G4YSS Actvn Rprts: LD11, LD18 & LD17, 14-02-08

LD11, LD18 & LD17, 14-02-08.
LF: High Street / Stony Cove Pike QRP & Red Screes QRO. G4YSS using GX0OOO/P.

Set off from Scarborough 02:50 driving via the A65 to purposely avoid the A66 route, because of closure of the A592 at Patterdale. The only thing this precaution brought me was equivalent grief. A sign near Kirkby Lonsdale read, ‘A65 closed between 02:00 and 06:00……Diversion.’ I should have known better than to follow these signs and drove 20 miles via Carnforth, just to get 6!

Aiming for a Six O’Clock start, it was 06:20 when I walked out of Hartsop. What a day I’d had on Monday’s activations and weather-wise, I was expecting more of the same. The mountaintop forecast gave low-cloud for the Dales but clear for the Lakes, with a 15 mph wind. On the strength of that I wouldn’t have expected a breath of air at Hartsop but it was gusting noisily there. It was well before dawn but I could see a huge cloud down over High Street. Not so pleasant after all!

By Hayeswater I found I didn’t need the headlamp but the wind was strengthening. Along the Roman Road, it was blowing half a gale and the freezing cloud was down. Hat and gloves were required from here.

HIGH STREET, LD11, 828m, 8pts. 07:46 to 09:40. 1 deg. C. Wind 35 mph. Minimal lying snow at wall-sides & in hollows. Low-cloud with icing conditions.

160m CW: I only had 5W so this had to come first. There were plenty of signals on 1.832 and I thought I heard a K0. Must have been an IK0, or was it really a grey-line to the States? I wasn’t at all interested in distance, I was after chasers and it didn’t take 5 minutes before the two Dubliners Pete EI7CC and Mike EI2CL were in the log. However, further CQ’s went answered so it was off to 80m.

80m CW: The band was well open, making QRP look easy. Good reports were exchanged with a dozen chasers including a QRS one with Quentin GW3BV, on 3.557.

80m SSB: This was OK too and 15 were worked. In the middle of this session I was shocked to see the mast bent double and over half the dipole was resting on the frosty grass. The wind played its part but the real problem was an hour’s worth of ice accretion; something that has occurred before in icing conditions, notably on Ben Nevis. The 24 AWG wire looked like 10 AWG and I had to jump up and clear it quickly, before something broke. Much to my regret, I just could not get Dan ON4ON in the log. I heard his call two or three times but he didn’t get his reports, even when I twice changed back to CW.

It was good to get going again in the windchill. After Thornthwaite Beacon, the next route-point is Threshthwaite Mouth, a steep, rocky 590m ASL col which stands between LD11 and LD18. Here the cloud cleared away but it was still spilling from the Ill Bell ridge in spectacular downdraughts.

STONY COVE PIKE, LD18, 763m, 6pts, 10:42 to 12:48, 7 deg.C, sunshine, wind 25 mph, decreasing. Lying snow only at wall-sides.

Sat by the wall and it was pleasant in the sunshine with nice views. Importantly, I could see that Red Screes; next on today’s list, was equally cloud-free. I wish I could have been as enthusiastic about band conditions. They were just short of abysmal.

80m CW: Eight stations struggled through in half an hour. There was bad QSB and the band was pretty well ‘D layered.’ My 5W didn’t help the situation; unfortunately G4CMQ and G4RQJ failed to hear it.

80m SSB: If anything, 3.724 SSB was easier or had the condx improved a little? Either way, 13 ‘G’ ops got the 6 points on offer. Perhaps the poor CW showing could be offset by operation on 40m.

40m CW: Conditions were a bit strange here too but I managed 15 in the end, though it took a long time. Notable was an S2S with Kurt HB9AFI/P on the 1879m Corne Des Brenlaires; HB/VD-028. With 559 and QRP at each end, it was difficult. Some of the ops on channel were getting quite jumpy with two activators to choose from. Quite understandably, some could not contain themselves and as I sat confused, the experienced Kurt had to send, ‘QRM.’ After the S2S, I moved up a little whilst Kurt moved down. Thank you Kurt.

The route back to Harsop over Hartsop Dodd; avoids a return to Threshthwaite Mouth and the paved way down Pasture Bottom. This path, though very steep near the end and itself paved for a short distance, is easy to follow and saves time.

Arrived back to Hartsop at 13:39 for an equipment swap (QRP out & QRO in) and an eat, drink & drive up the Kirkstone Pass for Red Screes. The IC706 and a fully charged 7Ah battery were hurriedly rammed into the pack without ceremony. I was later to regret this lapse of discipline!

Underway for the final summit by 14:02, the sunshine and light wind made the ascent somewhat sultry, considering the time of year. There is over 1000 ft to climb and it’s steep, though the zig-zag path is mainly good and is paved much of the way.

RED SCREES, LD-017, 776m, 6pts, 14:40 to 16:48, 4 deg.C, 10 mph mainly sunshine with a little low-cloud later. A few small areas of lying snow.

Trouble! It was very clear to me on arrival that there were going to be disappointments. It took me a toilsome 38 minutes to climb the 1000 feet of steep ground. During this time and without my knowledge, the rig turned-on in the bag; all on its own! This would not have been a serious problem had it remained on receive; 1 Amp will not rob the battery of much more than 10% of its charge in that time. However my microphone is modified with a CW toggle-switch and when I opened the pack, there was a rush of warm air and the metal parts of the rig were far too hot to touch. It had even bulged and slightly discoloured one of its lightweight, home-brew, aircraft-composite, epoxy-honeycomb panels! A double error; not only had the radio been on, it must have been transmitting dots or dashes whilst set to 30W, using lots of Amps while its fan ran frantically in a futile attempt to dissipate heat into a stifled area like a rucksack! With nobody to blame but me, the QRV was now delayed because the rig had to be left to cool in the air stream. Surely it would never work again and there was no phone coverage to give a warning to chasers.

Being only too aware of this possibility and historically following the precautions of leaving the AF gain full-on as a ‘receiver-active’ warning, combined with good packing to avoid pressure around the power button, I had still failed to take care today. Other than this, there is the choice of leaving the battery disconnected on the climb or pulling the circuit breaker which is mounted on the rear panel. Both are inconvenient in a summit situation in anything but perfect WX.

It says a lot for ICOM that the 706 worked at all but now a strategy of using minimal RF-out could not be realized in such poor band conditions. After half an activation and being forced up to 70W for some exchanges, I was out of power.

80m CW: Successive interspersed CQ’s were required on 3.557 but gradually, 15 Britannic’s plus EI2CL and DL1FU made it via poor propagation. 10W was mostly reported at 339 to 559. David G4CMQ called at 15:10 but it was 6 QSO’s later, at 15:18 before he had success. Pity; these had been understandable conditions on LD18 around noon but 80m should have been much improved by this time.

80m SSB: 3.720 brought in 6 ops headed by GW0VMZ. As Roy (G4SSH) had done on CW, Alistair kindly posted my power problems for me; asking for short QSO’s. This helped but slow progress and more CQ’s quickly brought the inevitable. You know you’re beat when the rig cuts out on successively lower power settings and in the end, refuses to even provide QRP; this occurring after G3RDQ was worked. Due to an already 12.5kg pack, I had no second battery.

160m CW: Abandoned due to lack of power.

LF-wise, that was it. In this instance, the advantages of WAB-type net operation would have undoubtedly influenced the outcome in a positive way. For WAB, the only QSO information which needs transmitting by the battery-operated station, are ‘RST’ and ‘QSL RST.’ Callsigns and geographical details are dealt with by a controller and chasers call in accordance with a pre-established list. Importantly, the controller will announce to the net if there are any special circumstances or problems which the activator may have. I no longer think that SOTA should necessarily adopt these procedures but occasionally, when things go wrong with equipment or more especially when the activator is being threatened by atrocious WX, I can honestly say from experience, they are worth their weight in gold.

Resorting to 2W of VHFM from a £25 Chinese H/H into a half-wave vertical, was an attempt to bring in any remaining phone chasers, albeit local ones.

145.450 FM: Fortunately, Rob G4RQJ was monitoring S20. Rob’s spot attracted a further 7 chasers; G6MZX, G4BLH, M0JFE, G6LKB/M, GW7SBO and father & son activators M0RCP/m and 14 year-old M3OOL/M, on their post-activation descent of NP5. In addition, there were also four who (as far as I know) were ‘mere mortals.’ Carried in the rucksack side pocket as a last-ditch’ backup, the diminutive Jingtong JT-208 did its job perfectly and I was even complimented on the audio quality by one op! (The TX audio mod, using a 3mm drill had been carried out of course).

The descent to Kirkstone Pass, though steep presents little problem, as long as the path is not lost. If that happens, you can find yourself on very steep ground indeed and in rocky, loose gullies as was my experience in the past through favouring a ‘direct’ approach. At least there was still daylight but any lingering thoughts of adding a fourth activation on the way home in the form of NP24 - Hoove, as in Jan-2004, had now evaporated and I was back at the car for the last time by 17:10. The 136 mile drive home via Patterdale’s new road surface and the A66 took from 17:20 to 20:17.

LD11 & LD18: Ascent 838m (2750ft) with 8.3mls walked.
LD17: Ascent 330m (1033ft ) with 1.4 miles walked.
All three: 1168m (3832ft) with 9.7 miles walked.
Miles driven: 296 miles in the day. (Inc.14 wasted miles due to A65 road closure)

Battery utilisation:
LD11 & LD18: FT 817 ND (5W for all QSO’s) external 11 x AA, 2.7 Ah Ni-Mh cells, almost fully depleted.
LD17: IC706-2G. 100% of 7.5Ah SLAB, after ‘rucksack accident.’ (40%, LD17 - last year)

2 on 160m CW.
35 on 80m CW.
34 on 80m SSB.
15 on 40m CW.
12 on 2m FM.
Total: 98. (29 activator points.)

THANKS TO ALL STATIONS WORKED AND TO: G4SSH, EI7CC, G3RMD, EI2CL, G4RQJ, GW7SBO and GW0VMZ for spotting. To those ops who bagged all 20 points: ‘Well chased.’

72 / 73, G4YSS
(using The Scarborough Special Events Group club-call, GX0OOO/P)

In reply to G4YSS:

Hi John,

Another extremely interesting report - I was absolutely rivetted!

Regarding your comment “there is the choice of leaving the battery disconnected on the climb”, I can see this becoming the norm in future. I never have my rig connected while walking. Having seen a SLAB shorted out, I know it can be a lethal beast and I don’t really fancy having a fire on my back! Even handling them I’m very careful and I like to have them well covered up before dismantling the kit - a SOTAbeam element would make a nice aluminium welding rod.

Pleased the 706 survived as did my 2m linear last weekend.

73, Gerald

P.S. I listened for you on High Street, but nothing heard - most strange.

In reply to G4YSS:
Hi, John. Glad the rig survived! After demolishing an 857 I now have sockets soldered to my slabs and a plug on the rig, and only plug in to operate!

I seem to have missed a lot during my “sabbatical” from the mountains, with paved paths appearing where there used to be rough tracks, and I can’t say that I like the intrusion of paving into the wild places no matter how convenient they may be!


Brian G8ADD

In reply to G4OIG:
Hello Gerald,

Yes, I seem to remember some advice appearing in the December SOTA news on the subject of activator safety. In it were some words about the dangers of batteries. I would rather not mention who wrote it!

I read your report; good info. I suspect that part of the reason your linear & my 706 survived was due to VSWR shutdown, bless it!

I do insulate the battery terminals and in fact place the battery in an insulted box as well, which makes the connections less convenient to access of course. If something’s hard to do, our human nature is such that we don’t tend to do it.

The current arrangement is neater but the best thing I could do is to remove the circuit breaker from the rear of the rig and move it down the power cable towards the battery (which is where it should be for max protection anyway). I could then access it marginally more easily. For greater convenience I would have to lengthen the power lead, wire the CB in the middle of it and bring the CB on a wire loop to the top of the rucksack. I rarely remove rigs from the sack when in use. Whether it’ll get done or not I don’t know but that’s how I wired the 817.

One consideration as you will know, is that the 706 is very thirsty (20A on TX) and I bend over backwards to keep leads short and the set up simple. Introducing additional switches, circuit breakers or connectors adds voltdrop. I might be better going for a power-switch cover plate.

High Street: Yes, conditions were either a bit strange or very poor, all day.

I see you are going out every weekend not just once a fortnight. Grab that bonus while we still have it!

Take care on the hills,
73, John YSS.

In reply to G8ADD:
Hiya Brian,

That sounds expensive but you have solved the problem in your own way. It works and you have confidence in the level of safety, which is really what we’re all after.

These beasts are not meant for rucksacks and that is a fact that has frustrated me for almost 25 years of /P HF operating. There’s not the mass market but it would be great of ICOM or Yaesu and ilk got together with Karrimore and came up with real portability with an eye on every gram of weight. It will never happen, which is why I’ve been home-brewing rigs and related equipment fit for purpose, for the past two decades.

Your sabbatical from the mountains should now come to an official end. You have more knowledge than many, reference mountains. You can return to where you belong and investigate all these dreadful paved ways.

I can’t afford to make a habit of falling over on SOTA expeditions (touch wood) but on the few occasions it has happened, it was more often than not on the descent of one of these paved ways. Boot erosion is reduced. Yes, but they ain’t half hard when you hit one! As if that’s not enough, several kilos of lead-acid rabbit-punches you in the back of the neck, milliseconds after hitting the stonework! Oh, the ignominy of it.

CU on the next one,

73, John.

In reply to G4YSS:

My sabbatical finished last year but I am slow in regaining my old speed (the extra few stone may just possibly have something to do with that!) Still, we go out one weekend a month with the climbing club and have the odd day out too, so its just a matter of time.

Your comment about rucksacks struck a chord! Rekitting myself has been frustrating (ham radio has got cheaper and climbing gear has gone astronomical), and worst of all was the rucksack! I looked at dozens. They seem to make them with pockets barely big enough for a thermos or even an OS map (unless you bend it!) and I don’t like the modern ways of carrying crampons! On the other hand my selected sack will take the roach pole as well as walking poles and an ice axe, not bad for £20 from ASDA! (Cheapskate!)

The annoying thing is that I used to have a rucksack with really wide side pockets which would have taken the 817 with ease and possibly even the 857 but it was worn out and discarded but unfortunatelyis no longer made. I am considering sewing in a net pocket inside the back of my new sack which with some stiffening from fibreglass rods would possibly double as the operating position, keeping the rig clear of the clutter lower down the sack. At least I don’t bother too much about weight (the old muscles remember 30-odd kg of ice climbing gear!) so I carry a 13 Ah slab.


Brian G8ADD

In reply to G8ADD:
Why is it you can never get what you want. The choices are astronomical these day so why is it we can’t get what we specifically need? I think you are right. Get something cheap and mod it!

13Ah! That’s over 4 kg. OK for short distances I suppose. You could certainly leave the ‘wick’ up with that. An incident like I just had, on a long approach march could leave you with a molten rig but OK if your car won’t start on returning to it!

Well, that’s it for thoughts of SOTA. From this evening, Roy (SSH) & I are ‘up to our necks’ in Girl Guides & Brownies! (GB1IGG on 3.69 for TDOTA.) Just put up my 11m mast & dipole. Hope those girls are as well behaved as the chasers I work!

73, John.

In reply to G4YSS:

Hi John,

I missed a couple of weekends in January, so the “on the run” February activations are by way of compensation. Hope to have an audience tomorrow!

As far as connections to the batteries is concerned, I have connectors soldered to the SLABs and a pair of plugs on the end of the cable - simple and effective with zero cable connected to the SLAB while on the move. I still wrap the SLABs in poly bags though in case anything gets loose if I go base over apex!

73, Gerald