Strathfinella Hill is a 1 pointer beside the village of Auchenblae about 40 minutes drive from my home QTH. The forecast looked quiet between storms Mikel and Corrie and so it turned out. The hill is a wooded summit, as can clearly be seen on the satellite image - the location of the trig point is marked. Verily,you can’t see the views for the trees, so the hill is rather boring in that respect. It is also being actively logged, so during the week you may find sections of track closed to the public.
With a number of different routes up shown on Walkhighlands, I decided to do some pre-activation scouting to check access following Storm Arwen which went through back in November and caused havoc in our forests. Storm Mikel then hit on Saturday so I also had some worries for Sunday in case of further fallen trees.
The first route I checked was a fairly direct approach from the North
However, the main part of this was a well-used downhill bike trail which ended in a very steep section. Any Storm Arwen damage had been cleared from the trail. A gate in the plantation fence gives access to the adjacent field, also pretty steep with no paths. Another gate in the corner then gives access to the path running along the crest of the hill. I decided against this route due to steepness and also the fact that the bike trail was likely to be busy on the Sunday.
I then scouted the route used by MM3ZCB and MM1MAJ back in 2018 and this is what I used on Sunday. I have included a lot of detail as I’ve found that Strathfinella paths are confusing, often don’t correspond to the maps and there are a lot of bike trails.
This route comes in from the North East, starting at the small car park beside Auchenblae cemetery.
Route up. X = fallen trees blocking path.
A short walk along the road from the cemetery leads to an ungated path across a field:
The path ends at the second field which is ploughed, but the right of way was visible as a deeper boot-printed furrow:
This led to a gate giving access to the forestry plantation, which had a rather amusing sign on the back:
A good path led away from the gate and a few hundred yards on I encountered the first Arwen blockage:
A more serious second blockage is at the first X on the map. This required a detour through the trees on the side:
The next turn (Point 1 on the map) is not obvious ( I actually found this on my way back down):
It is located at W3W tadpole.snooze.zoomed and a few yards in after negotiating a large fallen tree you find a reasonable short path up to the next forestry track at Point 2 on the map:
Looking back down the short path from Point 2.
Following the forestry track around, the next junction, Point 3 on the map, is obvious:
The smaller rough track leads all the way to the summit. However, there are several fallen trees to be ducked under along the way eg:
Then near the top, there is a large blockage of fallen trees(second X on the map) requiring a short detour, using a “path” cut by chainsaw:
The summit path is clear:
At the top you have to scout around a bit to find the trig point which is in a thicket:
Apart from scouting the route up, I also wanted to check where I could set up to activate. The ridge path was no use as it is used regularly by bikers and the “path” leading to the trig point was marshy with overhanging trees. I also established that the areas that have been cut down - clearly visible on the satellite image, are outwith the 25m activation zone. Happily, what I assume is a wide fire-break runs South East downhill from the summit and is also in the activation zone, so I selected that - no other choice really. I’ve marked this area on the map.
Since I knew exactly where I was going, it took me 1 hour 30m to walk up and there was only one additional path blockage due to Storm Mikel which was easily walked around. No wind at all and the temperature was hovering just above freezing.
I set up as planned in the fire break - with masts for my end fed and delta loops. I also had my 2m rectagular loop with me to try a pre-arranged S2S with Fraser MM0EFI, who was going to be on GM/CS-030. I didn’t think it was worth bringing my yagi, given the location.
DXHeat showed 10m was active, so I put up my 10m delta loop plus end-fed. The band was pretty quiet though, with just a few contestors, so I think the DXHeat was mostly FT8. 40m was a complete zoo due to the UBA contest so my first spot was for 20m. EA5K was first in the log with a further 29 EU contacts and 3 S2S including Stavros SV2RUJ/P whom I had missed on my last activation when his battery failed.
After chasing HB9EIZ/P for a 4th S2S, I switched to 10m, put out a spot and called CQ fruitlessly for 5 minutes.
Around 1100 I checked in with Fraser MM0EFI/P by text and then had a successful S2S on 2m FM with 51 both ways.
After chasing HB9CYV/P on 20m for another S2S I went onto 15m with a delta loop, but a spot brought just 2 QSOs, EA5K and YO5MCM.
Seeing a spot for Stefan, EA8/HB9HCS/P on Lanzarote, I tried to hear him on 20m but couldn’t, even though I could hear some EU stations working him.
I then tried 17m.
The band was very busy and finding a clear freq was tricky. What is it about 17m? So many big EU signals wiping things out 5 KHz on either side. Anyone else have this problem, or is my 857 not up to it on receive?
I eventually found a clearish freq and spot brought a run of 8 EU (including EA5K again) before I had to QSY due to QRM. A second spot then brought my first transatlantic contact of the day with AE4FZ in N Carolina, followed by a S2S with F4JCF/P.
I took another look at 40m - still busy with contestors but I managed to find a space and a spot brought a run of 18, including regulars G0FEX, G4OIG, G0RQL, 2E0FEH and SA4BLM.
Going back to 17m I got another 9 contacts including N2BTD in New York.
a big 10m surprise
I gave 10m another quick scan. The band was empty apart from…VP8LP calling CQ! We had a quick QSO and Bob gave me 53 and this was using my end-fed. Amazing bit of DX!
I then spent another 5 minutes calling CQ but had no replies.
Went back to 20m and chased 5 more S2S and then after another short spell on 17, I went back down to 20m where a spot brought another run of 15 including a S2S with Guru EA2IF/P and a chase from K2VV in Missouri.
I then saw a spot for NP4Z on KP4/CC-005 on 15m, found him but had no luck breaking the pile-up with my end-fed. I then quickly put up my delta loop and tried again plus I will admit to cranking the power up to 75w from my usual 50. Result! Good S2S with a 52/55 exchange. Great stuff!.
I then put out a spot but just had one chaser, SV2FLM, who was last in the log for the day at 1433. The wind was getting up and spots of rain heralded the imminent arrival of Storm Corrie.
I packed up and was back at the car by 1615, by which time the rain was getting heavier.
On the way back, my route went past St.Palladius Church in Glen of Drumtochty just north of Strathfinella Hill. Its gothic architecture is so over the top, I had to take a photo:
99 QSOs for the day, including 15 S2S. Best DX VP8LP 8179 miles and the NP4Z S2S was the cherry on the cake. A great SOTA day. Thanks to all as usual. Here’s hoping for a storm-free February.
PS. Storm Corrie came through later in the evening, taking down power and the mobile network at my home QTH at 2330, with both restored today, 31st, at 1700.