G4YSS Activation Report for G/LD-014 & G/LD-006, 01-December-08
KIRK FELL & PILLAR, LF-QRO.
G4YSS, using SSEG (Scarborough Special Events Group) Club-Call: GX0OOO/P. (Unaccompanied).
All times: UTC on 01-12-08.
About 8 months ago, my heart sunk when I realised that my XYL would be going off on Holiday around the end of November. I saw this as a clash of interests; she was potentially meddling in the serious business of Winter Bonus! She asked if I would take her and 3 friends to Manchester Airport for a look at the Christmas Markets in Vienna. Evidently, they’d got a good deal and wanted to keep it that way. ‘You can take my car and do some walking on 1st of December, sleep in the car and then pick us up from Manchester on the 2nd.’ Her car is much better than my old thing but I would still be outside my comfort zone, regarding the number of things that could go wrong and not wanting to leave those ladies stranded.
I picked them all up at 03:40 on Friday and off we set over the M62 in freezing fog. A scary start but there was nothing on the roads. They kissed me goodbye (I’m old enough for that now) at 6am & was back in Scarborough, by 07:50. After that experience, I thought that SOTA on Monday would be too soon. In the end the week’s weather forecast gave me no other choice so I spent 6 hours preparing on the Sunday, had 5 hours sleep and was away, bound for Wasdale Head, at 03:10.
Though I have been on 2 or 3 SOTA day-trips to Wasdale in past years, 354 miles both ways on roads that are not brilliant, is regarded as just about the limit. This time, I knew it would only be one way and though there were traffic delays well before 6am at Sellafield, it took just 3.6 hours in the good car.
At 06:45 it was still dark and I wasn’t too sure about those small subtleties of the initial route out of civilisation, which can make the difference between summit-bound or dog-bitten. After a sleep, I set off at 07:40.
The Kirk Fell (LD14) route: From the ample car park at NY 1870 0852, take a left down the side of the pub and a right by the toilets at NY 1862 0877. From there, walk with the beck on your left but don’t cross the bridge. At NY 1877 0905, you have a choice of Pillar via one of two ways or Kirk Fell walking NE via Beck Head Tarn. Though not immediately evident, there is a fourth path which starts by a gate at NY 1878 0915. This provides access up Kirk Fell’s southern flank, going straight to the summit shelter.
This assault could not be more direct, with the result that it’s steep and unrelenting. It’s easy to find and grassy to NY 1913 0998 but after that it is characterised by rocks and scree. Today there was a thin skim of snow, which made progress difficult. It was here that a half-hour snow shower ‘hit’ me and in the brisk wind, I reluctantly had to add waterproofs over shirt & fleece. With hands ‘retracted’ up sleeves I battled on, now without a view, frequently slipping backwards and once losing the path, while having another of my ‘why do I do this?’ moments. After some time, the gradient began to ease and with spirits lifted and snow shower over, the top came into view.
It’s very unusual to see people on summits this early, especially in winter, so the shelter was chosen for the activation. Erecting a full 80m link dipole on a slightly ‘pointy’ rocky top in frozen snow will always have its difficulties but this time it went sadly wrong. The brisk wind combined with the summit shape made for smaller horizontal and vertical included angles in the wire, in order for the un-guyed mast to adopt a reasonably upright stance. Moderate wind-chill required that this all had to be done without doffing gloves for long and the fiddly 160m coils needed fitting then tuning. As usual, the wire caught on every snow-peppered rock and the support fell down twice. While trying to re-erect it, the unnoticed snag made it feel like I was trying to land a 10 pound Cod from Scarborough’s Marine Drive, so it was perhaps inevitable that the mast broke in two.
The first attempt at bodging failed; one of the bungies flew off and was lost in the snow. Finally after a total 40 minute struggle but still with 15 minutes to spare, all was ready.
KIRK FELL, G/LD-014, 802m, 8 pts, 09:07 to 11:12, minus 1 deg C, overcast with 25 to 30 mph wind, 30mm of lying snow. IO84JL – NY11. IC706 2G (lightened). Link-dipole with 160m coils & 8.8 Ah Li-Po battery. No mobile phone coverage.
Not expecting too much at this late hour it was quite a surprise when at 09:46, Pete EI7CC came directly back to ‘CQ from GX0OOO/P.’ By 10:04, I had logged G4BLH, G4OBK, GW0DSP, G0TDM; also using GX0ANT & G7GQL. G3RMD and a 449 from Andre ON4CAP rounded it off. Power was 50W with 100W for Mike DSP.
It was either snowing and/ or snow was being whipped into the air by the wind. This was getting into the rucksack and onto the rig. I stumbled over the uneven surface against the wind to ‘walk down’ each dipole leg and remove the coils.
Roy (G4SSH) was waiting here and came straight back with a 579 report. Though not working quite as well as a week ago, 30W on 80m Morse, delivered 20 chasers. Disappointingly, not counting Dublin the only overseas ones were DL1FU, ON3WAB & DF2PI. One strange thing happened. After G3RMD and at 10:29, Don G0NES called in and I worked him 599/579. He gave me 73 & VA. Who should next call in but Don G0NES? I worked him ‘again.’ Obviously I didn’t work Don the first time but another station who must have called in under Don and thought Don’s report was his. We got the reports both ways OK and he was a good signal, but I didn’t get a second chance at the callsign. I wonder who this mystery operator was?
I was a bit downhearted here, with just 8 stations worked. Noise levels were maybe higher but I couldn’t tell in my location.
The Walk-to Pillar (LD6):
I have been long confused about the way down from Kirk Fell to Black Sail Pass since doing Gable, Kirk Fell & Pillar on 9th February 2003, which was before recording GPS tracks. Reversing the order from 2004 to 2007 I could never relocate the path when coming up from Black Sail Pass. Convinced there was a better way which avoided the nasty gully (running up from NY 1924 1118 to NY 1924 1110) that I’ve been drawn into ever since, I’d hoped to mark the proper route today.
In the face of the north wind and despite a numb face, it was ludicrously easy to find the elusive path by following the line of ancient metal fence posts down past the gully’s top and I will not be risking my neck again in the latter. The proper route is recorded here: NY 1932 1077; NY 1923 1107; NY 1920 1119; NY 1921 1128 and NY 1917 1139 to BSP Col at NY 1918 1144. It is rocky and steep in places but without doubt, it beats the alternative.
From Black Sail Pass, it was a straightforward ascent to Pillar but taking a photo down the gully at Looking Stead proved difficult due to not being able to stand still in the up-draught, an effect of local topographical acceleration. Just past here I saw the first (and only) walker’s of the day; a group of three.
At the trig and shelter-equipped (but otherwise bare summit) the wind had increased noticeably to around 40 mph. Staying just long enough for a photo or two and suddenly grateful that I wasn’t trying to activate using VHF today, I dropped down the south (lee) flank as far as a large rock at NY 1711 1198. Respite should have been greater than it was but at least here was a ‘seat & backrest.’ Furthermore, there were fissures along the top in which to wedge the mast. I wish the same could be said of the 1m end supports but try as I might, I could make scant impression on the rocky, frozen ground with its sparse grass. The solution was to kick nearby rocks out of the surface and build a structure sufficient to accommodate the ‘stick’ holding the eastern leg. Care had to be taken not to drop anything on this convex surface with the freezing wind howling down it and further dislodged rocks were needed to weight down the log and sit-mat every time they were left. Not counting drifts, lying snow was 50mm deep, where it had not been blown off but now and again a big gust of wind would get some of it airborne again.
Cloud was just covering Gable’s tall top, which resembles the back of a bald head from this vantage but Kirk Fell & the Scafells were free of it. Beyond my feet there was a great view, if a little hazy at times, down into Mosedale.
PILLAR, G/LD-006, 892m, 8 pts, 12:41 to 15:47. Wind 40 mph. minus 2 deg C. Thin low-cloud at times. Sun trying but rarely succeeding. IO84IL – NY11. IC706 2G (lightened). Link-dipole with 160m coils & 8.8Ah ‘experimental’ Li-Po (already part used on LD14). Snowing and/ or snow blowing. Poor mobile phone coverage.
Roy G4SSH, who’d got his QRV estimate for LD6 almost spot-on, was first back to the GX0OOO/P CQ. 23 ops responded to Roy’s post in 40 minutes but band conditions were not A1. As expected, most were G-lander’s but there was also a healthy mix of overseas stations in and amongst, as follows: ON4CAP, DL1FU, EI2CL, EI7CC, DF2PI, PA0XAW (Age), PA0HRM, DF5WA and ON4ON. Some QSO’s needed full power in response to ‘RST??? – BK……….Silence! There was one station that stubbornly refused to respond to this treatment and I must have used several percent of available battery power trying repeatedly to fire off his 579, in two lengthy sessions before and after 14:00. This was S51ZG (Slovenia) and despite QSO’s with him on 80m CW in the past, he could not hear his return RST, probably due to QRM that wasn’t evident at my end. ‘Keep trying.’
Again a small QSY to a clear spot was required but that didn’t fool Steve GW7AAV. Once again 80m phone was disappointing with just 12 stations worked. Almost all were ‘G’ regulars but Brian G8ADD to name but one, was sadly missing from their ranks. A lone Frenchman F4CJT, finished off proceedings on this band.
The physical activity involved in fitting the coils was welcome but it was now around 15:00 and exposure to the biting wind, which also made for difficult progress across the steep slope, wasn’t pleasant. The wind-speed produced a requirement for the use of mechanical as well as two electrical connections between the coils and dipole break-points. This is fiddly and one coil was seen hanging by just one of its wire connections. Rushing from the safety of the rock, after first remembering to weight the log and sit-mat, I was just able to save it from ‘certain death’ down the slope, prior to two additional visits for tuning.
VSWR was manic however; the coil AGL was changing so rapidly that it ranged between 1.5 and 10:1 or worse. This must have cause QSB in any remote station’s receiver, which would have added to that produced by nature. I’m afraid there was little that I could do to prevent this. The uneven effect of the wind, added to the weight of the coils, versus the over-strained 24 AWG wire and such factors as slope, local ground undulations, included angles to compensate for wind, shaky end support integrity and the coax whipping around, all contrived to make things difficult when trying to put out a decent signal on such a long wavelength.
All this preparatory messing about must have taken 20 minutes or so. Chasers were waiting patiently, perhaps thinking there was no propagation. Problems or not, I had to get a signal of some sort out. The signal was heard by Phil G4OBK but my 100W got just a 449 RST. Not a good start but others followed Phil, namely: G0TDM (GX0ANT – G7GQL) G3RDQ, EI2CL, G4RQJ and ON4CAP. Between 14:54 and 15:00, GW0DSP, G3RMD and a GM0 were clearly heard. These were given the full RF output and RST’s were sent many times with callsigns interspersed but without result. All were 559. I felt frustrated by band conditions and what was happening to my aerial but short of waiting for darkness, I could do no more.
Because the 80m SSB session had been poorly attended I had a little time to spare plus, even after two QRO activations, there seemed to be life left in the battery. I didn’t have the resources for a full-blown 40m CW ‘thrash’ of the proportions experienced in the past but neither did I want to descend just yet. Another reason for this is that despite the uncomfortable conditions, much has been invested to place ones self and a radio station in such a position, so why not try to continue if at all possible.
My first CQ was immediately answered by the ever vigilant Alain F6ENO. No spots, no alerts, he was there giving me 599. Soon three 9A’s followed Alain into the log and finally LA1ENA called and a QSO was completed. Just as I was about to send ‘VA’ the rig cut out without warning. The battery had done well but would do no more and I am very sorry if anyone was waiting for a QSO.
The demise of the battery was timely in a way. A weak, hazy sun was dipping behind clouds and heading for the horizon and from what I suspected regarding my intended walk-off route, a little more daylight would be a major
An unannounced call on here produced what was expected from these remote mountains; I had already packed up the LF station so got on my way, picking up the path and line of cairns at around NY 170 119.
A tricky retreat to Wasdale Head:
Short but steep walking routes had likely added to the summit time possible today and the plan was to ‘go direct’ for the third and last time. Seen from Wasdale, Pillar has a highly visible, intriguing looking path which rises steeply between Green Crag & Elliptical Crag to Wind Gap (Not to be confused with Gable’s Windy Gap.) Though one could be forgiven for assuming it to be a scree-run and not a path at all, the plan was to use it for a rapid return today. This route was completely new to me and had been niggling in the back of my mind all day. However, if I could clear it before dark, it would save a long walk back via Black Sail Pass and the easy route.
Apart from a bit of lowering yourself down the steep bits, the descent to Wind Gap (NY 1683 1177) went well. A left turn here takes you onto the scree path, which is steep from the start and rather loose. After a while it gets worse and becomes really unstable in places. Even though sweating with the exertion of just trying to stay upright with the QRO pack, I dared not stop to doff any layers as the light was beginning to fail.
The slope was quite mobile with stones ranging in size from quarter-brick upwards. Walking down it was bad enough and although it might be safer, I really wouldn’t wish to ascend it. As the rocks got larger, both they and I began to ‘flow’ downhill in places. I slid past one the size of a microwave cooker but it caught me up, threatening the back of my legs. Managing to fend it off, I continued. It was rather tiring and hard on the ankles but after a long time, I was relieved to reach easy grass at which point I could tie my coat to the sack and get the headlight (needed by 16:40) ready for use. Apart from losing the path in the dark a time or two and a late encounter with a snarling dog, the walk back to Wasdale, where I arrived at 17:19, was uneventful.
Here are some marked waypoints for this ‘exciting’ path: After Wind Gap, NY 1697 1153; NY 1742 1107; NY 1784 1074. Wall with gate, then stile at NY 1811 1036 and join the Black Sail Pass path (as far as I could see in the dark) at NY 1823 1029.
B & B:
All I had to do now was get myself to Manchester Airport the next day and pick up those ladies. I had no intention of going back to the East Coast that night, so drove as far as Garstang to a B&B I found on the Internet. The Ashdene on the A6 (01995-602676) turned out to be friendly, clean, comfortable and not too dear at £30 for a single (£21 sharing). It also had a relief map of the Lake District on the wall; just my kind of place! I was too tired to go back out for a meal; being most interested in the shower and tea-making facilities and I was actually too tired and animated to sleep much.
The next day brought snow & ice but I made it through to the Airport and back to Scarborough OK.
Comments: This was the easiest of the last three dual-LD-summit SOTA expeditions undertaken over a 2-week period. (Day 1: LD8 & LD3. Day 2: LD1 & LD5). The route chosen is quite efficient, though a little loose & slippery in places. A break with tradition; namely not having to start from Honister and add LD5 to these two, made for an easier day. Band conditions were average to good but the QRO helped. The increasingly popular Top band worked its magic once again but a few ‘fell by the wayside.’ The 11V (nom) 8.8Ah LI-PO ‘QRO’ power-supply, has now passed two separate, 2-SOTA practical tests.
The last 4 summits have been much the same with rocky, frozen tops, negative temperatures, lying snow and moderate winds. Apart from perhaps High Stile, this concludes this year’s LD sorties. In the last 2 weeks, I have enjoyed (often in hindsight) six of the cream of Lake District SOTAs. Even considering that the 58 points gained have cost a total of 3745m (12,287ft) climbed and 42km (26.2 miles) walked not to mention 1030 miles driven, I did enjoy it in a perverse kind of way. Planned for October, these mountains ‘slipped’ into November / December due to family bereavement. Next perhaps a little ‘NP’ light relief!
LD14: 727 m (2385ft) of ascent / 2.4 km (1.5 miles) walked.
LD6: Adds 362 m (1188ft) of ascent / adds 3.6km (2.3 miles) walked (LD14 to LD6).
Return from LD6: 5m ascent / 4.8 km (3 miles) walked.
Day’s total: 1094m (3589ft) of ascent / 10.8 km (6.8 miles) walked. 22 SOTA points (inc bonus).
Walking time: Wasdale to LD14: 1h-27min. LD14 to LD6: 1h-29min. LD6 to Wasdale: 1h-32min. Tot: 4h-28min.
Summit time: LD14: 2h-5min. LD6: 3h-6min. Total: 5h-11min.
Gross time: 9h-39min.
QSO’s: Total of 87 in the day comprising:
160m CW: 19
80m CW: 43
80m SSB: 20
40m CW: 5
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, including 0.75 litre drinks (half used).
Thanks to all stations worked and to the SMT for making it all possible. Thanks also for spotting support from GW0DSP, G4SSH, G4OBK, G4BLH, G0TDM, 9A4MF
73, John G4YSS (back to using Scarborough SSEG GX0OOO/P)