Thursday 13th April 2023
With bad weather forecast for the morning of Wednesday 12th April, I used the flexible booking option to move my reservation at Perth Broxden Travelodge on one day. As it turned out, this was not enough. 3 days would have been ideal as warm weather came in from the south-west just as my visit ended.
So… Thursday 13th April was probably the lowest day of my 17 years of activating. There have been some significant challenges over the years, but this one capped them all. I set off from the /A QTH on the Northumberland coast at 02:50z and arrived at the parking spot for the day a few miles north of the Ben Lawers car park at 06:30z. I had the pick of the parking bays to myself. All good so far.
My summits for the day were to be Meall Corranaich GM/CS-010 followed by Meall a’Choire Leith GM/CS-041, a well established pairing with a reasonable route and a GPS track. It was a little above zero degrees when I started the ascent of the hill at 06:50z. Initially everything went well and even the notoriously boggy sections were managed quite easily. There was lying snow from the start at the 550m level, but it wasn’t until around 700m asl that it started to get quite thick covering more and more of the vegetation as I gained height. In places it was a metre deep, with an average of around 40cm at the 860m level which was where I was faced with a couple of very steep final sections of ascent to get to the summit of Meall Corranaich which was tantalisingly just 500m horizontal distance away.
The route up by the fence posts before the snow cover increases.
At this point I was cursing the fact that my ice axe and crampons were some 400 miles south of me at the main house. Surely April is in the Spring isn’t it? Last year when I activated Meall nan Tarmachan GM/CS-015 there had been very little snow to see. Now the landscape was virtually featureless, almost eerie in the mist, with only the odd tuft of grass poking through the snow. After several unsuccessful attempts to get up the first steep section, I decided I was on a hiding to nothing. To try to continue would be taking a considerable risk, so reluctantly I decided to turn around and make my way back to the car which I reached an hour and ten minutes later at 10:40z.
Looking back as I pass some boggy bits on the descent
Creag an Lochain and Meall nan Tarmachan GM/CS-015 from near the parking spot.
The area has no mobile coverage on the O2 network, so I drove down to the Ben Lawers car park to take stock of the situation and see whether I could salvage anything of the day. I made a number of texts to update several people, not least the wife, removed my alerts and then wrote a short explanation on the reflector. In response to my post, Simon G7WKX suggested that I might look at Drummond Hill GM/CS-114 a few miles down the road. After having some food and a drink, I drove to the parking spot for this hill only to find that the pathways to the upper part of the hill were closed due to fallen trees caused by Storm Arwen. Hmm, that was years ago, wasn’t it? Anyway, as I was considering whether I really wanted to risk it and bushwack my way to the summit, the heavens opened and I made a hasty retreat to the car. What now?… well satisfy your curiosity man – go and drive the road between Kenmore and Amulree, the one that is closed in the winter. So I did.
Now, most times like this have a sting in the tail and the one this day was that the local Harvester pub/restaurant wasn’t serving food this evening due to staff shortages, so I had to avail myself of a McDonald’s Steakhouse burger meal and I had a couple of Bakewell tarts from my larder as my sweet course when I got back to my room. Oh well, it could have been worse. I wasn’t in the best mood when I went to bed, so I decided not to set an alarm and see how I felt when I awoke in the morning.
Friday 14th April 2023
It was 6.45 a.m. local time when I woke up – ah, almost time for the 7 a.m. local news and weather. Err… no weather as the programme link didn’t work. Now what’s the chance of that happening? I’d have to wait until 7.30 a.m., so there was no rush to make my mind up as to whether I would just knock it on the head and retire gracefully southwards or risk activating a summit. Thankfully the weather forecast appeared at 7.30 a.m. and although rather vague, appeared to suggest that I might get away with a smaller hill than my intended target of Ben Lawers GM/CS-001. The mountain forecast for that summit was for minus 3 degrees with a significant risk of heavy snow showers. Not exactly the best weather for SOTA. The further north and east I could get would give me time to get an activation in before the incoming weather arrived.
The main problem was that I only had maps for a few summits and all of them were high ones. However, I had previously studied the pairing of Ben Gulabin GM/CS-077 and Monamenach GM/ES-028 for a winter bonus round of 14 points. It struck me that Monamenach would make an ideal summit on this occasion – just 2.6km each way, 444m of ascent, a good though fairly steep track a little over half the way and a quad bike track thereafter. It also had fence posts at the summit to support the pole and assist with making a tarp shelter. What wasn’t there to like? No map was required as I knew the route and I could always pair Ben Gulabin with another summit at a later date.
I quickly roughed out an itinerary and decided on a 11:00z activation – best not post an alert, that could invoke the weather gremlins. I set off from Perth at 06:50z and just squeezed through a section of the A93 north of Perth which was about to be closed for roadworks. Something to consider for the return journey. It was 08:05z when I reached the parking spot at Auchavan at the end of Glen Isla. Oh how I love Glen Isla! I had been in this area before for other ES summits and the hills really appeal to me.
From the track looking back over Auchavan towards Badandun Hill GM/ES-037.
I set off from the parking spot at 08:20z, making reasonable progress despite my legs feeling the effects of the previous day’s efforts. There were naturally quite a few stops to take in the views. Part way up the quad bike track section I stopped to charge up my mobile phone – I’d been having trouble with it and wanted it more or less fully charged when I got to the summit. It was a good decision to make the stop as it both got the job done at a sheltered position and it gave my legs 10 minutes rest.
Closer to Monamenach with the summit still in the mist.
It was 09:55z when I reached the summit cairn where it was a few degrees above freezing, but there was a brisk cold wind blowing across the summit. There was about 15cm of patchy snow lying on the ground. The first job then was to construct a shelter as I was going to be on the summit for around a couple of hours. I selected a suitably stout and firm fence post and attached my tarp using reuseable tie wraps. My walking poles with a couple of bungies as a guyline formed the other support.
The summit cairn with fence posts stretching out in a northerly direction towards Glas Maol GM/ES-012.
Rudimentary shelter, but quite effective against the cold wind… at least initially.
Out of the chill of the wind it was quite pleasant, though a brief band of fine hail passed through. To add to my comfort and pleasure, the sun then broke through the clouds and I noted the cloudbase had risen significantly. I set up my 6m pole with both the 2m beam and HF link dipole on it and did it bend in the wind… oh well, it has always survived. Of course just as I sat down to find a free frequency on 40m, the pole telescoped. With the pole lowered one section, the bend in it was significantly less and thankfully it stayed put for the entire activation.
After finding 7.110MHz free at 10:48z and making several unsuccessful CQ calls, I found I had to walk to the summit cairn to get a spot on. My phone was showing an H+ service and was slow responding. Thankfully the spot worked and I was soon making contacts with Ken G0FEX first into the log at 10:57z. The run on 40m SSB was mainly around the UK and the northern edge of EU. I worked 24 in all on the band in 38 minutes, including S2S contacts with Chris DL1CR/P on DM/NS-163 and Jordan M3TMX/P on G/DC-002. It was a really enjoyable activation and I had time to chat a bit. When the frequency went quiet, I reconfigured the station and put a spot on for 2m SSB, but despite calling for a while I didn’t receive any answers which was very disappointing. A call on the FM calling frequency produced contacts with Neil MM7DIR and Duncan MM0GOG, but that was all. I decided 30m was the best band for a CW session and a spot for 10.124MHz produced 10 contacts starting with Christian F6FTB, but the QSB was brutal. Someone on 40m had told me that there had been a coronal event. Whether that was true or not I don’t know, but at least I made a few contacts. It was good to work Bruno HB9CBR/P on HB/SO-004 for an S2S on the band. Later when I packed up, I found the link dipole was still set for 40m – arghh!
The mists start to rise - looking north from my operating position.
Looking west south-west along the fence line I set up on.
It was 12:20z when I went QRT and it took me 40 minutes to get packed up as my hands were very cold. The wind direction had changed during the activation, becoming more northerly, bypassing my shelter to some extent. At least the medication I am now taking for my Raynauds was helping and I didn’t end up with any painful white fingers this time. With tired legs, taking care on the steep sections it took me 50 minutes to get back to the car.
Two hours of sun and the snow starts to disappear and the views start to open up.
Mount Blair GM/ES-035.
Monamenach now uncloaked.
Looking north beyond the parking spot.
On the return journey I decided to use the B951, B954 and A94 to get to Perth. That was fun… almost as much fun as the A93. The Quattro really comes into its own on B roads and being an old lady she runs on 55 series tyres, so the bumps don’t jolt as much as low profile tyres would. Approaching the A94, the heavens opened and my car was soon carrying a 10mm depth of hail stones. Thankfully, thereafter it was much better. I took a short break to phone the XYL in Perth and the whole journey took 4 hours to get me home at 18:15z. A lot of driving for just 4 points, but that’s how it is sometimes.
Some elements of the 5P principle were not adhered to this time. I was planning to activate big hills, so my ice axe and crampons should have been with me. At least the radio kit worked without a hitch. As to when the planned summits will be activated, well at the moment I’ve no plans set. Maybe later this year when I’m guaranteed less snow! Or am I?
Many thanks to everyone I worked on the bands. It was a brilliant day out. I could get to like these later starts with just a single summit in the day and more activation time. Maybe I am getting too old for dashing about.