G4YSS: BEN ARMINE - GM/NS-069 (1st Activation) 08-05-15
BEN ARMINE - GM/NS-069 - 4 points (First Activation for SOTA).
With Rare WAB Squares: NC62 & NC72.
GM4YSS/P and SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P.
HF - QRO on 30m-40m-20m-160m. 2m-FM QRP
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr UOS as ‘z’).
First SOTA in the May 2015 series GM/NS-069; GM/NS-107, based at the Dornoch Hotel.
This summit and the associated WAB square NC62 were previously unactivated.
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier
Link dipole for 80m thru 20m on a 5m CFC mast with 1m end sticks
Home-Brew tunable loading coils for 160m
6 Ah Li-Po battery (2.2 Ah in reserve - used only on the walkout for WAB NC72)
2m-FM/ PMR rig: Vero VGC UV-X4; 2W VHFM/ UHFM, 130gm H/H (Like Baofeng UV-3R)
Vertical J-Pole for 2m FM (not used)
QRO pack: 9.6kg ( 21.2 pounds) including food, Primaloft jacket & 1 litre drinks.
This was the first SOTA activation of this year’s trip to GM/NS and the main reason for going there. We booked a 7-night self-drive holiday at the Dornoch Hotel from 4th to 11th of May 2015. This was a present from my XYL for our Ruby Wedding Anniversary.
On arrival at the track leading to Ben Armine last September I had to postpone this activation because I couldn’t access the path due to ongoing deer stalking operations. On the advice of the estate manager concerned, who advised me to ‘Come back in May’ I was successful in pre-arranging the necessary permissions before travelling.
The weather was unsuitable for SOTA for the first three days of our holiday. Summit winds of 50 mph, heavy snow with whiteout conditions were forecast for the mountains of the Northwest Highlands along with low-cloud and sub-zero temperatures. Admittedly, it wasn’t that bad further east but enthusiasm was low. However, the three days visiting coffee shops, doing crosswords and putting on mobile WAB squares in the afternoons, was a very welcome way to recover from the aftermath of eight CT3 activations of three weeks earlier.
Also I found myself slightly put off by a horror story told by the lady in the geological museum at Golspie, concerning Lyme Disease. Her friend had been suffering badly for two years. In 2014 I picked up no less than six ticks and that was not the first time by any means. Assuming that I was now in the high risk category, I even had a fleeting thought about not going out walking on NS summits at all but the quest for SOTA won in the end.
Normally the dining room opens at 07:45 but by a stroke of luck, a coach party were leaving early that day and the hotel had arranged breakfast for them at 06:00. With the blessing of the manager, I was allowed to join in which meant that I was away for a flying start at 06:40!
The drive via the A9 north, cutting through Glen Loth to join the A897 and later the B871, took a total of an hour and 37 minutes. This entails driving to the start of the private dirt road which leaves the B871 at NC 8014 3301. From there it took around 20 or so minutes of slow progress to reach a quarry; the indicated parking spot at NC 6853 3103. This is 8.5 miles down the track in a westerly direction and close to the start of a stalker path which I would be following. After arriving there at 08:17, I made my preparations, setting off walking at 08:51.
Just before leaving, I worked G4SQA Dave; the sole occupant of the 7.160 MHz WAB net; giving him the square NS63. The weather was fine and sunny with the temperature around 8 degrees C.
The well-defined stalker path starts at NC 6863 3101 heading SE and later south. The surface is mainly grass with evidence of quad bike or even Land Rover activity. It climbs easily via NC 6959 2957 and NC 7006 2877 after which point it starts to lose height but that is regained by NC 7022 2781. At NC 7018 2766 there is a junction where a track goes off to the right. The latter climbs gently though the gap between NS65 Craig Mor and today’s target, NS69 Ben Armine.
Just before the path starts to lose height again at NC 6911 2602, I elected to leave it to the right and make my way up NNE to the summit. At first the walking is slightly rough until NC 6930 2647, where the vegetation becomes short and sparse for a while. Before that I encountered a vague quad track (NC 6916 2619) which looking back, appears to come from the slopes of NS65.
There is no trig point; the summit, clothed in short grass, is gently rounded and marked by a couple of small cairns. I arrived there at 10:48 after 1hr-57 minutes of gentle walking. Sadly I forgot to GPS mark the top which was occupied by a pair of Ptarmigan. A little way down the east side at NC 6949 2739 was found a place to sit and activate.
BEN ARMINE - GM/NS-069, 704m, 4 pts, 10:48 to 15:03. 3C - later 9C. 10 mph wind with a mixture of overcast and sunshine. Patches of lying snow mainly on the eastern flank. No low-cloud. No midges. Reliable Orange EE phone coverage at the summit and most parts of the route. LOC: IO78VF, WAB: NC62.
Before sitting down between small patches of snow, I set up the dipole quite easily, though the soil is shallow in places. Since this was as rare a WAB square (NC62) as it was a SOTA, I elected to serve the WAB collectors first. That decision was partly because I had been working them every day so far and partly because I was earlier on the summit than the time alerted for SOTA.
7.160 SSB (WAB frequency) - 49 QSO’s:
After setting the power to 30 Watts, I broke in on 7.160. G4SQA Dave, who I’d briefed before leaving the car, was in control and I looked forward to an easy time running down this well organised net or creating my own to one side. Dave wouldn’t hear of the latter however.
Conditions on 40m seemed good and that was surprising after ‘bad-for-the-bands’ solar activity just the day before. After Dave G0SQA had become the first person to collect not only NC62 square but also the SOTA, I worked my way through a further 48, mainly UK stations in just 50 minutes. This is the way to travel!
Amongst the WAB crowd were SOTA chasers who despite a sotawatch alert for 7.132 MHz later, obviously decided to grab NS69 while they could. ‘A bird in the hand’ as they say. There were three summit-to-summit contacts. First in was Jack GM4COX/P on GM/SS-284, closely followed by Andy MM0FMF/P on GM/SS-279 with trig point TP1942 and WAB NM82. Later on I worked Hans DL/PA3FYG/P on DM/HE-049. G4OIG Gerald called in from Northampton as he concentrates on unique SOTA’s; this one being unique to everybody including me.
EI2CL Mike; DL7UCW Ben; PA0INA Frans; PA0SKP Sake; DL4PAC/M Andi provided the non-UK contacts. Incoming reports were mainly in the range 55 to 57 with some 59’s and a few 44’s and 33’s. It was to say the least, slightly frenetic. Dave had his work cut out, doing a magnificent job passing the chasers through to me in batches of ten. I did my best to work everybody but in the rush I think one or two may have been missed so I announced that I’d be back on 7.132 SSB after a brief session on 7.033 CW. I finished the session with M0TNG/M. Stuart was out putting WAB squares on and no doubt wondering when all this SOTA/ WAB activity was going to allow him to continue.
7.033 CW - 10 QSO’s:
Scarborough stations, Roy G4SSH and Kevin G0NUP were the first worked on here. Countries logged in CW with 30 Watts were: G; PA; DL; EI and ON with half the callers UK based. I got 559’s and 569’s from these and it was the same for most of the rest apart from G0TDM and G4OBK both 59.
7.133 SSB - 2 QSO’s:
This was spotted by G4SSH with the intention of bringing in the SOTA chasers but I was surprised how many had already logged it on 7.160. Roy called in to ask ‘what next’ and I did have a brief conversation with SOTA activator G0EVV Dave in Morpeth. After further CQ’s - nil heard and a break for lunch.
14.052.6 CW - 12 QSO’s:
Preceded by spotting information passed to Roy on 40m, the intention here was obviously to bring in the further away overseas stations but since I was in the very north part of Scotland, distant G’s might also have a second chance. In fact I didn’t work any G’s on 20m CW today.
First into the log after my CQ was St. Petersburg Club station RK1B. Most of the following stations were regulars from the following countries: DL; OE; CU3; YO; OZ; N4EX; K4MF and SP. Typical reports incoming were 599’s and 579’s but there were three 339’s which included the USA stations. The 30 Watt power setting was retained and the session took 20 minutes.
14.263 SSB - 12 QSO’s:
Steve MW0ZZK opened the 20m SSB activation with a 57/ 59 exchange offering WAB square SH33. S58MU enquired about the QSL route. Prolific Asiatic Russian WAB chaser Sergei - RV9DC was also logged. Countries worked with 30 Watts: RV9; MW; S58; OZ; LY; DL; OH; CT1; S51 and finally EI7CC Pete who I haven’t worked for a while.
145.575 FM - 2 QSO’s:
As luck would have it, GM3PIL had a guest in his shack today in the form of Art GM0RML. I was able to work both Ray and Art with 54 both ways. There was arguably a line-of-sight sea path across to Nairn but I was only using 2 Watts to a handie equipped with just its set top helical. As always, Ray’s antenna was doing most of the work! I thought myself lucky to have managed two contacts on 2m-FM but now there was the prospect of two on 160m; CW and SSB also.
1.832 CW - 2 QSO’s:
This QSY was spotted by Roy G4SSH following a text message. First Ray GM3PIL and I exchanged 599 reports followed by Art GM0RML with the same RST. I would have enjoyed a leisurely chat with Art, who I last worked on 2m-FM from Suilven (NS60) back in May 2008 but there is rarely any spare time with SOTA. Power was the maximum available - 50 Watts but nothing else was heard.
1.843 SSB - 2 QSO’s:
The CW sked with Ray and Art was repeated; this time in SSB. The exchanges were now 59/ 53 and I think the reason for that may have been because I knocked the linear switch to ‘off’. If that was the case the SSB contacts were made with 2.5 Watts. Nevertheless we were to have a similar anomaly the day after and I’m still not sure what caused it. Thanks to the efforts of Ray and Art however, the summit would now have four 160m QSO’s attributed to it.
What next? With a little time to spare and apparently some battery power remaining, I felt duty bound to expend these resources on the chasers but on which band? Choices with the antenna links made it a toss up between 60m or 30m but the decision didn’t take long.
10.118 CW - 6 QSO’s:
A text to the ‘rapid response team of one’ in Scarborough got me QSO’s on 30m CW in a very short time. Calling CQ at 13:25z I worked PA9CW with what should have been 30 Watts. In fact the linear cut out due to insufficient voltage and the QSO was finished with just the 2.5 Watt drive level from the FT817ND.
The final five stations of the day were logged using 5 Watts as follows: G4SSH; G0NUP; DL1FU; G4OBK and finally DL2HWI. It was interesting to work Scarborough and Pickering on 30m, though the distance is 500 km.
I heard Don G0NES calling 589 but strangely I could not get a signal back to him after a few tries. I had a spare battery but fitting it would have taken a few minutes and it had been brought along for the up coming WAB/P activation of NH72 on the way back to the car. Time was also a factor. I planned to be packed up and away by 3pm. Conditions on 30m were good and despite the QRP the lowest incoming report was 539.
An inspection of the eastern flank of the mountain from where I had been activating was next on the agenda. It looked steep but quite possible provided I skirted around a huge snow patch which stretched down some 200m or so. Going down that way directly back to the path which passed close by at that point, would save almost 3.5km of walking and considerable time. In future it might be a steep but quicker ascent possibility too.
A start was made at 15:03 and I was down to the path; meeting it at NC 7018 2766 in 23 minutes. The route was first north via NC 6948 2753 then east passing through NC 6965 2761; NC 6981 2755 and NC 6998 2762.
Just before gaining the path I came within a foot of standing on an Adder. It was coiled up sunbathing; something I have seen them do on numerous occasions in the past. It looked as startled as me and before the camera could be deployed it was well on its way; though I did get a photo of at least half of it before it could hide itself completely in sparse heather.
The path undulates a little and there is 50m of re-ascent before coming to the point where I wanted to activate the next target; WAB square NC72. At 15:42, I stopped to set up the dipole beside the path immediately before it passed out of the square and back into NC62 (NC 70015 28842.)
Activation of WAB NC72/P 15:42 to 16:12:
It would be a shame to walk through the corner of a WAB square as remote as NC72 without putting it on. After deploying the gear and fitting the spare 2.2 Ah battery, I sat down gingerly (fearing ticks) for the activation on 7.160 MHz. It went like this: G3OKA John - Wirral; DL7UCW Ben in Berlinchen; M0TNG/M Stuart in SE67; 2M0PDM Peter near Peterhead; G0FEX Ken in Leicester and G4GHT Mike in Cheshire. Incoming reports ranged from 53 to 57 and the power was 30 Watts. It was close to 4pm and regrettably these were the only ops left on the net.
After getting underway again at 16:12, the walk back to the car from NC72 took a further 28 minutes to 16:40. I saw herds of shy deer on the way back and I shuddered at the thought of their tick infestations coupled with their probable use of the path I was on. In this matter I felt I had pushed my luck far enough, having got six ticks the previous September and several on numerous other occasions.
Once back to the car and underway from the quarry, passing another three deer herds in sunshine, I called G0SQA who was back on 7.160 again. With him were Brian G4ZRP; Ben DL7UCW, Geoff G7BGA and others calling in and out. I offered them most of the grid squares on the way back to Dornoch starting with NC63 and in return they kept me company making the journey seem shorter and more enjoyable. The mobile set-up consists of an IC706-2G with 100 Watts into a home-brew, 1m long, helically wound mobile whip on a mag-mount. I was back at the Dornoch Hotel by 18:30, just in time for the evening meal.
ASCENT & DISTANCE (Start point at 186m ASL):
Walk in: Via stalker paths and col between NS69 & NS65:
Ascent 573m (1,880ft) / Distance 8.8 km (5.5 miles)
Return: Via NS69 eastern flank and stalker path:
Ascent 50m (164ft) / Distance 5.4 km (3.4 miles)
Totals: Ascent 623m (2,044ft) / Distance 14.2 km (8.9 miles)
Left Dornoch Hotel: 06:40
Walk started: 08:51
GM/NS-069: 10:48 to 15:03
Activation of WAB NC72/P: 15:42 to 16:12 (30 mins)
Returned to Car: 16:40
Drive via WAB/M squares: 16:50
Back at Dornoch: 18:30.
Ascent: 1hr-57 min.
Descent: 1hr-37 min gross. 1hr-7 min net.
Summit time: 4hrs-15 min.
Time Car to Car: 7hrs-49 min.
Gross time Hotel to Hotel: 11hr-50 min.
49 on 40m SSB
10 on 40m CW
12 on 20m CW
12 on 20m SSB
2 on 2m FM
2 on 160m CW
2 on 160m SSB
6 on 30m CW
TOTAL: 95 (Ben Armine SOTA NC69)
WAB/P NC72: 6 on 7.160 MHz.
Battery Utilisation: 6.8 Ah (inc WAB NC72/P on the return).
The activation of Ben Armine was the prime objective and mostly the reason why the week at Dornoch was arranged by my XYL on my behalf. When I met him last September, Brian the estate manager asked me to come back in May. Taking him at his word paid off in that 17 miles of walking or biking were eliminated at a stroke.
Listening astounded to the General Election results on BBC Radio Scotland FM on the way up and despite a required height gain of 1,800 feet, two hours seemed to pass far quicker than usual. Just being on NS69’s summit and knowing you are the first for SOTA was a very special feeling and despite more than four hours of occupancy, I really didn’t want to leave. Sadly Ben Armine is the very final summit on the GM/NS unactivated list that I have actually heard of which is why it was selected. Having climbed a few unpronounceable Scottish Mountains over the years, I still prefer the ones with nice names.
Short cutting down the eastern flank on the way back saved significant walking distance and time. Having now seen the mountain, I think an even more direct (albeit steeper) line may be possible for both the ascent and return.
If there’d been time I would have tried to put on neighbouring Creag Mor (NS65) also but that would have turned both of them into ‘smash and grabs’ a modus operandi that is sometimes necessary but something I don’t enjoy. Besides, it would make a really nice day out for somebody at a later date and on its own it would not be much harder than NS69 had been, provided the same start point is used.
Activating just one of the pair left a spare half hour to put on WAB portable square NC72 on the way back. Swapping that for a second SOTA - NS65 would have ‘broken the bank’ in terms of time, also increasing resources to be carried; namely, food, fluids, battery power. All this would have significantly eaten into energy reserves too.
The 40m band was outstanding with 59 QSO’s and 30m would have been good too had I not simultaneously run out of battery power and chasers. Between these, 20m did the job planned for it. The further away chasers and a few stragglers were logged on there.
It is well known that Top Band SOTA has long been a speciality of mine but in Scotland, even more so than in England, I need local help. Sotawatch spots alone would not have worked this far north and even an alert with a week’s notice may have failed. Ray GM3PIL did me proud again and even arranged bonus QSO’s with his friend Art GM0RML. I was pleased to get them both in the log on 160m CW and SSB but the mystery of poor SSB reports compared with CW still exists. Without local stations like Ray primed to liaise on 2m-FM, advancing the 160m cause would be difficult indeed so if you read this; thank you again Ray!
As for 2m-FM, it would have been nice to get a few more callers on there as I like talking to the locals and to see how far 2m will reach. If there had been time I would have set up the half-wave vertical J-Pole but adding 20m & 30m precluded that. Apart from Ray and Art, all I managed to get done on 2-FM were a few CQ’s while standing on the very top just before leaving. With 2 Watts to a rubber duck, it’s hardly surprising that no one came back.
My XYL for buying me this holiday. To ALL STATIONS worked. To G4SSH and G0RQL for spots with a separate thank you to Roy G4SSH for his invaluable SMS text spotting Service. I could probably spot myself if I learned the art but doing it this way certainly has significant advantages. For example a reply might alert me to the fact that a particular band is closed, or the channel I intend to use is blocked with QRM which I can’t hear.
I also need to offer my thanks to the two Scottish Estate managers for giving their consent for access, without which I wouldn’t have tackled NS69 due to its extreme remoteness. Special thanks to Ray GM3PIL and to Art GM0RML for taking the time out to work me on 160m. Finally to Dave G4SQA and the WAB organisation for running me down the net on 7.160 so efficiently and for their company while driving around.
73, John G4YSS
Using GM4YSS/P (database) and Scarborough Special Events Group Club call - GS0OOO/P.
Note-1: GM/NS-107 Ben Horn report follows.
Note-2: For the activation of portable WAB square NH97 on 09-05-15, please refer to the Yahoo WAB Group reflector: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/worked_all_britain/conversations/messages/16258
10: Approach to Ben Armine NS69 from stalker path.
28: View from flank of Ben Armine looking south to Craig Mor NS65.
53: View from Ben Armine looking north.
59: View from Ben Armine looking northeast. Mast with Ben Graims (SOTA’s NS89 & NS91) behind.
71: Activation of Ben Armine NS69 (Dipole with 160m coils fitted).
76: View from Ben Armine NS69 looking west towards Ben Klibreck NS14.
90: Descending the eastern flank of Ben Armine NS69 to stalker path.
97: The Adder! Its sunbathing rudely interrupted. Which of us is most frightened I wonder?
102: Activation of WAB Portable square NC72 on stalker path.
Above: Approach to Ben Armine NS69 from stalker path.
Above: View from flank of Ben Armine looking south to Craig Mor NS65.
Above: View from Ben Armine looking north.
Above: Activation of Ben Armine NS69 (Dipole with 160m coils fitted).
Above: View from Ben Armine NS69 looking west towards Ben Klibreck NS14.
Above: Descending the eastern flank of Ben Armine NS69 to stalker path.
Above: The Adder! Its sunbathing rudely interrupted. Which of us is most frightened I wonder?
Above: Activation of WAB Portable square NC72 on stalker path.