G4YSS Activation Report, GM/NS-061, 09-05-19
Issue-3 - Spell Checked
MEALL DOIRE FAID, GM/NS-061
G(M)4YSS/P using SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P
HF QRO on 80m-40m-30m-20m & 2m-FM QRP
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr UOS)
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver
MX-P50M, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier (80 thru’ 10 with 160m capability)
Link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-20m on a 5m CFC mast with 1m end-sticks
Loading coils for 160m (LOST! Accidentally left on Ben Wyvis on 6th May at NH 46322 68359)
One 11.1 V (nom), 5 Ah Li-Po battery 99% discharged
J-Pole for 2m FM
UV-5R 2m/ 70cm 5W Handie (not used)
UV-3R 2m/ 70cm 2W Handie (carried in top pocket)
QRO pack: 10kg (22 pounds) including food, Primaloft jacket, brolly and 0.75 litre drinks
This was the second activation of our May 2019 ten-day self-drive holiday based at Shearing’s Highland Hotel, Strathpeffer. The day before this it rained for hours and it’s been cold all week so far. Today was a little warmer with lower wind speeds and a respectable amount of sunshine. Just to remind us we were in Scotland, there were snow showers.
Ben Wyvis had been the target on the 6th May but that hadn’t gone particularly well. Band conditions and the weather were the main reasons for that but the loss of my precious Top Band loading coils when they were drifted over with hail stones upset me somewhat.
Why this hill? No idea but after going to three and a half thousand feet three days prior, I was looking for something below the snow-line. The SOTA mapping project was used to spot NS61, a hill next to the main A835. I had a vague idea of it’s existence from my studies of the NS25 (Enaiglair) route 14 years ago.
NS61 didn’t seem a particularly attractive proposition but when I dug a bit deeper into it’s history that all changed. The summit had only been activated four times with a total of 54 QSO’s to it’s credit which likely meant that it would be sought after by many. Previous activators were MM0DHY; GM0UDL Andy; MM0YCJ and most recently MM6GYU in February 2019.
The mountain weather forecast was for a moderate wind, temperature rising from minus 1C, through zero to a handful of degrees C and snow or hail showers. I assumed that there would be no lying snow but didn’t take into account a new sprinkling of the day before. However this covering, which was encountered at 650m ASL, was minimal and because of strong sunshine on the way up, the melt-rate was at one stage outpacing my efforts to climb the mountain! Looking at the map I decided to risk a direct assault instead of trying to find a path which may or may not have existed.
Working Ray GM0PIL on the way, the drive to Braemore Junction layby (NH 2101 7766) on the A835 Ullapool road, took 40 minutes to 09:35 and I was able to get walking at 09:58.
From the start at NH 2101 7766 the path parallel’s the road east for a few yards before passing through a gate to head north at NH 2110 7762. This is the path I used to activate Ben Enaiglair in 2005. It undulates a little but burn crossings are made easy with small metal bridges. This path was only of minimal use today and I had to leave it at NH 2109 7809 to walk east across country. It wasn’t long before I found a track and followed it in an easterly direction from NH 2133 7810 to NH 2147 7804 but it wasn’t going my way either.
Leaving the track I headed generally NE over rough and ever steepening ground comprising grass, heather, occasional outcrop and the odd hidden hole in the ground. However it’s easier to take care about where you put your feet when climbing up than when descending at greater speed. Basically I followed the GPS route I’d made which was a straight line directly from leaving the track to a point on the ridge at NH 2233 7907. From there I turned NW to walk to the summit cairn which was GPS’d today at NH 22081 79200.
The first part of the ascent was quite rough but higher up, from NH 2193 7876 (560m ASL), I got into a good run of fairly smooth grass. In places it looked a bit like a path but was in fact a meagre water course, the stream hidden in most places. Until then I picked my way up, deviating from the straight line as required by surface features, sometimes by more than 150m.
With a significant load, progress was rather slow partly in deference to the terrain with steep bits that had to be got around and partly due to lethargy which comes with sunshine, in this case without a moderating breeze until much higher up. One thing is certain and it was confirmed again. Scottish 4-pointers are harder than English ones. At last I arrived at the summit but by then it was 11:27; an ascent time of 1hr-29min seemed slow for this relatively small hill.
MEALL DOIRE FAID, GM/NS-061, 730m (2,395ft) 4 pts, 11:27 to 15:56. Wind 10 mph increasing during snow showers. Sunny periods and no low-cloud as such. Temp 3 deg C on arrival, rising in sunshine. Two heavy snow showers of 20 min & 35 min duration with reduced visibility. LOC: IO77MM, WAB: NH46, No trig. Good Vodafone signal.
145.575 FM - 3 QSO’s:
With every new summit encountered, it takes a while to work out where the dipole is to be erected. If I was going to hide from the wind, it would have to slope down with one end near the cairn. In fact the wind seemed fickle, unable to decide its direction. While working on that, I listened to a conversation coming from my top pocket in the form of Ray GM3PIL and Andy GM0UDL. After setting up most of the station including the 2m-FM vertical I called the two of them on 145.575, getting back 59 reports. That came as a surprise as I’d worked out that Ben Wyvis was right in the signal path.
We had a three-way chat for 15 minutes or so, Andy saying that he’d been looking at his Munro count and although he’d been doing summits and a cycling event, he was not fit enough to take on a round of three 3,000 footers just yet. In between radio operations, Ray was busy building a 3m square shed in his garden plus looking after a bereaved friend in Alness every Wednesday. Though busy around the house, Andy’s XYL Brenda MM3UDL followed up at the end to make it three QSO’s.
3.760 SSB - 10 QSO’s from 11:23z and 2 QSO’s from 14:08z:
The alert for the HF side of this activation was only put on SOTAwatch at breakfast time. Andy GM0UDL (Fortrose) came down to work me and a welcome spot quickly followed. I got a 55 report from him using just 500mW. Range is about 50km.
Next in was Rod EI2KD. Now with the power up to 50 Watts, we exchanged at 56/ 55 but extraordinarily Rod reported that my 500mW of earlier had come to him at 51! I took this as a good omen regarding band conditions when compared to three days prior. Either that or Rod had an unusually low noise level.
After a quick chat with Rod to allow Andy’s spot to do its work, it was down to business with: G7BGA Geoff; GI0AZA Esther; G4AFI Andrew; 2E0FEH Karl; MM0XPZ Steve; GB4ABG op Dave G4IAR; 2I0FMN John and GD0DDX/M Geoff (home QTH Cambridge) attempting all the IOM squares. Signals were a little disappointing but after all it was close to noon. Mostly there were 55’s and 56’s going out and everything from 22 to 55 plus two 57’s coming back.
Since Geoff was mobile, I offered him the frequency. He was reluctant at first but between us we put out calls for chasers to come in and work him which they did. I briefly felt the power, not to mention the worry, of a what it must be like to do WAB net control. Afterwards I checked that there was nothing further for me. There wasn’t so I left Geoff to it.
I did return to 3.760 two and a half hours later at 14:08z during a 40m SSB session. Peter MM3PDM could hear nothing of my 40m signals nor could I hear his so I offered to go down to 3.760, relaying the message via Don G0RQL on 7.160. Once there is was easy to hear Peter, who collected NH27 with a 57/ 58 exchange. No doubt seeing his chance, GM6ZAK made use of this brief QSY and Andy was logged 57/ 44. It transpired that Frank G3RMD had been trying to get in too but I was too quick for him. He managed it on 40m later however, so no damage was done.
3.557 CW - 4 QSO’s:
GM0UDL was again attentive so I worked Andy first with 599 both ways and a spot. Ken GM0AXY, who I’d recently met along with his XYL Christine at Blackpool Rally, was in next (599/ 579). Hovering on the 589 to 599 mark was Phil G4OBK recently back from his triumphant SOTA tour with Victor and last in was Allan GW4VPX with 579/ 339. Fifty Watts again.
7.033 CW - 16 QSO’s:
A third spot from Andy GM0UDL did the trick, the band becoming suddenly quite busy. After logging Andy I worked: G4OOE Nick in Scarborough using 40m to good effect again; ON7ZM John (Jean Pierre); PA0INA Frans; EI6FR Declan; DL6WT Juerg; G0FVH David; HB9CBR/P Bruno S2S on HB/TI-139; DL8DXL Fred; ON4FI Karel; G4WSB Bill; G0BPU Mike; SM4CJM Hans; DL1FU Frid; F4HZR Micke and MX0NCA – Norfolk Coast ARC.
Outgoing reports were 569 to 599 (I tend to over report). Many coming in were 559 but again I think they too were perhaps being over generous. The QSB was so fierce at times that it resembled sporadic E! I got some 339’s and 449’s but DL4KCA ‘got away’ altogether. My only 599 came from Andy GM0UDL 50km away.
The session was completed in the 25 minutes coming up to 12:30z. I tried my best to save power by switching down to 30 Watts but ended up needing 50 Watts again. It was then that the snow came accompanied by a gusty wind. I blessed the ‘man-about-town’ black umbrella. Cowering under it while eating a late lunch including a bacon buttie from the hotel, I waited it out. By the time it was over, the wind had blown the antenna down because there was insufficient soil to support the mast. Fixing this problem involved carrying several heavy rocks from another area below the summit and stacking them round the mast. I don’t use guys.
14.052.6 CW - 7 QSO’s:
With the snow finished and the mast back in business, I found myself switching to my favourite 20m CW spot. No signals were evident so I ‘QRL’d?’ the frequency, self spotted and waited to see if it would come up on my phone, which it did. I didn’t have to wait long when in came AB4PP – John in Four Oaks NC in answer to a CQ. As per 40m, there was QSB on here but we exchanged with relative ease, swapping 559 for 529.
The rest of the 20m CW log looks like this: EA2DT Manuel; DJ5AV Mike; IK2LEY Fabio; N4EX Rich in Raleigh NC; K3TCU Gary - Seneca PA and OK2PDT Jan in Velka Bites. Signals bridging the Atlantic ranged from 559 to 579 with stations from Europe reaching 599. I was given between 569 and 529 with a 339 from Spain and a 449 from Italy. Power was 30 Watts for this 10 minute session.
Looking at my phone, I noticed that N3NUU/P was active from W4V/SH-007. Retuning to 14.061, I heard the signal at about 419 with QSB and thought I would try my hand at chasing him. However there were a succession of big-signal European stations calling and I couldn’t get in. I’ll never make a chaser, that’s for sure!
14.285 SSB - 7 QSO’s:
Another self spot got things started on 20m SSB where 50 Watts were used. CT1BLE Carl ; OE5AUL Peter; EA2IF Guru; OE6WIG Franz; RZ3BJ Rif; SV2HSY Makis and I3ZSX Silvio were the chasers.
Someone came on to ask if the frequency was in use. I replied that it was free. There followed a series of CQ’s from 7X2ARA but he couldn’t hear me, implying that if the session hadn’t already finished I would likely have had to curtail it anyway.
Reports were all 57 to 58 going out with 54 to 58 coming back. Conditions were sufficiently good to enable a lengthy chat with Guru (57/ 55) mostly about our respective Icom IC706’s. Guru has two of these rigs and he was using a Mk1 18km away from his home QTH to remotely work me; the advantage being low-noise, ‘until the neigbours switch everything on,’ said he. I thought about my own 706 which was installed in my XYL’s car in the layby 2,000 feet below me. Would it still be there when I got back? Fortunately yes. Guru told me that he has an HF Yagi which he points west to bring in even the weakest of USA SOTA activators.
10.118 CW - 2 QSO’s:
This was an afterthought. I wanted to give chasers another chance to work this hill as I would likely never be returning. Judging by its history, it might be a good while until the next time someone puts it on the air. There were only two 30m takers in the form of PA0B Rob (599/ 449) and OE7PHI Hans (2 x 599). Power was 30 Watts to the asymmetrically arranged link dipole (one 40m link and one 20m link). It’s seems to work best if the shorter side is the one connected to the coax inner. I use no balun.
7.160 SSB - 4 QSO’s:
I wanted to be on 7.160 SSB (WAB) immediately after 40m CW but it was busy at that time and I couldn’t identify if they were Worked-all-Britain ops or not. So here we were, leaving it until just before the end.
Stations worked on here were: G0RQL Don (59/ 59) who spotted me, 2E0FEH Karl 2 x 57, G3YZY Howard 57/ 53 and Frank G3RMD 59/ 56. Don laughed like a drain at my exclamation, ‘Ah, there you are at last!’
After I’d worked Don, Peter MM3PDM called him in the hope I would be able to work him. In fact Peter in Peterhead was too close and completely inaudible to me so we made a quick QSY to 3.760 where an easy contact was made. I worked Andy GM6ZAK on 3.760 at the same time (see 3.760 section earlier).
Power was 30 Watts for Don and Karl but then the rig cut out. With no spare battery, I had to work Howard and Frank with just 5 Watts but you’d hardly know it from the reports.
145.575 - 1 QSO:
Just to give Ray an update and the fact I’d be leaving soon, I called him with 2.5 Watts using the FT817 and the last dregs of the 5Ah Li-Po battery. Thanking him for his help on the radio I noticed that the sunshine of earlier had been absent for some time and that the light was failing. If this had been cricket, they’d have been off the field.
The sky looked really angry and during the short final QSO with Ray, it began to snow again. With no more HF possible the dipole BNC was detached from the rig’s patch lead. The snow was being blown about and I was starting to hear a crackling sound which was obviously static. I switched the rig off and went to disconnect the VHF BNC from the front of the rig, receiving a tremendous ‘belt’ as I did so. The task was completed wearing thick mittens but the crackling continued. Next I laid the J-Pole on the grass but the sound didn’t go away. I finally realized that it was coming from the HF dipole connector which had landed on the damp rucksack next to the rig when I’d detached it. The static was tracking along the wet rucksack fabric and onto the rig. ‘Crack, crack crack.’ Using the mitts I moved the BNC onto the grass and the sound reduced.
Never expecting to see a soul on this hill all day, I thought I was hearing things when two people arrived at the summit. I heard a voice say, ‘It must be an aerial.’ Bobbing up from my hidden position behind rocks and under the black brolly (now white) a couple came over to ask what I was up to. I explained and asked if they’d pose for a photo which they did but not for long in what was now a blizzard with big flakes.
They were astonished that anyone would want to sit on top of an exposed mountain for four or five hours. We discussed our respective routes up the mountain. They had walked the ridge over Meal nan Doireachan mentioning that it had seemed to go on for ever. They were not fond of going back the same way and ended up going down the short way, where I had come up. I did warn them it was a bit rough lower down.
I had to pack up in the increasing snow shower which meant that everything got wet to varying degrees; the rig and log being first items into the rucksack of course.
Normally reserved for the activation only, unusually I left the primaloft jacket on but it’s not waterproof. No worries, it was only an hour back down and the snow did stop half way, albeit starting again in the form of rain lower down after the coat had been removed. The layby was regained at 16:52, a descent time of 56 min. Driving through heavy rain, I was back at the hotel at 17:40.
2m-FM - 3
80m SSB - 12
80m CW - 4
40m CW - 16
20m CW - 7
20m SSB - 7
30m CW - 2
40m SSB - 4
SOTA Activator points: 4
Left Strathpeffer on A834: 08:55
Arr. Braemore Junc. Layby (180m ASL): 09:35
Walk started: 09:58
GM/NS-061: 11:27 to 15:56
Rtn’d Braemore Junc. Layby: 16:52
Back to Strathpeffer: 17:40
Ascent / Distance Walked: 590m (1,936ft) / 5.9km (3.7 miles)
Walking time: 2hr-25 min (1.5mph) 1hr-29min up/ 56 min down
Summit time: 4hr-29 min
Gross time Car to Car: 6hr-54 min
This SOTA wasn’t as easy as it might have been especially when compared to similar sized hills in say the NP region of England. The only lying snow was a thin skim which had arrived overnight and it soon melted. The top is grassy and mossy with some rock outcrop and there were magnificent views of the big snow-covered surrounding mountains, namely Sgurr Mor, Ben Dearg and An Teallach, though the latter seemed to have less snow than the others. Ben Wyvis and Little Wyvis were there too, until low-cloud and snow showers arrived over them. It was exciting to be reunited with old friend Beinn Enaiglair just across the way.
I didn’t expect to find a path up this one so I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve know rougher bee-lines over the years but it did take rather a long time to get up. I enjoyed light winds and quite a bit of sunshine early on but the WX did gradually close in and it became squally in the snow showers. The falling snow was no more than a little annoying the first time but a repeat in the late afternoon got a bit too enthusiastic and came at the wrong time.
Band conditions were generally improved compared with the Ben Wyvis activation three days prior on the 6th May. I had double the number of QSO’s in the log, operated on more bands and was not nearly as challenged by the weather at the lower altitude and on a generally warmer day. There was short skip available on 40m as well as covering the closer European chasers and 20m brought in the USA. 30m added two more contacts and 2m-FM beat that with three.
It was painful to have to tell Nick G4OOE on 40m-CW that Roy G4SSH, after a few weeks at home, has had to go into what’s looking like permanent residential accommodation at the Briar Dene Retirement Home on Burniston Road, Scarborough. He had three more falls unfortunately and despite care going in three times a day and other support, he cannot cope living by himself at home an longer; such has been the advance of his Parkinson’s disease. We will continue with our Tuesday evening meetings but it’s not likely that Roy will be operating SOTA. There is perhaps one positive ray of light at the end of the tunnel. He is going on a drug treatment which may improve matters. Let’s hope so!
To ALL STATIONS worked including the WAB chasers on 3.760 and 7.160. Thanks also to: GM3PIL Ray for monitoring 145.575 for much of the day. To Andy GM0UDL for his monitoring of HF QSY’s and spotting assistance. To SV2HSY and G0RQL also for timely spots.
73, John G4YSS
Using Scarborough Special Events Group Club call GS0OOO/P
(Please report errors)
Above: The start point for NS61 (&NS25), Braemore Junction Layby beside the A835
Above: Follow the path for a short distance
Above: Cross the ground to the hill. (Looking back towards the layby)
Above: Start the climb
Above: Unidentified colourful caterpillar
Above: Looking west to An Teallach GM/NS-004
Above: Easier ground higher up
Above: Finally on the summit ridge looking east
Above: Looking NE towards Beinn Dearg GM/NS-003 with GM/NS-025 Beinn Enaiglair on left of photo
Above: Summit of Meall Doire Faid G/NS-061 with the snow covered Sgurr Mor GM/NS-001 centre background
Above: Activation of Meall Doire Faid G/NS-061
Above: Meall Doire Faid G/NS-061. Brewing up for a snow shower. NS25 behind
Above: Thin soil and extra support after the mast blew over
Above: My visitors from Teesside and Barrow in Furness
Above: Time to leave NS61
Above: Navigating down off the top