G4YSS: Activation of G/LD-008, BLENCATHRA on 12-03-19
G/LD-008, BLENCATHRA ‘Smash & Grab’ on 2m-FM only.
Based at Derwentwater Hotel, Portinscale, Keswick from 11 to 14-03-19:
G4YSS using GX0OOO/P
All times UTC
Moonraker MT270M, V/UHF, 25W Mobile (half a kg)
Half-wave vertical J-Pole for 2m-FM
IC-E90 4-Band, 5W, VHF H/H (not used)
Baofeng UV-3R, 2W, 2m/ 70cm H/H (not used)
Pack-weight: Approx. 7.5 kg including 0.5 litres of water, Primaloft jacket & ice axe
This activation is barely worthy of a report but for the sake of completeness here it is. Weather-wise we have been utterly spoilt for most of February with records for high winter temperatures broken left right and centre. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but we really should have been quick to exploit this and book our short stay in G/LD back then instead of hanging on for longer days with more daylight and what’s turned out to be rubbish weather.
Now with talk of rain and snow but mainly gale force winds, dreamy ideas of two and three-summit expeditions started looking ridiculous and not a single spot for a UK station was seen all of today. A four-night break means three potential activating days and all three have bad forecasts. Nonetheless, my XYL and I have made the effort to get here and paid out the money so surely something must happen, rotten weather or not.
Just a ten-minute drive from the hotel, Blencathra was a reasonable choice except for the fact that there is no prospect of sheltering from the weather on its bare top. The path up from Scales is well defined and having no crags or rock fields, it’s not onerous. The alternative was LD37 Little Mell Fell. The downside is that LD37 would require HF as there would be only a scant chance of qualifying with 2m-FM even with a bit of power and it doesn’t have a shelter either.
Driving west on the A66 the day before on our journey from Scarborough, I noted that Blencathra G/LD-008 had quite a lot of snow on it from about half-way up. Glancing sideways I was relieved to see that my XYL was soundly asleep. Hopefully, because the snow was relatively recent, I assumed that there wouldn’t be any ice on the route but there was no guarantee of that.
I include the route detail again from Scales layby in case anyone needs it but be aware that these waypoints were collected in 2015 on the way down. Thus the Scales Fell waypoints in descent order are: NY 3251 2776; NY 3275 2777; NY 3291 2770 (Doddick Fell path junction); NY 3320 2788; NY 3353 2779; NY 3380 2753; NY 3434 2754 (turn right on descent; left on ascent); NY 3448 2736 (turn left on descent - right on ascent); NY 3448 2723; and the gate to the open fell at NY 3402 2682. The path/ A66 junction is at NY 3402 2677. This route takes you from LD8 to the A66 layby. Reverse it if ascending to LD8.
Left the Hotel after 10am, parking in the layby just before Scales. The car temp gauge read 4C. I was hoping for some encouragement and to see at least one car parked there but the layby, along with the one beside the westbound carriageway, was empty. Did I really want to go up there? Looking for a lifeline, I switched on the car’s newly wired but as yet untried HF setup but there was nobody on 3.760-SSB. It would have to be SOTA then.
I set off walking at 10:56 in blustery conditions with light drizzle but without a coat. I was carrying Goretex of course, my Primaloft jacket and some basic instep crampons. On the outside of the rucksack was strapped a high-spec golfing umbrella and just in case, an ice axe. The snowline turned out to be around 2,000 feet so the path below it was easy to follow. Yes, it’s steep in places, actually most places but the MP3 helped to take my mind off the leg pain along with the anxiety regarding what summit conditions would be encountered. A poor sleep the night before, worrying about the WX, didn’t help.
There were three distinctly different parts to this route today. First you walk NE, in this case with the wind behind, then NW with a gusty side wind. Looking down I could see that the pull-off just east of Scales where the Sharpe Edge route starts was also empty. Later it proved that there was nobody on this mountain but me. After that it was up the zig-zags on snow overlooking Scales Tarn and the infamous Sharp Edge but at least here was some temporary respite from the wind. The only footprints visible were all behind me and there was no sign of any other walker. The snow depth was not great, ranging from stones showing through to maybe 30cm in drifts.
So far there had been no ice but that was to change when a small cornice had to be crossed just short of the summit approach. A bit of care was needed here as the southern drop-off into the gully twixt Hall’s Fell and Doddick is steep but neither spikes nor axe were employed. Now just the final 100m or so separated me from the summit but the snow was frozen in places and the strong wind was blowing snow into the air. Looking down, I could see that my blue fleece had turned white.
The small circular summit marker was covered but not by much. The wind had blown some of the snow off the summit. After a quick panorama with the camera, the priority was to find somewhere to set up. It took a while during which I was chilling fast but where can you hide on this top? In the end I scraped a small hollow 25 metres north of and maybe 5m below the highest point of Hallsfell top where there was a partial null point but the next task was donning the jacket. There was just enough snow to support the short mast with the J-Pole above it but my mistake was to deploy the umbrella. With the rig and aerial connected I was as ready as I’d ever be, albeit in an awkward position mainly because of the umbrella.
BLENCATHRA, G/LD-008, 868m, 8 pts, 12:14 to 12:53, 0 deg C. Intermittently zero to 35 mph gusty south-westerly wind (at the QTH). No low-cloud or precipitation. Wind-blown snow at times. LOC: IO84LP. WAB: NY32. No Trig. Vodafone mobile coverage on route and summit.
145.550 FM - 4 QSO’s:
The MT270M 2-Band 25W mobile rig was used for this. I’d put on an alert before leaving the hotel but didn’t necessarily expect it to be read; most people being on the spots page. In the notes I wrote, ‘Possibly a no-show.’
After dismissing a self-spot as too difficult in my current situation, I called CQ on S20 without result. Oh dear, it was looking like Little Mell Fell wasn’t the only summit without RF. I tried again but really wasn’t concentrating on radio due to sudden and powerful gusts of wind. After realizing that the AF gain had been set at zero, I was greatly encouraged to hear strong voices!
John G0TDM was there and I was both surprised and relieved in equal measure to hear Geoff G4WHA too. The mood lifted. ‘Maybe I will qualify after all.’ Immediately I tried to reply but there was another terrific gust of wind, this time from a completely unexpected direction. The umbrella filled and was almost torn from my grasp and the log with its backing board made a bid for freedom, stopped only by the sleeve of my jacket.
Needless to say radio operation dropped down the priorities list as I fought to control the massive brolly which, strong as it is, was now completely inside out. I was also getting a good blasting from surface snow picked up by the wind and the log started to rip. It was surreal how calm the chasers sounded in the face of all this. What a contrast.
Pointing the umbrella into wind did not do the trick, only grabbing the spokes and pulling got it sorted but contorted as I was, it was not a proposition to keep the thing deployed. After another gust I furled it and rammed it into the snow in the hope it would still be there after the activation. I would just have to grin and bear it and without gloves too. Mitts are too ‘numb’ for logging. Hopefully this wouldn’t last long.
Though I can barely read what is written, first into the log on this and many previous occasions were G4WHA/M Geoff in Carlisle and G0TDM/ G7GQL John in Penrith. I thought this ‘service’ had been curtailed when Geoff got moved from the Penrith to the Carlisle office but trust Geoff to find a way. Geoff thought I had a TX fault but it was just my situation and the lack of control of the PTT. I just didn’t have enough limbs to hold everything down.
Geoff apparently had heard me in the shop with just a handheld but I failed to hear his response due to my mistake with the volume, so he’d gone out to the car to put some power on. Both John and Geoff spotted me on Sotawatch so there was now power to add.
Immediately recognised was another SOTA ‘old friend’ Derek 2E0MIX in Whitehaven, who sympathised based on his own first hand knowledge. An old hand at this malarkey I sensed that Derek fully understood.
All reports were 59 both ways and in most cases 59 plus but try as I may I could not hear Sue G1OHH calling from Lancaster. Derek was in touch with her but I had nothing. After trying several times and failing I found out that Sue was hearing me 52 but there was barely a change in noise level at my end with the squelch off. Is this rig deaf I wondered? In fact it likely isn’t deaf but it has been de-sensed in the past by overloading signals on adjacent bands. It’s a price paid for lightness and cheapness. However on this occasion I heard no evidence of this – no nasty noises which often accompany it and high as Blencathra is, there is a lot of bigger stuff between it and Lancaster.
What turned out to be the last call came from a ‘sunny’ Annan. This wasn’t Geoff speeding home to work me again with his home country call but Alan 2M0VZZ/P, normally located in Thirsk. Alan also played a part in the QSP’ing between Sue and myself but in the end I couldn’t conjure a QSO from these noble efforts. Sorry Sue. It proved that a couple of unanswered CQ’s were all that was left of this frantic activation and under the circumstances I wasn’t about to go back to S20 to try for more. It wasn’t snowing yet but at 40% chance of precipitation (Weatherline) it was on the cards, so maximum attention was diverted to getting down safely.
To save time and protect myself for a little longer, I broke with tradition and the coat was kept on until lower down. Hoping to rely on my ascent footprints to take me around ice patches and walking in sporadic bad viz caused by blown snow, I was shocked to find that they were now drifted in. Snow on the surface combined with the airborne sort reduces definition so to be sure I reverted to the ascent GPS track which showed clearly where I’d crossed the minor cornice on the way up. Once onto the zig-zags no guidance was needed; just a little care negotiating the hairpins which lie next to the drop.
Once on the grass and gravel the sun had the cheek to make a brief appearance. The car was reached at 13:52. Going by memory, it doesn’t usually take an hour to get down this one but maybe I’m getting a little over cautious in my old age?
CQ on 3.760:
There’s nothing finer in winter than getting back to the car and after doing the usual post-SOTA things I switched on the IC706 and called CQ on 3.760-SSB. Who should I hear but Karl from Cornwall - 2E0FEH at 55. Despite a ‘33’ coming back Karl was able to copy a few words from me and asked what the SOTA had been like. In return he bagged NY32 so everybody was happy. Conditions on 80 were not too brilliant. I replied to a G8 who I know is a WAB’er but he didn’t hear me. At least now the HF installation in the XYL’s P3008 has been tested thanks to Karl.
A token activation to satisfy my desire to get even with the weather. In fact the weather could have been worse but I wouldn’t say it was a pleasant experience. Still, there have been many like it and a lot worse in the past but now I am older and a bit too used to comforts. In the words of Gerald on a recent reflector post, ‘Am I getting soft?’ Yes, it’s fair to say I am another who’s not as ready to suffer as much nowadays and that includes the mental side of it too. Then there are the safety risks. As I type this I hear that another person has died on Ben Nevis today.
Yes, as I did state that the chasers were calm through it all. How could they be any different but once again they were sympathetic to the situation, helping the process along as best they could from a shack or car. Was it worth it? Certainly! But most of the rewards are after the event.
QSO’s with 25W:
Total: 4 on 2m-FM
A66 Layby nr. Scales (215m ASL): 10:56
Blencathra summit: 12:14 to 12:53
Back to A66: 13:52
1hr-18min up/ 59 min down
Total: 7.9km/ 660m ascent
Thanks to this small band of chasers and to Geoff G4WHA and John G0TDM for the spots. Great support from everybody. Sorry about Sue G1OHH but we’ll work another day. Will there be any more this week? Doubtful.
(G4YSS using Scarborough Special Events Group Club Call GX0OOO/P.)
Above: A66 layby and start point near Scales
Above: Water pipes running downhill to a farm
Above: Passing the snowline at approx 600m ASL
Above: Looking back
Above: Looking across to Sharp Edge on which one Scarborough shop keeper broke his leg and was lifted by helicopter a few years ago.
Above: Path bend close to the slope
Above: View over Scales Tarn. Sheltered from the wind here
Above: The minor cornice or is it just a drift? It had an icy top. Care needed.
Above: A strong gust disturbs the snow
Above: The highest point. I think the marker is under here
Above: Activation of G/LD-008 on VHF. During a lull.
Above: Activation of G/LD-008 on 145.550-FM with 25W
Above: On the way down
Above: The only bit of renascent
Above: A change of character lower down
Above: Back at the car. Recently installed IC706-2G still in its SOTA ‘clothing.’ First QSO from the XYL’s new car was Karl 2E0FEH in Cornwall. 55/ 33 on 3.760-SSB. G4YSS/M
Above: Modified mag-mount and home-brew 80m whip