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GM/SS-001 and GM/SS-002

Monday 19th July 2021

Background

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.

The ascent

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?

Stepped path

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.

Summit cairn

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.

Operating position

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.

Notes

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

73, Gerald

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Since you have had exhausting but beautiful trips. Thanks for the great pictures

Too bad about Whisper - I’m really sorry!
I look after just under 40 church towers with barn owl boxes in our area.

73 Armin

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Great trip Gerald! I haven’t been back to Ben More since I nearly got blown off the top around 26 years ago!
Your report has inspired me to have another go. Once it’s a little cooler, with less climbers and less midges.

73, Fraser

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Thanks for the report Gerald, really sad to learn that you lost Whisper. You had told me privately that Whisper hadn’t been well, I was hopeful for a better outcome.

It’s hard not to sound patronising, but well done on getting out and about in the hills. There’s too many people who hit a few bumps in the road and then waste away in front of the TV. Keeping active within sensible limits is definitely the way to go. From my viewpoint now, I do hope I have the mental strength to keep active in my mature years.

Vy 73

Colin

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Gerald. Thanks for the report. Very sorry to hear about Whisper. A beautiful bird. Didn’t know they could be pets.

Your outing looks lovely. Very nice peaks. I certainly agree with you about water. We’ve been having a record hot summer here in Idaho and until yesterday, I didn’t carry more than a liter and always got back to the car severely dehydrated. Yesterday I carried two liters and it was much cooler. But it was nice to have the extra.

The bugs definitely make radio work difficult. We don’t have midges, but have mosquitoes and deer flies. I have treated my shirt and hat with Permethrin and also spray bug repellent around my head and ankles and that has worked well this summer. Now, because it’s so dry, most bugs are gone.

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Your report brought back happy memories, though we did those two on different occasions as we didn’t have the time or legs to do both. Ben More got me my first transatlantic SOTA contact.
Sorry to hear of Whisper’s demise.

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Very well done those 2 summits, Gerald!
Thank you for the great activation report with very beautiful pictures!

I’m very sorry with the sad episode that produced the intoxication and death of your beautiful owl. It was a great bird indeed and I hope you’ll soon find a nice replacement.

I like very much animals and I currently take care of my daughter’s agaporni while she is away from home. She got it when it was just a few days old chicken and raised it with patience and much care.
Let me introduce you our dear and sometimes too noisy agaporni called Beni:

Beni often passes the day in my shack window and I guess some activators may have even heard his singing while I’m chasing them on SSB.
Beni is sometimes a bit bad tempered and has several times bitten my fingers very painfully, even making them bleed after the bite.

73,

Guru

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Many thanks for the replies to my report which included some very interesting comments.

Armin - it is brilliant to see the project that you have going. Barn owls need all the help that they can get as much of their hunting grounds have been taken by modern farming practices. Some farmers local to where I live have put up nesting boxes. I didn’t know we had any living close to my house until we had Whisper. The first breeding season was quite a shock with all the calling at night.

Fraser - this must be the easiest way outside of the winter bonus period to get 20 points. I have longed to activate this pair for any years, so it was appropriate for the occasion.

Colin - getting out on the hills cures many an ill. It certainly helped me in this instance. When I went back south, the empty aviary brought it all back. I have decided I won’t be having another bird, so there is some deconstruction work to be done.

Patrick - I prefer activating in spring and autumn, especially in Scotland as the midge is quite fearsome and packs a bite many times larger than its size would suggest it is capable of. It doesn’t help being allergic to insect bites!

Caroline - doing these hills as a pair certainly requires an early start and late-ish finish. That does not really fit in with your usual MO. I might have entertained them separately had I been staying in the area.

Guru - Beni looks to be a really cheeky character. Parrots and owls have lots in common. I was always amazed that Whisper had moods like people which indicates a higher level of intelligence. He was very much a one-man bird. Other members of the family were tolerated, but he and I had a close one to one relationship. Sitting on my shoulder was one of his true pleasures.

I am hoping to get a bit more SOTA-therapy soon, though I am still undecided on which way to go… VHF or HF. :grinning:

73, Gerald

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or both ? :wink:

73 Armin

Hi Gerald,
First of all I’m really sorry to hear that Whisper didn’t survive as I know you were taking him to the vets a while back. I hadn’t expected news that bad though. As you say Barn Owls need all the help they can get. I don’t see that many when out these days. Maybe you’ll help another one?

What a truly magnificent effort to do SS1 & SS2 in one day especially with all that driving. That kind of undertaking takes some bottle to even plan. I certainly wouldn’t have taken both on in summer as it would have finished me off! Good photos and nice to see them. There was a lot of low-cloud around when I was there but thankfully no midges - a massive bonus. I’d swap them for low-cloud and a bit of bad WX any day. You just can’t work with the distraction and your decision not to put on HF would have been mine also.

It’s a pity you couldn’t get to the start as the layby involves another mile round trip as far as I know. Your times are great especially considering summer and not least your recent history. I feel tired just typing while thinking of you adding SS2 like you did and getting back via a long walk in the valley. It all looks so simple on the map apart from paths that aren’t shown but after SS1, I’d had enough. SS1 is really steep too and the pain doesn’t end when you think it should.

‘One water bottle!’ It’s beyond our imagination as SOTA ops with all our radio kit plus the many safety items we carry. I notice you carried over two litres plus a good ‘swig’ before starting which was the right way to do it. The one drawback to the prehydration (and for that epic I’d have had 1.25L) is when you sit down and cool off at the top which can precede many interruptions during the activation. ‘Pse QRX!’

You must have carried a considerable weight with both VHF-SSB and HF capability so I agree with the review at the end. I would have gone HF and simple 2m-FM but I think VHF-SSB with a 2m-FM QRP added, is right for you and where your heart lies, though it’s actually harder than HF.

Nothing short of a brilliant effort and comprehensive report too,
73, John.

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Well, I limited myself to 0.5L beforehand to avoid feeling bloated. I must admit to having disposed of that at the 720m level before settling for a brief rest. I had a litre when I got back at the car before the return drive, but generally I reckon I was a good litre short overall on the day. Maybe too few summer outings on large hills - I will take more next time for greater pre-hydration and post event consumption.

As for pain, well nowadays I don’t really get pain either during or after the event. I am quite limited by my beta blocker which really keeps my pulse rate down, so progress is generally modest and there is no opportunity for lactic acid to build up. I was rather more tired than I expected, probably on account of the heat - it got up to 26C in the glen on the way down.

I checked my backpack weight. Without my fleece (which was only worn for part of the ascent and therefore was an additional burden), the total was 12.2kg inclusive of the water. I took my 60 / 40 / 30m dipole, 5 element 2m beam, 817 and 2m 25 watt linear. I could save a little weight here and there, but I reckon only a kilogram at most. I do like to run 2m SSB to work Don G0RQL and Mike G4BLH - my preferred band/mode combination in conjunction with 30m CW and possibly 60m SSB. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t normally use 2m FM on account of battery drain. However, I only used just over 3AH on my LiFePO4 over the two activations and so had capacity in hand. Perhaps my concerns are based on experience historically.

At the end of the day, I can only do what I can do and sometimes something just has to give.

73, Gerald

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…and I did! However, I only managed 2m on the rocky summit of Ben Lui GM/SS-003 due to the constraints of the landscape.

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I missed you doing that one! The three big SS summits in a few days… not bad for an old man :wink:

I’m very pleased that the re-plumbing work you’ve had done has been so successful and that the drugs are not a major issue. I’m not sure I could do Ben More and Stob Binnein the same day.

Indeed, though my tiddly little beta blocker still does slow me up as the pump throughput is limited by it. I think it’s called “preventative” medication to stop me doing too much too quickly. What really has surprised me is that after such a long lay-off, I didn’t have any post-activation aches. Okay, the day after the day after I was a tad tired, but even that didn’t happen this last time out.

It’s a big day to head up there from Northumberland, but I’m getting used to the route and enjoy driving it. The fun is trying not to squash a Jackdaw driving through the 20 mph zone in Callander at around 5 a.m… more birds than humans around at that hour. :grinning:

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Nice report Gerald @G4OIG

Both summits in one day was a bit of a slog, but the points were worth it. Shame the midges were out in force; we’d have liked to stay a little longer, but they just spoilt the fun. Maybe we should try again in winter…? Fancy a joint activation in the snow!?

73, Simon

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You’ll have discovered the serious fun limiter now there are average speed cameras from Lix Toll onwards. It used to be check for people entering/leaving Lix Toll garage then steady through the bendy bit in the trees (road damp but trees now harvested), then down and onto the fun section and fully open the taps and let the beast be free all the way to sharp bend on the bridge over the Allt Choire Chaorach, then drive like you stole it to Ben More Farm. Finally back off coming into shaded, narrower section (narrow and always damp and slippy) leading into Crianlarich.

Now it’s hit cruise and set to 60 and plod along. At least with 310bhp and a slick 8 speed box overtaking anyone and letting the cruise control get the speed back to 60 is trivial. Up behind, check fore and aft, check again, indicate, pull out and floor loud pedal for a few seconds, observe Doppler shift on images, lift off and back in. Back to plodding along.

Just after Lix Toll, Ben More on horizon shows the type of road and typical traffic levels in the morning.

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I always thought of that as the nice part of GM for motoring. I remember back in the early 1960s our amazement finding that A roads in the Northern Highlands were single lane with passing places, and woe betide you if you were following a caravan, you couldn’t overtake it, and you couldn’t share a passing place with it to let past traffic going the other way. We loved the surreal mountains in the northwest, though, it was worth the endless driving and aggro!

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Simon, I’m always up for a bit of snow, as long as it is lying on the ground and not swirling around and getting into my backpack. The worst experience for me was on Gathersnow Hill GM/SS-077 when Paul G4MD and I arrived in overcast conditions, soon to be treated to static snow (including the mandatory shock off the antenna) which very quickly became a white-out requiring a descent with GPS assistance. Anyway, snow conditions aside, whether you would like to actually walk as slow as I do is another matter entirely! :grinning:

Indeed, but I’ve only 200bhp and as you say, I’m an old man :wink:, so I don’t get so excited by speed nowadays. I like to take in the ambience of the road. :grinning:

Yes, I well remember the slog over to Mallaig. I can remember my father getting rather fed up having to pull in at regular intervals, plus the fact that there was absolutely no opportunity to unleash the 43bhp of our Wolseley 1500.

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Cruising along that road in the Triumph TR6, lid down, didn’t hear the Buccaneer until it was directly over us at near zero feet. Had to stop to change underwear :rofl:

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