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G4YSS Actvn Rprt: GW/NW1 SNOWDON on 160m, 27-03-08


#1

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?

  1. Do it when the railway is not serving the summit (or do it at night!)
  2. Accept probable discomfort and exposure to the elements in order to best site a wire antenna (or use a vertical).
  3. Use lying-snow to solve the mast supporting problem.
  4. 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.
  5. 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)


#2

In reply to G4YSS:

5.32 hrs summit time.

Gordon Bennett! Anything approaching 1hr on the summit seems like a lifetime to me. I’m impressed, very impressed.

Excellent report as usual John.

Andy
MM0FMF


#3

In reply to G4YSS:

Hi John,

What more can be said other than TRULY EXCELLENT! I was with you “visually” in my mind all the way as I read your account. Not only did you conquer the RF side, but the actual physical restrictions of the site made this a very difficult and demanding activation. Well done and I am so pleased everyone up there was positive about your intrusion into the wilderness. It may possibly have been less so if Joe Public and his hoard of grockles had been able to arrive by train - those making least effort are often critical of what they have no comprehension of.

Vy 73, Gerald


#4

In reply to G4YSS:

A great report, John, I could close my eyes and see the scene!

It may be just as well you didn’t try for Llewedd, the drop down from Snowdon summit in icy conditions is a well known accident black spot, it has claimed a number of lives and often needs crampons and ice-axe!

73

Brian G8ADD


#5

John,
Enjoyed your great account of your successful LF activation of Snowdon. You make the impossible seem merely difficult!
One observation: Your loaded 160M dipole is 'slug tuned’to allow for varying ground conditions, antenna height, and other variables. Does that mean there is a considerable amount of dashing about frozen mountain tops to check VSWR at the operating position (rather interesting on frozen, mixed ground), or have you devised a way of checking return loss while adjusting?
Sorry I missed you, was out and about with BVE on that day.
73
Frank


#6

In reply to G4YSS:

Thanks for a great report and for NW-001 on eighty metres.

My last contact with Snowdon - Yr Wyddfa was on 23cms and one this was equally special. Ten pointers are always welcome but unfortunately from my home QTH it is a difficult path on VHF and it is too close in general for HF sky wave while the ground wave is blocked similar to the VHF signals. NVIS on 5mHz is not a problem for me but there have been limited activations due to the difficultly of getting a HF antenna up similar to what you experienced. The problem can be seen when you realise I have only worked 14 out of 106 activations. It can be most frustrating hearing stations in Liverpool and on the Wirral working the activators, but what makes it even more annoying is just how short a distance I need to drive to get line of sight of the summit.

You always seem to be able to impress me with your activations and the effort you put into them but reading this report makes me wonder if maybe one or two of your freinds shouldn’t have taken you to one side and said “a J*%£$%#g! you can’t be serious” ;0) I guess most of the signal was on the right band or you would not have made the contacts. As you can see I am distinctly underwhelmed by that particular piece of kit.

Have fun and good luck on all your future activations. You can bet that if I am not working I will be chasing you.

Regards Steve GW7AAV (fan of real activators and activator of pimples)


#7

In reply to ALL:

Andy
MM0FMF: It’s so nice not to be in a rush. Big investment to get there; stay as long as you can. In Scotland you can’t stay so long unless you wish to die of exposure in winter or be eaten alive in summer!

Gerald
G4OIG: Yes, Snowdon is a special case; incredibly popular at almost any time. Maybe if the train had ‘disgourged’ all day it could have been fraught. It was certainly quite crowded as it was. I was shocked just seeing the car park and tears welled-up until I spotted the overspill with just 4 spare spaces.

Brian
G8ADD: My thoughts at the time. I did ask the only walker I could find who had come up from Watkin. He said the ridge drop-off wasn’t too bad but he was going up. 3 times as easy as descending. I wasn’t surprised when you mention ‘black spot.’ It’s steep & loose enough without snow & ice.

Frank
G3RMD: Indeed, you were noticed by your absence. I thought is was condx until I worked Peter (TJE). I will add a bit about Top Band & slugs in a SOTA news of the future but yes, tuning can take a bit of time. The coils are both 10m from the rig. That said, they are right first time about 50% of the time.

Steve
GW7AAV: Well that’s a real downer. Only at Connagh’s Quay and a hill in the way of NW1! This was a good and interesting analysis of the propagation mechanisms to your QTH from the big NW’s. It reminds me of a UHF test (225-400) in a prototype aircraft. The customer (USAF) stipulated we had to achieve 75nm omni at 7000 feet. I picked the wrong airfield. A tiny hill near it made it nil copy and we had to arrange a repeat test with Conningsby another time, only just scraping 76 nm.

It has taken me all day to work out what on earth your second paragraph was about! Now I know and it raised a laugh when I twigged it. Better still is how you arrived at the closest thing to an oriental language that your keyboard can deliver! Yes, I am a little ashamed but it’s light, simple and being a ‘woolyback’ I couldn’t resist the price. It is carried as a standby or backup and the 817 was ‘flat.’ During the 2m activation I got a J*%£$%#g to J*%£$%#g QSO. I think it was either Barrie G1JYB/M on Ingleborough or Rick M0RCP/P on LD25. Whoever it was, he was as delighted with it as I am with mine, though I had to drill a hole in the front of mine to let the sound in! When I’m ‘for real’ on 2m FM QRP, it’s a VX150 or 170.

Thank you for your replies and keep calling in when you hear me. I don’t know what’ll be next yet, or when but now that I have a shiny new MOT….(following 18 hours of ‘lying beneath’ on my wind / rain swept drive….how better to train for SOTA’ing)…the sky’s the limit!

73, John.
G4YSS.


#8

In reply to G4YSS:

John, Glad you finally decoded my message and glad it made you laugh, but you have to be carefully what you say as the world can read it.

I also meant to mention the loading coil/slug arrangement: any more info gratefully received as I don’t have room for a top band antenna it might be a solution at the home QTH.

TNX Steve GW7AAV 73