G4YSS SOTA Actn Rprt, Mickle Fell, (NP2) 27-12-08

G4YSS SOTA Actn Rprt, MICKLE FELL, G/NP-002 on 27-12-08

MICKLE FELL G/NP-002, from Cow Green, using GX0OOO/P.
All times: UTC on 27-12-08.

It’s 32 years since I started climbing Mickle Fell, mostly using the 2 x 5 mile northern route from Cow Green reservoir car park via Birkdale Farm and across Maize Beck. With just 4 days left of this year, it suddenly became vitally important to bag this, my favourite fell. Though NP2 is Yorkshire’s highest (until 1972 when it was ‘towed’ into Durham) its remoteness and the fact that it’s in a firing range makes it rather unpopular with activators. True, there are plenty of holes in the ground but none are shell holes; rather sink holes, rabbit holes and the occasional old mineshaft.

The route:
Leave Cow Green reservoir car park (NY 8109 3091) and follow the private, locked, undulating but tarmaced reservoir road, through the rare species areas, to the dam wall at NY 81526 3039. From here it’s over the bridge which spans the outflow from the dam just before it crashes down the spectacular Cauldron Snout, on its journey to Teesside and the sea.

The track can be followed along to Birkdale Farm (which looked empty today) and further on to the footbridge over one of Maize Beck’s tributaries called Grain Beck, at NY 8006 2771. After that Maize Beck itself must be crossed and this is where the would-be activator can get wet feet or worse. There are two bridges over Maize Beck; one is 4 miles upstream and the other 4 miles down. This fact makes the WX and its effect on the depth of the beck, the primary consideration for this route. I often walk down beside Grain Beck and try to ford Maize at around NY 8019 2733. There’s always more water than was evident looking from up near the dam and when it’s likely to be more than boot deep, I take two sealed polythene sleeves to act as temporary wellies. These can be hidden on the far bank for the return. With the beck conquered, it’s just a matter of getting over the intervening ground to the summit. It’s roughly an hour to the crossing point and roughly an hour after that.

Disused Mine Shaft at NY 8069 2626. ... © John Earnshaw :: Geograph Britain and Ireland Stream source on Mickle Fell's northern... © John Earnshaw cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Britain and Ireland
View from Mickle Fell's Northern slope... © John Earnshaw cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Britain and Ireland

The northern flank of Mickle, which sits in a box of perhaps 80 square miles of ‘nothing in particular’ is just as lonely as any other and apart from what are possibly animal paths, it can be pretty rough going too. However, it’s far from steep and over the years I have tried to find odd paths & learned to avoid the worst of the tussock and bog. Barely evident paths can be found between NY 8060 2679 and NY 8076 2547 but they either don’t join up or are easily lost. Bear left at the Stirling Bomber’s tyre (NY 8082 2488) and head for the top, skirting the rock-field.

There is a southern approach (described elsewhere - http://www.sotawatch.org/reflector.php?topic=813#) which partly uses the ‘Grouse Shooter’s Road; a gravelled track which leaves the B6276 road at NY 8719 2110 and is suited to mountain biking.

Left Scarborough: 05:17.
Arrived Cow Green car park: 07:30.
Walking: 07:51.
Maize Beck: 08:51.
Stirling Bomber: 09:40.
Summit: 09:46.

MICKLE FELL, G/NP-002, 788m, 6 points. 09:46 to 13:58. Minus 3 Deg C, Wind SE 15mph. Thin low-cloud with icing conditions and a thick dusting of frost. Intermittent views of Cow Green Reservoir. WAB: NY82 Durham. LOC: IO84UO.
Mickle Fell

Though I could see little at first and it was a tad cold, it was great to be back on top of this friendly old hill again. Erected the dipole and tuned it for 80m. The substantial summit cairn was pressed into service as a windbreak today. The flysheet I had with me was not required but the hat, coat and mitts certainly were.

7.031 CW:
I knew G4OBK was scheduled to activate NP1 today, so the first task was to locate Phil. 40m is where I found him but in the excitement I forgot the 80m-dipole links were connected. Half a callsign was all that Phil heard before I spotted the high VSWR and rushed off to retune; leaving him sending question marks at high speed! After a FB and very strong, line-of-sight S2S with Phil on Cross Fell less than 10 miles away, it was time to get spotted on 160m CW.

1.832 CW:
Naughty naughty! I’d made no alert the day before. It was quite intentional. To me, Mickle Fell is primarily Mickle Fell and secondly NP2. I see it as recreation and always have to drag myself away. Alerts mean pressure and I wanted none of that today. For similar reasons, I would not be doing a second or third summit either.

There was good O2 coverage so Roy G4SSH was able to pre-spot me on 160m. That put him in the best position to try a sked and at 10:11 we quickly exchanged with 529 / 339. This was a relief. At this time of day further QSO’s could not be assured; the main protagonist of 160 being fully occupied with NP1 on 40m!

Once again, I need not have worried but there were nonetheless some disappointments. Every time I went back to Mike EI2CL with 100W and his report, nothing happened. I tried and better tried. Someone was kindly helping Mike to mark the overs but it was all to no avail in the end. That Dublin hash had beaten us again. What a disappointment! The same thing happened with Don G0NES and by then the rig in the rucksack without airflow was heating up nicely.

On the plus side, here is the list of 160m successes: G4SSH, G3WGV, SM6CMU, G0TDM (G7GQL / GX0ANT), G4OWG, G4BLH, EI7CC, G3WPF, GW0DSP, G3RMD & G4RQJ.

John was so loud and I was so taken aback that I got his callsign wrongly logged at first. Then I realised it was no less that our own SOTA President G3WGV, putting in a huge signal from near Penrith, not many miles away. He too has an interest in the fells around here; particularly NP2, which is probably why he worked me. I wonder if he also worked Phil on NP1?

3.554 CW:
What a good start; an S2S right away with GC4MWS/P, the Macclesfield Radio Club on 3.557 CW and GW/NW-042. I think the op may have been Tom M1EYP.

After that I moved to 3.554 and worked a dozen chasers who included Peter ON3WAB, F4CTJ and the hapless Mike, EI2CL from earlier. This time Mike, G4BLH varied to his school clubcall of G4CPS.

Chilling rapidly, and recognizing that there could be embarrassment if I waited until the SSB, I stuffed down sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, pork pie and Christmas cake, left over from Boxing Day tea. It was evident that before much longer, the antenna would need de-icing a second time as it was sagging noticeably.

3.709 SSB:
Twenty one QSOs were logged on here. 80m was busier than normal but there again I am not used to operating at weekends. The band must have been in good shape as many 59 reports characterized this session. There was plenty of QRM too. It was Brian G8ADD who located me, as I had to QSY well down the band after the RAF Club Station narrowly beat me to 3.724. Mike GW0DSP tried to fool me with GW1LFX but it didn’t work! Perhaps he has started his next 25k with his ‘B’ call? There seemed to be a higher proportion of casual (apparently non-SOTA) callers. Maybe that’s because it was a Saturday. ‘Golf three Old King Arthur,’ John in Liverpool rounded things off by taking both the SOTA and WAB square. This reminded that I should have ‘parked’ down the ‘west end,’ in rare WAB/P area NY82 Cumbria and not at the summit but you never know when you might want to add VHF to the activation.

10.118 CW:
My aerial does not ‘officially’ cover 30m but by selecting the 40m ‘link’ on one side and the 20m on the other, the resulting offset dipole is resonant and worked well enough today to ellicit quite a lot of 599 RST’s in response to a 30W output. Before starting I had to ‘rediscover’ my feet, which was done by running around the summit cairn in a 25m radius. After clearing the antenna of ice and getting Roy to post me, 21 stations were worked starting with Ambrosi HB9AGH and ending with OK1MDK at which point the battery abruptly gave out. I should apologize to the ON3 station who called me just before this happened.

In the middle of the above came the distinctive sound of ‘/P.’ It turned out to be Jure, S57XX/P on S5/CP-011 but initially my brain would have it that this was the more familiar Hanno DL9SXX. It’s just another symptom of a poor command of CW mixed with stress caused by the working conditions and the wintery weather.

The retreat:
I couldn’t leave without looking at the Stirling wreck, finding some fuel tank parts I hadn’t previously noticed and visiting the ruin, which is threatening to fall down. Stirling LK488's impact point near 'Boot... © John Earnshaw :: Geograph Britain and Ireland Stirling LK488 final resting place on... © John Earnshaw cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Britain and Ireland

This took up an extra half hour and I started the descent just before 2pm. The crossing of Maize Beck went without incident, although I was grateful for the Gortex lined boots. Pounding the tarmac along the dam road brought back the heal pain with a vengeance but I was able to limp back to the car by 15:49.

16:00 to 18:35 took care of the drive home, which included a wrong turn to Brough instead of going to Cotherstone. At least I now know my 2m /M rig works. I’ve had it 2 months and my first QSO was today (Phil G0VRR near Scotch Corner).

As is normal for Mickle Fell, I never saw a ‘soul’ on it, though there was a family at the dam wall who were watching an unusual gushing that looked like it might have been a fault. The Curlews, Lapwings, Skylarks all seemed dormant or absent and being December, there were none of the usual frogs & sheep. I did see plenty of Rabbits, some living quite happily under rocks at nearly 2600 ft. It had been an easy going day spent in a favourite place but I just wish the visibility could have been better.

Total: 67 QSO’s, comprising:
1 on 7-CW
11 on 1.8-CW
13 on 3.5-CW.
21 on 3.5-SSB.
21 on 10-CW.

408 m (1339ft) ascent / 16 km (10 miles)
Only 196 miles (plus 20 miles ‘detour) driven in the day. Home for 18:35.

IC706 2G QRO with home-brew composite panels, wiring & breakering. CW ‘key’ in microphone. Link Dipole for 20-40-60-80 with tuneable coils for 160 at the 40m break points. 5m CFC mast – 1m ends. Reserve rig (not used): VX150 2m Band FM H/H with 2.7Ah AA battery.

Battery power: Two RCM 2.2Ah Li-Po’s plus one RCM 4.4Ah Li-Po all in parallel. 11V nom, 100W capable, 0.7kg. 100% depleted.

QRO pack-weight: 12 kg (inc. flysheet, poles, pegs & 0.75 ltr drinks).

THANKS to all STATIONS WORKED and to G4SSH for spotting & liaison. Also to G8ADD & EI2CL for spotting; your assistance was appreciated. Thanks to the following S2S stations: G4OBK/P, GC4MWS/P & S57XX/P and finally to the SMT for looking after our hobby.

73, John (G4YSS using GX0OOO/P, SSEG Clubcall)

Splendid report John, but it is what we have come to expect. You dare not let the standard slip now you know!

I enjoyed Mickle Fell, approached from Grains o’th’ Beck in 2006, on a non-firing day. Later that year, Jimmy and I did the Pennine Way, and one of the best days was Langdon Beck to Dufton, via the features you mention - Cow Green, Cauldron Snout, River Tees, Maize Beck (and High Cup Nick). That day, we passed to the north of Mickle Fell itself.

What a good start; an S2S right away with GC4MWS/P, the Macclesfield Radio Club on 3.557 CW and GW/NW-042. I think the op may have been Tom M1EYP.

Guilty as charged! Just back from my fourth activation of the day - not bad for December! Admittedly, my 4th was technically on a different day to my 3rd!

73, Tom M1EYP

In reply to G4YSS:

Another exceptionally pleasurable read John… and some useful tips as well. I might activate this one and some other northern NP’s when we next stay in Northumberland - seems to make more sense than an 0200 start to the day.

73 es HNY, Gerald

In reply to G4YSS:

Thank you for the QSO on 80m and the interesting report on your Mickle Fell activation.

Unlike 80m, the hash-meter was hovering at S7 across 160m at this QTH. The old and newly arrived neighbourhood QRN generators were on-the-air on all bands and being worked hard. Having managed to hear a few bits of your initial transmissions there was hope of success; a combination of QRO, luck and filters might provide the desired result. But we’re well used to gotaways at this stage and the fact that you can’t win them all! It was quite frustrating to be aware that you were responding with an RST that had just a slim chance of getting through the QRN blanketing the band at my end. Thanks again for trying and for the many QSOs during the past year.

73 es hny 2009 de Mike, EI2CL

In reply to ALL:

See your GC4MWS/P – NW42 report.

It’s not that far from Northumberland; that’s where many of any VHF QSO’s come from. You are right, these early starts are terrible, especially if you don’t see home for 18 or 20 hours. We need to club together for enough hydraulic rams to move a few of these SOTAs where we can easily get at them. Just 2 or 3 from each of NW, LD & NP and they wouldn’t miss ‘em.

Mike, EI2CL
A philosophical attitude is an asset here. God willing, tomorrow (31-12-08) I should be on two that you haven’t got on 160. These are NP32 and NP9, so listen out for the usual first am / last pm 160 slots. I intend to take QRO but don’t worry if you’re not in.

Best wishes to all for the coming year. Thanks for all the QSO’s & spotting.

73, John G4YSS.