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GM trip report

This June we (M3ZCB & M1MAJ) again went to Scotland for a week of
SOTAing in the Loch Tay area. Our base was again Killin, although we
were staying in a different cottage in a successful to try to get some
mobile internet coverage - the only thing last year’s cottage had
lacked.

The weather wasn’t as good as last year’s exceptionally good weather,
but we still got in 10 activations, 9 of them uniques for us. It my
take a little while to do all the reports, so I’ll add them piecemeal.

Caroline M3ZCB

16/Jun/2011 G/SP-012 (Easington Fell)

Although the holiday was in Scotland, the first activation was in
England.

We are running out of unique summits to activate on our journeys
between Cambridge and Blackpool. We hadn’t done Easington Fell and
although it was further north than our destination, it wasn’t too far
out of our way. The weather wasn’t looking good. We had left Cambridge
in the dry, but had been through heavy showers on our journey
north. The forecast was for better further north so we kept going, and
arrived at the Waddington Hill parking in sunshine with fluffy clouds.

It was wet underfoot as we headed up to the summit. It was quiet at
the summit, so Caroline set up the 2m dipole propped up on the summit
cairn, while Martyn set up the HF dipole. Caroline easily qualified on
2m having several chats, before moving to 70cms - managing 4 contacts,
2 of which were more distant than any of the 2m contacts. Martyn found
HF slow going, but got 18 contacts between 5, 7, and 14MHz. Throughout
the activation we had been keeping an eye on threatening dark clouds
to the south, while admiring good views elsewhere. We got back to the
car in the dry, but a few miles down the road we were back in heavy
rain - that was good timing!

18/Jun/2011 GM/SS-158 (Black Mount)

We hoped to be able to fit a summit into our journey north, but the
weather forecast wasn’t promising. We left Blackpool in the sun, it
was raining before we were passed Lancaster. It was still raining as
we crossed the border, so we drove on to Abington Services. By the
time we got there the rain had mostly stopped, though still looked
threatening, but we decided to risk trying Black Mount.

We parked on the verge by the speed limit sign at the north end of
Walston. It was dry as we set off, initially down hill to cross the
gate by the bridge. We headed uphill on a faint and intermittent path
heading up the edge of the valley and past the edge of a wood. As we
came up onto the ridge of Borland Hill the summit of Black Mount
disappeared into the clouds, and before long we were in the clouds
with visibility of about 100m making our way to the summit. It wasn’t
raining, but the air was very damp!

The trig point is still standing, just, but is wa(i)sting away. The
lower part of the concrete is flaking away making some of the lower
sections narrower than the top. There is an adjacent fence so
Caroline attached the MFD to a fencepost. The top is flattish with
plenty of room for the HF dipole, though Martyn needed Caroline’s help
to get it up to prevent it tangling in the heather.

This seemed to be a difficult VHF location & Caroline struggled for
contacts, managing just 4. Martyn found 5Mhz slow getting just 4
contacts there, before moving onto 7MHz for a few more. We still had
quite a way to drive so didn’t have time for more bands. As we packed
up the clouds started to lift giving us glimpses of views including
Broomy Law. On our return we found a rough path down the fence which
we followed before heading down to the head of the valley where we
found a faint path running along the top edge of the valley taking us
back to the car. Unfortunately as the clouds lifted they also started
dropping rain, but thankfully it only became torrential once we were
back in the car and on our way north. It rained all the way to Killin
where we arrived around 20:30.

19/Jun/2011 GM/CS-026 (Meall Greigh) and GM/CS-004 (Meall Garbh)

After yesterday’s heavy rain the forecast was for a better, but still
showery day, with following days less good. The mountain forecast
suggested that cloud would be above the high tops, so we decided to
take what might be a rare opportunity to go high. Caroline wanted to
do the two easternmost summits of the Lawers range, though Martyn
feared this might be too adventurous. We were also less sure about the
weather holding, but there was an obvious escape after the first
summit. Surprisingly this pair were last activated in 2008.

We parked in the lower car park at the Lawers Hotel - the hotel allows
walkers to park there if they either patronise the hotel afterwards or
pay 5 pounds. There’s no other parking nearby so we paid our 5 pounds
and set off down the road leaving it by former mill which is now a
horn carver’s workshop by the Lawers Burn. We were in shirtsleeves in
bright sunshine, but with waterproof trousers and were soon getting
rather warm as we headed up the path through pretty wooded lower
Lawers Burn valley. After leaving the wood for the open hill we
followed the path for a while, leaving it when it started dropping
down to head north up Sron Mhor. Progress got slower as the hill got
steeper, and we stopped to talk to a couple of lads descending - they
were doing a traverse of the Lawers range and had spent the wild rainy
night camping on the hill! Around 800m as we were approaching a sub
summit a faint path appeared, and the gradiant became easier. The all
round views were excellent.

Meall Greigh’s stony summit is marked by a cairn. If we were to do the
second summit, we couldn’t spend too long on this one, so decided to
try a VHF only activation, setting up the SOTA beam on the fishing
pole. We had put extra layers on for warmth at the summit, but just
as we started transmitting, a cloud crept up from the north and we
were suddenly battered by heavy hail shower. We both worked enough
stations on FM to qualify the hill, and by the time we had worked the
initial batch of FM callers the hail had stopped, but everything was
rather wet. At this point we were glad of our waterproof trousers.

With the rain easing we could finish our lunch, flipping the antenna
horizontal to try SSB, with one talking while the other ate. By the
time we were packing up the sun was shining again and the ridge walk
to Meall Garbh looked very inviting. The evolving views were
worth the effort, though we were hit by another short but even more
stinging hail shower just as we started on the ascent of Meall Garbh.
Our second hill of the day was also marked only with a cairn -
surprisingly none of the hills we climbed from Killin the year had
trig points. The summit is relatively narrow, and there was more wind
on this hill, so we went a little beyond the summit finding
shelter by dropping down slightly on the east side of the hill.

There were ominous clouds as we got to the summit, and these were soon
followed by the sound of distant thunder. We wanted to do HF on this
one, but might have to beat a hasty retreat. We decided that Caroline
would use the rucksac antenna to try to qualify the hill on 2m FM,
while Martyn worked out how to get the HF dipole up on the eastern
slope of the hill. Caroline got a good number of callers, and by calling
Martyn over to take calls, we both had the hill qualified on 2m FM before
the HF dipole was up.

The thunder wasn’t repeated, and the rain held off, so we settled down
for a proper activation. Since the rucksac antenna was getting out
well Caroline carried on with that on 2m FM. When the callers dried up
she moved to using the telescopic whip for 70cms, but with no takers,
so paused for something to eat. Meanwhile Martyn had got only 5 calls
on 5Mhz but then had a good run going on 7Mhz, calling Caroline over
for a pair of S2Ses with Carolyn GM6WRW and Helen MM0YHB. It was time
we were packing up, but the the 7MHz callers kept on coming, so we
swapped operators so Martyn could have something to eat while Caroline
worked the rest of the 7Mhz callers. By the time the run finally ended
Martyn had wandered over to the 2m FM station and picked up another 3
callers. The cloud had lifted and the threat of rain had gone, leaving
a lovely evening.

We had considered continuing on to the col with An Stuc and descending
to Lochan nan Cat from there, but as we were running late we headed
back towards Lairig Innein intending to drop down to the dam on the
Lawers Burn from there. However when we returned to the summit ridge
we were blown to a halt and had trouble standing. The wind had got up,
making the ridge path very hard going. We left the path to head down
more directly. A few paces after leaving the ridge the wind suddenly
dropped and we could hear ourselves think again. The descent was steep
but not difficult, running into a slightly boggy area as we crossed
the streams feeding the dam. We had hoped to cross the burn at the
dam, but there was no way over, but we found a rocky area below the
dam where we could cross to pick up the track on the other side.

We followed the track for about 300m to a cairn marking a faint path
off left. This attractive path followed the top of the valley of the
Lawers Burn, giving us good views in the now pleasant evening
sunshine. The path zigzagged down to a bridge over the burn before
rising gently to meet our outbound path. It was 8pm before we dragged
our weary legs back into the Lawers Hotel car park. Despite the hail
showers that was a stunningly good day on the hills. At 18 points it
was also our personal best haul of activator points in a day.

Some photos at http://on.fb.me/nqnORc. More later when I’ve sorted them out.

Caroline M3ZCB

20/Jun/2011 GM/SS-002 (Stob Binnein)

The forecast was for a fine morning with showers later, but with poor
weather for following days, so we decided to risk doing another big
one. Having done Ben More from the north last year, we decided to get
a different view but approaching Stob Binnein from the south.

We drove down the narrow but attractive Loch Voil road to the car park
at Inverlochlarig. It’s probably indicative of the normal weather that
the picnic area consists of a picnic table inside a barn. However we
were in luck and had an entirely dry day with the clouds well above
the tops of the hills.

We had a book which suggested that the walk from the south would take
3.75 hours there and back. We don’t walk very fast but that should
give us a good amount of time at the summit. The path starts opposite
the car park, and immediately goes up. It was slow going managing to
be both steep and boggy with some wet rocks to contend with. It was
relentless, climbing about 400m in 1km to a stile. Then gradiant eased
as the path weaved round Stob Invercarnaig and finally up onto the
ridge. All that effort was finally rewarded with some excellent views,
with the long ridge walk to Stob Binnein stretching out in front.

There was still a long way to go, and it took us far longer than
expected. We chased Robin GM7PKT on Aonach Beag on the way up, telling
him we expected to be at the summit in 10-15 minutes, but it took us
about 40 minutes! As we got close to the summit it looked impossibly
steep, but a way through the rocks appeared leading up to the summit
cairn. It had taken us 3.25 hours - nearly as long as the book
suggested for both ways! Thankfully Robin was still on his summit so
we grabbed an S2S before setting up properly.

Caroline had no problem getting contacts on 2m FM using the MFD from
this big hill with a good take off south. 2m SSB only yielded 2
contacts. On the ascent the summit had looked quite small, but there
turned ou to be plenty of space for the HF dipole. Martyn had a good
run on 5MHz, followed by a few on 40m. Once they dried up it was time
to trek back out. The views from the ridge were even better on the
return. The good walk was only marred by Caroline missing her footing
on the stile, banging her upper arm, which sported an impressive
bruise for the rest of the week. The final descent was as wearing as
the initial ascent, but there was a sense of achievement as we got
back to the car.

21/Jun/2011 Rain, Rain, Rain & more Rain.

After yesterday’s lovely day, we woke to heavy rain and clouds low on
the hills. Could we get in a little hill - perhaps Drummond Hill or
Dun Coillich? The rain just kept coming - Martyn described it as
"Hill of Stake" weather, referring to an infamous and ill-advised
activation we did in pouring rain a few years ago. On Hill of Stake we
had been able to do a 2m FM 4 contacts hit and run activation, but
that wasn’t likely to be an option from a little hill by Loch Tay.

Discretion suggested we should resort to the wet weather program, so
we headed up Loch Tay to visit the Scottish Crannog Centre at Kenmore,
just across the loch from Drummond Hill - perhaps it would get better
later. At Kenmore the road to the Crannog Centre had turned into a sea
of mud - the continuing rain had washed soil off a recently ploughed
field all over the road. The Crannog Centre was an interesting way to
spend a wet morning - the reconstructed crannog appearing to be
thoroughly waterproof. After the talk in the crannog we moved outside
for a demonstration of various iron age building techniques including
lathes and hole borers that could be tried (provided one wore the
distinctly non iron age safety glasses provided). The rain had turned
to light drizzle, so perhaps we might yet get up a hill. The guide
even managed to demonstrate fire making albeit under a canvas shelter.

By the time we had returned to the car the rain had returned in
force. After eating lunch we sat in the car looking out at the clouds
blocking our view of Drummond Hill. OK, lets go visit Aberfeldy and
hope it improves later. We trudged around Aberfeldy in the wet,
picking up leaflets from the Tourist Information Centre in case we
needed the wet weather program again tomorrow, and restocking on food
in the Co-op. Driving back to Kenmore the puddles were extending
further across the road, forcing us onto the wrong side at times. It
was still raining hard at Kenmore, but we thought we would go and
research the car parking for Drummond Hill. A couple of hundred yards
up the road to the car park we abandoned the idea - the road was
flooded to unknown depth over the whole width of the road. Time to
turn round and return to the cottage.

By the time we had driven the length of Loch Tay, the rain had turned
to drizzle. It was too late for a hill, and the cloud was still down,
but we had itchy feet so we put on the waterproofs and headed off on
what turned out to be an interesting 4 mile walk around Killin. First
was the ruins of Finlarig Castle with a reputed “murder pit” and
ruined mausoleum, then a disused railway leading down to the loch,
passing an unreconstructed crannog. A lochside path took us round to a
flower meadow and up the River Lochay where we rejoined the disused
railway taking us over both Rivers Lochay and Tay, and through woods
to the touristy Falls of Dochart. We were briefly distracted from
looking at the outside of the old mill that houses the Breadalbane
Folklore Centre by an articulated lorry getting stuck trying to get
onto Killin’s 18th Century scenic narrow five arched bridge - it has
right angled turns at each end and wasn’t designed for modern
traffic. When we left the lorry had got into a position where it was
no longer blocking other traffic, but it didn’t look to be going to
get over any time soon!

That was the first main holiday day we had failed to do a SOTA summit
in more than five years. In the circumstances it was the right
decision to leave Drummond Hill for another day.

22/Jun/2011 GM/SS-047 (Shee of Ardtalnaig) & GM/SS-019 (Creagan na Beinne)

After all that rain we woke to a better morning, drizzle but the cloud
was above the lower hills. The forecast was for cloud at Munro level
with possible showers in the afternoon. We decided to head for a
couple of 4 pointers on the south side of Loch Tay - our route would
allow us an escape between them if the weather turned bad.

We drove slowly down the single track road on the south side of Loch
Tay: one of the worst we’ve been down - many potholes, some hiding
under flooded sections and one area where the road surface had
disintegrated into gravel. Our target was the village of Ardtalnaig,
and we parked by a tennis court on the little road which runs along
the Ardtalnaig Burn. The weather forecast appeared accurate with cloud
topping the Munroes north of Loch Tay, but leaving the south Loch Tay
hills alone.

We walked further along the road which is part of the Rob Roy Way
(there might we possible places to pull a small car off the road
further along). Past the farm at Claggan we turned right off the Rob
Roy Way onto a track which gently climbed round the north end of our
first target Shee of Ardtalnaig, and then zigzagged up the western
flank of the hill. The track faded into boggy heather and as we worked
out where to go next we saw first one deer and then three (female and two
fawns) on the skyline above us. They quickly disappeared and we made
our way up to the ridge line, where we found an intermittent boggy
path running south along the ridge. It’s a long ridge with the summit
marked by a small cairn at the south end (named as Ciste Buide a
Claidheimh on the map).

We were already late and the activation didn’t start well. Caroline
had expected this to be a difficult hill for 2m, and she was proved
right, calling for about half an hour before getting her first and
only 2m contact. Meanwhile one of the links on the HF diploe had
broken - Martyn managed to do a temporary repair, but then had
difficulty getting anyone to hear him on 5MHz. What’s more there was
no mobile coverage so no chance of a self-spot. Martyn had only 2 5Mhz
contacts by the time Caroline made her 2m contact, so he came and
grabbed that one too. Eventually Martyn managed to get a little run
going on 5MHz and arranged a QSY to 7MHz for Caroline which eventually
got the hill activated for both of us. As we packed up a shepherd
appeared with his two dogs curious about the pole and why we had
chosen this particular hill, so we explained.

It was still dry and the clouds were still above the hills, so despite
running late we decided to have a go at Creagan na Beinne, descending
south of the hill to cross a track and then head east towards the
bottom of the valley, crossing over the Rob Roy Way. Here we disturbed
some mountian hares, getting quite close to one before it ran off. We
crossed a fence and started up the flank of Dunan Hill. It was steep,
pathless and hard going - perhaps if we had gone further south the
gradiant might have been easier. One of advantage of staring at a
steep hill closely is spotting wildlife - a common lizard hurrying
away.

The weather turned against us as we got onto the ridge, clouds coming
down and rain starting. We carried on up the ridge, and were soon in
poor visibility. The summit of this one was further north so it was
another long haul. The top is large and flat, with plenty of room for
the HF antenna. Caroline set up the MFD, hoping that that slightly
higher hill would have better take off. It took 40 minutes but it was
qualified on 2m FM with just 4 contacts (towards the end Caroline took
to wandering round with the rucksac antenna to try to find a better
position to work a faintly heard station but without success). After
a slow start Martyn easily qualified the hill on 5MHz. Caroline would
have liked a go on 7MHz, but we were cold and wet and it was gone 6pm.

The clouds lifted towards the end of the activation allowing us some
photographs, and to find the summit cairn which we had missed in the
clag. We descended north along the fenceline, turning west where it
met another fence - it might have been better to turn west earlier as
out route ended up at a fence/wall with adjacent electric fence, which
needed careful negotiation. By the time we reached the Rob Roy Way in
the valley it was 8pm, but had turned into a lovely evening. So we
stopped to eat our apples by the stream (having been too wet and cold
at the top). We had good views all the way back down to the car,
arriving back at it at quarter to nine!

23/Jun/2011 GM/SS-031 (Benvane)

After yesterday’s long day we wanted something a little easier. The
morning was pleasant, though the forecast was for possible showers
later, especially to the north and east. Benvane is a 4 pointer to the
south west of Killin, so fitted the bill.

As we parked at the parking area at the end of the road at Ballimore
in Glen Buckie, we heard Robin GM7PKT calling from Ben More who we
worked before setting off. It was a warm pleasant day, but we heard
distant thunder as we set off. We set off on the footpath to Glen
Finglas. Although following a path is normally easier than rough
ground, this one was hard going. It followed the valley but with a lot
of up and down crossing streams, but with a feeling of being away from
it all. After a while Stob Binnein came into view, and we turned south
to climb up to a fence at a bealach where we got fine views down
towards Glen Finglas. Here we left the path and started to climb the
flank of Benvane. We headed up diagonally which was probably a
mistake, since it prolonged the steep section - we might have been
better to go up the fenceline to the ridge. As we were approaching the
summit we heard Robin GM7PKT again calling, this time from Stob
Binnein.

The views from the summit were superb - some of the best of the week,
despite Benvane being relatively low. We worked Robin for an S2S each,
using 50mW from the handheld and getting a 59 report back - well we
did literally have line of sight. We had seen nobody else on the way
up, so Caroline set up the 2m FM station by the summit cairn, while
Martyn went a little way down the hill. However, it turned seemed to
have come from the Glen Finglas or Ben Ledi directions. We both ended
up explaining what we were doing several times!

Caroline had no problems qualifying the hill on 2m FM - it has a good
take off to the south. Martyn had modest runs on all of 5Mhz, 7MHz and
14MHz. Caroline fancied a go on HF, but was only left with 28MHz
which wasn’t open! We returned on the more direct route along the
ridge to Mullach an t-Samhraidh, with fine views all the way. An
excellent little hill, and the weather stayed good.

24/Jun/2011 GM/CS-016 (Carn Mairg)

Our last full day, and the forecast was for a showery day, but with
reasonably high cloud levels, so we decided to risk one of the Glen
Lyon Munros. We headed to the small parking area at Invervar which we
had used last year when doing Carn Gorm. There is a round of the 5
Glen Lyon Munroes from here, but only 2 of them are SOTA summits. The
fit do all 5 in a day, but our target was just Carn Mairg.

Despite being relatively early (for us) the car park was nearly full -
just the one space for us. Soon after setting off up the valley we
heard Robin GM7PKT calling - Caroline needed 20 points to get to 2500
chaser points, and Robin had alerted for 2 10 pointers so was very
keen on getting the contact. But we lost his signal as we started
climbing through the trees. Having passed through 3 deer gates and the
trees we were out in open country, but still deep in Glen Lyon. We
soon left the main path for a smaller path through bracken up the spur
of Meall na Aighean. We pushed on puffing our way uphill until Robin’s
signal became solid and we could claim 10 chaser points each. We then
continued up the ridge at a more normal pace, the path having become
more distinct.

What started as a few spots of rain turned heavier briefly, but had
nearly stopped before we had put on waterproofs. We were tending to
overheat with the waterproofs on, but we kept them on during another
couple of showers. As expected from the full car park there were
others on the hills - we stopped to talk to a hill runner who claimed
to have surprised a herd of 30ish deer earlier, but we didn’t see any
today.

Making our usual slow progress, we gave Meall na Aighean a miss and
left the path to make our way round its flank, picking up the
"munroes" path in bealach between Meall na Aighean and Carn
Mairg. From the map it looked like the best route was to head for the
bealach between Carn Mairg and Meall Liath, and then west up Carn
Mairg. However the path headed west before that towards what looked a
rediculously steep south side. We stayed with the path, and apart from
having to clamber over a few rocks at the base of the final ascent,
there were grassy footholds most of the way and no great difficulty.

The views at the top made it worth the effort. The top is rocky, with
lumps of quartz and some orange coloured rocks. The clouds were well
above the tops, and the rest of the day remained dry. The slowness of
our ascent was emphasised by the fact the in the time we had taken to
get up one hill Robin had completed his first activation and was
already on his next summit Creise and talking to Jack GM4COX on An
Caisteal. We worked Robin S2S easily with the handheld, but had more
trouble working Jack - we concluded that Stob Binnein was probably in
the way, but the S2S was made. Having worked another chaser who
piggy-backed the S2Ses we then set about putting up our proper
stations.

Caroline propped up the rucksac on the summit cairn and attached the
MFD to the top of it, while Martyn headed a little downhill on the
north side where he could find enough rock free ground that he could
get guys into for the HF dipole. There weren’t a lot of takers on 2m
FM for Caroline, but enough, and she had some longer QSOs with
stations in Dundee/Angus who were remarking on the terrible weather
they had had the day before - we had had a lovely day on Benvane!
Nobody answered her calls when she shifted to 2m SSB, but she
pointlessly chased Robin again, and we both grabbed a S2S with Gerald
G4OIG on Dirrington Great Law.

Martyn easily qualified the hill on 5MHz, finding that a better band
for Jack on An Caisteal. He had less joy on 7Mhz, with just G0HNW
coming back to his call. But as with 2m SSB we had better luck
chasing on 40m, both working Peter ON2WAB on ON/ON-001 and Steve
DL/G1INK on DM/NW-237.

We descended roughly the way we had come, staying on the path to
ascend slightly further up Meall na Aighean, before deciding that we
didn’t really have time to grab the non-SOTA Munro, and cutting across
to pick up the outbound path. The weather had improved and we got
even better views on the way down.

We drove back to Killin and picked up excellent fish and chips for
dinner. We can recommend the fish and chip van in Killin, we each had
large fish and small chips which turned out to be two pieces of fish,
each the length of a plate, plus more chips than either of us could
eat (which was a shame as they were good chips!).

25/Jun/2011 GM/SS-165 (Dungavel Hill)

Alarm at 6.30 to give us time to have breakfast & pack before leaving,
but being up this early had a surprising bonus. As she stumbled
sleepily round the bedroom, Caroline didn’t believe her eyes as she
glanced out of the window and caught sight of a fine red deer stag. He
was in the meadow just the other side of the lane, nibbling
contentedly away at a pile of hay. He stayed there some time, while we
took photos, later moving to give us an even better view from the
lounge. He eventually ambled slowly off.

We wanted to do a hill on our way south, but by the time we got to
Happendon Services it was drizzling. We ate lunch there and decided to
risk doing a repeat activation of Dungavel. We nearly changed our
minds when it started raining heavily just as we left the services,
but it had stopped by the time we got to the parking by the cattle
grid at NS932306. Waterproofs on we headed up the hill - the gate had
a warning about cattle being in the field, but we found the gate
partly open, and no cattle, though trampled ground suggested they had
been there recently. After the boggy start it’s just a pathless slog
up, the gradiant easing slightly once the fence is reached. By the
time we got to the fallen trig point there was damp in the air, and
nasty looking clouds coming our way. It had also turned windy - it was
windy the last time we did this hill - is it always windy here?

Not being sure that we could get the necessary contacts on 2m FM,
Martyn set up the HF dipole while Caroline attached the MFD to a
fencepost. Within 15 minutes the rain had arrived, we were in the
clouds, and Martyn has qualified the hill on 5MHz, but Caroline was on
her 3rd contact - a S2S with Robin GM7PKT in similarly unpleasant
weather. In the end she got 8 contacts, including her first English 2m
FM contact from Scotland of the week. We descended rapidly, now very
wet, pausing only to work Iain MM3WJZ on White Combe - also in
appalling weather! At least we weren’t the only ones mad enough to be
on the hills!