G4YSS Activation Report, GM/NS-005 & GM/NS-050, 10-10-12.
BEN WYVIS and LITTLE WYVIS - SOTA’s GM/NS-005 and GM/NS-050.
Using GM4YSS/P and SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P. HF/ VHF QRP on 160m, 40m & 2m.
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr UOS as ‘z’).
Mobile phone coverage on both summits and 95% of route - EE (Orange) network.
FT817ND 5W QRP. Adjustable dipole 80 thru 20 and coils for 160m. 5m mast; 1m end sticks.
IC-E90 4-Band FM, 5W H/H with 7.4V /1.3 Ah Li-Ion detachable battery. J-Pole for 2m FM.
Battery power: One 4.3 Ah Li-Po for both summits plus IC-E90 battery; both part used.
QRP pack: 10.5 kg (23 pounds) inc 1.25 litres drinks (1ltr used) food and Primaloft jacket.
This expedition was the first in a 7-night self-drive holiday at the Highland Hotel, Strathpeffer from 8th to 15th of October 2012. There are plenty of NS Scottish summits which can’t fail to get your attention and for me Ben Wyvis is well up the list of many I have not yet done. The GPS route for these two has languished in my computer hard drive for far too long.
After a second bad year health wise, my XYL said that she needed a holiday. After a week of no decision from me but to be fair, with my interests in mind, she booked one. NS5 is the closest significant SOTA to the Strathpeffer (Shearings) Hotel which she chose, and NS50 is NS5’s ‘little brother.’ It looked possible to do them as a pair and I think that has already been achieved.
Neither had a large QSO total. NS5 - 151 QSO’s and NS50 - 85 QSO’s. Some of these have been on bands that would reach Europe but the many were on 2m. It almost goes without saying that 160m did not feature on the record of either but neither did 80m. The assumption was that both these but especially NS50, should be popular with chasers.
An internet search revealed separate routes for both Ben Wyvis and Little Wyvis but I couldn’t find anything which paired them up. My main concern was the route between the two. Was there a path? Certainly the 1:25k map didn’t show one.
The next bit of information was gained on arrival from the manager and receptionist of the hotel who had both climbed Ben Wyvis once. As I suspected neither had done Little Wyvis but the receptionist had walked the east-west path which passes between the two target mountains and commented that she had ‘almost been reduced to tears’ in the boggy expanse there. It looked like I would have to tackle this bad ground myself; the only viable alternatives being to backtrack the NS5 path down An Cabar then climb NS50 from the north or just do them on separate days. Either of these options would involve greater total ascent and a further distance. Generally speaking I am unwilling to lose height and the route was already over 12 miles long.
The day before the walk, I was fortunate enough to work GM0UDL on 145.575. Andy is an accomplished GM SOTA activator and has also supported some of my Top Band activations in both Scotland and England. He has also activated Ben Wyvis and Little Wyvis albeit on in separate years but if there’d been a path between the two, Andy of all people would have heard about it. That finally convinced me of the likelihood that no linking path existed which is when I put off the decision about NS50 until I’d climbed NS5 and had a look at it. One thing was sure. Everybody was in agreement that an excellent path, with steps on the steeper sections, was a feature on Ben Wyvis NS5.
The alarm sounded at 05:00. After collecting some sandwiches from the hotel night porter in lieu of breakfast, the 20 minute drive to the Ben Wyvis car park (NH 4104 6713) was completed by 05:35.
Following the all important pre-hydration using one litre of orange juice, I left the car park using a Maglite torch at 05:53. Not taking my headlight out of the rucksack turned out to be a minor error.
The path parallel’s the road NE for about 300m before passing over a footbridge and through a gated deer fence at NH 4123 6734. This is where the climbing begins as you pass through a forested area, crossing over a forest track at NH 4172 6720 then on via NH 4223 6696 and NH 4313 6652 at which point the trees are left behind. From there it’s simple to follow up the east ridge of An Cabar on a steep but well surfaced zig-zag path via NH 4358 6670 and NH 4398 6665; finally arriving at the minor summit.
The path splits at NH 4435 6651; where I opted for the left turn and the gradient finally eases at NH 4460 6655. After passing a notice on the An Cabar summit cairn, which refers to path wear, it’s just a matter of walking the undulating grassy ridge on a stony path to the 1,046m high point called Glas Leathad Mor, which was attained by 08:16. The shelter surrounded trig point was GPS’d at NH 46299 68374.
The climb was uneventful apart from a miscalculation (a UTC / BST error) about how long I would have to walk in the dark. It was meant to be just 15 minutes but was in fact 75 minutes. The battery in the Maglite faded and the spares didn’t work either; or so it seemed. It wasn’t until the day after that I found that the bulb assembly was missing and is presumably still lying on the slopes of An Cabar. Still too lazy to doff the rucksack for the headlight, I plodded on impatiently in the gloom until just past 7am whence it became properly light.
After most of the height had been gained and the light was strong enough, I began to scan down and across for evidence of a path to Little Wyvis. None was visible but from what I could see of my intended route across the 515m high col, things didn’t look good. The ground there looked very wet and it was deeply cut in places with peat groughs and water courses. All informants were right. It didn’t look like there was any kind of easy access between the two SOTA’s let alone a convenient path.
BEN WYVIS, GM/NS-005, 1,046m, 8 pts, 08:16 to 11:52. Wind 0 mph increasing gradually to 10 mph by noon. Temp 0 deg C (frosted grass) - later 3 deg C. Alternating sunshine and overcast. LOC: IO77RQ, WAB: NH46. EE (Orange) Mobile phone coverage. Great views! QRP 5W.
There was no wind when I arrived at the summit and cows could be clearly heard lowing miles away to the east. The grassy top was lightly frosted and the sun had now risen above a small gap between horizon and clouds.
Photography came before setting up. All mountains to the west were visible and what looked like oil rigs could be seen in the Cromarty Firth to the east. An Teallach looked great. I have a soft spot for that one after having activated it in 2008. I selected a place on the centre of the ridge line and about 40m to the NE of the trig. I could not afford any screening for VHF or for the top Band operation but at that stage there was no wind anyway.
145.575 FM – 4 QSO’s:
When all was ready including the dipole and 2m vertical, contact was made with Andy GM0UDL waiting on 145.575 MHz. This channel seems to be a popular Highlands meeting place, S20 being more or less ignored. The day before, Andy had offered to monitor the activation to provide support with spotting if needed but mainly so that between us, we could credit this particular Munro with its first ever SOTA QSO on Top Band (see below). Later Andy passed the microphone to his XYL Brenda MM0UDL. It was a pleasure to work the two of them; Brenda for the first time. Their QTH is near Fortrose on the Black Isle.
The final two stations worked on 2m were MM0LOZ Loz (Lawrence) in Nairn and MM3ZRF Bob in Alness. I work Loz every time I’m up here; last time as 2M0LOZ but Bob was new to me. Loz was on his croft away from the house. He was working cross-band from a tiny 70cm handset which was linked to CTCSS coded 2m rig in his shack. Apparently there are one or two in the region using this system because they have land. At some point I must have worked Ray GM3PIL because he came up specially to liaise and provide me with a second 160m QSO.
1.832 CW – 1 QSO:
As arranged the day before and just prior on 2m-FM, Andy GM0UDL was logged with 59 both ways on 160m; Ben Wyvis’s first Top Band QSO. Andy has a very good setup and QTH and the distance involved was only about 15 miles.
1.843 SSB – 2 QSO’s:
Again, as arranged the day before and with 2m-FM talkback I worked Ray GM3PIL, who resides somewhere in the hills overlooking Nairn. This was not as straightforward as it might seem. Over the preceding 24 hours, Ray had spent time trying to locate and erect an antenna to make the QSO but hadn’t managed to find enough of it in time. He was persuaded by Andy and myself to ‘fire a bit of RF’ into anything he possessed which happened to be an antenna for the 40m band. I’m pleased to say we managed the 160m QSO over the few km required, with 51 reports each way but Ray was understandably nervous about his ridiculously high VSWR. Andy came onto SSB afterwards for a brief chat.
Without the help of Andy and Ray, I would certainly not have worked anybody on Top Band this far north, especially with the meagre 5 Watts I possessed. Though I could hear strong voice signals, in what sounded like Norwegian up on 1.850, there was certainly no earthly hope of making daylight QSO’s with the usual 160m enthusiasts in England or Eire.
At some stage in the proceedings, I phoned Roy G4SSH. If we couldn’t make contact on 40m CW this early, we would try it on 80m. A little later I heard Roy at about 55 QSB, testing on 3.557 but though I called several times, my 5 Watts were no match for his 200 W. Thoughts of 80m were abandoned in favour of the advertised 40m.
7.032.2 CW - 26 QSO’s:
This time I got a response from Roy first time and we exchanged at 599 / 559. I think we were both surprised at how well the band was propagating that early, notably in respect of short skip.
From 08:55 to 09:30 UTC, 26 stations from the following countries were worked: G; DL; ON; EI; GM; PA; HB9 and OM. OM7DX called me but try as I may, I could not get back to him with my QRP. Reporting on my 5W signal was better than I could have hoped for; generally in the range 559 to 579. Several reports were up to 599 but there were a few 339 and 449’s. After taking a gamble on QRP and two summits as against QRO on just one, I was quietly chuffed that I’d got it right. 40m was working really well to the UK, Eire and Europe but it could so easily been an entirely different story.
7.130.5 SSB - 22 QSO’s:
Starting with Andy who called in to see how things were going, 22 stations were logged in this session. Signal reports were even better than for CW earlier; perhaps the band was improving further as we neared 10 hours UTC. Countries worked: The UK - G, GM and GW apart from ON7KJW and S51ZG.
Final calls on 2m-FM on channels S20 and S23 did not result in further QSO’s so the station was packed up and thoughts turned to whether NS50 was a goer or not. With the early start, I had sufficient time but I was concerned about state of the intervening ground. Just then a man turned up with two Australian Sheep dogs (bred from Dingos) which looked different to any dogs I’ve seen. After the usual enquiries about surveying and a pleasant chat, we got onto the subject of the path to NS50. He was local and had climbed Ben Wyvis once before but he knew of no easy way. The decision was put off for a little longer.
The QSO total for this hill was 55.
THE ROUTE - NS5 TO NS50:
Whilst heading back along the summit ridge towards An Cabar the choice of whether to activate NS50 was made on the basis that there was sufficient time available, the WX was good and I wouldn’t be back this way for a long time. I was not however, expecting to find a path. At NH 4525 6709 a random left turn off the ridge took me down an easy grass slope as far as NH 4533 6610 at which point the ground became rougher as grass gave way to peat.
From here to the tiny dam at NH 4508 6535 progress was gradually slowed. This stone built sloping dam, with its depth gauge and man-made burn that runs south then east from it, succeeds in preventing the majority of water which flows down Allt na Feithe Riabhaich from filling up the peat bog between these two SOTA’s. In addition it lightens the load on the natural drainage system running off to the west; namely Allt a’ Bhealaich Mhoir. Despite experiencing much worse, for instance going cross-country in Bleaklow Meadows in the Peak District, what came next was poor going and painfully slow.
From the dam, I followed the man-made ‘canal’ downstream (south) for about 100m until I could see a line of fence posts going off to the right at NH 4509 6517. Turning right (west) here I followed the galvanized posts, spaced every 20m or so, across the bad ground at approximately 515m ASL. There is no path; it’s wet, lumpy and minor deviations are necessary but at least there’s something to follow and the minimum of height is lost by crossing at this point. If it were not for the work of the canal, the job would be much worse especially after heavy rain. The last bit is perhaps the worst and I had to backtrack to get around very squidgy ground. You could be forgiven for denying the existence of what on the map looks like a major path running at right angles to my track through here; I found no evidence of it.
Once free of bog it was time to feel my way up Little Wyvis. The boggy ground gradually gives way to heather as you head up to NH 4394 6506, NH 4374 6519 and NH 4364 6537 but the heather is lying contrary to the desired line of progress. At some point along here I located a minor path heading the right way but this seemed to peter out before the ridge was gained at a fence post (NH 4354 6543). This is close to the ‘662m spot’ on the 25k map next to Tom nan Caillich. From there it’s a left turn and follow this second line of fence posts in a southwesterly direction up towards the summit cairn; GPS’d today at NH 42963 64468.
This top is also grassy. I set up overlooking the NW side at the end of a tiring walk of 2hrs-28 minutes being five minutes longer than the ascent of the earlier Munro with it’s good path. That with just QRP kit too!
LITTLE WYVIS, GM/NS-050, 763m, 4 pts, 14:20 to 16:35. 7 deg C, sunshine/ overcast, 15 mph wind increasing. LOC: IO77QP. WAB: NH46. EE (Orange) Mobile phone coverage. QRP 5W.
Just prior to arrival, I texted Hazel M6YLH to spot me but confused UTC with BST. Roy G4SSH phoned me to clarify but by that time I was set up on 40m CW. ‘Can you hear these dots Roy?’ I sent half a dozen dots on 7.032. The answer was ‘yes’ so the session was begun with a call to G4SSH and an RST 559 response. Our luck was holding; 40m was still in great condition.
7.032 CW - 32 QSO’s:
After G4SSH came Kevin G0NUP located in the next village to my home QTH. After that Frid DL1FU, confirmed that 7 MHz was working equally for long and short skip as had been the case in the morning. Incoming reports in response to my 5W output were generally 559. The range was from 539 to 589 apart from one 449 and a 599. The NS50 40m CW log contains: G; DL; PA; GM; GI; EI; OM; ON; Z35 and the session took 50 minutes.
There was one S2S on 40m CW, namely EI/G4ASA/P on EI/IS-122. That’s simply enough written here but had it been winter, the poor op might have frozen to death before I’d managed to get his callsign and ref into the log correctly. This is what often happens to me when the CW reading skills are remotely challenging. The more you get flustered the worse it becomes.
OM7DX and DJ5AW both failed in their attempts at a QSO but the latter station managed it in SSB later on. John G4WSX really struggled to hear me at 13:53z but made it through OK at 14:20z.
DL3HXX and Z35F both worked me twice or so it seemed but they could be forgiven for not hearing the QRP signal very well the first time. If a chaser thinks he isn’t in the log, it’s probably best to make sure with a second QSO. With QRP, an activator can waste time sending, ‘already in log’ and it’s often easier to go through the familiar set procedure of another QSO. It’s worth the effort if it gives the chaser peace of mind, especially if the summit is rarely activated. This doesn’t happen that often and it certainly doesn’t annoy me in any way because I completely understand what chasers are up against and admire them for it.
7.134 / 7.127 SSB - 23 QSO’s:
The problem here was that the announced QRG of 7.132 LSB was occupied. This happens a lot with SSB and it seems that with existing QSO’s occupying 3kHz, if you move too far, you can easily become lost to the chasers. This problem is rare with CW where you can gain clearance in as little as 500 Hz or have the option of the ‘CWR’ mode for close signals. Sometimes I can’t get notification out for a re-spot by any means and more often than not, I will not appear on the announced frequency for SSB. Today was a case in point which is why I opted for the closest frequency possible - in this case 7.134.
By now I have become somewhat conditioned to the compromise; a stark choice of the chasers suffering terrible sideband splatter or never finding me at all. Many times chasers tell me of adjacent channel interference which I already know about because I am suffering it myself but better that than not to be found at all. At least then there is an option of getting a QSY frequency out and onto the spotting system.
Generally speaking,the alternative is to call CQ for 15 minutes on the next clear QRG which may be 25kHz or more away. Rarely I have done this for up to half an hour and only attracted the odd non chaser and that can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand a QSO of any kind with frequent handovers can aid ‘discovery’ after which a chaser will tail end. If that doesn’t occur, the ‘normal’ QSO just adds to the delay whilst eating up finite battery power and precious time. In these circumstances and when it’s really cold you can become very disheartened. For this and other reasons, I think SSB activating can be harder than CW.
Most of the above didn’t apply today when I was rapidly located 2kHz off my ‘spot’ by GM7UAU Steve. The splatter that resulted was dealt with after 8 QSO’s with a QSY to 7.127 - a clear channel. From then on NS50 was a much easier chase but only for the UK. A limited variety of countries were worked in SSB from 14:35z to 15:08z: GW; GM; G; DL and EI. Reports of the 5 Watt signal were mostly between 55 to 59. Discounting an ‘ON’ in Ireland, only two European stations; DL5WW and DF5WA, were worked. Strangely, skip was favouring inter-G by this later time.
The ‘ON’ QSO mentioned above was actually an S2S with Phil, EI/ON4TA/P on SOTA EI/IN-081 (58 both ways). Geoff M6MZX and Frank G3RMD called in immediately prior QSY from 40.
145.500 / 145.575 FM – Nil QSO’s:
It was half-term in Scotland and by this time Andy GM0UDL was at Rogie Falls with his children. I couldn’t raise any other stations with 5 Watts to a rubber duck and none of the other channels were occupied.
Being now pushed for time, I did not try 160m from here. With 5 Watts and at least one of the nearby stations unavailable, the chances of success would have been more or less nil. Attention was now turned to getting down ASAP.
The QSO total for this hill was 55.
The intended route derived from the internet, was in the GPS. It involved first heading SW off the end of Little Wyvis and then along in a NE direction. With no time for niceties, I just walked straight down the side and directly to the track which I thought was going to enhance progress, joining it at NH 4295 6468. On arrival I found that the description ‘track’ was a gross overstatement. It has been routed (or possibly dug out) along the hillside and is in a gully, which must collect and trap every drop of water which falls on the hill above it. In places it equalled the specifications of the bog I’d been forced to cross earlier. Frequent detours to avoid wet feet were necessary but I made my way slowly to a hairpin / turnround at NH 4330 6547. After going down a steep slope from there, I spied some more fence posts; the third lot of the day. These go right down to the edge of the forestry and beside them is a minor path which runs downhill from NH 4327 6566 to the crossing point of Allt a’ Bhealaich Mhoir and the regaining of the Ben Wyvis path at NH 4313 6652. What’s left is a simple walk downhill to the Ben Wyvis car park on this excellent path, used on the way up in the dark.
I was back at the car in 75 minutes at 17:50 and back to the Strathpeffer hotel about 30 minutes later. Once there, I was implored to quickly change my appearance to semi respectable before being bundled off to the dining room by the XYL in time for its opening at 18:30. The bath would have to wait.
ASCENT & DISTANCES:
Car Park to NS5 Ben Wyvis: 935 m ascent / 7.5 km.
NS5 Ben Wyvis to NS50 Little Wyvis: 262 m ascent / 7.2 km.
NS50 Little Wyvis to Car Park: Approx 10 m ascent / 5.0 km.
TOTAL ASCENT & DISTANCE: 1,207m (3,960ft) / 19.6 km (12.2 miles).
Up at: 05:00.
Left Strathpeffer: 05:15
Arrived Ben Wyvis Car Park: 05:35
Walk started: 05:53
GM/NS-005: 08:16 to 11:52
GM/NS-050: 14:20 to 16:35
Returned Ben Wyvis Car Park: 17:50
Back to Strathpeffer: 18:20
Walking time: 6hr-6 min.
Activating time: 5hr-51 min.
Gross time Car to Car: 11hr-57 min.
QSO’s: NS5: 56 - NS50: 55.
1 on 160m CW (NS5).
2 on 160m SSB (NS5).
58 on 40m CW.
45 on 40m SSB.
4 on 2m FM.
Total: 110 (both summits - 55 on each).
SOTA Activator points: 12
This was one of a series of trips to Scotland using (in this instance) Shearings or Lochs & Glens hotels. My XYL looks for the special deals. This well run hotel could be described as ‘mass market’ and exists mainly for coach trips with a few self drive customers. It was very comfortable, the food was great with flexible mealtimes, the staff smart, efficient, friendly and accommodating where the need arose. (My XYL has MS and must sleep in the afternoons). There is no Wi-Fi as yet but the receptionists were only too happy to print out the mountain WX forecasts for me.
The intention on these trips is to put three summits on the air in the week thereby not neglecting the family aspect too much.
It was good to chat to the ‘145.575 crowd’ who made us feel welcome once again and could supply valuable local knowledge. Sadly one voice was absent this year. Cris GM4FAM who will be missed in the area and the wider amateur world.
On this occasion I installed HF/ VHF QRO in my wife’s car using croc clips, a 25A circuit breaker, 12 AWG wire and a mag-mount. This was great for WAB’ing on 7.160 LSB when the WX was too bad for SOTA.
The activation of Ben Wyvis is something I have wanted to do for years now. As Munros go, it’s a simple one without any danger or route issues involving scrambling etc. Wayfinding is straightforward - you just follow the path through the trees and up the steps. Grass at the top makes antenna erection easy. At a glance, Little Wyvis just looks like something you would conveniently add on the way down. In fact it at least doubled the workload mainly due to the lack of paths.
Band conditions on 40m were exceptionally good which was just as well. The choice of QRP and two summits had been made over QRO and just NS5. The gamble paid off. 5 Watts did the job better than 100W would have done on a bad day.
The only way I was ever going to get QSO’s on Top Band in daylight this far north and with QRP was via prearrangement with local stations. Working two stations on 160 from the big one - NS5 was more than satisfactory thanks to Andy GM0UDL and Ray GM3PIL. The only other ways to get SOTA contacts on 160m in northern GM is to beg via a repeater during the activation or ask any ops worked on 2-FM if they have the capability for 160. Most don’t but both these methods have been successful in the past.
To ALL STATIONS worked, for your patience in pileups and help where needed. To G4SSH; GM0UDL; M6YLH; G4OOE; MW6GWR; M0XSD and M0KLO for time saving spots. Once again, special thanks to Roy G4SSH for liaison, his ‘Phone-a-Spot’ Service. Hazel for spotting via text. To Andy GM0UDL for advice and 160m CW sked; Ray GM3PIL for 160m SSB sked and the local 145.575 users for making 2m-FM worthwhile.
To the manager, deputy manager and receptionists at the ‘Bay Hotels’ (Shearings) Strathpeffer for mountain advice, weather forecast printoffs, the supply of sandwiches in lieu of breakfast and comfortable accomodation at only £24 pppn for DBB. My XYL for the use of her (once posh - now rather dirty) car.
Footnote: The small rock samples gathered from Ben & Little Wyvis turned out to be Garnet Mica Schist which is a metamorphic rock.
73, John G4YSS
Using Scarborough Special Events Group Club call - GS0OOO/P & GM4YSS/P.
(Please Note: GM4YSS/P will be used in database.)
Glas Bheinn - GM/NS-044 on 14-Oct-12 report see: