safely before dark. This involved packing the rucksack, attaching the mast to the outside, selecting the GPS route, checking the illumination which would be required later and doffing the extra summit clothing. Feeding the broadcast radio into the headphones would distract the mind from the discomfort of the retreat to Seathwaite; a walk likely to take at least 90 minutes.
There was one more thing to do before departure. Whilst passing the summit rocks, a quick call on 4m FM was answered by G6CRV. Dave reported a difficult copy with the IC-E90 with extended 2m duck, at 45. Listening briefly, there was nothing further and it was not surprising. For one thing 4m was not pre-notified and for another, Great End; some 11m superior in height to LD5, was effectively blocking the path to G4BLH in Nelson.
The original planning put the descent via Windy Gap and Aaron Slack to Sty Head Tarn. I am used to this route off Gable but know it to be a scramble in places. The snow and ice put me off a little but changing to my ascent route, which is an easy to follow stone-block walking path to the Stretcher Box at Sty Head, had much to do with being the last person off in the day. Also I had a track log for it, made hours before.
The walk back between 15:39 to 17:14 was uneventful; it just seemed to go on forever! It duly got dark well before Stockley Bridge and there was no moon. The best thing was the sight of the car and the removal of boots. The same chap who had been walking his dog at six o clock in the morning passed by again and asked where I’d been. He must have wondered why it had taken me 11 hours to walk round two summits but I really didn’t have the energy to elaborate.
This was not in the class of real ‘mega expedition’ and it doesn’t look too difficult on the map. I found it physically and mentally demanding, time being the major worry. The surface, though icy in places, was passable with a little care but the wind-chill on LD1 before and just after sunrise was worthy of respect. By the afternoon, some of the snow had melted and the wind had dropped, which made my time on Gable quite pleasant. Despite downing 1.3 litres of water before starting, carrying just 0.75 litres was a minor mistake but despite preferring not to use it, I do carry iodine just in case.
Alan M1EYP (the World’s first MG) added Kirkfell onto these two in April 2003, albeit with just a handful of 2m FM QSO’s, which was the norm back then. Pillar is addable too but one would need good fitness, more daylight, dramatically reduced summit times and a Wasdale Head start, as the four activations would involve close to 6,500 feet of ascent.
I remember doing the same walk and activations in August 2002 but foolishly adding LD2, accessed via Lord’s Rake, between LD1 and LD5. I made 12 QSO’s from LD2, only to discover that Scafell had been dropped from the SOTA list just days after it had been added. My hard-earned 28 points dissolved into just 18 but that was the day I learned not to walk too far in hot WX.
One regret is the non use of 40m CW but it’s is a band that can’t just be added at a whim without significant time available. However once again and because of the time of year, 80m showed its ability to cover Europe to some degree at least.
RCM LITHIUM POLYMER BATTERY:
The 8.8 Ah Li-Po battery ‘cobbled together’ from 3 different RCM 10C - 11V nominal units (2.2 + 2.2 + 4.4 Ah) when teamed with an IC706 Mk2-G HF high-power transceiver, was truly a 2-summit success.
So that this would be a representative and fair test, no severe power economies were made. 109 QSO’s were worked with at least 30W and a goodly number at higher settings. The highest setting (in theory 100W, producing an input current demand of 20 Amps) was used for much of the difficult 160m band work on both summits. The battery performance seemed unaffected despite sub-zero conditions at 3000 feet and long summit stays.
Tests on an IC706 2G at this QTH have shown that a 100W RF output cannot be realized with the voltage available from either the above 11V Li-Po battery or using a 12V SLAB and that a current of typically 16 amps (not 20) is drawn on transmit using the highest setting. This may produce as little as 60W in real terms. Though that is not very significant in terms of ‘S’ Points produced at the chaser’s receiver, a higher Voltage battery such as a 4-cell Li-Po would be required if an activator were determined to work with a true 100W.
The IC706’s input Voltage is specified as 13.8 +/- 15%. A 4-cell (nom 14.8V) Li-Po could produce almost 17V fully charged and would be more expensive than a 3 cell. However the 1.1 Volt excess could be ‘dumped’ using high-current series diodes; a method successfully employed by Nigel G6SFP. (See 10th post at http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=2331#18151). Nigel has a method of shorting out the diodes further down the discharge curve probably in order to get the best use from all the energy stored in the battery. However, without some diodes in series and unless the Voltage is diligently monitored, the self limiting properties of the rig; i.e. the fact that it switches off when presented with an undervoltage, might not work quite so well in ‘automatically’ protecting Li-Po cells from ‘prohibited’ sub- 3V per cell discharge levels.
With these points in mind, if the 11V (3 series Cell) units do a reasonable job with a particular rig then they are the variant, which should be given consideration. Notwithstanding this, I would strongly recommend that the performance versus input voltage characteristics of radios other than the IC706 Mk2-G are thoroughly tested before a Li-Po battery purchase is made. Also the hazard risk especially when applied to the SOTA situation, needs to be properly understood and minimized.
The weight and space-saving advantages of Li-Po batteries for QRO SOTA operations have become very noticeable to me. Discharge tests at this QTH have shown that I would have required close to 4 kg of SLAB batteries to do the same job. The RCM Li-Po’s paralleled up into an 8.8 Ah 2-summit QRO pack weigh around 0.7kg and what’s more can fit beside the rig, whereas the SLABs must go under it; leaving little room for my (all important) coat!
In addition to knowing little of the longevity of this type of battery when used in high power Amateur Radio work, the downsides of Li-Po are the costs and increased potential hazards. Precautions can be taken regarding the latter but as for the cost; it is left up to the individual to balance this against the increased SOTA activating capability / decreased physical effort that this type of battery undoubtedly adds when used for long distance and / or multiple summit QRO ops. The advantages of Li-Po batteries are well documented for QRP and the FT817. A QRO rig costs a packet so why not the PSU to go with it?
Power reduction strategies on 100W rigs are a case of diminishing return. A truly scandalous amount of current is required to produce a 5W or 10W output (at efficiencies around 15%) so unless you exchange your 100 Watt’er for a dedicated QRP rig, you might just as well use it at moderate levels. Power will be saved in the long run, when stations get their RST first time around.
It was a real honour to use the 1930’s SARS clubcall of ‘G(X)4BP.’ Apologies if I sent ‘GX0….’a time or two. The plan is to return to using ‘GX0OOO’ next month. I’m told that SARS have QSL cards available and the intention is to write them at a special club meeting and send them to the Buro in the New Year. Incoming cards are not required for this.
Drive home:17:40 to 20:50. 285 miles in day.
LD1: 893 m (2930ft) of ascent including return reascent near Sty Head / 15.2 km (9.5 miles) walked.
LD5: Adds 420 m (1378ft) of ascent from Stretcher Box at Sty Head / adds 2.6km (1.6 miles) walked.
Day’s total: 1313m (4308ft) of ascent / 17.8km km (11.1 miles) walked. 18 SOTA points.
Walking time: Seathwaite to LD1: 2h-17min. LD1 to LD5: 2h-16min. LD5 to Seathwaite: 1h-35min. Tot: 6h-8min.
Summit time: LD1: 2h-50min. LD5: 1h-56min. Total: 4h-46min.
Gross (outdoor) time: 10h-54min. (16h-45min inc driving)
QSO’s: Total of 110 in the day comprising:
160m CW: 24
80m CW: 44
80m SSB: 41
70 MHz FM: 1 (IC-E90 – 5W)
IC706 2G with home-brew composite panels, wiring & breakering. CW ‘key’ in microphone.
Link Dipole for 30-40-60-80 with tuneable coils for 160 at the 40m break points. 5m CFC mast – 1m ends.
IC-E90, 4-band H/H with 1.3Ah battery with 145 Mhz normal mode helical and extension for 4m.
Two RCM 2.2Ah Li-Po’s plus one RCM 4.4Ah Li-Po all in parallel. 11V nom, 100W capable, 0.7kg. 100% depleted
QRO pack-weight: 11kg. (Li-Po) including 0.75 litre drinks.
Thanks to all stations worked and to the SMT for making it all possible. Thanks also for spotting support from Roy
G4SSH, G4OBK, G3RDQ, G4OWG, G6CRV and to Mike GW0DSP for correcting Peter’s callsign ON3WAB which I had wrongly copied. To SARS for the use of the clubcall.
73, John G4YSS (using Scarborough ARS GX4BP/P for the final time)