G4YSS: SLIOCH GM/NS-011 First Act'n on 12-09-09

G4YSS: SLIOCH GM/NS-011 Activation Report, 12-September-09.

SLIOCH - GM/NS-011. 6 points.
SSEG Club-call GS0OOO/P & (GM4YSS/P used for SOTA database).
As per Beinn Eighe, according to the Database, this summit had not been previously activated.
All times BST (UTC plus 1hr, UOS).

IC706-2G with home-brew composite panels, integral circuit breakering / rev. pol. protection, flying leads/ connectors for power and both RF O/Ps. CW ‘key’ in microphone. (Total: 2.47kg).

Link Dipole for 20-30-40-60-80 (0.38kg on reel) with tuneable coils for 160 (80g) inserted at the 40m break points. 5m CFC mast – 1m ends (0.78kg).
IC-E90, 4-band H/H with 1.3Ah battery and Half-Wave J-Pole for 2m.
Two RCM 4.4 Li-Po batteries in parallel. 11V nom, 100W capable. (0.7 kg in total including paralleling harness.)

Garmin GEKO-301 GPS used for navigation, with map & compass in reserve.
Drinks: 2 litres water carried (1.5 used). (1.5 litres ‘pre-hydration’ at 08:22).

QRO pack-weight: 12kg.

This was the second sortie in the series of ‘choice’ GM summits selected for 2009 and one of a number of routes prepared beforehand. For the first expedition (to Beinn Eighe) on 10-09-09, see: Hiking in the mountains: tips for beginner hikers - Mountain Day

We were coming to the end of a 7-day holiday at the Gairloch Hotel for my recent 60th birthday. The first two days were lost to stormy WX resulting in an activation being cancelled.

The ‘jump-off point for GM/NS11-6 was only 20 miles from our hotel and that fact had an influence on the choice of target. Slioch was a completely new experience for me. What little I knew about it came from the map and from flashing past it on the A832. Unfortunately, it is a long way from anywhere and on the ‘wrong’ side of Loch Maree. I knew when I got around to it that it would be a long hard day in which QRP might have to play its part. However, the fact that I had done little all summer might be partially balanced by the Beinn Eighe 2 x SOTA trip of two days previous. That assumption and the knowledge that this was to be a one summit day persuaded me to ‘haul’ QRO.

The only reasonable place to start a walk to this remote mountain is just off the A832 at a place called Incheril, near Kinlochewe. A (free) parking area; sufficient to take a dozen cars or more can be found half a mile from the A832 at NH 0377 6240. Here there is a printed metal board with a suggested approach clearly marked on it. Enough can be deduced from this to enable a more detailed route to be planned over the more difficult ground on the second half of the ascent. What isn’t made crystal clear on this board or on the Internet is whether paths exist on the higher slopes of the mountain. None are marked on my 1:25k map but surely a Munro would have a path right to the top, wouldn’t it? I couldn’t be sure so great care was exercised in the creation of a set of GPS waypoints which would keep me well away from any bad ground.

ROUTE: (All waypoints marked on the ground 12-09-09.)
Access to the Slioch path from the car park, is via a gate then turn left towards Loch Maree. A good and well used path from Incheril finds and later follows the Kinlochewe River northwest for about 5km to the eastern end of the Loch. This is a pleasant though slightly undulating walk past farm land, between trees and tall bracken (beware of Ticks) via NH 0342 6285, NH 0212 6420 and to the Loch at NH 0139 6537. Cross a footbridge at NH 0122 6563 (this seems to be drawn slightly out of place on my map) and turn right at NH 0121 6568. From here the character of the walk gradually changes from pleasant valley to mountain path which is initial quite boggy.

Now follow the path (which I eventually discovered goes all the way to the summit): NH 0136 6585, NH 0165 6622 (where I made a depot of water for the return) NH 0173 6644, NH 0180 6675 and NH 0184 6709 to a small flat area at NH 0187 6742. Continue up and left to skirt around the high point Sgurr Dubh and into the bleak and windswept Coire na Sleaghaich at NH 0172 6772. The path becomes boggy again and less well defined for a while but carry on northwest via NH 0149 6794 to NH 0128 6825. This is the point where the path zigs left and back on itself to slant briefly southwest and uphill delivering you to flat ground at the east side of two small lochans. (NH 0114 6814).

Up to now, you could have been forgiven for thinking that you were heading up a G/NP but at the lochans the path’s character changes to more like G/LD. From now on it’s more of a mountain path climbing steeply NW up well-drained and increasingly rocky terrain. The path sometimes made of loose debris, snakes around a bit and also offers minor alternatives here and there. I climbed via NH 0112 6830, NH 0100 6840 and NH 0089 6847 to a cairn on a small high point at NH 0076 6852. This minor top, which seems to be the one marked ‘933m’ on the map, can be skirted to the right to save a little ascent but it’s a useful waymark in mist. Because of bad viz, I failed to spot the tiny lochan high up on the mountain; probably passing to its left.

From the cairn descend a few metres to NH 0064 6862 and climb via NH 0055 6878 to the damaged trig point which I marked at NH 00503 68850. The purists can walk further north around a 280m long curved path to reach the true summit with its summit cairn. This was later GPS’d at NH 00466 69062. It makes little difference for SOTA; both tops and the intervening ground are within the activation area.

The three biscuits, which were intended to substitute an on-the-hoof snack for a skipped hotel breakfast, were accidentally left stacked neatly on the car roof. That’s the last I saw of them. After downing 1.7 litres of fluids, I set off at 08:22 discovering and carefully marking the route described above. I was determined to arrive at the foot of the mountain as fresh as possible so I took my time on the walk-in, arriving at the footbridge after a full hour’s walking. It was sunny at this stage so a huge shadow, cast by Beinne a’ Mhuinidh (NS73-2) blocking the risen sun, would be most welcome.

I should have turned right just after the footbridge but got it wrong and ended up doing some unsheduled cross-country on boggy ground. Another hour saw me disappointingly short of the col between Sgurr Dubh and Meall Each but at least I still had a path under my feet. Thinking that the path had ended in Coire na Sleaghaich where it’s flat boggy ground, I floundered a bit but regained it before the zig-zag which takes you up to the lochans.

The 3-hour mark came and went. The cloud was down and there was still 1km to go with about 500 feet to climb. It was taking longer than I thought but I was thankful for two things. One; that a path really looked like taking me all the way to the top and two; that the Beinn Eighe activations of two days previously seemed to have done me some good.

Arriving at the trig point was good enough for the time being. It was time to get on the air. The climb had taken no less than 3 hours and 24 minutes. There would be an additional 3 minutes needed to gain the true (Munro) top but that could wait until after the activation. Just now a sit down would be very welcome and considering the ASL, there was plenty of grass to sit on. At least I had a valuable bottom-to-top path safely stored in the GPS and Slioch could be moved to my ‘summits climbed’ list.

After finding a place to set up on grass and out of the wind at NH 0052 6888, I tried to phone Roy (via O2) and ask him for a spot but the phone only worked up at the trig point where it could overlook the Kinlochewe mast.
With the prospect of a long walk back and a hotel meal deadline, I told Roy of my intent to cut down on the number of bands. 40m had been a resounding success from the Beinn Eighe summits so that was where to go today. 80m was in jeopardy but there might be time for 160 and / or 2m FM. Either way, I was aiming to be off the summit after not much more than 3 hours.

SLIOCH, GM/NS-011, 981m (3,218ft), 6 pts, 11:46 to 15:25 BST. 9 deg C, 20 mph variable wind. Mostly low-cloud with occasional hazy sun. WAB-NH06. LOC-IO77HQ. New for SOTA.

40m CW:
7.033.7 was the vacant channel today. Roy G4SSH went from phone call to QSO becoming, as far as is known, the first to chase Slioch on SOTA. Roy’s spot was soon noticed and it was evident that 40m was covering both G and abroad once again. Using mostly 20W, 29 stations were logged in 39 minutes. Today the mix consisted of G, DL, PA, HB, OK, ON, 9A, F, SP, S58 and LA.

Occasionally the power needed increasing but most incoming reports were 559 at least. G4OWG Roger’s initial difficulties were overcome with 60W from this end. The same went for S58R and a few others. Being able to turn the power up and ‘blast through’ is a luxury really appreciated when QSB and QRM might otherwise thwart us. Even so, there are many stations who all too often don’t hear a squeak because of high local QRN these days.

40m SSB:
Starting with a call on 7.060, I worked Roger G0TRB and Steve GW7AAV but QRM soon forced a QSY down to 7.057. Roger must have alerted the WAB net on 80m; in came Brian G0BFJ who, like Roger, was after the 100km square ‘NH.’ 19 ops were worked in 34 minutes but a lot more power was needed than for CW. Much of the time the ‘smoke’ control was fully clockwise and it seemed to be the more distant chasers who were struggling most.

80m CW:
This band was not planned but here we were nevertheless. A quick CQ on 3.532 brought in G4OBK, G0TDM, DL1FU; the latter unexpected on 80m. G4SSH came on to pass a message. Again powers of 50 to 100W were required to cut through the noise. Poor old battery!

80m SSB:
A further six were added to the tally on 3.724 using 70W. Tom & Jimmy M1 / M3EYP called in at this point. Mike EI2CL also took his opportunity, barely hearing me at 33. Mike made me think forward to Top Band and the fact that there would be scant chance of QSO’s on there if 80 was hard graft.

160m CW:
The coils resonated first time and power was set to full. Hopes rose with Phil G4OBK who was coming in 569 to 579 in QSB. That was the same as 2-days before but no QSO ensued then. I was straight back to him and he must have been hearing something because his reports of ‘Nil’ were timed perfectly with my ‘BKs’. Just after this I heard a G3 lifting briefly from the noise but couldn’t get back or even get the suffix. Another CQ had him there again but it was to no avail. This was probably Frank G3RMD way down in Cheltenham at twice Phil’s distance. Just as I was about to unpack the VHF handheld, I heard Phil again. At 13:21z we exchanged at 579 / 339 – QSB. It was astonishing for that time of day. This was a 476km ‘fluke’ with only one thing going for it; the aerial at G4OBK!

I saw my first walker of the day; a New Zealander who turned out to be a dentist. I checked my smile immediately! He was looking for the Munro summit in cloud so I switched on the GPS and gave him a bearing and distance. A few minutes later he was back to the trig point where I was setting up my half-wave vertical for 2m. Just after this a mixed bunch of apparent Munro-baggers came along. All these people, like me had come up from Incheril. A Hobson’s choice route, almost.

2m FM:
Elgin repeater was 59 again and it was put to good use to try and get the ‘word’ out. Like 2-days previously, Jon 2M0IBO was listening in and we arranged a QSY to simplex. Signals going Jon’s way were poor but we made the QSO, returning to the repeater for a chat. The locals talk on 145.575 around these parts and a call there got me another 3 in the log. They were: 2M0JAT Sandy and MM0LOZ/M both in Inverness and both 59/59. The final QSO was at 14:00z with Roddy on Barra Island, 2M0IOB/P. He was using a 2-ely beam and reports were 58/52. Roddy was my second Barra contact this holiday.

4m FM:
A call on 70.450 FM invoked nil response. Just a token attempt using the extended duck.

Munro Bagger:
Leaving the packed rucksack near the trig point but taking the GPS, I went off to the real top a couple of hundred metres downhill and up again. The throng of ‘baggers’ who’d passed earlier was clustered around the shelter taking photos. We exchanged cameras (as you do) but there was still too much mist around for a decent picture. Photography had been a disappointment today and many shots had to be ‘binned’ later.

Apart from losing concentration along with the path a couple of times, the descent can best be simply described as ‘long.’ Cricket on R4 198-LW took my mind off the tedium of it all and I retrieved my drinks cache OK. After the footbridge I saw someone whom I’d met 3 days before when he was just setting off on a 3-day backpacking expedition with his Labrador. Then the dog was wearing side panniers full of dog food. He was pleased to learn his car was still where he’d left it. These two were quick walkers and we made it from footbridge to car in 54 minutes, arriving by 17:46. The descent from the trig point had taken 2 hrs 21 minutes. (2hrs 24 min from the Munro summit).

QSO summary for Slioch:
40m CW: 27
40m SSB: 19
80m CW: 4
80m SSB: 6
160m CW: 1
2m FM: 4
Total: 61

Battery utilisation - QRO: Estimated 75% of 8.8 Ah Li-Po.
Ascent & distance: 1,150m (3,772ft) – 19 km (11.9 mls).

Walking times:
Trig Pt: 5hr-45min comprising 3:24 up to trig + 2:21 down.
Munro: 5hr-51min comprising 3:27 up to trig + 2:24 down.
Summit time: 3hr-39min.
Gross time: 9hr-30min.

Local car journeys: 20 miles - 25min (x2).
Journey back to Scarborough: 434 miles (10.5 hrs gross – 9 hrs net, via Inv-Edin-Coldstream-Whitby)

Once the final job is done a little euphoria does not go amiss. Slioch supplied plenty of it, along with renewed enthusiasm. On the drive home 2-days later, I couldn’t stop often enough to photograph it. Once a mountain has been experienced, it can become a special friend for life and this one has achieved that status with me. The whole NS area is a bit special to my mind. Remoteness is an attraction.

It was useful to discover that there is a good path all the way up Slioch and to mark it properly on GPS was important to me. I hope the waypoints provided will encourage someone else to give NS11-6 a try. None of the route was particularly difficult exposed or dangerous but it was certainly quite a long one. The views improved through the day but the air was never very transparent. I would have liked to see Loch Maree crisply from above but if the views ever did get that good, I was probably too busy to notice.

There were no midges and the WX was ideal. I would not have attempted this one in wall to wall sunshine. The fact that it’s still September was risk enough. At first I thought it might be folly to try such a long route with a heavy pack but LI-Po batteries and the ‘training’ session on Beinn Eighe made a difference and made QRO possible. The Top Band success of 300 miles in daylight will long be remembered and having enough time at the end to contact locals on FM was also a pleasure. The other bands were in reasonable condition but once again 40m and CW get the honourable mentions. What luxury to concentrate on enjoying one summit in one day.

The rock samples from Slioch are markedly different to those picked up on the two Beinn Eighe tops. They are much rougher and greyer. When I see my rock expert in West Ayton, I will hand him a sample and watch him get excited. Rock samples total 1.6kg from the three summits WS52, WS63 & Slioch. I’m sure my efforts to reduce the ascent required for some of these mountains will be appreciated by future SOTA ops! I do not remove stones from cairns, however.

Thanks: To ALL STATIONS WORKED and to G4SSH, G3RMD, G4OBK for spotting support. To G4SSH for alerts and to Phil G0UUU for saving the SOTAWatch spots. I must thank the GM activators for the loan of some of their superb mountains and to the chasers for their interest in logging them. Commiserations to all ops who tried and failed, especially those troubled by local noise. Finally, to my XYL for a great holiday!

73, John G(M)4YSS,
using SSEG GS0OOO/P.
(GM/NS-011 & WS-052-WS-063 summits will be entered under GM4YSS/P for SOTA purposes).

In reply to G4YSS:
I recommend you buy “100 Best Routes on Scottish Mountains” by Ralph Storer, he describes the path you found, and a very interesting looking horseshoe route.

A great description, sorry I missed you, I was out myself for a change!


Brian G8ADD

In reply to G4YSS:

Another excellent report to accompany the Beinn Eighe report John. It’s most frustrating to see the spots pop up but to be stuck in the office whilst you’re out playing. Reading about this part of Scotland makes me want another another trip up to NS / IO78 land!


In reply to John (G4YSS)

At this stage I can’t remember what I had been doing earlier but by the time I noticed that you were qrv from NS-011, you were about to finish up on 80m. Having rushed upstairs to the shack and switched on the radio, hearing “GS0OOO/P now qsy to 160m” caused momentary panic. Luckily, despite the noise, I was just in time to prevent another “gotaway”. On switching to 160m, the noise meter rested at S5; all I could hear, coming in at 539, was Phil, G4OBK, sending “nil”. With that, I switched the radio off.

Thank you again for the comprehensive report on the activation.

73 de Mike, EI2CL

In reply to G8ADD:
Hi Brian,
Sorry for the delay. Family crisis. Thanks for the tip but you mentioned the word ‘buy.’ This a a rude word to a Yorkshireman! However, I am mellowing a little these days so I will consider it.

Thanks for your comments. It gave me a real buzz to get Slioch done. As for the route. If you have no other information, you can usually look at a map and see where a path would fit on the terrain. It usually goes roughly where you’d expect and bar a few variations, this one followed the rule. Just a long way but not as far as some around that area that I’ve longed to do for decades now.

73, John.

In reply to MM0FMF:
Hi Andy,

You have to suffer these ‘southerners’ invading your summits every year. I can understand how galling it can be but at least you read the report. Some of the ones I see make my so green with envy, I can barely bring myself to go through them. I just want to be there. If the genie asked if I wanted to swap my grey hair for work, I know which way I’d jump!

Yes, NS is just wonderful. Nice and remote.

73, John.

In reply to EI2CL:
If Phil-Nil-Rest-Nowt! Certainly applies to 160m. Good to get you on 80 though. Looking at some of the summit history for the GM/NS area, this class of gotaway tends to be semi permanent. No wonder folks were almost desparate to get heard.

73, John.