G4YSS: Activation of GM/NS-020 on 14-09-14.
Report 7 of 7 in 2014 G4YSS GM/NS series. Draft-1
BEN HOPE - GM/NS-020 - 6 points.
GM4YSS/P and SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P.
HF QRO/ VHF QRP; 74 QSO’s on 160m; 40m; 30m and 2m-FM.
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS as
Seventh & Final SOTA in the series of GM/NS-114; NS-101; NS-074; NS-014; NS-111; NS-037 & NS-020 during 10 night stay in the Dornoch Hotel 5th to 15th September 2014. (See other reports).
GENERAL DATA for this series of activations:
7 SOTA’s each on 7 separate days including:
All-time new SOTA’s: 4
Total Ascent: 4,560m (14,960ft).
Total Distance Walked: 82km (51 miles).
Total Activator Points: 24.
Total QSO’s: 512.
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver.
SainSonic MX-P50A, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier (designed for FT817).
Link dipole for 80m thru 20m on a 5m CFC mast with 1m end sticks.
Home-Brew tunable loading coils for 160m.
6 Ah Li-Po battery (no reserve).
Vertical J-Pole for 2m FM.
Reserve 2m-FM/ PMR rig: Vero VGC UV-X4; 2W VHFM/ UHFM, 130gm H/H (Like UV-3R).
QRO pack: 9.6kg (21.2 pounds) including food, light pullover & 1 litre drinks.
This expedition was the seventh and last during a 10-night self-drive/ 7-SOTA holiday at the Dornoch Hotel from 5th to 15th of September 2014. SOTA`s worked in chronological order and separately reported were as follows: GM/NS-114 Meall Dheirgidh; NS-101 Carn Garbh; NS-074 Beinn Tharsuinn; NS-014 Ben Klibreck; NS-111 Maovally; NS-037 Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill & NS-020 Ben Hope.
Ben Hope GM/NS-020:
This activation differed in one major way from the other six. All six were new to me but I had activated NS20 before on 15th February 2005 but then it had almost got the better of me.
Here is an (understated) extract from my report of February 2005:
…The trig point and shelter on Ben Hope directly overlook its eastern side, which drops 400m at 40 degrees, to a lochan below. What ensued was down to bad planning and negligence on my part.
I assembled the 5m mast and put it down on the ‘flat’ surface. It rapidly accelerated towards the edge. Now comes the really silly bit. I chased after it! No mast, no activation. It took me milliseconds to realise that this had been a big mistake. It slid, point first out of reach, with me close behind, on my back and well out of control. I tried finger-nails to no avail, then hit the surface hard with my boot heel. No impression, solid white-ice! Going faster now and steeper over the convex slope; kicked hard again. This time I was able to make a minimal dent and came to a stop. Half a second later the mast, still travelling point first, impaled itself further down in a small ridge of frozen snow and stuck fast. Kicked a few more tiny footholds, reached the mast’s top end and gently ‘wheedled’ it out.
Regaining the summit was done by stabbing the surface with a carbon dipole end-support, which I had held on to throughout. I was indeed fortunate to get away with only a gashed thumb and a friction (or frost?) burn.
Obvious when I thought about it! The East side took the sun all morning. When the sun moved south, this side re-froze. The south side was in the melting stage at the time I ascended it, so no problem and my trailbreaker friends hadn’t been using crampons. I was lulled into a false sense of security by these and other indications but I hope I will never be this stupid again…
That tells the story and I could so easily have been killed or seriously injured. So, I wanted to go back and ‘get even’ with Ben Hope while it’s defenses were down and make the nightmares stop. Well, not really but I was looking forward to seeing what the summit was like without a couple of feet of snow on it.
ROUTE & EXECUTION - GM/NS-020:
NS37 excepted, I was feeling a bit jaded putting on undistinguished ‘newies’ and longed for another classic after enjoying Ben Klibreck and Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill. Over the years since I climbed Ben Hope in 2005, I never seemed to have time to fit it into the schedule in spite of several visits to the GM/NS region. There was just one day left of our holiday and I decided that it would be devoted to a Munro and to further distinguish it; the most northerly one.
I had a route for NS20 which I marked on the ground in 2005 but that was done in the depths of winter and I was walking on or through deep snow and ice with no visible path. Today, I was hoping to properly bottom the route for my collection. As Munros go, Ben Hope is very accessible with a walk of less than 4km each way, as well as being well visited. On the minus side, starting at 10m ASL does force you to climb the whole mountain. No help there then.
Despite the Dornoch Hotel’s breakfast time being half an hour later at the weekends (8am to 9:30am), I managed to get away at 08:25 on this Sunday morning. The drive was via Altnaharra where I encountered a large number of bicycles and their riders. I stopped to ask what it was all about and received the reply ‘It’s the RAB - (Ride Across Britain.)’ Just beyond our respective routes diverged and I had the narrow Strath More road to myself, arriving at the start point Muiseal (NC 4620 4763) by 09:40. A short way past the parking place there was a diversion, taking traffic no more than 20m to the right. It looked like the bridge over the Allt a’ Muiseal burn was being repaired or replaced? I could see a couple of people ascending a few hundred metres up the Ben Hope path and using sticks.
It took me a while to get myself sorted but eventually I was underway with the lightest pack I dared use for a Munro. The time was 09:52. From a sign beside the road which has been repainted since I was last there and states: ‘WAY UP BEN HOPE’ I followed the muddy path towards the burn crossing and NC 46610 48122; NC 46694 48256; NC 46852 48261 to NC 46959 48106 at 330m ASL, which was the snowline in 2005.
From there it’s onward and upward via NC 47144 48370 (frogs in evidence); bear right at NC 47205 48655; NC 47372 48682, passing cairns at NC 47428 48839 and NC 47372 48979. This is where I started to encounter rock-hard frozen snow in 2005. Continuing NNE on an easy to follow path via NC 47417 49235, there were more cairns at NC 47508 49592 and NC 47523 49641 which is where I met low-cloud today.
I had no fleece with me which meant my warm hat wasn’t accessible. I used a sun hat with the rim pulled over my right ear to keep out the strong easterly wind before passing NC 47578 49802 and the final cairn at NC 47645 50008. The sight of the summit shelter looming out of the mist was most unexpected and I arrived there with camera in hand, at 11:12 after 80 minutes walking. The young couple sitting in the shelter looked startled at first then smiled for the photo. The other couple, seen just before I started, arrived after 45 minutes. The first half of the climb seemed the harder. Once onto the summit ridge, it became easier.
BEN HOPE - GM/NS-020, 927m, 6 pts, 11:12 to 16:00. Temp 10 deg C. Wind 25 mph. Entered Low-Cloud at 800m ASL; patchy after 1hr; lifted after 2hr then hazy sun/ overcast. EE (Orange) Mobile phone coverage on upper parts of mountain. A sizeable plastic container was wedged in the rocks. LOC: IO78QJ, WAB: NC45.
I now had to find a place to operate but there were complications. With a strong wind blowing from the east and cloud scudding across the surface, I really needed to be a little down the west side. In this case it was out of the question because that would screen VHF signals from Ray in Nairn for the all important Top Band sked at the end. Normally I could choose to do the HF out of the way in a sheltered spot then relocate to the summit for VHF. In this case I would need VHF and 160m comms simultaneously and that could only be done at or near the summit, which today was windswept.
This was a Sunday and I expected a mountain this well known to attract other walkers and Munro baggers, so it would be unfair to monopolize their only shelter for hours on end. I looked for a rock, a cairn or a dip in the ground but there was nothing worth mentioning so I had little choice but to deploy just outside the shelter on the lee side. I set up 2 metres from the shelter’s west wall with the mast about 6m further down-wind and the coax guyed back to my rucksack. That left the shelter and its lee side usable by others. As I was setting the dipole ends, I noticed a burnt patch of ground a metre and a half around, including blackened rocks and fragments of charred timber which obviously once belonged to wooden pallets.
Donning my extra clothing; just a thin pullover and the warm hat, I made a start. All week the WAB collectors had come to find me down the band in order to bag the square so I thought of making it easier for them on my last day. There was a net running on 7.160 MHz so I called ‘Portable.’
7.160 SSB - 15 (WAB) QSO`s:
Mark G1PIE was in control of the net today. He ran me down the list without delay with 14 WAB collectors taking NC45 plus Walt in Leeds collecting the SOTA at the end. Stations worked were all familiar to me from the WAB mobile and portable squares that I had been doing in my spare time through the week.
This was the net list: G1PIE; G0FEX; G4CQR; 2M0KVM; MM3PDM; G0GWY; G0AGH; EI2KD (EI7GAB); M6HPL; G7WAB/A (G4JZF); G1BLJ; M0GDJ; G0ABY; G4NUK and SOTA chaser Walt G6XBF. Walt sounded perplexed to suddenly come across me on the WAB net unannounced. The power was 30 Watts with incoming reports mostly in the range 56 to 59. Given time I could have done NC44 on the way down.
In case there were others listening I made it clear that I would be returning to 40m SSB for SOTA chasers following a stint on 7.033 CW. This was echoed by controller Mark who thanked me for this northerly WAB square. Unknown to me until days later, WAB chaser EI2KD posted this info on SOTAwatch for me. I didn’t immediately realise because he used his other callsign – EI7GAB. Thanks Rod!
7.033/ 7.033.5 CW - 15 QSO`s:
I toyed with the idea of phoning G4SSH for a spot but deemed it unnecessary. Roy would be listening to all frequencies between 7.031 and 7.034 so I called him. That’s strange! I tried again - surely he must hear me after the WAB net gave me such good reports on this band. Nil from Roy but Frid DL1FU did pick up my signal to start off the session.
At first, trade was sluggish and I did phone Roy when I deemed it necessary to slide up the band a little to dodge QRM. Apparently he had been away from the shack for a rare moment, in order to bring his lunch tray from downstairs. Countries worked with 50 Watts were: DL; OK; EI; G (7 QSO’s) and ON. I received four 599 reports. The rest were in the range 549 to 579 with a 449 from DK7ZH and the session took 35 minutes due to a sluggish start.
7.136.5 SSB - 11 QSO`s:
As promised, a return to 40-SSB for SOTA brought in a further eleven ops in 16 minutes with most reports ranging from 55 up to 59 plus 20dB. The latter was from Ken GM0AXY in Edinburgh. I got a ‘32’ RS from M1CNL but he’s in the log OK. I continued with 50 Watts. All stations were UK based apart from Frank DL2EF (57/ 55).
About 1pm, just after finishing on 40m a lady walker appeared with the questions, ‘Are you a Radio Amateur?’ ‘Have you carried all this equipment up here?’ She went on to tell me about her late father Bob Russell who’d had the callsign G3HUJ. She was enthusiastic and asked further questions about the operation. I explained SOTA as best I could and I think she told me her name was Della Russell. (My scribble in the log is indistinct).
She was very keen to learn my callsign and name, which I wrote on the corner of the log and tore off. Before she departed, I took her photo which turned out to be one of the best of the day against what was now a blue sky; the low cloud having completely cleared from the summit, though it still lingered below. I must say that this kind of meeting I find encouraging; her enthusiasm outweighed my own.
10.118 CW – 14 QSO`s:
John - G4WSX in Chichester (59/ 59) was first to respond to 50 Watts into the offset dipole, with a further 13 contacts following in reasonable band conditions. After John (the sole UK station on 30m) came the following countries in 22 minutes: G; OK; SP; PA; HB9; OM; OE; DL and F. Incoming reports from Europe were mostly 559 with a few up to 589. I gave out more 579’s than anything else.
14.265/ 14.277 SSB - 15 QSO’s:
Exercise for stiff legs was very welcome and provided by a visit to the dipole to pull the 20m band links. I think I must have phoned Roy at some stage because the intended frequency of 14.265 was once again in use. In future I think I will have to abandon 14.265, which is an old WAB frequency that I used donkey’s years ago. That said, I listened again to the CQ’s there before realising that the station on 14.265 was actually a SOTA. I called in and we were both rewarded with an S2S. Egon - HB9T/P was on HB9/BE-142. We had a nice but brief chat and said our 73’s at which point I moved off to 14.277 which G4SSH spotted.
At half an hour the session on 14.277 was slow but it was nice to work varied countries and chasers, who perhaps hadn’t been able to log GM/NS-020 on the other bands and modes. Starting with DL9MG/QRP (53/ 37 to 49 QSB) the following stations were worked: OK3KW; I/MM0BIX/P (53/ 55 to 58 - QRP Ewan on holiday in Alba northern Italy); SQ9PND/9; EO9HRV; DL8DXL; HG7T; F6FTB; DG2FDE; SV2OXS; OE5PSO; SQ7LRB; DB7MM/P - Mike S2S on DM/BM-116 and HB9MKV. 50 Watts were used throughout and incoming reports were mainly around 57 to 59 but with QSB.
145.575 FM - 3 QSO’s:
With the FT817 and Half-Wave J-Pole stuck in the shelter rocks, I called CQ on S23. Who should come straight back but our World leading SOTA activator Robin GM7PKT/P. This is a SOTA op for whom I have the greatest respect. I know from my little experience that climbing mountains any time of the year in Scotland can be exceedingly demanding to say nothing of activating mainly on VHF, so it was great to have an opportunity for a brief chat with one of the GM SOTA experts.
I was quite high today but Robin beat me for ASL on GM/WS-005 Stob Choire Claurigh; a 1,177m ten pointer east of Ben Nevis. Not only that but Robin had already activated GM/NS-072 in the morning; a hard won total of 16 points. Reports were 59 both ways and I think Robin mentioned that he was using a beam. Long after the low-cloud had lifted at my height, he was still suffering foggy, cold conditions higher up.
Next to call in was an old friend from the beginning of SOTA activating. An Eccleshill lad (Bradford) now moved to the GM/NS region, this was Clive MM1YAM (58/ 58). I recognised his callsign and accent immediately and we had a nice chat for a few minutes after which he abruptly vanished. Apparent this was due a battery which hadn’t been charged for several months.
Clive, who’s QTH is 1m SE of Lairg, has all the wrong kit for a big garden after being forced in the opposite direction in his Bradford days. I mentioned the several ticks that I had picked up in the week and Clive used to suffer the same problem before they fenced the garden against deer and hares. Not a practical solution on the hills of course. The best that can be done is to avoid bracken and long grass etc.
Clive was QRT for a while but called back after I’d worked the next station - Ray GM3PIL. Ray was 59 plus on Ben Hope whilst he gave my 5 Watts a 58 RS. He was all ready for our 160m sked so after a while chatting with him and Clive, off we went to Top Band.
1.843 SSB - 1 QSO:
The 160m coils had been pre-connected at the 40m band break points. Signal reports exchanged to and from Ray GM3PIL in Nairn, which is 102km SE from Ben Hope, were 55/ 31. This was the furthest I ever got from Ray for the four 160m activations and there surely must have been some high ground in between us. My power was 50 Watts; the same for all four summits aired on 160m.
1.832 CW - Nil QSO - (Two Way; Heard Only):
I could hear Ray calling me back and he was coming in at 589. The trouble was that I could only hear about one third of the Morse characters. After a few more attempted exchanges, we returned to 2m-FM where Ray told me that his keyer had suddenly started to misbehave. No matter, I heard him and he heard me. I knew who was sending but I could not get a full callsign or a full RST. Thus it doesn’t count for a QSO. I wasn’t disappointed by this, not really caring what mode I worked 160m on so long as we got a minimum of 1 QSO but I hope Ray traced the problem. In keeping with previous days, there was an obvious discrepancy between CW and SSB signal strengths; the latter being much weaker. I don’t have a valid explanation for this.
Before reluctantly departing, I took a few more photos over the east edge which was almost my nemesis but Ben Loyal was still partly obscured by haze. The plastic container, noticed on arrival which was wedged in the rocks of the shelter, caught my eye again. Inside were scores of dog biscuits each in the shape of small bone. They were dry and in good condition. A note visible through the translucent lid read, ‘For every dog that bags this Munro, have a Biscuit!’ ‘In loving memory of John Hope, who loved all animals.’
In this respect, I can barely help myself to the degree that I wonder if I am slightly unhinged. The rocks on Ben Hope were sparkling in the sun today. They must contain flecks of mica or similar. I couldn’t resist packing few in the rucksack but when I weighed them at home I had seven pounds! As if HF QRO isn’t enough but at least it was just downhill.
Like all the activations this holiday, the descent was a reversal of the ascent. Since there was a good path all the way, the two GPS tracks corresponded even more faithfully. The only thing I stopped for were photos. My camera had failed a few days prior and I was using the spare; an older camera which is painfully slow to initialise. I saw nobody on the way down or on the summit for the last hour and reached the car in 65min at 17:05. The drive back to the Dornoch Hotel, passing Wednesday’s magnificently sun-bathed Ben Klibreck with a hint of a cloud halo, took from 17:10 to 18:28. Time to spare!
ASCENT & DISTANCE - NS20:
926m (3,038ft) ascent / 7.7 km ( 4.8 miles) walked.
(Note: Start point is 11m ASL & there is approx. 5m re-ascent each way.)
Walking times: 1hr-20 min up / 1hr-5 min down. Total: 2hr-25min.
15 on 40m CW
26 on 40m SSB
14 on 30m CW
15 on 20m SSB
1 on 160m SSB
3 on 2m FM
Battery utilisation (tested): 6Ah Li-Po 97% discharged.
I certainly had no regrets about replacing an unactivated summit in the schedule with Ben Hope. It’s hard to express just how much I enjoyed this activation and putting the demons to rest. How different it was today compared with a prettier but potentially sub-zero death trap of February 2007. Just Like NS14 and NS37, I had to tear myself away from the summit.
Several things made this expedition to Ben Hope memorable. It is the most northerly Munro and though sadly it was too hazy for most of the following, there are great views of Ben Loyal, Ben Klibrek, Ben Wyvis, Cranstackie and the Orkney Islands. Even the closest; Ben Loyal was indistinct today.
Though activated on six previous occasions, it was a little under-aired. As Munro’s go, it is relatively quick and easy to climb and I met some friendly people up there including Della Russell; daughter of the late G3HUJ. Thanks to Ray in Nairn, Ben Hope has now been ‘Top Banded.’
Again the QSO count was in the mid 70’s and has actually averaged 73 for the seven summits activated. For the seventh time, 40m worked fantastically well to provide a good number of QSO’s in the UK and Europe; the WAB net helping significantly with the QSO count. 30m and 20m filled in most of the rest but again I had no antenna for the higher bands.
Considering the region, my power and antenna, 2m-FM was reasonably well represented and enjoyed. It was a happy coincidence that Robin, the first SOTA activator to put Ben Hope on the air, was working it from another summit today and good to link up with Clive again. Loz is quite often monitoring S23 also, so thanks to all the 2m-FM stations who monitored and were worked throughout the week.
160m was a little contrived but in GM, that almost the only way forward. Though I worked Andy GM0UDL and Cris GM4FAM near Inverness from a G/LD-004 - Skiddaw on Top Band at noon in June 2008, it is rare for it to propagate that far. Though it appeared on the spots a number of times, I would have been really shocked if I had even heard a caller from England so I can’t thank Ray GM3PIL enough for giving up his time to monitor 2m-FM in advance of 160m our skeds.
The FT817ND and 50 Watt linear amp, purchased for EA8-LP in April, was used on all the GM/NS activations and met the requirements convincingly. I did take steps to decrease the weight of the amp and the combination is lighter than the IC706-2G; however, there are disadvantages: You can’t read antenna VSWR without taking the linear out of the RF path. You can’t have 50 Watts on 2m and 20W on 70cm - the amp only works on HF. Though the volume is arguably less, the combined thickness of the two units exceeds the thickness of the 706 making it slightly less rucksackable. With an FT817, you can never be sure that an external Li-Po battery is not going to be damaged due to over-discharge. The IC706 gives up more easily with low voltages.
There is much more wiring too. There are two power leads each with a miniature circuit breaker (a 2 Amp and a 10 Amp) which must be combined into one battery. An AAC interlinking lead for band switching from 817 to amp and a short coax patch lead linking the two boxes has rather delicate pins on the multipole connector.
If you want to take only the FT817 on the odd day, all this has to be separated then reconnected afterwards, so you tend to stick with 50 Watts - no bad thing for the chasers but more weight for the activator. One grouse about the 817 is that the phones socket is in the side not the front because there isn’t space for it there.
One advantage besides weight seems to be power consumption. A 6Ah Li-Po covered each day’s activation with 70 plus QSO’s at 50 Watts RF out (occasionally 30W). Taking 50 Watts this time didn’t create a weight penalty apart from on the first day, because the WX was benign requiring less in the way of food and extra clothing. In extreme conditions and/ or multi-summit expeditions a line is crossed which precludes QRO altogether.
The failure to reach the main target Ben Armine, due to deer stalking was something of a disa4ppointment. Though their first activations certainly lent a sense of achievement, the 2-pointers were eclipsed by Munros Ben Klibreck, Ben Hope and the ‘new’ 4-pointer Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill - NS37.
The ‘Tick’ situation, two weeks after coming home? Six out - one (at least) still in. This year has been much worse than any previous year but at least there were no midges- only Keds?
ALL STATIONS worked. Thanks to G4SSH; G0VOF and EI7GAB (EI2KD) for spots and to Roy G4SSH for liaison via phone on this and the other six summits in 8 days - a heavy workload! Thanks to Ray GM3PIL in Nairn for providing a 160m station to work on this and three other summits. Also I can’t finish without mention of Shearings Dornoch Hotel where we have stayed four times now in 2005; 2007; 2013 & 2014 - thanks to Jozef; Anett and all staff. Thanks to my XYL for unrestricted use of her car.
73, John G4YSS
Using GM4YSS/P (database) & Scarborough Special Events Group Club call - GS0OOO/P.
Previous Reports: GM/NS-114; GM/NS-101; GM/NS-074; GM/NS-014; GM/NS-111; GM/NS-037.
This is the final report thank goodness!
Ben Hope Photos 14-09-14; No’s:
7-‘Way Up Ben Hope.’
39-Della daughter of the late G3HUJ.
70-Trig & Dipole.
87-Hazy East Face View of Ben Loyal
97-Burnt Area - Charred Pallet Wood.
101-Biscuits for Mountain Mutts.
130-Back at Muiseal.
Ben Hope Photo 10-Feb-2005
57-Trig, Dipole & Ben Loyal.
10th February 2005 GM/NS-012 Activation and Ben Loyal