G4YSS Activation Report: GW/NW-001 & GW/NW-008 on 18-Apr-09.
(SNOWDON & Y LLIWEDD with 160m QRO.)
G(W)4YSS using GC0OOO/P.
Unaccompanied from Pen-Y-Pass.
Bands: 80m, 160m, 2m, 4m.
All times BST (UTC plus 1) unless otherwise stated.
Once again a 5-day conference in Llandudno with my XYL & her friend was the trigger for this SOTA activity. It represented the fifth G4YSS / GC0OOO expedition to NW1 and the third to NW8. This was part of a natural progression from 2m FM QRP in 2002 through HF QRP in 2008 and now HF QRO in 2009. As per 2008, the 160m and 80m bands would be the main targets but this time with higher power available. The plan, if time allowed, was to add Y Lliwedd with the intention of introducing it on 80 and 160 for the first time.
HF / VHF:
Many of the big Welsh mountains still have poor records for activation on HF/LF. Some have never been heard on 40m or 80m. The vast majority of Snowdon’s SOTA QSOs have taken place on the 2m band. For Y Lliwedd the March 2009 HF totals were far sparser. The only HF activity recorded for NW8 took place on the ‘exclusive’ 60m band with just 17 QSOs from a total of 547. The rest were on VHF & UHF with nary a ‘squeak’ on 80, 40, 30 or 160. Lasts year’s efforts on 80/40/160 had improved Snowdon’s HF figures but with snow & ice on the steep slopes leading to Lliwedd, a 5-hour stay on Snowdon was as far as it went for me on 27-March-08.
Why such little LF activity?
In Snowdon’s case, it’s obvious. The summit ‘layout’ is barely suitable for a 40 metre long piece of wire. It is high, often wild & misty but perhaps most of all, there are usually masses of people crammed onto this very small (in SOTA terms) but hugely popular top. When it’s working, the mountain railway adds considerably to the congestion problem.
A glance at the map (bearing in mind the 25m activation rule) shows a roughly triangular area with sides of the order of 100m or less. This small, exposed pyramid slopes steeply down in every direction. Manufactured steps serve a plinth-mounted trig-point from 2 directions. The rock-strewn surface, not particularly mast or peg friendly in summer, is likely to be frozen solid in winter and the guidelines state that we should avoid placing antennas across paths. There is still some debate as what parts of the railway and new café lie inside the activation area.
Pyg Track again - yawn.
We had been in Llandudno from Tuesday without a sign of suitable WX. Finally the forecast for our last day, Saturday promised reasonable conditions. Since this was going to be a two-summit, one battery HF QRO affair, the route would need to be the most efficient available. I know I’m boring but to my mind the Pyg Track from Pen-y-Pass offers the best option for SOTA activation. The Miners Track, though picturesque in good viz, fails to get to grips with the job in hand until too late and Crib Goch (like Striding Edge on LD3) has ‘delay’ written all over it. There are routes all around NW1 but none (that I know of) which start at 359m ASL! Even so, some 2400ft must still be gained before the first objective is reached. After all Snowdon, though somehow ‘diminished’ by a railway, is over 80% the height of Ben Nevis and HF QRO makes a bit of weight inevitable.
Time and power constraints:
The other problems were time and battery power. I could skip breakfast but in order to get to the evening conference events, we had been forced to book our evening meal for 17:30. The choices were simple. Do both SOTAs on 2m FM, Forfeit NW8 altogether or get up ridiculously early on what was supposed to be a holiday. The WX would be OK so I decided on the latter. I had 8.8 Ah for two-summit QRO on two bands and with two modes. If after that there was any power remaining and if time allowed, the intention was to add 40m CW to the second activation.
Left Llandudno at 03:45 arriving Pen-Y-Pass via the A55, at 04:37 (30 miles). The car park and overspill were over half full but error No1; why did I have to creep around with a torch to pay my £4 parking fee for the day? The GPS had given me a sunrise time of 05:13. Now I realised to my chagrin that the thing had been set to UTC! Luckily there was some slack in the system so I waited until the sky started to lighten a little and set off walking with a solitary sandwich and only 1litre of water to last the day. I’d asked my son Phil to ‘SOTA-alert’ me for 07:45 BST on Top Band. It was 05:20 local. Would I now be late?
Like last year and because of building work at the summit, the notice was still at the car park exit, ‘No trains, no shelter, no café and no facilities.’ Was this still true or just a leftover? At least I had the route to myself. Well almost. A man with two border terriers overtook me before the zig-zags and though there was no lying snow this time, I did notice the odd patch of ice. The effort and discomfort associated with doing these things was present as always but when you reach the railway, you know it will soon end. Snowdon is really popular so arriving at 06:55 BST did not guarantee solitude. A group of three passed by on their way down, though I did have the summit to myself for the first hour at least.
YR WYDDFA (SNOWDON) GW/NW-001, 1085m, 10 pts. 06:55 to 09:18 BST. 0 deg C. 40 mph westerly wind - decreasing. No lying snow or low-cloud. Sunshine and clear skies all day. (LOC: IO73XB, WAB: SH65)
The dipole position:
Last year the aerial was located on the sloping snowy ridge overlooking Glaslyn but a freezing half-gale put me off that today. Looking around I could see that there was adequate space on the slope between the summit and the railway terminus and it was also out of the worst of the wind. This is an inclined and rock-strewn surface with next to no grass, so the job would take time. The first task was to pace it out and work out where to put the mast.
The dipole would have to go overhead two paths but I could see that both had been superceded by newly built and well-surfaced permanent ways up to the trig. Near the end of the activation when the first of the crowds started to arrive, it was plain that it had been a good decision. The antenna remained unmolested throughout. My only complaint was that the wire snagged on every rock and bit of building debris.
After setting the 160m band tuning coil slugs to 5.3 (a little more inductance is required over rock) and grabbing a few photos in the clear conditions it was 07:35 and 10 minutes before the advertised time. Would the chasers by up? I need not have worried; 160m band chasers are keener than most and by 06:38z the first was in the log with 559 both ways. Mike G4BLH was rapidly followed by G0TDM, EI2CL, G3RMD, G0VOF (rare on CW!) & G4CPS. John G4WSX was the last to call in and all except Mike EI2CL who has no trouble with NW1 over a sea path, had collected Mount Snowdon on Top Band for the first time. Power was 80W but it was a help that the dregs of night time conditions were still hanging on some 90 minutes after sunrise. It was also a great help that people were waiting in line to work me. Thank you!
Thick mittens were needed and this slowed down logging and keying. Though I knew for sure the coat would be no more than dead weight later in the day, it was certainly essential at this stage.
Frank G3RMD was waiting on 3.532 and spotted me at 07:06z. After Frank and a handful more, it started to seem a bit like pulling teeth and a few battery-sapping CQs were needed. Just 10 stations in the 80m CW log was a disappointment and it took 21 minutes too. A positive was that despite my 20W signal, overseas ops Dan ON4ON, Mike LA5SAA, Rudy ON4CMT & Laurent F8BBL all made it through as easily as the G’s. High powered CQs at the end produced nothing further but thank you to the ones who did work me on here.
Surprisingly, compared with CW, over twice as many chasers came through on 3.724 SSB. Reports were good despite ops suffering local noise but again CQs were needed. Much of the reserve battery power I’d ‘pencilled in’ for 40m CW on NW8 later in the day was used up in this session due to powers of 50 to 90W being required for many contacts. At least the QSO rate was better than on 80m CW but with just 8.8 Amp-hrs for two summits & QRO, the plan to offer a ‘new one’ to more of the European chasers in the afternoon died with this session. The final QSO was with Luc ON6DSL at 08:00z.
To be honest, I was mildly disappointed not just by the total number (38) but more the rate of QSOs. 80m QRN had been partly to blame but perhaps 7am to 9am on a Saturday morning was a little too early for those who have to work all week for a living. Possibly it was just conditions that prevented many from hearing anything from NW1.
After inspecting the new café, really a visitor centre, it was time to get on the trail for Lliwedd. The building looks very well constructed and though it’s an unusual shape the stonework is attractive. On the southern gable are various engravings: Hafod Eryri which is the name of the visitor centre. Cop’r Wyddfa just means Snowdon’s summit and the height is given as 1085m. ‘Yr ydych chwi yma’ means nothing to this Englishman but the words’ ‘Here, You Are Nearer to Heaven’ seemed quite inspiring. If a building really must be put on a mountaintop, this one blends in reasonably sympathetically with its surroundings.
Route to NW8:
The way off Snowdon is via the SW shoulder but only for a couple of hundred metres. A stone monolith stands at the point (SH 6087 5420) where a steep, loose and rough path begins its descent to Bwylch y Seathau (The Pass of Arrows). Here at SH 6195 5370 and at around 774m the Watkin Path drops away to the south and Y Lliwedd is straight on. The climb up to NW8 is mildly reminiscent of the one from Black Sail Pass to Pillar or the path up Tryfan from the south. There are a few choices but the cairn-marked way is reasonably easy to follow if a little ‘scrambly’ in places.
Y-LLIWEDD, GW/NW-008, 898m, 8 pts, 10:23 to 14:17 BST. 10 deg C. 15 mph westerly wind - decreasing. No lying snow or low-cloud. Sunshine and clear skies all day but with increasing haze. (LOC: IO73XB, WAB: SH65)
Last year the O2 mobile was useless from here but this time Orange had coverage. With Roy (G4SSH) on holiday I didn’t use the phone; relying instead on an estimated time given to G3RMD before leaving Snowdon. Frank had voiced his concern regarding the dipole positioning on this ‘peaky’ top but I thought I could erect it on the southwest-facing slope just down from the western summit. This proved to be the case but in deference to other mountain users I rigged it below the path and not across it. The price for this sacrifice was paid by G4BLH and maybe others. Several QSOs on Top Band were probably lost because the antenna was effectively screened for 180 degrees by the high ground immediately to the northeast.
Propagation on 160:
Daylight propagation on 160 is arguably an hour-by-hour changing mixture of line-of-sight and NVIS. Unlike on NW1 in the early morning, close to midday NVIS is mostly blocked by a heavily ionised D-layer which leaves the direct path doing most of the work. If the latter is blocked by tons of rock, the bit of NVIS remaining just can’t cope.
Well, that’s my theory anyway! It seemed to be confirmed in GM last year from An Teallach. With the dipole unable to ‘see’ over the summit ridge, Cris GM4FAM in Inverness reported a much poorer signal on 160m than the day before when the aerial was in the clear. The powers and times for the two GM mountains were roughly similar but the second one, where the close-screening took place, was much higher and the path distance shorter. As per VHF, it’s important (though often impractical) to get the 160m aerial right on top of the hill but what one op loses, another gains. Owing to the NW8 setup, stations to my southwest had perhaps an enhanced chance to make contact, due to antenna ‘system gain’ afforded by the 25 degree slope. It probably makes scant difference with antennas so close to the ground but southwest also happened to be the dipole’s broadside direction.
Frank G3RMD was again waiting on 3.532 and I was spotted in short order. What followed was a little better than the Snowdon 80m CW session in that 13 stations (three extra) were logged at a better rate, using 20W. F6FTB was most welcome if unexpected at this time of day on 80. The rest were G or EI stations and I suspect NW8 may have been a newie for one or two few of them.
Headed by Mike GW0DSP and ending with Roger MW0IDX, 20 regulars lined up to collect this one on 3.723 SSB. This took 40 minutes and a power of 40W with full power needed on occasions. What usually happens is that someone will call in then won’t hear my reply until I put more ‘coal’ on, whereupon reports are exchanged. Invariably ‘QSB’ gets the credit for this ‘minor miracle’ but I will usually drop to the original level for 73’s so if you don’t hear that second over, you’ll know why.
Regrettably, the only continental op to call in was Dan ON4ON. The fact that I am not working enough overseas stations despite QRO capability is a constant concern to me. A lot of the resources are going into Top Band.
Late in the session I had two surprises. Two Scarborough stations called in. First was Kevin G0NUP who I initially thought was just saying ‘hello.’ I later found out that he has just become a chaser and is well on his way to his first 100 points. The second was Phil G0UUU/A working my old FT77 from my very own dining room table after having gone round to feed our cat.
Phil used to live at my house long ago before ‘flying the nest.’ In 1992 aged 12, after passing the novice (now called ‘intermediate’) RAE and a 5 wpm CW test he gained only the 35th UK HF Novice licence issued. Before the year was out he had 1000 (mainly CW) QSOs in his log and had passed his 12 wpm too. In those days you got just 3 Watts on narrow, obscure and sometimes almost useless sections of 160, 80, 30, 15 & 10m (mainly CW) and 70cm FM. Skill was needed in abundance and the craft was learned through adversity! Today, both Phil and Kevin struggled with local QRN at 9 plus 10dB levels. Incoming reports were 22 and 35.
How chasers cope with the levels of QRN they have to face is a mystery to me at times. Here’s a petition I signed about it: http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page19025 The reply is a bit of a fob-off, I feel. Anyway, that’s an aside.
Judging by what he’d said on 80 SSB a few minutes before, Frank (Gloucestershire) was not expecting to get through on 160. In fact he was second to respond to my 80W output, after Mike EI2CL. An hour before noon both their signals were stronger than I expected and I didn’t receive bad reports either. It must have made a pleasant change for Mike not to have to struggle against Dublin’s QRN today, simply because the Welsh mountains are eminently more reachable on 160m than either LD or NP. Despite further CQ’s, nothing more was heard on here except the tell-tale TX-sidetone buzzing sound which accompanies under-voltage on an IC706.
7.032 was in use, so with the 706 ‘running on fumes’ so to speak, I turned the power down to 5W and called CQ on 7.032.7. Maybe there would be enough juice for one or two QSO’s? Nobody heard me and the band seemed rather quiet. Nudging it up to 7.033, I tried again. Nothing but the dreaded ‘flat-battery sound’ came back. Tests have shown that to produce a handful of watts, the IC706 wants over 5 Amps at 12 volts. Yes 5 Amps!! No small wonder that the battery died in short order. NIL QSOs.
At around this time, I had another of quite a few visitors throughout the day. Greg and the young lady with him turned out to be good friends of Peter G0FIM, who is a WAB and SOTA activator as well as a climber and qualified mountain leader. The connection wasn’t immediately obvious and I only ‘caught on’ as they were leaving. You know how it is. 99.9% of the population use names to identify people but we use callsigns. I ran after them and we took photos. It was good to meet Peter’s friends on the mountaintop.
Somehow an hour had been gained in the day and this could now be applied to VHF using the IC-E90 5W H/H. After packing up the now useless HF gear, I moved to the summit proper for a CQ on 145.5 using my half-wave home-brew J-fed vertical. This aerial achieved MG status in 2004 and it was to pull in another 16 stations today.
First up at 11:50z was Alun 2W0CYM/M. Little wonder that he had a big signal, Alun was just walking off Snowdon and heading my way. ‘I’ll be with you in an hour.’ ‘Look for someone carrying an FT817 on a strap round his neck.’ A few QSOs later in came SOTA activator G0PZO. Charlie kindly spotted me.
After CW and SSB, the clarity of FM combined with a relaxed atmosphere seemed like a breath of fresh air. Most of the stations were from N. Wales, Lancashire and The Wirrall but I also worked a South Wales S2S in the form of MW3UKK/P on GW/SW-005. I knew this voice but still needed help. Once he’d given the name Gordon, I ‘twigged.’ We had met in a snow drift on Fountain’s Fell during the winter and I then I heard Jenny talking in the background. Gordon & Jenny had been giving the NPs a serious bashing in the interim. FB!
Encouraged by G4BLH a last act was to give 70.450 FM a try. With just a duck, I didn’t expect to get as far as Mike’s QTH near Nelson but in fact I got a 41 RS from him. John MW1FGQ came in at 59 plus and Brian G4ZRP from the Wirral rounded off the day for me. There were 54 QSOs from NW8 to add to the 38 made on NW1.
Just as I was packing away the VHF kit, 2W0CYM topped out and we shook hands. As promised, the 817 summited just ahead of Alun. After a brief chat I thrust the IC-E90 into his hands and encouraged him to call CQ. Alun’s first ever SOTA QSO on 4m was with Mike G4BLH but within a few minutes he’d worked John & Brian too. I never knew when I bought it but this rig proved to be bilingual as Alun chatted with John in the ‘local lingo.’ Brilliant!
Alun put me right on a few place-name pronunciations too. I’d been telling all and sundry I was on ‘Clewid.’ Apparently ‘Clewid’ is miles away and NW8 is pronounced something like ‘Kluith.’ Maybe I should just stick to CW? I walked off at 14:17 still in some confusion but it had been really good meeting Alun from Caernarfon.
After some more minor ascents of secondary high-points, the path down from NP8 was easy to follow, though quite steep in places and craggy around SH 6305 5354. It passes over a footbridge at SH 6328 5439 and in a further 300m, meets the Miner’s Track which got me to Pen-Y-Pass for 15:29. I was back to Llandudno for 16:30; an hour before our meal time.
I’d done the whole day on two sandwiches and not counting pre-hydration, two pints of water! Three pint-pots of tea later, I began to feel human again. After a full day of ‘summer’ I’ve now had enough. Roll on winter again! Getting an early start had been well worth the bother and most objectives including the 160m ones had been met. 40m CW from NW8 was not to be but 2m and 4m were bonuses.
QSO’s: NW1: 38. NW8: 54. Total 92, comprising:
23 on 3.5-CW.
41 on 3.5-SSB.
9 on 1.8 CW.
Nil on 7-CW.
16 on 145-FM.
3 on 70-FM.
Walking: 910m (2985ft) ascent, 12 km (7.5 miles). (Unconfirmed)
Walkout of PP: 05:20.
NW1: 06:55 to 09:16.
NW8: 10:23 to 14:17.
Pen-y-Pass to NW1: 95 min.
NW1 to NW8: 67 min.
NW8 to Pen-y-Pass: 72 min.
NW1 summit time: 2hr – 41 min.
NW8 summit time: 3hr – 54 min.
Walking time: 3Hr – 54 min.
Summit time: 6Hr – 15 min.
Total (exc. driving etc). 10Hr – 9 min.
HF: IC706-2G, 8.8 Ah Li-Po, 100% utilised.
Both summits: Link dipole for 80-60-40-20. H/B slug-tuned loading coils for 160m
4 section - 5m H/B CFC mast with 1m end-supports.
VHF: IC-E90 6-4-2-70 H/H (5W) with 1300 mAh integral battery, part used.
Half-Wave H/B, J-fed vertical on short mast for 2m.
4m band aerial: A 2m rubber duck with 26.5 cm extension rod.
(QRO pack-weight: 11.5 kg.) 18 SOTA points.
THANKS TO ALL STATIONS WORKED and to G4BLH, G3RMD, 2E0PXW, MW0IDX, EI2CL & G0PZO for messages and/ or spotting.
73, John G(W)4YSS (using SSEG Club callsign, varied for Wales to GC0OOO/P)