My apologies for the curtailed activation of GM/SI-188 on Friday 8/9/2023. Please read on to discover why.
With the Relative Hills Society and a good weather and sea conditions forecast, I was part of an attempt to visit the summits of two St Kilda islands; GM/SI-122 (Soay) and GM/SI-118 (Boreray). There were 23 hopeful people who set off early from Leverburgh on 8/9/2023. The 24th had dislocated a shoulder the weekend before!
The two boats ‘St Kilda’ and ‘Enchanted Isle’ took 2.5 hours to reach St Kilda and immediately motored to the island of Soay. This island is the westernmost landmass of the United Kingdom, if you do not include Rockall!
The landing site is on the south-east corner of the island and conditions were judged to be good enough to make an attempt. We donned lifejackets, climbing helmets, climbing harnesses, microspikes on our boots (similar to winter walking aids) and protective gloves being recommended for the first few metres of the climb.
We were loaded 4 at a time onto a tender and then one by one were successfully dropped off onto barnacle encrusted rock of a small promontory. Where there were no barnacles the rock was slimy and treacherous. The first person ashore climbed up a steep slab and fixed a climbing rope in place up the slab so the remainder could use it as a safety rope
Once we were ashore the route scrambled up a broken, rocky ridge then passed onto the south face of the island where steep grass allowed a steady ascent of about an hour up to the summit some 376m above sea level. We passed a number of cleits on the way showing that the islanders from the main island visited and harvested birds, which dried in the cleits, to give them enough of a food store to last the winter.
The top of the peak is large, flat and I used pegs to secure a 5 metre roach pole for a 20m half-wave inverted-V dipole. Over about 20 minutes I made 11 QSOs after spotting myself using the iridium system; there is no mobile phone signal as we were over 40 miles from the nearest mobile phone mast.
I was one of the last people to leave the summit and the descent simply followed the way up. The time available for the activation being necessarily short. We scrambled back down to the top of the slab then used the safety rope to abseil down to the pick-up rock (see photo above).
The pick-up off the rock was on the opposite site of the rocky promontory but everyone was eventually successfully collected and we were soon powering our way to the second island some 8 km distant. The photo below shows the steep cliffs of Soay and the flat summit.
The landing for Boreray is reputed to be easier than Soay but on arrival at the sloping slab there was a considerable swell. We all kitted up again and the same process was followed to deposit us on this second island. One person was nearly washed away and suffered lacerations on his hands and knees but nevertheless successfully continued on to visit the summit.
The ascent again took about an hour but was a steep grassy ridge with a vertiginous cliff on the north side of the island. There is a large three headed rocky buttress which is a gannet colony and the noise was incredible throughout the visit!
The photo shows one of the team (Donald) on the summit of Boreray (386m).
Again I was able to peg out the antenna just below the summit and after an Iridium Spot I made 10 QSOs on 14MHz in about 15 minutes. I had thought that there would be time to try 7MHz and I spotted and started calling. However, another station, who did not sound QRP started up nearby. I re-spotted myself on 7.128MHz and gave a few calls but by then my hill going companions had all left the summit. Therefore, I had to pack up and leave. We had also been warned not to be slow as the swell was increasing, the tide was ebbing and we had to be back on the main island before darkness fell. I apologise to everyone who was listening but I was not master of my own destiny on this trip.
The pick-up off Boreray was the most exciting transfer as the swell was now about 3 metres. Again the skill and wizardry of Iain the boatman was superb. Despite a few of us falling down into the tender, which on balance was better than falling into the Atlantic, we were eventually all aboard and we then motored round into village bay to camp on the remote and enchanting island of Hirta. Just spending the night on this improbable and beautiful island was rewarding.
It rained overnight and next morning the cloud was covering the tops. The main island Hirta has a SOTA summit (GM/SI-098) Conachair which I had activated with Adrian (MM0DHY) on 7th July 2018 during a sailing trip, so I had no need to re-visit the wet summit in the rain!
These radio activations are a dangerous undertaking and I must thank the Relative Hills Society for the planning and organisation of this adventure.
They are not without risk, but are rich with reward. I now have memories of St Kilda, not dreams!