This was the question in mind as I planned for session 2 of the Backpackers series of contests. After coming a distant 2nd to Rhys GW4RWR in session 1, and knowing that he was going to be on Cadair Berwyn GW/NW-012 again, I was only too aware that the advantage of his VHF take-off over mine would be even greater.
But other things come into play. Priorities that are ahead of trying to actually win include doing a SOTA activation that Jimmy M3EYP wishes to join me on, having a nice walk and fitting in with the family. Those were the factors that led to the selection of a SOTA summit that is less-than-optimal for a VHF contest. But I was actually looking forward to the challenge of seeing what could be achieved with 2.5 watts from an FT-817 and a SOTA Beam from Kinder’s plateau summit.
It was a necessarily early start on Sunday 13th June 2010. Unlike the other four Backpackers Contests, which run from 1100 to 1500 UTC, this one was 0900 to 1300z. We set our alarms for 5.30am BST and, unusually, had cereal for breakfast before leaving the house.
First port of call was Bollington, to pick up Jimmy’s mate Craig who was joining us for the expedition. From there, we cut up the back lanes to Rainow, and then along the B road to Whaley Bridge. Continuing through Chapel-en-le-Frith and we were soon turning left for Edale, and again for the parking area at Barber Booth.
The usual route up Kinder begins with a long road walk from Barber Booth to Upper Booth to Lee Farm. The road is “access only” after Barber Booth. It always crosses my mind to enquire at Lee Farm as to the possibility of parking in one of their spaces for the day in return for a fiver! Certainly later in the day, a couple of walkers came down off Kinder and got in their car which was parked at Upper Booth Farm, but perhaps they had been staying in the bunkhouse there.
The road walk actually passed quickly and got us into our stride. As ever, Jimmy and Craig zoomed ahead at a pace that I couldn’t even aspire to match, so I called Jimmy back and agreed some checkpoints. It was arranged that we would rendezvous at Lee Farm shelter, the bridge at the bottom of Jacob’s Ladder, the right turning just before Edale Cross, Kinder Low trig point and the true summit. This proved a good plan and structured our walking nicely without forcing the two 17 year olds to dawdle at my pace all day.
The target was to be on summit for setting up by 9.30am. We were a bit behind this as we reached Kinder Low trig at 9.25am, but generally, we had made good time. We couldn’t see the true summit, so Jimmy set the compass against the OS 1:25000 map and led us off in the necessary direction. Soon I picked out the first cairn, from which we progressed to the second cairn which we knew to be the true summit of Kinder Scout G/SP-001.
Jimmy and Craig set up the little tent while I concentrated on the SOTA Beam. The three of us huddled inside the tent as I completed setting up by connecting battery, aerial feeder, microphone and paddle (in the event unused) to the FT-817. I switched the power down to 2.5 watts to be in accordance with the contest rules and was QRV just a little late at 0903z (10.03am BST).
My initial run on my own QRG was disappointing, and seemed to confirm that Kinder was not a great VHF site. After only serial number 008, I switched to search & pounce operation and cruised up and down the 2m SSB band. The good thing was that a variety of locator multipliers came quickly. In the Tuesday night contests, it is typical to work 15 or 20 from IO83 before getting a second multiplier, but on this occasion I had worked IO83, IO92, IO93, IO94 and JO01 all in the first ten minutes. The JO01 gave me a little hope that some decent contacts were going to be possible from Kinder.
Soon this was extended to IO80 and JO00 (France), then IO73, IO81, IO82, IO84 and IO91, so the mults did build up. Further squares worked in the contest were JO02, IO90 and IO74. DXCCs also counted as multipliers in this session, but this only netted me G, GW, GI, GD and F. Obvious “gotaways” were EI and GM, and arguably ON, PA and DL, as well as squares IO63, IO64, IO70, IO75, IO85 and JO03. But I didn’t hear 'em!
Jimmy and Craig disappeared from the tent when the sun came out, and went for a wander around the plateau. During this time, Jimmy qualified the summit on 2m FM from his handheld. He later rejoined me and grabbed the mike every time there was an S2S going. These were Graham G3OHC/P on Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004, Ian G1RVK/P on Black Hill G/SP-002, Richard G3CWI/P on The Cloud G/SP-015, Rhys GW4RWR/P on Cadair Berwyn GW/NW-012, GW0RMX/P on Graig Syfyrddin GW/SW-020, Walt GW3NYY/P on Mynydd Eppynt GW/SW-018 and G4ZOI/P on Whernside G/NP-004.
I tried a couple of times on 2m FM to keep the QSO rate going in quiet periods, but there were no takers at all. Picking up more distant contacts from IO90, IO80, JO00 and IO74 was a better use of the time anyway. The final QSO count was 74, one more than my previous best which was when I won the session from Gun G/SP-013 last September. However, it won’t be enough to win this time, but may match the second place I got in session 1 this year.
Soup of the Day was Baxters Turkey Broth, which was welcome especially when the temperature dropped somewhat later on. At 1.15pm I was visited by two Peak District National Park rangers who asked a few questions, but were very friendly and departed quite content with my answers. I find that “I’ll pack it all down now if you want me to, it will only take 5 minutes” is quite a useful one to say, but it was also useful to inform them that only 45 minutes remained of the contest and I was going then anyway. It was interesting to hear them say that they get lots of “radio hams” up here, but that “everyone else always has a letter of permission from the Peak District Office of the National Trust that they can show us”. I didn’t contest the issue, as they were being very reasonable anway.
Just as we completed the pack away, some rain started, so it was on with the waterproof overtrousers. The rain was light but persistant, and lasted for about 10 to 20 minutes. As we were dropping down from Kinder Low, we could see a group of people going in and out of the cracks on Edale Rocks, and suspending a large sheet of foil over the entrance to one of them. Later, as the rain got a little heavier, I was surprised to see no less than nine walkers (in ones and twos) ascending up Jacob’s Ladder and beyond. After 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, in rain, this was weird, especially as most of them had nothing more than very small flourescent shoulder bags and lack of waterproofs. One chap was even wearing designer jeans. That famous SOTA celebrity Joe Public again, no doubt.
Many thanks to any SOTA chasers and activators that worked me. I guess Kinder wasn’t that bad as a contest site, but certainly not the best!