G4YSS: Maovally GM/NS-111, 1st Act'n 11-09-14

G4YSS: Activation of ‘New SOTA’ - GM/NS-111, 11-09-14.
Report 5 of 7 in 2014 G4YSS GM/NS series. Draft-1

GM4YSS/P and SSEG Clubcall GS0OOO/P.
HF QRO/ VHF QRP; 78 QSO’s on 160m; 40m; 30m; 20m and 2m-FM.
All times: BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS as z).

Fifth SOTA in the series of GM/NS-114; NS-101; NS-074; NS-014; NS-111; NS-037 & NS-020 during 10 night stay in the Dornoch Hotel 5th to 15th September 2014. (See other reports).

GENERAL DATA for this series of activations:
7 SOTA’s each on 7 separate days including:
All-time new SOTA’s: 4
Munros: 2
Total Ascent: 4,560m (14,960ft).
Total Distance Walked: 82km (51 miles)
Total Activator Points: 24.
Total QSO’s: 512.

FT817ND HF/VHF/UHF 5W Transceiver.
SainSonic MX-P50A, 50 Watt HF Linear Amplifier (designed for FT817).
Link dipole for 80m thru 20m on a 5m CFC mast with 1m end sticks.
Home-Brew tunable loading coils for 160m.
6 Ah Li-Po battery (no reserve).
Vertical J-Pole for 2m FM.
Reserve 2m-FM/ PMR rig: Vero VGC UV-X4; 2W VHFM/ UHFM, 5oz H/H (Like UV-3R).
QRO pack: 9.9kg (21.8 pounds) including 1.25 litre drinks & food.

This expedition was the fifth during a 10-night self-drive/ 7-SOTA holiday at the Dornoch Hotel from 5th to 15th of September 2014. SOTA`s worked in chronological order and separately reported were as follows: GM/NS-114 Meall Dheirgidh; NS-101 Carn Garbh; NS-074 Beinn Tharsuinn; NS-014 Ben Klibreck; NS-111 Maovally; NS-037 Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill & NS-020 Ben Hope.

Maovally is one I came upon recently while searching through the GM/NS unactivated list with a view to a half day ‘easy’ activation of a new one. There seemed to be two route choices for this one and the favourite, according to internet research, is from the north using the power station road. An alternative approach from the SE, which also puts this long utility road and tracks to good use, seemed to suggest itself with regard to easier access from Dornoch. If anything, it looked a bit shorter too; the northern route being a bit ‘around the houses.’ That said, it was still going to be five miles in and five miles out, which led on to the possibility of using the folding bike, which was brought for NS69 the day before but not used due to deer stalking.

This was an easy walk but quite a long way. In fact I think it was the longest walk of the week but the tracks, the road and the bike helped speed things up. I left Dornoch at 10am after dropping my XYL off at the hairdressers in the town. There was a further delay while I called at Asda in Tain for the cheapest fuel around at GBP 29.7 per litre of DERV! That compares with up to 1.42 elsewhere in the area.

There was quite a distance to drive but I arrived at the end of the narrow, picturesque Glen Cassley road just before 11am, parking at NC 38918 16687. Before deploying the bike, I used the IC706 and mag-mount to put the grid square - NC31 on 7.160 SSB for the WAB net, working 13 eager stations in 8 minutes. I think it was a ‘new’ square for most. An advantage of this is the fact that some WAB ops also do SOTA so I was able to let Graham G4JZF know what today’s intended SOTA target was. Also the WAB contingency knew to look out for me later to collect NC32 and the summit.

With the bike assembled and looking good, I downed a litre of water, set the GPS and set off peddling up the track at 11:26. Going wrong immediately by riding into the farm, I had to backtrack and take the dirt road by the riverside, passing through an open gate in the deer fence to do so. In fact it wasn’t so much of a dirt road but far more stony than that; my small wheels handling it none too well. Also it seemed harder than I had anticipated but after checking that the brakes weren’t binding I trundled on with the thought that my legs were far too bent and I should have modified the seat pillar. It wasn’t until getting back to the car at the end of the day that I discovered that I had omitted to tighten the clamp well enough and the seat assembly was gradually descending into the frame.

After a mile I was sufficiently disillusioned with cycling to throw the machine in the bracken and resume on foot. After a while I’m glad I did because the track had some steep sections ahead and areas where it would descent again. I sweated on in the sunshine with the QRO pack, marking the route and knowing that there was still a fair way to go.

The track meandered on but eventually I reached the Dam (NC 36820 20310) at which point the road became tarmaced and I followed it up the hill to a hairpin (right) at NC 36501 20678. The road was smooth but steep, if a little winding and hard on the feet. Quite soon there was a junction with a track off the road at NC 36863 20492. This could be used to cut the corner on the way down.

Continuing to mark waypoints, I passed through NC 37303 20461; NC 37241 20594 and NC 37834 20635 before it was time to abandon the road and its accompanying electricity poles, at NC 38094 20797 and turn left uphill. From here I headed straight for the summit, covering about 450m with a 100m increase in altitude. I found no paths over rough ground which was covered in plant growth and boggy in places but reached the 0.5m high summit cairn quite quickly, to mark it at NC 37814 21190. What a relief! The top of NS-111 is extensive, quite flat and almost exclusively clothed in course grass.

Within minutes of arriving the flies joined me. These were not Scottish midges; just flies which looked more like spiders with wings but they only appeared when the wind dropped below about 2 mph; their wings looking like an afterthought. They may well have been Deer Keds? They didn’t bite me but were very annoying nonetheless. Their one ambition in life seemed to be to burrow under my hair. Thankfully (in this situation at least) I am under-equipped in that respect but it was hard to concentrate on erecting the dipole.

It was then that I remembered the head net which I’d bought months before from Wiko’s in Scarborough and which was presently hanging from the rucksack. Inevitably a couple became trapped inside it but once these had been dealt with, the relief was instant, despite everything appearing as a green haze. This wouldn’t be the last summit where the renamed ‘Ked net’ was needed to keep these pests out. I erected the dipole running N-S and sat on the cairn to activate but it wasn’t until the end that I realised that the cairn was actually a wasps nest too.

MAOVALLY - GM/NS-111, 512m, 2 pts, 13:09 to 16:25. Wind variable 0 to 5mph. Temp 14 deg C. Sunshine. Flies. Reliable EE (Orange) Mobile phone coverage. DAB coverage from 3/4 of the way up. LOC: IO78OD, WAB: NC32. No previous SOTA activations.

7.033 CW - 19 QSO`s:
The phone worked from here and G4SSH became the first SOTA chaser to log GM/NS-111 (5NN both ways). After Roy came keen activator G4ASA Dave, followed by Frid DL1FU, who got in before the pileup once again. Countries worked with reports a little down on the previous day’s and 30 Watts: G; DL; EI; HB9; GM; OM; OK and PA. Near the end I called using 50 Watts to try to pull in stations with high noise levels. 50 Watts is created using 5W from the FT817ND; 30 Watts by setting the rig to 2.5W.

There was one S2S with Heinz - HB9BCB/P on HB/BE-048 (559/ 559). Skip was favouring Europe today; only seven from the total worked were British stations. Outgoing reports were more by ear than ‘S’ meter. The latter and the rest of the display was largely unreadable through the head net in bright sun. All I could see was a green blur, even with my reading specs which had to go over the netting.

7.131 SSB - 24 QSO`s:
Brian G0BFJ was first into the SSB log with 59/ 57 exchange and WAB NC32 as the prize. Not that it was much of a prize actually; a main road runs through it. The Penrith pair were next in. John G0TDM (59/ 59 Plus) followed by Geoff G4WHA/A from his shop QTH and whom I worked as quickly as possible. I only got a 38 report back from Geoff so I can see what he’s up against with computer generated QRN. Mike G6TUH sent the same report probably for similar reasons. Now was the turn of Bob G6ODU and then Terry G3VWP who puts out a strong signal which often overcomes the pileup.

In stark contrast to 40m-CW, the vast majority of stations in the SSB log were UK based. In fact the only ones from outside these islands were EI9GLB and ON5SWA. 50 Watts were used for this. Signal reports were generally averaging around 57 and the session took 23 minutes.

About half the stations were in pursuit of the WAB square and some wanted both the WAB and the SOTA. Thanks to the WAB stations for taking the trouble to come down the band from 7.160 MHz; hope you didn’t miss anything while waiting in line.

After pulling out one 20m and one 40m link in preparation for 30m CW, I switched off the rig and paused for lunch comprising 2 bags of crisps and a chocolate bar. Under normal conditions, I stopped eating both these items a year ago for different reasons but the rules are relaxed on SOTA activation days! I need both the salt and the energy but it was an awkward process which caused me to spend five minutes sans head-net. Fortunately it coincided with a light breeze which effectively grounded the pests. Stopping for lunch is a rare luxury for me so I enjoyed the break, the solitude and the views in the knowledge that in all likelihood, I wouldn’t be here again.

10.118 CW – 21 QSO`s:
I worked a worthwhile total of 21 stations in a wide selection of countries and 30 minutes starting with Ulrich HB9CGA. Countries worked with 50 Watts were HB9; OK; G; OM; ON; DL; SP; EA; F; SM and OE. One station F/VK2IO/P was quite an effort to work and the 449 sent was generous. I think Gerard must have been using QRP but he went into the log eventually. Steffan DL3JPN was worked for the first time in quite a while.

14.270 SSB - 11 QSO’s:
‘Phone-a-spot’ from G4SSH set me up on 20m SSB. Entities worked with 50W: EA; DL; OK; SV; OZ; OE and F. I got quite a few 59’s over the 10 minutes taken. The remainder were all in the range 53 to 57. Luis EA2LMI was first on here with a 59/ 57 exchange but I forgot to mention the QRQ-CW from the previous day.

145.575 FM - 1 QSO:
I had a little more time today so after inserting the 160m loading coils into the dipole at the 40m break points, I ‘pinched’ the bottom section of the mast and set the 2m J-Pole up on it. One call and GM3PIL (Nairn) was in the 2m-FM log again (59/ 55 to 56). Ray was all ready for the 160m sked we had arranged after our success on Klibreck on the previous day so after a brief chat, I re-inserted the lower mast section and we got down to business on Top Band.

1.843 SSB - 1 QSO:
The exchange with Ray GM3PIL in Nairn was 58/ 43. I immediately thought that the poorer report was due to the lack of height of NS-111 compared with the NS14 Munro the day before. The distances are much the same at just over 80km (50 miles). At this stage the assumption was that there was partial screening by intervening high ground but would we fair better on CW?

1.832 CW - 1 QSO:
This time the exchange was 589/ 599 so just what happened for the SSB I don’t know. All I can think of is the high ‘Q’ of the antenna at my end but I wouldn’t have thought it would make such a difference when moving from 1.843 to 1.832. Rechecking VSWR is not straightforward or quick because it can’t be done through the amplifier. No matter; we were blessed with both modes in the log. Power on Top Band was the maximum available 50 Watts.

I had seen the odd wasp during the activation but it wasn’t until I switched off and rose to pack up that it was realised that the intermittent buzzing sounds had not been due to QRM at all but to a nest under the cairn. I must have upset them somewhat by shuffling about when seated on their home but these wasps seemed particularly non-aggressive.

As I walked off, I spotted to the east what looked like a very tall, thin radio mast showing up white between the summit and Loch Shin. A mast is marked on the map but it’s by the track and not in that direction. I was curious but it looked a long way off and would certainly not be added to my itinerary today.

The same basic route was reversed with some minor variations such as cutting out the hairpin by taking the track from the junction mentioned earlier, then steeply down the grassy bank just east of the dam. Also instead of following the track where it climbed and fell again, I took a small path through bracken alongside the burn between NC 37186 19651 and NC 37180 19365. I could have possibly done this a second time but wasn’t paying proper attention.

Pulling the bike from the bracken thicket at NC 37940 17926 I cycled the last mile, this time speeding along due to an invisible gradient which had helped to demoralise me in the morning. The time gained with the bike would help me to meet the hotel mealtime - or would it? To my great disappointment the gate in the deer fence through which I had passed unimpeded in the morning, had now been closed and padlocked! It is not easy to climb a deer gate with a bike in one hand but despite being less than 200m from the car, that’s what I had to do. The return had taken 67 minutes arriving at 17:32.

Calling-in to a late 7.160 MHz WAB net during the drive back, I put on a few squares before arriving at the hotel slightly late for ‘stampede time’ (18:45) into the dining room.

457m (1,499ft) ascent / 16.1 km (10 miles comprising 8 mls walked - 2 mls on the folding bike).
Walking times: 1hr-43 min up / 67 min down. Total: 2hr-50min.

19 on 40m CW
24 on 40m SSB
21 on 30m CW
11 on 20m SSB
1 on 160m SSB
1 on 160m CW
1 on 2m FM
Total: 78

Battery utilisation: 5.7 Ah estimated.

It seems that this activation was top scorer for distance in and out but it didn’t seem like 10 miles walked. In truth it was only 8 miles of walking; the bike being used for the other two. The WX should not be the butt of any complaint today but warm sunshine, coupled with low wind speed, made it a little too warm and fly infested for my liking.

If the flies really were in fact Deer Keds like the ones on the Island of Jura (and they do meet the description, habitat and time of year) I should have been bitten as they are blood sucking. This didn’t happen but since returning home, I found a dead one in my map case which I can examine. At least the head net kept them out even if it hampered vision and the consumption of my lunch. I was grateful for it but it wouldn’t keep the tiny midges out. Thankfully, I saw none of those on this holiday.

40m goes on and on reaffirming its rank as SOTA’s top scoring band with 30m adding the icing on the cake. 20m picked up a few extra chasers a bit further afield. Thanks must go to Ray GM3PIL for the second day running. A ‘Top Band sticker’ for NS-111 to add to NS14’s and that on its first SOTA activity. Well done Ray! He provided the only 2m QSO too.

As I write, two more ticks; a legacy of the trip, have had to be removed, unfortunately not so cleanly this time. That brings the total to seven but are there still more? Only time will tell as they start so small. Bracken is the main culprit.

ALL STATIONS worked. Despite it only being a two pointer, I hope you enjoyed bagging the third ‘new’ summit as much as I did putting it on. G4SSH - Roy’s ‘One-Man Rapid Response Team’ delivered again! Many thanks.

73, John G4YSS
Using GM4YSS/P (database) & Scarborough Special Events Group Club call - GS0OOO/P.

Previous Reports: GM/NS-114; GM/NS-101; GM/NS-074; GM/NS-014.
Next Report: GM/NS-037 in due course.

NS-111 Photo No’s:
9-Power Station Dam & Track
14-Power Station Road
25-Summit Cairn/ Wasp Nest
44-Radio equipment. ‘CW Key’ in Mic.
45-160m ant lowered & J-Pole
55-Bike and locked gate