Live Wire⚡

Bennachie (Oxen Craig) GM/ES-061

Tuesday 6th February 2024
The forecast was ok for today. A bit breezy, but with sunshine forecast for the afternoon, an early start and early finish was rapidly arranged at work.

I re-checked at 1100. Oh! The afternoon wind speeds over Bennachie were now forecasted to be 50mph (80kph). At least the sun was still in the sky. I’d go ahead with my plans, especially as there was a chance of 2m success with the locals. Oxen Craig has a decent stone shelter and I was confident I’d be able to arrange something and keep out of the wind.

I was away from work in Westhill at 1310, parked up at the Back o’ Bennachie car park at 1340, changed into my hiking gear by 1350 and off I went.

A great but steep start up through the forest, then sheltered by trees on one side. Further up, shielded by the hill itself until round the top of Little Oxen Craig. Then onto open ground and my first exposure to the wind. Not too bad, probably 30mph. Then it started snowing bullets. I was just wearing a couple of layers at this point, however the summit was in sight so I pressed on.

invisible (to the camera lens) snow

As I climbed up the summit mount, heathery path gave way to verglassed granite slabs. A strong gust nearly took me off my feet. Stooped double, I staggered up the final 100m in the face of an ever strengthening gale and threw myself into the stone shelter. Instant calm. I lay there for a moment, mesmerised by the sound of the wind ripping over and around the summit. Then sanity prevailed and I layered up with down and a waterproof shell.

Activating GM/ES-061
I’d promised to do 2m FM first, mainly because Simon @GM4JXP had been on his distant (and sensibly tree-lined) summit for a few hours and would be needing down. First though, I had to secure the mast. I’d brought my 7m Spiderbeams pole. I previously sleeved the bottom section with heatshrink tubing, so had no qualms about ramming it into a gap in the rocks and then building a wee cairn around it. Now, how high dare I raise it?

Not far, as it turned out.

the slim G attempting to do some horizontal polarisation

Spot sent. Whatsapp sent. Surprisingly, two QSO’s fairly quickly, with new SOTA addict Chris @MM7RVC featuring. Then nothing for 6 minutes. Final CQ call brought GM7LSI from up in Elgin and that was it. I was stuck on three. Whatsapp told me that Simon could hear me 55km west, despite a poor path but I didn’t hear him at all. I took a long look up at the pole and antenna whipping around above my head. I’d have to go on HF. Somehow.

The antenna arsenal consisted of a 10m band 1/4 wave vertical and a new and untried EFHW. (I’d given my existing one to Chris and had hurriedly thrown a new one together). Well there was little chance of me getting the vertical up in this, so it would have to be the EFHW.

I dropped and stowed the Slim-G. I unwound the EFHW along the ground, the far end reaching a small cliff. Back in the shelter, and with only the inner pole section aloft, I slipped over a small guy ring, rope already attached. I took a plastic S carabiner and clipped one end into the knot loop in the guy rope. I clipped the EFHW through the other end, allowing it to run free. Using a combination of both of my hands and my mouth, I slowly slid the pole up, allowing the guy out and the wire to slide. I stopped when the tip of the pole was bending almost horizontally in the wind. I had about 3 or 4m of pole up and the wire was about 50cm from the top of this.

After tying off the guy, I stepped out into the gale to find the other end of the EFHW, which I’d previously placed under a rock. Antenna orientation would be decided by the wind, so west to east it was, with the low height meaning the final 3m of wire just lay on the short heather. So, with around 3m vertical and the remaining 17m gently sloping to the ground, that would have to do. The feedpoint auto-transformer (64:1) also lay at ground level, clipped to my rucksack. The first 30cm of radiator was pinched in between granite boulders. I didn’t have much hope. Maybe I’d get a couple of 40m QSO’s and then get down from here.

summit HF lash up

Slow. I added nine to my log at a rate of one per minute. All UK, except for an ON. The band was quiet though. The antenna was holding up well, SWR was stable. I was holding up well. I’d try 20m…

Decent SWR here too. The band was poor to the usual EU countries of I, HB, EA, DL etc, with many weak contacts. However, it was superb to usual south of England 40m chasers @G0RQL Don and @2E0FEH Karl. EC8ADS was strong though. Another eleven added.

May as well! Another flurry had blasted through. Everything was coated in a micro-film of snow, except the radio for some reason. As I selected the band, I heard a really strong signal or two. OK, find a spot and CQ SOTA…and BOOM! @KF9D Roger, straight off the bat! Ok, this could be interesting. In a few minutes I added six calls, including @WB8BHN Sevim, who was weak but perfectly workable. “Was I going up to 10m?”, he asked. I laughed. “Yes”.

When 15m dried up I looked around me. Yup, everything still where it should be. My left leg had gone completely numb. So numb that whan I hauled myself up, my left foot just flopped around. Eventually, with some feeling back, I took a wee wander outside the shelter and considered my options. I was struggling to hear stations over the wind with QSB and weak signals, and I anticipated 10m being the same. It could be unworkable. Especially with me having three hoods on at this point! Then I remembered the headphones I’d been carying in the radio bag for the past few years. Today they’d get their chance.

contemplating life whilst getting blood back into my legs

Back in the shelter, I rearranged the radio so I could kneel in front of it, put on the untried 'phones and got ready to go for broke on 10m with my low and slopey antenna.

I’m so glad I did.

the 10m section of my log

The two South Africans (Mrs and Mrs) had fabulous reverb on their transmissions. Heavy QSB made some of the US contacts a struggle, but we got there. My radio was down to 5w for a good bit of this. Eventually I fished out the spare battery and plugged it into the radio, finishing on 8w. On reflection, the headphones didn’t help much. Only my tight hood held them in place and the wind was very evident. Over ear headphones would be the answer but you won’t see me carrying them up a mountain any time soon.

Anyway, job done with a surprising 39 stations logged across 5 bands, but no time to rest on my laurels. Ok, maybe for a minute then. Yay! (I’m British, so it was an inward Whoop!) It was now 1545 and I’d made my first contact at 1434. Can’t believe I’d lasted. Can’t believe the antenna and mast had lasted. It all came apart ok and I got everything packed up. Double check - nothing left out on a rock. I really didn’t want to come back up here for my car keys.

packed and ready to go, a storm passing right of Mither Tap

summit indicator beyond icy slabs

Now the bit I wasn’t looking forward to. As I left the cairn the next shower started, sandblasting what little exposed skin I had. The wind strenghtened as I re-crossed the slabs. 60mph/95kph without exaggeration. I slipped on black ice. The Paramo trousers will need a new knee. No goggles today. The snow was needles in my eyes. Soon, a great, grippy granite path. I made good progress and soon benefitted from shelter as I dropped off the plateau. Eventually, the forest. Finally, approaching the the car at 1630. I passed a couple of dog walkers. They looked at me, looked at one another. “Yes I have”, I told them telephathically. No words spoken.

Fraser MM0EFI


Which is where the ice-ace comes in handy as an end-support. Sounds lime it might have been handy for more traditional uses too!

Great description of a challenging activation. Felt as if I were there with you!

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I was planning on using that well known @ZL4NVW mountaineering technique of walking between gusts.

Turns out it doesn’t work if there aren’t any.

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I always adopt a low crouch when crossing frozen slabs to keep the centre of gravity down… shorter distance to fall as well. Have been on my side or backside a few times, buf thankfully the knees have been spared. Hope you haven’t done any damage to your knees. Trousers are repairable, knees less so.

Well done on sticking at it. I’m sure most would have got off the hill after qualifying the summit. Much be your ancestral genes that kept you up there. :grinning:

Many thanks for another super detailed report.

73, Gerald


Paramo offer an excellent (if costly) service - probably worth it

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Fantastic report thanks Fraser, having been up there in a similar wind strength without the snow, I appreciate how exposed it is. Was great to get you on 2m from a bedroom window and later on HF.


Barry, Local firm make great outdoor clothing and also sell and repair Paramo. I’ve already had my trousers patched there.

TBH, I had my hilltrek trousers in the car and planned on wearing them yesterday, as they are very tough. I chose the Paramo due to better insulation and weather-proofing. I really like them but the material is susceptible to damage from scuffs etc.

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Strange you couldn’t hear me - we were using identical antennas, although mine didn’t have the special wind configuration of yours :laughing: I could hear you fine and even just using the Quansheng rubber duck. FM weirdness.

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Simon, I think you’re on to something. The last two times I’ve done 2m from Oxen Craig, you’ve had to rotate your yagi 180° away from me to hear me!

It must be something in the Bennachie granite.

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Thanks to you – and the antenna – for persevering to 10 m, as you were audible but not readable on 15 m here. I could sense a bit of difficulty on your end and couldn’t resist listening to the rest of the activation. Glad to see it ended well … other than the trousers.

I’d propose a kite-supported antenna next time, but for 60 mph it’d have to be the world’s smallest kite!

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Excellent report Fraser. As usual makes me want to just get out again…

I have the same issue, better to get it sent and professionally repaired ? before i saw this i was just going to patch with one of these adhesive repairs kits…

Certainly getting their monies worth this winter…

[Later addition…] actually, why am i even considering skimping on decent kit. should get it professionally repaired.

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I was £40 for a large patch right across the seat of mine and a smaller patch on the front. It has been done with identical stitching and marerial to the original. I’m thinking of asking them if they can patch the knees with a more hard wearing fabric. As I mentioned, Hilltrek in Aboyne did mine.

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Probably the 25% Viking genes Gerald!

Thats a good idea, i’ll ask. I do similar when resoling my boots, and ask for a high rand - makes a world of difference protecting the leather with the likes of torridon, skye, etc.


Another excellent adventure report Fraser. Tried to chase you and Simon, GM4JXP from the back of the carpark at work in Edinburgh but ran out of lunchtime.
The report title has left me with Talking Heads track “Psycho Killer” as an ear worm though from the line with “a real live wire” in it !


I wanted my report to have the word “wire” in the title, mainly because the wire saved the day and also brought me fabulous dx. Live Wire, Through the Wire, Down to the Wire all feature in songs. This is the one I had in mind though:

Anyway you still win a prize for guessing there was a musical link. :blush:

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Thanks Fraser, very nice report!

Excellent report Fraser,
Many thanks for your words of congratualations on my acheiving MG status

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Matt, Thanks for the QSO! You were my first one on the band that day. I was really surprised and delighted that such a compromised set up worked, and that I stayed up there for so long.