Out in the white stuff on Black Hill

Black Hill and Billinge Hill
Saturday 7th February 2009

It was very much touch and go whether this activation would go ahead. The morning of Friday 6th February provided Northampton with 10cm of snow to add to the 15cm that had been deposited earlier in the week, the majority of which was still remaining. The snow ended at 13:00 and I got out with the shovel to clear the drive for the second time in the week. Icy patches remained and the sloping road surface beyond was treaturous. The problem was, my car was blocked in by my wife’s car and to have any chance of getting away in the early hours of Saturday morning I needed to swap them over. Moving my wife’s front wheel hatchback saw me take a temporary trip down the road, whereas I wanted to go up the road. A steady run up the slope from the bottom enabled me to get out onto the more frequently used road at the top where I parked up. Taking my car out I had no such problems – ah, the magic of 4 wheel drive! Anyway, the changeover was made and I was in position ready to make my escape.

It was forecast to be minus 4C during the night, so I allowed extra time to get to Paul’s QTH. I was up by 02:40 and after the usual preparations, I was away by 03:15 – outside it was calm and quite cold. In fact it was minus 6.5C and about 300 metres from home the windscreen was already re-freezing, so I pulled in for a few minutes to clear it before continuing. I arrived at Paul’s on time at 04:50 after a careful journey and a stop for petrol. At the M1 / M6 junction there was freezing fog, with the temperature at this point dropping to a cosy minus 9C.

Despite the low temperatures, the roads were clear all the way. It was minus 1.5C in Stourbridge, slowly dropping to minus 8C when we got to Mossley on the edge of Manchester. It then started rising again as we gained height up to the parking spot for Black Hill SP-002 which is just off the A635 where it was a chilly minus 4C with a very cold breeze. Full wet weather kit complete with gaiters was worn from the start which kept us both warm and dry. From experience, snow can often get where rain can’t, so we wrapped up well and set off towards the hill at 07:40. I phoned Mike G4BLH as we walked down the road as he was planning to go out portable to work me on 23cms. So far so good.

The access to the summit is part of the Pennine Way and is partly paved with stone slabs. Unfortunately we weren’t to see any stone slabs until we reached the summit where a few were exposed near to the trig. The first section of the path descends to a stream and we followed tracks that had been laid down the previous day. Some 300 metres beyond the stream the tracks suddenly stopped in the middle of an expanse of virgin snow. Had an alien abduction happened here? Unlikely, but it was unnerving to suddenly be the trail blazers for the way to the summit. Breaking new ground wasn’t easy, especially as the closer we got to the established path, the deeper the snow became. After several waist deep sink hole experiences, we decided to abandon the constant search for the best ground close to the path and struck off on a more direct line for the trig as the ground looked better on that line. Not making a great deal of headway, I phoned Mike again and left a voicemail message on his mobile to say we would be delayed. A while later Mike phoned me back having gone back home. The whole ascent took us 2 hours and 40 minutes.

It was 10:20 when we reached the trig. The breeze was quite bitter and Paul decided to take refuge behind the trig which is elevated on this summit. I chose a nearby mound to hunker down behind. Paul was first on air at 10:40 and 60m was in fine fettle. Frank G3RMD was first in the log and once the spot had been placed there was a steady and lengthy run of contacts around G, GW, GM and EI, the majority of which were with regular chasers. Twenty nine contacts in all for this band, the largest number that Paul has logged from any summit on 60m. Just after 11:30 the run ended and a move was made to 80m with the help of Frank. A rather disappointing total of just six contacts were made on this band, but they included ones with Andy MM0USU and Andre ON4CAP.

For me, the activation was unusual. I put out several calls on 144.333MHz expecting Mike G4BLH to call me, but heard nothing from him, though he did spot me! Ross G6GVI was on frequency after a few calls, much to my relief. Ross said he wanted to try on 23cms, so I hooked up the quadruple quad to the C710 and hopped up onto the mound I was sheltering behind. Signals were a bit intermittent and I copied Ross at 53 and he gave me 31, but then he disappeared. Back on 2m, we agreed contact might have been via aircraft reflections as Ross lives down in the centre of Bolton. Anyway, next up on 2m was Steve GW7AAV who said he had copied me on 23cms, so it was back up on the mound again, but this time without success. Returning to 2m, the run got under way properly with a call from Ron GW4EVX and for the next 20 minutes I was able to sit in reasonable comfort logging quite a number of regular chasers to as far away as Don G0RQL. Then John MW1FGQ called me – cue another 23cms QSO attempt. Rather than John on the frequency, all I could hear was a buzz. I wondered whether this was interference from the nearby commercial mast, so I announced a QSY to 1297.550MHz and the buzz followed me – it must be John! Back to 2m to check – yes, a PSU problem so it seemed. A quick change of PSU and John was there on 23cms with a good 59 signal and a good contact was made. Signing with him, Ross then called me at 57 and gave me 55. It seems that the earlier intermittent may have been water in the BNC connector on the antenna resulting from snow getting in when I had sunk into the white stuff on the ascent.

Returning to 2m, there were a further three chasers patiently waiting for me and then I moved to 432.222MHz to find Graham G3OHC waiting. Graham gave me a second contact with the newly resurrected club call G4GRG and kindly spotted me with a note to say I would be looking for Frank G3RMD. I called Frank on CW and we made what I hoped would be confirmed as a contact. Phil G4OBK and Roger G4OWG then gave me further CW contacts which were followed by a good 539 both ways QSO with Frank. Moving back to SSB, brought me a chat with Phil and 4 more QSOs to bring the total on 70cms to nine calls. The final contact was with Nigel G0NIG in Otley. After a round of unanswered CQ calls, I went QRT at 12:21 well satisfied.

Paul had concluded operations on 80m a full half hour before I finished, so I quickly packed up and we were ready for the off at 12:35. The summit had been visited by quite a few people during our activation and there were now tracks to follow. We set off over the summit plateau using these. It soon became evident that the instigator had used a GPS track or had intimate knowledge of the Pennine Way route as the occasional stone slab appeared beneath our feet. Once off the plateau the going was however far from easy and the route led us through several troughs where we sank into snow up to our backsides. Trying to get out of these holes was a challenge, often requiring a slithering action over the snow surface as leverage could not be obtained by pushing downwards. Usually we just ended up in fits of laughter. The descent took us 1 hour and 50 minutes to get us back to the car for a late lunch including most welcome soup at 14:25. Being first to park up I discovered that parking parallel to the road was taking up 2 spaces, so before lunch I realigned the car to avoid further embarrassment as we sat eating our food. Needless to say the vacant space was soon filled at this extremely popular spot.

We set out for Billinge Hill SP-017 at 14:45 and arrived at the parking spot at 16:02. The ground was very muddy and the path along the side of the field was slippery. I would rather have had snow any day, but we managed to miss most of dirt and arrived at the summit at 16:20. I used the trig to support my pole while Paul set up down the fence line to try HF. Once again Paul was in contact before me and Robert G0PEB was first in the log and he spotted Paul. The band however was not in good shape and only two more contacts were made with Keith G8HXE and Frank G3RMD. My initial contact was with Mike G4BLH who advised me that Ian GW8OGI/P was still on Tal y Fan GW/NW-040 and was about to move from 4m to 23cms. I therefore halted proceedings on 2m and set up for 23cms. While the rig and antenna were still sitting on my backpack up came Ian’s 59 signal and the S2S was quickly in the bag. Ian then went on to work Mike G4BLH followed by Laurie G0MRL in Bolton. Unfortunately a fourth contact for Ian was not to be, but I bagged a contact with Laurie. Ross G6GVI came onto the frequency to join us, but unfortunately could not hear me on this summit.

At 16:57 I was back on 2m SSB to find Graham G4JZF patiently waiting. Four contacts later I was working Tony M6ADL and Paul arrived with his log sheet in hand – I knew straight away what the situation was. I passed the 2m SSB operation over to Paul who made a total of 11 contacts between 17:01 and 17:18 while I had another listen on my handheld. Paul’s third contact on 2m was with Roger 2E0BMO who wanted to try a contact with me on 70cms using a 9 element he had been given. Contact was duly made on 433.550MHz without any problem. Part way through the contact I realised I was on low power running just 250mW to the rubber duck (rig held horizontal), so it was a decent try out for Roger’s equipment. At 17:20 I took over from Paul on 2m SSB and just two contacts in worked John MW1FGQ. This presented another 23cms opportunity, so we tried a quick test. John said “you’re 59, but you’re on 70cms” – I had forgotten to change band on the handheld, so that was another 70cms FM QSO in the bag. It was also 59 both ways on 23cms and then I went back to 144.333MHz where Graham G4JZF and Don G0NES were keeping the frequency warm for me. I continued to work down the remaining chasers after which I tried to make contact with Keith G8HXE on 23cms but unfortunately without success. Back on 2m, Roger 2E0BMO and Ian M3WJZ concluded operations before I tried a few quick calls on 70cms SSB. With no-one heard and the light rapidly fading I went QRT at 17:42. Paul helped me pack up by providing light from his new dynamo operated LED hand lamp which also was useful on the descent.

We were back at the car by 18:04 where we found it was not easy to remove our waterproofs and boots without getting muddy. Boots, gaiters and waterproofs all went into polythene bags to keep the dirt out of the car. After a quick snack we were on the road by 18:30 and back in Stourbridge at 19:54. The usual debrief and coffee made a welcome break before I set off for home at 20:20, arriving there 1 hour and 20 minutes later.

I would like to thank the chasers worked for their considerable patience on these activations which were both off the alerted times and also rather erratic. It is always an awkward decision whether to stick strictly to operation band by band in the hope that contacts will be found on 23cms later or whether to take the opportunities as they are presented. Anyway I hope that everyone that wanted a contact actually got one. Particular thanks to Mike G4BLH for the help with notifying the change in our itinerary due to the snow and for his continued interest in going out portable to work me on 23cms, even though on this occasion 40 minutes drive brought no results. Also for the hot tip on the potential 23cms S2S. Many thanks to Frank G3RMD, Graham G3OHC, Phil G4OBK, Robert G0PEB and Mike G4BLH for the spots and also to anyone who had theirs removed as duplicates.

73 to all,

Gerald G4OIG

Black Hill SP-002
60m SSB – 29 contacts, 80m SSB – 6 contacts,
2m SSB – 20 contacts, 70cms SSB / CW – 9 contacts,
23cms FM – 2 contacts

Billinge Hill SP-017
60m SSB – 3 contacts
2m SSB – 11 contacts (G4MD/P), 17 contacts (G4OIG/P),
70cms FM – 2 contacts, 23cms FM – 3 contacts

In reply to G4OIG:
Great report and always a pleasure to work you.when will it be NP32 it seems to be eluding you.ATB Geoff G6MZX

In reply to G6MZX:

Hi Geoff,

Yes, it’s like a bad dream… third time lucky I suppose.

73, Gerald

In reply to G4OIG:

Another great report Gerald but you’re not selling Billinge Hill to me with all that mud :slight_smile: It’s in my backyard but I’ve so far managed to avoid it.

I was pleased to work you although I was initially surprised to see you spotted so early when I got home. At the time I hadn’t realised the interesting day you’d had. I just grabbed the radio and went out back to see if I could work you, was very pleased to make the contact just before you “shut up shop”.

Sure you won’t forget Black Hill in a hurry.

Iain, M3WJZ

ps, just seen the photos of Black Hill, excellent stuff.

In reply to M3WJZ:

Hi Iain,

I’d recommend a warm summer’s evening and a minimal station (e.g. 817 and RD) to ease the “pain” of Billinge Hill. Must say it is not very spectacular, but at least you get a view, which is something you can’t say of some summits. The early activation was purely down to the snow on Black Hill taking so long to get through (total of 4 hrs 30 mins, combined ascent and descent) that we had to abandon Cracoe Fell so bringing Billinge forwards. These things happen on occasion!

Thanks for the contact and hopefully we will work again soon - another S2S?.

73, Gerald

Judging by the abundance of empty Special Brew cans and condoms at this location, and the broken glass and secluded nature of the parking spot, a warm summer’s evening would be the one time I would definitely not go anywhere near this summit.

A very early morning would be my choice, although I might “pop in” - very briefly - on the way home from Norbreck in April.