G4YSS Activation Report: NP17 & NP31, 12-12-11.
G/NP-017 & G/NP-031 (FOUNTAINS FELL and BIRKS FELL) on 160, 80, 30 & 4m
G4YSS using GX0OOO/P – Accompanied by William & Jess (Spaniel of the UK Mountain Mutt Club).
All times UTC.
EQPT: HF-QRO: IC706-2G. Link-dipole 80-60-40-20-30 (asymmetric) -160 (with coils).
5m H/B CFC mast. Dipole ends tied back to walltops.
8.8 Ah Li-Po battery for each summit (part used).
VHF: IC-E90 Four Band VHF H/H. Extended rubber duck with counterpoise for 4m FM.
THE WX PICTURE:
We have been spoilt with the weather this autumn and at one time it was hard to imagine that the pleasant weather, with its well above average temperatures, would ever end. From October I imagined myself firing up the old IC706 on 160m from Cross Fell just before dawn on the first day of winter bonus. After sitting in the garden in late November, no thought of discomfort even crossed my mind. Apart from some walking in the dark, it was going to be a breeze.
Famous last words. After some windy days and lower temps in late November all has suddenly changed for the worse. In the very month; almost the actual day, that UK activators should have been out ‘hammering’ the bonus, the elements decided to reintroduce themselves. Cold gale force winds with rain or snow showers have been more the rule than the exception for the high places for the last couple of weeks and I for one must admit to feeling cold just walking around the locality.
A lack of acclimatisation at this stage does not lend itself well to just simply going out and braving it. As upland conditions seem to be ongoing; if the forecasters are to be believed possibly until Christmas, a temporary lift or ‘weather window’ seemed to be best we could hope for. William told me 10 days before about his day off work. ‘Could we go walking on the 12th of December?’ With the lack of flexibility that a single date imposed on us, I rather doubted it but we would try.
Ever concious of which mountains I’ve logged in the year, Will suggested some I hadn’t; Red Screes, Place Fell, Knott, Pike of Blisco, High Stile or Pillar? As the days and the grim mountain forecasts passed by, it became obvious that high Lake District summits without shelter should be given a miss and that we should more appropriately be looking towards the ‘friendliest’ of NP’s. In the end it transpired that the forecast for the 12th might just allow a couple of four pointers to be done. Any thought of a third summit was out of the question because of some really serious stuff blowing in from the Atlantic at around dusk that day. Whatever we did, our summits would need to have walls to hide behind.
The MWIS prediction for the 12th stated, ‘Snow showers with rain below 500m, gusts 50 mph increasing to 80 mph by dusk, low-cloud and zero degrees C at 700m.’ In the face of this and taking into account that this particular forecast can tend to err on the side of pessimism, Fountains & Birks Fells were perhaps the best choices.
EXECUTION / NP17 ROUTE:
We left Scarborough in Will’s car at 04:20, arriving via York, Skipton and Settle at Blishmire cattle grid (SD 8531 7233) at 06:56 (2hr-36min). There were some 45 minutes of darkness left to run but we booted up and left at 07:18, using a single maglite. The method is routine and straightforward. Just follow the wall up its left hand side passing through a gate at SD 8549 7218. SD 8585 7197 is where the Pennine Way bends left but carry straight on. There’s no real path after that; just proceed steeply upward avoiding reed beds to SD 8608 7179 and thence up a steep grassy incline to a sharp lip. You can activate anywhere after that though the true summit, marked by a very large cairn, is over the next wall.
The other option of following the Pennine Way until it climbs out and swings southeast and then cutting southwest over rough and boggy ground beside a wall, was not best tackled in the dark, as Will wanted to do. The direct route is very steep just before the top but that doesn’t last long and it’s surely quicker and easier to navigate.
There was a cold, damp wind blowing today. Will was all for keeping his coat on but it doesn’t take long to warm up once you’re underway on steep ground. Being loath to don waterproofs unless it’s raining convincingly, I generally use a thin fleece over a thin base layer. For showers today I used a black ‘city gent’ umbrella but one must keep the aerodynamics constantly in mind.
By 07:50 you could more or less say it was light. We got to today’s activation point - a big hole in the ground beside the wall - with time to spare. It had taken us 35 minutes. Nomally it’s best to sit with your back to the wall but this time that prime place was taken. A 3m wide snowdrift almost 1m deep ran touching the wall for its entire length.
The first task was to phone Roy G4SSH with a QRV time of 08:15. That estimate came and went as I struggled in waterlogged ground with a tangled antenna wire not once but twice. In trying to secure the dipole end strings to the top of the wall, my leg shot down between wall and snowdrift and got firmly stuck with the boot wedged under a stone in the wall base. After extracting myself the rig had to be removed from the rucksack to re-insert the CW key plug, then the Top Band coils required tuning - not straighforward over the snowdrift which was in turn covering standing water. The sit mat kept blowing away until I borrowed a small ‘paperweight’ from the wall; I then got into a mess trying to feed the earphones under my hat’s ear flaps and oh joy, the log dropped in a puddle. Gloves off - gloves on - the life of a winter activator is not a happy one but these things occur all the time and are quite normal. You just have to struggle on.
About this time Jess started to shiver and Will announced his imminent departure. Once again I had to apply some gentle dissuasion regarding the ‘round the houses’ route. The cloud was down, it was hailing on and off and from what I could see in the half light, there were bogs and lakes of standing water everywhere. Though there were the necessary waypoints in the GPS I’d loaned to Will, I hadn’t assembled them into a route and besides it was still switched off in his pocket. True, all he had to do was to walk across to the Pennine Way then ‘take a left’ but what if he missed it in the clag and dim light or it was covered by a patch of snow. I told him that the flat top of Fountains Fell was sprinked with a couple of dozen disused mine shafts. At that, Will waved, smiled and walked off the way we had come up with a reluctant Jess on the lead. I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to the task in hand. By this time it was almost 08:30. The umbrella was employed to fend off the next shower - this time it was wet snow.
FOUNTAINS FELL, G/NP-017, 668m, 4pts, 07:53 to 09:35, 1 Deg.C, 30 mph SW wind. Low cloud with showers of hail, sleet or rain. Deep snowdrifts at walls only. (LOC: IO84VD – WAB: SD87. Orange mobile coverage.)
1.832 CW - 5 QSO’s:
In the middle of the day I don’t expect great things from Top Band but 45 minutes after first light should be different. If the D-Layer had not yet properly formed then there was little evidence for it. That said, I did manage to work EI2CL with relative ease. Before Mike in Dublin came a big signal from Phil G4OBK who I called having heard him sending a quick report to another station while waiting for GX0OOO/P.
Next in was Mark G0VOF - presumably out in the wilds somewhere with his motorcycle setup which incidentally was doing a fine job with 599 both ways. It was probably just as cold where he was and I regretted keeping him waiting.
I then heard just a whisper. It was G4SSH calling in. Though Roy was very weak in QSB we managed a QSO easily enough which was probably down to low noise levels at the SOTA end. Roy somehow tunes up his butternut vertical to run a few Watts on 160.
The final 160m QSO was with Nick G4OOE in Scarborough. Nick uses a G5RV fed via an MFJ Versa-tuner. It must work - he was coming in at 569. A trip down the dipole to remove the coils made the antenna resonant on 3.5.
3.557 CW - 12 QSO’s:
Roy G4SSH was first in the log on here. Nick G4OOE followed. Both these were strength 9. When I heard DL1FU I felt a sense of urgency. Apparently the band was still open to Germany but with growing daylight it could close without warning. I need not have worried; Frid gave me 559 and once again he’d logged another UK summit on 80 simply because he believed he could and tried it. After some local regulars came; DL3HXX, HB9BIN and DL2HWI. There were two more G’s and finally GW0DSP Mike for the last QSO. Typical power was 40W.
80 had worked pretty well. To know what it’s like you must try it of course and maybe sometimes - particularly at this stage of the sunspot cycle, alerting SOTA on this band in advance might seem like a bit of a risk. However, the short winter days tend to balance that out and the earlier or later you can get on the band increases the rewards. Conversely, if you want to work 80 in the middle of a summer’s day half way up the cycle, even QRO won’t help you much.
3.724 SSB - 8 QSO’s:
Responding to a CQ on 3.724 was Graham G4JZF. I took the opportunity to apologise for being a bad chaser on 60m a couple of weeks previously when G4OBK & G4OOE were out. Seven stations followed. G4OBK, G0RQL, GW0DSP, G8ADD, G6MZX, G0VWP and G6ODU. Signal reports were all good. Again 40 Watts was the output power.
70.450 FM - 1 QSO:
After packing up the HF gear I tried the handheld. At Phil’s (OBK) suggestion the rubber duck was orientated horizontally with the counterpoise stretched at arm’s length and broadsided east - towards Pickering. A few calls failed to find Phil but I did get the only 4m QSO of the day with M3RDZ, Roy in Blackburn. 59 both ways once I got the rig vertical again. After Roy - nothing but in this instance I was truly thankful. By now I was standing in /on the snowdrift with head and shoulders above the wall and radio held high. A blizzard propelled by a brisk cold wind was impinging on the back of my head and outside of a poor memory, I had no means of easily logging anybody. As is very often the case in winter, it was a great relief to get the descent underway.
Ever conscious of keeping Will waiting it took just 14 minutes to get back to the car (09:49). The short drive to Litton rather than right around to Redmire for the NE route, enabled us to start the assualt on Birks Fell NP31 by 10:25. That was much earlier than expected owing to a combination of time saved and too much slack in the schedule.
BIRKS FELL ROUTE:
Today we were going via a ‘new’ route. New to us that is. It’s probably the most popular route to NP31. Furthermore we planned to ‘cheat’ today. For a change but mainly to save a mile of walking each way, the intention was to activate from the trig point at SD 92597 74838 (GPS’d on 12-12-11). This goes against my usual practice of almost always going to the SOTA top.
Birks Fell is a very long ridge with a wealth of SOTA compliant activation areas to choose from as per G/SP-001. There is not much parking potential in Litton if the pub car park is to be avoided. Will parked at SD 9070 7409 (250m ASL) - room for 2 or 3 cars. The route is via a well used Bridle Path but I GPS marked it on the way up and it is recorded here.
Bear left onto the bridleway from the pub and through the farm yard. At SD 9093 7411 leave the stone farm track and go straight on through Gate 1. Pass between walls downhill (losing 7m) on grass to a slippery footbridge at SD 9114 7409 then up to Gate 2 at SD 91289 74064. Gate 3’s at SD 91455 73966. Continue to follow the path where it bends sharply left at SD 91707 73888. The next point is Gate 4 at SD 92041 74383. Some of these gates are quite hard to re-latch and it’s boggy in places. Gate 5 is set in the spine wall at SD 92450 74920 and it’s also well within the 25m stipulation. Turn right here to the trig point (see earlier Ref) or left to the true SOTA summit. Alternatively activate anywhere in between the two points or a goodly distance outside them. It the WX is bad there is an ever present wall or a ruined laithe at SD 9193 7606 from whence G4CPA normally activates.
G/NP-031: BIRKS FELL, 610m, 4Pts, 11:30 to 13:49. 2 deg.C. 30 mph SW Wind. Low-cloud at first and brief sunshine later. Rain or sleet showers. Deep snowdrifts at walls only. (IO84WE, WAB SD97. Orange phone coverage above approx 500m.)
My time estimates must have been wildly out as we were 2 hours early arriving at Birks and Roy was out to lunch at this time. I texted Hazel M6YLH asking her to post me on 3.557 for QRV at 12:00 noon. At the trig point the wind was slant-on to the wall so I walked a little further round to where the wall angle changes. It was slightly better but like Fountains Fell you could not get up to the wall for maximum shelter because of deep and wide snow drifts. After hollowing out a depression in the snow I thought better of it and backed off onto soggy grass where I erected the mast. The dipole end strings were trapped in the wall’s coping stones - not very well as it turned out. I trod-down paths through / over the snow wherever access to the wall was needed, which included the dipole link points where the 160mm loading coils fit.
All was now ready but once again Will announced his departure. With noon still to come and the activation not yet started I advised him to take his time. I knew I would not be catching him up on the way down and felt slightly guilty that he would be sitting around in the car waiting. In the end it was OK. He waited for an hour but missed the worst of the weather whilst on the other hand, I got soaked.
3.557 CW - 9 QSO’s:
Hopefully Hazel had figured out how to do her first ever SOTA spot and so it transpired. G4OBK was listening on the QRG and quickly worked me. Thanks Phil and thanks Hazel for both your spots. Once you’re ‘found’ you don’t feel quite so cold. Using 40 Watts, a further 6 regulars; G’s including Kevin G0NUP plus EI2CL, were worked along with two unfamiliar callsigns - G4FGJ and G3KYF.
M0YHB - CW!
I say ‘regulars’ but there was one ‘anomally.’ M0YHB - Helen in Kidderminster is a regular chaser alright and activator too but I had no idea she knew CW. It was slow and basic with me going back Farnsworth style but we got the QSO done successfully so well done to her. She could have waited a few more minutes for SSB but she chose to learn CW and give it a go for SOTA like quite a few others have done in the past few years.
3.724 SSB - 9 QSO’s:
Roy G4SSH was still enjoyng his lunch out at the Scalby Manor Hotel with a couple of SSEG members so it was Phil G4OBK who answered the CQ and spotted me on here. Again the rig was initially set to 40 Watts but soon 100 were needed. I worked G0RQL & G0VWP (Don & Terry) followed by occassional chaser John GW4ZPL and an unknown to me M5DND. At that point Nigel 2E0NHM and Bob G6ODU called in but I couldn’t get back to either. Passing on to Graham G4JZF revealed that the band seemed to drop out suddenly and my signals had rapidly gone from 59 to 33. On I struggled - now with Nick G4OOE - another 33 report! Talk about gormless - glancing up from the log, I noticed that one leg of the dipole had become detached from the wall and was now lying on grass and snow. Derr! With things back to normal the last station was logged - G0BPU; except that is for going back to call the two unsuccessful stations. Bob made it but sadly Nigel didn’t.
I made two calls to Hazel M6YLH and I found out later that my QRO was clearly heard. She called me back but sadly her 5 Watts did not result in a QSO. In fact I didn’t hear her signal at all which was disappointing but there was significant QSB around.
10.117 CW - 30 QSO’s:
Now came the dilema. Will and the dog had been gone for the better part of an hour so I needed to be quick. However, it was still too near noon for Top Band. Should I do 160m now and maybe fail or should I insert another band? I’d heard people had been enjoying extended use of the HF bands in the last two months - even working SOTA on the dizzy heights of 24 MHz! Scary stuff for a Top Bander but dare I possibly venture up as far as 10 Megs? Maybe I could stretch a point today. I’d been on there before and I remember it as a nice quiet backwater away from the bustle of 7.032; lately with the added bonus of short skip too.
After a discussion with Nick & Phil on 80m, hearing me 59 again with the aerial back in the air, I decided to give it a go. It shouldn’t take too long and Roy SSH might be home by then. The link dipole was rigged asymmetrically with the 40m link opened on the ‘earthy’ side and the 20m link opened on the ‘hot’ side. VSWR is reasonable but it doesn’t seem to work the other way round.
Phil G4OBK had suggested a QRG of 10.117 (SOTA channel 10.118 was too close to a DX station) and it was he who answered my ‘QRL?’ After that I scarcely knew what hit me! A dozen simultaneous callers merging into one with little intelligibility apart from the crafty ones who were calling a couple of hundred Hz high or low.
In the day’s few minutes of sunshine and with 40 Watts and later 20, I fought my way through thirty stations in 35 minutes before the worsening WX got the better of me. It was hard at first - my CW skills are quite basic - callsigns and reports, but later it thinned out. I worked: G, DL, HB9, PA, OE, ON, LA, SM and G4SSH too. Yes there were G’s to be had on 10 Megs today - I worked five in all but what a busy ‘backwater’ this has become! When most of the callers were non-SOTA and my right foot had become numb with cold, I gave it up but 30m had certainly got the NP31 QSO count up.
1.832 CW - 2 QSO’s:
When the time came to fit the 1.8 MHz coils, the sky looked gloomy and falling wet snow had replaced the bright conditions. I had forgotten to announce a QSY while on 30m but I need not have worried. The coils were in tune and I was grateful to hear what I assumed to be G4OBK immediately. QSO’s were quickly carried out with Phil and also Roger G4OWG - Rawdon, nr Leeds. I tried CQ for another 3 minutes but hearing nothing and having soaked up a fair amount of cold wet sleet, the plug was duly pulled.
70.450 FM - Not used:
After clearing away the HF gear, it took me all of 5 seconds to realise that I didn’t want to do 4m FM. Wet and cold as I now was, even QSO’s of 15 seconds each would have been too much. Besides, experience of nearby Horse Head Moor (ex NP21) has shown that Birks Fell is likely to have a mediocre takeoff on 2m let alone on 4m with a rubber duck. Sorry if you were waiting but I’m gradually going soft!
The WALK OFF:
This took 38 minutes to 14:27 and it stopped raining on the way. Will, who had been waiting an hour, spotted me on the descent and drove the car 50 metres closer. By 14:33 we were on our way home.
The drive home via Grassington, Killinghall, Scotton, Farnham, (to avoid Harrogate) Topcliffe and Sutton Bank took until 17:12. (2 hrs - 39 min). Will, who had not seen Kilnsey Crag before was impressed by it.
This wasn’t exactly what we’d had in mind 2 weeks before but because of their dry-stone walls, these two ‘old faithfuls’ fitted in with the prevailing weather conditions well enough. It was uncomfortable at times but winter activation almost always is at some point or another. If anything the weather was better than forecast by the MWIS service but about right for Accu-Weather and the BBC mountain offerings.
There would have been time for a third summit but there were several good reasons why it didn’t happen. Firstly I hadn’t warned Will. There were none in the immediate area that I hadn’t already done. Ingleborough was a candidate but it was too far away and too big an undertaking with 90 minutes of daylight remaining. Finally, the WX had been poor all day and was about to get a whole lot worse. A big storm was already over the west of the country and it was heading our way. Wind gust speeds were forecast to increase to 80 mph plus.
Top band should perhaps have worked better less than 30 minutes after sunrise on a winter’s day but I didn’t check for general band occupancy if any. At least Mike EI2CL got a look in. In early afternoon I was lucky to log two stations though I know Mark G0VOF was unavailable at that time.
After dark 160m is arguably the best band to put a SOTA on - well it would be if significant numbers of chasers could get onto the band. In daylight it works over relatively short distances only; occasional exceptions being G3RMD in Cheltenham and GM0UDL in Inverness. Being honest, my antenna height does not do it any favours but having just slimmed down packweights with Li-Po batteries, I have no plans to add more weight to my activations at present.
As for 80m - I’d say it was pretty much ‘normal service’ at both times of day. My theory for introducing it in 2004 as a ‘replacement’ for 2m FM remains valid today. In theory it should give a reasonable chance to chasers in VHF range whilst simultanously providing coverage out to a much greater distances. It’s not going to work well in daytime with QRP however. In practice it can be a bit of a struggle for the nearer stations and not everybody has an antenna for it. On the plus side it can reach out as far as Germany early and late. How long 80m can continue to deliver, as sunspots become more numerous, is anybody’s guess but I can’t see it being of much use 3 hours either side of noon by next summer. By then 40 (or 60) will be the bands of choice for UK coverage.
It seems that 30m is just like 7.032 these days but like 40m, it has been carrying short skip around the UK for several weeks now. The sortie into it was enjoyed in retrospect but like 7.032, I personally found it a little stressful. At least you don’t need vast power on there and there are no contests.
Even with increasing band occupancy due to Chinese rigs, 4m FM with 3 Watts and an indifferent aerial was never going to deliver much from either of these summits.
Despite significant precipitation of one sort or another, the waterproofs remained in the rucksack. My Primaloft jacket did get a bit soggy but just about coped. The umbrella is good if you can hold it, operate the radio and log all at the same time. It was also used during the walk-off.
Will and I both enjoyed this outing and so evidently did Jess, though she slept much of the way home. It would be nice to get out again this year but who knows which way the WX will go.
ASCENT & DISTANCE:
NP17 Fountains Fell - 241m (791ft) ascent, 2.9 km (1.8 miles) walked.
NP31 Birks Fell - 371m (1217ft) ascent, 5.5 km (3.4 miles) walked.
TOTAL: 612m (2008ft) ascent, 8.4 km (5.3 miles) walked.
Miles Driven (estimate): 210.
14 activator points.
7 on 160m -CW.
21 on 80m -CW.
17 on 80m -SSB.
30 on 30m-CW.
1 on 4m FM.
TOTAL: 76 QSO’s. (NP17 - 26 and NP31 - 50)
NP17 Fountains Fell - 22 % depleted, 11V nom, 8.8 Ah Li-Po.
NP31 Birks Fell - 59 % depleted, 11V nom, 8.8 Ah Li-Po.
Summit time: 4 hr - 1 min. (1 hour - 42 min plus 2 hour - 19 min.)
Walking time: 2 hr - 52 min.
Driving time: 5 hr - 15 min.
Home to home: 12 hr - 52 min.
Thanks to all stations worked and for telephone / text messaging via G4SSH / M6YLH -(Hazel is thumbnailed on P83 of the January Radcom). Spots from G4SSH, G0VOF, G4OBK, M6YLH & 2E0NHM were more than just useful. Also to Will for driving us there and back.
73, John G4YSS (Using SSEG Club-Call GX0OOO/P)