G4YSS: G/LD-004 & 1000-WB. 160m, 40m, 30m & 20m on 15-03-15
SKIDDAW: QRO on 160m CW/ SSB, 40m CW/ SSB; 30m CW & 20m SSB
G4YSS using GX0OOO/P Unaccompanied
All times UTC
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver without internal batteries
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier
Four Section, 5m CFC mast with 1m end sticks.
80-60-40-(30)-20m Inv-vee link dipole on 5m mast for HF
160m: Loading at 40m break points via 2x H/B coils with slug tuning
Unitone ‘D shape’ ear-cup headphones
Battery: One 6 Ah Li-Po (Fully discharged)
Reserve rig: Vero VGC UV-X4; 2W VHF/ UHF, 5oz H/H (not used - unsatisfactory)
12v to 5v USB Voltage converter for above (not used)
Half-wave vertical J-Pole for 2m-FM (not used)
Packweight: 9.5kg (21 pounds) including 0.5 litre electrolytes
Today was the last gasp of winter bonus. In December 2013, I started the winter needing 52 summits to complete a journey started in 2002, namely to achieve ‘MG’ in bonus points. With 28 in the log last winter, 24 were needed as of 1st December 2014. I made an immediate start and managed several activations in that month but by early March 2015 with no activations in the previous four weeks due to illness and with ten summits still required, I was beginning to give up the quest. It was looking like I would have to wait until December 2015 to complete the task.
With just 10 days to go, where were the final 10 summits coming from? Despite being not fully recovered from a winter of chronic throat infections and latterly an attack of bronchitis, I managed to knock off three G/SP two pointers on 5th of March but it was still looking like a very big workup to get the other seven in.
The sensible activating choices were a four plus a three or vice versa but you can never trust the UK weather so on the 10th of March I set off at 03:30 with the aim of attempting five NP summits. That was a long hard day but by doing a further easy one in the dark making six, I was left with just one summit of more than 500m height and 5 days to do it in.
At around New Year my XYL Denise started taking a passing interest in my self imposed challenge, regularly enquiring about progress. Back in January, it was she who suggested that we book a two or three night stay at the Shearings Windermere Hotel with a view to my knocking off the last few summits while she enjoyed the shops, cafes and Lakeland Plastics. Now with only one activation needed, it was barely worth the expense of £224 for the two of us. Nonetheless, it would be a nice break for her as well as making it much easier for me, and so we went ahead anyway.
Now came the decision about which summit to go for. The bottom line as always in LD land, is Little Mell Fell. It would be done in any conditions which might be prevailing at the time but if the WX was reasonable, why not finish on something more worthy? As the time drew closer I began to think about a 10 pointer. Since we only have three in England, that narrowed the choice down drastically which helped in the decision process. Also after a winter of mainly 2m-FM and with just one summit to put into a day, why not ‘give it the works’ on HF and include a favourite of mine; namely Top Band.
160m in daylight behaves somewhat like VHF so a summit with good lines of sight, preferably overlooking the chaser concentration of Lancashire and more besides, would be best. With that in mind, G/LD-001 Scafell Pike was selected so long as the WX remained good. Another 10 pointer with a good takeoff; Helvellyn was considered but the summit reports regarding the state of Swirral Edge put me off. I have ridden my luck with snow and ice there too many times already but there was always the option of putting Helvellyn from Thirlmere. However, I normally do this one in a round with three other summits and it would be a pity to spoil the 4 SOTA option.
Since we were going to be near at hand, the chosen route for LD1 was from Wasdale and up Lingmell Beck. In reserve was a Seathwaite start but if there was going to be ice and snow around, I could do without the section of Grade 1 scrambling on the Corridor Route. Piers Gill can be awkward on ice too. Thus I planned for the Esk Hause route as the backup option. LD1 log sheets and maps were selected with a view to a firm decision on arrival after a look at the WX. It was not to be.
Change of Plan - G/LD-004:
We drove across to Windermere on 14th of March but it was obvious then that a rethink would be necessary. Passing Ingleborough on the way, unexpected amounts of new snow were lying right down its flanks. As we reached the hotel, the high mountains visible in the central Lake District were in a similar condition. The hotel receptionist confirmed that three days ago they had appeared more or less snow free. With thoughts of new snow over possible old ice, I abandoned the LD1 plan with the view to something easier. After a lot of thought a favourite, usually done in June - Skiddaw (LD4) was substituted. It would not have the required takeoff for 160m or 2m-FM but it was still a worthy 10-pointer upon which to finish the job. In addition the ascent and descent times along a well graded path, with a likelihood of safety in numbers would be about half that for LD1, whichever way I went.
After the earliest breakfast available (08:00 on Sundays) the 24 mile drive to Underscar car park (NY 2802 2534) immediately north of Keswick, took around 40 minutes. I knew the chosen walking route was popular but I didn’t expect to have to shoe-horn the XYL’s car into the very last place in the car park! In doing so, I’m afraid the wheels and front apron got very muddy. The three people who arrived after me had to park down the road. I was to find out to my cost later, why it was so busy.
Commencing the walk at 10:06, after a few photos with the knowledge that it was cloudy at the top, I trundled off for a steady non-stop climb up the familiar ‘Skiddaw motorway.’ There were plenty of people on the trail and I asked one of them coming down what the surface was like. He told me that there was quite deep snow between the two gates on the Little Man ‘bypass’ and that the top had a partial snow covering and was icy in places. He omitted to warn me about the wind speed but maybe it wasn’t so bad when he was up there.
The problems started when I reached the summit ridge and encountered the full force of the east wind. At times I could barely make progress and the bitter wind repeatedly spun me round due to pressure on the side of the rucksack. Several times it forced me hopping with boots scrabbling for grip, off the slippery path and closer to the west flank of the mountain. As normal I was climbing in base layer and 200 gm fleece. No hood was immediately available and my mountain hat was inadequate in the face of this onslaught. I battled on, deafened by the noise with my right hand covering the side of my aching face, trying to reach the trig point asap.
Thoughts turned to what might have been; Scafell Pike. Higher still, what would that have been like on the more difficult ground there? More to the point, how was I ever going to get an HF dipole up in this? By the time I got to the trig point the wind had dropped by 10% or so but I think it must have been blowing at 50 mph or more across the ridge for a few minutes. At least now after a photo I could ‘QSY’ down the west side a little and hopefully find some respite.
SKIDDAW, G/LD-004, 931m (10 pts). 11:21 to 15:56. 2C; wind 50 mph later 30 mph across ridge and 10 to 20 mph (once dropping to zero) at the QTH. No precipitation. Low-cloud with antenna icing conditions. Partly exposed rock with fresh snow fields and drifts to 0.3m deep. (IO84KP, WAB: NY22) Orange phone coverage throughout.
Setting up Delays:
Gingerly testing the surface as I descended from the trig, I found a small wind shelter some 25m away at NY 2603 2909 but it was full of drifted snow. Fortunately, it was the type of snow which could easily be worked with gloved hands and I soon had an ‘office’ for the extended afternoon stay. Since this was on a convex slope, holes were stamped out to put equipment in such as my rucksack, food and drink along with a shelf to take my sit-mat.
After donning a mountain jacket, I set to work erecting the antenna. The task took me all of 45 minutes on a loose surface of snow covered rocks. I was forced to compact snow around the mast base and build a small cairn to take each end stick. The system is self supporting and uses no guys. Care must be taken to get the optimal horizontal included angle for the wind speed prevailing. First I got the mast right and then the south end sorted.
Looking up at the big shelter near the trig point, I could see that the group of three people who’d been there as I arrived had now swelled to at least ten. I carried on with my work but after walking to the north end of the dipole I was amazed to see a crowd of people all heading for my miniscule shelter. Presently, they were invading it and poking the snow with sticks all around my carefully positioned equipment. One was standing with his heels next to my delicate 24 AWG PTFE insulated antenna wire which I hadn’t quite managed to get up in the air in time. What on earth could they want? There was only one way to find out.
Abandoning the antenna work for the time being I enquired as to whether they were all going to join me in my tiny shelter? Preoccupied, most continued with the snow poking and I noticed that some of the gear in my storage compartments now had snow over it. Then I found the answer. Apparently I had inadvertently chosen the position of a Geocache for my radio operations. Unfortunately snow covered much of the area making it hard to find. Wishing them luck, I continued with the antenna erection but as if it was not tricky enough on this surface, it was made even more difficult when I counted 25 people standing under it! Now I knew why the car park had been so full.
Eventually the antenna was ready. The party had now turned their attention to a point about 7 metres to the south of me where, to the accompaniment of a loud cheer (not least from me!) they eventually located a small plastic box under the snow. I was ready to call CQ on 40m but one lady was standing with her head close to one of my 40m dipole break points. I pointed this out loudly enough, hoping that the others would hear and warned her of the possibility of ‘high voltage’ (As I put it). They regrouped in a slightly better position but now came the task of each of them signing the form inside the plastic box. I could wait no longer; the activation was underway.
7.033 CW - 11 QSO’s:
40m CW produced QSO’s with just seven UK and four European stations starting with Nick G4OOE. After G6RMD and G4WSB in came Roy G4SSH right on cue to qualify the mountain and the whole journey taking me to 1002 winter bonus points since 2002. What a relief that was and also very appropriate after all the help Roy has given me over the years.
Moving on I worked G4APO; G0TDM; DK1WI, EB2CZF; G0VOF; PA0B and DJ1IA. Peering into the fog, I noticed that much of the dipole was on the ground. Weight of ice was the problem. The wire diameter had increased to over 3mm. When this happens you need to walk down the antenna and remove the ice with a gloved hand before damage occurs. In the past I have had the mast tip bend down to ground level which looks alarming. Incoming reports averaged 57 to 59 from ‘G’ and 43 to 55 from Europe. The maximum available power of 50 Watts was used. I was relieved to notice that I now had the summit to myself.
7.160 SSB (WAB Net) - 19 QSO’s:
There was apparently no WAB net running so I threw in my callsign and was immediately answered by M0HEM John. Conditions were good with 59 both ways and I offered the SOTA, WAB square and trig point which I soon learned from G4JZF was TP6001. I had tried to photograph the OS designation plate earlier but the trig pillar had on it a layer of fluted ice and snow.
After Graham G4JZF, Ken G0FEX quickly ran me down the list of stations: G6LKB; G4ZRP; G4WSB; GM0VWZ; M0MDA; MM3PDM/M; G0RQL; M0BKV/A; G0BFJ; G6TUH; G4DUE; G4AFI; SM6CNZ; GM4WHA; G7AFM and M0MPP. Incoming reports were all in the range 57 to 59 apart from the last station (44). After taking the opportunity to announce a QSY down the band for SOTA chasers, I was thanked and took my leave. I don’t always have time to run down the WAB net due to multiple summits or other constraints but today there was no rush.
7.138 SSB (SOTA) - 22 QSO’s:
Today’s planned SSB frequency - 7.133 MHz was in use. A CQ on an adjacent channel was answered by G0UUU/M Phil, my eldest son. He had been listening to progress on the WAB net and was waiting for me. He was located about a mile from my home QTH at the top of Irton Moor Lane, Scarborough and the exchange was 58 both ways. Band conditions inter-G must have been pretty good for a mobile to come in that strong. Pity that wasn’t the case for Europe and it was then that I decided I should try 10.118 MHz after Top Band.
After Phil G0UUU/M came: EI2KD; M0IBC; EI7GEB; GW4CQZ; G8VNW; ON2WAB Peter; M3FEH; G0TRB; G4SSH; G6XBF; 2E0LKC; EI9GLB; M0IML; G6UYG; G4BLH; G4NGV; GW6OVD; ON5SWA; EA2CKX; G0VOF and M0NTC. As before power was 50 Watts and 17 ops gave me a 59 report. Mick G6XBF was only hearing me 31 and for some reason. Although I got a ‘59’ from Mike, I could barely hear G4BLH so my ‘55’ to him was optimistic. The report from Spain was 42. There was however some encroachment from adjacent frequencies which no doubt had an influence. G4SSH dusted off his Microphone to ask if 160m would be next.
1.832 CW - 1 QSO:
After calling CQ more in hope than expectation, I was delighted when Mark G0VOF in Blackburn came back sounding as clear as day. There was no noise at my end and I think it must have been fairly low at his QTH also. We exchanged 519 reports though there was not even a tickle on the meter. Several CQ’s later, with QSY’s to SSB in between, the QSO count remained at one.
There was just a single ‘di-di-dah-dah-dit dit’ (?) heard at precisely 14:00z but though I tried, nothing could be made of this. Looking at the map, I think there was a good path to Mark down the A591 valley, just missing Helvellyn and Seat Sandal by a whisker. The distance is 107km which is OK for daytime Top Band and the direction is SSE. In fact judging by the signal from Mark, I might have got a bit further but only in certain directions and not much more than say 150km. My power was 50 Watts.
1.843 SSB - 1 QSO:
Geoff GM4WHA (Annan) answered me in SSB and we exchanged at 51/ 31. No doubt Geoff had a lot more noise than me. Again 50 Watts were used from Skiddaw and this time the unobstructed path (as far as I can ascertain) was 38km NNW. Though it didn’t come off, I was planning a possible QSY to 2m-FM at this time but Geoff got his line-of-sight contact on 160m. He sounded very satisfied with a QSO on this band. I too was more than happy with my two daytime QSO’s on this low frequency with the dreaded ‘D’ layer fully in charge at 2pm.
10.118 CW - 27 QSO’s:
This session was inserted because of a lack of European contacts on 40m in any great numbers. 50 Watts to the asymmetrically configured inverted-vee link dipole comprised the working conditions. There are no 10 MHz links but to get resonance on 30m, it is only necessary to open a 40m link at one side (lo - leg connected to coax braid) and a 20m link at the other (hi - leg connected to coax inner).
The decision to try 30m was the right one. First in was G0VOF proving short skip conditions and then HB9AMH proving longer ones. In fact with hindsight the latter was probably Ambrosi HB9AGH who called in later but I entered both callsigns in the database just in case. My CW reading skills were worse than normal because of much work on 2m-FM of late. After these I logged: DL1FU; ON6ZQ; I1YDT; DL7VKD; HB9AGH; G4SSH; DK7ZH; DL1DVE; PA0WLB; DL6WT; EA2DT; ON4FI; LA8BCA; PB2T; DL3HXX; DL3JPN; OH9XX; OE7PHI; G0DES; CT1GZB; EB2CZF; SV2AOK; 9A2KD; G4OBk and YO2BP.
I had trouble with the 9A2KD callsign. For some reason calls starting with figures and especially having a second figure in them really can throw me and I found myself requesting an embarrassing number of repeats. Apologies to Branko.
Most incoming reports were in the range 579 to 599 with a ‘559’ from Finland and a ‘239’ from Portugal. The 30m-CW session spanned just half an hour and it was well worth the effort in terms of finding the European chasers who were conspicuous by their absence earlier on 40m.
There was now the option of 20m SSB or 2m-FM but despite being a 3,050ft summit, Skiddaw is relatively poor on VHF. Therefore the decision was to air 14 MHz SSB as the first choice. After the 30m CW-only band, it would also give European voice stations a chance.
14.272 SSB - 6 QSO’s:
To try and stave off battery depletion, the power was selected down to 30 watts. I wished I’d done that earlier. As it was the rig shutdown after just four 30W QSO’s but in the end I logged: EA2DT; VE2JCW; EB2CZF; OK1SDE; CT1BQH and G1OAE. The final station to call was Tony just west of me on the coast at Seaton and line-of-sight.
I tried switching the rig and linear back on but the 817 switched off again and the final two stations were worked with the linear off. I dared not proceed further even at the 5 Watt power setting. Li-Po batteries are not cheap and they don’t like being discharged below about 3.3V per cell. This is the danger with an FT817-ND which does not apply to my IC706-2G. That rig gives up the ghost above this level.
145 FM - Abandoned:
After going to the trouble of erecting the 2m half-wave vertical and connecting the Vero VGC UV-X4; 2W VHF/ UHF handie, this band session was abandoned before it started. As soon as the little rig was switched on, it became painfully evident that it was dragging in every bit of noise available on every channel selected. What sounded like data transmissions were deafening. An embarrassing situation could develop in which I could not receive calls from low and even medium power stations. I only had two Watts anyway so that was the end of that idea.
I should have remembered the many warnings about selectivity of Baofeng UV-3R’s as the Vero is the same rig. I own it for its light weight, small size and cheap price tag but it is normally only used around home with its own low-gain rubber duck. In that configuration, it is more than satisfactory for my need which usually entails talking to Roy G4SSH to get the latest on SOTA, while out walking around Scarborough. I now know that it is not really suitable as a backup rig on a SOTA activation because it cannot be used with a decent antenna.
Once I accepted that there was nothing further to be done from the radio viewpoint, it didn’t take long to pack up. Thoughts turned to getting back to the hotel for an early evening meal and a brownie point from the XYL. As I often do, I picked up a random lump of slate but this one was special. It would remind me of the day that I finally attained 1000 winter bonus points; a dream that has been a long time coming.
The low-cloud finally cleared just before leaving and I saw sledge tracks in the snow just above Little Man. Without rushing, I was down to the car park in an hour at 16:56 and back at Windermere for 17:45. There was an earlier slot for evening meal so I booked it, leaving sufficient time for a reflective and relaxing bath.
ASCENT & DISTANCE:
LD4: 680m (2,231ft) of ascent / 2 x 5.3 km (6.6 miles) walked.
87 QSO’s comprising:
11 on 40m CW
19 on 40m SSB (WAB Net)
22 on 40m SSB (SOTA)
1 on 160m CW
1 on 160m SSB
27 on 30m CW
6 on 20m SSB
Total: 315 (XYL’s Citreon C4-P)
The drive back was done the next day with stops at Bowness and Kirby Lonsdale. What a surprise I had as I write this (19th March) when the postman arrived. Once again the time has come around for me to pay another installment of Speed Tax. This occurred while driving up Beamsley Hill where there is a 50 limit and it seems that the 8 mph excess qualifies me for another nice day out. The last time (2009) I had a terrific time, making a lot of new friends in the morning, drinking tea and putting Cross Fell NP1 on 160m-40m-80m & 4m with 68 QSO’s in the afternoon. It was a memorable outing and well worth the tuition fee. If I chose the timing and venue carefully enough again, we can all look forward to another lucrative day - SOTA wise.
This was a particularly enjoyable sortie due to having plenty of time available. Apart from going down to the wire on winter bonus with only hours remaining, there was almost no pressure from the clock. The pure luxury of just one summit to do in one day, a base nearby and having the XYL for company were the other positive factors. I could concentrate on radio instead of the drudgery of slogging uphill numerous times in the day.
Once I got over the fact that it wasn’t going to be LD1 on this occasion, Skiddaw satisfied the main requirement which was to finish on a 10 pointer. With the initially high wind speed, low-cloud and snow covering, LD4 certainly gave a fitting and final taste of winter bonus but it has a safe, easy path with relatively quick ascent time, leaving lots of time for the main task. In fact the summit stay was 4.5 hours whereas a climb and descent of LD1 might have left me with not much more than 2 hours at the top. True the radio takeoff is much better from LD1 but two contacts on Top Band were nevertheless logged.
The main difficulty was the wind speed on the long north-south running ridge. I have experienced that before and once much worse. The smooth convex shape of Skiddaw’s summit ridge means that if the wind is blowing across it from either the east or west, there is an acceleration like you get over the top of an aircraft wing. In 2004 I only just managed to reach the activation zone by travelling the final couple of hundred metres on my stomach; walking being out of the question and even crawling on all fours hazardous. That is no exaggeration either and I certainly have respect for this hill as I think the wind speed must have been into three figures that day. Most of the Lake District was underwater too.
A second problem were the icing conditions. The antenna wire took on more weight than the flimsy mast could hold up. It had to cleared twice during the activation then again at the end before spooling. Since I was sitting with my back to the aerial the ice went unnoticed for a time but it became evident that having the ends of the working sections just above or actually at ground level did not significantly detract from its ability to send and receive signals. I knew this from old. The only occasion that I found it impossible to get my dipole up was on Grisedale Pike in 50 mph wind driven snow. In the end it was placed on a 2m pole with half of it actually lying on the snow. Despite that, I still managed contacts on 80 and 160m.
Finally, the throng of 25 people that ‘took over’ my operating position, I never saw the like of before! Once the reason for it became known any anxiety quickly passed but moving around under the antenna as they were, I did fear for their safety and also for my radio station. Fortunately they heeded my kindly warning about RF and no harm was done. In their turn they asked me about the activation and we concluded that we were all slightly unhinged in differing ways.
19 contacts were made via the WAB net on 7.160. If there is time or you are stuck for contacts, this is a good place to call. It also gave a chance to chase the Skiddaw trig point TP6001. 22 stations on 7.138 proved that inter-G was brilliant on this band.
27 contacts on 30m-CW was the biggest surprise; it bringing in the Europeans from Belgium to Greece.
20m-SSB yielded true DX when a Canadian called me. The battery ran out but it seemed that nobody was calling by that time. I doubt if that was really the case however, so apologies to the disappointed few; I had no spare battery today.
The battery used was cap. checked afterwards. The result was 87% compared with the test on receipt when it was new in May-2013. Whether this degradation in capacity can be linked to the potential over-discharge, I cannot say but the last time I did something like this with a new 2.2 Ah Li-Po, one cell went down entirely.
160m-CW & SSB is always a highlight for me. Yes there were only two contacts but that was two more than I was expecting - Phil G4OBK being out during the middle of the day. Noise was minimal at the Skiddaw end of the path. Mark G0VOF will have a bit more to write about in his Top Band news column but I must try to offer the band more often before chasers lose interest.
Thanks to ALL STATIONS WORKED. Also thanks to the spotters: G4SSH; G6TUH; G0VOF and G0UUU/M plus SMS message liaison with Roy G4SSH. Life would be much harder without all the above. Thank you too for all the messages in ‘Milestones’ on the reflector.
334 down - 0 to go! Yes, the 1k-WB is finally logged.
Photos: 14; 19; 25; 26; 30; 32; 35; 63 and 80.
Apart from a possible eclipse outing on a local hill, I now look forward to some R&R but listen out for CT3/ M1NNN in April.
73, John G4YSS.
(Using GX0OOO/P; Scarborough Special Events Group Club Call)
Above: Walkers on the ascent of LD4. G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004 Trig Point WAB No: TP6001. G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004. Digging out the QTH. G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004. The invasion begins. Antenna half erected. G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004. Two’s company but … G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004. Looking in the wrong place. G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004. Eureka! G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004. Dipole ice accretion. G4YSS 15-03-15
Above: G/LD-004. Bad luck. Fog all day, clear upon leaving! G4YSS 15-03-15