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GM tour; part 1

A Scottish Adventure by Helen (M0YHB) and Carolyn (G6WRW) – Part 1

One of our geocaching friends is working his way round the extreme points of the British Isles and this year his aim was the most northerly inhabited place, the island of Unst in the Shetlands. So a small group of us planned to join him, but on our journey north we had lots of SOTAs we wanted to do as well!

The plan was to head to the Scottish borders and then on to the Cairngorm National Park to climb Ben Macdui before catching the ferry to Orkney. From there we would travel to the main objective of our journey, Shetland Mainland and the surrounding islands of Unst, Bressay and Noss, before catching the ferry back to Aberdeen and stopping over to climb Ben Nevis on our way home.

A new piece of equipment had been acquired for this trip, a HF Packer amplifier kit which we imported from the States; this little amplifier covers all the bands we intended to use and produces 40 Watts from a 2.5 Watt drive on 80, 60 and 40 metres going up to 50 Watts on 20 metres. With this amp, combined with Carolyn’s fan dipole and a 20 metre vertical, we hoped to make plenty of contacts.

The first SOTA of the trip (although not in Scotland) was Lambrigg Fell (G/LD-046)) on Sunday 14th June. This was a quick detour off the M6 into the south part of the Lake District. Lambrigg Fell is a low lying hill but the wind farm pays testament to how blowy it can get. The walk up is quite gentle across a field to the generators service road then a short climb to the summit. The first contact was a summit to summit with Lutz (DL3SBA/P) on Auergang (DM/NW-197) on 40 metres and then C moved off frequency making quite a few G and European contacts with the band buzzing with loud signals. Once things had eased off a little H took over and called on 60 metres. We were only out of the camper for just over an hour with a total of 45 contacts between us so a successful first activation of the trip. This was a nice break in our journey, only another couple of hours to our first stop over point.

We were staying in Jedburgh for 2 nights with the intention caching in the area and climbing and activating The Cheviot (G/SB-001) the next day but on arriving at the beginning of our walk it started to rain and after half an hour of walking there was so much water falling out of the sky (along with thunder and lightning) that we decided to turn back. The path back down was more like a river and by the time we had got back to the camper we were soaked! Not to feel like we had wasted the day we travelled to the East coast and visited Holy Island (Lindisfarne), it was not raining there, and then cached our way up to Berwick on Tweed.

With a SOTA wash-out the day before, we decided to activate a summit on our “travelling day” up to the Cairngorms (Tuesday 16th June). Just to the south of the Scottish border town of Melrose there are three hills together, the highest being Eildon Mid Hill (GM/SS-214). A steep, sharp climb up from the fishing lake side took us directly to the summit. From here the view was great and although not sunny at least it was dry. We could see The Cheviot covered in cloud so we assumed it was much the same when we tried to climb it. C erected the antennas while H looked for a geocache and again started on 40 metres with H then doing 60 metres without much success. We tried 80 metres and made two contacts but it was a struggle; this theme seemed to continue on the lower HF bands during the day as we headed further north. This was another hour-long activation which produced 23 contacts; our first Scottish summit of the year.

Late in the afternoon we arrived in Aviemore and continued to the Forestry Commission campsite in Glenmore on the edge of Loch Morlich. Our main SOTA target while we were staying in the area was going to be Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in the UK, if the weather was not too bad. The weather so far had not been kind with wet days and dry evenings and this looked set to continue. Overlooking the campsite was Meall a’Bhuachaiue (GM/ES-027) and we decided if the weather was good enough the next evening we would try to activate it.

So on Wednesday 17th June, after a wet day, the cloud broke during the afternoon and we set off from the campsite up the path past the visitors centre, through the forest and on to the ridge to the summit of Meall a’Bhuachaiue. On the summit it was impossible to find any shelter from the bitterly cold wind so this was going to be a chilly activation. C started on 40 metres with 4 slow contacts then H tried 80 metres managing 16 contacts before all went quiet. While H finished up C set up the 20 metre vertical. 20 metre signals were extremely good and C had some long chats with various Europeans including a very clear QSO with a Russian YL, Galina (UA3QOS). After nearly two hours we were getting very chilled but it was still light even though it was 10pm. After packing things away we descended and after an hour we were back at the campsite; now we knew we were in Scotland in the middle of summer as the midges were out and it wasn’t dark!

The next day was wet and windy and too bad to climb onto the main arctic plateau so we decided to have a ride up the funicular railway that climbs the north side of Cairngorm Mountain. Going out on the viewing platform we could see none of the promised views because of the low cloud and nearly got blown away by the gusting wind. Retreating to the comfort of the restaurant a welcome hot chocolate and cake was consumed before we headed back down. We then visited Aviemore for some new wet-weather equipment. H had a long walk back to the campsite through the Rothiemurchus Estate geocaching while C drove back. With the dry evening and the promise of good weather for the weekend we hoped the conditions would improve on our last day so we could climb the mountain we came to do.

The morning of Friday 19th June was indeed much better although the threatening skies still remained. We went to the base station of the funicular railway and called into the Park Rangers office before setting off up the corrie route to Ben Macdui (GM/ES-001), our intention to return along the ridge round to Cairngorm Mountain (not quiet a Marilyn as its prominence from Ben Macdui is less than 10 metres short of the150 metres) and down by the ski runs. It was hot and muggy but this all changed when we reached the first “peak” (which is around the same height as the upper station of the funicular) where the wind was decidedly arctic! The cloud began to drop as we went further but the route was easy to follow with a long series of closely spaced cairns guiding us in the featureless landscape. We wondered why so many so close together; the penny dropped on the way back.

As we reached the final scramble to the summit conditions turned worse and the visibility closed down to around 25 metres. So after a quick setup we started on 80 metres just as the rain started. We both struggled with C making 4 contacts and H with 6. In hindsight 40 metres would have been a better band but then we may have been encouraged to stay longer. Then the hail came, so sharp that it was stinging our faces and hands, a quick look at each other confirmed that neither of us wanted to stay on the summit any longer. But there was one last thing to do before we left, collect the information required to attempt a 5x5 rated cache later in the holiday. After picking our way down the first section in less than 20 metre visibility, (the clag was really closing in now and we were not able to see the next cairn from the previous one) we decided not to go along the ridge and went back the way we had come (in poor weather C prefers to go back the way she came). It was not until the last 500 metres of descent that the sunshine returned; we really had four seasons in one walk!

The next morning we drove from the Cairngorms to Scrabster where we caught the ferry over to Orkney. We were going to have one night and one full day on the Mainland Island before heading to Shetland on the overnight ferry. Since none of the summits on the Orkney Islands had ever been activated we were spoilt for choice. After exploring some of the local stone circles and standing stones (Orkney has the highest density of Neolithic sites anywhere in the UK including the famous Skara Brae) and after checking in with the campsite we studied our maps trying to decide where to go first.

Wideford Hill (GM/SI-189) with its commanding views over Scapa Flow (no photograph can do the expansive view any justice) was going to be the first of our unactivated uniques. It is a well-known place among the locals with a road directly over it. The summit itself is not pretty being littered with aerial masts, a trig point and even a ROC (Royal Observer Corps) station. To get up there requires driving past a farm and through two gates; this trip the sheep had got on to the road (not because of us we must add) so H had fun playing sheepdog chasing them back into the fields.

H started (and struggled) on 80 metres with 13 contacts being the first to get the unique activated (C already had two first to activates), then C followed on 40 metres with 41 QSOs, a swap back to H on 60 metres with another 12 contacts and finally C moved on to 20 metres (with H occasionally taking over) to make an additional 121 contacts. In total we had between us 189 QSOs, including summit to summits with MM1MAJ/P and MM3ZCB/P on Dumyat (GM/SS-216), most of the usual G, GM and GW suspects, and contacts with GI, EI, DL/DM, 9A, HB9, OE, ON, LA, OH, SM, PA, CT, EA, HA7, S5, F, I, UA, UR, SP, RL, OK and SV7, around 26 different countries in all. Our best ever number of QSOs in just less than 4 hours of transmitting from the summit and we could have easily stayed longer but time was getting on and we had had very little sleep over the previous 48 hours. Thanks go to those that added us to the various DX, WAB and IOTA clusters.

The next morning (Sunday 21st June) we had a busy day planned with some geocaching (a few more had been added since our last visit), a drive around the Churchill Barriers and a visit to the Orkney Wireless Museum (GB2OWM; http://www.owm.org.uk/) in Kirkwall. H had spoken to the special event station the day before and we were invited to look around even though they were going to be closed.

We climbed up the track of Milldoe - Mid Tooin (GM/SI-190) to the mast that adorns the northeast edge of the summit, the summit itself is quiet broad and very boggy. A dry area was found a short way from the radio tower and C began to set up the antenna while H trekked all the way to the trig point, but this seemed to take a long time for the 1 km walk weaving around the various wet patches. C had 35 contacts on 40 metres while H again struggled to get contacts on 60 and 80 metres, 11 made good in the end; this was the second “first” activation on our trip. Another summit had been planned but we bumped into one of our caching pals so the rest of the day was spent looking for Tupperware (caches) finishing off with fish and chips by the harbour.

After the activation we set off to the museum and enjoyed ourselves meeting the volunteers (who were also operating the radio), looking at all the old equipment (SOTA would have been a lot harder with some of the early stuff!) and learning some facts about the islands during the two World Wars. It is well worth a visit if you are up that way.

Out brief time on the island had come to an end; two new summits activated, cached out the area again, visited old WWII battlements, walked round stone circles and met some nice people. Just before midnight (it was only just about dark) we caught the ferry to Lerwick. We arrived on Shetland very early in the morning to be greeted by gray skies and rain … but we will leave the story of the rest of our adventures on those northern isles (including a rather special summit) and Ben Nevis until next time.

Thank you to everyone that made contact and to every one who spotted us. More pictures of our trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/g6wrw

Activations from 14th to 21st June: Summits 6
Total points: 18
Total height: 3329 metres
Actual ascent: 1581 metres
Total distance walked: 34 km
Total number of contacts made by Carolyn: 243, mean 40.5
Total number of contacts made by Helen: 99, mean 16.5
That is a total of 342 contacts over 8 hours: 42.75/hour
20 and 40 metres was producing the majority of the contacts

Equipment used: Yaesu-FT-817nd, HF Packer amplifier (40 Watts on 40m, 50 Watts on 20m), hybrid 80, 60 40 metre fan dipole, 20 metre vertical, 7 Ah and 4.5 Ah SLABs.

Helen (M(M)0YHB) and Carolyn (G(M)6WRW)

In reply to M0YHB:
Hi Helen and Carolyn, wow what a fantastic trip! Would love to do something like this myself, but i dont thing the little one would be up to it just yet, so Bredon hill it is HI. Nice to finaly work you on a summit Helen, you always seem to pick bad spots on 40M for me, and i’ll have to quizz you on the HF packer amp next time i see you at the club. Quite fancy building one to go with my 817.

Cheera and 73,
James, 2E0JCA