GREAT WHERNSIDE, G/NP-008. SOTA/ VHF-NFD (Covid-19) 05-July-20
G4YSS (using SSEG club callsign - GX0OOO/P)
VHF-NFD Lockdown Contest on 2m & 70cm SSB (QRP)
SOTA on 80m SSB & 40m CW (QRO)
18th VHF-NFD from NP8
Non-radio: BST (UTC plus 1)
Radio ops: UTC (‘z’)
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier
Link dipole for 80m thru’ 20m on a 5m CFC mast with 1m end-sticks
Home-brew tunable loading coils for 160m (not used)
5 Ah Li-Po battery
3-ely Sotabeam for 2m band
7-ely Moonraker ZL beam for 70cm
5 Ah Li-Po battery (not required)
ICOM IC-E90 4-band/ 5W H/H (not used)
Packweight: 12.9kg (28.5 pounds) including 1.1 litre drinks.
Lichfield Viper-1 Flysheet (1990’s) with pre-attached poles & home-brew carbon pegs
Storm guys with 4 x 40cm carbon rods
Small poly Groundsheet
Garmin GEKO-301 GPS
This was the eighteenth consecutive G4YSS/ GX0OOO/P VHF-NFD on Great Whernside G/NP-008, seven of which have been overnighters. The weather is paramount, especially if you’re planning an overnight stay but that idea was rejected this year (see WX below).
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and differing lock-down rules in each of the four UK countries, the RSGB cancelled the familiar NFD. In its place was substituted something similar but with timed band slots over the two days and gaps between sessions. No entries from portable stations would be accepted.
Saturday was reserved for 4m & 6m so I decided to go for the Sunday with 70cm operable for two hours in the morning and 2m for three hours in the afternoon, though I didn’t intend doing the full 5 hours. Unfortunately Sunday had the worst weather forecast. When faced with bad weather and because of the low-key nature of things this year, I didn’t alert. This would just be a token effort mainly to keep continuity since 2003. For the same reasons, plus easy prep & weight, I decided on QRP though the linear would be included for HF. Even so I still lost sleep for the two nights before. Just my psyche I’m afraid.
WX for Sunday 5th July-20:
The mountain weather forecast for the Yorkshire Dales was for 8C (windchill 4C) on the tops and 14C in the valleys. Wind up to 40 to 45mph. Overcast with light or heavy periods of rain and a small risk of lightning late in the day. Low-cloud clearing.
Set off from Scarborough at 06:00, driving via A170 Thirsk, Ripon, Pateley Bridge, Grassington & Kettlewell (84 miles), arriving at the top of Park Rash at 08:05. With cows all over the place there was no choice but to park on the Kettlewell side of the cattle grid (SD 9861 7567) if I was to avoid having my door mirrors ripped off again.
Instead of the usual 85 litre pack I was using the normal SOTA 25 today and all items such as mast, tent and 70cm beam were tied on in advance. With weight under 30 pounds rather than either side of 50, putting the thing on was without the usual trauma. I was away in light rain, without waterproofs (I detest them) and initially with an umbrella. That didn’t last long! The brolly became a steadying stick and the owner just got damp.
Start - cattle grid SD9861 7567; Gate SD 9891 7558; Stile SD 9963 7522; 1st marker post (yellow top) SE 0005 7468; 4th marker post SE 0022 7414; Summit cairn SE 00205 73905.
Owing to the lesser weight the climb to the trig wind assisted for the first one km, was made in 41 minutes but it was not totally without difficulty. For some strange reason the most ferocious winds were encountered just after the stile with the result that it was impossible to walk in a straight line for the next 200m or so. I was blown off my feet twice and forced sideways every few strides. I gradually got through that so there must have been some funnelling/ acceleration on that stretch. I have noticed this plenty of times in the past. Skiddaw was such one place.
From the trig I continued in an easterly direction looking for respite from the determined and potentially destructive westerly. In the conditions prevailing, the usual elevated spot 250m NE of the cairn was out of the question. If the flysheet was to be erected at all and survive it would have to be in a depression. One of these was found about 140m east from the summit. With more severe weather expected, the accommodation would need to be well secured.
Once unfurled the flysheet began whipping. Two of the captive pegs were thrown off and one rubber fastening was ripped off. Not a good start. Fortunately a ridge flysheet, especially when poles and pegs are captive in it, is the easiest to handle single-handed in a high wind. It was up in less than 5 minutes which included storm guys made the day before. The intention was to fit these front and rear but two of the short carbon rods, brought along to anchor them, had to be pressed into service to replace tent pegs which now appeared to be lost. The stainless steel J-Pole whip was needed for this purpose too.
The aim is to erect everything on arrival but today was different. One thing at a time in case a rapid retreat was needed. It would be the case if lightning arrived. The 70cm section of NFD had started an hour before, so with one hour to go, up went the 7-ely atop two 1.25m sections of the HF mast. By the time this was firmly in the ground, the antenna was only 2m above it. Since I was 1m lower than my immediate surroundings, this was less than satisfactory. Being only here to ‘show my face’ it didn’t worry me in the least. The way it was pitched, I couldn’t close the tent door but with back into wind it wasn’t uncomfortable if a bit on the cool side. A thermoball jacket solved the latter issue.
GREAT WHERNSIDE, G/NP-008, 704m (2,310ft) 6 pts. 09:11 to 15:23. Temps approx: 8C on arrival, 10C at noon. Wind 40mph plus at the QTH. Overcast with frequent rain; mostly light but some heavy. Zero Vodafone coverage throughout (in the depression). WAB: SE07. LOC: IO-94-AD. (TP-0703 was not valid, being non-compliant with the 30m rule).
432.180 SSB - 9 QSO’s from 08:50z for NFD/ QRP:
A swing round the band made me think the antenna plug wasn’t making contact though I could hear some very loud and unpleasant noises further up. With 5 Watts to the 7-ely Yagi at 2m AGL, nine stations answered my CQ’s as follows: G4CMT/P - Goole Radio Club member Richard on Bishop Wilton Wold TW4-not valid for SOTA/ 1093PX), G6YYN IO93MS also of the Goole Club; M0CJZ in IO93LN; G8BNE - IO94GA Knaresborough; M1EYP/P Tom S2S on The Cloud G/SP-015/ IO83WE; M0RTQ in IO93OM; G4TEW - IO94HC; M1EAC in IO93MN and finally G1ZAR/P Stuart calling in from IO82XG. This was an S2S with Shining Tor G/SP-004.
Of the 18 reports exchanged 12 were 55; the remainder in the range 53 to 59. After a 5-minute break I called CQ on 144.220 without further result.
With the summit qualified and the quest to take part in VHF-NFD ticked off, it was now time to brave the drizzle and erect the HF dipole.
3.760 SSB - 3 QSO’s from 10:18z & one at 12:48z WAB SE07/ SOTA QRO:
Without spotting facilities what can you do but try the WAB frequency? Much of the time someone is monitoring. Sure enough as soon as I called CQ a friendly voice replied with ‘Hello John.’ This was Ken G0FEX in Leicester and we exchanged with 59/ 57. Ken did a great job for a few years as WAB mag. editor but has now managed to get someone to take over the task.
Next to call was Bill G4WSB 59/ 56 from Swindon followed finally (for now) by Graham G4JZF in Brum at 59 both ways. Graham reminded me that I still have my OV00 trophy to collect from G7GJU Geoff in Durham but our holiday in Scotland was cancelled this year due to coronavirus lockdown. Bill kindly spotted me.
More than two hours later a return to 3.760 produced a QSO with John G3OKA in the Wirral (phonetics ‘Old King Arthur’) with 59 both ways. John, a WAB member since the start in 1969 and licenced ten years before that, reported that he’d been gardening since it was a nice day! He could have fooled me. Power was 50 Watts to the inverted vee dipole at 5m centre height and now it was time for the lunch break.
144.345/.260/.175/.196 SSB - 7 QSO’s from 11:00 to 12:26z NFD/ QRP:
My son Phil G0UUU was /P in IO94RJ at Ravenscar, a familiar high spot of 266m ASL, 10 miles N. of Scarborough and overlooking the aforementioned WAB square OV00. Naturally we’d arranged a sked. Phil has an Innov 7-ely wide-spaced beam for 2m. It’s very efficient but takes some erecting. Just in case the high winds made its use impossible I loaned him my lightweight, home-brew 6-ely prototype; the antenna pencilled in for use from Great Whernside until I’d read the weather forecast. (I went for the 3-ely Sotabeam instead).
Our sked was delayed slightly due to an element falling out of the 6-ely plus uncontrolled beam swinging at Phil’s end but we made it at noon BST with 59 both ways. Unfortunately after only an hour of operation, Phil’s mast blew over and broke the coax. It’s mended now but that put paid to any further effort on his part though he did manage GI, GM and Belgium before the occurrence. The standard NFD exchange was used despite the fact that the most either of us could do as /P’s was to enter checklogs. As mentioned, portable stations are not bona fide this year though it doesn’t affect me. In the 18 years I’ve been doing this contest I have yet to enter but Phil has kindly put in a checklog for me. It’s worth it for the map!
Philip left me the freq, spotted me and, when I found him by chance on .169 half an hour later, passed over the frequencies of the Belgium and a GM he’d worked. Thanks Phil. On this phone dead mountain, the consideration of other ops was the only way I was going to get spotted today. Come back Roy Clayton - G4SSH. Two years ago he would have been at the other end of a 2m-FM link with meals on a tray, ready to spot any frequency that took my fancy from 1.8 to 433. He’s OK and getting good care by the way, for anybody interested but my pal is sorely missed.
The spot must have worked as three more stations answered CQ’s in the next 10 minutes. 2E0AGB 58/ 58 Alan in IO93EQ; M0RPK – IO93FJ Sheffield; G6YYN Ken in IO93MS ‘between Selby & Howden’.
During this session and it may have happened on 70cm as I remember, I was hearing short bursts of pulse interference which made the FT817ND’s display dip out momentarily. At first I thought it was static but failed to find any on the metal parts of the radio by touching it. Usually you can be sure of a belt and there was any amount of precipitation to supply it. I pulled the clip lead out of the rucksack side pocket and stuck the stainless steel rod in the soggy ground but it made no difference whatsoever.
If I tried to transmit when these pulses were present or immediately after, a message ‘TX ERROR’ would be displayed, with the intended recipient hearing nothing. I can’t remember pulse transmissions, apparently powerful, upsetting my rig in this way before but despite good intentions to investigate, it’s likely to remain a mystery.
‘A hunting we will go’ with the result that three more callsigns went into the 2m log as follows: M0RTQ in IO93OM; G4CMT/P in IO93PX (Richard guarding his NFD pitch on TW4) and finally, following my son’s tip off, GM4AFF in IO86TS. This proved best ‘DX’ with my QRP and 3-ely pointed north. Looking at the time taken with this session I can’t have been trying very hard but I do remember eating crisps and mars bars.
The last station took some working; I’d been calling him on and off for half an hour before he came back to me. Even then he needed some clarifications but he eventually mentioned, ‘I know that locator very well.’ Exactly what he meant escapes me as I have never worked that callsign before. It’s another mystery but you don’t ask questions in a contest, particularly when you’re putting out a mouse-sized signal. I later found out from Phil G0UUU, that the Scottish station uses 400 Watts to a 13-ely Yagi so I’m surprised he heard my QRP at all.
7.032 CW - 3 QSO’s 13:14z to 13:20z SOTA QRO:
The last time I used CW was during the Buckden Pike overnighter at New Year 2019-20. Then the final few QSO’s were marred by a keying failure. A few days before NFD I changed my keying switch; an RS317-033 miniature ON-OFF-ON (mom) toggle, shoe-horned into the FT817 Microphone. These fail from time to time and are hard to obtain nowadays. Unfortunately the failure mode is always the same. Not open circuit as you might expect but they stick on when released which has the effect of spraying streams of dots or dashes into the pileup.
It’s embarrassing of course, especially when attempts to apologise go just as wrong. I put up with this because of negligible weight and after decades of using them, an inability to send on anything else. Another advantage is that you can’t leave the CW key in the car. If you’ve got the mic, you’ve got the key. Electrolube fixes it for a time but eventually they have to be changed. My stock of toggle switches is now down to one. This was the moment the new switch would be put to the test.
With no spotting possibilities, all that could be done was to try one of the ‘SOTA calling channels’ so to speak. Gone are the days when large numbers of SOTA chasers would monitor 7.032/ 7.033 but there was life on there today. Also it was encouraging that one or two were sending /P, so why not give it a try. I might take a while to ‘get found’ and spotted but with the sky looking increasingly black, I had plenty of time.
After 5 minutes of calling I got the first fish on the hook in the form of DF7SW (QRP) whence we exchanged at 57/ 54. He wasn’t a SOTA chaser; that much was evident by the style but I was grateful for the QSO nonetheless. He sent ‘72’ at the end.
The next two callsigns were recognisable as SOTA ops as follows: OK1AY who passed his name over as Josef (QTH - Holysov) 599 both ways and DL6WT - Juerg in Windesheim with 579/ 339, the latter requiring repeats from my end. A period of heavy rain had set in by now so with no further answers to CQ’s, thoughts turned to packing up. Power for the six minute 40m CW session was 50 Watts and though three QSO’s is hardly a fair test, the new keying switch worked perfectly thank goodness.
The theme running through today’s activation was an ever present pre-occupation with the weather which at this point resulted in the omission of an intended 2m-FM session. By the time I remembered this, everything but the wind and rain-battered tent was packed into the rucksack. Furthermore the whip from the 2m antenna was still in use pegging down the tent door. When I look back it was a poor excuse and with hindsight I could have avoided walking off in the worst of conditions had I delayed somewhat. It’s no use regretting that now but I’m sorry for not giving the locals a chance though there was the option of 80m SSB early on. I’m afraid some of the dogged determination of years gone by has worn off. The memory too. It must be my age.
Packing up and Descent:
The last time I walked off Great Whernside it was with Sasha happily tagging along. She had been sorely missed this year but she really wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Today’s weather would have frightened many dogs which is one reason why I didn’t ask if I could take Finn along. More than that, he’s still a puppy of 8 months, though he is already just about the same shape, size and weight of Sasha. Finn (a light brindle lurcher) and I walk 30 or more miles a week together.
Thus far waterproofs had been avoided. The last time they came out of the rucksack is lost in the mists of time but it’s years rather than months. That doesn’t mean I don’t do SOTA in the rain by any means but usually I manage with just a Pertex lined fleece in light rain and an umbrella when it’s heavier. The technique of pointing the latter accurately into wind at all times is an essential skill but there does come a time when the wind is simply too strong to for a brolly. I should know, I’ve wrecked a few and lost one over the edge of a GM mountain whence I had to go down 200m to retrieve it. Today had proved unsuitable for umbrellas, so out came the neatly folded Goretex Paclite jacket and overtrousers.
The reason I hate waterproofs is mainly down to reduced ventilation but that is much more a factor when walking uphill than for going down. The feelings of unfamiliarity coupled with reassurance were strong and just the short time it took to take the flysheet down, roughly roll it up and bungee it to the rucksack would have seen me soaked through to the skin without them. It really was belting down and mostly horizontal too.
Care was needed going down and it was potentially dangerous to rush. Much better to pick your way so that big steps would not be needed and your boots hit the intended short-range target every time. The flapping of waterproofs was deafening and by the time I got to the really windy section before the stile, the noise was just like a road drill. After that and walking straight into wind, the danger of being blown over receded. Ironically the sun made an appearance just before reaching at 16:06 but what a relief!
Driving home the same way through Grassington, Pateley Bridge, Ripon and Thirsk, I listened to some 50-year-old offshore radio tapes recently digitized. The 84 mile journey took 2hrs and 10 minutes to 18:25 but there was very little traffic as per the morning run.
This year’s VHF-NFD was so low-key that it’s hard to think of what to write here. I did like the timed band sessions which make for easier planning. It would be good if RSGB kept to that next year but it’s doubtful unless by then we are still in lockdown or in a second one. I sincerely hope not. Planned as a token effort on my part and mainly so as not to break the continuity of previous years, I achieved what I set out to do, though the total QSO count was only 23.
After stating earlier that you don’t chat in contests, there were one or two ops who did just that. Richard and Ken from the Goole club were two such people and their friendliness was very welcome. I didn’t work outside the UK this year with only having 5W to a 3-ely. Best distance was GM4AFF up in Aberdeenshire on 2m (295km).
A few NFD ops thanked me for the SOTA, the particulars of which were given out during all the fixed channel contest exchanges and for CQ’s. Two S2S’s on 70cm’s were very welcome. Well done to Tom and Stuart for braving the weather. Also to son Phil G0UUU/P and his stoic wife Bev for the 2m-SSB sked from Ravenscar. This was the only means I had for getting a message back to my XYL that I was OK.
To lighten the load I did seriously consider dispensing with HF. With just 7 worked on the two HF bands I may as well have done so but it’s a pain to detach the linear from the 817. With no overnight gear or dog food etc to worry about the 25L pack was sufficient and weight was kept below 30 pounds. What luxury! Getting a big heavy pack to the top of NP8 in that wind would have been very difficult indeed this year. It’s hard enough in good weather. I was blown off my feet twice on the way up. I may not have been able to get back on my feet with 50 pounds aboard and it’s almost certain to have left VHF antennas bent or broken. That and surviving for 24 hours in high winds, heavy rain and possibly lightning would not have been much fun either.
One omission was 160m. I had the coils with me but daytime Top Band is very difficult. I could have alerted Phil G4OBK via email and I’d have been almost sure to work him. However after giving it some thought, I decided not to trouble him in case I failed to get there or couldn’t deploy the dipole and coils in the wind. Once on NP8 there was no way to inform of possible 160m activity. Apologies for not trying 2m-FM also. That likely lost me another half dozen QSO’s.
After weeks of lockdown in which I have only been out daily dog walking around home, this outing was very much enjoyed despite the challenging weather and I hope there will be another soon.
VHF- NFD Lockdown Contest:
70cm SSB: 9
2m SSB: 7
TOTAL (Contest): 16
80m SSB: 4
40m CW: 3
Total (SOTA): 7
Overall Total: 23
One 5Ah Turnigy Li-Po, part used to 11.5 VOC
Ascent/ Distance (round trip):
217m (712ft)/ distance 5.5km (3.4 miles up & down) plus 2 x 140m (to/ from QTH position).
Up: 41min. Down: 43min. Summit time: 6hr-12min.
Drive to Start: 06:00 to 08:05 (via Thirsk, Ripon, Pateley Br. Grassington, Kettlewell)
Walking from SD 9861 7567: 08:30
Arr. Trig Point: 09:11
Left QTH: 15:23
Arr. Car: 16:06
Drive home: 16:15 to 18:25 (reversal of above route)
Distance driven: 168 miles.
Total driving time: 4hr-15min
Thanks to all SOTA chasers and VHF-NFD contest stations. Thanks also to spotters G0UUU, G4WSB and M1EYP. Spotting was made more important due to a complete lack of phone reliability this year. It was almost 100% last year. Thanks also to Phil G0UUU/P for our sked and for submitting my NFD check-logs.
73, John G4YSS
(Using Scarborough Special Events Group callsign; GX0OOO/P)
Above: Start point near the cattle grid on the road down Park Rash
Above: Potential vandals
Above: Western slope of NP8. No low-cloud.
Above: Stile ahead after which the wind became ferocious
Above: Final approach to the summit G/NP-008
Above: These rocks were were central to ‘Plan-B’ had it proved impossible to erect some shelter.
Above: Looking SW from the large summit cairn on NP8
Above: Viper-1 ridge flysheet and 7-ely 70cm beam. G/NP-008 VHF-NFD
Above: Viper-1 ridge flysheet and link dipole for 80m. G/NP-008
Above: Home from home. G/NP-008 VHF-NFD
Above: 3-ely/ 2m beam on 3m mast yielding to the wind. G/NP-008 VHF-NFD
Above: Lunch on G/NP-008 VHF-NFD 2020
Above: Activation of Gt.Whernside on 23-10-96. Sons Andy with bike and Phil G0UUU. Teeka - a neighbour’s black Labrador. Photo by G4YSS
Above: SOTA on 23-October 1996. Activation of Gt.Whernside on 70.425MHz FM. Copper tape Slim Jim on 7m mast. Yaesu FTC740A 40 Watt mobile rig/ 9Ah SLAB. Op Phil G0UUU/P and brother Andy in yellow. QSO’s: G3FNQ;G1RNH;G4LDE;G3SHU;G6GSV;M0ABK