Monday 19th July 2021
This day would have been the 17th birthday of Whisper, the Barn Owl that I owned since he was six weeks old. It therefore seemed appropriate to dedicate the day to him, particularly as he had only been put to sleep on Monday 12th July after a very harrowing month seeing him decline. The road next to our house had been resurfaced at the beginning of June and the final clean and sweep was carried out on Friday 11th June. Unfortunately we were away at the time having taken my mother-in-law away for a few days break and my son was calling in after work to feed him. When we got back late on Monday 14th June, everywhere around the house was covered in a fine grey dust, including the inside of the aviary. I noticed straight away that Whisper was wheezing and coughing. Despite several trips to the vet and treatment with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids, he did not recover from the damage that the dust had done to his air sacs and lungs. His breathing got steadily worse and by 12th July the situation had got to the point of no return.
After the stress of the last month, we decided to have a few days away up in Northumberland to try to chill out and relax. Being up north provided me with a suitable start point for a long day up in Scotland activating a couple of summits. As per my last SOTA outing in September 2020, I woke early and I was therefore once again on the road early… 01:05z to be precise. I am starting to get used to the trip north and this time it did not seem to be as daunting as it had done previously. That didn’t make it any less onerous – this was another 350 mile (560km) round trip requiring almost 7 hours of driving.
I decided to take the standard route up from the A85, just east of Ben More farm near Crianlarich. When I arrived at 04:30z, there were already several cars parked up near the start of the path, so I decided to park in the large lay-by half a mile further east near to Loch Lubhair. Here there were more cars parked up, all devoid of occupants. I had hoped it would have been quieter on a weekday, but summer had obviously arrived and people were already out on the hills at this early hour.
Ben More - it doesn’t look very high, does it?
It was 04:50z when I set off down the road towards the path marked by the low wooden sign. The initial section up the farm track to reach the gate at the 300 metre level went easily enough and the path off on the left just after the gate was plain to see. The start of the path now has stone steps, there having been considerable work carried out on the ascent route in recent years. The steep path up the north face of Ben More is certainly unrelenting, though not as difficult as I had imagined it to be. It helped being early in the day as the route was mostly in shadow. There were excellent views all around with a wide panorama opening up as I ascended and since I was well ahead of schedule, I decided to take a break at the 720m level. This gave the lone walker coming up behind me time to reach me. She stopped to take a drink when she reached me and we had a brief chat, which required me to listen very carefully on account of her very broad Scots accent.
Views at 720m asl
I managed to keep up with her for the first 100m of ascent beyond where I had rested, though as we progressed up the section alongside the dry stone dyke, conversation became more and more distanced and she moved on ahead… a single water bottle is no load to carry now is it? She shouted that she would see me on the summit. I replied that she would be on Stob Binnein by the time I got up there.
The summit of Ben More is marked by a large cairn at 1174 metres which I reached at 08:15z. There is also a trig point a short distance beyond the cairn on the top of a rocky outcrop with a superb view over to Stob Binnein. Allowing for my complete lack of hill fitness, I didn’t think that my ascent time was that bad. I spent a few moments taking in the views and taking some photographs before attempting to find a position where there was a little breeze to keep the midges at bay. Unfortunately there was no breeze whatsoever to be had, so I set up close to rocky outcrop and it wasn’t long before I had been found by the little blighters.
Ben More 1,174m asl GM/SS-001 NN432244 IO76RJ GMFF-0002 TP1287
I was really keen to work Don G0RQL down in Devon from these two summits on 2m SSB, so I set up the 5 element beam horizontally polarised – no slant polarisation this time around. Being well over an hour early, as expected I received no response on 144.333MHz. I therefore decided to try 2m FM to get my presence recorded and hopefully along with it, a spot. I did have a 4G signal, but grappling with the phone and fighting off midges did not prove to be practical. Sending texts was a hit and miss affair, with texts coming in, but not going out. Thankfully, a call on 145.500MHz brought back Steve MM0XPZ at 08:53z and we moved down to 400 to make the contact. After a chat with Steve there was a steady run of contacts which included Victor GI4ONL. Ray GM7NZI kindly spotted me and I worked 10 in all on FM and despite the antenna polarisation most people were 59. Robert GM4GUF was last in the run, so at 09:28z I announced the move to SSB. Robert popped up to confirm all was well on that mode too, closely followed by John GM0WRR who I had also worked on FM. Scott MM7STP was a weak signal with me, but we made the contact without any problem. Another brief chat with Steve MM0XPZ came next and then Esther GI0AZA and Ian GI0AZB. Esther spotted me and there were then a few moments between signing with Ian and hearing Don G0RQL with 52 / 31 reports exchanged.
Ben More summit trig with Stob Binnein behind
I was now in a quandary - HF or cut and run. Unfortunately for anyone waiting for me to appear on HF, the midges made the decision for me, so apologies for that. Even wearing Paramo trousers and a long sleeved top, I already had several bumps appearing around my neck and on my lower arms. There were also a number of people spread across the summit now, so setting up the 60/40/30m link dipole would have been difficult. I must admit that I really do prefer quiet remote summits any day. It was 10:01z when I closed down and I was on my way by 10:15z, taking a number of photographs as I went. I took a 10 minute break on the descent down to the bealach to take a drink and apply some antihistamine to my bites. The reapplication of repellent would have to wait.
The descent to the bealach and track up Stob Binnein
Passing over the Bealach Eadar da-Bheinn at 862 metres, I stopped for brief chat with a couple of guys who were taking a lunch break. My lunch would have to wait until after the second climb of the day up to the summit of Stob Binnein, an ascent of 303 metres. There were now lots of people around going one way or the other and I had to step off the zig-zag path from time to time (being slower moving), but again there was no rush as I was an hour ahead of schedule. During the ascent, I received a text from Mike G4BLH noting he had put a note on SOTAwatch to reflect my timing which did focus my mind somewhat. It was 12:05z when I reached the summit cairn.
Stob Binnein summit
The take off south
Stob Binnein 1,165m asl GM/SS-002 NN434226 IO76RI GMFF-0002
After taking in the view south over the Trossachs, I spent a few minutes trying to find a little breeze to avoid a repeat of the previous summit. Thankfully there was just one spot to the west of the summit that allowed me to set up in the updraught from the steep slope on that side of the mountain. I set up about 10 metres from the edge on a mossy patch and gave the pole a slight lean into the slope in case of collapse. With lunch behind me, I called on 144.333MHz at 12:38z to receive an immediate response from Mike G4BLH/P down in Lancashire. Once the beams were peaked, reports of 58 / 53 were exchanged, my preamp doing its usual job of signal level inflation. When I signed with Mike, I was pleased to get a call from John GW4BVE who I hadn’t spoken to for a couple of years. Steve MM0XPZ and Ray GM7NZI were then followed by Don G0RQL who had spotted me 10 minutes previously. This time reports were 52 / 42. Peter GM0VEK concluded the run on SSB. Moving to FM at 1302z, my first call was answered by Trevor MI5TCC/M. In all I worked 7 on FM, including a contact with Gavin GM0GAV who I usually work on HF CW. I finished the session at 13:38z. Once again many thanks to Ray GM7NZI for spotting me.
There was a steady flow of people arriving and departing as I operated and I was in two minds as to whether I should reposition myself on the summit so that I could set up for HF. I took down the 2m antenna and was pondering my next move when a lady approached and asked whether I got fed up with having to carry all the kit up the mountains. I replied that it was a necessary part of enjoying a pastime that I had enjoyed for over 50 years. I am not sure that she was convinced. Strange what some people think and say.
Anyway, after deciding that I was now too hot to be bothered to reposition myself and set up for HF, I packed the kit away and after taking a few more photographs, descended back down the north ridge to the bealach. From the bealach I took the path that heads across the western slopes of Ben More; which being above steep rocky ground is not the recommended route. However, Jack GM4COX had suggested that I use this path and it proved to be fine all the way down to the glen, though boggy and slightly eroded in places. On a couple of steep sections I found it easier and less painful to descend backwards, my toes now suffering from the heat – unusual for me as I have Raynaud’s and they are usually cold as ice.
View north to Ben More
View down into the glen on the descent of Stob Binnein
Once I was down in the glen I headed northwards on the farm track, eventually reaching the road and so back to the car which I reached at 17:00z - bizarrely precisely on schedule.
After stowing the kit, a change of footwear and a snack, I set off back south at 17:28z and arrived at the house in Amble at 20:50z, now 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
Since this outing I have had a look at other potential day trips to activate the higher summits in GM/SS and GM/CS. Most seem to be a round trip of between 350 and 400 miles, requiring 7 to 8 hours on the road. While I “survived” this outing without any particular issues (no aches, just tiredness for a couple of days afterwards due to lack of hill fitness), I do have to bear in mind that I will be 70 next year. As some of the SOTA fraternity know, I am also 4 years post heart attack and 3 years post triple bypass. I did thank my surgeon when I arrived on the summit of Ben More.
Other things of note:
I need to review my method of operation for these trips and decide on 2m SSB or HF. Doing both is really one step too far. A simple antenna would suffice for 2m FM to add the band to an HF activation. I guess this will all depend on the summits of choice.
Water is heavy. I pre-hydrated and then carried 2.25 litres on this outing and could have drunk more. This was my first summer outing for many a year where I have activated two summits without a return to the car between them. Lesson learned.
The zips on Paramo trousers are not midge-proof! I have several lines of bites along where the zips lie against my legs. Repellent required on legs.
Hopefully I will be out again soon, a little better prepared in many ways! Even after 15 years doing SOTA I continue to learn.