G4YSS: GM/WS-001 BEN NEVIS, 8th September 2021

G4YSS: BEN NEVIS via the Mountain Track on 8th September 2021
Issue-1 (errors?)

BEN NEVIS GM/WS-001 on 80-40-30-20m QRO & 2m-FM QRP
Based on and similar to WS1 report for 08-09-15
G(M)4YSS Unaccompanied
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS)

Previous GM4YSS (GS0OOO/P) SOTA’s:
10 Feb 2006
23 Sept 2008 inc WS3
19 May 2010
8 Sept 2015 (see post 11607)
My first ascent was with son Andrew on 21-07-1998 via the CMD Arete.

FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver without internal batteries
MX-P50M 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier
Link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-20m Bands
Four section x 5m home-brew CFC mast with 1m end sticks
J-Pole for 2m-FM
Reserve Rig: Baofeng UV-5R 2-Band, 5W-VHFM H/H (not used)
Sotabeams 2m filter (not used)

One HRB 5000mAh 50C Li-Po (some charge remaining at the end)
One Turnigy 2.2 Ah Li-Po (not used)

Garmin GEKO-301 GPS
MP3 Player with Unitone 'D’ shaped ear-cup headphones

Pack weight:
10.8 kg (23.8 pounds) inc. 2 litre fluids (1.65 used) & light hooded fleece

This was the forth of five SOTA activations local to Fort William this year and part of our self-drive 10-night stay at the Highland Hotel. The attractive and well-maintained hotel occupies a commanding position overlooking the town and is no more than a 5 minute walk down the steps to the main shops. The food is great and the staff are helpful, efficient and very friendly. Though the main clientele are coach-bound, there are parking spaces outside for a dozen cars and free Wi-Fi in all rooms. Self-Drive holidays can be booked via Lochs and Glens. The cost for this one was £50 pppn half-board.

For a long-stay activation, the weather for Britain’s highest mountain at 4,408 feet ASL, needs to be favourable. After a soaking on two out of three of the recent practice activations (WS-293; WS-339 and WS-263), a one-day weather window appeared in the forecast. Possible ‘downers’ were the temperatures of 16C rising to 19C on the tops and 25C in the valleys in the afternoon but this could be partly offset by starting the ascent early. The last time I did The Ben saw me walking across the footbridge near the YHA in Glen Nevis at 05:25 so my aim was to try and do the same again.

I had no plans to include WS3 (Carn Mor Dearg) and the CMD Arete route. On the one hand I’d done that twice before and on the other hand I felt that my fitness was not currently up to it. Other considerations were the time factor regarding hotel evening meals, the predicted high temperatures, which I find increasingly debilitating and a desire to appreciate Ben Nevis to the full, this being the final time I would be climbing it.

Since the hotel breakfast would be missed by several hours, a trip to Morrisons was made the day before. Sleep is important but I worry about it and other things sufficiently not to get much. In fact background anxiety about this expedition had been affecting me since my wife booked the holiday a month before. I don’t know why because it should have become almost routine by now. Maybe it was the thought of potential failure caused by unpredictable or uncontrollable events and I have been affected this way for some years now. I long since retired but aircraft design engineers are trained to be pessimistic – a good thing for people who travel in aircraft of course but the price is an unfortunate legacy.

Within reason, everything that wasn’t strictly needed was removed from the rucksack. The normal fleece was replaced with one half the weight and no mountain jacket, overtrousers or mountain hat was included. Not taking the latter turned out to be a mistake but I did have a light cap and a sun hat to choose from.

A GPS route, marked back in February 2006 with its skull and crossbones waypoint icons defining the edge of the North Face, was used again but I added a slight alternative in case of deciding to go straight up the steep path which bypasses the zig-zags. That was not used. The zig-zag path is what used to be called the ‘Tourist Route’ but is now known as the Mountain Track. I’ve also heard it referred to as ‘The Pony Track.’

You can start at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel which sadly is only around 20m ASL, walking via Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe and up nine or ten zig-zags to the 1347m summit. Keen mountain men find it boring and unpleasantly crowded. True on both counts, the CMD route for one is far superior, and traffic is often heavy. To my mind it’s a means to an end, the purpose being to place a radio station on the summit via the easiest method possible and also have sufficient kit to ‘survive’ without too much discomfort, for as long as the batteries hold out.

The alarm clock was set for 04:30 and I left the hotel twenty minutes later. I was careful to check the main door procedure in advance. A green button must be pressed to open it, then there is a disconcerting ‘click’ 10 seconds after passing through. You just have to hope that nothing essential has been forgotten.

The drive to the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis takes less than ten minutes and unlike 2015 at the same hour, there were very few cars parked there. Before leaving, 1.2 litres of cold water had to be forced down and the Youth Hostel Bridge was crossed at 05:25 by the light of a headlamp, precisely matching the 2015 start-time to the minute.

The first part of the walk, done today in a windless low mist, is quite steep until you join the path coming from the Achintee car park at a ‘T’ junction. It didn’t take long before I could look down on the ground-clinging mist, which was thin enough to see the lights of Glen Nevis through and by 6am I could dispense with the headlight. The way was deserted as you’d expect but then I was startled by a young man who overtook me, almost running.

The MP3, playing an ancient offshore radio tape that I’d recently digitized, helped to take my mind off the discomfort of a steady but quite steep ascent, unfortunately accompanied by stomach ache and a dripping brow. It took longer than last time to arrive at Red Burn, less than an inch deep today but at least now there was a cooling breeze. It was plain to see that unlike 2015, I just wasn’t up to the short, steeper route so I cancelled it and took on the zig-zags, even then stopping for a few seconds every so often. Lack of sleep and feeling slightly unwell were between them scuppering any chances of a new PB.

A young couple were on their way down having started their climb at 03:00. They carried an expensive looking camera for photographing the Ben Nevis sunrise. Deja vu from 2015 but I forgot to take their photo. It was a relief to stop for a few words and the girl asked what the mast was for and whether this was my first ascent.

Doing my best to motivate a weary body that would have preferred to be in bed and trudging slowly on, it was now full accepted that the 2015 arrival time of 07:53 would not be met. I could see two people climbing above me but never did manage to narrow the gap.

Not far from the summit I met three young women on their way down after having started at 05:00. No matter how early you think you are there’s always someone who’ll beat you. Having summited in good time they were quite bubbly, one offering to act as photographer for me. I in turn took their photo asking if it was OK if they appeared in my report and explaining where they might find it and when (see photos).

There’s a choice of route for the final section where the general gradient has eased somewhat. You can either continue to zig-zag or go straight up. I chose the former, reserving the short-cut for the descent. After that there are a few ‘stings in the tail’ in the form of locally increased gradients and it’s very gravelly. In one place, on a curve the gravel has been banked up to provide a neat raised walkway.

Finally the familiar summit features hove into view albeit still with some distance to go but what a relief it was to see the target at last. Fascinated as always, I stopped to photograph the north face gullies, nervously holding the camera at arm’s length despite a complete lack of snow and ice today, unlike 2006 and 2010.

Climbing up the trig plinth at 08:07, the ascent time worked out at 2hrs-42 minutes, which is outside my best time of 2hrs-28min recorded in 2015. There was no one about apart from a young couple called Ben and Jenny from Somerset who were busy taking their summit pics. My offer of a photo of them together with their camera was readily accepted and reciprocated (see photos).

BEN NEVIS, GM/WS-001, 10 pts, 08:07 to 14:49 BST, 16 deg C at 8am, 19C later, 10 mph southerly wind. Occasional thin low-cloud until 10am, then a mixture of light-overcast, full sun or hazy sun. Haze at a distance. LOC-IO76LT, WAB-NN17, Trig-TP1289. Excellent Vodafone mobile phone coverage.

There was no rush to get on the air, the main reason for climbing so early was to avoid any heat, so I walked around for quite a while trying to select the best possible operating position. The answer is that there really isn’t one. What works for HF may not be too good for VHF, which is of course, best sited at the highest point. The major consideration was keep as low a profile as possible by avoiding most of the many people that would soon arrive.

I settled for a large flat rock in the open and SE of the summit. The rocks there were not at their roughest but neither were they too easy to walk over. The thinking was that people might avoid them but as it turned out I was wrong in that assumption. Once decided it didn’t take long to put up the dipole. The mast and end sticks went conveniently into the cracks and spaces between rocks. If necessary I could have built supports by stacking rocks, as I have had to do in the past on some mountaintops.

3.760 SSB – 9 QSO’s:
What better place to start at this time of day, than on the 80m WAB net freq. which was deserted. A self-spot brought in MM0XPZ Steve for the first QSO of the day (59/ 57). I grasped the opportunity to test the linear after it had been transmitted into a mismatch on the last outing. Steve couldn’t hear me when I dropped to 2.5 Watts, which confirmed that all was well with the amp.

A steady stream of chasers followed: GM0GAV Gavin (who I got to meet a few days later on WS2); GM7NZI Ray; G4IPB Paul; G0BPK Nigel; 2E0FEH Karl; GI4ONL Victor; GW4VPX Allan and M0BKV Damian. Paul, located in Teesdale, reported that he had heard me on 2.5 Watts at 44.

Reports showed that the band was propagating well for the shorter distances but Cornwall was more of a challenge, evidenced by Karl at 44/ 33 and Damien who was 59 at my end but with only 33 coming back. Allan gave me a ‘39’ due to very high noise levels in Pencader. Power was 30 Watts to the inverted vee at 5m AGL centre height and these stations were worked in 14 minutes from 08:10z.

The First Visitor:
A young man in an orange T-shirt came over to satisfy his curiosity. I gave the usual explanation and he turned out to be a fellow Yorkshireman from Bingley, which is not far from where I grew up in Bradford. We compared notes and got on very well. Looking at him I asked if he was a rugby player and I was dead right.

I am probably wrong but going by memory I think his name was Dave and for the requested photo he came over to stand next to the radio setup. I gave him the gen on where he could find his picture. With knees pretty well ‘shot’ after years of rugby, he was really dreading the walk back down. On the latter we wholeheartedly agreed!

7.033 CW – 22 QSO’s:
There was a southerly breeze but it was cold for directly sitting in and I soon found myself shivering slightly. The thinner fleece was the problem but at least it had a hood. I could have added a shell layer but knowing that the day would get warmer eventually, I carried on.

Would this be too early for 40m? That question is answered with a decisive ‘No.’ A sizable pileup developed following a self-spot and before half an hour had passed, 22 were in the log:

GI4ONL Victor; F8DGF Nic; HB9BIN/P Juerg in HB/FF-0101; DL6WT also Juerg; ON4VT Dan; SM4CJM Hans; DJ2MX Mario; HB9AFI/P Kurt S2S on HB/BE-153; HB9AGH Ambrosi; IK2ECC Carlo and F4WBN Christian.

Continuing: EA2IF Guru; M0BKV Damian; IK1DFH Roby; G4TPJ in Tonbridge; S57S Alek; EA2DT Manuel; OK1ZE Vaclav; PA1H Harry; PA5KM Coen; IK2LEY Fabio and SA4BLM Lars.

It was very difficult to hear any single call in the melee, which came out of the speaker as a single tone but tail-ending the massed calling or going off frequency to produce a different tone led to early success for the more experienced chasers. Nevertheless the frantic calling continued for some time.

Outgoing reports were almost all 599 with six of these coming back. The remainder ranged from 549 to 579 with a 339 coming from S57S. Power was 30W again and with ears ringing after such a pileup, I was ready for another short break.

7.170 SSB – 18 QSO’s:
I wasn’t used to this luxury. Self spots that worked every time. Last time I was on The Ben in 2015, I was forced to walk from the QTH to the summit and back several times to get any messages off. Maybe the Orange network was inferior then or maybe they’ve all been improved. Whatever the case may be, I changed to Vodafone in the interim and it worked for me today.

Quickly tuned in and in the log was G0RQL Don (59/ 55), who hadn’t heard me well enough on 80m to make a QSO. After a quick chat with Don a second pileup commenced. Stations worked with 30 Watts:

EA2DT Manuel; EA2CKX Pedro; G0ELJ Dave; SQ9MDF QTH Zawiercie; OK1MRK/P Radek S2S on OK/KR-005; 2E0FEH Karl; G8ADD Brian and 2W0KPN Adrian.

Drone Strike:
It wouldn’t have been loud enough to be heard on my transmissions but for ten minutes during this session I was being ‘investigated’ by a small radio-controlled helicopter, which kept buzzing around the summit area, frequently stopping to hover above my aerial. The thought occurred to me that if they got it wrong and crashed it, I might be blessed with a second spare Li-Po! I hope someone’s curiosity was satisfied and what a great way to get photos of Ben Nevis’ summit. At other times of the day we were visited by one or two light aircraft and a microlight.

Further contacts on 7.170-SSB: G1GNQ Geoff; IW3AGO Henry; EA1AAP Fernando; DL1WB Lars; G7PTX Paul; G4OIG Gerald; G6INU Doug; G0BPK Nigel and G0UUU/M – my son Phil at Throxenby Mere, Scarborough (55/ 55). Phil was using 100W to a home-brew mobile whip on a triple mag-mount. Reasonable conditions allowed for a short conversation and the chance to pass greetings over to the family.

Reports were quite varied due to QSB which wasn’t really noticed at my end owing to low noise levels. I gave out between 55 and 59 with 52 to 59 coming back. That’s apart from a ‘31’ from SQ9MDF who was struggling but successful. The session lasted from 09:27z to 10:08 taking me through to what I considered to be a well-earned lunch hour preceded by a short walk to free up stiff legs.

10.118 CW - 6 QSO’s:
This session started with a summit-to-summit from Juerg HB9BIN/P on HB/BE157 – 559 both ways. There followed: DL3HXX Lothar 599/ 559; DL1FU Frid 599/ 559; F/HB9CYV/P S2S on FL/VL-030 559’s; DL3HWI Dietmar 599’s and SM5LNE Jan 599/ 559. Power was again 30W (2.5W into the linear).

14.061 CW – 23 QSO’s:
It wasn’t expected and although he could have been considered too close for 20m, Phil G4OBK was the first station to call in. It took a few seconds for me to realize that short skip was actually in operation and this really was Phil. I rushed off a 559 report, probably over generous, but offered before further callers could overpower us. I immediately got back some ‘long dash Rogers’ some ‘FB’s’ and a 339 report, which was probably better considered than the 559 I had hurriedly sent. Sometimes you have to strike while the iron’s hot so to speak and just get some numbers over.

Phil later told me that he’d listened to the 80m-SSB QSO between Victor GI4ONL early on. He hadn’t heard this directly as he was out in his car at the time seeking out a good VHF site overlooking G/LD. Quoting from Phil’s subsequent email…

‘I was talking to Victor on the Bluetooth Mobile on the way, he said you had self-spotted on Ben Nevis on 80m. He worked you while I listened through the Bluetooth.’

Phil hadn’t expected me to be still there when he got back.

After the contact with Phil yet another pileup was dealt with as follows: 4Z4DX Dov; DJ5AV Mike; AB4PP - John in Four Oaks NC; S58MU Milan; 9A2KI Istok; F5DUX; HB9MKV Rolf (a friend of the late Roy G4SSH I think); SP6BOW Augustyn; S56RPJ Janko; EA7GV Jose and Z35F Blagoj.

The pileup didn’t stop there: EA4M Rick; EA5K Miguel; EA4MY Antonio; EA1AAP Fernando; K4DY - Leslie at Hickory NC; OK1FMJ Josef; DF4TD Reinhard; SP9NLI Andy; SM0CUH Ola; OK2NAJ/P Jiri S2S OK/JC-015 and OE6END Endi (Andreas).

Reports were mainly 599’s going out to Europe and 559 to 579 for the DX. I got between 559 and 599 coming back with the exception of a 539 from the USA and a 339 from SM0CUH.

Mystery S2S:
Left on the frequency at the end was someone sending ‘S2S’ several times followed by a callsign. The signal was very weak, perhaps 339 at best but sometimes fading to inaudible. Every single time that he finished the S2S part and started with his callsign a much stronger station would start sending over the top. I had no idea what was being sent by the latter as I was trying to concentrate on the S2S but it didn’t follow the normal pattern of a SOTA chaser.

Time and again I sent ‘S2S Pse Agn’ and my call or ‘S2S Only Pse’ but every time I would get the same clown QRM’ing at exactly the same crucial point. This went on for something like five minutes which is an awful long time to just fail but try as I may his callsign was consistently wiped out in what ended up seeming like a conspiracy.

It didn’t help that the S2S station only ever sent his callsign once and at a speed I wasn’t quite comfortable with. I sent ‘Pse QRS’ but to no avail. I expected the S2S to keep sending and be audible after the QRM stopped but no such luck. If the other op had gone away or the S2S had sent his call several times, I could have worked him easily but the result was stalemate and it was very frustrating. In the end the S2S gave up and even more annoying, the frequency then went quiet.

With power remaining at 30W, 37 minutes was sufficient to clear this particular pileup, not including the fruitless debacle at the end.

14.265 SSB – 6 QSO’s:
When it struck me that there was a lot of CW in the log and not much voice, I sent a spot for the frequency that the EU WAB’ers used to collect squares from me some twenty odd years ago. Sticking with the 30 Watts but expecting the battery to fail at any time, I called CQ SOTA.

First in was EA1DHB Ricardo with 59/ 55, followed by DC8YZ Mike and OE5ODN, who gave his name as Henry. S57ILF Franci called next to exchange at 59/ 55 QSB and then OE6GND Gerd with two 59’s.

The last station on HF but being an S2S certainly not the least, was SQ2RBY/P Greg on SOTA SP/SZ-006 with 33 both ways.

Power was still set to 30 Watts and the battery was still going strong! In fact if that were not enough, this single 5Ah battery more than covered 2m-FM as well (see below).

Another visitor:
After taking down the HF dipole I was reconfiguring the mast to take the J-Pole when I spied a young girl heading towards me. Judging by what she said she must have witnessed some of the HF activity as she asked what the long piece of wire had been for. After a full explanation she introduced herself as Brenda who worked in an outdoor shop in the Cairngorms. She told me that she was in her early 30’s and I noticed well kitted out, as you’d expect from someone in her line of work. She had no objection to a photo ‘for my report’ (see below) and she helped by holding the VHF coax out of the way while I got the camera working.

Brenda, Dave and the ‘sunrise couple’ I’d met on the way up were not the only ones to show an interest. I must have had nearly 10 visitors throughout the day and at least two more enquired about my activities later while I was walking down. They all seemed impressed with the countries worked but one young chap assumed that the signal was going via satellite. He got a brief lesson about the ionosphere. Two people thought I was gathering weather information and of course the day wouldn’t have been complete without at least one ‘fishing’ quip.

145.575 FM - 3 QSO’s:
Instead of moving to the highest point like I’d planned, I set up VHF where the HF station had been. That was maybe one or two metres lower in altitude compared with the summit proper but there were just too many people over there and still more overlooking the north face. I wouldn’t have wanted to annoy anybody or get in the way.

After some sky-high VSWR trouble, which was later found to be caused by a broken coax braid near the BNC, I managed to bungee the feeder in such a way that it worked long enough to do the job. I first tried to rig the mast with two extra sections but the pull on the coax brought the fault back. I think the tip of the top whip ended up at around 3.5m AGL.

In case Ray GM3PIL (who I’d emailed) was listening in Nairn, it was worth selecting 145.575 – the Inverness local chat channel for the activation but I first put out a CQ on S20 and also on 145.400, which I was informed is a Glasgow net frequency. I didn’t hear Ray which was disappointing.

The three stations worked either responded to a 145.575 MHz self-spot or just happened to hear me. The first to answer my 5W call was GM4OAS Gordon, 54km WNW in Morar near Malaig. Gordon was 52 to me but wasn’t hearing me too well at 32. Despite the height of Ben Nevis, he apparently rarely gets a strong VHF signal from it.

When I’d worked GM7PKT a few days prior, Robin had talked about VHF being awkward from The Ben due to the large flat top attenuating VHF signals, particularly if you’re not right at the highest point. That added to the fact that there are plenty of surrounding ‘biggies’ and the curvature of the earth to consider, means it’s perhaps not as favourable a takeoff as one might expect. I was query slightly screened to the NW today but was doing my best to make up for that by erecting a higher mast.

Gordon was tail-ended by MM7WAB, Paul, 150 km SSE in Ayr. He was using 5 watts to a 5-ele beam and the exchange was 59/ 57 to 59. Thus he detected QSB on the path but his signal was so strong I didn’t notice. The callsign made it obvious what Paul’s interest was and he was more than happy to collect NN17 and TP1289 from me in exchange for NS41.

What turned out to be the 87th and final QSO of the day was provided by GM4GUG, Robert in Biggar, which is 160 km SE and down in Border country. Initially it was 59 both ways but the suspected QSB was confirmed when reports dropped to 54 or below and back up again.

All three stations were pleased to log WS1 and NN17 was a new square for Paul this year. We aim to please! A final CQ wasn’t answered and after QRT was announced, attention turned to packing up the variety of items scattered across the ‘QTH rock.’ Knowing that the walk down would take at least two hours in very warm conditions, I made sure to drink plenty and have some extra electrolytes to hand, before donning the rucksack.

The Long and Winding Road:
The foregoing almost seven hours had been enjoyable and satisfying if a little uncomfortable. Knowing this was my final visit to this mountain, I didn’t want to leave but after a walk over to the trig and shelter among the many people there, I managed to tear myself away by 14:49.

Experience has shown that this was going to be unpleasant, painful for the feet, and hard on the knees and leg muscles it was a case of grit the teeth and get on with it. I told myself that there would be no stopping and so it was.

Getting down to the lochan was reasonable in the remaining breeze but lower down it was sultry and oppressive. Unfortunately the abdominal pain was back too. There were so many going down that short queues formed when someone at the front hesitated due to the terrain underfoot or what some might consider a steep drop-off to one side. I just wanted it to be over but overtaking was difficult. In the end it was best to just go with the flow. There were people sitting at the sides and dogs panting. I made one of my mast sections into a walking stick by screwing on a flat top that I carry. It helped in getting down some of the bigger steps safely.

Free Shower:
Many people were pausing at Red Burn and I was no exception. Some were climbing upstream for the best water to fill their empty bottles. I had provisioned for enough drinking water but just in case, there was one steri-tab in my top pocket. I still needed water though but not for drinking. Filling my sun hat to the brim from a six-inch waterfall and quickly donning it was the solution to the overheating I was experiencing. Nobody even raised an eyebrow but neither did they copy this antic.

By the time I’d done this three times in succession and got thoroughly soaked from head to foot, I began to feel like continuing the descent. The down side to this was that the MP3 player in my top pocket packed-in temporarily and Norman Barrington was cut off in the middle of one of his links.

After false alarms, the signed ‘T’ junction finally appeared and some of us turned left for the YHA. Even this final section seemed to go on far too long but I found just enough energy to climb the elaborate stile on to the river-side footpath.

I didn’t feel like laughing but was forced to after spying an A4-sized notice pinned onto the footbridge with the warning, ‘Uneven Surface – Take Care’! After having come down almost 5 miles of rough stony track and lumpy paving (not complaining of the latter – it’s good) with thousands of potential stumbles on offer, this advice did seem more than comical.

It amazes me how human beings stay upright but I managed it long enough to get down the mountain and over the bridge. Shambling my way over to the car, I threw in the rucksack, hit the aircon button and sat back. It’s over, thank goodness. Never again!

9 on 80m SSB
22 on 40m CW
18 on 40m SSB
6 on 30m CW
23 on 20m CW (Best DX NC-USA)
6 on 20m SSB
3 on 2m FM
Total: 87

Ascent & distance: 1,341m (4,300ft) / 15 km (9.2 miles) - my figures
(‘Walk Highlands’ give 1,352m / 17km; probably from Achintee?)

Alarm clock: 04:30
Left hotel in FW: 05:00
Walking from Glen Nevis (YHA): 05:25
Ben Nevis Summit GM/WS-001: 08:07 to 14:49
Rtnd Glen Nevis: 16:56
Hotel: 17:06

Ascent: 2hr-42min (Best 2-28 in 2015)
Descent: 2hr-7min (Best 2-5 in 2015)
Walking: 4hr-49min
Summit time: 6hr-42min
Car to Car: 11hr-31min

Part-2 follows:


After first bagging it via CMD and the Arete with my son Andy in 1998, this was my sixth climb of Ben Nevis, the fifth for SOTA and the fourth time as a solo summit (i.e. not adding CMD GM/WS-003 via the Arete.) A lifetime fascination keeps bringing me back, though from now on I will be admiring it from sea level.

The route employed, which is merely to be endured, was just a means to an end. It’s a long way, much too popular and not very pleasant but it got the radio kit up and that was the main aim. It took mental strength to get up and just as much, if not more, to get back down. Surely there must have been a few but I can’t remember seeing any people who were my age or older.

The weather window fell right into my lap albeit it was a bit too warm for me on the lower reaches in the afternoon. It was much the same when I spent a similar time on top precisely six years ago to the day, if a few degrees cooler then. The summit showed itself in good light again today. 16C (61F), rising to 19C (66F) are very high temps for that height this far north (57 degrees N) which probably attracted more people than average. There was a little low-cloud to mid-morning but the day went on to be very pleasant indeed after the breeze warmed up a bit. It was odds against me finding two similar good days for successive assaults six years apart. What luck and the tactic of a very early start worked out very well for me again.

On that same date in 2015, HF band conditions were very poor and I had an intermittent coax braid discontinuity then, due to severe corrosion caused by unnoticed seawater ingress in OV00. This time conditions were very good on all the bands used; the winner being 40m with 40 mixed-mode QSO’s. 20m performed very well too and also brought in some DX from North Carolina and Israel. CW was the main mode with 51 QSO’s and that was without offering CW on 80m. 30m is a great band too but there were only a handful of chasers in attendance after working so many on 40.

Evidenced by the pileups, there’s no doubt that WS1 was much sought after, enabling me to more than double the QSO count of 2015. Whether that is due to it being Britain’s highest mountain or because it’s a top scorer is debatable but I wasn’t complaining. Every additional QSO and on-air comment showing a particular interest made it that much more worth the effort and the effort was great.

I hope that of the many people who noticed me sitting there and the ones that came to ask questions between band changes, learned a little about our hobby if only this branch of it. That said, I wouldn’t blame any of them for regarding it as mildly eccentric as I would tend to agree.

I took a lot of small breaks and a full hour for lunch because I was feeling a bit under the weather. Also due to a cold wind in my ears on ascent and not the right hat to combat it, I felt very slightly unsteady, especially when standing. Labyrinthitis is a problem I’ve had once or twice in the past after exposure to cold winds.

During one of my walkabouts, this time over to the southern edge to take photos, I discovered what looked like the remains of a small but substantially built wooden hut with just the lower sides and base left standing. I did wonder where the sizable bits of weathered timber lying on the summit rocks came from. Now I know. Views were good but not stunning due to a haze on distant objects.

Well that’s it. The three practice hills, two of which involved a good soaking, had been all about exercise and training with SOTA very much an afterthought but Ben Nevis was quite the opposite. Radio was the primary aim with the physically demanding work merely to be endured. Just being at the highest spot in Britain for as long as possible in amazing weather conditions and meeting friendly people doing the same was just as memorable. I’ll be boring friends and family with it for some time yet I fear.

Thanks to all stations worked, essential for success and for that wonderful spotting service enabled by the apparent mobile phone coverage improvements for this mountain. Thanks also for all the work done to improve the route over the years such as paving and a bridge on the lower half. Opinions vary on the subject of paving of course. Also to the people who agreed to their photos going into my report - you added some colour. Thanks and apologies if I got your names wrong. Finally thanks to my XYL Denise for her tolerance and for trusting me with her posh car once again.

73, John G(M)4YSS

Photos: 3-4-8-19a-201pa-36a-37a-38a-48a-53a-205pa-208p-206pa-72a-211p-217pa-101a-113a-121a-210p-133-137-148-151a-154-165-168-176-183-188-190-194-197.

Above: Notice near the start. Start time 05:25 BST

Above: ‘T’ junction of YHA and Achintee paths

Above: Going up the zig-zags after Half-Way Lochan (Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe)

Above: Early morning mist over Glen Nevis

Above: Embanked path not far from the summit

Above: A splash of colour. The three girls who set off at 05:00; now on their way down. They took my photo - below

Above: The author visibly sagging. Carn Dearg (Red Mountain - 1,221m) to left of photo

Above: Summit ahead

Above: The trig plinth which was being repaired the last time I was here (2015)

Above: Jenny & Ben from Somerset who I met at the summit on arrival

Above: My summit photo courtesy of Jenny

Above: The emergency shelter has collected still more stickers

Above: Dave (I think) a rugby player from Bingley. Sorry if the name is wrong!

Above: Op GM4YSS

Above: The view over to the South. The Mamores

Above: Radio equipment and home-grown tomatoes

Above: The mystery wooden ruin a little way down the southern face

Above: Holding the coax plug is Brenda, who came over to ask what all this was about?

Above: HF setup on GM/WS-001

Above: The summit of Ben Nevis before leaving

Above: A busy day on The Ben

Above: The caption reads, ‘Ben Nevis for Jack.’

Above: Looking down the north face. No snow this time but staying well back!

Above: The edge of the north face

Above: A north face gully. Another potential danger.

Above: Underway on the descent

Above: A much less bleak Half-Way Lochan and the path down

Above: A brief stop at Red Burn to cure overheating

Above: The second half of the descent

Above: The bridge over a small ravine

Above: Mast section as a walking stick. 1/4 UNF threaded handle

Above: The end. Bridge over to the YHA in Glen Nevis. Never again!


Brilliant report, thank you. The views are magnificent but yea Gods that summit is ugly! I thought Scafell Pike was bad, but that has to be worse.

Cheers, Mark.


Hello John, great report and photos, thanks.

73 Geoff vk3sq

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Hello John,
ADMIRABLE activation and report, I felt close to you.
I hope in your next activation from The Ben!!
All the best!!
Roberto IW2OBX

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Lovely report John. Glad you had better weather than my go on WS-001 & WS-003.

Out of intrest did you stick your head into the old observatory buildings or see much litter?

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Thanks for the report and the QSO John, and I notice that SOTLAS has now kindly marked it as a complete candidate … I have climbed it twice (I think) once up the route you used and once via the CMD Arete which was memorably huge route starting at the Youth Hostel all of this in pre-children and pre-SOTA days… like you I’m not sure about repeating the CMD Arete due to the lack of fitness…but am hoping to make WS1 a complete eventually although I would be amazed if I cold get anywhere near your ascent time. Hope to work you again soon, at least everything else in the UK would invlove less height gain and I’m hoping there are many more you will activate. 73 Paul



Hello Mark,
Thanks for that and the reply. The views were somewhat affected by haze but still good. When talking to people who have been up Ben Nevis, you do get the impression that the majority of them saw only fog so I count myself exceedingly lucky in beating the odds not just this time, to get such great day up there. Yes it is pretty ugly I know; just piles of rocks and not easy to walk about or put wires up. To be honest it looks a lot nicer when covered in snow but it can be pretty mean in winter!

Hi Geoff,
Thanks for this reply and the others. Pleased you got something from it. There are plenty of people who dislike this mountain but I remain fascinated by it. I certainly enjoyed the entire thing including the report which wasn’t a chore in this case.

Thanks Roberto,
That’s praise indeed, especially coming from someone in a country with lots of bigger mountains and you weren’t phased by the detail either. As for ‘next activation’ I usually keep quiet but when I got back down this time I said, ‘Never again’ and unfortunately my XYL heard it. She probably wouldn’t let me go up there again! Trouble is you quickly forget the pain and only remember the glory!

Evening Dave,
It’s rare that one-day in a week weather window coincides with the time when you’re ready but that happened for WS1. I was dead lucky in that respect apart from it being a bit too warm later in the day. No complaints though – nearly seven hours up there doing no rush radio and meeting some really nice people was pure pleasure. I would have loved to add CMD like in the past. I always consider it but this time only for about five minutes! The selection of summits you did when up there in August was truly to be admired but unlike the last time in FW (2015) I didn’t feel that energetic.

Yes I did look inside some of the ruins and found them to be pretty clean (see additional photos). It seems that there may have been something of a clean up in the short time between our activations. If so, that will have been done by volunteers, so well done to them for their energy and love of the mountains. It may be that someone read your report and instigated it? I saw a few minor bits of rubbish like the odd sweet wrapper and a fag end (the latter seems at odds with Ben Nevis) but tiny amounts. There was also a plastic bottle but being half full of water I didn’t bring it down in case someone was relying on it? Rucksacks were being left at the trig while the owners explored. I did see an abandoned or lost black jacket while going up the zig-zags and one or two dropped tissues.

Hi Paul,
Thanks for the reply. Having never come across it before, I had to Google ‘SOTLAS.’ I got the answer and have had look at that to see what it does. I was speechless at first about how good that is. Well done to the people who made it. I don’t know how long it’s been going but i’d certainly not heard of it until now. Sounds like it’s flagged up something for you though Paul and another load of effort may be required! The Arete is the better route of course and a real treat. It’s not as dangerous as it looks either but I can’t say I’ve been over it on snow or ice, which could be a whole lot different.

Both times I’ve been that way, Torlundy forest car park was the start-point but I never properly found the path up the side to WS3 until right up at NN 1612 7394 which made it harder over rough ground and heather. Actually if on the way back from WS1 you cut down the boggy path from the lochan via NN 1477 7424 and walk a steel beam over the burn at NN 1483 7492, the two-summit route is not too much more than just doing The Ben on the tourist route. In 2008, I made it 1,510m (4,954ft) – 16.5 km (10.3 miles) and walking time was 6hr-10min but that was HF QRP with under 10kg. Looking that up makes me think I should have tried it again if only for the glory of the CMD Arete on a nice day but thinking about it plus the extra activation required – No thanks! I made the right decision for my state of fitness. Good luck if you do Ben Nevis no matter which way you choose. Hope you do!

Thanks again for all replies,
73, John

Additional Photos: 25-134-135-138-139

Above: Abandoned or lost? The jacket half way up the zig-zags

Above: Some of the summit ruins. Has there been a clean-up?


I remember reading that there was indeed a partial clear-up around the ruins of the observatory, there has even been some discussion of rebuilding it. I’m pretty sure that your photo of a gully is the top of Gardyloo Gully, so named because rubbish and waste from the observatory was thrown down it - a thought that I am sure is a comfort to the hundreds of climbers that toil up it each winter! :smiley: The Tourist route used to be known as the Pony Track as it was engineered to bring provisions up to the observatory by pack pony. I see from your picture that the emergency shelter has changed from how it was last time I was there, it used to be a bright yellow curved structure, like the one in Coire Leis by the abseil posts. It was pretty nasty inside back then, too! Some people are pigs…

The last time I was up there I had no idea it would be the last time, a beautiful sunny winters day with the summit and zig-zags under deep snow, I was taking my fiance up for her first (and last) time, so unlike yourself I never had the chance to say farewell.


Hi John,
The height doesn’t matter, the mountains high 1000 or 1500 meter in Scotland or anyway near 57 degree latitute are like a 3000 3500 meters in north Italy, 45 degree.
I tried to climb strålaus a summit up 1000 mt at 59 degree latitude in Norway. It was a total failure due to the wx suddly change.
My backpack was a little bit lighter than yours, 7-8 kg it’s enough.
Speaking about Ben Nevis… Scottish ice trip in Ben Nevis


I’m a bit late to the party, but thanks for a fabulous report John!

I think Ben Nevis is my number one ambition as far as hill walking goes, I would dearly love to add it to my list of Snowdon, Scafell and Carrauntoohil. I’ve talked about attempting BN for decades but it’s never quite worked out. I looked at taking the train to Fort William but the expense was hugely prohibitive.

I have another tool in my toolbox now though and it took a chance viewing of a YouTube video for me to actually realise what I could do. My parents have a very nice Transit motorhome and I am permitted to borrow it. I think that a trip to summit BN with an overnight stay or two in the motorhome would be easily accomplished.

Last night I saw a presentation by Kenton Cool at Lancaster. Kenton Cool is a British mountaineer with many 8000m peaks to his name, including 15 summits of Everest. Kenton has been using a hashtag recently and was flogging tee shirts bearing the hashtag during the interval of his presentation. The tee shirts stated -


Maybe I ought to take the message!!

I think you need to be very proud of your achievement and execution John, a well planned trip and much deserved success.

73, Colin


Many thanks for another very informative report and some excellent photos John. I was pleased to be able to have a chat with you on 40m SSB.

I don’t think I will be spending much time operating on the summit as it will probably take me twice as long as you to get up there. It will definitely be more about getting it ticked off. I would much prefer to spend my time activating less lofty summits where the public rarely put in an appearance.:grinning:

73, Gerald

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Love all the detail, very entertaining.
73 de OE6FEG

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Thanks for the fine illustrated record of your activation. Actually you look like you have one more Ben Nevis climb in you if you wanted it.

May you continue to activate.

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Thanks John - obviously some FW group tidies the summit up every so often.

Re the fag ends being at odds. Perhaps the smokers enjoy the ‘healthy smoking’ in clear, clean air. :slightly_smiling_face:


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Superbly detailed write up John! Looks like you made some friends along the way too.
73 Richard

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Further replies:

Thanks for that Brian, Your reply has a certain poignancy that I can readily empathize with as it’s starting to affect me the same way. I know you have a lot of experience of this and many other mountains mainly through climbing and you will likely agree that it looks better when it’s white over. I remember the old shelter which was there along with the new one in 1998. I looked inside but didn’t get too close! It was like a WW2 Anderson shelter and was removed sometime between then and 2006.

I think you’re right, it’ll be Gardyloo. Going by memory it was the one closest to the ruins so that would make sense. You wouldn’t want to be walking too far to tip the slop bucket out in the sort of weather they’d have to suffer up there in winter.

Some more photos - 2006 this time and all the more attractive for a bit of snow.

Above: Climber with rope down Gardyloo Gully

Above: Gardyloo Gully

Above: CMD (GM/WS-003) and a bit of the arete with Aonach Mor/ Beag (GM/WS-002) beyond from Ben Nevis

Above: Activation. Icing conditions - 4 hours at minus 12C

Above: Looking SSW

Above: Not as busy as my latest visit

Yes Roberto, you are right of course. Height and latitude do similar things to the climate. I might be a bit uncomfortable too going high in Norway so I don’t blame you for turning back. It takes some courage to call it a day and come back down. I agree about the weight. I carry a similar weight to you when doing VHF-QRP but I have got into the habit of taking QRO for HF because I like to put on 160m from time to time. It’s a pain to keep separating the linear from the FT817ND so it tends to stay put.

Thanks for the video which I watched right through with much interest. The climbing is hair raising to me - a hill walker and I only just have sufficient head-for-heights for that on some routes. On it I saw my ‘acquaintance’ Alan Hinkes (below), who I met on Helvellyn (G/LD-003) in 2017. Great chap. A down to earth Yorkshireman who completed all 14 eight thousanders.

Above: Alan Hinkes on Helvellyn G/LD-003 on 12-12-17

Hi Colin, Not as late as I am with my final report of the set. Still not quite finished. I see your little icon has that great photo of you soldering on top of a SOTA. Brilliant! I wish I could say I’d done the Irish biggy but I haven’t been to Eire since 1964! I really think I am missing a lot in that respect. My dentist comes from a place near that mountain and we have discussed it once or twice - well to be fair it was a bit one-way with me at the wrong end of a drill.

It sounds like you have found the key to doing WS1 - the camper van. Keep it as cheap as possible. I remember that part of my life. It went something like this. Two people - two wages and a small bungalow, then 2 years later four people one wage and a house with twice the mortgage (15% too!). Talk about skint! Anyway however you do it, I hope you enjoying it and that the WX is kind.

Yes I am familiar with Kenton Cool as my bookshelves are stacked with books about climbing in the Himalayas starting with Wilfrid Noyce’s book ‘The South Col’ which was actually in my Dad’s collection. I saw him in a TV programme in the past few months. He was leading something but I can’t remember what.
Good luck with Ben Nevis but don’t leave it too much longer or you’ll need that soldering iron to keep you from frostbite.

That’s as good a way as any to just get it done. You will have worked it a few times probably so now need to activate it. The completes part of the hobby needs much dedication, determination not to mention the pain of driving. I was so thoroughly jammy to be able to stay a long time due to the clement weather. I couldn’t imagine hanging around there if the mountain was having a bad mood day. 1998 was an example. Not desperately bad but drizzly, foggy and miserable. I tried to activate it but my IC-2E got soaked and packed up. I know what you mean about busy summits but I quite like them so long as it’s not too often. Many thanks for the QSO. Always good to get you in the log!

Thank you Matt. Yes, a lot of detail - it’s a habit. Thanks for your tips. I enjoyed watching that and have made a note of the lightweight chair. Oh how I’ve suffered doing VHF contests all day in a tent. The trouble is do I go for more comfort or an extra battery? That is ever the dilemma.

Thanks Ron - and for the encouragement. I doubt that I’ll be in the frame to do that one again but I certainly plan to continue with Summits-on-the-Air, especially around my own county of Yorkshire - G/NP’s. We will be in G/LD for 3 days over Christmas so there might be one then?

Hello Dave, Yes, maybe there are people who do look after it because it’s so popular but it’s just possible that your report was seen by someone and acted upon. Not that likely I know but possible. Yes, it always amazes and mildly shocks me when I see the tab ends, especially the ones half way up. I find it hard enough to climb up mountains on 20% oxygen and still gasping for breath! There were never many but I think it’s fair to say that you see fewer than say 20 years ago. Progress.

Thanks Richard. Detail - years in Engineering I’m afraid. Yes I met some very nice people. You do tend to on mountains, especially the popular ones and I talk to everybody I meet. That comes from being desperately shy as a child but now I try to make up the lost ground. I see from your thumbnail that you are a serious climber. Climbers have my respect. I tried it on outward bound but didn’t continue beyond some minor walls with friends. Same with potholing.

Thanks again for the interest,
All the best, John.