Return of the SOTA Beam 2

With Marianne taking Liam to the pictures, Macclesfield playing away at Luton, and the weather forecasters promising Utopia, all the conditions were set for a proper mountain expedition. Furthermore, an opportunity for Jimmy to further narrow the gap to his father’s uniques record.

Only four summits remained in North Wales that I had activated but not Jimmy. Jimmy had been present on all those expeditions, but before he got his Foundation licence. We selected the pairing of Creigiau Gleision GW/NW-028 and Pen Llithrig y Wrach GW/NW-013 (The Fertile Rock and The Slippery Witch).

Previously, we had done this on a 19km circular route with Richard G3CWI, using the same initial approach as that often used for Carnedd Llewelyn GW/NW-002. However, this involves climbing to Pen yr Helgi Du 833m (not SOTA as it is parented by Carnedd Llewelyn GW/NW-002, then a near 200m drop to a col at 637m, before climbing to the summit of Pen Llithrig y Wrach GW/NW-013.

Instead, Jimmy devised a route that had us attacking both summits from the south. As recommended by Roger MW0IDX (who was to feature significantly in both my activations), we turned off the A5 at SH716591. This took us onto a very rough and loose stony track. As it got steeper, my wheels started to spin, my car started to smell, it stopped going forwards, and Jimmy with his typical flair for the understatement remarked “I think the stones are too loose for the tyres Dad”.

I started to gently reverse back down thinking I would instead park by the roadside and walk up. However, I decided to have another go, and drove with a little more purpose and determination. We got up the hill this time, only to get stuck again on a sharp bend. Again, I dropped back, regrouped, and then hit the bend at a different angle with a few more revs. Success, and we were soon pulling into the small parking area for the Tal-y-waun farm and bunkhouse. And this was alongside three other “normal” cars, so it looked like Penelope Picasso had made hard work of things again.

As we started to don poles and rucksacks, the heat of the sun was striking. It was the beautiful morning as forecast, no need for coats, but a covering of sunblock was in order - the first of the year. At 8.50am, we set off and climbed the bridleway around behind the bunkhouse, where a group of climbers were preparing ropes and packs.

We walked down to the large footbridge at the foot of the south tip of the broad ridge to Pen Llithrig y Wrach GW/NW-013. Here, we turned right and headed due East, yomping through soggy trackless heather. Not until the heather thinned out on the steeper flanks did any evidence of pathlines appear, and we followed the grassy trails to the lowest point of the ridge.

Now, to the left of us, was the rocky lump that was our target. We bypassed to the left of it, then doubled back to follow the steep stony track to the summit cairn. Initially, it was down to just T-shirt for me, the heat of the sun combining with the heat of my post-ascent body to require additional ventilation. There was a chilly breeze though, and despite sheltering behind a good rock, the fleece was soon on again. Jimmy added his coat and hat.

I started the activation on 2m CW, working three stations before things dried up. There was to be no repeat of my 2m CW pile-up on Cracoe Fell G/NP-032 recently. With me stranded on the dreaded three contacts, Jimmy took over, making 10 QSOs on 2m SSB. I went back to 2m CW to look for the elusive fourth, but it was not to be.

Leaving the SOTA Beam horizontally polarised, I called on 2m FM, to be immediately answered by Roger MW0IDX. Three more were worked, including S2S with Simon M1AVV/P on Gun G/SP-013. Jimmy MW3EYP/P took over and worked five of his own on 2m FM.

It was now pretty cold, and we needed to get cracking with the pack-up and descent to warm up again. It was a very quick and easy descent back to the footbridge, from where we now tackled the higher and imposing Pen Llithrig y Wrach GW/NW-013.

From the footbridge, we strode up onto the grassy banks, and tried to pick a route upwards. There was little evidence of tracks on the ground, so we just followed what we expected would be logical routes. We parted briefly as we chose a different mini-scramble to each other to attain the next shelf, but then walked together the rest of the way.

Faint sheep tracks now started to appear, and these we followed as we aimed to the left of the rocky outcrops before bending right for the summit push. A couple of rest breaks - one to down a Boost bar each, and one to chat with a pair of descending walkers - were welcome on the way. Soon, we were on a clear path rather close to the edge of the near vertical drop down to Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir, and ascending to the summit. The hill around us narrowed, and we attained the cairn, pausing there for a photo-shoot.

Unfortunately, the cloud, which we were not supposed to see any hint of all day, was now shrouding the hill, and the views disappeared. It was also very chilly, especially in the wind, from which there was no shelter on the summit. To get a reasonably comfortable activating position, we dropped back down into a slight grassy depression between the path and the cliffs. I reckoned this to be between about 5m and 10m vertically below the summit, but Jimmy was concerned about ensuring we were within the activation zone. He counted 44 big strides between our position and the summit cairn. This was equated to a maximum of one twentieth of a grid square on the 1:25,000 sheet, and in reality probably much less. Hence I was able to demonstrate to Jimmy that the lowest we could possibly be was still within the 780m contour, and in all reality, probably within the 790m contour.

The SOTA Beam was deployed with horizontal polarisation once again, and I managed the dreaded three contacts on 2m CW once again! Jimmy did 2m SSB once again, but only got four QSOs this time. He then did eight on 2m FM, still on H-pol. I then put the beam on vertical, and called myself on 2m FM, looking for that fourth contact. Again, it was Roger MW0IDX that provided it (shame he wasn’t monitoring on 2m CW both times hi!). It was nice to “meet” his new baby daughter Emma, who was audibly demanding a nappy change in the background.

The SOTA flask was deployed with Spinnakers Seafood Gumbo soup, which was tasty and enjoyed by us both.

I wrapped up with another four on 2m FM, and we swiftly packed up and got on with the descent. This was straightforward, and we got on in good time. Enjoyable was the return of the views as the clouds broke once a quarter of the way down. We were back at the car at 4.45pm, which was pleasing. It had been an early start though, with a 5am get-up and breakfast at Lymm Truck Stop.

With today being a longer “proper” mountain expedition, I decided to go a little lighter. I had charged up the internal battery in the 817, but left both SLABs at home. As it was, this was more than sufficient. We ran 5 watts throughout both activations, both about 50 minutes in length and made a total of 43 QSOs between us in the day. Evidence enough to go lighter - and “SLABless” - again.

We tried to get a drink at the Swallow Hotel near Betws, but after ten minutes waiting at the bar, we gave up. We did get a couple of Mothers’ Day cards and gift boxes of Welsh fudge in the shop next door though, taking care of my brother’s birthday, and my mum and Jimmy’s mum for Mothering Sunday.

Back in town at 7pm, we did the rounds of my brother’s and my mother’s, got a take-away from the Weston Balti, and went home. A most enjoyable day; thanks to all callers.

Tom M1EYP & Jimmy M3EYP

In reply to M1EYP:
Hello Tom & Jimmy,

Well done on this expedition. I bet it was a nice walk but pity about the low-cloud on NW13.

Again you excel yourself Jimmy. A stickler for accuracy; pacing out the activation area. I remember a cold day in low-cloud on 13 (May-03 with NW2). I think I sat on steep grass just below a small stony top after coming up via a disused quarry also with no real path higher up. The start point was miles away (around SH732663). I like your start point better but it’s still a long walk. They do seem to be around there.

Great on getting up that track. From the map it saves 40 or 50m of ascent and you didn’t loose your exhaust so it was worth it.

I know nothing of NW28 but it sounds like a good pairing. It also sounds like these were quite hard at first on 2m and that was the experience I had. In fact I only got the bare 4 QSO’s from NW13 but did a lot better on NW2 on 2/70. About normal for 2003.

I was impressed when you mentioned doing all NW’s. I’d have to go and live there to achieve that so I’m quite envious. I am ‘warming’ to your soup idea. I hope you have sourced a lightweight flask!

Well done you two,

All being well, we should see you at the rally,
73, John. YSS

Thanks for the comments John.

I didn’t feel exactly comfortable driving up that track, but other ‘normal’ cars were parked at the top of it, and the climbers told me it was a standard parking point for walks from here. Indeed, Roger MW0IDX recommended it. On the couple of times my front wheels spun in the stones, there ensued a few of them clattering about under my car, but fingers crossed there isn’t any damage.

NW-028 is a lovely summit, although not a particularly lovely ascent the way we did it this time. Our previous approach of it from the north was a better route.

2m was only hard because I kicked off on CW. 2m CW is rather “off the beaten track” as Roy G4SSH quaintly puts it! Jimmy found 2m easy enough on both summits on SSB, and 2m FM was a breeze, generating instant pile-ups, especially after putting the beam on vertical. I reckon with a 2m HH / RD you would qualify these hills in seconds.

We haven’t done all the NWs! That feat is the preserve of a very select number (3?), headed up by Shirley MW0YLS. The interim target is for Jimmy to activate all the uniques I have done and he hasn’t (although he was there walking with me when I first did them). There are eleven of these still to go, out of my 205 uniques - G/DC-003, 004, 005, 006, 007, GW/SW-001, 002, 015, GW/MW-025, GW/NW-011 and GW/NW-072. Most a somewhat “far flung”, so it could take another couple of years yet, but be sure, he will get there!

Soup is a wonderfully tasty and satisfying lunch for the hills. It also doubles up with providing something hot to put inside you, and is much more robust in the rucksack than sandwiches or pastries! It slots in the pack easily, unlike a cuboidal sandwich box, and yes, my 1 litre stainless steel flask is very light, although filling it does tend to add about 1kg to the overall weight :wink: Three normal size tins of soup fill it perfectly.

I look forward to seeing Roy and yourself at Norbreck.

73, Tom M1EYP