G4YSS:Snowdon-NW1 on 11th & 12th May-11

G4YSS Activation Reports: GW/NW-001 on 11th and 12th May-2011.
(SNOWDON on VHFM 4m & 2m on 11 May & by Train 12 May)

G(W)4YSS using GC0OOO/P.
Unaccompanied from Pen-Y-Pass.
All times BST (UTC plus 1) on 11-05-11, unless otherwise stated.

11th May:
Continuing with our family holiday in Betws-y-coed. After NW16 and NW70 in the last two days, thoughts now turned to Snowdon. The WX was not ideal; the forecast predicted a showery morning with improvements in the afternoon for the next 2-days. A family holiday is just such, so selfishly nicking their transport for a whole day is not something I’d wish to do. Considering this, the WX and the continuing fight against lack of enthusiasm, there would be no full day expedition this year meaning no HF and no Lliwedd. Beyond general preparation there was no advanced planning either until mid morning. ‘Think I’ll have a crack at Snowdon today’ was about the extent of it. ‘OK’ was the reply, we’ll go up on the train and meet you but that part of it wasn’t to be.

‘Please could you drop me off at Pen-y-Pass?’ ‘Yes but has anybody seen my handbag?’ Asked Hazel. To cut a long story short, she’d left it in a café in Llandudno the afternoon before and retrieving it was now the priority. I did get dropped at the start point but the handbag incident would rule out any summit meet on this day at least.

This would be the seventh GC0OOO expedition to NW1. The early years were 2m FM only progressing to HF QRP and for the past two years, HF QRO and 160m from NW1 & 8. ‘Normally’ I would be setting up a full size 80m dipole on the top of NW1 at around 7am and moving off to NW8 by 10am. Today’s op would be a lot simpler and should fit the available time, about four and a half hours.

The Pyg Track from Pen-y-Pass (359m ASL) must offer the best option for the efficient SOTA activation of NW1. Even so, some 2400ft must still be gained with a round trip, according to the 2011 Snowdonia guide, of 11km. Snowdon always seems smaller than its 3,560ft to me probably because of its latitude but it’s a sobering thought that it is over 80% the height of Ben Nevis. Also like its Scottish sister, all and sundry are heading to the top on a daily basis. The train makes it all the more popular and incidentally, it costs £25 return in 2011 (£18 for a child ticket - £20 disabled & free if you are under 4 years old) and takes an hour bottom to top. A full trip up & down takes 2.5 hours including 30 minutes at the top.

Left Pen-Y-Pass at 12:16 after downing a litre of cold water with a further litre on board (none used).
With the poor forecast it would be as well to go as quickly as possible and this was helped today by a light VHF-only pack of around 20 pounds. However, I had with me a spare rig, food, a small battery and my winter coat plus a fleece. Ironically, as I removed each item of HF equipment from the rucksack at the cottage, getting on for the equivalent weight of other items went back in! I should have been more ruthless because only the fleece was used and after 15 minutes of walking, I had to waste time removing it anyway.

Just after the Crib Goch junction gate it started raining. ‘Oh well, only a shower’ so I continued in shirt sleeves. By the point where the path comes in from the Miner’s Track, the WX was getting really tiresome. Shower after shower and there is only one way to tackle this; waste more time donning full waterproofs. That cured it, no more rain for the day but my base layer was now soaked underneath the kagoule and overtrousers and I was just left sweating more. Miserable, I set off again but after a good 50m was dismayed to find I’d now lost my hat! Retrace steps, waste more time and energy, find the hat. Essential because the (late) Mother-in-Law bought me it in 1988! Trudged on trying to be nice to the many descending walkers.

The effort and discomfort of ascent was present as always but when you reach the railway, you know it will soon end. While lumbering up the final drag, I was passed by a train and couldn’t resist waving at the kids on it. The summit, reached at 13:53, was shrouded in mist - and people! Standing on the plinth I barely had space to operate the camera for the all important summit photo; such is the popularity of this mountain. A circumnavigation of the pinnacle should have found me a good place to operate out of the wind but conical summits don’t stop much of it so I merely opted to face roughly east. The short mast went in at about the seventh attempt, on went the 4m half-wave, out with the log and ‘CQ’……………

YR WYDDFA (SNOWDON) GW/NW-001, 1085m, 10 pts. 13:53 to 15:46 BST. 5 Deg C increasing. 25 mph wind decreasing. Low-cloud until approx 15:00. (LOC: IO73XB, WAB: SH65). Orange phone coverage, none existent at Pen-y-Pass, was patchy on the way up but OK on the summit.

70.425 FM - 1 QSO:
………………‘CQ CQ CQ 4m FM, CQ SOTA from NW1’ on the channel. Silence. It took quite a few calls before anyone came back. Finally, I worked 2W0CYM Alun on a non-SOTA mountain to the NNW of me. This was Moel Tryfan - 427m. With 5 watts to a half decent aerial at almost 1100m ASL, I listened for further callers but the regulars were not at their radios today. Nor should we expect them to be. CQs went out but nil contacts. I had hoped to come back here later but ran out of time. Power was 3.5 Watts from the IC-E90 to a half-wave j-pole for 4m.

145.375 FM - 23 QSO‘s:
A quick swap; half wave for half wave and we were on 2m. A short CQ at 13:30 should have been all that was needed to get underway but no takers. Eventually G8TSE, 2E0CYM/P and G1PJW at least qualified it for me but it wasn’t until 14:00z that things started to become a bit more brisk after G0TFH - Lee’s son Morgan kindly posted me on SOTAWATCH.

After that there were two distinct mini-pileups so I made lists and worked: G6KAB, G6LKB, GW0WTT, M3XIE, M0RJM, G0ODU, GW1SXN, MW6BDV/P, G0MZZ, G4ZRP, M6PMA, 2E0NVJ, 2E0XSD, MW6UPH/M, MW6DUL/M, G0NAJ, M6WAD/M, GI4SRQ and GW4OKT. Stations were located around the Snowdonia area plus, Lancs, Chester, Leeds etc.

Powers ranged from 0.5 to 5 Watts from the IC-E90 to a half-wave j-pole for 2m. I know some areas are screened from Snowdon so apologies if you couldn’t hear me. Also there must have been some screening to the west caused by the summit plinth but I did work GI well enough.

Half way through Roy G4SSH phoned to ask about HF (it was hard to have to tell him there would be none) and my XYL came on to say they couldn’t get a train up until 3:30pm. Hardly worth it so that trip was cancelled. At least we saved £65 in so doing plus the £10 parking fee at Pen-y-because they dropped me off.

At one point there was a twin rotor Chinook Helicopter hovering no more than about 50 feet above Lliwedd’s summit. Previous year’s expeditions would have seen me there at this time of day and judging by my experiences on Ben Nevis and on Great Gable, I would certainly have had to suspend ops because of the noise. It was loud enough on Snowdon and it went on for quite some time. Interesting though.

The Descent:
I had failed by a narrow margin to better my previous ascent time so I had a crack at getting down inside an hour. This didn’t enter my head until the chap in front of me started running as I left the summit. Running down hill at a slowish pace is not too difficult except that the rucksack develops a mind of its own. The GPS kept jumping from its holder. I never did catch the runner but kept up more or less 50m behind him as far as the miner’s path junction which he disappeared down. By then I’d had enough and just walked as fast as possible apart from a few bursts. In the end I failed in my quest by 2 minutes, arriving at Pen-y-Pass at 16:48 just in time to see the XYL about to disappear into the café. It took a few minutes to become sufficiently presentable to follow her. I was very hot and very tired but despite VHF only, it had been a good afternoon out.

QSO’s: .
1 on 70 MHz-FM.
23 on 145 MHz-FM.
Total: 24.

Walking: 735m (2,411ft) ascent, 11 km (6.9 miles).

Elapsed times:
Pen-y-Pass to NW1: 1hr-37 min.
NW1 to Pen-y-Pass: 62 min.
NW1 summit time: 1hr – 53 min.

Total walking time: 2Hr-39min.
Total gross time: (Pen-y-Pass to Pen-y-Pass) 4Hr-32min.

IC-E90 6-4-2-70 H/H (5W) with 1300 mAh integral battery part used.
2m band aerial: Half-Wave H/Brew, J-fed vertical on short mast.
4m band aerial: Half-Wave H/Brew, end-fed vertical on short mast.

VHF-QRP pack-weight: 9 kg. 10 SOTA points.

Yes, Hazel did get her handbag back with all contents intact!

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

12th May - Postscript:
Snowdon by train, 12-05-11:

Yes, I hold up my hand; I went up on the train! I was prevailed upon to accompany the family to Snowdon’s summit, ironically after walking up to it only yesterday. This was a 2.5 hour round trip from Llanberis and a first for all of us.

After filling up a rucksack with warm clothing and of course the handheld, we were off to get the 12:30 train. A mixture of Diesel and steam locos were going up and down. Our loco powered by steam, was appropriately called Wyddfa. Though it cost a small fortune and was a little uncomfortable, it was a unique experience nonetheless. According to the public address system on the way up, the top station’s ASL is given as 1064m.

The new café looks very nice inside but it’s virtually pointless to try and use it in the 30 minutes available. Just getting through it both ways wastes valuable time if you have your mind on summit photos and an activation as I did.

The WX was much the same as the day before; the summit was cold, windy and clagged in. Temperature was probably around 7C. Denise and Jack seemed surprised at the conditions outside as we climbed to the top for photos. After 10 SOTA’s including WS1, Hazel has seen worse but her comment was about what a busy place this summit was. Not just train people like us but walkers too.

After helping my XYL & Grandson down, I ‘sloped off’ back to the summit with the IC-E90 preset to 70.450 MHz to call G4BLH who I hadn’t managed to work on 4m FM the day before. No sign of Mike but a little later GW1SXN Patrick called in. After an explanation and a brief QSO, he tried to drum up some support. Gradually yesterday’s log which had room for 4 QSO’s at the bottom of the page, was filled up as follows: GW1SXN Patrick (Caernarfon), 2E0CYM Alun, G8BUN Rob (Ossett) and G4ZRP Brian (Wirrall). All but Rob had worked me the day before which meant that three lucky ops got 20 points!

All this had taken 9 of the last 11 minutes available to me so I beat it back down the steps and through the café to the train, arriving with seconds to spare to face a glaring XYL and shuffling passengers to let me through to my seat.

So Snowdon can be successfully activated by train though it needs a certain amount of luck. Also the band must be chosen wisely. I picked 4m in the hope that I’d get just the right number of contacts. It’s a quiet band but better to fail than to end up with a pileup and the wrath of an XYL because you had to walk down. It didn’t matter in this instance of course.

In actuality, it’s not really that bad if you plan for it. The train driver clearly stated that there was an option to stay longer and you were welcome to try to get a seat on a later train provided that there was one available. I suppose a few passengers ride up and walk down but you can’t be guaranteed a seat. All the passengers on our train appeared to ride both ways and it was full.

That was a first for me. I’ve activated a few summits on consecutive days over the years but none without camping. All of us enjoyed the experience but I was left with a surreal feeling of, ‘How am I here without being shattered?’

73, John.

In reply to G4YSS:

Many thanks for another most interesting account John and well done on the activations. I think the mass of humanity is the most disappointing thing about the summit, but then everyone has a right to be there and it is not SOTA activation exclusive. Give me a quiet single pointer in the GM/SS region any day!

< I`ve activated a few summits on consecutive days over the years but none without camping.

I can certainly recommend getting a cheap room at a Travelodge. The complete flexibility on time is brilliant - no B+B mega-calorie breakfast to circumvent either. Just do your own thing. Could this be something to try out with Nick? I dont know what Paul and I would have done up in the Lakes without the availability of a couple of cheap rooms more or less each time weve been up there.

73, Gerald G4OIG

In reply to G4OIG:
Hi again Gerald. Thanks for your reply.
Despite the crowds I like doing Snowdon as it’s quite economical on energy compared with some 10 pointers. The crowds - well yes but I think I might possibly have got a dipole up if there’d been more time. ‘My’ pitch (twixt cafe & summit) was mostly free of people because of its loose rocky nature but the ends do get quite close to steps / path.

Thanks for the tip on Travelodge which is something I don’t have 1st hand experience on. I think Phil G0OBK has used them but not for a few years now. You certainly need something that doesn’t tie you. Even if you are on the spot, it’s still good to be away at 1st light or whatever the schedule demands. You would miss b-fast at 99% of B&Bs so why pay for one?

You really can’t beat a camper van for being on the spot but I sold mine for £180 ten years ago. We had 10 years of great GM hols in it and I still have the money intending to put it towards a new one.

73, John.

In reply to G4YSS:

Hi John,

I suppose Paul and I each pay an average of £19 per night for a Travelodge by booking ahead - has been down to £9 with special offers, with one or two late bookings costing more than the average. Having a room each allows us time to ourselves. While I usually put the alarm on as close to leaving time as possible, Paul tends to get up earlier (so he tells me) and have a more relaxed start to the day. Quite often we are away for the first summit before 6 a.m. The limiting factor is usually whether the chasers will have rolled out of bed by the time we are set up on the summit.

The main plus points for T/L are the en-suite bathroom (essential for the post-activation shower before evening meal / drinks), the luxury of a comfortable bed for the night, ample space to dry out the kit and the complete freedom in respect of times. It certainly enables us to start the second (and third) day of activations as fresh as we started the first. Highly recommend are the T/Ls at Cockermouth and Portmadog which are quite new.

…and no, I am not on a retainer from Travelodge!

73, Gerald G4OIG

In reply to G4OIG:
Thanks for that detail Gerald. It is something to bear in mind for the future and it’s certainly cheap enough.

73, John.

In reply to G4YSS:

Cheaper and more relaxing than driving back home and out again to the summits!

73, Gerald G4OIG