I know the weather forecast was for grim weather and the advise was not to travel but an opportunity to be out on the hills in the snow was too much of a draw.
It was nearly lunchtime when the decision was made to do a Sota hill, it would never have happened if there was no access to a 4x4. The hill chosen for this adventure was Gwaunceste (GW/MW-010) because of the relatively easy walk in (and escape) if the weather turned really bad and it’s my nearest 2 point unique.
It was snowing when we left Kidderminster but the further west we travelled the more it turned to drizzle making us question why we were out; walking in the snow is lovely but walking in the rain is miserable. It wasn’t till Leominster that the snow reappeared, large flakes that floated and settled on the wet road. The lane up to the parking spot had a layer of snow which had only one track made by a previous car upon it, there was no way I would’ve ventured up there in my camper. Later on the way back there were no trails to be seen.
On arriving at the parking, at the start of the track at the southern side of the hill, the snow was falling well with the threat of it closing in to white-out conditions. After wrapping up well and ensuring the GPSr’s were fully charged and working correctly the adventure began. Gwaunceste hill in good conditions is probably a very easy walk but in today’s conditions (that could change in an instant) it was given a small amount of respect. The track which skirts the summit was roughly followed till a point just south of the trig point where a bee-line was made to the top. The summit of the hill was very exposed with no shelter from the wind which whipped up the powdery snow.so a semi sheltered spot was found just in the lea of the hill and the antenna was set up.
I intended the activation to be a quick one on 60m only but atmospheric conditions appeared to be very strange. I called a number of times with no reply, which caused me to doubt that the equipment was working properly; my 817 was indicating it was giving out RF and there was the normal low swr but no replies, had snow got into things? Could it be that all the usual chasers were doing busy and had not expected many people out? I hoped a self-spot would bring people out of the wood work. More cq’s and the first very weak callsigns were heard (G4OBK, G0RQL and EI7CC) but it soon became apparent that none could hear me. What was wrong? Was this going to be my first failed activation?
The snow had begun to fall more heavily and the wisdom of staying out was being questioned. I knew the riddle of the poor 5 Mhz performance would irritate me and I didn’t want to leave the hill with no contacts so quickly the 80m extensions were added to the antenna. Because 40m was very busy with very strong continental signals I felt that my 5W QRP signals would’ve been lost so that band wasn‘t tried. Unknown to me at the time even though UK stations couldn’t hear me on 60m Peter (ON3WAB) could.
My calls on 80m were soon answered and the hill was quickly qualified. The snow was falling so quickly at the time that everything (including me) soon had an half inch (12mm) deep blanket. Everyone who had been looking for me on 60 said I could not be heard and a possible reason was given by Frank (G3RMD) when he told me the critical frequency was around 4.8 Mhz. After 14 calls were logged it was time to leave the hill to ensure we were back at the car well before dark.
I could easily be seen as irresponsible, foolhardy or just plain stupid going out in today’s conditions but I was fully aware of the risks, well prepared and have some experience of walking in very poor weather. It is just one of those things, to become experienced you have to have experiences and today it added to my knowledge and skills in hill walking, navigating and SOTA.
Thank you to all who worked me and apologies to those I missed.