Today’s planned exercise was to help myself to ten points courtesy of Foel Fenlli GW/NW-051 and Moel Famau GW/NW-044. After all, I’d not done them since last year (New Year’s Eve 2012).
Chatting to M1DDD and others on GB3VT, GB3MP and GB3CR on my brand name mobile transceiver (good choice available at all major dealers), the predominant topic was snow! My interpretation of the forecast was not to expect it until mid-afternoon. The rest of the net reckoned I should be expecting it, and rather a lot of it, within the next half hour!
Well they were right and I was wrong. As I drove up the A494 through Loggerheads, the snow began falling heavily. I turned onto the 2.25 mile road up to Bwlch Penbarrass, the common parking area for the two target summits, and was soon driving on significant accumulations of snow on the road surface.
In a rare moment of clarity, I aborted this ridiculous plan and switched target to Moel Gyw GW/NW-053. This was because the approach for this starts on the main A494 road, which had already been noted to have had several gritters in service in both directions. And because Marianne texted me, reminding me I needed to be home for 3pm. So Moel Gyw and an early finish - perfect!
I parked my popular model of French car in the car park of a well-known motel. Other accommodations and restaurants are available. It was snowing heavily, so I donned my new waterproof trousers, as well as coat, hat and gloves, before striding out along the Offa’s Dyke Path.
Well the walking is getting slightly faster and slightly less painful, so the regime must be having the desired effect. I rather enjoyed the climb over large fields on the first section of the Offa’s Dyke Path. Slightly less fun was the turn south to walk on a flatter section of the ODP (other long distance trails and medieval kings are available), for the falling snow was being blown straight into my face.
Hence I was happy to almost turn back on myself for the final ascent to the summit. At the top, the wind was blasting across with considerable force, not to mention windchill. No way would an antenna survive there, nor did I fancy sitting there for even a short while. I spent the next quarter of an hour or so wandering around assessing where the most likely shelter was without risking leaving the activation zone.
I hadn’t brought any maps out today, as I know all this area so well, but the ability to compare features such as fence lines and small wooded areas with the contours would have been useful. In the end, I selected a sloping grassy area, about 40 yards north-west of the trig point. My 20m groundplane antenna (lots of designs and suggestions on the internet available, take your pick) was erected so that the base of the mast (several options available for a lightweight portable pole suitable for activating) was about 50 degrees to the ground, leaning into the wind. Nonetheless, the top of the pole was leaning very much the other way!
With very strong wind, severe windchill and heavy snow, it was definitely time to get inside the bothy bag (typical 4 to 6 man version, plenty of space for operating, pouring soup etc, lots of choice of style, colour, price etc, from bigger gear shops, online, or in “outdoor capitals” like Castleton, Keswick etc).
From a very unpleasant outside, inside the bag the only danger was completely forgetting how horrible it was outside! I set up my small CW-only portable transceiver (several available, reviews online, major dealers and niche-market suppliers) with headphones (partly broken former home hi-fi listening kit) and paddle (small and lightweight, uses radio’s internal keyer - probably easy enough to construct for someone with the know-how).
Just before going on air, I poured myself a cup of curried parsnip soup. This was not a brand name, but a major supermarket’s own brand. But I’m not prepared to say which supermarket, as that would be totally inappropriate. Interestingly, later at home, Jimmy M0HGY was making himself a tin of “Spicy Parsnip” soup that was a brand name. It looked, smelled and probably tasted exactly like my supermarket’s-own-brand curried parsnip soup.
The antenna held up well in the face of the battering it was getting, in fact it was solid and never looked in any danger. And I was warm and comfy in my bothy bag. I used 20m CW (other bands and modes are available) and made 50 QSOs in 40 minutes of operating time, either side of a small break for more soup. The transceiver, still running on the very initial charging up of its internal battery pack, displayed 10.8V from the start of the activation to the end.
There was ice evident on the surface of the pole when I came to pack it away, but it provided little resistance, and I was ready to depart fairly quickly. In the horrendous wind at the trig point, I made a couple of CQ calls on 2m FM (other VHF bands are available) on my well known model of hand-portable radio from a well-known world manufacturer of such products. You won’t be surprised to hear (not now anyway) that other models are available and bear comparison.
I don’t think I have ever been so delighted to have had a CQ call ignored! I battled with my frozen thumb to apply sufficient pressure on the POWER button to turn the radio off, quickly, before anyone actually did answer the CQ! (Other buttons are available, but they don’t have the desired property of switching the radio off).
I retraced my route back to the car at the motel. Other descent routes were not available, not feasible ones anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed the return walk, now in much deeper snow than the ascent. It really was a lovely walk. In continuing heavy snow, I was satisfied with my earlier decision to switch plans to a hill with a walk starting from a busy main road. Not only a busy main road, but a busy main road that had been treated with copious amounts of salt.
On the way home, I visited a big name filling station and got myself a meatball wrap and coffee. I cannot remember what the brand names were. And if I could, I wouldn’t be sharing the information. Not today anyway.
I was very pleased with many aspects of this expedition. As an experienced user of bothy bags for activating (has anyone made more SOTA QSOs from the inside of one of these things???), I was nonetheless knocked out by its effectiveness today. Bothy bags are easy to use to shelter from precipitation and cold, but not so easy to minimise disruption caused by gales. However, today, I even seemed to manage that, and it was just ever so comfy inside. Too comfy. I really had to remind myself not to outstay my welcome, what with a good couple of inches or more of snow settling just while I was inside it! This measurement was evidenced as I retrieved the lightweight pegs from the ground when packing away the antenna. And I enjoyed every single second of the walking, except for all those seconds when snow was being blown directly into my face.
Many thanks to all the chasers that worked me. Apologies if the RBN confused anyone after my change of planned summit. Some chasers came back to work me a second time towards the end of my activation, perhaps thinking I had moved onto another hill. I know some special people can move that fast, but not me!
(other reflector posts are available…)