G4YSS: FOINAVEN (GM/NS-023) Act Rprt, 17-05-07

First SOTA activation of FOINAVEN GM/NS-023, using SSEG Club-call, GS0OOO/P and own call.
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr) UOS on 17-May-07.

After success 2 days before on Ben Loyal and a trip up to John o Groats, despite poor WX in the extreme NW corner of the UK, I had my eye on another summit. Foinaven, the hitherto unexciting racehorse, won the UK Grand National in 1967, coming in at odds of 100 to 1. Presumably it was named after a Scottish mountain which is just as underrated and often ignored. I hoped I could at least put it on the SOTA map but hoped for appreciably better odds of safely reaching the top. An Atlantic low was heading for the west coast but it seemed that there would be a wide enough ‘weather-window’ on the morning of the 17th. By afternoon it was going to turn nasty.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) Foinaven, though not desperately remote, is not blessed with being near any road but looking at the map, three paths appear to make-it into the environs of the mountain. The one from Rhiconich on the A838 looks unhelpful, delivering a walker into a confusion of densely-packed lochans and rough-country. 5 miles NE, along the same road there starts a path which penetrates deeper but still doesn’t really hit the target. The one coming in from Lochstack Lodge in the SW, looks long, arduous and does not terminate at the desired part of the mountain, which is really a 5km long series of summits.

On balance, I chose none of these, instead opting for a ‘cross-country bash’ directly to the true summit Ganu Mor, from the bridge which takes the A838 Durness road over a burn called Allt Loch Tarbhaidh. There is sufficient room to park a couple of cars off the road at NC 2848 5489 but one look at the map told me it wasn’t ideal country to try to traverse, it being not at all well drained. I made a GPS route, avoiding the worst of the pools and hopefully bogs too. No more could be done; I would now have to go there and find out first-hand if this proposed walk-in to the foot of Foinaven would be practicable and then find a way to climb the mountain.

With the predicted WX, an early start was essential. 06:00 at Dornoch and a 1.5 hour, 67 mile drive, enabled a walk-away from the vehicle at 07:46. I hadn’t travelled 100m before plunging a leg into ‘methane bog slime’ and there was some back-tracking to circumnavigate ponds in places. It was a pathless wasteland, populated by frogs, orchids and hairy caterpillars. The deer had more sense than to pass this way; I found very few of their tracks. After 40 minutes I’d made my way to a large rock (A Lone Rock at NC 2983 5331 (Looking SE) © John Earnshaw cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Britain and Ireland)on better ground at NC 2983 5331 later crossing a burn at NC 3037 5282. By NC 3045 5253 bogs & frogs give way to steep grass, interspersed with rocky outcrop and it is advisable not to climb the shoulder of Creag na Claise Carnaich any further east of this line. Here there are plenty of choices, easier to the west, but I tried to take the most direct line, passing via NC 3048 5245, NC 3047 5233, NC 3062 5221, NC 3073 5196 to NC 2983 5331 where rocks become more prevalent than grass and Moss Campion was in flower. My mistake after this was to climb too high on Ceann Garbh (to NC 3111 5160) forcing some contouring in low-cloud, over ‘bad ground’ (boulder fields with some loose rocks) to the Ceann Garbh / Ganu Mor low-point, at NC 3129 5088. Once this col is attained, a path is available for easy access to the loose, shaley summit of Ganu Mor, with its patchy grass and alpine plants.

There are two cairns, one at the west end (GPS’d 17-05-07 at NC 31516 50686 and 914m ASL - Foinaven-Ganu Mòr, western cairn © John Earnshaw cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Britain and Ireland) and one at the east end (GPS’d 17-05-07 at NC 31682 50691 and 912m ASL). Neither of these ‘looks’ particularly superior in height to the other. The map implies that the eastern cairn at ‘908m’ is the summit but the SOTA manual gives 914m at ‘NC 315507’, which is close to the western cairn. Jim G0CQK has obtained a ‘corrected position’ of NC 31652 50695 (that’s near the eastern end.) Who knows, with as little as 2 feet to ‘grow,’ Foinaven could one day turn out to be a Munro! Food for thought!

The cloud lifted for a photo shoot, revealing views of neighbouring Arkle, Cranstackie and Ben Hope with its head in cloud. With a southerly air-stream, I set up ‘over the northern lip’ at NC 3156 5069. Here there was enough sparse grass to accept the mast and time taken to build a ‘seat’ was well spent.

FOINAVEN (Ganu Mor) GM/NS-023, 914m? 6pts, First activation for SOTA. 10:12 to 13:56 BST, 6 deg C, southerly 7 mph wind. WAB: NC35. Loc: IO78NJ.

G4SSH, Roy’s ‘fone-a-spot’ service ensured an immediate pile-up of both UK and European stations on 7.032 CW, led by Phil, G4OBK. A little later my CW key (a simple miniature biased toggle-switch) decided it was going to stick on dots, spraying them liberally at bemused chasers. I went off-air several times to ‘work the key’ from side to side but to little avail. Somehow, I worked 35 stations with the thing in this state, gradually finding accommodation by moving it the very minimum from the centre-off position. Unfortunately, it could then easily miss characters and its antics delayed the QSY to 7.057 MHz SSB until 12:15 BST. It is fortunate that SOTA chasers are good enough ops to recognize at least part of their own callsigns, when ‘butchered’ in this embarrassing manner. Apologies!! My CW has never been brilliant but it really isn’t as bad as that. The main thing is to get the summit and I think everyone did.

Unlike on the 15th, when 70W struggled to get reports over on 40m SSB, the band was in good enough condition for 5W to reach another 20 stations including an S2S with John EI/GW4BVE/P on EI/IS-092 (kindly orchestrated by G3RMD…congrats on the 100 uniques Frank). I think this was my first Irish summit. Noteworthy is the simple expedient taken by Mick 2E0HJD, of driving 400m away from home for a successful /M ‘low-noise’ QSO, despite a many dB-down mobile antenna and my QRP. Today, Steve GW7AAV managed with my 5W signal from his home. The penultimate 40m SSB ‘extended’ QSO was with Rob PI4ZLB, as I was turned into an antenna test-laboratory. Surprisingly, his vertical was better than his quad. He and PD0DX both seemed eager to obtain GS0OOO/P QSL cards.

By 13:13, I’d been sitting in low-cloud for an hour and light rain began to fall. Since heavy rain was forecast, the final QSY was to 145.500 MHz FM, where the half-expected John GM3JIJ in Stornaway (signing GS3JFG) showed up. He was busy cooking Yorkshire Puddings and I think the distraction of our QSO about ruined them. I was surprised to learn that, in this part of the world, it is considered bad manners to QSY off S20! My 2 watts prompted a signal report of 59 plus 60dB but no other stations appeared, though Orkney, Moray Firth and Lewis repeaters could be opened with a half-wave vertical.

The ‘low-viz’ descent over boulder-fields to clearer, grassier altitudes, was uneventful and brought me all too soon, back with the frogs in increasing wind and rain. The car was reached at 15:46 and Dornoch early, at 17:25.

QRP kit: FT817ND, 11 x 2.7 Ah AA pack. Internal cells as reserve (not required). Link-dipole in inv-vee config. 5m mast AGL / 1m end-supports. Garmin GEKO 301 GPS. VX150, 2m FM H/H as backup.

QSO summary:
40m band: 35 CW & 20 SSB.
2m FM: 2 (one op, club and home callsigns)
Total: 57 QSO’s.

12km and 770m (2526ft) of ascent.
133 miles round-trip from Dornoch (which is a 406 mile drive from Scarborough.)

Thanks to Roy G4SSH/A in Fowie for liaison/ spotting and to others who monitor, spot and chase.

(The plan was for a final expedition on the 19th. Despite it being sunny and dry almost everyday in Dornoch, the forecast for the ‘west side’ was for gales and rain. Though any activation becomes merely an unpleasant chore in such conditions, because it was the final day of the holiday I had little choice but to accept it, duly setting off from Dornoch at 6am. At a point 14 miles west of Lairg, with white-horses on Loch Shin and driving rain, I reluctantly turned back, not because of what I could see but in deference to the mountain forecast on R. Scotland. ‘Heavy showers merging into continuous rain, blizzards on the Munros, wind gusting to 90 mph and the final straw; lightning.’ As is often quoted, ‘The mountain will still be there another day.’)

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