I’ve spent a couple of weeks winter climbing, x-country skiing and mountaineering in Scotland each winter for many years. This trip was going to be different - not only because the conditions were not suitable for my ‘normal’ winter activities due to lack of snow and above freezing conditions. My ski’s and most of my winter mountaineering kit stayed at home. This time I was taking my SOTA kit and I’d spent days pouring over SOTA summits & maps in the hope a ‘plan’ would jump out of my research.
Then I saw two unactivated summits, GM/NS-131 & NS-118 not too far west of Lairg. These became my 1st targets. I could then travel west to do some other hills I’d not explored before. A start of a plan!
D. It is a long drive from my home near Whitby. 435 miles later and nearly 9 hours driving later I pulled up outside the Oykel Brdge Hotel. It was closed but that didn’t matter as I’d planned sleeping in my estate car. Despite being on an ‘A’ road there was no traffic. Perhaps not too surprising as it is narrow with passing places.
D1. From Oykle Bridge (OS 19, NC 386009) 9:30 the next morning I was off for the 8km walk to Craig Loisgte mostly via a forestry road. My progress only hindered by having to climb over 2, 8ft deer fences. I was at the summit for 1200. Six or seven small stones in a pile showed the summit. It was clearly off the tourist trail.
My ex-army tarp kept out the wind!.
8 CW QSO’s later, (I only do morse). 7 on 7mhz & 1 on 10mhz and it was quiet enough for me to pack up and go back to my car.
D2. I drove to Glen Rossal and the Achness hotel for a pint and stayed in my car again. A meeting with a game keeper assured me that I’d not have any problems parking several miles up the road to the glen. “no one lives there any more”, he told me. One less worry and so the next day I left my car in the Glen (OS 19 NC 428103) and an hour and half later I was installed on NS-118, Beinn Sgeireach. My 2nd unactivated summit. This one had a better view and I could see Suilven rising out of the rolling hills to the far west as Andy (MM0FMF) said I would. I’d never seen it before. It was spectacular enough from here!.
My tarp up again to avoid the cold SW wind and I soon had 18 QSOs all on 14mhz, including two from the states and one from Asiatic Russia. I’d heard the Russian guy send his call twice before quite fast - probably around 30wpm so I expected he was in some contest I couldn’t hear so didn’t reply. But here he was again as soon as I resumed my hand morse CQ at around 17wpm. A quick reply with 599 from me and he shot back again at 30wpm. I wondered whether he was thinking I had one of those inbuilt CW readers? I looked him up later and he has a trophy from the Scottish Tourist Board for the first Russian amateur radio station to confirm contact with all 56 districts of Scotland.
Well pleased with my results so far even if they were rather easy hills.
My next base was just North of Ullapool. GM/NS-057, Ben Mor Coigach and possibly GM/NS-070, Sgurr An Fhidhtler if I had the time and inclination. Another night in the car!
D3. Most people set off fr to these two hills from the west at the end of the road at Culnagraig. But from the A835 to the SE there’s a pefectly good track from Blughassary - a car park at (OS map 15 NH 133015). I left on foot at 09:30 and arrived at the 1st summit Ben More Coigach (743m) at 1115.
The splendid view towards the summit ridge and the only person I met on any of the 7 summits. On 7mhz I quickly got 11 QSO’s including an S2S to HB/BE-110. A golden eagle treated to me to a gentle fly past and I could hear ptarmigan calling below me. It was only 1255 so I packed up and made the next summit only 1k away towards the NW in sunshine, to Sgurr an Fhiehlier (717m) Arriving at 1430 I soon had 8 QSOs on 14mhz, 4 of them from NA. All quiet I was back at the vehicle 3 hrs later and treated myself to fish 'n chips in Ullapool.
The view north towards Suilven:-
D4. Drove to Forest Lodge bunkhouse (OS 20 NH194813) where there was only 1 other person. Whole room to myself with own shower/toilets. Lovely! Tomorrow Meall Dore Faid GM/NS-061 (730M)
D5. I had seen an alert from fellow Scarborough Amateur Radio club member David Holmes G4ZAO/P who was activating a hill in NP land and decided I’d chance my activation for the time he’d be on 7mhz. I was in no hurry packing up but underestimated my ETA on the hill which was only a ‘short’ couple of km from the road. I put some speed on and got to the summit 1hr 30 minutes later. I was hot!! I did hear G4ZAO/P but it was a very weak signal and he was QRL but I got 21 QSO’s on 7mhz & 14mhz including 4 S2Ss.
D5. Sgurr Mor GM/NS001 (1110m) Leaving the car at Lochdrum (OS20 NH253755)on the A 835, it took me 4hrs to hit the summit. Somewhat longer than I expected. The delay caused by my deciding to a take a more direct line through the broken crags on the NE face. Interesting scramble though. I got my shelter up in the lee of the cairn and as the sun was out my shelter being dark got comfortably warm. This got me 10 QSOs on 7mhz + 1 s2 with HB land, 9 QSOs on 10mhz including 2 S2Ss, then another 5 on 14mhz. It was now 1430 and by the time I’d packed my stuff up I decided not to treat myself to a dash over to NS-002. Only 2km away but… I must be getting soft. Another night in the car alongside the loch! 2.hrs back to the car via Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich a smaller munro to the NE, where I discovered this little howff.
D6. Little Wyvis GM/NS-050 (764m) at the village carpark in Garve (OS20 NH NH 401640) at the foot of Little Wyvis I made my way up the zig zag stalkers road in quick time, arriving two hours later, but had to edit my previous alert as I was going to be somewhat later than my ETA. It took me a while to get my shelter up as it was rather windy on top and there was no natural shelters. I got 23 QSOs all on 7mhz, including my last S2S with HB land. On my my way down I met a farmer trying to catch a last years lamb and offered to help him. He turned out to be the owner of the hill and we had a n enjoyable chat as he was keen to reinstate much wildlife onto his land as he possibly could. He’d already built a house from the Sitka Spruces he’d cut down and replaced with native species. I got a short lift down to my car. Just about the only conversation I’d had on my trip.
D7. An early morning start and another spectacular drive down the A835 & A890, got me to Achnashellach from where I’d activate Guar Tholl GM/WS-109 (907m), or its neighbour Beinn Liath Mhor, WS-097 the next day. Now if you are an aficionado of bothies, bunkbarns or private hostels there is one place in Scotland which most walkers, climbers and mountaineers who’ve done time in Scotland will know of. It has a certain reputation. And that place is where i decided to spend at least one night. Gerry’s Hostel. I was initially the only inmate. It lived up to its reputation.* (OS 25 011487)
D8. Guar Tholl GM/WS-109 (907m), An easy stalkers path from the station got me to within striking distance of the summit, but on the bealach (col) it was windy, cold and the steep rocky slopes shrouded in cloud. The forecast was for fronts moving in from the SW. Getting up wasn’t going to be a problem but navigating out on a possibly pathless summit without ending up on steep rocky ground might be. I’m not sure I really wanted to sit on top of a cold summit in the wind, shelter or no shelter and then have the possibility of navigational problems in deteriorating weather . If I was late down I’d also have to experience another evening in the hostel. I decided to return to the car. Another spectacular drive down to Sheil Bridge at the head of Loch Duich.
D9 The weather had turned and rained hard overnight. The weather had turned. My next target SW of Shiel Bridge was WS-185 just below the cloud base in the gloom. The hill was wet. The forecast said another bigger front would move in by the afternoon. I had two choices. Sprint for the hill or retreat to the comfort of my home? I headed home - and by the time I got to Glasgow it was pouring down.
a) A You-Kits hb1b Mk III covering 7, 10, 14, 18, & 21mhz. Its like me and does morse only. carried in a kitchen plastic box - along with a spare pencil. Although the radio has internal LiPo batteries mine looses a volt or two after an hour or so pounding. As I wasn’t always assured of a re-charge I had a 2amp slab battery which hardly dropped a volt between the odd re-charge at the two bunkhouses I stayed at.
b) An ex-army key. Tough and an excellent key. Carried in a plastic box which also has a pencil & spare ear phones/bud within.
c) A linked dipole from SOTA beams, covering 7, 10 & 14mhz.
d) A 13ft fishing pole which collapses short enough go in my rucksack along with a couple of bungee cords for for securing to posts/rocks/trig points and so on.
e) Odds & ends such as spare crocodile clips, bit of wire and wire snips, tape etc.
f) I carry a cheap (£1) pair of headphones, some spare ear bud 'phones and also a small battery powered speaker within its own box.
a) A5 logbook, my Ipad and my newly acquired I-phone donated by my wife to replace my ancient Nokia.
b) A piece of A4 sized plywood to which I can use as a writing support or to sit my key on.
c). Two sit pads.
d) The shelter is an ex army 8 x 6 tarp + a bag of several tent pegs and para cord, which can be erected and supported using a walking pole in a number of configurations. Unfortunately I can only manage one or two!.
e) A couple of heat pads if my finger/s get too cold to manage the key. They turned out to be excellent!
f) My Zeiss binoculars which live around my neck.
a) Goretex jacket and overtrousers. These are for wet/bad weather use and I normally carry or wear a light windproof in addition.
b) Spare hat, Spare gloves & goretex mitts.
c) Light insulated ‘belay’ jacket.
e) A headtorch and spare small torch, Swiss army knife.
f) Plastic survival bag. Map, compass and pacing/timing card & pen.
This lot only weighs in at around 26 lb or so.
A completely new experience for me and a totally different view of Scotland’s summits and hills. This trip was a perfect combination of my love of hills, mountains and outdoors and operating CW.
I was extremely lucky to activate in Scotland within the mild weather window. Operating in ‘normal’ winter conditions would have not have been so pleasant or even possible in many instances.
To my surprise I think all the hills I visited had relatively good mobile signals as did most of the glens, making the posting of alerts and self spotting possible, which was all I needed. Had I an assistant it would have been great to have logged calls and been able to reply with callers’ names as did some of the folk who answered me. I think I’ll have to make a list of names of those chasers who appeared in my logbook - and yours - time and time again. I’m sure most of you know many by name too. Without these regular SOTA chasers it wouldn’t be quite the same. It all most felt like a friendly club. Thanks to you all.
In short I’m glad I became a ham and guess I was extremely fortunate that three or four of our club members are keen SOTA operators, otherwise I may not gained the confidence, knowledge and help to enable me to to take part in SOTA. This will be the first of many similar expeditions I hope.
David Perry M6GYU,
- If you want to learn more about this bunkhouse: gerry's hostel review - Google Search