Lake District raid

Jimmy and I will be in LD next week, Monday to Thursday, doing as many as we can out of LD-001, LD-003, LD-004, LD-009, LD-015, LD-020, LD-021, LD-022 and LD-033. Activations are likely to be 2m FM only, and fairly short - just until the initial pile-up has been worked. We will SPOTlite a few minutes ahead of each activation, and also use that facility to advise of any additional bands/modes.

This is Jimmy’s reward I promised him for getting good SATs results (in fact his results were outstanding). I intend to use a similar ‘carrot’ for his GCSEs in two years, given the success of this strategy.

I will also be in the Lakes next week and hope to work you from some summits.
from Charlie

Just back from our ‘LD raid’. We had a great time. 2 new Uniques for me, 10 for Jimmy. 70 activator points each. From the list of nine ‘intentions’ above, we did eight of them. Scafell Pike LD-001 was dropped in favour of a walk directly from Honister YHA (where we were staying) to Great Gable LD-005 and Kirk Fell LD-014.

Thanks to all stations that worked us, especially GW0DSP who got us on all ten!

Monday 27th August 2007

I didn’t dare post any specific summit alert times on SOTAwatch, for I knew that my plans were rather ambitious. Jimmy and I were focussed though, and both arose at the agreed 0530 BST on the Monday. After the final item was packed - a litre flask of Luxury Broccoli, Stilton & Bacon soup - we were on the road at 6.05am. As another time-saver, we would not be pulling in for breakfast, making do with a couple of Nutri-Grain bars each in the car. The journey up the M6 was clear, with Jimmy, as usual, insisting on pointing out every Marilyn he could see en route.

The drive through Windermere and Grasmere on the A591 was also clear, as we listened to BBC Radio Cumbria on the car radio. We pulled in at Dunmail Raise lay-by, just north of Grasmere, at around 8.45am.

Summit 1 - Seat Sandal G/LD-022 - 6 points

We have always enjoyed the climb up the good (and picturesque) path by Raise Beck, and we were feeling in good shape having reached Grisedale Tarn in around half-an-hour. We have never really enjoyed the steep grassy haul from there up to the summit of Seat Sandal, but this time we had an extra item of kit each to make the job a tad easier. These were an extra walking pole (it was only just over a year ago that we went from one to two poles each for longer hikes) and a tablet of Kendal Mint Cake. I had never really bothered with this stuff before, but we thought we would give it another try. Taken at the right points, I found that it did have a helpful effect when the spirit and the flesh were both weak!

On the summit of Seat Sandal, the weather was lovely, warm with great views. Before we activated, another pair of hikers arrived - we had watched them descending Fairfield G/LD-007 - and complemented us on our shirts. We were both wearing Macclesfield Town replica shirts. I asked them where they were from, to which one replied “Beech Lane”. A couple of photos of the Macclesfield Invasion of Seat Sandal were in order before the other guys departed and we activated.

I must admit, it was very much a pre-meditated form of selfish activating. Simply because we were trying to get as many Uniques that Jimmy needed (that I had already done) ticked off, we were getting away with handhelds with rubber duck where we could. They were tethered to the SLAB though to allow the full 5 watts of power. The SOTA Beam was carried, but only to be deployed as and when necessary. This was all to maximise the chances of activating lots of summits in the four days. On LD-022, we each worked G4BLH, GW0DSP, 2E0EDX and G6CRV. An ‘amusing’ moment came when Mike DSP was struggling to read the report Jimmy was giving him, and a third party chipped in to relay it. This of course actually delayed things, for Jimmy then had to change his report and send it again to preserve the integrity of the contact.

I announced my ETA on Helvellyn G/LD-003, and Mike G4BLH volunteered to post this on SOTAwatch. In fact Mike G4BLH and Mike GW0DSP did this for us on every activation over the four days, and was very useful. We dropped steeply back down to Grisedale Tarn, pleased to have got the first one in the bag.

Summit 2: Helvellyn G/LD-003 - 10 points

Having been surprised to have met anyone at all on Seat Sandal, we were not surprised that things were suddenly busier. The main routes to and from Helvellyn were never going to be quiet on a Bank Holiday Monday in good weather, and we found ourselves chatting to many other walkers as we climbed up the side of Dollywaggon Pike. At the top of the steep zigzags, most others parted away to visit the true summit of Dollwaggon, and the same thing happened further along by Nethermost Pike. Jimmy and I remained on the main path and enjoyed the spectacular views over the fells to the West.

The cloud base was just below the summit, and we could just make out the ant trail of walkers making their way over Striding Edge. The summit shelter was busy, but unusually had a couple of spaces left in the only quadrant that afforded shelter from the prevailing wind. We quickly baggsed those, and made a start on the Broccoli, Stilton and Bacon soup. Another father and son team were beside us in the shelter, making up some packet soup on their stove. They had been backpacking for a few days.

On the radio, we made 15 contacts from Colwyn to Cumbria, before setting off down the Wythburn Path, at around 1pm. We needed to complete this descent faster than we had done before, in order to have a chance at activating a third large summit in the day. Returning to Dunmail Raise at 3.30pm, I decided that an attempt at Skiddaw G/LD-004 was very much in order.

Summit 3: Skiddaw G/LD-004 - 10 points

The drive from Dunmail Raise to Keswick was quick, and once there I had no difficulty with directions, having stayed here with Marianne the previous week. In fact the hotel we stayed at, Underscar Manor, backs right onto the cul-de-sac lane up to the popular parking area and start point for Skiddaw, so I was able to drive straight there without even Jimmy’s help with directions.

The car park was extremely busy, but we found an acceptable spot near the start of the path. We recalled that this was a steep and gruelling walk, but that it didn’t actually take that long. Indeed, this was why we had earmarked it as a possible third summit for thr first day.

We set off, and all too soon hit the long steep ascent up the stony track. I began to question my sanity - was I really going to climb all the way up here at teatime?; was it really the non-time-consuming walk I recalled it to be? Jimmy quickly reduced to a dot on the horizon as he opened up a considerable lead over his old dad. Add one tablet of chocolate covered Kendal Mint Cake. Ten minutes later, I looked back and saw that I had just climbed another few hundred feet without even feeling it. Good stuff this Kendal Mint Cake, I thought.

We were now rewarded with a long horizontal section, bypassing Skiddaw Little Man, before the final approach onto Skiddaw’s long summit ridge. We walked the kilometre or so along to the trig point for photos, before returning to the south end of the ridge and the junction with the Allerdale Ramble path. We thought we would have better 2m FM take-off from this end. We sat ourselves down just below a small cairn for a bit of shelter, finished the soup and fired up on 2m FM. 9 contacts were made, included 3-out-of-3 for the day with both G4BLH and GW0DSP. A couple of other stations were heard calling, and I tried walking around a bit to make the contact, but I couldn’t make myself heard.

As we left the summit, we chatted briefly to a couple before they veered off to take in Skiddaw Little Man. We continued with the main descent, although they did catch us back up later. We walked with them for the last third of the descent, and they were fascinated with the Marilyns list. It turned out that Underscar Manor, visible beneath us, was also their favourite hotel. We said goodbye at the car park as they made a note of my website URL.

It was 8pm, so not bad, four hours for the ascent/activation/descent, three activations for the day, and 26 activator points. This was a new record for me, beating my previous best of 20 on New Year’s Day 2004 (Long Mynd-Pole Bank G/WB-005, Stiperstones G/WB-003, Corndon Hill GW/MW-013, Gyrn Moelfre GW/NW-049). We weren’t sure of the “last orders” time for food at the Scafell Hotel in Borrowdale, so we played safe and went into Keswick town centre. The ‘Four In Hand’ pub proved to be a good choice, with us both going for the hearty Cumbrian Game Pie followed by jam roly-poly and ice cream. The Jennings Sneck Lifter was absolutely gorgeous and went down a treat.

We eventually reached our booked accommodation at Honister Youth Hostel at 10.20pm. After the few necessary chores like making the beds, storing the soup and Nutri-Grain supply in the members’ kitchen, washing out the flask and bladders and taking a shower, we took to the bunks for a much needed kip.

Tuesday 28th August 2007

I was up from my bunk just after 6am on Day 2, and straight into the members’ kitchen to make up today’s soup - Heinz Beef Broth - and fill the bladders. While waiting for Jimmy to surface, I compared plans with the other early-rising hostellers. Everyone seemed to be heading for Great Gable, and I must admit it was nagging at me that it wasn’t in my original list, given that we were staying at Honister. We were originally going to do Scafell Pike G/LD-001 from Seathwaite today, but looking over the maps and checking with other hostellers, I considered walking from Honister, over Great Gable to Scafell Pike.

Summit 4: Great Gable G/LD-005 - 8 points

Most it seems, take the direct climb from behind the slate mine to approach Great Gable. I didn’t fancy such a punishing start to the day, so walked up the disused tramway from the mine up to the top section where the slate mine tour bus ferries the customers. Here, we branched left along a well established mountain path that took us into the heart of the Lake District fells. This was great stuff. Immediately before us were Kirk Fell G/LD-014 and Pillar G/LD-006. Kirk Fell looked a fairly doable proposition, whereas Pillar just looked enormous! “Why don’t we scrap Scafell Pike for today, and do Great Gable with Kirk Fell?” suggested Jimmy. Still not convinced that my idea of following Great Gable with Scafell Pike was altogether sensible, “Splendid idea son” was my reply.

Curling around to the left opened up the view of Great Gable with Green Gable to its left, separate by the steep looking route up to Windy Gap. This was my original intended approach, but I decided we would continue around the path to the western flank of Great Gable and ascent from there.

From all angles, Great Gable looked steep, rocky, dangerous and a bit impossible. However, walkers were all going at it, and progressing upwards. Jimmy set off, and soon left me well behind. I mislaid the ascent path several times and repeatedly found myself scrambling over boulders, which was tiring work. If I had only took a little more time to follow the cairns, the path would have been tracked easily, but then again the scrambling was something different and quite a lot of fun, if hard work.

The steep ascent just seemed to keep going up and up, but eventually the gradient eased and I could see a clutch of people on the summit - including Jimmy. Simon M3IWN/P was heard calling from Skiddaw G/LD-004, so he was our first contact for the summit-to-summit. We then had a break to enjoy the Beef Broth soup, and more importantly, the views. I had heard it said that Great Gable afforded the best view in the Lake District, but I had to disagree. For me, this was the best view so far from any UK mountain. It was simply stunning, with contrasting panoramic vistas in all directions. Turning one’s head a few derees revealed yet another stunning view. Breathtaking.

Several others from Honister YHA were on summit, so we said hello to them again, before returning to the radio and making a further seven QSOs, including GW0DSP, now with 4 out of 4 and expressing his personal target to work us on every LD activation of our trip.

Descending from the rocky summit was time-consuming, but care was needed. Even following the cairned path, some minor scrambling was necessary on occasions. I advertised the summit view enthusiastically to those ascending as I passed them. Once on horizontal ground, it was a very short walk across to where the ascent begins for Kirk Fell G/LD-014. It still looked pretty steep, but not in the same league as Great Gable. I kind of liked the idea of another 8 pointer for little more than 150m of ascent! Before commencing the main ascent, we sat down and enjoyed the fabulous view out to Wasdale.

Summit 5: Kirk Fell G/LD-014 - 8 points

This, Jimmy pointed out, was the lowest 8-pointer in the LD, in contrast with the just-done Great Gable G/LD-005, which was the highest. The initial ascent to the main vast summit plateau was steep and relentless, but relatively short. We knew what to expect on the plateau, for we had a great view looking down on it from Great Gable earlier. We would have to walk right across to the other end of it, and then work our way up to the summit.

Jimmy did so by taking a direct line over the crest of the ridge and thus making another ascent and descent of a rocky blob. I walked around it! He was, as ever, first to the summit, which had a convenient and comfortable shelter to house us for the activation. We made 8 QSOs in 30 minutes operating time, as we relaxed and enjoyed the continuing fine views. Now, the sun was starting to drop a little towards the western horizon, and cause shimmering reflections of its light in the Irish Sea towards the Solway Firth.

After completing the initial steep descent to the col with Great Gable, I sat down for a Nutri-Grain bar, and relieved by aching feet of the boots and socks for ten minutes. The walk back to Honister would be straightforward with little in the way of further ascent and descent, but long. We were looking forward to our long trek through the mountains back to the hostel, secure in the knowledge the another 16 SOTA points each had been safely earned.

Arriving at the hostel just after 7pm, the excellent warden nonetheless offered us an evening meal, despite being over an hour after ‘last orders’. I was keen to take this up, especially after noticing the bottles of Jennings Sneck Lifter for sale behind the reception counter, but Jimmy didn’t fancy anything on the menu, and clearly had a personal agenda to return to the Scafell Hotel. This we did, for we had indeed enjoyed it there two years previously. I had smoke trout followed by Cumbrian game casserole, while Jimmy had sweet chili prawns followed by steamed Seathwaite trout. The food, again, was good, and beautifully accompanied by a couple of pints of Helvellyn Ale.

It was a shame that we were to miss out on Scafell Pike G/LD-001, but this day brought two new uniques to me as well as to Jimmy, a superb mountain hike and 16 points instead of the intended 10.

Wednesday 29th June 2007

Again I was up early making the soup - Seafood Chowder today (which tasted just like chicken soup, but with straggly bits of fish in instead of straggly bits of chicken, for three times the price - not impressed). By the time Jimmy entered the youth hostel lounge, around 7am, the rucsacs complete with refilled bladders were ready in the car boot. We sat at the dining table munching on Nutri-Grains and drinking lots of water. Jimmy asked if we were doing Scafell Pike G/LD-001 today, but I said I thought it would be best to stick with the original plan to do a three-summit day.

Summit 6: Grisedale Pike G/LD-015 - 6 points

We drove through Borrowdale, Keswick and Braithwaite and climbed up the Whinlatter Pass. I parked at the third car park, which is on the left just before the main car park for the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre. This car park we used is free, although the next one at the centre is not. I was a little disorientated, but Jimmy remembered the route from two years ago and led the way through the maze of forest tracks to the sign and stile for Grisedale Pike.

I knew what to expect here. Steep, steep, steep. Relentless unforgiving climbing. At least it was along the crest of an increasingly narrowing ridge, with increasingly pleasing views to each side. It seemed we were the first out today, and we saw no-one at all, all the way to the summit which we reached by 9.20am.

This was one of the summits I was concerned about with not having the FT-817 for HF back-up, for despite its lofty position, it is all but screened to the south by a range that is at least 100m higher. However, I was discounting the possibilities of the sea path, anyone extremely local or of course that ubiquitous CQ chaser himself.

With the initial calls going unanswered, I was relieved to discover strong signals on 145.525MHz with a QSO between stations in Frizzington, NW Cumbria and Ramsey, Isle of Man. I asked to join the frequency, and both Jimmy and myself were given a very warm welcome, and both worked enthusiastically. That gave sufficient opportunity for GW0DSP to find and call us, and a simple fourth contact came courtesy of G0PZO/M, Charlie completing his drive into the Lakes for some activating of his own.

The weather was very nice, and the views from the summit were wonderful, and it was with a touch of reluctance that we got up to traverse across to Grasmoor G/LD-009. My legs went ever-so-slightly jelly-like as I descended down to Coledale Hause, so I stopped looking at the seemingly vertical wall up the opposite fell and just looked at my boots!

Summit 7: Grasmoor G/LD-009 - 8 points

The col between Grisedale Pike G/LD-015 and Grasmoor - Coledale Hause - sita at around 600m ASL, so once one has been attained, the traverse to the other is fairly simple and quick. Jimmy and I were making the transit in around 90 minutes each way.

From Coledale Hause, we climbed on a good path to the East of Grasmoor, before turning right at the crossroads and ascending steeply onto the summit plateau. As we neared the summit shelter, it appeared to be engulfed in mist. One or two isolated clouds were being blown around, with their bases sitting at around 825m ASL. By the time we reached the summit true, the cloud had blown on and the views were clear once again.

For the first time, the calls on the hand-portable transceivers were unanswered, even with the benefit of a self spot on SOTAwatch. For the first time, the SOTA Beam was unleashed and put to use. This made al the difference, and 8 QSOs were made in short order, including summit-to-summit with Steve GW4TQF/P on Cadair Berwyn GW/NW-012.

The return journey required to reascend Grisedale Pike G/LD-015 in order to get back down to the Whinlatter Forest where the car was parked and from where we wanted to do a third summit. Reaching Grisedale Pike summit just after 2pm, I put out a speculative call on the handheld, which to my surprise brought in two further contacts, meaning a gap of nearly 4.5 hours in my LD-015 log entry!

The steep descent of the Pike was hard work on the tiring legs, but we reached the car park at 4pm, and so I gave the go-ahead for an activation of Lord’s Seat G/LD-033.

Summit 8: Lord’s Seat G/LD-033 - 2 points

We had been looking a long way down onto this one for most of the day, and thinking it would be a good choice for a late afternoon wind-down. For the ultimate in decadent laziness, I drove the car the few hundred yards from the car park to the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre car park up the road, even paying a pound for the privilege.

The OS 1:25000 showed a maze of forest rides without any clear indication of how to pick through them to get to the summit. Furthermore, we recalled from our last visit that there were good paths on the ground near the summit that were not indicated whatsoever on the OS map. We had ascended, steepy, from Thornthwaite on the side of Lake Bassenthwaite last time.

We were hot and tired, and so a fruity ice cream lolly in the visitor centre cafe went down very well. That staff in there were also happy to refill Jimmy’s bladder which had run dry. I enquired at the information desk as to the best route up. The very helpful young lady advised me to follow the Green Trail to junction posts 2, 3 and 53, and then to leave the Green Trail and continue ahead to junction posts 5 and 23, which would take me nearly to the summit.

This enthused Jimmy, and he led the way, following the Green Trail marker posts steeply uphill through the twilight world of the Whinlatter Forest. Daylight returned at post 53, as a clearing opened out and we left the Green Trail. Now, we could see Lord’s Seat summit ahead of us, and followed the good path to the top. “Mum would enjoy this route” remarked Jimmy, as we recalled the family haul up the very steep and muddy ascent of October 2003, and the fact that she had not been at all impressed on that occasion!

It was still nice and sunny by 5.45pm when we were up there, but a biting icy wind was blasting across from the Irish Sea, across which we could clearly see the Dumfries & Galloway coast. The handheld-only option was not considered, and the SOTA Beam was set up as a matter of course. Contacts were not as forthcoming on this one, nor did I expect them to be so, the hill being much lower then the others, and rather screened to the south. We were however surprised not to be called from Scotland. 75% of my contacts in 2003 from this hill were from North of the border. Just when we thought we had missed him, GW0DSP called in at the end of the activation to keep his run going. Mike, by now, was also counting down my remaining points for the Mountain Goat award!

We began the descent and the sky began to dim slightly. In my mind flashed the words “Car park barrier locked at dusk”, and so we quickened the pace to avoid the unwelcome kind of “lock-in”. After a shower and change at the hostel, we went to the Yew Tree restaurant at the bottom of the hill from Honister, in Seatoller. This was an unusual place, serving a strange menu of South African dishes. It was nice, but quite expensive, and I had to make to with Jennings Cumberland Cream keg bitter. This was much nicer than other cold keg bitters, but not as nice as other Jennings cask ales.

Thursday 30th August 2007

Our last day, and another early get-up in the youth hostel. Today would be our first return to a pair of hills we enjoyed back in the first SOTA Youth Hostel weekend in October 2003. On that day, we had our first ever flask of soup on a SOTA expedition. In order to nostalgically respect that life-changing moment, it had to be the same flavour that started it all - Mulligatawny!

Summit 9: Dale Head G/LD-020 - 6 points

We glanced grimly outside while finishing our breakfast in the hostel common room. The visability was poor. The wind was howling around menacingly. The run of good weather was over. Nonetheless, a good early start, around 7.30am was made up the fell directly opposite the hostel.

Although the map indicates that the path runs up to the left of the fence, we recalled from four years ago that the better going is to the right, and this is the side we followed. We remembered the ascent to be easier than this, but of course we hadn’t done 3 days of solid hiking immediately before last time! In any case, helped along by the doses of Kendal Mint Cake, we reached the summit around 45 minutes quicker than we had done last time.

The summit was a grim place. There was no shelter (that we could see), it was raining, the visability was non-existent and a freezing wind was blasting across at some force. We tucked in behind the large ‘stone man’ cairn that afforded slight shelter from the wind and hoped that the handhelds alone would do the trick, and the beam would not be required. In any case, we knew we would be returning across this summit later in the day, so knew we could get more contacts with the beam then if necessary, and maybe the weather would have improved by then!

Contacts came slowly, but they came. There was nearly ten minutes of silence after GW0DSP made it 9 out of 9, and we were about to set off to Robinson G/LD-021 with the intention of making the other two required contacts when we returned across Dale Head later. However, a QSO between stations in West Cumbria and the Isle of Man was discovered, and we managed to work them. The intense wind across the microphone was proving difficult for the other stations, but in shielding the microphone from the wind, we were also shielding the antenna from the intended recipient! We got there in the end, and were grateful to be on the move again to Robinson G/LD-021, albeit walking directly into a very strong cold wind and lots of icy cold drizzle.

Summit 10: Robinson G/LD-021 - 6 points

We set off from Dale Head G/LD-021, trying to spot the section of this traverse proves so unnerving for our friend Rob G4RQJ. I presume it must be the first bit, where shortly after leaving Dale Head there is around 20 feet that must be walked to the left of a large rock with a steep rocky drop to the left of the path. It is not what I would call an “edge” though, and with the large rock to hold on to, and the decent flat surface of the path, it did not unduly concern me, and I am poor with heights myself.

Further down, one comes to Littledale Edge. It was so claggy that we couldn’t see over the edge, so how steep or what kind of drop exists I do not know. However, a strong fence lies between the path and the edge anyway, so the scariness of Littledale Edge was non-existent. The pull up to Robinson summit from this col is barely 160m, close to the minimum for it to be counted as a Marilyn hill in its own right, so the final ascent was quick and easy.

We sheltered in front of a large cairn on one of the rocky banks at the summit. We agreed that we did not think there was a cairn when we were last here four years ago. This time we set up the beam, thinking that Robinson, like Lord’s Seat, would be a more challenging summit to get out from. 9 QSOs resulted without difficulty, including GW0DSP who therefore achieved his target of working us on all of our LD summits on the trip. A mid-morning snack of mulligatawny soup and blueberry Nutri-Grain was savoured before we headed back up to Dale Head G/LD-020 on the return leg.

In fact the weather was even worse than earlier on Dale Head, so we dropped down the hill a little and huddled in front of a small cairn, with the wind now mainly northerly. A group of women walkers who had passed us on Robinson earlier waved at us, thus revealing a stone shelter on Dale Head we had completely missed before. Still, they were in it, so the cairn had to do for Jimmy and I. As promised, further calls were made on 2m FM in case any chasers still wanted Dale Head, but there were no replies. With both Jimmy and I having the requisite contacts from earlier, we did not set up the beam, but relaxed and finished out hot soup, more Nutri-Grains and Kendal Mint Cake. That left us with an hour’s straightforward albeit weary descent to Honister Hause to complete an excellent and tiring four days of SOTA activating in the Lake District.

We were back at Honister shortly after 2pm, a performance we could have done with in October 2003 when we were struggling to descend from Robinson in darkness after 6pm at night. An optimistic check at the youth hostel brought the warden to the door. An optimistic request that we could go in and have a shower and change, despite checking out earlier that morning was kindly granted, so that enabled us to achieve a much greater degree of comfort for the journey home. I also took this opportunity to purchase some bottles of Jennings Sneck Lifter (5.6%) and strong organic cyder (6.5%) from the hostel shop, to take home.

The A66, M6 and A537 saw us safely home, and to the traditional ‘after SOTA’ venue of the Weston Balti Raj, with Marianne and Liam.

Thank you to all the stations that worked us on the LD summits. Equal thanks to all the stations that tried to work us but didn’t make it. Apologies to any stations that may have missed out as a result of my ‘minimum effort’ activating strategy. Congratulations (and thanks) to Mike GW0DSP who worked us on all ten of the LD summits we activated.

That 70 points takes me to 990 in the activator section. Kind of “on the brink”…