Out of my Bunker and back to the Hills

Mona Gowan GM/ES-034

September was spent mainly driving up SOTA summits in the USA and eating burgers. October was filled with foul weather and I kind of got hooked on the bunker thing. Bunkers on the Air is the reincarnation of an old programme. Initially for one month only, so I thought I’d go out ant activate the one that was just down the road from me. Then I made them a wee video to help promote the programme. Then I did another couple on the way home from work one day. Next thing I was working out how I could get the Silver Award by activating ten bunkers. Well, by the time we’d driven over to the Isle of Mull and back, I just had two remaining. Number nine was completed in a field near Brechin. I was luckily enough to get a chance to visit the Royal Observer Corps HQ bunker in Dundee. Well that was an evening to remember! Ten bunkers activated.

I don’t really chase amateur radio awards. In fact the only one I have is the Mountain Goat. Well I can now add silver bunker activator and bunker to bunker awards to that.

Anyway the point of the story is I’m half a stone heavier than before I went to the USA and I’m a whole stone heavier than a year ago. So, I needed to get back to the hills pronto.

Thursday 2nd November 2023
As I said, the weather in the east of Scotland has been horrendous of late, and we were on the brink of another wet spell. Except there was a window between 8am and 11am. Just about enough to fit in a local summit. I packed my kit Wednesday night and Thursday morning 0730 I left home, arriving at the bottom of the Mona Gowan track around 15 minutes later.

Parked and good to go

The proper parking for this summit is actually about 500m down the tarred road but I was pushed for time today and just dumped the Landie on the soggy grass next to the track. Always a risk. It is amazing how they can sink in a couple of hours.

I left the car around 0750, heading off through pleasant woodland on the main track. It is quite hemmed in and nicely sheltered. Through the odd break in the trees I could see the Scotch mist in the glen.

a misty morning

I hoped for a clear summit. There was perhaps a 30% chance. All hopes were dashed when I cleared the trees and saw the open moor. I could barely see the sheep a couple of hundred metres ahead. It was icy underfoot.

My first winter outing of the season and with the chance of a drenching, I’d elected to wear Paramo trousers and jacket with a couple of thin tops underneath, one hooded. I was a little warm on the ascent, however venting the jacket and trousers kept everything under control. In my pack, as well as the radio gear, I carried my bothy bag, a head torch and a few snacks.

out onto the misty moor

It had taken me 20 minutes to reach the moor. The vehicle track can be followed to within a couple of hundred metres of the summit. There’s the odd short cut but they’re not worth bothering with.

first and only glimpse of Mona Gowan

When the track reaches to final slopes up to Mona Gowan, it zig-zags. Here is was filled with snow, sometimes 20cm deep. Further on again it straightens out and then forks. The thin trail in the middle goes up to a fence and leads to the large summit cairn. Thankfully I’d remembered which one to take, as by now I couldn’t see very much at all.

the middle track

A stiff breeze blew from the SE across the summit. I left my jacket and vents open to dry me off a bit while I had a wander around. Mercifully Mona Gowan has a huge summit cairn and in the lee of the wind there was plenty of shelter. The walk had taken around 1hr 15 mins.

Mona Gowan GM/ES-034

I had a 41’ wire and a 40/20/15/10m EFHW with me. I’d planned on chucking up the random wire but changed my mind at the last minute. Annoyingly I had to guy my mast for probably only the fourth or fifth time this year. All the rocks around the summit were now installed on the cairn!

EFHW and Carbon 6 mast

The feed point and 49:1 were jammed in a rock and I hooked the 5m length of RG-174 plus common-mode choke up to the KX2. It was 0920 and I put a spot out for 40m on a very quiet band. I called CQ and got no reply. And again. I was just starting to wonder if the band was closed, when @M0HEM John came back to me. Then @ON7ZM Jean-Pierre, @EI6FR Declan, who I haven’t spoken to in ages. Ok, three logged. The fourth took another minute. 2M0YZT Paul, just 60 miles to the east in Stonehaven. Well I’d qualified the summit with four DXCC entities! The radio dropped to 5 watts after the first QSO because I hadn’t charged the battery. I just kept going with it to see how I got on.

QRP on 40m

The contacts continued to trickle in. After 13 minutes, I’d logged 11 on 40m. Changing to 20m, I plugged the spare battery into the external 12v jack on the radio and that got me back up to 10 watts. Although 20m was rife with QSB, the rate of contacts was better. The band was extremely short, with four “G” stations making the log. I made 28 contacts on this band and it was great to hear a few new callsigns too. No fancy DX, however a great spread around Europe on both bands.

a decent spread, with 40m and 20m achieving similar results

I had to head down at 1000 but just had time to turn on the handie and have a quick chat with @MM7MWL Mike, who was gallantly waving a yagi around in his garden about 35km NE of me. I’d dug out my old VX7-r especially for the occasion. With no further calls on 2m, I returned to the HF station to find it covered in drizzle, so time to call it a day with a total of 39 in my log.

not the worst soaking it has ever had

I managed to find my way off the summit using my best guess and soon picked up the track. Just over an hour back to the 110, a quick change of trousers and footwear and off to meet a friend for lunch in Alford. I got there bang on 12 noon. Perfect.

I actually had a brilliant time on the radio. I had to work hard for a lot of the contacts today and it was great to get some short ones on 20m, long ones on 40m and a few new calls too. Only after I finished operating did I realise I was quite cold, with cold finger tips and a cooling body. It took me a wee while to warm up on the way back down, but all good. I love this time of year. The hike and activation felt all the more rewarding in the conditions.

Winter is here on the hills. Man, it’s a great time to be alive!

Fraser MM0EFI


“Mike, who was gallantly waving a yagi around in his garden…”
Good work Fraser. I was wet and cold just waving my wee Yagi around in the garden so big kudos to you for activating the hill in these conditions. 73 Mike


Nice report, Fraser,
Gotta love that Rover!


I plan many more local activations this Autumn and winter Mike. I’m thinking of heading up The Lecht on Sunday morning.

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Yes, I often THINK about such activations nowadays, too, but 2023 has been a quiet year for me on the hills! “Mens sana in corpore sano”, as my old Latin teacher might have said. Lots of positive intent for getting back up very soon, though.