The Glen Afton pair plus one - or maybe not.
28th – 30th December 2017
After the success of an outing in early October, Paul and I decided to go ahead with our usual post-Christmas trip up to Scotland, risking the cost of the accommodation since I was still awaiting the call for surgery. Paul duly booked a couple of cheap rooms at Ayr Travelodge, one of our usual stays for activating in southern Scotland. We were both keen to activate the pair of summits accessed from Glen Afton to the south of New Cumnock. To these we added Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, GM/SS-038 which is easily accessible off the A713 and we felt would make an ideal summit for the middle day of our three day outing.
Thursday 28th December 2017
Working back time-wise from a return to the car at dusk, we found that we could set out half an hour later than usual. In hindsight this was not a particularly good decision, but thankfully everything worked out okay. It was therefore 03:20z when I left home with the temperature hovering around minus 4C, somewhat lower than forecast. It had climbed to minus 2C by the time I reached Paul’s house at 04:50z. After loading Paul’s kit into my car, we set off north, passing through a brief sleet shower in Cheshire. Fortunately this did not last for long and thereafter it remained dry with the temperature hovering around freezing. We reached the parking spot in Glen Afton at 10:27z, slightly earlier than scheduled. En route, a few miles south of New Cumnock it was a pleasure to see a juvenile Golden Eagle, indeed as we had on a couple of winter outings in the area in previous years.
We parked the car on the verge by a bridge and got ready for the ascent. With the sun coming out of the cloud, it looked like it was going to be a good day. However, things were to change later on. It was 10:55z as we set off along the road to the track past Blackcraig Farm. Once off the road the surface was quite slippery and the track was iced up, so we regularly had to take to the adjacent ground slowing our progress. The track extended well beyond the point shown on the Ordnance Survey map and the path continued to be reasonably well defined until we approached an area named on the map as Star Bog… the clue to the ground conditions in this area is in the name. Despite the sub-zero temperature, we found that it was very boggy beneath the layer of lying snow and it was a case of proceeding cautiously.
Viewing the track ahead - okay thus far
Looking up to Quentin Knowe
On reaching the knoll of Quentin Knowe we looked back and saw that we were not alone on the hill. A group of four were coming up behind us. They eventually caught up as we were ascending one of the steep sections by the fence up to our target summit, Blackcraig Hill GM/SS-070. Only one of the group, apparently the leader, was carrying a backpack, so they had no problem moving away from us. When we reached the trig at 13:17z, they were sat having a snack in amongst the rocks beyond. The ascent had taken us longer than planned and with a chilly 25mph wind blowing we were keen to find shelter, particularly as the sun had disappeared some time earlier - the fence line to the east beckoned.
We used our tarps to provide us with some shelter, but it was very basic and not particularly effective as the wind appeared to be constantly changing direction. I set up the 5 element yagi on the pole which I tie-wrapped to a fence post. Hunkered down behind the tarp, my first task was to try to warm my cold hands so that I could operate - this is a result of the medication that I am on which makes my Reynauds worse. I noted the temperature was minus 1.6C which would have been okay, had it not been for the wind.
Operation from the fence line.
A few calls on 144.333MHz brought a response from Bryan G8DKK near Letchworth at 13:43z. At least conditions seemed not to be against me which was pleasing. Paddy 2M0IPO was next into the log followed by Peter MM0CEZ and then Geoff GM4WHA. With the summit qualified I was able to relax and the contacts kept coming. Mick M0PVA and Mike GW0DSP were one time regulars in my logs and it was good to work them after such a long time. Unfortunately, I had a rare failure with Don G0RQL on this one. The other strange thing was that I was spotted by Stewart G0LGS, but for some reason did not hear him.
Paul ran 60m and found the two highest “channels” in use. Putting a call out on 5.3715MHz at 13:46z, he received an immediate response from Brian G8ADD. After a chat with Brian, Terry G0VWP called in, closely followed by Don G0RQL and Peter G6NHW/P qualified the summit for Paul. The remainder of the log was with SOTA regulars around GM, G and GI. Those that couldn’t copy me on 2m passed on their regards and New Year greetings.
After the frequency went quiet and a few CQs solicited no further calls, Paul came over to see how I was getting on. We agreed that with the weather conditions worsening and a slippery track to get down, it was time to close and get off back to the car. However, I couldn’t resist a couple more calls and back came “summit to summit” which resulted in me working Robin GM7PKT/P on Cairn-mon-earn GM/ES-080, which was a real bonus.
Frozen fencing photographed on our descent.
Looks like a nice day tomorrow - appearances can be deceiving!
We set off down the hill at 14:51z and it took us a full two hours to get to the car. It was dark when we arrived, but it didn’t take us long to get sorted. Conditions had been such on the summit that we hadn’t stopped for food or drink, so it was now time to have a snack before we set off for Ayr. After booking in at the Travelodge, we agreed a time to meet up and later went out for a meal at the nearby Frankie and Benny’s. With high winds and heavy snow forecast for the following day, our options were discussed over a couple of beers.
Friday 29th December 2017
We agreed to review the weather situation at 07:00z and set our alarms accordingly. A few texts were exchanged and we decided that with MWIS advising of persistent snow and whiteout conditions with 40 to 60mph winds, the weather was likely to be too severe for a 6km walk with 600m of ascent. The alternatives that we had were not much easier, so we cancelled our alerts. 09:30z was set for brunch and over eggs on toast and a couple of coffees, we decided to visit the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and Cottage at Alloway not far from Ayr. This excellent suggestion had come from Neil 2M0NCM and we really enjoyed our visit.
After visiting the museum, the famous brig o’doon, the auld kirk and the cottage, we drove over to Glen Afton via Dalmellington to get an idea of conditions. There was considerably less snow lying than had been forecast - just around 3cm in places. Whether it would have been okay out on the hills, we will never know. As we drove past the site entrance, it became clear that construction work on the new Glen Afton windfarm that we had read about in some walker’s reports was still active, though we suspected there was very little chance of work being in progress at this time of year. On arrival at the Glen Afton water treatment plant where we would park the following morning, we found the official car park closed, but there was ample space nearby. A bit of research would be required to check this out and we discussed it and the weather forecast over the evening meal later on.
Saturday 30th December 2017
We set out from Ayr at 06:50z as planned and arrived at the parking spot at 07:34z. With a thaw having set in overnight, the road had more or less cleared of snow and in amongst the trees it was quite pleasant getting ready for the ascent in the dark. We took the track out towards the reservoir and then set off steeply up the hillside on a waymarked path. After skirting an outcrop of rock we reached the road up to the windfarm, immediately to find that we had to take care because of ice. On reaching a cabin, we were greeted by a security officer who advised that there would be no-one working on site which was good to hear.
Progress up the track was slower than we would have liked on account of the conditions underfoot. In taking extra care and concentrating on staying on our feet, we actually missed the spur off the main track and had to backtrack some way. Several times we noted paw prints through the snowy patches on the track - obviously this is wild cat country. The track took us past a number of partly assembled wind turbines, almost onto Millaneoch Hill. It was then a hard slog of a little more than 1km up to the summit of Windy Standard GM/SS-071 through knee deep snow. We arrived at 11:00z, three hours after setting out, the final part of the ascent having been quite tiring, particularly as the wind had been increasing in strength.
Looking around for shelter, we decided to utilise the fence to the south south east of the summit. To make things worse, it had now started to snow and the wind was running at least at 25mph. It was not easy to set up our stations and we were both feeling the cold, especially in the hands before we started operating. I noted it was minus 2C, but the wind was the real problem.
We had decided that if the weather conditions were bad, we would limit our activations to a single band. Paul decided to use his resonant dipole on 60m to avoid the need to deploy the ATU and was operational by 11:20z. Ken GM0AXY was first into the log, with Ken G0FEX, Don G0RQL and Terry G0VWP running in close order with other SOTA regulars following. In all 15 were worked around GM, G, GI and EI. Christine GM4YMM completed the log at 11:42z.
My choice of band was 30m, which I hoped would provide me with a reasonably quick activation. However, I had also alerted for 2m FM, so called CQ several times on my handheld while setting up, all to no avail. Thankfully conditions on 30m were excellent, with Jack OH3GZ first into the log at 11:29z. After the first contact my problems began. The wind direction had changed and the snow had started to swirl around so the tarp offered less protection. I had closed up my backpack so the rig was okay, but the key soon became clogged with snow and it became virtually impossible to key. The solution was to open up the gap and keep blowing the snow away. Frozen hands did not help either and logging was a challenge! In all I made 10 contacts around OH, DL, HB9, EA2, PA, OZ, YO, I and even as close as Phil G4OBK - skip length seemed to be all around Europe.
Quick photo taken before dismantling the station.
The frequency went quiet at 11:47z and several CQs did not produce any further calls, so I announced I was going QRT and switched off. It was time to get off the summit. The snow had now turned to hail and the wind was running at around 40mph. I found it difficult to stand as I wound in the dipole. After what seemed an age we were finally ready to descend and set off back to the car at 12:10z. The weather conditions had resulted in our upward tracks being obliterated, and going down was nearly as hard work as ascending! The descent took us two hours and twenty minutes, the conditions underfoot being rather more precarious than earlier on account of a layer of water that now overlaid the ice on the track.
Windfarm construction equipment - this one close to Millaneoch Hill.
After stowing our kit and changing our footwear, we decided on a very quick snack before setting off home at 14:53z. With a stop for a coffee at Lancaster services, the first stage of the journey took 5 hours and we met up with Paul’s XYL near Junction 9 on the M6. We were both back on the road again by 20:00z and I reached home at 21:06z.
So 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, or so the song goes. These weren’t the most enjoyable activations on account of the weather, but they were certainly an achievement. The downside was that we were unable to achieve our usual MO and operate on several bands, but it would have been foolish to remain on the summits longer than we did - certainly on Windy Standard.
Many thanks to everyone that came on to work us and apologies to those that missed out. Hopefully we will be able to spend more time on the radio the next time we are out.
73, Gerald G4OIG