G4YSS Activation Report: G/LD-004 & G/LD-008 on 15-12-10.
SKIDDAW & BLENCATHRA on 160m & 80m QRO and 4m-FM QRP.
G4YSS using SSEG Club-call GX0OOO/P.
All times UTC.
IC706-2G 100W HF-VHF-UHF Tcvr.
Adjustable 20-(30)-40-60-80m link-dipole with160m loading-coils.
5m x 4 section H/B carbon mast with 1m carbon end supports.
One 8.8 Ah Li-Po for LD4.
One 9.0 Ah Li-Po for LD8.
IC-E90 4-Band FM, 5W H/H with 2m set-top helical extended for 4m.
ICOM BP217 Li-Ion detachable battery (7.4V - 1.3 Ah)
After being absent from SOTA for several weeks due to a holiday in 4X followed by a family illness, I badly needed a challenge and a change. I have never done Skiddaw and Blencathra in the same day but have always thought it logical to do so. After all they are near neighbours with easy access and worth a fine bag of points between them. Following an apparent WX-forced lull in SOTA activity, I hoped that these two would get the chasers attention; which is something I enjoy doing if possible. It’s good to try to offer ‘value for money’ and with the winter bonus added, it wouldn’t harm my own flagging score either.
I have missed working the chasers and the camaraderie of it. I care little for the ascents but look forward to going on the air even if it can be less than comfortable and today was no exception on that score. If the weathermen were to be believed, this would be a last chance before further wintry weather set in.
Set off from Scarborough at the later time of 04:00 dreading the journey as usual but driving via the A66 to Keswick and beyond to the Jenkin Hill car park at the end of Underscar Lane (NY 2802 2534.)
The A170 between Scarborough and Pickering ‘sported’ black ice in places but Sutton Bank was OK. The Bridge at Skipton-on-Swale was closed for extensive repairs which meant detours via Northallerton on the way out and Topcliffe on the return. Because my XYL Denise cannot drive after her operation, I was able to use her car; arriving in good time at 06:55. I never have much enthusiasm for getting underway and would much prefer to go to sleep then drive back home, so waiting half an hour for the sky to lighten slightly presented little problem. Against that is the need to be on the air as early as practicable to make Top Band work better but unlike many of my efforts in the past, I didn’t wish to walk more than halfway up in the dark.
The ‘Skiddaw Motorway’ via Jenkin Hill could be described as boring but I never let that bother me. Always the most efficient ascent is favoured and this path has a good surface and is well graded. Today the climb with QRO equipment took 93 minutes from car park to trig and that is because of forced inactivity since early October. My XYL has had a serious illness and I needed to be on hand to take care of her. It got light around 8 o clock but the headlight was not used until late afternoon.
Despite 3 weeks of snow on the East Coast and elsewhere, there was little of it to speak of in the Lake District and Skiddaw had only patches of it. The summit ridge was frozen solid with rocks clearly visible and covered in flutes of ice. It was all easily traversed and not particularly slippery. No special precautions were required. After photos at the trig point, I back-tracked about 500m south to set up near a low pile of stones. This initially provided scant shelter but a change of wind direction from NNW to W accompanied by an increase in strength during the course of the activation left me shivering in the full force of it and with a numb face.
SKIDDAW, G/LD-004, 931m (10pts). 08:57 to 11:32. Low-cloud. Minus 2C. Wind variable 20mph NNW, then 10mph NW, later 25mph W. Deeply frozen ground. Little lying snow except where drifted up. Orange network coverage above 1500ft. Loc: IO84KP. WAB: NY22.
160m CW - 6 QSO’s:
With the loaded dipole orientated N/S and 100W of CW on 1.832, Mike, Pete, Reg, Andy & Cris (EI2CL, EI7CC, G3WPF, GM0UDL and GM4FAM) were ‘caught.’ If Frank G3RMD did get his RST successfully, that will make six. Frank was coming in slightly stronger than the Dublin stations which were 559. (Frank’s QSO later confirmed as ‘good’ ) G4WSB did not respond to my return transmissions but Bill later told me he has a very high noise level. In ‘chaserland’ he is not alone! At 579, the two Inverness stations were the strongest of all and it was great to hear from them again especially on 160. What a great start!
80m CW - 18 QSO’s: In the absence of Roy G4SSH, who was in London that day, Kevin G0NUP picked up my CQ on 3.559 and kindly provided a spot. Next up was Nick G4OOE who lives in Scarborough and who did his first ever SOTA activation last week. The latter was a joint activation of a Swiss mountain with Juerg - HB9BAB. The European account was opened with PA0HRM and followed up by ON4CAP, DL1FU and LA9CG showing that 80m can have a good coverage at least on short winter days. The rest were based in G, GM and EI. 20W was used throughout.
80m SSB - 25 QSO’s:
3.724 and mostly 30 Watts were used to log 25 stations which took 40 minutes. As is often the case, GW7AAV was first in line. Steve mentioned that he had been monitoring 3.724 for the past hour. Geoff M6MZX was next and I think he provided the spot. What followed were mostly regulars with a few unfamiliar callsigns interspersed. None were from Europe. 50 and once 100 Watts were required to complete a few QSO’s. A lucrative session but by now the wind had changed direction along with my sense of humour.
A problem with rock-hard frozen ground occurred when the mast fell over mid session. I was able to continue with the QSO but the next station could not hear me. I tried without success to kick out some rocks in order to make a small cairns for the dipole end supports but had to rely on fissures which were not in ideal positions. The result of this was that the mast looked ‘drunk’ and this became ever more critical when icing conditions worsened, adding weight to the wire. It was lucky that the session ended before a third mast collapse could occur.
Since 1987, for lightness and time saving, my aerial system has always relied on a thin home-brew 5m carbon-fibre un-guyed mast which is designed to go into the ground, snow or some other means of base support. The dipole itself then adds stability resulting in a balanced system whereby the wire‘s included angle and tension is chosen to make the mast vertical against the wind. I wouldn’t change it and this works fine most of the time. However, frozen ground can be a challenge. Before I could pack up the HF station and get out the 4m H/H, the wire first needed stripping of ice. This problem was to be much worse during the afternoon SOTA.
4m FM – 2 QSO’s:
Geoff G4WHA and John G0TDM responded to a call with 3.5W to a set-mounted aerial and counterpoise. The second QSO was done ‘on the hoof’ but reports were 59 both ways. I would say that LD4 is the easiest of England’s three 10-pointer’s. The return to Jenkin Hill car park by 12:32 took an hour as against 48 minutes last time. It still meant though, that a second activation should be achievable before sunset at 15:50. I toyed with doing an easy 4-point NP summit but reasoned that driving further would just waste daylight, negating time gained by a quicker ascent, so it was to the Blencathra Centre for LD8 as planned. A 15 minute drive added to a battery change, some food and drink made for a 13:05 start on the LD8 ascent.
The car park NY 3026 2565 at is just past the Blencathra Centre. It zigs left at NY 3047 2575 and bends right at NY 3017 2610. The surface is grass until it joins another path at NY 3067 2646. After that it changes to well surfaced zig zags as far as NY 3067 2661.
After climbing the SW flank to the 804m top at NY 3120 2703, it is necessary to walk over two minor summits to get to the low trig point. The path was mostly clear of snow today but on the right is a steep slope which was corniced. Cracks were evident in some of these barely overhanging cornices but there was vegetation below them. I phoned Kevin G0NUP to ask for an alert. He struggled to hear me for wind noise. I was short of time but would do 1.8 and 3.5 CW omitting to say that 3.5 SSB would be available if time allowed. We would be short of that commodity.
BLENCATHRA, G/LD-008, 868m, 8pts, 14:26 to 16:13, minus 2 deg C, 20mph wind increasing to over 30mph, low cloud and dark at the end. Deeply frozen ground. Very little lying snow apart from minor cornicing. Orange network coverage throughout. Loc: IO84LP. WAB: NY32.
SETTING UP PROBLEMS:
This top is bleak and inhospitable in winter. The trig point is just a 3 inches high concrete circle; otherwise there’s a wide but low pile of stones; useless as a windbreak. The only way to get respite from a bitter wind is to go down over the lip. Today this edge was corniced. Looking round in the freezing mist I could see no other choice. An investigation revealed an 8 or 10 foot band of snow which was deep but barely overhung. Neither was it cracked but it was frozen solid and appeared very stable. Below it lay a grass slope, admittedly very steep and the grass was iced. Someone had kindly walked down the snow when it was soft, leaving deep footprints. No further invitation was needed. I set the mast and end supports along the snow edge as best I could with the wind doing it’s best to throw me over the edge, then deployed the station below it. So long as no equipment went down the slope, this was relative luxury.
80m CW – 26 QSO’s:
Kevin was straight back to my call to him on 3.558 which made for an efficient start. Conditions were good and I was outputting about 60W which resulted in quite a few 599 reports. More than half the QSO’s were with Europe as follows: DL, PA, ON, OE, F, SM, S51 and HB9. The callsign OE50SPW ‘threw’ me for a while. Fritz DL4FDM made a rare appearance and Frid DL1FU got his second UK summit of the day on 80m. The rest were G, GW, EI and GM.
After 11 QSO’s the frequency went quiet which is when I announced a QSY to 3.721SSB. However, on arrival there and after several high-power CQ’s I got no response. A return to CW got the log filling up again but the abortive QSY happened again before Bill G4WSB replied in voice. This was my fault and I was regretting it. I hadn’t told Kevin about 80-SSB and now, with the threat of darkness looming, valuable minutes were being squandered with multiple QSY’s.
80m SSB - 9 QSO’s:
QRM on 3.724 made me try 3.721. After what has been described above, we got going with Bill G4WSB who put me on the “cluster” by which I fervently hope he only meant SOTAwatch! However there was no huge pile up; mostly regular chasers and some unfamiliar calls. Reg G3WPF quite rightly called in CW and was answered in that mode but by 15:37 I was getting concerned about the time. The sun (what sun?) would be setting in a little over 5 minutes. I still had Top Band to do with coils to fit, and to take the station down; followed by 4FM on the H/H.
160m CW - 6QSO’s:
With the antenna along the snow-edge of the hill and with a strong and bitter wind blowing directly towards the drop it was never going to be easy to interpose the 160m loading coils but now the problem was further compounded by severe icing conditions. At 3 to 4 mm in diameter and looking like 10 AWG, the iced up 24 AWG wire was already carrying sufficient extra weight to bend the mast over in a ‘U’ shape. Before I could contemplate adding the coil mass, the ice would have to be removed.
Working from the ends, I ran a gloved hand along the wire but the ice was quite well bonded despite PTFE insulation. Without laying the mast down, it would only be possible to treat the sections outboard of the 20m band connectors. The aerial finished closer to the ground than normal but that was just hard luck. It would have to work but there was fresh ice accretion as I watched and the howl of the wind produced by it was louder and different to normal.
A minor move up 500Hz from 1.832 was necessary to avoid an overseas QSO. Good to tell it was getting dark, stations were coming in from Europe already but this apparently enhanced condition would not necessarily make it easier to work the closer regulars, who were on this occasion: G3WPF, G0TDM, G3RDQ, EI2CL, G4RQJ and G4OWG. 40Watts was used for the first three but full power was needed to get Mike’s (EI2CL) RST over. I expected an enhanced path between Mike and me as darkness approached but it was still a bit of a struggle. I also half expected a few European chasers but none came in. They may well have worked me at this hour; it has happened before. Maybe they didn’t think to try?
At last it was time to pack up the HF station and go down. This process was deliberately slowed down for safety reasons. It took extra time to spool the iced-up antenna anyway and anything left on the ground would have been blown over the edge.
In the semi-darkness I thought I saw movement up by the summit. It was a man with a dog! He came over but wouldn’t stand closer to the edge where I was working, than 3 metres. We shouted to one another over the noise of the wind; ‘What are you doing; what is it?’ I tried to explain. He turned and took a flash photo of me as he went off apparently heading down Scales Fell but it was nice to know that I would not be the only one descending Blencathra on this wild, bitter evening, albeit at the opposite end of the hill.
4m FM – 2 QSO’s:
Donning the rucksack, with handheld at the ready, I struggled up the snowy edge and into the icy blast one final time. Finding the highest point which was also the windiest, I called CQ on 70.450 FM.
Thank goodness John and Geoff (G0TDM and G4WHA) were both ready and waiting on. Being in Penrith made them both 59 from a radio viewpoint but they were actually readability 2 through a hat and a hood, in the buffeting wind.
It took 10 minutes of walking to warm up in that icy low-cloud. The right side of my face went completely numb and I had to cover it with a gloved hand. Though it was now dark, I didn’t need the headlight until after walking the length of the white iced top. Though efficient, the zig-zags were tiresome but it was warmer lower down and the headlight caught the car number plate at 17:04.
Underway by 17:20, I arrived home at 19:43 to find that my Daughter-in-Law Hazel, who has now done 9 SOTA mountains with me this year, had successfully picked up my signals from Skiddaw on 3.724 in the morning.
ASCENT & DISTANCES:
LD4: 680m (2231ft) of ascent / 2 x 5.3 km (6.6 miles) walked.
LD8: 656m (2,152ft) of ascent / 2 x 3.9 km (4.9 miles) walked.
TOTAL: 1336m (4383ft) of ascent / 18.4 km (11.5 miles) walked.
QRO pack: 11kg (24 pound.)
Left Scarborough: 04:00
Arrived LD4 start-point: 06:55 (Car Pk at end of Underscar Lane)
Walk for LD4: 07:24
LD-4 Skiddaw: 08:57 to 11:32
Return to Car: 12:32
Drive away: 12:45
Arrived Blencathra Centre: 13:00
Commenced LD8 Walk: 13:05
LD-8 Blencathra: 14:26 to 16:13
Returned Blenc Ctr: 17:04
Drive for home: 17:20
Arrived Scarborough: 19:43
QSO’S: (Both summits qualified on 160m.)
12 on 160m CW.
44 on 80m CW.
34 on 80m SSB.
4 on 4m FM.
Total: 94 (LD4 - 51, LD8 - 43).
LD4: 78% of 11V nom, 8.8 Ah (2 x 4.4, 10C by RCM) Li-Po.
LD8: 34% of 11V nom, 9.0 Ah (2 x 4.5, 20C by RCM) Li-Po.
LD4 and LD8 are a good combination. I expected much more lying snow than there was. It was mainly ice with a few snow patches and minor cornices. At minus 2C all day (at summit tops) the WX was a lot ‘warmer’ than we’ve had it in Scarborough of late (minus13C) but winds of 20 and later 30 mph made it a cold job.
Though this was by no means out of the ordinary activation wise, or even severe, every action is slowed down by cold especially where gloves must be continually removed to achieve an aim. Fitting coils, fiddling with mast section bungees, spooling wire, rig controls and handhelds, logging etc can all become demanding tasks under cold conditions.
It was great to get Top Band on the air again. Once again a suitably equipped hardcore of 160m SOTA chasing enthusiasts were ready and waiting, though I was afraid that with current levels of activity, they might not have looked at the alerts. If Frank G3RMD didn’t get his RST on 160 from LD4, that is a pity. Better luck next time. (Frank’s QSO later confirmed as ‘good’ )
80m has again shown itself capable of carrying both ‘local’ and European traffic on a winter’s day. I hope more continental chasers will try to call in on 80. I often use lower power than the maximum. If you can’t hear me very well, try it anyway. I have low noise and can probably hear your higher power transmission. I often have power to spare and we can maybe make a QSO.
THANKS to ALL STATIONS worked and spotters: EI2CL, G0NUP, G6MZX, G4WHA, PA0SKP and G3WPF. Special thanks to Kevin G0NUP for his ‘Phone-a-Spot’ Service on LD8. A very happy Christmas is wished for all activators, chasers of all nationalities and their families from the SSEG and me.
73, John G4YSS
(Using Scarborough Special Events Group Club Callsign: GX0OOO/P.)
Note 18-12-10 - 11:25: Top Band QSO with Frank, G3RMD from LD4 is officially confirmed as ‘good.’ Thanks Frank.