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G4YSS: BEN NEVIS GM/WS1 & CMD WS3. Atvn, 23-Sep-08

G4YSS: GM/WS-003 & GM/WS-001 Activation Report for 23-Sept-08

SSEG Club-call GS0OOO/P & (GM4YSS/P used for database).
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS).

Equipment: FT817ND-5W-QRP and a 20-30-40-60-80 (160m loaded) link-dipole. 5m H/B CFC mast and 6-cell, 11.1V, 4.4 Ah Li-Po battery. Garmin GEKO-301 GPS. Reserves (not used): Jingtong 2m-FM H/H. Eight 1Ah-AAA, Ni-Mh cells, with AA adaptors for 817. 9.5 kg pack including 1.5 litre water. (Plus 1 litre ‘pre-hydration’ at 05:30).

Intro: My XYL had been monitoring short-break prices for some weeks, finally coming up with a good deal. Lochs & Glens were offering a self-drive, two-for-one promotion: 4 nights DB&B for 2 persons at £199! There was a choice of hotels and we chose the Highland at Fort William. What a nice place this turned out to be, with eating times available 08:00 and 19:45. Clean, comfortable with smallish but good meals and the opportunity to learn a few words of Hungarian or Polish. It meant a 340 mile drive up but just a short walk to the town. We were both going for the purposes of RT but in Denise’s case this meant Retail Therapy. The hotel overlooks the pier; a place with memories for me. I spent a cold week out there in late December 1974 on submersible trials.

GM/WS – Which? Inspired by Tom’s recent report and having activated it in Feb-2006 myself, (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Summits/message/11656?l=1) I decided on the famous Ben Nevis but was I capable of adding a second 4000 footer, WS3 (Carn-Mor-Dearg)? My son & I had done these two but that was 10 years ago. Andy never forgot the CMD Arête and a portrait of it now hangs in his living room. At least this time there would be adequate daylight, the Arête would be ice-free and the WX was looking ideal. Several activators have done both WS3 & WS1 in a day so why not me? Fitness was the issue. Spending the past 3 months doing things like scanning old family photos with one small SOTA in early July, meant overweight and unfit. The only enthusiasm and scant preparation that I could muster was to walk 50 miles mainly up and down Seamer Beacon (a 189m Scarborough highpoint) in the week before the event, then just hope for the best.

Access: As per 1998, the start point was to be the so called, ‘Ben Nevis North Face Car Park’ at NN1450 7638 (48m ASL). This is accessed from the main A82 FW to Inverness Road at the Torlundy turnoff (NN1431 7707.) After the light-controlled bridge, turn right onto the track at NN1461 7712 and drive the 750m to the large free car park. This track may soon be metalled.

There was to be no build-up activation. The WX was predicted to be OK all week and nerves made me select the day after the long drive up for the main event. Determined to avoid the chance of sunburn, I crept out of the hotel at 5am. The sky was clear and star-lit and the temperature 2 deg C. After booting-up, I drove off for Torlundy but hadn’t even cleared the town when…….

Blue flashing lights! ‘Good morning sir….routine vehicle check.’ Thank goodness I wasn’t in my ancient Fiesta with its rusty sills, split drive boots, worn suspension and lately gushing water pump! Where are you going at this time of morning?’ I got out of my XYL’s posh Citroen, the registration of which I hadn’t a clue. He looked me up and down in the street lighting. ‘Ah, I see you are going walking.’ ‘Name?’ ‘Address?’ ‘Date of Birth?’ ‘Hotel?’ ‘Occupation?’ My pulse raced. Was he now going to mention the ‘No Right Turn’ I’d just turned right at to avoid a pointless trip down to a roundabout and back? No, he’d not spotted that. ‘What brings you to Fort William?’ ‘SOTA does.’ ‘SOTA; what’s that?’ After an explanation we got on just fine. He had walked my intended route twice and he even gave my some tips. ‘OK sir, drive on!’ ‘Have a good day’s walking but take care up there.’ On the basis that things happen in threes, I drove away worrying about the hours ahead.

The Ascent of CMD (WS3): I left the car park at 05:30, by the light of a quarter moon and my small torch. After the bridge and where the track swings left, there’s a path to the right which is signposted ‘Ben Nevis Approach.’ I expected to contour south-west as before but no. Much work has been done since 1998 and I was soon climbing steeply between tall trees on a more direct, nicely surfaced and well way-marked track. Gasping for breath, I began to think about my lack of fitness. This was certainly going to hurt!

After some winding around and a little re-ascent you leave the trees and reach a (secret?) high car park at NN1485 7493 (280m ASL). Climbing the elaborate ladder stile gives access the CIC Hut Path which runs up beside the Allt-a-Mhuillinn burn. I didn’t have the slightest intention (recommended in some circles) of walking to the hut only to be faced with a rough and abrupt 500m ascent to the ridge line. In 1998 Andy & I had climbed the gentler west end of Carn Beag Dearg, so at NN1545 7392 I left the path to begin heather-bashing up this same shoulder.

The difference this time was that it was still not light and for a time I was stumbling over hidden rocks and bog in knee-high vegetation. Nevertheless, I was much luckier than before; intercepting a good path at NN1612 7394. The ‘source’ of this path is unknown to me but after dawn I could see that it might exit the forest at around NN153748 or maybe it starts at the high car park? It seemed to be going my way so I followed it via NN1633 7365, NN1669 7345, NN1721 7289 and all the way up to the ridge near Carn Dearg Meadhonach at NN1748 7275, where I popped into the risen sun. From there it’s an easy 15 minute stroll over icy rocks, to WS3 Carn Mor Dearg. (‘Big Red Mountain;’ cairn marked 08:04 at NN17745 72171.) Nevis’s north face still had a little patch of snow.

CARN MOR DEARG, GM/WS-003, 1223m (4012ft), 10 pts, 08:04 to 10:36 BST. 1 deg C, 8 mph wind, sunny / intermittent low cloud with Brocken Spectre. High cloud later. Stunning views of Ben Nevis North Face, CMD Arete & F-William. The WAB-NN17, LOC-IO76MT.

160m CW:
Good job Roy G4SSH was up early! More in hope than expectation he posted me on 1.832 but 10 minutes of CQing starting 07:30Z understandably proved fruitless.

80m CW:
Roy was ‘patrolling’ here so G4SSH was first in the log on 3.557 at 07:42Z. GM0AXY grabbed his chance on 80m. Ken must be frustrated time & again by 40m signals from GM SOTAs, which pass over his head, undetected. At the same time skip was running long, as Frid DL1FU proved. Nine CW ops was a reasonable start at that time of morning.

80m SSB:
Christine GM4YMM was on the ball with her response on 3.724. At some point a strong Brocken Spectre appeared and I was distracted from the radio by photography. Success to the tune of 20 stations followed but they were all UK based, so…….

40m CW:
There was no activity on 7.032 until my QRL? Andre ON4CAP was silently waiting for it so the 40m CW ‘ball rolled’ with him at 08:46Z. 19 stations from the following areas were logged by 09:18: OK, ON, G, DL, F, HB9, SM & HA but my keyer, set to 20 WPM, was running away from me a little. No matter; all ops seemed to know what I meant to send from my tiny toggle-switch and all were grateful for the 10 points any way they could get them. A real highlight was a QRP/QRP S2S with Alain F6ENO/P on F/AM-740.

The Arete:
I would like to have tried 40m SSB and 2m FM but to some degree, the excellent conditions on 80m SSB had done a reasonable job of covering both. Time was now a factor so I packed up the gear just as the first walker of the day (besides me) summited. His name was Bradley; a young Software Engineer from Portland Oregon and he told me that there was a 11,200 foot summit not too far from his home, which he could climb any time he wanted! Despite a sizeable age difference, we seemed to get on well so we teamed-up for the next section; the exciting CMD Arete. This is a proper treat with a real lack of mundanity so we savoured it, taking lots of photos. In those conditions, it was not at all dangerous either. There is a reasonable (summer) ‘escape route’ down into Coire Leis from an abseil post towards the Nevis end of the arete. Thinking of the waiting SOTA chasers, I forged ahead from the 1058m low point at NN1755 7134 but Bradley caught me up on the steep finals of The Ben which we summited together at 12:02 BST. Today the WS1 trig point GPS’ed at NN 16678 71275.

BEN NEVIS, GM/WS-001, 1344m (4408ft), 10 pts, 12:02 to 15:15 BST. 6 deg C, 8 mph wind. Whispy low cloud with hazy sun and no view. WAB-NN17, LOC-IO76LT. About 30 to 40 people on the summit at any one time.

After the summit photos and an exchange of email addresses with Bradley, it was time to find a QTH and get the aerial up at NN1661 7123, between the edge of the 2000ft drop down the North Face and the path. Following that, a quick call to Roy G4SSH got things set up on the net. The noonday choice was 7.032 and everyone was waiting……and waiting……and waiting!

40m CW:
What was the delay? I was put into an impossible operating position. Just as I QRL’d the QRG, an aircraft could be heard approaching in the mist. It turned out to be a large grey & red Royal Navy Sea King Rescue Helicopter, which seemed to be exercising. This made a very loud noise indeed, drowning out my sidetone, to say nothing of any signals, even with phones on! It appeared to land about 100m from me but the rotors still flailed and it may have been hovering just off the North Face. This continued for about 15 minutes as I fiddled with the sidetone settings and turned up the wick but it was no good, I would never hear the weak signals under that racket whilst the strong ones would likely damage my eardrums. Admittedly he was providing an excellent free show but I could only hope he went away and soon.

Finally we were underway by 11:54z with Dave G4CMQ the first of 29 in the 40m CW log. Here was a healthy mixture of UK and European stations, along with another S2S with Alain F6ENO/P, this time on F/AM-731. One callsign with too many characters confused me no end, namely DL50DRAX. Not only that, surely Drax is near Selby and not in Germany?? The 5W was getting out as far out as Switzerland and as close in as Yorkshire. From this height I hoped some of GM was being covered by ground wave because thinking that I was in for a 3 hour descent and a difficult fording of the A-a-M Burn (both these assumptions turned out to be incorrect) I had set myself a 3pm deadline for leaving and still wanted to try 160m & 2m.

40m SSB:
By 13:30 the wind had dropped to almost nil and I was being pestered by small flies. Pesky flies at 4400 feet! At least they weren’t the world renowned, ferocious Scottish midges.

Roy answered the CQ and spotted my QRM-dodging QRG of 7.063. Sixteen stations were worked; some with difficulty in QSB but on the whole 40m was doing a great job for the chasers. Steve G1INK called in from Derbyshire but by this time I was beginning to talk semi-gibberish. Realising I’d been going since 05:30 and my last food intake had been the day before, a chocolate bar made a noticeable difference. (But perhaps the chasers should be the judge of that)

160m CW: A spot and CQ’s on here went unanswered, though I did hear a single ‘?’ at around 13:16z. Time was now getting short but it turned out to be a mistake to pack away the 160m setup before going on 2m.

2m FM:
Finding no lesser ‘SOTA Celeb’ than GM7PKT on 145.400 made me wish I’d tried 2m from CMD. Robin was on WS17, a 10-pointer that I’d researched as a prospective target on the drive up through Glencoe. This was Robin’s second summit of the day too so I probably missed another S2S with WS19 in the morning. He was able to give me valuable information on these two, which I will bear in mind for another visit.

After that I worked the two Andy’s; namely MM0USU in Falkirk and Top Band SOTA enthusiast GM0UDL near Inverness but by now I had neither time nor energy to re-erect the Top Band dipole on the off-chance of a QSO.

Any time spent on the UK’s highest mountain should be savoured but somehow, I had never been able to get comfortable on these uneven rocks and I wasn’t sorry that it was time to leave.

The descent of WS1:
I joined the queue in the slip road until someone let me in and onto the Tourist Track. No it wasn’t quite that bad but it’s not my favourite walk; more a means to an end. I fiddled with both mobile phones but for the life of me, I couldn’t get a ‘Hello Andy, guess where I am?’ phone-call to my son in Scarborough.

I had contemplated cutting directly across Carn Dearg and onward down to ford Allt a Mhuillinn as best I could but one look at the boulder-strewn terrain to my right showed that this move would be ‘distance smart, time foolish.’ So it would have to be down the zig-zags with the throng, dropping out of cloud at 1100m and via Red Burn to Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe. With my new boots, at least I had a fair chance of overtaking the ladies in high-heels! Near the lochan (at NN1474 7279) the path forked; CIC Hut right, Lochan left. Both were well made with smooth surfaces but the latter was downhill leading to the north end of the Lochan before stopping abruptly at the burn which runs out of it. Here I turned north onto uneven boggy ground, soon finding a wet and poorly-defined path at NN1467 7342, heading my way.

This path was only marginally better than a cross-country route but at least there was the impression that it ‘knew what it was about.’ So it proved, as it passed in a fairly straight line via NN1468 7388, NN1475 7445 and NN1479 7482 to a rudimentary ‘bridge’ consisting of a length of old railway line with a fence for handholds, to cross over the (A-a-M) burn at NN1483 7492. From there it was just a few metres to the mysterious ‘Top’ car park and way-marked route down through the forest to the North Face Car Park, where I arrived (with aching thighs) at 17:19. Was I glad to see that car! Within half an hour I was luxuriating in a hot bath.

QSO summary - WS3:
160m CW: 0
80m CW: 9
80m SSB: 20
40m CW: 19
Total WS3: 48.

QSO summary – WS1:
40m CW: 29
40m SSB: 16
160m CW: 0
2m FM: 3
Total WS1: 48.

Battery utilisation: Estimated 85% of 4.4 Ah Li-Po. (5W inc. FM)
Ascent & distance: 1,510m (4,954ft) – 16.5 km (10.3 mls).
Elapsed time: Walking time: 6hr-10min. Summit time: 5hr-39min. Gross time: 11hr-49min.

Conclusion: This wasn’t the smartest way to ‘ease back’ into SOTA after the summer recess but that’s how things worked out. As predicted, my ‘training’ for this was hopelessly inadequate and the day after, I was good for little more than chauffeuring the XYL round a few shops and cafes. The new Scarpa Ranger GTX summer walking boots (the second of three pairs commissioned and recommended by friend Martin M3ZOO) were at least broken in, though badly scuffed. My first pair lasted me 2.5 years and with the addition of an insole, they are quite comfortable straight from the box, waterproof for over 1 year and not desperately expensive.

It was useful to find and mark two new (to me) paths which should ease future WS3/WS1 undertakings. However, I still have to find out about that mysterious ‘Top’ car Park. Also the path which was intercepted at NN1612 7394 needs extrapolating north-westward if future ‘heather-bashing’ is to be avoided.

Apart from the usual QSB, the 80 & 40 m bands were kind to my QRP signals and most of my usual ‘customers’ were re-acquainted. Top Band was a failure but it often is in daylight. Also, I did not give sufficient notice.

The rock samples which I recovered from these two tops and the CMD Arete were enthusiastically received by my son Andy, as were photos.

It is many things to many people and may also be a ‘tourist mountain’ but Ben Nevis is no less special to me personally. Crowded or not, I for one feel grateful and honoured to be blessed with the ability to visit its lofty summit.

Thanks: To ALL STATIONS WORKED and to G4SSH, G3RMD, G8ADD & 9A4MF for spotting support. To G4SSH & my son Phil G0UUU for Alerts and to Phil & Andy for saving the spots. Finally, to my XYL Denise for being so tolerant and providing transport, now that I have none!

73, John G(M)4YSS,
using SSEG GS0OOO/P.
(This summit entered under GM4YSS/P for SOTA purposes)

AONACH BEAG – (GM/WS-002) http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=2379#foot

Super report John, most enjoyable reading. Whether I’d be up to the arete traverse between WS3 and WS1 I seriously doubt; I think Robin told me there was an exposed move. Nonetheless, I am jealous that you did this circular walk, while I just went up and down the full tourist path when I did it. I had a great time myself though.

BTW, the database will accept you entering GS0OOO/P in the callsign used field. It won’t get confused with other operators who may have used the SSEG call, and the points will still accrue to your own G4YSS score. In my M1EYP database account, I have activations listed as:


…all of which scored points for the M1EYP account. The DB doesn’t look at the “Callsign used” field in determining whose account gets credited, so you are quite safe to state the callsign you actually used - if you wish. You are already logged in as G4YSS before you enter your activation particulars, so G4YSS is the only detination for any points.

We’ll be just to the North-East of the Cairngorms for a week in August, and then in SW Scotland for a week, so looking forward to adding to our GM SOTA tally then.

Look forward to the WS2 report.

All the best, Tom M1EYP

In reply to G4YSS:
Great activation and report. Please put a few of your photographs of the Arete on Flicker. The escape route you mentioned would not be of much use if, as usual, one was not carrying a rope! I understand abseiling without a rope is quite difficult!.
Wonderful route, may try it one day so many thanks for your way marks and observations.

In reply to G3RMD:

I understand abseiling without a rope is quite difficult!

Nah, it’s easy, just walk backwards off the edge. But you normally only get to do it once!

In reply to G4YSS:

It turned out to be a large grey & red Royal Navy Sea King Rescue Helicopter,
which seemed to be exercising.

Yep, been there too with a rescue helicopter on Stob Binnein GM/SS-002. They make a hell of racket. Much louder than the 817 will go. They lowered a chap down to see what I was up to. If you don’t get a personal visit you don’t get the bonus points John.

Excellent report, as usual, John. All we need now are the photos please. Especially the Brockenspectre.


In reply to G4YSS:
Wonderful report John! I’m sorry to have missed chasing “The Ben” yet again.

For those hardy souls who fancy some fun this winter (and who are suitably experienced and equipped), it brings back memories of my only ascent of The Ben one winter about 18 years ago. We snow-holed at the top end of Coire Leis one night and tramped up the head wall and on to the summit plateau in the morning.

You should try it… :slight_smile:

73 Marc G0AZS

In reply to ALL:

Hi Tom, Thanks and glad you could re-live it a little. It’s always better to read about when you’ve been there yourself. You might consider the two next year. The second time I did WS1 in Feb-06, I didn’t do anything else. We walked WS3/WS1 in 1998 but back then you needed to devote much less time to your activations than we do now. In fact on that activation, the ICT7E Handheld got soaked and packed up while calling CQ at the top of WS1, so we ended up with no QSO’s!

The tourist path is a curse to many but it’s well graded and has a reasonable surface and easy nav to get you there.

Yes, I knew about the feeding of club-calls into the database; you alerted me to it in 2004. I’m quite happy with the allocation of points, that’s not an issue. I log under my own call for some that I regard as ‘special’ because if I don’t the summit history gives the summit to the call used and not the user. As you know any member can use a clubcall and I feel our efforts are such that individuals should at least be personally recognised for what is very often a lot of effort.

To make this happen, I must send the call on the summit as Clubcall/my call/P and also announce that I will be using my own call for the database at intervals during the activation and in any subsequent report. It ups the workload and delays things somewhat but it would seem to be the only way to get properly credited for the activation in the summit history when using clubcalls. This has been a concern for me for many a year now. The first 1000 points were obtained with clubcall/my call/P for every single QSO but now I think it only needs a reminder every so often. For the vast majority of routine work I use the clubcall in the database anyway. It’s certainly a problem. If I saw MX1SWL in a summit history on a really big mountain with a 12km walk-in, I wouldn’t have a clue who’d made this magnificent effort.

I hope you enjoy the Cairngorms next August. I think you will but they ain’t half remote. I remember summit camping Ben Macdui about 15 yrs back (but we only managed 1 QSO, on 80m) and a few unactivated WAB areas. Brilliant area. (I also recall all but sinking with the XYL in Loch Morlich, 1976 when my cheapo plastic beach inflatable got a puncture!)

Great QSO with Roy on 2m CW the other morning, by the way. He was really pleased with it; his first ever 2m CW QSO.

Take care, 73, John YSS.

Hello Frank, Thank you for reading. I will put some photos on, it’s just a case of getting half a day free. The aftermath of these jaunts can be (as you will know) quite extended if all is to be properly recorded and dealt with.

I looked at the abseil point. The notice says, Abseil Posts at 50 feet intervals, for roping down only.’ The ‘only’ is underlined. I had a look down there and it looks as though one could get down with care, in dry, ice-free conditions. I would think coming up is easier. It doesn’t look any harder than Broad Slack onto Great Carrs in LD and can’t be as hard as the gully up the Triple Buttresses of Ben Eighe. My photos of the arete and surrounding areas show a surfaces much greener than I remember. I think there may be more grass, higher up after two damp summers. I will try to illustrate it when I put the photos on.

Keep calling!
73, John.

It’s nice to know someone understands from experiencing of the same racket. What you stated is right; the 817 can’t handle that level of QRM! You might just cope by climbing in the shelter and shutting that stainless-steel door; taking care not to guillotine the coax of course! Nice display though.

Keep climbing,
73, John.

Marc you made me green with envy. I would deem what you did as somewhat beyond my capability. That would be an experience to stay with you for a lifetime. I think Jon GM4ZFZ does that kind of thing too. These places can get nasty in winter. I thought it was cold enough for me in Feb-06. One thermometer read minus 14 and another minus 12. Needless to say there was no visit to the arete for me on that day!

All the best, John.
Thank you for all comments.