G4YSS Activation Report: GW/NW-001 on 27-March-08. (SNOWDON on 160m.)
G(W)4YSS using GC0OOO/P. Unaccompanied from Pen-Y-Pass. 40m, 80m, 160m & 2m FM. All times UTC.
The reason for this 5-night visit to Llandudno was the ECG conference. The mission was to get my XYL and two of her friends safely there & back. Transport around town was also important as all three are disabled in one way or another. The deal? Snowdon on 160m!
This would be my fourth time on NW1 but most of my previous efforts were ‘multi-summit’ and just done on 2m. Recently, I’d noticed that some of these big Welsh mountains had sparse records for activation on HF/LF. Some have never been heard on 40m or 80m. Snowdon was not quite in that category but the data showed a mere 8 QSO’s from a total of 1346 had taken place on 3.5 MHz. The 40m, 30m and 20m bands all combined totalled just 6 QSO’s but there had been 15 on 60m. 144 MHz was listed as 1279 QSO’s, with a handful on 70 cm & notably, 23 cm. 10 GHz too ??
Why such little LF activity? It’s obvious really. The summit ‘layout’ is barely suitable for 40 metre length of wire. It is high, often wild and misty but perhaps most of all, there are usually masses of people crammed onto this hugely popular but very small top; the mountain railway adding considerably to the problem.
A glance at the map (bearing in mind the 25m activation rule) shows a roughly triangular area with sides of the order of 100m or less. This small, exposed pyramid slopes steeply down in every direction. Manufactured steps serve a plinth-mounted trig-point (and combined topograph) from 2 directions. The surface, not particularly mast or peg friendly in summer, is likely to be frozen solid in winter and the guidelines state that we should avoid placing antennas across paths. Strictly speaking, the railway and café lie outside the activation area.
Though not straightforward, the problem must have already been solved by someone. After all the existing LF QSO’s must have been obtained somehow but how best could it be tackled again and 160m added?
- Do it when the railway is not serving the summit (or do it at night!)
- Accept probable discomfort and exposure to the elements in order to best site a wire antenna (or use a vertical).
- Use lying-snow to solve the mast supporting problem.
- To ensure compliance with the 25m rules, secure one end of the antenna as close to the trig as possible whilst at the same time, avoiding paths and keeping the antenna above head-height.
- Be ready (as always) to explain to all & sundry, just what is happening!
My error was to put the activation to the back of my mind and not to ‘keep-up’ with the weather forecasts. The intention was to leave it until Friday (28th) or Saturday and start walking early, before 7am. One glance from the A55 on the way in on Monday, told us that snow would be encountered on the high-tops; a safe activation depending on its condition.
Though the rucksack was ready packed, it was not until 8am on Thursday 27th that I looked at the forecast. Friday and Saturday now appeared to be out of the question with rain, snow and high winds, so I made the decision to skip breakfast and get underway immediately. As per November 2007, the intention was to do Y Lliwedd too but the late start and lying snow above 1800 feet, meant that NW8 was probably off the agenda.
Left Llandudno at 08:25 arriving Pen-Y-Pass via the A55, at 09:15 (30 miles). The car park and overspill were almost full; it costs £4 for the day. In my opinion Pen-Y-Pass is by far the most efficient start-point for walking up Snowdon.
Like last November and because of building work at the summit, the notice was still at the car park exit for walkers, ‘No trains, no shelter, no café and no facilities.’ In fact it seems that there were trains running this week but not as far as the summit station. After ‘inputting’ 1litre of water and six Fair-Trade biscuits, I was away along the PYG Track by 09:40. It wasn’t easy to pass large groups of people but traffic did eventually thin out.
The snow-line was encountered at the Crib Goch path junction (560m ASL) and I entered cloud at 880m. There was plenty of snow underfoot and it was slippery. I didn’t have proper crampons with me and hands were needed in places, so I firmed up plans to ‘make a day’ of NW1 and forget NW8 this time. As well as the late start, that decision was influenced by the imagined state of the steep descent from the Finger Post at SH 6087 5420 down to the NW8 path at around SH 6121 5413 and the fact that I had forgotten to pack a second battery for the 817.
The trickiest part was between the zig-zags and the ‘railway ridge’ but after that, strong winds had reduced the amount of lying snow and ice, making it easy to walk the final few hundred metres to the summit. You couldn’t see far but there was little sign of life up there. There were a few walkers and the usual circling Herring Gulls but no builders at the new café and certainly no rail passengers; the track being buried under a foot or two of snow in most places. After I climbed to the trig point the low-cloud was replaced by fleeting, stunning views. This preceded the onset of general good visibility, some pleasant sunshine and a decreasing windspeed.
YR WYDDFA (SNOWDON) GW/NW-001, 1085m, 10 pts, 11:22 to 16:41. minus 2 deg C (shade). 20 mph NW wind decreasing to 8 mph at the end. Approx 7 cm lying snow with slight drifting and minor cornicing (much less snow than on the approach). 20% low-cloud with light snow-showers and mild antenna icing conditions. 40% overcast. 40% sunshine with excellent views and photography.
It was now time to put my thoughts about antenna positioning into practice. Glances down the snow-clad (and for all I knew, icy) NE and SE faces warned me not to go there, so I was left with pacing-out the short bit of ridge between the trig-point and the final bend in the approach-path to the NW. There was barely sufficient space for the 80m dipole, even if one end was tied to the trig-point (which I obviously couldn’t do). The lack of snow didn’t help either and the only option for the mast was to insert it through six-inches of frozen snow, which had built-up just down-wind from a small rock. In the end I pushed the higher dipole end-support sideways, deep into the trig-point cairn near the top. Lower down, at the path bend, I found just enough snow to anchor the other 1m stick. The mast was not in the proper position and I had to accept a lot of bending, which reduced dipole height. Lump-it or leave it but though the wire was in a safe place, the ‘secret’ was out and I was attracting lots of attention.
With no pre-warning alert (this was primarily a holiday) I phoned the G4SSH ‘phone-a-spot’ service. No reply. I realised I should have warned Roy but the sudden snap decision to ‘go’ hadn’t helped. I didn’t have any other chaser phone numbers with me and my son Phil was still at work so it would have to be 7.032 first.
40m CW: Now what’s up? The FT817 was ‘dead.’ I chatted with a curious walker, whilst removing and replacing the eight batteries. Hey presto! He seemed as relieved as I was. Now this would be easy….CQ-40m-pileup-spot-QSY-80m-QSY-160m and on my way! Not so. Conditions were poor and I only had 5W. It took several minutes to raise somebody in the form of regular chaser DL6UNF. Frank got his 10 points but my ‘PSE SPOT’ fell through the QSB and I was ‘sentenced’ to another 10 minutes of CQ’ing. After ‘449’ from Frid DL1FU, up came ON4CAP with the response, ‘Will-Spot’. Thanks Andre but by the time my brief, qualifying, groundwave-QSO with Mike GW0DSP had passed, so too had 30 or 40 minutes. Though I was sitting in the wind, there was now sunshine. Of the steady procession of ‘Snowdon conquerors,’ not one said anything bad about the strange equipment strung along the NW summit ridge. All were polite and many were interested. Like me, they were glad to be alive on a day and in a place like this one.
I could sense the desperation behind some of the calls. This would be a 10 point unique to many stations outside the UK though surely over the years, some had bagged it in VHF lift condx. A total of 20 QSO’s were logged on 40m CW but it took over 90 minutes in ‘QSB / QRM.’ By far the hardest exchange was with DJ4AA (‘119 with QSB’) and despite huge efforts on both sides, Fritz HB9RE missed out altogether. I was being urged to use 30m CW and announced a QSY to 10.118 only to then discover I’d brought the antenna which didn’t cover it! Pity; it would have to be ‘QSY 80 CW’ instead.
80m CW: On 3.557, I merely ‘cleared my throat’ in the radio sense, but Don G0NES was ‘onto me’ immediately with a 559 report. Roy G4SSH, then Phil G4OBK (the latter newly returned from VK) preceded a melee of callsigns but in rapidly varying conditions the QRG dried up after just ten QSO’s. (For MI1EYP/P - S2S: See below)
80m SSB: Surprisingly, compared with CW, over twice as many chasers came through on 3.724 SSB. Reports were OK for QRP and for some reason this session resulted in a better QSO rate than the previous one. One nice surprise was my lad Phil G0UUU, operating /A, using my IC706 from my home QTH in Scarborough. He had gone there to feed our cat and just barely heard my signal through local QRN that we have recently started to suffer from. I worked Thomas operating as GB2IWM. At the end, G4SSH came back in CW to warn me that Tom MI1EYP/P was due up on 3.557, from GI/AH-008. While I was waiting for Tom, I worked son Phil, this time in CW. The chasers were gentlemen as usual, in prioritising a GW/NW1 – GI/AH8, S2S QSO, before the pileup for Tom took over. While Tom worked hard, it was now time for my ‘main event,’ 160m CW!
160m CW: As many have grown to realise, I regard this band as ‘special.’ Today it would be even more so, if even one station could get Snowdon into his log. However, one practical problem would first need solving and it became immediately obvious that 160m - NW1 would not happen especially with QRP, unless I could get the loading coils right. Their added weight had caused the antenna to contact the snow on this slightly convex ridge-line. I would have to re-tension the wire and hope the downhill end-support would keep its hold in the shallow snow.
After a couple of VSWR slug adjustments (No 5) and yet more photos in the clear conditions, I was ready to try to make minor history with the first 160m SOTA QSO from Snowdon. Very often G4OBK can copy me on 1.832 when all others fail but at 15:00 UTC at the end of March, Phil (in North Yorkshire) might just as well be still at his holiday QTH down under! Sea-paths and line of sight would win out today, if anything could. And so it proved. At 15:08 UTC and after all his noise problems Mike EI2CL, across the water in Dublin went easily into the log along with a 599 report! Back came 579. That felt good and at 15:15 another station called at 599. It was Rob G0RQJ in Walney Island; another sea-path but was GD in the way of this one? This QSO gave me high hopes of reaching further but after 5 more minutes of CQ’s the rig cut out signifying that LF wise, it was all over without any sign of ‘Pennine penetration.’
It took a while to take the dipole down because I was inundated with questions. Again all seemed genuinely interested as I explained as light-heartedly as possible, what the object of the exercise was. There must have been 300 people passing my QTH today and not even one disgusted look came my way.
2m FM: At 15:50, the wire antenna was replaced with the half-wave vertical for 2m, which I installed with its short mast stuck in the powdery snow so as to be level with the trig-point, under which I could now sit. The spare rig, a Jingtong 208, was called into service for the final 21 QSO’s, which took place on 145.475.
A single CQ on ‘S20’ was immediately answered by several stations. Mick 2E0HJD was one of these and I found my 2W Chinese rig could be heard all over Lancashire and as far away as Gargrave (Kevin M0XLT / CRAG Club MX0BCQ). Worthy of note were an S2S with Jimmy MI3EYP/P on GI/AH-008, another with M0RCP/P and M3OOL/P (Rick & Thomas) on G/LD-025. There followed a ‘nearly S2S’ with G1JYB/M, Barry on the slopes of Ingleborough, (G/NP5). Lee M0LMP in Clitheroe encouraged Morgan M3LMP onto the microphone. Morgan is only nine years old but conducted a QSO to more than acceptable standards. Pat, GW1SXN and Mike MW3UKK/P were the closest-in QSO’s of the day, at a mere 9 miles from NW1.
Time was getting on and a data signal appeared on 2m. The last half dozen walkers were preparing to leave and in the shade, it was freezing noticeably. I closed the station by 16:35, starting the descent at 16:41. It was easier to walk along the snow-covered railway than the slippery path until the right turn for the PYG track, which now resembled a long, narrow and steep child’s slide. Looking ahead, I could see why. One half of a young couple, the girl and wearing waterproof over-trousers, was sliding down in the sitting position, while her less adventurous partner walked more carefully behind. Fortunately the surface had not yet frozen to ice and I was able to gain purchase with boot heels, one of my mast sections and a spare hand in places, as I tried hard to keep them in view.
Going down seemed to take longer than coming up but I was determined that complacency would not cause an accident as I slithered down the zig-zags. I met no more than 2 or 3 people on the way back, one of whom was ascending and I was at the car in Pen-Y-Pass for 18:02. It was a relief that I hadn’t needed the ‘emergency crampons’ which I carry with me in winter. They wouldn’t have stopped two stumbles caused by thigh-deep soft snow either. Driving away at 18:30, I was back to Llandudno for 19:20 but it was 10pm before I got any food; only then realising that I’d done the whole day on the initial six biscuits and two pints of water!
Total: 76 QSO’s, comprising:
20 on 7-CW.
12 on 3.5-CW.
21 on 3.5-SSB.
2 on 1.8 CW.
21 on 145-FM.
Summary: 750m (2460ft) ascent, 10.8 km (6.7 miles).
8.4 hrs gross. 3.08 hrs walking. 5.32 hrs summit time. 10 points.
Equipment: LF: Yaesu FT817ND with 8 x internal 2.7 Ah Ni-Mh, AA cells (fully depleted at 5W level.)
Dipole for 80-60-40 with H/B slug-tuned loading coils for 160m.
VHF: Jingtong 208, 2m FM H/H, 2W. 600 mAh integral battery, part used.
Half-Wave H/B, J-fed vertical for 2m.
The Scarborough Special Event Group ‘GC’ Club-call got aired for the first time in 2008. HF (LF) multi band/mode operations were proved workable (on this day at least) and a few overseas ops logged ‘Wales’s best.’ 160m CW was a first for NW1 SOTA. The QSO count was limited by QRP and the poor band conditions on 40m. There was not sufficient time or trust in snow conditions to add NW8 on this occasion. It had been a good day. Instead of cramming in 3 or 4 summits ‘bonus-style’ and half in the dark, I’d enjoyed the luxury of just a single no-rush, quality activation ‘costing’ a mere 2.5k of ascent. Summer must truly be on the way!
THANKS TO ALL STATIONS WORKED and to ON4CAP, GW0DSP, G4SSH, GW0VMZ, EI2CL and G4OBK for their all important contributions in the spotting department.
73, John G(W)4YSS (using SSEG Club callsign, varied for Wales to GC0OOO/P)