G4YSS: G/LD-008 Blencathra, 12-03-19

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

Walk data:
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.

73, John
(G4YSS using Scarborough Special Events Group Club Call GX0OOO/P.)

Photos: 1-2-7-10-12-15-20-26-34-40-41-56-60-62-64-68-77-76

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


Hi John,

Thanks for the contact on LD-008. I happened to check SOTAWATCH in the morning and saw your alert for 1200hrs so i texted John to let him know. I heard you on my handheld at the shop. That is connected to a dual band mobile whip on a magmount on the roof of our shop and you were 59 but you did not hear me. However you did say the volume was down so that explains that.

Hope the weather improves for you.

73’s Geoff


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Hi John,

Your account brought back vivid memories of when Paul and I activated LD-008. When I saw the title of your report my first thought was of snow and a lack of shelter and… what the (expletive) were you doing out in such weather!!!

I can’t say I have particularly fond memories of the hill as there was ice crusted snow over the summit area when we were there, complete with a cornice to avoid - it must be a regular feature in snowy conditions on account of the topography. To maximise my chances of making some reasonable contacts, I perched somewhat precariously on an icy slope near to the highest point and had to scramble to go and retrieve my log pad during the activation. Ah, the joys of activating. I have certainly had more relaxing activations up on snowy summits!

Well done on mastering the conditions and many thanks for the interesting report and photographs. If I ever return to this one, I am thinking a summer visit might be best. :grinning:

73, Gerald

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In those conditions I would have tackled the summit from the southwest, turning off at Threlkeld to the Blencathra Centre (the old Blencathra Hospital) and following an easy path over grassy slopes with the prevailing wind giving you a boost from behind! Its a longer walk but no need to encounter any cornices…but profoundly boring!:laughing:

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Let’s see G0TDM, G4WHA, G1OHH and 2E0MIX… that looks like an almost perfect set of “locals”. At that point any VHF activation in and around the lakes can be classed as complete if you’ve worked that bunch! :slight_smile:

I don’t think I have worked G7GQL so that’s one to add when the Lakes Bash takes place this May.

John @G4YSS what’s the antenna for 80m? Is that an old G-Whip or something home brew?

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Hi Geoff and thanks for the reply,
Vy many thanks for coming up and working me. I needed all four of the contacts yesterday and quick too. Thanks to the others too.

I am certain I would have heard your mag-mount had I not made that mistake. The reason being that the rig makes a terrible and startling racket when you turn it on; like a Jingtong H/H but much worse and louder. To avoid this the AF must be fully CCW. Furthermore in my haste (less speed) I called CQ unready, not being in a good position. False sense of security; I assumed it didn’t matter as there was little wind, then a giant gust came and threatened to remove me and my equipment from the summit.

Well done on your efforts to claw back some operating ability at the new shop. Seems like you have done pretty well so far. It means that normal service will be resumed for some summits at least and I know John said back in February that he could hear you again.
73, John

Hi Gerald,
It seems that you had it worse than me from the point of view of ice. That’s something I hate after Ben Hope and Fairfield experiences to name but two. Luckily it wasn’t that bad underfoot. Just the wind which was doing odd things. I thought I’d picked a relative null point but slight changes in direction probably produce big effects? It wasn’t a day for HF for sure. You’d have needed a tent for that and keeping it there would have been near impossible with snow over likely frozen and stony ground.

Thanks for your reply. I will get round to reading your report from Feb soon. I have had a glance already. Well done on more uniques gained.
73, John

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Hello Brian,

Good to hear from you and thanks for filling us in one the Ben Nevis tragedy too. We all need to be aware!

Yes, Blease Fell from the Blencathra Centre was my regular route until a few years ago when I changed to Scales Fell after coming down that was after peeling off from a walking group to put on the summit. I have activated it up Hall’s Fell Ridge too but I don’t mind boring, I always look for the easiest way to haul up radio kit, but I got thoroughly cheesed off with the renascent. There are two or three lumpy bumby bits along the top which you have to climb twice to get to and from the activation area and that’s why I abandoned it. I would often come off LD8 in the dark too and that added to the annoyance. You are right though. It would have been a wind-assisted ascent and that might have made it easier. A bit like riding your bike downwind with no hands on the bars, instead they’re used to hold your jacket open. Oh happy days!

Hope to see you on Top Band next time I try it. You were missed last time.
73, John

Hiya Andy,
Thanks for reading. Yes, you know the game - that’s the ‘crew’ but sadly I failed to work Sue and don’t really know why as yet unless she was using a lot less power than me - unlikely. Geoff has moved north a few miles so he will have one hand tied behind his back now. John is still in Penrith and uses G0TDM or G7GQL. It would have fooled the database should we be in dire need but it’s not right I feel. It wasn’t needed however and hasn’t been ever in the past. Once when I was really desperate, John brought out his secret weapon in the form of Eileen his XYL.

The antenna is home-brew in my garage. It consists of glass ropes cut in order to make a tapering rod, hung up and wetted out with polyester resin. Then it’s an awful lot of thin wire either wound on with the rod in a speed-reduced electric drill or in a hand drill. I’m not at home right now so I don’t know the spec but I have made so many of these over the years for all the different bands I’ve lost count. Not a quick job though I made two; one for me and one for Phil my son.

I don’t really go for the idea that one whip is much better than another, They are all so terribly poor that you couldn’t tell one from another. My starting point is slim and as low a windage as possible. End to end ohms can by 6 or 10 ohms for all I care. They still work well in good conditions and badly in bad ones. Despite this one being thin for an 80m whip, it still blew off at 70mpg and scratched the wife’s car. Hence the front small TV-tube magnet has been replaced by a great ugly suction mount with a lot more hold. Tested at speed on the A66 on Monday and into wind too. Passed that one!
73, John

OK. I have an old 706 that could get pressed into mobile use but the problem is RF and the car. I think my pickup (an old Hilux) will be fine with mobile HF but the car has a section in the back of the owner’s manual saying “under no circumstances use a transmitter producing more that 10W out from 0.1MHz to 3000MHz when the car is running/moving” !!!

I’d not be keen on fitting a magmount to the car unless I had some super soft cloth between the mount and paint, but that’s the problem of shiny cars. The pickup is kept filthy to intimidate other road users “oh look at that, if it’s that dirty he wont care if he hits anything, let him through” because if you drive a slightly shiny/sporty German car in the UK, nobody and I mean nobody lets you pull in or turn right. I’ve even had a car full of nuns slam shut an opening in traffic. :wink:

I’ll pick your brains about the whip at Blackpool if you are going.

I like the 706 having got mine in 1999 after the 2G came out. It can be temperamental on 2m, refusing to transmit (it refused from Ben Nevis in 2006 when I tired to work Robin) but otherwise a good rig.

As for the car handbook it says similar in our handbook, as did the Citroen’s. The latter has had 100W on 80/40 & 20 plus higher bands and 50W on 2m without effect. I am more concerned about receiver noise. This car causes a whistle/ noise when the electronics are running. It’s about 54 on the meter. Not road or engine speed related. Had to stop to WAB from NY32 today.

I recognize that way of thinking. The only time I wash a car is prior to an MOT but not every year. They just reach a level which is moderately dirty. It helps if you have big dents too. I got a beauty from a steel bollard outside Proudfoots shop in Seamer and kept it until the car was scrapped. It got logged at every MOT. In Italy in 1978 we had the Landy. At first I was shocked by their crazy driving but the threat of the front bumper seemed to help a lot.

The mag-mount has some thin rubber sheet under it but everybody looks for dents, rust and scratches much lower down so I shouldn’t worry. I will try to find the details of the aerial.
73, John.

This is what I can find right now:
0.4mm dia copper (plus 0.02mm enamel), 1,145mm long winding on a tapered rod, which varies from about 4mm dia at the top to 7.2 mm dia at the bottom. Most of it is between approx. 5.5 mm and 7.2 mm. Resistance 7.3 Ohms. Coil is approx. 2,730 turns. Wire length about 55m.

Base: Stainless half inch tube 1 inch long welded to 3/8 inch UNF bolt head & cut down. Silver solder blob to take soft solder for base of wire as you can’t soft solder s-steel…

80m mob whip is about so long

Operating anything other than a hand held would have been misery up there John - not even enough snow for a decent igloo.

Hi Dave,
As you say, not enough snow for an igloo either. It’s always the wind speed that spoils it but when I passed 24 hours later there was a significant loss of snow. It’s thawing. Still windy though.

Been out again today. G/LD-037 - an easy one on grass this time with a tent and HF. See separate report.
Thanks for the comment,
73, John

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Well done on the activation. We were also thinking that we should have timed our Brecon Beacons trip for February rather than the longer days of March. The weather that day was sufficient to drive us underground - literally as we did the very interesting underground tour at the Big Pit Museum. When we came out the rain had mostly gone so we did a quick activation of Sugar Loaf. It was almost impossible to stand by the trig point but the natural shape of the hill offered some shelter so we did VHF only getting 5 contacts each.

Hi Caroline,
Only just seen your addition but better late than never.

Good job you are no stranger to inclement weather either. I only did one day of activation in February in fact only one since Christmas. We should take our opportunities when they are presented to us but I’m one that never learns! I have in the past reserved March for big rounds because if daylight but I should have booked for Feb. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing and we’ll know for next time. But will we act?
Thanks for reading,
73, John