G4YSS Activation Report for G/NP16, NP31, NP17 on 13-03-17
Issue-2: Note added on ‘Strange Sound’ NP17, 3.557-CW section.
G/NP-016 /4 DODD FELL
G/NP-031 /4 BIRKS FELL
G/NP-017/ 4 FOUNTAINS FELL
(Final Winter Bonus)
NP16: 160-80m CW/ SSB QRO
NP31: 2m-FM QRO
NP17: 20-80-160m CW/ SSB QRO
All times UTC
Sun times: 06:28 and 18:09
G4YSS - Unaccompanied
NP16 & NP17:
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver
MX-P50M HF (80 thru 10) 50 Watt linear amplifier with 160m capability
Adjustable link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-20 with loading coils for 160m
5m home-brew CFC mast with 1m end sticks
Moonraker MT270M, 2m/ 70cm, 25 Watt FM miniature mobile rig (400gm).
Reserve (All three summits):
Baofeng UV-5R, 2-Band, 5W V-UHF H/H (200gm) (Not used)
BATTERIES (11.1V Li-Po):
NP16: One 5 Ah
NP31: One 6 Ah
NP17: One 5 Ah plus one 6 Ah
Packweight (HF): 9.3kg (20.5 pounds) inc. 250ml water & small black umbrella
Garmin Geko 301 GPS
Hitachi MP3 Player
Go Outdoors lightweight windbreak (420gm - NP3 only)
This was my final SOTA day of winter bonus 2016-17 out and followed the same formula. The eventual aim is to qualify 1000 points on Top Band. Unfortunately I have almost run out of handy 6 pointers and there is currently too much snow on Helvellyn to do the traditional 44 point round. I had to be satisfied with three 4 pointers which happened to be still free.
I left Scarborough at 04:00, driving 84 miles via the A170, A684 and arriving at the start point at 06:15. It helped that two of the three gates down the Cam Houses road were open and to save further time, as in previous years, I drove a few hundred metres up the Pennine Way.
The walk was started in full daylight at 06:34 and I followed the standard route described once again below:
At Kidhow Gate is at SD 8298 8339 but the parking place is up the Pennine way at SD 8305 8370. You could get further but it’s not worth the trouble. A minor path leaves the track at SD 8339 8434 but it is not obvious and easily lost, though there is a sizeable cairn on the other side of the beck. From there it’s steeply up via SD 8344 8435, crossing the beck at SD 8352 8432 and following a boggy track via SD 8364 8434, SD 8376 8439, SD 8386 8443 and SD 8397 8453 to the ‘moated’ trig.
NP-016: DODD FELL HILL, 668m, 4 pts, 06:54 to 08:37, 6 Deg.C. 15 mph wind. Sunshine until 8am then low-cloud and drizzle. No lying snow. (The EE phone signal, available in 2015 was absent again today.) LOC: IO84VG, WAB: SD88. Trig Point TP-2795.
Dodd Fell was the only target of the day without a wall which is why I wanted to get it over with. The forecast had been good and at first I though it was coming to fruition with bright sunshine. However, that didn’t last long; it was soon replaced initially by overcast, then by clag. Eventually a disappointing and all pervading drizzle effectively lowered the spirits and left me feeling soaked and cynical by the end of the activation.
1.832 CW - 2 QSO’s:
I was up and running 30 minutes earlier than the alerted time of 07:45 but that’s too great a time discrepancy to work chasers. Nonetheless, I managed to interrupt Mark’s pre-work shower at 07:24. The exchange with G0VOF was a pleasing 589/ 579 and a spot soon followed.
By 07:28 I had exchanged with G4SSH also but it was marginal and Roy came back to make sure of the QSO at 07:31 (559/ 229). Despite a dozen or more CQ’s in CW between 07:32 and 07:50; these were interspersed with SSB on 1.843, there were no further takers. It had simply got too light. Power was 50 Watts to the (in this case) neatly deployed dipole. I thought I might hear G4OBK but Phil came in later on 80m.
1.843 SSB - 3 QSO’s:
First in was Nick G8VNW in nearly Threshfield but there must have been some screening as the half expected 59 both ways ended up as 58/ 37. After Nick I reworked Mark G0VOF (58/ 57) and sent him off to his salt mine. Finally Dave G4IAR called in from Loughborough with a 51/ 33 exchange. Phew, just made it - the desired four separate stations were safely in the 160m log. Considering the time of day compared to sunrise and the fact it is now March, I wasn’t expecting to qualify 160m, so this was a bonus, Dave being best ‘DX.’ 50 Watts was the output again.
3.557 CW - 4 QSO’s:
80m band conditions may or may not have been good but there were certainly few chasers about. that was hardly surprising at 8am on a Monday morning. Stations worked with 50 Watts: G4SSH Roy; G4OBK Phil; G4WSB Bill and G0EVV Dave. Incoming reports were between 579 and 599 apart from Roy ‘449.’
3.724 SSB - 5 QSO’s:
From 08:10 five stations were logged: G8VNW Nick; G0RQL Don; G0VWP Terry; G0BPU Mike and MM0XPZ Steve. All ten reports were in the range 57 to 59 so the band must have been good. Power for the 10 minute SSB session was 50 Watts.
By the end I was sitting in drizzly low-cloud and everything rapidly became soaked including the rig and linear which I had left sitting on top of the rucksack in the sure knowledge that ‘Rain was extremely unlikely’ or a similar phrase. I plugged the phones into the DAB radio for the descent and actually picked up the Scarborough based ‘Coast and County Radio’ for a short while but that soon dropped out away from the summit proper.
Startled by the sudden movement of mice on two occasions, the walk down NP16 took 19 minutes to 08:56, followed by an unloading of the pack. The next 20 miles of car heater were used to dry everything out in readiness for NP31 but enthusiasm was low.
The mice that live in these hills are bigger and lighter coloured than the ones that can be found in my garage. I am told that they don’t hibernate but what I do know about them first hand (or in my case - left hand) is that they have a vicious bite.
Drive to NP31 (09:03 to 09:57 - 21 miles):
Fog and drizzle characterised the drive round to Litton after which I waited another 20 minutes before the drizzle got lighter. I had time to spare, being by now over 1 hour ahead of the schedule, which did admittedly embody some built-in slack.
The parking place is beside the road in Litton, at SD 9070 7409. The route is via a well used Bridle Path. Bear left past the Queens Arms and onto the bridleway, which passes through a farm yard with cows and sheep in sheds both sides. At SD 9093 7411, leave the concrete farm road and go straight on (not left) through Gate-1. Going downhill on grass (losing about 7m) pass between walls to a footbridge or a ford (take your choice) at SD 9114 7409 then up to Gate-2 at SD 91289 74064. Gate-3 is at SD 91455 73966. Continue to follow the path where it bends sharply left at SD 91707 73888. The next point is Gate-4 at SD 92041 74383. Gate-5 is set in the spine wall at SD 92450 74920 and it’s also well within the 25m zone along with the trig point.
The walk up with the rucksack repacked for VHF and umbrella deployed, took from 10:27 to 11:16. Just after the start, I stopped to talk to a local farmer who reinforced my view that the poor weather had not been forecast.
G/NP-031: BIRKS FELL (Firth Fell Trig Point), 610m, 4Pts, 11:16 to 12:30. 5C. 10 mph wind. Low-cloud and drizzle. No lying snow. Almost no EE mobile phone coverage today. LOC: IO84WE, WAB: SD97. Trig: TP3179 - ‘Firth Fell’ - GPS’d at SD 92597 74838 (G4YSS).
145.575/ 145.400 FM - 10 QSO’s:
With power set to 25 Watts on the Moonraker MT270M, I answered a CQ from G1JCW on S20. After QSY’ing up three channels, Tony introduced himself and gave me 57. We had a conversation about SOTA summits that he’d done in the past, even activating Blencathra and Skiddaw on the same circular walk. Tony was using a 5-element Cushcraft beam. At the end of this QSO Art G4MYU called in which made me realise that I needed to be away to the alerted frequency if 145.400.
This is a 2m-FM station log extract: G1JCW Tony in Burnley; G4MYU Art near Nelson; G8VNW Nick in Wharfedale; M3RDZ Roy in Burnley; G6LKB Dave at Ulverston; G4BLH/M Mike; G4TJC/P and M6HMK/P Simon & Helen S2S on G/SP-002; G4MKT Barry at Rossendale at 900 ft ASL using two J-fed half-waves. Just as I was about to pull the plug, G4WHA/M Geoff called in (56/ 51). Signals were good or very good but once again I was troubled by appalling noise brought in by the MT270 receiver which seems poor on selectivity, it’s saving grace being the power/ weight ratio and low cost. The session took a leisurely 40 minutes.
Both mobile ops appear to have made special arrangements to chase NP31. Mike has no home station yet, having just moved QTH and I would guess that Geoff can’t copy NP31 from the shop in Penrith. Mike asked if I would be doing VHF from NP17 later on but I replied that I would be concentrating on the 80 and 160m bands. He had a mobile whip for 80m but that was stuck on 3.760 MHz (WAB) and I had alerted for 3.724. I made a mental note to try 3.760 but here began a comedy of errors which will be described later.
Descent of NP31:
Before leaving I managed to send off two short texts to G4SSH and my XYL, a fleeting phone signal being my first chance of the day. Out of the fog and on his ascent, I met my only walker of the day; a man on his way to Birks Fell, Halton Gill and then Fountains Fell. I thought we might meet again later but no. On the other hand it was foggy a lot of the time.
In slightly brighter conditions and no drizzle, I made it back to the car at 13:06 but I was well down before dropping out of cloud. Just before the beck crossing, a dog appeared followed by a young woman who I found out ran the Park Bottom B&B in Litton. We talked dogs. I was missing the one I walk on a daily basis but Sasha wouldn’t have liked the weather endured thus far.
Drive to NP17 (13:15 to 13:27 - 6 miles):
As always, I parked just to the south of Blishmire cattle grid (SD 8531 7233). The verge on the north side was chewed up by vehicle tracks and mole hills. Ahead of schedule again, I spent time putting a clamp on the heater hose in the hope of throttling the car heater somewhat. Driving with the windows open makes it difficult to hear the radio. I fitted a new control valve a few weeks ago but it must have been a duffer.
Top Band needs to be as close to darkness as is practical, so there was little point in climbing NP17 early. There was also the rucksack equipment swap to do. HF for VHF and nothing forgotten please! After more food and drink, I set off at 14:00; still over an hour ahead of the time on the instruction sheet. With quick activations of the others, I could have fitted in Pen-y-Ghent if I hadn’t already done it over New Year.
Route to NP17:
At SD 8531 7233, the Pennine Way leaves the road heading SE. Leave the PW where it turns left and go straight up with the wall on the right, still going southeast. Eventually a level platform precedes the
final push up the really steep part, which was slippery today. This 80m long section is at an angle of just over 30 degrees. The top lip of this slope is the end of all serious climbing and you can set up beside the wall or go further to climb another wall accessing the summit cairn. There is no trig point.
G/NP-017: FOUNTAINS FELL, 668m, 4pts, 14:29 to 18:09. 6 Deg.C. 20 to 25 mph W/ SW wind. A little blue sky and sunshine then overcast with low cloud. No lying snow. LOC: IO84VD, WAB: SD87. No Trig. (Unreliable EE phone signal.)
Almost every time the dry stone wall provides a good wind break. I set up between the wall and a large hole in the ground. The ground is slightly raised in this general area which makes it drier, albeit surrounded by soggy grass and standing water. I camped there in 2004 to be one half of the first 160m S2S.
With still further time to squander, I came up with a scheme to put on 20m first. For the purpose two batteries had been transported up. With a total of 11 Ah available, there was never any need to reduce RF power below 50 Watts despite knowing I’d be there for several hours.
Inserting 20m would bring 80m and more importantly 160m back into line with the schedule. The trouble was, with no phone signal at valley or summit, how could I get the word out. Luckily G4SSH had now returned from his lunch invitation and would be monitoring 3.557 CW. Roy came straight back to my call. The 20m frequencies were quickly passed over for spotting so I changed the dipole links then waited a few minutes for the spot to ‘take.’
14.052.6 CW - 7 QSO’s:
When I used the word ‘squandered’ earlier, that is of course far from the truth. Important QSO’s were made on 20m. In fact all QSO’s are important to the individual who is making them and this gave a chance for DX chasers to bag Fountains Fell possibly for their first time. I didn’t realize until later but the signal was going over the heads of many would-be chasers, even in the more distant parts of Europe. This was not the case last time I used 20m. Europe and the USA seemed to have equal chances.
One CQ call was all it took to receive a reply from NE4TN Walter in Tennessee and we exchanged with 559/ 449. Next in were CT1GZB Jose in Lisbon (599/ 559) and wonder of wonders, Colorado in the form of Larry K0RS (559 both ways). If I’d realized at the time what ‘CO’ meant, I’d have told Larry that I’d been to his state to work for the USAF at the Colorado Springs Academy in 1999. Ironically I took my IC706-2G then but never managed to work anybody back home for the entire three weeks. Now, suddenly I have a station calling me from this beautiful state and while I’m on a summit!
The other five stations were: CK4MF (589/ 559); W4HBK William in Gulf Breeze, Florida (559/ 329); HA5TI Pista in Budapest (599/ 579) and finally OH9XX Marko (599/ 579) up near the Arctic Circle. Power was 50 Watts to the inverted vee at 5m centre and 1.5m ends, tied off head-high to the dry-stone wall. The mast was bucking around in the strong wind.
14.270, 14.265, 14.277 SSB - Nil:
The band was quite busy and 14.265 was occupied most of the time before and after QSY from CW. However, using 50 Watts I did try calling on the other two frequencies listed above from 15:30 to 15:45 without result. Roy had spotted 14.265 for me but apart from one minute, I could not get on there.
3.557 CW - 8 QSO’s:
Starting at 16:00, the following stations were worked: G4SSH (589/ 559 - actually worked prior to the 20m session at 14:50 for procedural purposes); G4WSB Bill; G0ANV Daryl; G0BPU Mike; PA0B Rob; G4TJC Simon; G4FGJ Gordon and GI4ONL Victor who was newly returned from Gran Canaria SOTA’s, complete with cuts and grazes.
Reports were mostly 599; the least being from Rob who gave me 449. Roy gave me 339 with 5 Watts and 559 with 50W. (I like to test the amp from time to time.) This session spanned 11 minutes and the power was 50 Watts.
I heard a strange sound at the end (16:15) and it had the timing of someone trying to call in. However, though it sounded slightly like chirpy CW, nothing intelligible could be gleaned from this signal and sadly I had to admit defeat in the end.
((NOTE: I later discovered via a phone call that the strange sound mentioned above was Mike G4BLH trying to call me in CW using his mobile whip on 3.557 MHz when it was tuned to the SSB part of the band. Mike came to the conclusion that the ALC (and/ or VSWR shutdown circuitry?) was allowing a few milliseconds of RF through each time a dot or dash was sent, before shutting down the rig’s output. It was a mystery at the time but now we have the solution!))
3.760 & 3.724 SSB - 36 QSO’s:
The alerted frequency was the usual 3.724 but when I worked him from NP31, Mike G4BLH had told me that his mobile whip could only cover 3.760 (WAB). With Mike in mind, I checked the frequency carefully before and after sending a CW message to Roy about the change to 3.760 so that it could be posted. I was hoping Mike G4BLH would see this and be pleased. I think he saw it but he was far from pleased! See below.
Continuing with 50 Watts, a major pileup developed: G4PDF Bob; MM0XPZ Steve; G0UUU/M Phil; G8VNW Nick; G4IAR Dave; G0RQL Don; G8ADD Brian; PA0SKP Sake; G0GWY Geoff; M0JLA Rod; MI1AIB Paul; GW0PLP Don; G4WHA/A Geoff; G0TDM John; G0VWP Terry; G0NES Don; G4RQJ Rob; G4LTH John (QRP); G3TPP Barrie; G0FVH David; G3VCG Don; G4RUW Roger; EI3GYB Michael; G1BLJ Steve; G0DTX John; GW4BVJ Richard; G0GWK John; G3XKT Tony; M0MDA Mick; GI4ONL Victor; G6RGA John and 2E0OOO Roy (G4SSH). While working Roy the rig cut off due to under-voltage and the 5Ah Li-Po was swapped for a 6Ah.
About half way through the session, Don G0RQL called in to QSP a message from G4BLH. ‘No need to explain much Don, I can guess!’ Poor Mike had spent half the afternoon QSY’ing his mobile whip from 3.760 to 3.724 in order to work me and here I was on 3.760 - a place his antenna could no longer reach. We had both gone in opposite directions and never the twain could meet. A comedy of errors.
I promised to QSY ASAP but the pileup was substantial. When I did finally get onto 3.724 Mike had been called away but I did work him shortly afterwards. While waiting I worked: G0VOF (Mark home from work); 2E0LMR Gaz; G4OBK Phil and at last G4BLH/M - Mike!! I explained that I should have mentioned my plan on 2m earlier but we had a laugh about it. That said, you can never guarantee that 3.760 will be free. In fact I found out while working my son Phil G0UUU/M that he had been using 3.760 for much of the day and had put on 26 WAB squares! This thoroughly tested one of two 80m mobile whip’s that we’d knocked up last week using our own design. (See ‘Observations’ section).
I won’t be detailing reports for this many QSO’s. Suffice to say that there was little delay in exchanging good or excellent reports and that despite a slowing down near the end, the 36 QSO session was logged in 52 minutes. Many were after the SOTA points with others wanting to collect WAB SD87. Pity there was no trig point.
1.832 CW - 5 QSO’s from 17:23:
Using 50 Watts, I first called Mark G0VOF (589 both ways) followed by Rob G4RQJ (579/ 329). Roy G4SSH was better than in the morning session at 559 to me. I got 339 back at 17:27 but that had improved to 559 by 17:43.
Some time went by before the next caller and this was G4OBK - Phil. He was a strong signal to me but was having trouble hearing due to QSB and noise, which I’m told travels in waves across the band. Try as I may I could not get a report to Phil but after much perseverance on his part and many RST’s from me, he sent ‘QSL 589 - 73…’ Music to the ears and for good measure, Roy added ‘FB.’ After all Phil has done to help make Top Band SOTA more popular, it would have been a big disappointment if he’d failed.
At this stage I went away to check the SSB frequency and finding it was busy, looked for an alternative in readiness for the forthcoming QSY. After returning to CW a final CQ brought in G0BPU Mike, QTH Ipswich. The exchange was an easy 589/ 559.
1.843/ 1.846 SSB - 4 QSO’s from 17:44:
Mark G0VOF reworked me in SSB with 58/ 57 and we had a brief chat about the day’s happenings. At the end the strong French station returned to the frequency so with the help of Mark we announced a QSY to 1.846 MHz which was clear. Nick G8VNW called in from Threshfield with 59 both ways explaining that 160m from NP17 was far better than his experiences on 2m when chasing the same summit. Looking at the map afterwards, I did note that there are two high points of more than 500m, which might well get in the way.
G4IAR (Loughborough) joined us at 17:46 with 55/ 44 and Dave was followed by Terry in York G0VWP, also 55/ 44. Terry turned out to be the final caller. After a few more CQ’s in the hope that Brian G8ADD might hear, the station was closed at 17:52 by which time the light was fading.
The WALK OFF NP17:
This was not without its drama and I needed to walk with a stick for the next day or two. When ascending NP17, I slipped on the slimy grass of the final steep section. It was nothing; I suffered only a wet sleeve but I did make a mental note to leave the antenna mast sections off the rucksack and use them to steady me on this section when the time came to go down. In my haste to get off quickly and knowing I would already be late home, I forgot about it.
A quarter of the way down this 30 degree slope I really went for a Burton. My left foot lost grip on the slimy grass and somehow I fell with most of my body weight on the right foot, which twisted under me. A sharp pain ensued and at first I thought it was really serious. At the same time the umbrella flew off the back of the rucksack and bizarrely ended up in my hand. My right ankle was sprained and painful but with the help of the brolly I got back to the road OK at 18:33 and without the need for a head-torch.
Under certain climatic conditions grass can become slimy. I saw it at its worst in the Lake District above Haweswater 30 years ago. There was an even covering of a gloop resembling wallpaper paste and you could barely stand on it. Today wasn’t half as bad as that but despite recognizing the condition on the way up, I still fell for it on the descent.
The DRIVE HOME:
The 96-mile journey via Settle, Skipton, Harrogate & York took from 18:42 to 21:05 (2hrs-23min).