Three ‘8 pointers’ on HF: Pillar, Kirkfell & Gt.Gable.
All times: UTC
This was my fifth activation of these three together and one of two LD-SOTA multiple-activations which I call a ‘big round.’ It is well within the capabilities of the average walker, who might not term it so, but the ‘average walker’ might stay at each summit for just a few minutes, especially in winter.
Mostly I have done these in February and always on 2m FM only. Since 2003, SOTA has changed markedly. Chasers are now located in all parts of the country, Eire and out into Europe, which rather suggests the use of HF. I had no illusions of an ‘easy ride’ and with summit time, available daylight and weather conditions all critical at this time of year, decided that I should attempt no more than an 80m, two mode operation with pre-announced ‘semi-contest’ style working. I hoped a notice on the reflector to that effect, might help achieve that end.
Honister was the chosen start point as at 294 miles, a total driving distance of 66 miles is saved over the Wasdale Head start point. Also, of the three popular routes, it marginally involves the least ascent.
According to the mountain forecast, low-cloud was predicted to lift, giving way to possible sunshine in the afternoon. There could be a shower or two. It wasn’t perfect but preferable to large quantities of lying snow, which can really impede progress.
Scarborough start-time (earliest ever) had to be 02:45, which enabled an early arrival at Honister Mine car park, at 05:47. A very early start was essential and I was expecting to walk both in and out in darkness.
Booted-up and walking at 06:00, I had planned on it being daylight before reaching any steep ground. It was still dark when the rain started near Grey Knotts; a reminder of the threat to success posed by bad weather. Having been this way in 2003, I knew I was facing an almost 3-hour walk-in to the first summit. HF was going to take a lot more time than 2FM and these rocky tops would not readily welcome my mast and dipole end supports.
I threaded my way along the ‘Boat How Bypass’ where the views can be quite stunning on a good day. This morning I could see nothing outside a radius of 30m and this is how it was to stay for the entire day.
PILLAR, LD-006, 892m, 8points, 08:50 to 10:38, 1 Deg.C, low-cloud, 25 mph driven rain / sleet.
First rain then sleet, was being driven onto me, as the mast and dipole were erected as rapidly as possible. If I was to finish this ‘escapade’ in the day, a number of things would have to be sacrificed. There would be no Top Band, no 40m CW and no comforts or time for clothing adjustments or shelter erection. The plan would have to be to sit there in the pouring rain and ‘take-it’ in waterproofs and a thin fleece, hoping I would soon be underway and that eventually the WX would improve. It was absolutely essential that nothing came along in the form of delays.
3.725 was ‘blocked’ and a few CQ’s on 3.730 CW produced nothing, though I was some 40 minutes early. I rummaged for the phone and tried to press the buttons with soggy mittens. ‘Hello, this is the G4SSH ‘phone-a-spot’ service!’ Roy had me worked, logged and spotted in no time but it was a further 8 minutes before the next caller was able to show up, owing to there being two other activators currently on the air. This and my QRP, made for a slow QSO rate. Though I was very pleased to work Peter GW3TJE/P on GW/SW-011, Western European stations were disappointingly, absent on 80m today.
The move to 3.722 SSB at 09:52 brought in 8 regulars, ably led as is often the case, by Graham G4JZF but after a difficult exchange with Mike GW0DSP, I was faced with two ‘big stations’ who had suddenly started a conversation on my frequency. Being QRP and by now shaking violently with ‘bone penetrating’ cold, damp, wind-chill, it took me over 15 minutes to politely remove these impedimenta. After this there were just four more regulars. Earlier, fleeting thoughts of 40m CW had now to be abandoned. Toward the end, my voice began to falter. Only by the end of the day did I realise that I had set-off ‘carrying’ what was rapidly to develop into one of my chronic throat / chest infections.
I certainly welcomed the exercise and the heat it generated but it was still raining steadily as I slid around on wet, slimy rocks in the Kirk Fell Gully. After that, it was plain-sailing up to the rock shelter.
KIRKFELL, LD-014, 802m, 8pts, 11:57 to 13:25, 2 Deg.C, low-cloud, rain at first, 30 mph wind.
Beginning at 12:18 on 3.722 CW, loyal followers showed up for a second batch of 8 points but it was no more than steady progress through to 12:48 when once again Graham, G4JZF opened the SSB session. Thankfully, there were no delays this time and though the wind had increased, at least the rain stopped before QRT.
By 13:08, I had ten CW and a dozen SSB QSO’s in the log but there was no time for 40m here either. At least I had managed to keep to my 90 minute self-imposed time limit for this activation.
There was still the final activation to fit in and I should take care to complete it with enough daylight left to safely negotiate the northeast ridge down as far as Windy Gap. I’d passed that way before in similar circumstances but added to this persistent low-cloud, darkness could so easily make things at best awkward on that steep, rocky descent.
GT.GABLE, LD-005, 899m, 8pts, 14:35 to 16:31, 3 Deg.C, low-cloud, 20 mph wind.
I was still mostly wet-through from the morning’s rain so finding an operating point about 70m NE and to the lee of the summit, was welcome.
For the third and final time, my dedicated behind-the-scenes support man Roy G4SSH, was first in the CW log at 15:02 and a further dozen chasers were worked in 18 minutes. Twelve ops followed at a rate of under 1.8 minutes per QSO; ‘lightning speed’ by my standards! I thanked Peter G3TJE/P for calling-in again, this time offering GW/WB-001, Black Mountain.
It was close to 16:00 UTC but I thought a QSY onto 40m CW could just barely be afforded. The first thing I heard on 7.032 CW was Fritz DL4FDM/P, on DM/HE-003. I don’t know who was most delighted as we validated my third HF S2S of the day. Like 80m today, 40 was not at its best and after 4 more QSO’s, then no takers, I had to ‘pull the plug’ and think about getting down in daylight.
Off I went at 16:31, following a line of cairns to the edge of the summit plateau. The cloud was thick and the light not good but I found the path down to Windy Gap OK. From here the path is steep but well defined, the surface is loose rock and I finally dropped out of cloud where it meets the Honister path.
The final part of the route skirts the high points and takes you to the Tramway’s Drum House. From there ‘taking a right’ drops you straight down to the Mine. It was dark by now and my first glimpse of the headlights of a car, making its way slowly over the Honister Pass, was a welcome sight indeed. I was finally back to the car some 12 hours and 5 minutes after I’d left it.
After taking some time to collect myself, I drove away and arrived in Scarborough at 21:13 but the day had stretched to 18.5 hours. Though more easily done from Wasdale Head, this might have been enjoyable, with a sense of achievement but the WX had not ‘read the script’ with the result that it became little more than a grim endurance test with a dogged determination to finish. Apart from the cheery comments of appreciation from the chasers and one or two words exchanged with the handful of other walkers, all was pure misery. Give me clear conditions and minus 3 or 4C every time! Most of all, give me a home-QTH ‘handy’ for the LD Mountains!
Total ascent: 1380m (4528ft). Distance walked: 12.3 miles. Distance driven: 294 miles.
Gross Time: 12 hr-5 min. Net (walking) time: 6 hr-53 min. SOTA time: 5 hr-12 min.
Sunrise: 07:22. Sunset: 17:31.
FT817ND with internal 2.7 Ah AA Ni-Mh batteries.
5W to a ‘link’ dipole for 80m/60m/40m.
5m Carbon mast.
Reserve battery not required.
Jingtong JT208 H/H as ‘reserve’ equipment.
Pack weight: 10.3kg.
34 on 80m CW.
40 on 80m SSB.
5 on 40m CW.
Total: 79. (Inc three S2S’s)
33 SOTA points.
THANKS to ALL STATIONS worked, for your efforts to maximise QSO rates, and to G4SSH, G4JZF, GW7AAV, DJ5AV, GW3BV and G6CRV for spotting. Special thanks to Roy G4SSH for initial annunciations and to Roger G4OWG for posting alerts for me, when I was not able to.
73 John G4YSS,
using GX0OOO/P (Scarborough Special Events Group Club-call)