G4YSS: G/LD-003 & Alan Hinkes Eyeball, 12th December 2017
HELVELLYN G/LD-003 on 80m-160m QRO
Chance meeting of a mountain celeb
G4YSS using GX0OOO/P unaccompanied
All times UTC
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver without internal batteries
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier
Link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-20m
Four section, 5m CFC mast with 1m end sticks
One 5Ah Li-Po (no reserve)
Unitone ‘D shape’ ear-cup phones.
IC-E90 4-Band, 5W-VHFM Handheld with set-top helical (used to call G4WHA/A)
Half-wave vertical J-Pole for 2m-FM (not used)
Garmin GEKO 301 GPS with loaded route
Stubai 8 point steel crampons (not used)
Grivel Instep Crampons (not used)
Grivel Munroe Ice Axe: Used only as an aid to antenna deployment in frozen ground.
QRO Packweight: 11 kg (24 pounds) including extras above and 0.75 litres fluids (not used)
Denise & I arranged for a 4-night stay at the Windermere Hotel, as a break for her and a SOTA chance for me. The 12 mile drive from Windermere to Thirlmere and the Wythburn Church car park took about 25 minutes.
This is a council Pay and Display car park with a cost of 7 GBP for 8 hours but a notice stated, “Free until Further Notice as a thank you in this period of recovery following Storm Desmond.” While I was standing there, a Robin flew between the pay machine and me as if to get my attention. A little later it was at the car looking appealingly up at me. Before packing a sandwich into the rucksack I broke some off. The bird grabbed it and flew away. Robins are intelligent creatures but tough with it.
After losing sleep due to reading the Helvellyn summit assessor’s report for the day before, I was nervous of ice. To ameliorate the worry, in to the pack went two sets of crampons and an axe. Ridiculous in a way as the snow wasn’t that deep. I would certainly try not to use them unless absolutely necessary but it made me feel better.
I set off walking in bright conditions at 09:20. Today’s ascent took 1hr-33 minutes to the trig; much slower than normal because of thick ice on the path, which required detours. I saw a few crampon marks further up but I mostly followed boot prints. I was confident enough due to today’s commissioning of a brand new pair of Scarpa Ranger GTX’s, my 6th pair of boots for SOTA so far. Good grips were no guarantee though and care was needed. The cloud base was at 740m. Once entered, that was it for the day.
Route from Wythburn Church:
The path leaves the car park (NY 3244 1362) via a gate and passes initially through trees to cross a track junction at NY 3269 1363. The trees are left behind at around NY 3282 1353 and the path becomes paved a little higher up. After that it’s gravely. The route climbs through Comb Crags onto Birk Side and then onto the western flank of Nethermost Pike. It is quite steep but easy to follow via: NY 3292 1363; NY 3318 1364; NY 3322 1342; NY 3335 1337; NY 3369 1353; NY 3391 1389; joining the Dollywaggon - Helvellyn path at NY 3429 1446 which goes up to the summit.
HELVELLYN, LD-003, 950m, 10 pts, 10:53 to 14:23. Minus 2 deg C. Wind NW, 7mph rising to 20mph with constant low-cloud and occasional snow showers. Icing conditions and precipitation static. Some snow in shelter, 60cm deep in NW quarter. Lying powdery snow generally from zero to 20cm with more on eastern edge. LOC: IO84LM, WAB: NY31. Barely satisfactory EE phone coverage.
There was one person in the shelter when I arrived; a man from Kendal. His was the only other car in the car park when I left it. With little real choice than to set up in the shelter, I sounded him out. He didn’t seem concerned and asked plenty of questions. After a full hour of trying, I managed to erect the dipole on the third attempt. The ground was frozen hard and the snow too powdery to support the end sticks. I tried making holes with the axe to no avail. For one of the sticks, the only option was to build a small cairn around it. The other went into a pile of snow compacted down. Fortunately, I was on my own most of the time. All was ready by 11:55.
3.557 CW - Nil QSO’s:
This was alerted for 12:15 but calls from 11:55 until then did not attract any QSO’s. Not a good start.
3.760 SSB - 20 QSO’s:
G7LMF and M3FEH (Graham & Karl) simultaneously heard me calling CQ here at 12:15. Working them attracted the attention of other ops as follows: G0GWY Geoff; G4IAR Dave; G0RQL Don; G4WHA/A Geoff and MM0XPZ Steve in Greenock. Next: GM4AXY Ken in Edinburgh; G0TDM John; GM4YMM Christine (Ken’s XYL); DJ5AV Mike; G4OBK Phil; M0JLA Rod in Hereford City; DL4KCA Joe using 500W; 2M0KAU/P Martin S2S on GM/SS-227/ NO31/ TP-4941 and GI4ONL Victor sounding like he should again.
At this point there was a lunch break followed by a brief QSY back to 3.557-CW (see below).
Coming back to 3.760 SSB at 12:52, I logged four more stations as follows: G7BGA Geoff; G4IPB Paul in Teesdale; GM8OEG/P Andy S2S on GM/SS-242/ NT10 and finally G4HPE Steve TL34 Cambs.
50 Watts was used for all QSO’s and incoming reports ranged from 57 or 59 down to 33’s and 35’s for further away stations.
3.557 CW - 1 QSO:
Part way through the SSB session, I worked Bill G4WSB without delay but despite a spot from Dave G4IAR, further QSO’s were not forthcoming. 80m can be fickle.
145.400 FM - 1 QSO:
After removing rime ice from the sagging antenna for the second or third time, I tried calling on Top Band both CW and SSB but there was nothing. In the hope that Geoff or John would hear me and offer a spot, I called with 5 Watts from the IC-E90 with set-top antenna. An answer came from Geoff G4WHA/A. The QSO was 59 both ways into the shop at Penrith and Geoff kindly and smartly had me spotted. “1.832 in one minute.”
1.832 CW - 1 QSO:
Geoff’s spot worked quickly and it was seen by Phil, G4OBK at 13:36z. Propagation to Pickering wasn’t great but we exchanged at 559/ 339. Phil seemed pleased and I certainly was! To offer Helvellyn on Top Band was something I was determined to do and now it had been worth the effort. Without further CW QSO’s a QSY was made to 1.843 SSB.
1.843 SSB - Nil QSO’s:
Five minutes of calling on here up until 13:50z, produced a ‘heard only.’ This was EI3GYB coming in at 51 to 55. I was amazed! With an absence of anybody nearer, I wasn’t expecting this to happen in daylight at two in the afternoon, even in mid December. Sadly no amount of calling back with 50 Watts to a sagging half-sized dipole on a 5m mast, would produce a QSO. Michael posted “Barely Audible” on Sotawatch and in the circumstances I thought that encouraging. I was pleased to at least hear Micheal from County Mayo. Better luck next time.
After reeling in the dipole I was dismantling the mast when a late visitor showed up. As I do, unless I’m up to my neck in radio work, I greeted him and asked which way he’d come. It took a while before I realized that I recognized the voice and the reply was, “I came up the gully just over there.” Knowing that he must have climbed the headwall in snow conditions, I knew he wasn’t just your average hill walker but his face was partly hidden under a climbing helmet and hood.
There had been a dozen and a half visitors to the shelter while I was there but though some had done Swirral or Striding Edges, nobody reported any unusual routes. Here potentially was somebody special and having read about him, seen him on TV and read his latest book ‘8000 Metres’ I began to cotton on to who this might be. The challenge now was how to find out without making a fool of myself.
First I asked where he came from? “Northallerton; do you know it?” Yes, I replied, it’s the seat of local government for North Yorkshire including the Scarborough area. He asked if I was Scarborough born & bred but it’s not something I can claim. I asked, “Looks like you have a lot of experience of snow conditions?” The answer, “Well yes actually, I am a qualified Alpine mountain guide.” Now the telling question. “What about the Himalayas?” “Well, since you ask, I have done Everest and a few others.” “Is your first name Alan by any chance?” “Yes.”
Rummaging in a pocket, he handed me a card that read, “ Alan Hinkes, Mountain Rescue Ambassador.” He was raising awareness of the organization and mentioned our local branch that used to be based at Ravenscar. Alan was game for a photo or two and even held up his ice axe for effect. He seemed happy that some of the pictures would be going on the SOTA reflector and checked the acronym with me at the end.
We went on to have a good conversation on a number of subjects from mountaineering books to walking boots and even Bitcoin, while Alan consumed his mince pie. He asked about the mast sections I was gathering up and I told him about SOTA and ‘short-wave radio.’ He showed interest, asking, “How far can it reach?” and “This is how we did it before mobile phones.” He mentioned spies and MI5 and the GCHQ listening station at Scarborough. Alan has featured in Trail magazine lately, doing his favourite hill; Roseberry Topping near Great Ayton. All those massive challenges and it comes back to a childhood favourite. I think we’re all a bit like that.
All too soon after a handshake he departed into the fog, heading I think for Swirral Edge, commenting that he was glad to have been out on Helvellyn today as tomorrow it’s going to “chuck it down” or words to that effect. What a great end to the activation! It put a smile on my face. Wish I’d brought my book for signing by this down to earth Yorkshireman.
Now the trick was to get down safely and avoid all the ice but first I wanted to touch the trig point. From there I called Geoff G4WHA/A to thank him for the timely spot which brought in Phil on 160m. I joked that my marker pen would not work on a trig point because it was too icy and Geoff got the drift. It was cold up there. The wind had increased in speed to 15 mph plus and I still could not see a thing further than 30 metres.
The descent took a long 75 minutes to 15:38, as great care was needed. The ice, in plain sight on the ascent, was now obscured by the day’s snow flurries. With crampons still in the rucksack, I arrived at the car a little before dusk. The drive back to Windermere in sleet took longer than it should have due to roadworks and tailbacks. I listened to Radio Caroline’s test transmissions on 648 kHz until they were overtaken by noise. What a brilliant day this turned out to be. I should thank that Robin.
80m SSB: 20
80m CW: 1
160m CW: 1
160m SSB: 0
2m FM: 1
Distance; Ascent; Walking times:
Wythburn Church: 7.7km/ 764m ascent
Apart from a 160m QSO, there was nothing to write home about radio wise but this activation seemed hard enough. Sure, it’s a biggish climb with little in the way of views and there was ice on the way up but an hour to erect an antenna system seems ridiculous by normal standards. Where to put it wasn’t a straightforward decision because three paths radiate from this shelter. I like to operate away from shelters unless it’s seven in the morning and a few times the dipole has been put along the sides of the summit closer to the trig. In this case there was deep snow along the eastern edge that could have been unstable and I just couldn’t face the windward side for the time required. In the event and third time lucky, it went in the shelter and I must say, I had nothing but interested comments albeit with a lot of questions to answer.
Roy G4SSH, who usually spots for me, had gone off to London for the week. Roy’s multi-frequency monitoring, band condition advice and QSY spotting was sorely missed. The usual start on 3.557 CW just didn’t happen but Worked all Britain saved the day on 3.760. A big thank you to them.
I was forced to shut down at the end of the 80m ssb session because of precipitation static which was just about FSD on the meter. I also had to clear a weight of ice off the antenna four times as it was bending the mast over, especially when the 160m band coils were fitted.
Communications to Geoff G4WHA/A in Penrith were solid on 2m-FM with just a handie and duck. This was how the quick QSY to 1.8 MHz was achieved.
A quick burst on 14 MHz would have been nice but my first ever attempt at self spotting using a mobile phone failed, probably due to lack of signal. Not only that too much time had been wasted with the antenna at the start and periodically clearing it of ice. I had a self imposed leaving time of 2:30pm. That of course contradicted the requirements for Top Band but I didn’t fancy going down this one in the dark in the conditions prevailing.
One cannot help but respect the achievements of Alan Hinkes who I rate as up there with the greatest of them. It was a priviledge to meet him in appropriate circumstances. Everest, K2, Annapurna, Makalu and the rest all under his belt but he certainly seemed to be enjoying what Helvellyn had to offer and life in general.
THANKS: To all the spotters – M3FEH; G4OBK; G4IAR; G4WHA/A: G4IPB; EI3GYB. Extra thanks to Geoff G4WHA for responding on 145.400 to a spot request.
Thanks to Alan Hinkes and the mountain rescue organization and yes, I was good on the promise made at the summit. The collecting box in Lakeland plastics got a fat donation today. A worthy cause which we all hope we never need.
(G4YSS using Scarborough Special Events Group Club Call GX0OOO/P.)
Above: The ascent looking back to Thirlmere
Above: This ice was easily avoidable. Some less so.
Above: Passing the aircraft memorial up near the shelter
Above: Arrival. The walker from Kendal
Above: 160m coils fitted in dipole
Above: The NW end stick cairn
Above: Alan Hinkes
Above: The Mountain Rescue promotion card
Above: Alan preparing to leave
Above: Heading for Swirral
Above: The deserted trig point just before leaving
Above: Got my view back. Descending to Thirlmere again.
Above and Below: Alan’s Mountain Rescue Promotion card.