G4YSS: Activation of G/LD-003, HELVELLYN 24-12-22
Christmas in Keswick 23 to 28-12-22:
G/LD-003, HELVELLYN on 2m-FM QRO, using G4YSS
A Million Feet for SOTA
All times UTC
Moonraker MT270M Dual Band 25W Mobile
PYE Cambridge Filter
Turnigy 11.1V – 5Ah Li-Po Battery
2m Band Vertical J-Pole on short 2-section mast
IC-E90 4-Band, 5W, V/UHF H/H for 70MHz.
Black Mountain Warehouse ‘auto-up’ umbrella
Pack-weight: 8kg (17.6 lbs) inc 0.5ltr fluids & primaloft jacket.
Another 4-night stay with my XYL Denise at the Derwentwater Hotel in Portinscale, Keswick, enabled this activation. It’s not cheap (£599 pp) but to my mind well worth it. No meals to get ready and no washing up! Hopefully some of it will go towards double time for the staff? They deserve it.
The MWIS forecast was for low-cloud, 3C with winds 20 to 30 mph and rain, some heavy. Why we do SOTA in that sort of weather escapes me but there are plenty that do. Unless the weather conditions ‘wipe you out’ completely, there is enjoyment to be had from the activation itself but the rest of it is only appreciated once back in the dry. Fighting with the elements and eventually prevailing does at least lend some satisfaction and reward.
Route from Swirls:
I usually go up from Wythburn Church but I needed a change. Always with an eye out for the easiest way, I chose Swirls (Thirlmere) as the start point and I should think it gets walked more than any of the alternatives. One could be excused for avoiding it for that reason but I was unlikely to meet hordes of people on a day like this. Besides, there’s some security to be derived on a well trodden way when you’re an old timer going for it solo!
Swirls car park is at NY 3171 1685. Turn left off the road from Keswick to Windermere. The exit from the car park is over a footbridge and further bridges follow. A path junction is at NY 3186 1685. Follow a stepped path steeply up via NY 3231 1656 passing a ruined sheep fold at NY 3246 1646 and another path junction at NY 3274 1625. If you don’t like steps the alternative is a grass path through bracken via NY 3215 1663. This can be useful but mainly on descent. Pass by Browncove Crags at NY 3321 1569 and carry on to the summit via Low Man at NY 3372 1541. On the way down, take care to find the left path here. I went wrong when I found myself up at NY 337155, in fog and driving rain today and had to correct the mistake with some cross-country. Trig Point TP-3724 is at NY 3416 1516 but for VHF activations I normally carry on to the summit cairn at NY 3424 1512.
All the prep including booting up was done at the hotel. All I had to do was park up and walk away but as I did so the drizzle turned into a torrent of rain. The words in the notes of my alert came to mind. ‘Subject to cancellation due to WX.’ Beating it back the ten yards to the car, I jumped in and folded myself in half due to the rucksack I’d forgotten I was wearing. After 10 minutes thus contorted and trying unsuccessfully to get the weather forecast on the phone, the rain abated to a heavy drizzle again.
The second attempt to climb the mountain commenced at 09:32. The umbrella enabled walking without wearing a waterproof jacket but further up, in increasing wind, the brolly had to be furled and fixed to the rucksack. The hated jacket came out; the over-trousers were already donned at the car park.
This was another of those ‘grit your teeth’ days. One of countless others, unfortunately. I caught up with a party of four young people. They were stopped and in discussion. One of the girls wanted to turn back and another thanked me for my attempt to offer the reluctant one some encouragement. We were at 780m ASL with about 1.5km to the summit so after relaying those facts to them for a decision, I trudged onward. By the time the trig emerged from the clag, I was well into my second one-hour episode of Ray Robinson’s offshore radio archive on Caroline Flashback. Thanks Phil!
HELVELLYN, LD-003, 950m, 10 pts, 11:17 to 12:51. 2.5 deg C. Wind SW 23mph plus gusts (data from Zac – the summit assessor who was taking the readings). Constant low-cloud above 750m. Driving rain or hailstones most of the way up. Stopped raining for the activation. LOC: IO84LM, WAB: NY31. Trig TP3724. Vodafone coverage/ 4G.
Once again, I chose the grassy ledge about 2m down the steep eastern slope from the summit cairn. Slipping off here would be the start of a very rapid decent into Red Tarn. Care would be needed as there were patches of snow around plus a large drift just where I wanted to sit. Fortunately the snow was soft and the verglas of two days prior had gone. A preliminary to this was mast/ antenna assembly but after the cold snap two weeks ago, the ground was still too frozen to make it stand up.
While struggling with this and the tricky process of getting down the slope, I noticed someone standing at the cairn with a wind speed meter. A bit slow these days, it took me a while and some conversation to realise that this was no less than the Helvellyn Summit Assessor, name of Zac. He was interested enough to ask questions about the setup and wanted to know how far I could get. I offered the usual explanation about VHF and HF.
Spotting a discarded beer bottle a few feet below me and resting precariously on steep ground we both agreed that neither would risk retrieving it today. Zac went on to say that he’d been hit squarely on the head by an empty Red Bull can while leading a winter skills course on that very slope! This is the price of popular summits like the litter encountered on Ben Nevis last year by our friend Dave M6GYU.
145.400 FM - 1 QSO:
Having put on a self spot for 145.500 with the note, ‘QRV in 5min’ I was getting the log ready having switched the rig on and who should call me but Geoff GM4WHA. My spot was for .500 but .400 was just what happened to be on the rig when I switched it on. Geoff the mind reader! 59/ 56 but I had to move due to stations underneath us.
145.550 FM - 17 QSO’s:
A CQ on S20 resulted in multiple responses. Stations worked were:
G7CDA Dougie followed by G1OHH Sue, both in Lancaster; G7WAW David in Barnoldswick; G6AEK Dave at Knott-End-on-Sea; G6LKB Dave in Ulverston and MW0PTE/P Peter S2S on GW/NW-043 using 50W to a small beam (59 plus 10dB both ways).
Asking if anyone was ‘in a hurry to go out’ I worked G0TDM John in Penrith on a handheld; G0PMJ Dave in Darlington and M1DHA - Alan in Barnoldswick.
Next in: 2E0XUP Steve in Dearham; G3PSB/M – a difficult QSO with Phil located in Halifax (44/ 32); MM3TMX/P Jordan S2S on GM/SS-256 – a tricky 33/ 51; 2E0MIX Derek - Whitehaven; G8KBH Dave in Poulton-le-Fylde; G4OBK Phil in Pickering – another challenging QSO but good in the end at 57/ 44 whence the frequency dried up. I announced ‘monitoring the frequency for a few minutes’ and had started the process of packing up when two minutes later G0MHA John called in from Birkenhead followed by 2E0LDF Reg in Cockermouth. Power was 25W throughout the 52 minute session.
Just as I was gingerly extracting the IC-E90 from the rucksack intent on avoiding anything including me going down the slope, Geoff called in again to remind me about 4m. ‘Let’s try it’ said I.
70.450 FM - 1 QSO:
The single 4m QSO wasn’t the expected one with GM4WHA, though I could hear Geoff calling me loud and clear, but a contact with Derek 2E0MIX at 59/ 33. I was using a 2m rubber duck extended to halve the resonant frequency and 3W. There were no more takers.
After extracting myself from the delicate position I’d spent the activation in, I repaired to the shelter to prepare for the descent. I didn’t bother with gloves or the new hand warmers I was carrying but with hands in pockets, rain and hail battered at my hood for the first 20 minutes. Lower down and out of clag it was much warmer and less wet. After the nav error described earlier, the walk down was tedious, being mainly on steps. By the end my knees were starting to feel it and I’m always relieved to open the car door, which today was at 14:02, and flop inside.
I was back in Portinscale in time for a shower and a cream tea. How they expect people to eat all this grub and still climb mountains I don’t know but it’s about to get even worse as Christmas unfolds further. In fact were forced to miss breakfast altogether on Christmas morning – a trick we learned last time.
This was an unpleasant day weather and walking wise but balanced by an enjoyable activation. That said, we can barely move in our room for drying walking kit and radios.
Though not as intense as the early days the knowledge that you’re giving away 10 points makes for a good feeling and after clearing the bulk of the pileup, there was time for some minor chatting.
Ascent time was 8 minutes longer than 2008, the only other time I used the Swirls route. Too much walking on the flat I should think plus stops to don waterproofs and chatting with other walkers. However in 2008, the LD3 climb was preceded by LD8 Blencathra. Today makes 20 consecutive years activating Helvellyn apart from missing out in 2020 due to the covid-19 lock-down. I must love the mountain and indeed I do. While others go for uniques I like the familiarity of annual repeats best.
Once again I was somewhat let down by the receiver in the MT270M but the temptation to field 25W as against QRP seems irresistible. Swings and roundabouts but surely the 600 gram Pye Cambridge double BFP must help a lot. However, one is never sure if someone is calling and you can’t hear them due to overloading? Derek commented that the filter was acting as an attenuator and he’ll be right as all practical filters have insertion loss. Geoff said my audio was a bit muffled. On top of questionable mic quality, I was probably overdoing the modulation. I must read my own notice on the front of the mic more often, ‘Not too loud.’
There were three or four difficult QSO’s but cracking those makes for great satisfaction. To get over the Pennines and down into Pickering was notable but Phil was using power and a beam. Through the noise I heard him say that it was a long time since he’d worked Helvellyn (presumably he meant on VHF). Two S2S contacts were made with Wales and Scotland, one easy, one hard. Thanks for those.
One of the best things about SOTA and mountain walking in general is the people you bump into, which is especially true when you meet them in adversity. As well as the Polish/ Czech Republic group, it was really interesting to come across the Summit Assessor after I’ve looked at his Helvellyn photos for years and benefited greatly from them. In fact the operating position safety was assured after seeing Zac’s summit photo of the 22nd. Alan Hinkes, who I had the pleasure of meeting on Helvellyn in the snow of 2017, was mentioned as was putting my photo on the Weatherline blog.
A Million Feet Climbed:
The LD3 activation takes me over the line of a million feet climbed for SOTA. I keep an accurate record in my excel log, of the ascent for each summit activated from the start point to the summit plus any re-ascent on the way up and down. That’s my last milestone for SOTA. I can’t think of anything further but I will continue to activate where and when I can without pressure from goals. I continue to thank the chasers and fellow activators for their encouragement year on year. Not forgetting the MT of course!
QSO’s - 19:
18 on 2m-FM
1 on 4m-FM
09:32: Left Swirls Car Park
11:17 to 12:51: Helvellyn summit
14:02: Arr. Swirls
Ascent, Distance, Walking times from Swirls:
735 m (2,411 ft) of ascent / 2 x 3.8 km (4.8 miles) walked
1hr-45min up, 1hr-11min down
Summit time: 1hr-34min
Thanks to all stations worked and Spotters 2E0MIX & GM4WHA. Also SOTA spotter. Thank you to the intrepid Helvellyn Fell-top Assessors who battle the elements daily to gather their important and useful data. SOTA are just one group that benefit.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS from me TO ALL SOTA PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR FAMILIES.
Stay safe in 2023!
It was such a dim day that the photos came out poor. Maybe the lens got wet too?
Above: Climbing out of Swirls
Above: Thirlmere below
Above: Rocky Road
Above: An item left in a cleft. Unknown?
Above: Man from the Czech Republic & Polish Girlfriend. The only snow encountered on the way. Rain eased from here.
Above: LD3 Trig, TP-3724
Above: Eastern face
Above: The summit assessor Zac taking a wind speed reading of 23 mph and temp 2.5C.
Above: Activation of G/LD-003 on VHF
Above: Returning to Swirls
Above: Swirls car park would be full in summer but not today