G4YSS Activation Report: GW/NW-001 Snowdon on 01-08-13
Yr Wyddfa on 160; 80; 40 & 2
G(W)4YSS using GC0OOO/P.
Unaccompanied from Pen-Y-Pass.
All times BST (UTC plus 1) UOS.
FT817ND QRP. Adjustable dipole 80 thru 20. 5m home-brew CFC mast; 1m end sticks.
One 4.4 Ah Li-Po, part discharged.
IC-E90 4-Band FM, 5W H/H with 7.4V /1.3 Ah Li-Ion detachable battery.
QRP pack: 10kg (22 pounds) inc 1 litre of drinks (0.75 ltr used).
This would be my ninth SOTA expedition to NW1. Early activations were on 2m FM with progression to HF QRP and later QRO. It was also my first summer activation of the mountain; all others were done in March, April, May or November.
I spent some time deciding between several styles of expedition: 1) HF QRO; 2) HF QRP or 3) VHF only. With types 2 and 3 there was the option of adding NW8, Y Lliwedd but for that a full day would be needed. Looking at the QSO breakdown for Snowdon, VHF only is overwhelmingly popular and certainly looked attractive but with the obvious problem that it excludes the majority of chasers.
Impressed by good 40m conditions on Carnedd Llewelyn two days prior and hoping for the same, I chose to take HF gear. Family commitments and my roll as a Grandfather would come into it again, so I decided on another half day expedition so that I could take five-year-old Jack swimming in the afternoon. Less time leads the thinking to quicker walking so again the choice was QRP. Forget added extras such as an activation of NW8. I would have to resign myself to a slower performance at this time of year anyway.
With trains disgourging hundreds of passengers starting at 10am and with a full size 80m dipole to erect unhindered and over rock, a really early start would be needed. There was just one problem. The mountain weather forecast was not good with 40 mph gusts, early drizzle and low-cloud until midday. Another issue was that I wanted to put on 160m which wouldn’t be easy with QRP, though 5 Watts on Top Band had brought success from NW1 in the past.
All my activations except two have used the Pyg Track from Pen-y-Pass (359 m ASL) which involves a height gain of 2400ft and a walk of 11km but is the easiest and quickest option. The drawback is the cost of parking which has been ten UK pounds for about 3 or 4 years now.
The stars were out and conditions were settled as the night porter opened the door of the hotel for me at 04:00. This didn’t equate to the MWIS weather forecast but as I would confirm for the umpteenth time in due course, mountains are another world when it comes to weather.
Long before I reached Pen-y-Pass at 04:45, the WX was deteriorating with rain showers and wind. As I stopped the car engine, cloud was scudding across the car park at speed, bringing with it further rain showers with only short intervals between. It was dark and just the prospect of walking 30m to the machine to pay for parking filled me with dread. It was nothing new when you’ve been SOTA activating for 11 years and seen everything the weather can throw at you, but there comes a time when you recoil from the discomfort of it all. I donned my boots and pulled the waterproofs from the rucksack as another rain shower arrived.
That’s it! Back to the hotel; the decision was instantly made.
‘But no rush, I thought; they won’t be out of bed for another 3 hours.’ Yawning, I settled back into the seat in the nice cosy car for 40 winks but woke up at 05:20, thinking about the chasers I would be responsible for disappointing. The fact that Hazel had managed to email Roy G4SSH the night before was now seen as a mistake. Roy would likely have put an alert on for me and now I would have to go out in the horrible conditions and get wet. Come on wimp - get out there! I put on full waterproofs which is a condition I hate walking in.
Another excuse to ‘jack-out’ had to be overcome when the pay and display machine accepted only half my coins and rejected the rest. I tried the other machine which wasn’t much better and only gave me a nine pound ticket lasting to 09:23! It would just have to suffice. I was in no mood to worry about underpaying, especially when it wasn’t my fault.
Eventually I left Pen-Y-Pass at 05:32 in daylight after downing a litre of cold water. Walking in fog and light rain, I listened to the ‘Farming Today’ programme on Radio 4 long-wave. There was nothing else and there was annoying QRM from the GPS but it was quite interesting and got my mind off the discomfort of ascent and the rain showers. When I got to the more exposed Crib Goch turnoff, the wind increased and it rained again.
Stopping to change the GPS batteries on the way, I wondered why it seemed to be taking an age to reach the Zig-Zags. Eventually they loomed out of the clag and once up to the ridge it was a relief to know that the weariness was nearly at an end. I reached the station at 07:20. Next came the summit photos but they weren’t up to much. You couldn’t see 20 yards but at least I had the place very much to myself, which would be the case for the next hour to an hour and a half.
Erecting the antenna:
Now came the job of erecting the dipole which unusually was initially laid out on the ground. I floundered, slipped and tripped on the greasy wet rocks on the western facing slope beween the cafe and the summit plinth. By the time I’d finished, my wrists hurt from a slip that had bent back my hands. This and the lousy weather did nothing to improve the mood. The southerly wind blew along the dipole but occasionally the mast would bend towards the mountain, grounding the wire. That is easily remedied; the coax becomes a guy line when tied to the rucksack and the flimsy mast is made to lean out from the slope.
There are really only two places you can erect a lengthy wire aerial on Snowdon. One is on the north ridge with one end tied to the summit plinth and the other is as described above. The advantage of the west face is that you are less likely to tangle up the tourists but on the down side, it’s a tricky operation to get the thing up due to snags on rocks and your own stability in wet conditions.
Another issue is that stations to the east are screened; no problem with skip on say 40m or 80m but a big disadvantage where line of sight is the primary mode; such as 160m in daylight and VHF of course.
By 07:50 I was ready to start and initially it looked like the phone troubles of NW2 were behind me. Afterall, I had managed a text to my XYL, later receiving a reply but when I tried to phone Roy; no chance! The problem was down to poor simcard contacts but that was only diagnosed later at the hotel. As per NW2, I would have to rely on amateur radio for spots.
YR WYDDFA (SNOWDON) GW/NW-001: 1,085m, 10 pts. 07:22 to 11:10. 10 Deg C increasing. 15 to 20 mph wind. Rain showers early and low-cloud throughout. (LOC: IO73XB, WAB: SH65). (Note from 2011 report: ‘Orange phone coverage, none existent at Pen-y-Pass, patchy on the way up but OK on the summit.’)
3.557 CW - for a spot:
After an email to G4SSH the previous evening, Roy posted me on 160m; 80m with the possibility of 40m in that order. That meant he was not likely to be listening this early on 3.557. In fact I later discovered that he had tuned up a second receiver and was simultaneously monitoring 1.832 and 3.557 and that was the reason he came straight back to my 5 Watt call. Up to date information was thus fed to SOTAwatch which made for a better chance on Top Band and subsequent QSY’s. Roy excelled himself once again. Reports were 559/ 339 and the time was 06:50 UTC.
1.832 CW - 2 QSO’s:
I don’t make a habit of using QRP on Top Band as it’s rarely successful in daylight. In fact a 5 Watt signal got me two contacts today as it did one other time on Snowdon. I was pleasantly surprised to work M0BKV, Damian down in Cornwall of all places and 160m regular, EI2CL Mike in Dublin. Neither were difficult apart from a couple of repeat callbacks to cut through the Dublin ‘kids summer-holiday QRN.’ This was the second time I have worked Mike with 5 Watts on 160m from Snowdon.
Next came Phil with an ear-splitting 589 signal but try as I may I could not get an RST over to him. Added to the fact that the summit cone of Snowdon was between him and me, the imbalance between my power and his was too great. We failed but it was half expected; we failed in 2008 too. In 2009 I worked 7 stations on 160m from here but I was using 80 Watts.
3.557 CW - 3 QSO`s:
By now I was feeling really damp and uncomfortable. I had walked up in shirt and waterproof but hadn’t yet gone to the trouble of adding the nice dry fleece. With that rectified I began to feel slightly better but now the problem was the log. It was wet through and becoming difficult to write on. Tiny bits of it appeared on my clothes like dandruff. The umbrella did a reasonable job of fending off showers but couldn’t stop saturated low-cloud from soaking the paper.
It was all my own fault. I should have bought a Waterlog from Richard G3CWI when he offered it at Blackpool rally a few years ago. To a SOTA activator the log is a holy grail of information which must be recovered to a place of safety in readable form. I took to writing callsigns on the dryest bits and ignoring the parts with holes in. The only dry paper I had with me was in the form of a map and I dearly wished for a 2B pencil in place of the HB one I was using that was acting like a chisel.
In ten minutes I worked two stations: Phil G4OBK and Tony G4LFU both with promising 599/ 579 reports. Before these, G4SSH was reworked; this time with better reports than we’d exchanged 40 minutes earlier. Frid DL1FU was heard calling but try as I may I could not get back to him. Despite the apparently reasonable conditions, there were no more replies to CQ’s. With 5 Watts on 80, it was not surprising but at least Phil, after trying hard for me on 160, was now in the 80m log.
3.724 SSB - 7 QSO`s:
Many times I have been proved wrong in the assumption that SSB will not bring in as many chasers as CW. Here was another example of it. In 20 minutes I managed to work seven stations with the available mouse power: G6ODU; G0RQL; M0BKV; GW4ZPL; M3XIE; G8ADD and G4LFU. Incoming signals were all 58 to 59 and incoming reports averaged around 55. A few more for the soggy log!
At some point during the 80m SSB session, someone stopped to say hello. Apart from the night porter in the hotel, he was the first person I had seen that morning and he was a runner. He told me that he had been up there at 8am three weeks ago, well before the first train and there had been at least 300 people on and around the summit enjoying good weather conditions. Obviously some kind of event. We could only agree that today’s rotten weather and zero views did afterall have their advantages.
7.032 CW - 12 QSO`s:
Just as G4OBK succeeded when I doubled the frequency, so too did Frid DL1FU with 599/ 449 reports. First in the log on here was ON6NW followed by Frid then: M6BLV; PA9M; F5SQA; HB9AAQ; PA2NJC; Roy G4SSH; GM0AXY; G0TDM; DM3SWD and PB2T. I thought this would continue but in some ways I was glad it didn’t. I had now got down to the foot of the logsheet which was shredding and I was now shivering again.
The session took 55 minutes. 15 minutes before it ended I heard what sounded like a jet engine. This was the first train arriving at 09:15 BST but the expected invasion did not materialize. It must have been a service train for cafe supplies and the daily delivery of several hundred litres of water. Invasion or not, quite a few walkers were now filing past behind me; some carrying mountain bikes onto the summit plinth but finally I could pack up the dipole and move to a nicer place for VHF.
145.300 FM - 18 QSO`s:
It had taken well over half an hour to get the antenna and everthing else into the rucksack and move from the tricky place on the west slope but the vertical j-pole was now set up and ready just east-northeast of the summit. This was a more sheltered area where the damaged logsheet could be carefully folded up and put somewhere safe, to be replaced by another damp but otherwise unsullied one. The FT817ND looked too wet to risk further so out came the IC-E90 H/H. Same power - 5 Watts.
A CQ on S20 attracted immediate interest. The frequency of 145.300 MHz, checked clear prior to the CQ, was duly QSY’d to and proceedings began. After my experiences shivering on a wet rock in drizzle, wind and low-cloud for the best part of 2 hours, I must apologize for moaning about it on FM. The poor unsuspecting ops only wanted a simple QSO and some points. It didn’t take long to settle down however and a couple of stations who had worked me earlier came on to clarify their entries in the partly illegible HF log.
The next 50 minutes brought in eighteen stations and though the mist never lifted, the light did get brighter. While dozens of inappropriately dressed train passengers filed up to the viewpoint and took photographs, stations worked were as follows: G1PIE; MW3PZO; MW0MUF; G6WRC; G6LUZ; 2E0VEK; M3XIE; M6BLV; GW7SBO; G1OHH; GW8BCO/P; M0XSD; M6JOG; GW3VVC; M6GBV; G6ODU; M0JFK and GW4BZD.
There were no S2S’s today but GW8BCO/P was operating handheld on a hill near Bala Lake. Locations ranged from the Wirrall, Anglesey, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Crewe, Lancashire, Cumbria and Stockport. Paul G6WRC was running Warrington Radio Society’s club station and was being watched by a 6 year old called Amy, who got a ‘hello from Snowdon.’
GW4BZD asked me about the ‘C’ in my callsign. I explained that it was a club callsign and the ‘C’ neatly stood for Cymru (Wales). It’s not so simple in other parts of the UK. Yes, ‘S’ is the Scottish variation but ‘X’ is for England and ‘T’ is for the Isle of Man.
After a foggy photo of the station and a train that was coming up the line, it was time to ‘QSY’ back to Pen-y-Pass. What a contrast. The path down, deserted on the ascent, was now occupied by hundreds of people. Almost all were on their way up to the cloudy top. I was glad to be going down; there was a danger that the afternoon would be hot. I wasn’t counting but I must have seen 300 walkers on the way. The job was made harder by having to wait for narrow sections to clear. Looking over my shoulder before reaching the ladder stile, I could see that the summit was still shrouded in mist and there had been little or no sunshine on the desent. It’s a fair way but I had the start of an ashes test match to listen to on 198kHz R4-LW, arriving at the car at 12:36.
The drive back to Llandudno of exactly 30 miles via a crowded Betws Y Coed took from 12:44 to 13:35 plus a further 15 minutes to find a remote parking place and walk back to the hotel on aching feet. I was in trouble too! Because of the simcard problem, none of my ETA’s had reached their target and I was almost an hour late.
Within 15 minutes, I was in the hotel pool with 5-year-old Jack for another two-hour swimming session. It was a great way to cool off after a hard morning on Snowdon and even better to see the big smile on his face.
1.832 CW - 2
3.557 CW - 3
3.724 SSB - 7
7.032 CW - 12
145.300 FM - 18
Walking: 735m (2,411ft) ascent, 11 km (6.9 miles).
SOTA points: 10.
Pen-y-Pass to NW1: 1hr-51 min.
NW1 to Pen-y-Pass: 1hr-26 min.
Summit time: 3hr-48 min.
Total walking time: 3Hr-17min.
Total gross time: (Pen-y-Pass to Pen-y-Pass) 7Hr-4min.
In the end I didn’t regret reversing my decision to turn around and go back to the hotel from Pen-y-Pass in the morning but I can’t say this turned out to be a pleasant activation. It’s a Topsy turvy world. I have thus far considered myself to be a winter activator who dislikes summer but this year I have been forced to acclimatize with the result that I now shiver in the damp at 10 degrees C! True it was wet and windy but I hate admitting the fact that I was cold and uncomfortable. At least the VHF session was an improvement.
Once again QRP didn’t work that well from the point of view of QSO numbers but using HF did at least give a lucky few overseas and distant UK stations half a chance. Every SOTA QSO on 160m is a bonus and generally something to be upbeat about. I got two here which not only made me happy but brought the total on 160m for Snowdon up to 16.
The walk up was slower because of the WX and the drag of waterproofs. The walk down was impeded by the shear volume of people coming in the opposite direction. Though it’s mildly difficult, the plan to erect the dipole over the sloping rockfield worked out well again. Nobody got tangled in it; in fact activating early almost guaranteed that nobody would. The problem is that whichever side you transmit from, somebody is going to miss out on 160m. Once again this was Phil G4OBK but it’s hard to see how I can erect it clear for all directions without being really cheeky, to say nothing of foolhardy and sticking the mast right on top of the summit plinth. That would call for an overnight bivi; something I have no plans to do.
Snowdon always seems smaller than its 3,560ft to me probably because of its latitude and the high start point but it’s actually over 80% the height of Ben Nevis. Like its Scottish sister, all and sundry are heading to the top on a daily basis and the train fare up Snowdon is now 27 UK pounds.
As was the case on NW2 a couple of days prior, this should really have been a full day operation of Snowdon and perhaps Y Liwedd too, or at least a mutiband high power activation of Snowdon only. Once again family matters prevailed.
This had been an exceptionally good holiday which was enjoyed by all of us. We stayed at Shearings, Marine Hotel on Llandudno seafront. It was reasonable, comfortable and the staff very friendly.
THANKS TO ALL STATIONS WORKED and for spotting by G4SSH, M0BKV and G1PIE. Special thanks to Roy G4SSH for putting the alerts on for me and getting up early. Also for being on the right frequency at the right time.
73, John G(W)4YSS
(Using SSEG Club callsign, varied for Wales to GC0OOO/P)