AONACH BEAG, GM/WS-002 on 12th September 2021
GM/WS-002 on 40m & 20m QRO & 2m-QRP
G(M)4YSS plus Rob & Gavin GM3YTS & GM0GAV, met on the way
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS)
FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver without internal batteries.
MX-P50M , 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier.
Link dipole for 80-40-(30)-20-10m Bands
Four section x 5m home-brew CFC mast with 1/4” UNF SS fittings & 1m end sticks
Unitone 'D’ shape ear-cup headphones
IC-E90 4-Band, 5W-VHFM H/H
J-Pole for 2m-FM
One HRB 5000mAh 50C Li-Po (Part discharged)
11 kg (24 pounds) inc. 1 litre fluids
This was the final summit in the series of five during our 10-day stay in Fort William and my forth time on WS2. The Nevis Range Cable car takes you half way up Aonach Mor to more easily activate the 4,055ft Aonach Beag, about 5km to the south. The first cable car is at 09:30 am this year which fit in perfectly with the hotel breakfast time of 08:00.
Nevis Range Gondolas :
(Tel:+44 (0)1397 705 825.) The adult charge is £22 per-person (return) and the operating times at this time of year are 09:30 am to 16:30 pm daily (wind conditions permitting). Being retired, the cost to me was £18:50 return with an additional charge of £4.50 to park the car. The journey time is 12 minutes and the station heights are; lower 100m ASL at NN172 775 and upper 655m (2,150 feet) ASL at NN1876 7561. The saving in ascent is 555m and the map distance covered by mechanical means is 2.4km.
There is a good mountain bike track that winds around beneath the cables if you miss the last ride down at 16:30 but besides not being permitted, you’d have been exceedingly foolish to risk that today as this was a day of mountain bike downhill racing.
The Ascent / Descent Route:
Arriving at 09:15, I bought my ticket ten minutes later and got talking to father and son mountain bike enthusiasts from Northern Ireland . I was told that as mountain bike trails go, this ranks as one of the longest. We had a nice conversation in which I told them about SOTA after they enquired about the purpose of my sectional mast.
Unlike the last time in 2015, when I shared a gondola with five others, only one person or group was allowed per car this year due to Covid-19 rules. With so many bike racers around, I worried about delays but it didn’t take long at all. A double queue system was in operation; one for mountain bikers and one for everybody else. Taking it in turns, there was minimal delay.
Are You Doing SOTA?:
While I was waiting my turn the two people in front of me turned to ask, ‘Are you doing SOTA?’ They had obviously spotted the tell-tale signs, namely what was tied to the rucksack. My reply was, ‘Yes but how do you know what SOTA is?’ One pointed to his peaked cap which had the lettering 'GM3YTS on the front. I later found out that he was called Rob. Rob asked my callsign with the response, ‘Ah you’re the one with the long reports.’ I could only admit it and laugh. He went on to say that they were ‘CW men’ and I replied that we could put some separation between us for the activation and do different bands or modes.
There was no chance for further elaborations or full introductions due to a signal from the attendant. Five seconds later the two of them were in the nearest car and waving goodbye, with me photographing them as they went.
Execution & Route:
After looking round for the two SOTA men I’d just met and failing to spot them anywhere, I was underway from top station (NN1876 7561) by 09:52, walking west along the bulldozed track for a very short distance to NN 1871 7550. Here a path bears left off the track, going up ‘on the slant’ (SSW) via a bridge which crosses a burn to a snack bar (closed today) at NN 1859 7493. From there you can continue SSW diagonally uphill over pathless grass between the snack bar and the chair-lift cables before crossing under them to pick up the path again at NN 1837 7457. This short cut may not be possible in winter due to skiers?
After continuing south for about 100m to NN1849 7441, there’s a decent path which is easy to follow via NN1865 7425, NN1876 7408 and NN1907 7393 to a communications mast and wooden hut at NN1922 7395. The path gets a bit vague around here but reappears again at NN1926 7350. Next is Aonach Mor’s substantial summit cairn (1,221m) at NN 19306 72952, where there is normally a view of the target. Not so this morning with the cloud level around 1,100m.
There is a good path over grass, from Aonach Mor to Aonach Beag via NN1931 7235, and the low-point of approx 1,090m at NN1939 7190. After that the character changes as the path makes a ‘summit bid’ over and around outcrop and loose stones, some of them white quartz (NN1946 7170 and NN1962 7164) to the small summit cairn GPS’d on a previous sortie at NN 19718 71494.
The top of Aonach Beag is featureless with scant windswept vegetation and in one place an attractive ice-shattered quartz outcrop. It wasn’t windy today but if it had been, there is little to hide behind. The east side is precipitous but there is gently sloping grass just a little way SW off the top with loads of space to set up a dipole. Ben Nevis with its Arete and Carn Mor Dearg combine to make a splendid view if you’re lucky. No luck today until much later.
The names should be interchanged. Standing 13m higher than Aonoch Mor, the less accessible Aonach Beag is the SOTA. It would be that way round wouldn’t it? 15m more depth to the intervening col and we’d have two SOTA’s.
AONACH BEAG, GM/WS-002, 1,236m (4,055ft), 10 pts, 11:36 to 14:41 B ST. 7 deg C on arrival. Less than 5 mph wind but no midges. Low-cloud until after 14:30 then poor views of Ben Nevis’ north face at 3km range. WAB-NN17, LOC-IO76MT. Poor/ intermittent Vodafone coverage.
7.033 CW - 16 QSO’s:
Though it was foggy, I couldn’t see or hear any sign of the two SOTA ops, met at the Gondola. Though my phone was showing a signal, this was the only self-spot of the day that actually worked and a good job too. I wanted to get the CW done ASAP so as not to interfere with Rob & Gavin’s operation. After a quicker than normal setting up on grass some 80m SW of the summit cairn, I worked the following stations:
S57S Alek (spotted me as ‘workable in Slovenia’); HB9AGH Ambrosi; G4XRV Rupert; G3VXJ Bob; G4AFI Andrew; DL6WT Juerg; ON7GO Philippe; G4WSB Bill; M0BKV Damian; G4FGJ Gordon; MW0IDX Roger; G4AYR Terry; DL3HXX Lothar; OH3GZ Jukka; DL9UJF/P Wolf (S2S? - Ref not copied) and OK1CZ/P S2S Petr on SOTA OK/US-049.
The callsign MW0IDX goes back to the ‘year dot’ as far as SOTA is concerned. Roger braved a foggy, snowy Snowdon (GW/NW-001) on the very first day it started. Incidentally, Snowdon was also my introduction to SOTA but that was a month later.
Partly due to fading and the rest to my mediocre CW skills, I was not fortunate enough to copy the summit ref, sent several times by Wolf DL9UJF/P.
Vaclav OK1ZE was the one that ‘got away.’ He was 589 on the call-in but all attempts to bring him in over the next ten minutes between other QSO’s, failed and I didn’t hear from him again.
Outgoing RST’s were mainly in the range 559 to 589 with a 449 for OK1CZ/P. Reports on my nominally 50 Watt signal were mostly 559 to 579 with a 439 from Ambrosi, 449 from Lothar and 569 from Petr. The session lasted 28 minutes and before the end I heard voices coming from over at the summit.
Meeting GM3YTS & GM0GAV:
When I got to the summit cairn, revealed out of the mist were GM0YTS with a handheld connected to a vertical dipole and GM0GAV who was just setting up his HF station. They were Rob & Gavin and Rob was already in QSO with another summit on 145.550-FM. Gavin, having already worked a few on 2m-FM, was walking out his sloping wire, when the antenna pole fell over and was neatly caught by Rob.
Gavin explained his inverted ‘L’ setup to me. It consists of a 6m vertical GRP telescoping pole and an 11m length of thin wire. This is loosely spiraled around the pole and the remaining just less than 5m, with string added as appropriate, is pegged out as a sloper. Three 4.5m ground radials, emanating from the base of the mast, are fitted to complete the system.
The wire lengths are carefully selected to avoid awkward reactances and the tuner in the 10W Elecraft KX2 does the rest, making it into a good antenna for all HF bands 40m and up. This system has the obvious advantage over a link dipole in that you don’t have to move from your operating position to change bands. Unless you want to run on 80m or 160m, that is a very attractive feature particularly when you’re in a tent, shelter or under an umbrella and getting stressed by foul weather.
Gavin was soon on the air and bagging chasers on 40m-CW who’d come too late for my earlier showing there. His QSO rate must have been approaching twice that of mine. How the other half live! Gavin was soon onto his second HF band. Not only was he working the chasers at a goodly rate but he was also managing a sporadic conversation with Rob and I plus the several visitors who kept arriving out of the fog.
145.550 FM - 1 QSO:
Meanwhile, after setting up an S2S for me with the station he was working, Rob offered his handheld; a new looking Yaesu with a big screen which I think he said was an FT2DE. I was able to make what turned out to be my only VHF QSO of the day by working Fraser MM0EFI/P on GM/WS-023 Beinn a’Chlachair, 28km to the East of WS2.
The exchange was 59 both ways and this was number two of a ‘buy-one-get-two-free-deal’ from WS2; Gavin being the third a little later. Apologies to Fraser for writing his callsign as ‘EFS’ on my hand at the time and propagating that into the official log – now corrected. It was an error waiting to happen. EFS or EFIS stands for Electronic Flight (Instrument) System, something which I was all too familiar with a long time ago.
After well over an hour at the cairn talking to Rob and Gavin plus all and sundry who ventured anywhere near us, my new-found friends started getting ready to leave. An hour sounds like a long time but there were a lot of conversations to be had plus the usual explanations of what we were about. One man said that he’d been walking the mountains for 25 years and never seen the like of it and I think another chap said the same while specifying 40 years.
Rob pointed out to many of the visitors that they’d been very ‘lucky’ to find not one but three of these odd people on one summit in one day. To be fair, they did show a bit of interest, especially about how far we’d worked and for our part it’s always a privilege to talk to like-minded mountain people.
14.061 CW - 3 QSO’s:
Though it was still lost in the stubborn mist, I wandered back to find my station with the idea of putting on 20m-CW. I had a look at 7.160-SSB first but it wasn’t in use, remaining so after I put out a call.
After first self-spotting my frequency, I waited a minute or two and got to work calling CQ with 50 Watts to the dipole. I didn’t expect too much of a crowd after Gavin had stated earlier that 20m ‘wasn’t up to much’ but neither did I expect what I got, which was absolutely nothing.
After more CQ’ing I sent another spot for good measure but this one must have ‘stuck’ also. Strange! I had signal bars so why no spots? OK. I will have to rely on lots of CQ’s but on a frequency which is used for SOTA, surely someone would turn up sooner rather than later. I had plenty of battery power and 50 watts but time was strictly limited by the last gondola down Aonach Mor at 16:30.
At last a CQ was answered but by no one I knew and with a note so raspy it offended the ears. Furthermore, in the time it took him to send his callsign, he was drifting right through my filter and out of the other side. I sent ‘QRZ?’ ‘Drifting’ and my callsign again. After two more attempts he came back slightly more stable and I wrote down LY2BNW (QRZCQ gives the name ‘Yuri’). The exchange was 559/ 579 but I would have been quite generous giving him 354. Anyway it was a QSO in the log and certainly not to be sniffed at. There might come a day when this op is the difference between success and walking off ‘in tears’ with three contacts!
More CQ’ing got me OE5ZRN/ QRP. He really was down in the noise but at least he wasn’t meandering up and down the band. It took quite a while to confirm the callsign at which point 339-QSB was sent with the same coming back.
What turned out to be the final QSO of the day came with the familiar raspy note. This time I deciphered LY2BNL (QRZ.com: 'Valdas in Vilnius). At first I thought it was the same op who’d come back for a clarification of his callsign but more likely another family member or friend using the same equipment. Research shows that the locations for these two callsigns are identical. The exchange was the same, the QSO’s were seven minutes apart and as far as the log is concerned two QSO’s were entered.
It was quite obvious that none of these were SOTA chasers and that both self spots had failed. I tried yet another but that didn’t work either. All the signs were there. It was time to call it a day. On the plus side, a vista of the CMD Arete and part of the North face of Ben Nevis had opened up but cloud was still down on the summit.
The last time I was on WS2 six years before, I remember being savaged by midges at this time of day. Thankfully, just like the four previous activations throughout this holiday, they were completely absent.
145.500 FM - Nil:
With the HF station back in the rucksack, I walked across to the now deserted summit cairn with a view to trying 2m-FM. Plugging the IC-E90 into my J-Pole and calling CQ on S20 produced nothing but this was the aerial with an intermittent fault discovered four days prior on Ben Nevis. Indeed testing at home a week later found it to be ‘off the scale’ VSWR wise and open circuit to DC. The problem turned out to be a break in the coax braid near the BNC plug. One last token effort was made using just the rubber duck but as expected, with no result. My cause would have been better served by walking off early but now there was finally a view of sorts, it was worth staying a couple more minutes for a few more photos.
A simple re-trace of the ascent route brought me back to the gondola at 16:05 and down to the lower station by 16:30. I was back at the hotel for 5pm. The end of another good day in the mountains and the culmination of an enjoyable holiday.
40m CW: 16
20m CW: 3
2m FM: 1
Ascent & distance: 850m (2,789ft) – 10.6 km (6.6 mls)
Elapsed time: Walking times: Up: 1hr-44min; Down: 1hr-24min. Summit time: 3hr-5min. Gross time: 6hr-4min. (Above times are from and to the Gondola top station; i.e. walking & SOTA only. The gondola took an additional 12 minutes each way with minimal waiting despite the mountain bike racing.)
There can’t be that many 10 pointers this easy in Scotland but of course it was only made easy by mechanical means. Without the use of the Gondola it would have been a much greater undertaking in terms of time and effort, with over 1,400m of ascent required of the activator. One man we met on the summit who had walked all the way, made it clear that there was no path as such under the gondola wires.
Meeting Rob GM3YTS and Gavin GM0GAV really made this activation for me. I am used to my own company so it was great to have a good conversation about things amateur in addition to the usual exchanges with passer’s by. I learned a lot too, about how other people do things and solve problems in different ways. If I wasn’t in the habit of putting on 80m and Top Band and I was a bit younger, I might consider changing to a system more bad weather friendly. I asked Gavin if his 6m telescoping mast ever froze up in winter making it impossible to retract. He replied that he’d had no trouble of that nature despite his mast being one of the cheaper sort.
Thinking back, I did try a tunable system once or twice using a home-brew miniature ATU to tune my 80m dipole for 160m against a ground wire without needing to leave my sleeping bag. In middle of a cold dark winter that was a luxury indeed.
I can’t praise Lochs & Glens and the Highland Hotel in Fort William enough, especially the staff, the meals and the fact that they have rooms with baths; not just showers. In my opinion, you can’t soothe out the cares of a day on Ben Nevis in a shower! At £50 pppn self-drive, it was very reasonable too (though I notice it cost us just £28 in 2015 – a very special late booking). In fact it was cheap when you consider that we pay £45 pppn for just B&B in Keswick and you can add at least £20 per person on top of that, for an evening meal in the town.
The faulty J-pole has been repaired with a new coax and I have gone for 4 metres of the lighter RG178 in place of 3m of RG316. The extra metre is useful when you’re sitting down a dip, out of the wind but still want omni coverage. Weight for the assembly excluding the thin 900mm stainless-steel whip, has gone down from 125gm to 110gm. RG178, is a coax I have been using for /P work since the 1980’s. It is only 1.8mm in diameter, immensely fiddly to terminate and having quite a strong memory, is quite prone to kinking and tangling. Loss is a bit more than RG58 but for the short lengths involved, I don’t really care.
Curiously I have met several people in the past few years who have informed me that they’ve, ‘Been up Ben Nevis in a cable car.’ I try my best to explain that they were transported half way up a mountain ‘next door but one’ to The Ben but I think some still don’t believe me. The unfortunate name ‘Nevis Range’ is obviously causing this confusion but with that said, I for one am very grateful that it exists.
As for the phone showing a decent signal versus spots that didn’t make it back to base; the consensus is that possibly my Samsung phone is showing signals from other networks, whilst mine is absent much of the time?
To ALL STATIONS WORKED and to Alek S57S and the SOTA spotter. Thanks to Nevis Range for saving so much time and effort; it was worth every penny! To Rob and Gavin who made my day and to my XYL for the use of her car.
73, John G(M)4YSS
Summary for holiday 03 to 13-09-21:
The three ‘Training Summits’ before Ben Nevis:
GM/WS-293-2 Bidein Bad na h-Iolaire, 04-09-21
GM/WS-339-1 Druim na h-Earba, 05-09-21
GM/WS-263-2 Beinn na Gucaig, 06-09-21
GM/WS-001-10 Ben Nevis, 08-09-21
GM/WS-002-10 Aonach Beag, 12-09-21
See separate reports for each activation
Totals for Holiday:
3.364m (11,037ft) Ascent – 45.3km (28.3 miles) walked
25 SOTA points.
806 miles driven home to home
Ten nights at the Highland Hotel in Fort William at £50 pppn
(Booked through Lochs & Glens self-drive)
Above: SOTA activators Gavin with Rob - in photo, leaving the bottom station
Above: Mountain Bikers hurtling down below the cables
Above: Arriving at the top station.
Above: Part way up Aonach Mor near the ski lift. Cable car top station in distance
Above: Crowberries are edible
Above: Approaching cloud-base at around 1,100m. Ski lift not in use (sadly)
Above: GM/WS-002 summit cairn on arrival
Above: SOTA ops Rob & Gavin GM3YTS/P and GM0GAV/P setting up about 100m north from my station
Above: Rob GM3YTS/P logging his QSO with Fraser MM0EFI/P on GM/WS-023. Gavin GM0GAV/P setting up for HF-CW
Above: Rob elucidating curious passer’s by…
…before setting up my S2S with Fraser using his Yaesu FT2DE
Above: Gavin about to peg out the sloping section of his inverted ‘L’ but how secure is that mast?..
Above: …quick thinking and a great catch by Rob
Above: Gavin underway on 40m-CW with the KX2 logging automatically!
Above: Visitors to the station - some from the cable car like us and others from Glen Nevis. If I’m remembering correctly, the experienced mountain dog was called Bruce, aged 5?
Above: Back at GM4YSS/P for the 20m session with Ben Nevis clearing behind
Above: The view SE opens up too
Above: IC-E90 trying 2m-FM without success. Coax braid parted or nobody around?
Above: On my way back. CMD Arete and Ben Nevis’ north face
Above: Looking ENE from the col between Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor. The only snow spotted this holiday. No doubt left over from last winter as the sun rarely gets there
Above: Mountain bikes waiting in line to speed down…
…but I put my trust in another kind of good engineering