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G4YSS: Snowdon-Lliwedd: GW/NW1-NW8, 09-04-10

G4YSS Activation Report: GW/NW-001 & GW/NW-008 on 09-Apr-2010.
(SNOWDON & Y LLIWEDD with HF-QRO including 160m, 80m & 40m. VHFM 4m & 2m)

(Last year’s rprt - see: http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=3082#)

G(W)4YSS using GC0OOO/P.
Unaccompanied from Pen-Y-Pass.
Bands: 80m, 160m, 40m, 2m, 4m.
All times BST (UTC plus 1) unless otherwise stated.

The time had come round for the 5-day ECG conference in Llandudno for my XYL & her friend Jean. My main role would be chauffeur but I could have time off for good behaviour; the main interest being Snowdon.

This represented the sixth G4YSS / GC0OOO expedition to NW1 and the fourth to NW8. It all started with 2m FM QRP in 2002 thro’ 2007, progressing to HF inc 160m QRP 2008 followed by further enhancement to HF QRO / 160m in 2009. In 2010 the 160m and 80m bands would remain as the main targets. The plan if snow conditions allowed, was to add Y Lliwedd and to use the 40, 80 and 160 bands from there. VHF (2m & 4m) could be added if time allowed.

Because Snowdon is a hugely popular tourist mountain, another really early activation seemed to be the only option when combining this ‘pointy’ top and the big aerials required for 80 and 160m. 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 mountain top. When it’s working (thankfully today it wasn’t) 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 is not particularly mast or peg friendly and the guidelines state that we should avoid placing antennas across paths.

The two easiest options are to erect the dipole on the rocky incline between the summit building and the summit plinth or as a sloper with one end tied off to the latter and the other stretching down in a north-westerly direction towards Bwlch Glas and overlooking Glaslyn. Option 2 ensures a better takeoff as it runs along the edge of the NE face but when I used this in 2008, I fear that a hundred people at least might easily have had my aerial in their summit photos! Option 1 is much less obtrusive but line of sight is blocked to the east. The dipole has to go overhead two rough paths but both have been superceded by the newly built and well-surfaced permanent ways up to the trig.

Boring again but to my mind unless Yr Aran is to be added using the Watkin path, the Pyg Track from Pen-y-Pass offers the best option for the efficient SOTA activation of NW1 & NW8. There other routes to NW1 but none (that I know of) start at 359m ASL! Even so, some 2400ft must still be gained before the first objective (NW1) is reached. Snowdon, though somehow ‘diminished’ by a railway, is over 80% the height of Ben Nevis and even with the use of Li-Po batteries, 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. On the plus side the WX predicted ideal conditions. Last year I’d had an 8.8 Ah Li-Po for two-summit QRO on two bands and with two modes. This time I crammed a second 8.8 Ah into the backpack. If time allowed I could easily add 40m CW to the second or even both activations without worrying about power. I also had basic VHFM in mind.

Left Llandudno at 03:57 arriving Pen-Y-Pass via the A55, at 04:45 (30 miles). The car park had only half a dozen cars in it but after paying a £4 parking fee last year, I found to my disgust that it had now increased to £10! I waited for my start time of 05:20, downed a litre of cold water, switched on the headlight and set off walking in the dark with a further litre of water to last the day. The day before I’d asked Roy G4SSH to ‘SOTA-alert’ me for 07:45 BST on Top Band.

Last year’s notice was still at the car park exit, ‘No trains, no shelter, no café and no facilities.’ At least I had the route to myself but because Easter week was 9 days earlier than 2009, I needed the headlight for the first 40 minutes or so. The effort and discomfort of ascent was present as always but when you reach the railway, you know it will soon end. Snowdon is really popular so arriving at 07:02 BST did not guarantee solitude. A man and his dog were just leaving the summit after watching the sunrise so we stopped for a chat. It was so still that I’d heard his dog barking from half way up.

With snow conditions unknown I’d packed some basic crampons like the ones carried by Steve G1INK and these were almost needed. There were parts of the Pyg Track which were snow covered particularly on the zig-zags but apart from slowing my progress a little, these posed no problems. The day’s crux was a short but nasty section of hard white ice at the point where the ascent path meets Snowdon’s summit ridge at Bwlch Glas. Here after trying to kick steps, I was forced to make an undignified entrance onto the summit ridge using something resembling a commando crawl. For finger holds there were only old frozen holes made by walking poles. The ascent took 7 minutes longer than last year’s 95 minutes. The lack of winter activity is evidenced by that but this year half the journey was made in darkness and there was some snow and ice to contend with.

YR WYDDFA (SNOWDON) GW/NW-001, 1085m, 10 pts. 07:02 to 09:42 BST. Minus 1C warming to 5C. less than 5 mph wind. Patches of lying snow. No low-cloud. Hazy sunshine and clear skies most of the day. (LOC: IO73XB, WAB: SH65)

It is quite a good feeling to have Snowdon’s popular summit to oneself at any time but just after sunrise on a still day with good views is really special. Using a new found skill, a couple of text messages were exchanged with the family then it was down to business. The 80m dipole went up relatively easily with one end anchored into the low wall but with the 160m coils added, key down showed infinity VSWR on 1.832 Mhz. With a sinking feeling and thoughts that I had perhaps failed to properly repair the broken wire which curtailed the G/NP9 activation 2 weeks ago, I removed the coils and tested 80m but with the same bad result! In the end I realised that two coaxial flying leads, removed on Buckden Pike had not been plugged back in the correct sockets at the rear of the IC706. That was easily fixed and the fun of keen, early rising Top Band chasers and others would not have to be ruined after all.

160m CW - 5 QSO’s:
With 160m band tuning coil slugs set to 5.3 (a little more inductance is required over rock) off we went at the advertised time of 07:45 (06:45z). Phil G4OBK detected my tuning signals and was first in the log. With the IC706 set to 60W, there followed EI7CC, EI2CL, G0VOF and after Phil posted me on the cluster; F6CXJ. I also heard DF9D? and Dan ON4ON both calling me but could not get back to either of them with 100W and less than ideal antenna arrangements screened in their direction. However, it was a great help that people were waiting to work / spot me.

In the light wind, no gloves were needed. Though the coat would prove to be no more than dead weight later in the day, it was certainly nice to have it this early at 3560 ft ASL.

80m CW - 18 QSO’s:
Roy (G4SSH) warned me that there was a beacon on the announced QRG of 3.532 so he suggested 3.528 instead. It was still early and 80m was working well; 30W getting reports of between 559 and 589. The majority of callers were G’s / EI’s but ON4ON, DL1FU, F5SQA and ON4CAP were also worked on here. One station; an activator who occasionally calls in was tempted onto the radio today for a QSO with Snowdon. This was Gerald G4OIG. I had heard Frid DL1FU calling earlier. I could not get back to him even with full power but made a mental note. I didn’t hear him call again but a few minutes later gave him a call and an RST. This time he heard me and we were able to QSO successfully.

When pushed for time I don’t go on 40m that often but it does surprise me that I don’t get more continental callers on 80m. Their chances of success are realistic when you consider that:
A) Frid DL1FU tells me that he has only a modest setup with which he often collects points from me on 80m.
B) I normally have 100W available to fire back at them so long as it isn’t needed too often. For the most part about 30W was used for this session.

80m SSB - 16 QSO’s:
Because 3.724 was QRL, 3.720 had to be used today but Geoff G6MZX was sufficiently vigilant to find me on the second CQ. Usually it’s Steve GW7AAV. Good to hear Bill G4WSB chasing SOTA. Bill is a respected WAB/P specialist activator of long standing and has all the knowledge and wherewithal for outdoor HF radio. It’s nice to see he has started to put his experience to good use for SOTA after the final demise of the majority of WAB/P opportunities which was not the fault of the WAB organisation but due indirectly to a third round of county border changes. This government meddling was the last straw and I don’t blame them. Thankfully coastal /P areas (e.g. OV00) still remain. I also worked M6WSB Steve.

There were no continental stations in the 16 worked on 80m phone but signal reports were mainly good with 59’s abounding. Another op I haven’t heard for a while was Quinten GW3BV. After being first up, Crag Club member Geoff (G6MZX) finished the session with MX0BCQ/A.

160m SSB - 0 QSO’s:
Roger G0TRB requested a QSY to 1.843 SSB but conditions on Top Band had not been too good even using CW not long after dawn. They were considerably worse now so no QSO resulted. It was worth a try but did cause a delay because the 160m coils had to be refitted then removed again to enable the aerial to be rolled up.

4m FM: 1 QSO:
Brian G4ZRP (Wirrall) was the only person to hear my calls on here. Reports were 52 with 44 coming back for my 3.5 w to an extended rubber duck. I had no proper aerial with me.

2m FM: 5 QSO’s:
It was judged (incorrectly as it turned out) that there was insufficient time to erect the 2m half-wave for 2m so I used the duck again. Stations worked on 145.400 were: G7CDA Dougie - Longbridge, MW6RHD Robert, G4MYU Art - Briafield, MW0RHD Bob (Robert’s father) & G1WAP Brian – Laneshaw Nr Colne.

40m CW was a great temptation at this point but there was an evening meal deadline to meet at the end of the day and I did not yet know what state (with regard to snow / ice conditions) the descent to Y Lliwedd would be in. Nevertheless, skipping 40m CW on NW1 turned out in the end to be unnecessary.

The total number of QSO’s was 45 which was 7 more than last year for NW1. There were no signs of life at the café as I passed. In fact the railway track was covered in snow over the top sections and the sign at Pen-y-Pass had said, ‘No Trains.’ anyway.

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 whereas 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, though not as rugged. There are a few choices but the cairn-marked way is reasonably easy to follow if a little ‘scrambly’ in places.

All along I had been concerned about the possibility of not being to be able to get off Snowdon and onto the Lliwedd route this time but I need not have worried. Sure enough the first 30m of the descent from the ridge was snow covered but it was just that; deep snow and not the hard white ice briefly encountered on the way up. Here I met four more walkers.

Y-LLIWEDD, GW/NW-008, 898m, 8 pts, 10:41 to 13:55 BST. 10 deg C. 5 mph wind. No lying snow or low-cloud. Hazy sun and clear skies. (LOC: IO73XB, WAB: SH65)

Aerial positioning:
Two or three people have voiced an opinion regarding the difficulty of dipole positioning on this ‘peaky’ top but for the second year I managed to erect it on the southwest-facing slope just down from the western summit without problem. In deference to other mountain users I rigged it below the path and not across it. The price for this sacrifice was paid by G4OBK and maybe others. Possibly several QSOs on Top Band may have been lost because the antenna in this position is effectively screened for 180 degrees by the high ground immediately to its northeast. A similar problem existed on Snowdon. It’s one thing to take a line-of-sight band activation to the exact summit when you are doing VHF but quite another for 160m.

80m CW – 10 QSO’s:
After calling CQ on 3.528 for a few minutes, I phoned G4SSH who asked me to send dashes. Roy could barely hear me at all and I was using 40 Watts. However, once we had exchanged (at 559 / 229) and I was spotted, in came another nine callers, albeit all with mediocre reports on my sigs. As often happens on 80m around noon, the band tries to close due to increased D-Layer absorption. All ten QSO’s were with regular G stations and the session took 14 minutes.

80m SSB – 16 QSO’s:
Headed by Roger G0TRB and ending with and S2S with Dave GW6DTN/P on GW/NW-039, 16 regulars lined up to collect this one on 3.724 SSB. This took 33 minutes and a power of 80W. Most stations were about 57 to me. Incoming reports ranged from 52 to 59 but there were no continental ops.

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.

160m CW - 3 QSO’s:
Using 100W just after 11:00z, the only stations worked were EI7CC, EI2CL and G4RQJ. All three were worked without any difficulty but even after a battery change, G4OBK was a different matter. It is unusual to struggle to work Phil except when I am QRP but it is interesting to note that I didn’t work any stations inland because of the screening effect of the mountain immediately to my NE. Phil uses full legal power but I knew when I heard him coming in at 579 instead of the usual 599 that it would be difficult. After a few tries and stuff coming back like, ‘vy weak, QSB, nil, nil copy,’ I had to reluctantly give up the task. The only thing that could be said was that he was responding to my signals owing to the fact he was coming back to me at the right times but he was obviously not reading his RST. Some you win….

Eyeball Eyeball:
Joe 2E0PAD arrived at the summit with his friend Dan. They came over to introduce themselves just as I’d called CQ on 40m CW. Joe asked about the CW, the bands in use, about the rig and aerial.

40m CW - 13 QSO’s:
Last year there had been nil QSO’s on here due to a low battery and bad conditions. This year there were just bad conditions. Either that or a whole lot of continental ops have lost interest in 40m CW, which I hope is not the case. I tried a call on 7.033 but seemed to lose the QRG after the eyeball with Joe. No matter, a migration to 7.032 brought an immediate response to my CQ in the form of Kurt, HB9AFI/P on HB/VD-042. An S2S is a great way to start on any band or mode but particularly if it’s overseas and CW. Thanks Kurt! There followed DL4FCK, F5SQA, DL1FU, 9A7W, SM5APS, HB9AGH, OE7PHI, F6AVE, DF5WA, DL3JPN, HB9DAX and finally Mike EI2CL. An SP ‘got away.’ 30 to 50W were used throughout this half-hour session but having just connected a fresh battery, there were no power saving concerns at this late stage .

4m FM - 2 QSO’s:
After packing up the HF gear, I moved to the summit proper where I dangled my feet over an 800 foot drop and called CQ on 70.450. Using the IC-E90 and 3.5W to an extended rubber duck with a quarter-wave counterpoise wire, G4BLH (Mike) and MW1FGQ (John) were logged. I was about 52 to Mike. The other three reports exchanged were all 59.

2m FM - 9 QSO’s:
Just like last year, time had been gained in the day and this could now be applied to VHF using the IC-E90, 5W H/H to a half-wave home-brew J-fed vertical. This aerial pulled in another 9 stations today but what joy…two S2S‘s with G0EWN/P on GW/SW-030 Gordon and G3UQK/P Frank on Pendle Hill G/SP-005. After these: MW6CRS/P, M3NVJ, 2E0LAE, G7CDA, M3HGH/P, G4BLH and finally GD0PFM in Onchan.

The total for NW8 was 53 QSO’s.

Route off:
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 at 15:08. I was back to Llandudno for 16:15 with over an hour to spare before our evening meal time.

QSO’s: NW1: 45. NW8: 53. Total 98, comprising:
28 on 3.5-CW.
32 on 3.5-SSB.
8 on 1.8 CW.
13 on 7-CW.
14 on 145-FM.
3 on 70-FM.

Walking: 910m (2985ft) ascent, 12 km (7.5 miles). (Unconfirmed)
Driving: From Llandudno & back - 60 miles.

Times (BST):
Llandudno: 04:03
Pen-y-Pass: 04:45
Walkout of PP: 05:20.
NW1: 07:02 to 09:42.
NW8: 10:41 to 13:55.
Pen-y-Pass: 15:08.
Llandudno: 16:15

Elapsed times:
Pen-y-Pass to NW1: 102 min.
NW1 to NW8: 59 min.
NW8 to Pen-y-Pass: 73 min.
NW1 summit time: 2hr – 40 min.
NW8 summit time: 3hr – 14 min.

Walking time: 3Hr – 54 min.
Summit time: 5Hr – 54 min.
Total (Pen-y-Pass to Pen-y-Pass) 9Hr – 48 min.

HF: IC706-2G.
Batteries: First 8.8 Ah Li-Po, 100% utilised. Second 8.8 Ah Li-Po, 20% utilised.
Both summits: Link dipole for 80-60-40-(30)-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.
2m Band aerials: Half-Wave H/B, J-fed vertical on short mast on NW8.
Normal mode helical (rubber duck) on NW1.

4m band aerial: A 2m rubber duck with 26.5 cm extension rod.

QRO pack-weight: 12 kg. 18 SOTA points.

THANKS TO ALL STATIONS WORKED and to EI7CC, G4OBK, G4SSH, G6MZX, F5SQA & G4BLH for spotting. Thanks to Roy G4SSH for telephone co-ordination and getting up at 7am to ensure coverage and to the Top Bander’s who also made it out of bed in good time.

73, John G(W)4YSS (using SSEG Club callsign, varied for Wales to GC0OOO/P)

In reply to G4YSS:

Thanks for the great report John.

It was once again a great pleasure to work you on Top Band from Snowdon, although a little more difficult this year.

To save a little time in the morning I had set up the night before & managed to get the VSWR of my 80m loop down to about 1.1:1 using my MFJ-949E which at least allowed me to run 100 Watts safely.

Unfortunately, I had a late night & hence woke up over an hour late & over 10 minutes after you had started! I powered up the radio hoping that I hadn’t missed you, & my biggest problem was immediately apparent, a colossal sproggy on 1832 KHz produced by my broadband router. I could detect the occasional carrier through the noise so after a quick dash downstairs to shut down the QRM generator I took another listen & thankfully you were still there, quite weak & up & down in QSB but readable. I listened in case you were still working someone else & when I heard CQ SOTA I followed with my usual “DE G0VOF”.

Unfortunately after the mad rush to get on the air & with no prior practice I was very heavy handed & proceeded to demolish my key HI!
I did mange to put it back together well enough for us to exchange details, but I know there were a few extra dots & dashes that I didn’t mean to send.

After a shower & already running late for work I saw you spotted for 80m SSB & it was much easier to work you on that band.

160m is not the easiest of bands to be QRV on, even from a home station & although some summits do easily have the space for full size antenna’s for the band, Snowdon & Y Lliwedd are not amongst them. Well done on your activations & thank you for trying 160m again :slight_smile:


Mark G0VOF

In reply to G4YSS:

Another excellent report John. Well done on getting the antennas up on both summits - a major task indeed. Interesting that you managed to set up on the SW facing slope on Y Lliwedd. I set up higher up for VHF / UHF, but had to retrieve odd bits of kit from down that slope during my activation. I can’t say that it was a particularly pleasureable task, so setting up an antenna there would be something to be avoided in my book! Obviously your head is better than mine in such an environment!

I was pleased to catch you on Snowdon. I listened on all HF band / mode combinations on Y Lliwedd, but the high noise level here had gone ballistic by that time and with the poor band conditions, I could only just detect that you were QRV. Even the DSP on the 857 couldn’t do its magic.

73, Gerald

In reply to John (G4YSS:

Thank you for the most interesting reports. It was an unexpected treat to contact GC0OOO/P from GW/NW-001 and GW/NW-008 on 160m bearing in mind the propagation conditions to be expected in full daylight. I have no doubt also that the relatively short distance from Dublin to Snowdonia was an essential element. I should also thank the owner of one of the local qrn generators for not having the device in action for most of the morning. So, instead of struggling to hear you in S7 noise, it was unusually easy to hear you in the S5 stuff.

73 de Mike, EI2CL

In reply to G4YSS:
Hi John,
Sorry I missed you again. I know how much effort you go to,to activate on 160m,from difficult locations. John (gw4bve) and I had arranged to go walkies in West Wales on the day, so clashed with your activation. Will try to do better next time you are out.
73, Frank g3rmd