The Cheviot, Northumberland SB-001
Tuesday 3rd April 2007
Our week in Northumberland was eased in with a limber up on the beach at Low Newton on the Sunday and an ascent of Simonside near Rothbury on the Monday. Simonside is a hill that the family had previously circumvented on walks in the area and we had not experienced this little gem until this year - our 15th holiday in the county. Better late than never. Last year I activated nearby Tosson Hill, but in the horizontal driving sleet a detour to take in Simonside was the last thing on my mind!
The weather forecast for the following day was fine with a light north-easterly, so son-in-law Phil and I decided to tackle The Cheviot while our wives went to Cragside near Rothbury. We set off on the 28 mile journey from the cottage at Hepple in Coquetdale at 0900 UTC and arrived at the parking area near Langleeford some 50 minutes later. Just as we arrived, the weather worsened with a rain shower and I thought back to 2002 when I last ascended The Cheviot. On that day it had been reasonable weather in the valley and conditions had been poor on the summit, so I wondered what lay in store for us this time around. Unfortunately Phil had left his waterproof trousers back in Cornwall. However, the weather brightened up and it looked somewhat better by the time we were ready for the ascent.
We chose the direct route via Scald Hill and were soon in trouble with one of the locals. Fortunately the local was only a male Red Grouse whose territory clashed with the ascent route and we were soon seen off in style. The climb up Scald Hill was steady and it was not until we got to the section after the summit that we had any problems. On the top of the hill I spotted myself using the mobile phone setting an ETA of around 1230 UTC in order to try to improve the time per contact ratio once we were on the summit. The relatively flat section following Scald Hill was awash with water and we had to make several detours to get around the run-offs. This was a nuisance more than a real problem. However, as we started the ascent of the steep climb up from this area, we were hit by a brief shower of horizontal driving snow followed by icy rain, all on a north-easterly wind slowly veering into the north.
At the top of the steep section we reached the stile to find it heavily iced. The fencing from around the 700m level sported horizontal ice along its wires and the temperature had dropped significantly. We decided to visit the trig and then I searched for a place to set up. A slabbed side path a short way past the summit provided a solid base for operation and the adjacent fence a support for the mast. I stuffed the bothy bag into Phil’s hand, but he decided against deploying this and retired to the relative shelter of the trig point to eat his lunch. Of course, I was out in the open and so I was extremely thankful for my four layers of clothing, lined trousers and waterproof over-trousers.
I started radio operations on my usual frequency of 144.333 where I had posted I would be and after a couple of calls was contacted by Don G0NES. Frank RMD and Roger OWG followed and then the rig almost bounced off the hill as Derek G1ZJQ/P called me from Tosson Hill SB-007 which can be seen from the cottage where we stay. It was appropriate that Derek as a local should be QSO number 4 to qualify the activation. Graham JZF, Steve AAV and Nigel NHM completed the run on 2m SSB and then after a bare patch of a couple of minutes I moved to 60 metres and called on FE. Conditions on HF proved to be extremely poor. It seemed that I more or less had a phone line through to Frank RMD down in Cheltenham and I managed contacts with Cris GM4FAM, Quentin GW3BV, Mike DSP and Steve AAV, but that was all.
I can’t say that I was particularly upset by the poor HF conditions. The planned 40 metre CW session was definitely out as I couldn’t operate the key with my frozen hands (despite wearing gloves) and I was now shivering as well. I did fleetingly toy with the idea of moving on to 2m FM, but abandoned it in the face of the conditions on the summit which were now horizontal driving rain / sleet and a wind chill of at least minus 10 degrees C. Therefore I started to dismantle the station. I slowly took in the HF dipole and found that ice had built up on the PVC covered wire. This was the first time that I had used my SOTABeams wire winders and despite having numb fingers I was silently thanking Richard for them as they eased this process. My brain must have been affected by the cold as I found myself verbalising the figure of eight winding method. On taking down the mast, I found the 2m beam had a coating of ice about 10mm thick on it and so it took a while to chip it off to allow me to bungee the mast and antenna together and get it onto the top of the rucksack. Eventually, after 20 minutes, I joined Phil at the trig point where I attempted to eat lunch. Unfortunately my slice of pizza had almost frozen solid and was difficult to eat, so all I could manage was a small pork pie. Even my cereal bars were hard and crispy!
The descent was relatively uneventful. The same problems faced us on the way down as on the way up, including the Red Grouse which this time was more confident and came to within half a metre of me. We were pleased to reach the car where I finished my lunch and we got out of our soggy gear before returning to the cottage. All in all, I think that it will need to be at least 21 degrees C without a cloud in sight if I am ever to activate The Cheviot again, but the sense of achievement on this occasion was well worth the effort put into the day.