G4YSS: Activation Report, GM/NS-107 - Ben Horn, 14-05-17
BEN HORN - GM/NS-107 - 2 points.
GM4YSS/P & SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P.
40m & 80m QRO & 2m-FM QRP
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr UOS as ‘z’).
Third & final SOTA in the May 2017 series:
GM/NS-065 G4YSS: GM/NS-065 - Creag Mhor & WAB NC72, 10-05-17
GM/NS-038 G4YSS:GM/NS-038, Cranstackie & Mosquito DZ486,12-05-17
& this report GM/NS-107, based at the Dornoch Hotel.
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
5 Ah Li-Po battery
J-Pole for 2m FM on 1m pink carbon stick
2.2 Ah Li-Po battery
Baofeng UV-3R; 2W-FM V/ UHF H/H, 130gm H/H (not used)
9.3kg (20.5 pounds) inc. food, thermoball jacket, Dunlop umbrella & 0.5 litre fluids.
This was the third SOTA expedition of this year’s trip to GM/ NS, mounted from the Dornoch Hotel (now run by Bespoke) where stayed from Monday 8th to Monday 15th of May 2017, (441 GBP for DBB x 2).
The morning was taken up with a visit to Dornoch Cathedral followed by tea and scones. There wasn’t time to put on an alert back at the hotel but fortunately Roy G4SSH did it for me, after I text him with a list of frequencies.
The drive via the A9 north, turning left in Golspie to Bridge-of-Horn, took about 22 minutes to 13:32. There’s a good parking place beside a track which forms a loop with the road at NC 8001 0474 and I set off walking at 13:37. This summit is a quick and easy 2-point option which fits nicely into half a day.
Initially the route from the locked gate is easy to follow up a forest track between conifers. At NC 8026 0506 you pass a water tank with a gauge on the side. After a turn to the left, a ten-bar gate appears at NC 8023 0532 and beside it, tucked well out of the way to the left, is a ladder stile for crossing the deer fence. It’s quicker to climb the gate.
At this stage you have a choice:
Turn immediately right off the track and take to open country at NC 80219 05337. Then head E, later NE as far as NC 8039 0542; NC 8048 0554 and NC 80586 0566. There is not much of a path, merely the suggestion of quad tracks in places but at least the vegetation is fairly short.
Carry on to the concrete tank and equipment enclosure complete with solar panel at NC 8017 0551. Turn right onto open grass at a ‘Private Fishing’ sign and look for a faint quad track. Try to follow it via NC 8022 0553; NC 8040 0561 and NC 8052 0564 to NC 8060 0575. (Recommended)
Whichever alternative you picked, the paths are faint and easily lost especially in poor lighting. You now head north passing via NC 8060 0572; NC 8062 0578; NC 8057 0592; NC 8058 0599; NC 8058 0608; NC 8060 0616 to NC 8059 0625 after which the path (if you can call it that) bends east and passes via NC 8065 0633 to the summit cairn which I GPS’d at NC 80724 06329 in 2013. As the summit is approached and the ground becomes steeper and rockier, the path’s definition improves.
The marked position of the cairn in 2005 was NC 80724 06329 but that seems to be slightly erroneous. The cairn was GPS’d at NC 80726 06336 today, 14-05-17 which is in close agreement with the 2013 position.
BEN HORN - GM/NS-107, 521m, 2 pts, 14:12 to 17:23, 10 mph wind increasing, 9C. Sunny following a 20 minute torrential downpour just after setting up. No low-cloud. No midges. EE phone coverage most of the time. LOC: IO78XA, WAB: NC80, No Trig.
For the fourth time on this summit, I set up the dipole at the small summit cairn, using the latter as a seat. The VHF J-Pole was set up for communications with Ray GM3PIL in Nairn. The plan, reflected in Roy’s Sotawatch alert, was to start on 40m-CW but the rain storm made that impossible. I had S9 plus of precipitation static which completely blanked out all HF signals. Even on 2m-FM, the static was causing an S6 deflection on the meter.
145.575 FM - 5 QSO’s:
Cowering under the large umbrella, I tried to keep as low a profile as possible. The wind speed increased with the rain which was battering the brolly loudly enough to be audible to chasers. The windmills below me were responding with increased activity.
Our old friend GM3PIL Ray came straight back to my call and we exchanged at 59 both ways. I was using 5 Watts to the J-Pole on a short mast and explained my early appearance on VHF. This was a direct line-of-sight contact and mostly a sea path across to Nairn.
Ray had been busy lining up some local stations and they were worked as follows: GM0RML Art, also in Nairn (59 x 2); GM0GTU/M Stewart near Nairn (59/ 57); 2E0WTE Peter at Invergordon (52/ 59 - he was using a H/H with rubber duck) and MM3ZRF Bob 3 miles north of Alness (59 x 2). Well done to Ray for drumming up the support. By now the rain was easing, the sky brightening a little and the summit was qualified.
7.033 CW - 18 QSO’s:
40m CW was in reasonable condition today with 18 chasers worked in 30 minutes. Power was 50 Watts throughout. Two of the stations logged earlier on VHF came down here to collect on another band. They were GM3PIL Ray (2 x 599) and GM0RML Art (579/ 559) both in Nairn. These were closely followed by Roy G4SSH with 599/ 549.
In the log: GM3PIL; GM0RML; G4SSH; G0VOF; PA0INA; G4ELZ; F6EAZ; G3RDQ; G4ZIB; M0BKV; SP9AMH; PA5KM; G3RMD; DJ5AV; F6FTB; PA9CW; DL5OAB and SA4BLM.
Half the callers were UK based and most reports were in the range 559 to 579 with a few incoming 539’s and a 529. Many stations were reporting QSB and some mentioned QRM which I couldn’t hear. Best DX was Mariusz SP9AMH/ QRP and the ‘gotaways’ were: G0NCS and HB9AZH.
7.185 SSB - 18 QSO’s:
It was a slow start on here because 7.160 was the advertised frequency and it was busy. I sent the QSY to Roy G4SSH three times via SMS but the first two texts refused to leave my phone. After nearly 20 minutes of getting nowhere, I was forced to break-in briefly on 7.160 to broadcast the QSY. I’m pleased to say that this was picked up by at least two stations who were waiting there. One was (son) Phil G0UUU/M at Ravenscar near Scarborough and another was Don G0RQL in Devon. I worked these two stations at 14:45z with 55 and 59 both ways respectively.
Though it was now sunny, the wind had not returned to normal after the squall and it was threatening to deprive me of the precious log sheet. Last time on NS-107, I lost an umbrella which rolled majestically over the edge and down 200 feet; its retrieval wasting at least 10 minutes. The last thing I needed was a repeat of that inconvenience and loss of the frequency, so there was another delay while the log was first photographed and then carefully turned over.
Next in was Bill GW4WSB/P S2S on GW/MW-025 with 57 both ways. From the 18 worked 13 were UK based: G0FEX Ken; M3FEH Karl; G8ADD Brian; GM4WHA Geoff; GM3PIL Ray; G0GWY Geoff; G7BGA also Geoff; G0TDM John; M0WPS Wayne; M1MAJ Martyn; M3ZCB Caroline and G0VOF Mark.
Another S2S was logged via EI/GI0AZA/P Esther and EI/GI0AZB/P Ian who were on EI/IN-051. All four S2S reports were 55 but I was having a little difficulty to copy them at times. This was a Sunday and the band was quite busy.
The only successful chase from the European continent was EA2CKX Pedro with an exchange of 57/ 53. Power was 50 Watts.
145.575 FM - 1 QSO:
Returning to 2m to call Ray GM3PIL for a heads up regarding 160m, I added another station to the log. This was 2M0JAT Sandy at Inverness with 55 both ways. There followed a QSY to 160m.
1.832 CW/ 1.843 SSB - Nil:
Last time I was here two years ago, Ray GM3PIL and I exchanged 599 Top Band reports in CW, 55/ 47 on SSB and I even heard Phil G4OBK coming in at 519 from 500km. All this at around noon, though Phil didn’t hear me calling back.
This time I could hear Ray at 539 with a little QSB but like on Cranstackie, he couldn’t hear me. SSB was not tried specifically with Ray but CQ’s on 1.843 brought nothing.
3.760 SSB - 2 QSO’s:
After our disappointment on Top Band, Ray and I agreed to meet on 80m at 1535z, in the hope that an LF QSO could at least be completed there. Ray was an easy copy at 58 but I was giving him only 43. This is when I suspected that the amplifier may not have been working for 160m and that state of affairs might be repeating here. Whether I had the amp switched on or not, it seemed to make little difference. What’s more a big SWR was showing on the FT817ND.
Knowing that this was my final QSY of the holiday, I pressed on with the amp switched off and 5 Watts from the FT817 got me MM0XPZ - Steve in Greenock with a 57/ 53 exchange. I also heard Penrith station G0TDM but John never got the 44 report I was repeating to him.
That was it. The equipment seemed to be misbehaving and time had run out. After a final ‘73’ to Ray and a promise to meet on 2m-FM/ M the next day, the dipole was reeled up for the last time and the J-Pole strapped back on the rucksack.
The walk down to the car took 27 minutes to 17:50 and I was back at the Dornoch Hotel at 18:20.
ASCENT & DISTANCE (Start point at 220m ASL):
300m (984ft) ascent / 4.4 km (2.8 miles).
Left Dornoch Hotel: 13:05 (via A9 to Bridge of Horn)
Walk started: 13:37
GM/NS-107: 14:12 to 17:23
Returned to Car: 17:50
Back at Dornoch: 18:20
Walking times: 35 min up / 27 min down. Total: 1hr-5 min
Summit time: 3hr-11 min
Time Car to Car: 4hr-13 min
Gross time Hotel to Hotel: 5hr-10 min
6 on 2m FM
18 on 40m CW
18 on 40m SSB
Nil on 160m CW/ SSB
2 on 80m SSB
There aren’t many easy 2 pointers in Scotland but GM/NS-107 is certainly one of them. Clive MM1YAM, Robin GM7PKT & I know this first hand. If you’re staying at Dornoch it’s routine to put it on but no matter how many times you look, you are never going to find a path which is easy to follow.
Before the holiday, the assumption was that 60m or even 80m would be needed because 40 would likely be poor. I was not looking forward to 60m, a band I used often and to good effect in the dim and distant past. I have now fallen out with it due to its increasingly ‘bitty’ nature, international inconsistencies and (necessary) additional rules. It’s a great band for getting around the UK and we badly need a proper allocation. Thankfully 60 wasn’t needed. 40m band conditions were good all week and that was the case again today.
The use of 7.160 was avoided today as there was no good reason to use it. NS-107 is merely a SOTA. Its grid square is not rare, being neither remote nor having a lack of vehicular access. Neither does it have a trig point. That said, getting going on a clear channel wasn’t straightforward. 7.185 is too far away to be easily found so there were delays. Further delays were caused by promoting CW in favour of SSB on this last summit and the rain storm forcing me to put on 2m-FM first when HF was unusable.
It didn’t feature from NS107 today. Being a half-day activation there wasn’t time at the end. When it was used, on NS65 and NS38, results were mixed or even disappointing. The QSO count for those two activations was just seven and only one station was worked from NS65. However, the single DX station (USA-TX from NS38) for the week was found on 20m.
Though I worked him in 2015, for reasons as yet unknown, Ray GM3PIL and I failed to increase the NS-107 Top Band QSO count from two to three. The first suspicion has got to be my equipment, in particular the amplifier which I will get around to testing. There was certainly something wrong in the latter stages of the activation. That was plain to see and indicated on the FT817.
For this holiday NS-107 provides the record! The log ended the day with six 2m-FM entries. My impression had been that life on the Inverness net frequency of 145.575 had noticeably decreased in the past few years but this went a significant way to changing my mind.
Well done to Ray for encouraging local stations to come on and work SOTA. It’s good to talk locally, to make new friends such as John MM6OEC (worked from Cranstackie) as well as link up with the ones worked during previous Scottish holidays: (GM0RML Art; GM0GTU Stewart; 2M0WTE Peter; MM3ZRF Bob; 2M0JAT Sandy; 2M0IBO Jon and GM0SFQ John). It’s interesting to note that at least one of these - GM0GTU appears in my log as far back as 2006 with two G/LD SOTA HF entries to his credit as well as GM contacts.
3.5 MHz was nothing to write home about today. As well as Ray, I worked as far as Greenock (MM0XPZ Steve) but almost into Penrith (G0TDM heard only).
May is the best time to visit Scotland both from the weather viewpoint and the lack of midges but this May seems to have been above average for weather. I am pleased to say that the feared tick attack did not materialize this year, probably the greatest risk being Creag Mhor NS65, which is between two large deer stalking estates.
Despite changed aims and reduced incentive, I am not finished with my big favourite area GM/ NS just yet. The pressure to activate ‘new ones’ is out of the way. I can now look forward to a more relaxed approach and a return to some of the classics. For instance, I have a soft spot for Ben’s Hope and Loyal, as well as the two racehorse summits and a few others. One at a time will do nicely. No rushing about outside winter. With any luck I hope to be back in the next year or two.
ALL STATIONS worked; without dedicated chasers, we’d be nowhere! To G4SSH and G0VOF for spots with a separate thank you to Roy G4SSH for band condition advice and spotting via SMS. Many thanks once again to Ray GM3PIL for local support on 2m-FM and his efforts on 160m.
Thanks to all the staff at the Dornoch Hotel, especially waiters: Adam, Levente, Csandor and Emese. (Apologies for probable incorrect spellings.)
Finally, thanks to my XYL Denise for the use of her car. 1181 miles covered at 53mph.
73, John G4YSS
Using GM4YSS/P - (database) and Scarborough Special Events Group Club call GS0OOO/P.
Above: NC 8001 0474. Parking place and access track.
Above: NC 8017 0551. Turn right off track at tank and solar panel.
Above: NC 8017 0551. Turn right off track past fishing sign. Ben Horn in background.
Above: This is as good as the path gets. Ben Horn ahead.
Above: Storm brewing. Setting up antenna mast & link dipole before the rain arrives.
Above: Downpour in progress. S9 plus of precipitation static on HF including 7.033 MHz.
Above: Loch Horn from Ben Horn
Above: Wind farm below Ben Horn
Above: NC 8017 0551. Back to the track at the sign, tank and solar panel.
Above: NC 8023 0532. Ten bar gate on track back to car. Steps over fence out of shot to right.