28th – 30th December 2018
On account of me having heart bypass surgery in June, 2018 was a year of relative inactivity on the SOTA front. In recent years Paul and I have usually focussed on achieving at least three main outings – three days at the end of February to celebrate our birthdays, a main outing sometime over the summer period and a further three days after Christmas. We bagged some decent hills in February and enjoyed participating in the Trans-Atlantic S2S event in April using our alternative callsigns. Use of my former Class B callsign had also allowed me to get out in March and work my first G to VK summit to summit contact. After this I managed to sneak in another SOTA GM/SS summit in in April under the main call. I also kept my hand in activating a number of HuMPs right up to just six days before my operation when I activated Hedgehope Hill G/HSB-007 which stands adjacent to The Cheviot G/SB-001.
After the operation, I was prevented from carrying a backpack until my breastbone had healed and this would take three months. This meant no summer outing for 2018. However, once I had been given the all-clear by my surgeon, I quickly took the opportunity to get back into activating using a couple of reasonably local HuMPs to establish that I had no issues. Three days of activating HuMPs in southern Scotland prepared me for a SOTA outing with Paul M0SNA / W6PNG in early October when once again I used my alternative callsign. The success of this outing confirmed my level of fitness and as such it was with a good measure of confidence that we started to plan our post-Christmas outing.
After looking at a number of options, we decided to activate the four SOTA summits that lie between Moffat and the Ettrick valley. As I often drive on the December outing, the relative closeness of these summits would be a better option than summits further north or west. My endurance in respect of combining a long drive with activating had yet to be tested. The walking on the second and third days would be fairly lengthy and time-consuming, so we decided to book in at the Tushielaw Inn (NT303177) as this was just 9 miles from the parking spot for three of the four summits. In the event, the cost turned out to be less expensive than the usual Travelodge accommodation.
Friday 28th December 2018
A slightly later start than usual was programmed and I departed Northampton at 03:30 and arriving at Paul’s house in Stourbridge at 05:00. We were on our way heading north at 05:16 and after the now customary breakfast stop at Tebay services, we arrived at the parking spot for Ettrick Pen GM/SS-074 at NT189093 at 10:09, ahead of the scheduled time of 10:30. The weather remained at a very mild 8C with varying cloud cover throughout the journey, with no more than a little light drizzle to give us any concern. We had to remind ourselves that this was December. Twelve months previous it had been so different.
Over Phawhope bothy
We set off along the track past Potburn farmhouse with 20 minutes in hand which allowed us some time to have a look at the nearby Over Phawhope bothy. This must be the most luxurious in the UK, complete with leather sofa. It was unoccupied when we got there, but was quite busy when we passed it on our return later in the day.
We continued up the track towards the hill, noting that extensive planting had been taking place. The track had newly been extended to accommodate the work, though this eventually petered out to nothing. There were no signs showing us where the path lay, but by regular reference to Paul’s GPS, we managed to maintain a well graded and fairly direct route to the summit, though the lack of a track did slow us somewhat. It was 12:05 when we reached the highest point and thankfully found one run of fencing to be reasonably perpendicular to the stiff breeze. The first task was to attach our tarps to the fence to provide us with some shelter… the second was to get some lunch.
Ettrick Pen with the new planting on its western face
View from the summit… the sun almost showing its face
Paul was first on, immediately finding Andy MM0FMF/P on Tinto GM/SS-064 on 60m SSB when he switched the rig on at 12:37. Once he had completed the contact with Andy, Paul announced a QSY and moved off up the band 5kHz, but only Michael EI3GYB actually followed. After some 20 minutes of calling without a reply, Paul decided to self-spot. This brought a near instant response with a further ten contacts being made in as many minutes. As no-one seemed to be tuning around for contacts, Paul decided to use the same self-spotting tactic for 80m SSB, which resulted in Karl M3FEH being first into the log and Martin MI0RTY closing the show eleven minutes later. A total of six contacts were made on the band.
The view from my operating position
I started on 2m SSB at 12:40 and was very pleased to be called by Frank G3RMD/P who was on Binsey G/LD-041. Signals were very strong and the contact provided me with a Complete. Mike G4BLH/P was next to call from a location near to Pendle and from his comments, it appeared that we had much better weather than he had down in Lancashire. Mike kindly spotted me and I was soon to be called by Robert GM4GUF, then Jack GM4COX/M and Andy MM0FMF/P. After that I spent a while calling on SSB and then decided to try horizontal FM, both without result. As I had set up the HF dipole, I moved to 30m CW where the RBN eventually logged me. Jan OK2PDT called me, followed in reasonably short order by Eric F5JKK, Jorge EA2LU and Guru EA2IF. Manuel EA2DT followed on, but promptly disappeared… and that was all. I could see Paul was packing up, so I decided to give 20m a miss which may have been a mistake, but equally it might have saved a waste of time.
The wind had nicely picked up as we were operating, so getting the kit packed away was fun. It was 14:40 when we set off on our return to the car using the path that was clear to see at the summit, but which we had not located on our ascent. This made the going very easy and soon we were descending down between two sections of the new planting guided by canes with yellow marker tags fixed to them. If only we had known to look for the yellow markers on the ascent. The waymarked route took us down to the track extension some 30 or 40m from its lower end, close to a drainage ditch. The remainder of the walk to the car was leisurely and we arrived there while it was still light at 15:40 to find it full of vehicles – the bothy was obviously full to overflowing!
I noted the temperature had dropped to 5.5C when we set off to our accommodation at 15:55. On the way we had what might be called an incident. Approaching a narrow section of road we met an SUV coming the other way. The driver of the SUV kindly called me forward and pulled in to the side of the road. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough room to get by easily. I managed to get the front wheels past the other vehicle, but the angle was wrong and the rear of the car slipped off the road and there was a loud bang before we got back onto the road surface. I checked out the controls and nothing seemed awry, so we continued on.
We arrived at the Tushielaw Inn at 16:15 to be greeted by our host Rab who showed us to our rooms. After a most welcome shower, we met up in the bar to avail ourselves of some ale (Badger Fursty Ferret) and order some food. We also ordered what we wanted for breakfast and for convenience also ordered packed lunches for the following day – much better than cereal bars. As there was a large group dining at the inn, we were told it might be a while before we were served with our food, but it wasn’t long before we were tucking in to our starters. Another pint went down well with our main course and we found we had no room for anything else. With breakfast arranged for 7 a.m., we decided to have an early night and headed to our rooms around 21:15.
Saturday 29th December 2018
Breakfast was excellent. Paul had requested porridge made without milk and that was exactly what he got. I had cereal and then pigged out on bacon, sausage and egg, just a little of what was actually available on the extensive menu. We left the inn at 07:30 to drive to the parking spot that we had left around 15 hours previous. On the way a young Tawny Owl flew out in front of us and came to rest on a fence post. I brought the car to a stop and we sat watching this beautiful creature until it decided to fly off a minute or so later.
We arrived at the parking spot at 07:50 while it was still fairly dark, yet it was almost fully light when we set off at 08:15. Once again we took the track towards the bothy, beyond which we took the main track heading west that forms part of the Southern Upland Way. The excellent forest track allowed us to make good progress and we achieved a little over 4km in an hour. At a sharp bend on the track, our route headed off along a narrow ride through trees and out on to the open moor at Ettrick Head. After a short distance we could see our first hill, Croft Head GM/SS-100. The downside of this route is a descent of around 50m where it passes through the valley where we were surprised to find a relatively new bridge over the stream. As we approached the hill we had to face a strong wind which stopped us in our tracks several times and raised concerns over climbing the narrow zig-zag path up Cat Shoulder in order to reach the summit.
The forestry track section of the Southern Upland Way
Zig-zag path up Cat Shoulder
The wind seemed to be following the valleys and as such there was the potential for it to blow across the spline of the hill where the path lay, but we were most surprised to find it was relatively calm. We were soon ascending the final section which was more exposed to the wind, but here it was far less precipitous than the section beneath us. Needless to say it was very windy at the summit, so our first task when we arrived at 10:45 was to get some shelter set up. As I was planning a 2m activation with HF as an option, I remained close to the highest point while Paul set up further along the fence.
My operating position
Once again Paul was first to get under way with a contact on 60m with John MM0GGI in Kylesku at 11:17. Bill G4WSB was next to call in and he placed a spot for Paul which started an excellent run to bring the total for the band to 16, Gary G4LOE being the final contact at 11:44. Paul quickly moved to 80m and was called by Alan G4KRN, but that was his only contact on the band.
Paul’s position a little further down the fence line - our next summit Capel Fell in the background
I decided to have part of my lunch and attempt to self-spot before getting going and was sat listening on 144.333MHz when I heard someone whistle at 11:19. This turned out to be Mike G4BLH/P, this time located somewhat lower down than he had been the previous day. Weather conditions down in Lancashire were not particularly pleasant. Mike spotted me and on checking SOTAwatch found that my spot had actually worked. The spots brought contacts with Don G0RQL, Geoff GM4WHA and John G0TDM, but that was all. Geoff requested an attempt on 70cm and despite him using vertical polarisation and me just the 2m beam, we easily made contact. Returning to 2m, I was unable to raise any further contacts on SSB, CW or FM. After a while I decided to see how Paul was doing and we agreed to call it a day as we were both getting cold.
We were generally running 20 minutes ahead of schedule, but decided to change our route to our second summit. Originally we had planned to traverse between the summits using the fence line down and then up the hills on what appeared, on the Ordnance Survey map, to be a fairly straightforward approach. However, on the ground this route looked extremely tortuous, so we opted to retrace our steps and approach Capel Fell GM/SS-082 from Ettrick Head. This proved to be an eminently sensible decision and we achieved our goal in the allotted time despite an increase in the distance and having tired legs.
A direct route between the summits would have required us to cross this valley!
As it was, our return route to tackle Capel Fell was on the right side of this gorge
We set up in similar fashion to the previous summit, the fence once again being suitably aligned to afford us shelter from the wind. I decided to deploy the HF dipole as well as the 2m beam in the hope that I might get onto 30m on this summit and then set about finishing off my lunch. Just a short distance away Paul was similarly getting in some much needed calories. This time I was first on at 14:20 with Mike G4BLH/P in a slightly less inclement Lancashire quickly on frequency. Once again Mike posted a spot for me. Don G0RQL followed on and then Gordon MM0GPZ called me for a contest report. I had completely forgotten about the post-Christmas contest, but for once I had the details to hand and was able to oblige. Geoff GM4WHA was next in the log followed by a brief QSY to 70cm to exchange reports there before I returned to 2m to find Chas MW0ZAQ/P on Moel Gyw GW/NW-053 looking for me for a contact. Andrew G8TZJ then grabbed another contest exchange before Andy MM0FMF/P on Cairnpapple Hill GM/SS-254 gave me another S2S. The frequency then went quiet and I tuned around a little to find Peter MM0CEZ hammering in. Finally I realised that I had not heard John G0TDM, so I put a call out on CW on 144.333MHz at 15:00 and as if by magic up he came. The path between us was not as good as from Croft Head, but we managed to exchange reports without any problems.
Capel Fell set up… I had trouble holding the camera still
Paul again started on 60m with John MM0GGI first into the log at 14:25, followed by Bill G4WSB who again posted a spot. Another ten calls trickled into Paul’s log until 14:49 when the frequency went quiet after he completed with Michael EI3GYB. 80m appeared to be long skip and Paul was without any contacts when I went over to him to see how he was getting on. The wind had started to increase in strength and we were now both rather cold, so we decided to call it a day and get back to the car, a walk of just over 5km. The day’s total would be over 16km.
Almost ready for the off… the sun putting in a pre-dusk appearance
We set off down the hill at 15:45 with the light already fading fast, though we did manage to reach the car at 17:10 without having to recourse to our headlamps. They came in most useful though to assist with changing our footwear. It was 17:24 when we set off back to our accommodation, but a noise from beneath the car brought us quickly to a halt to investigate the cause. This is where our tarps and our headlamps once again became very useful. What we discovered was the nearside handbrake cable hanging down and it was evident that this was down to the rear of the car having slid off the road the previous evening. After several attempts, we managed to reattach it to its guides and secure it in position with a couple of tie wraps. Quite handy, this SOTA kit!
Arriving back at the Tushielaw Inn, we were once again greeted by Rab, after which we agreed to meet up at 19:00. The evening went much as the one previous, though there was no large group dining this evening. Obviously the locals were sparing themselves until Hogmanay. As we were eating our main course, Gail came up from the kitchen to say hello and we were able to express our thanks for the fare on offer. She kindly noted that our request for an early breakfast at 07:00 was not a problem. After our second pint of Fursty Ferret, we again decided to have an early night and retired to our rooms.
Sunday 30th December 2018
Breakfast was once again excellent. We settled our bill with Rab, after which he helped us out to the car with our bags. Service indeed! We said our goodbyes and departed for our final parking spot of the outing. This time we would be tackling the Southern Upland Way from a point further west close to Moffat and after missing the final turn and a three point turn on the A708, we arrived at the parking spot near to the bridge on the road to Craigbeck (NT106043). It appeared that the parking area had been improved and would be capable for taking three, maybe four cars. We parked up at the end farthest away from the bridge to leave maximum maneouvring room close to the bridge should it be required.
It was 09:00 when we set off towards our goal of Scaw’d Fell GM/SS-142. It was another cloudy day, but at least it was dry and the reasonably pleasant on the forest track. We found many of the trees had been felled, so the route was far more open than is suggested on the Ordnance Survey map. The only people we met were two guys that we later discovered were from Craigbeck Hope located part way along our route, who stopped to ask about our poles. Unfortunately their trailer was full of logs preventing us from hitching a ride… as if we would.
The route to the summit took a track up the side of the hill which was easy to see as we made our way along. At the end of the track there was a ride up through the forest and that brought us out onto the hill and the minor summit of Coomb Cairn. From that point on the ground was quite akin to that in Galloway with grassy tumps and soggy bog between. Thankfully this was only around 600 metres, but it was certainly the most arduous section of the walk. We reached the summit at 11:26, well ahead of schedule.
Scaw’d Fell from Coomb Cairn
We set up our stations very much as on the previous summits in that I took the high point on the fence line and Paul moved off a sufficient distance. However, we discovered that Paul’s position was somewhat closer than usual, with the potential that our HF antennas might cross. As it was, I decided to turn my antenna through ninety degrees to aim the antenna NW / SE which produced some decent DX.
Paul was the first to make a contact at 12:04 on 60m SSB, Bill G4WSB being first into the log and once again posting a spot. Many of the regulars worked on the previous summits turned up once again to give Paul a good run of 15 contacts in just under half an hour. At around 12:35 Paul moved to 80m SSB and was quickly found by Frank G3RMD who posted a spot, However, the band was again running long skip and only Andy GM6ZAK and Norbert DG1NPM were worked in addition to Frank. Paul decided to try 40m and after several calls worked Keith 2E0WEK. A self spot posted at 13:09 brought a further four contacts with Bob G3VXJ, Louis ON7LO, Manuel EA2LU and Karl M3FEH.
Useful walking pole and bungies for where there is no fence
First into my log on 2m SSB was Geoff GM4WHA, closely followed by Andy MM0FMF/P, once again out on Cairnpapple Hill GM/SS-254. John G0TDM narrowly beat Don G0RQL and then I was surprised to hear Brian G4ZRP call me. After this the frequency went quiet, so Geoff and I moved to 70cm SSB to make the first contact on the band from the summit. I returned to 2m to find David MI/EI7GEB/P on Slieve Donard GI/MM-001 waiting for me. He had expended virtually all his battery capacity and was running just 1 watt, so was pleased to make it. Moving to CW, still on 144.333MHz, I worked Craig M0BUL, Frank G3RMD and John G0TDM which brought the time to 12:45. It was now time for HF, so I called on 10.124MHz and the RBN soon spotted me. The band was in strange shape and 7 of the 8 contacts were actually with Germany, Mark HB9DBM being the one exception. After working Mike DJ9BX, the frequency went ominously quiet, so I decided to try 20m. After changing the dipole links, I settled down to call CQ and was surprised to be called by Gary K3TCU. I later learned that the RBN at VE2WU had spotted me with a 20dB SNR figure. In all I worked 11 on the band with a mix of EU and North America in the log, Ariel NY4G, Bob AC1Z, Paul KB9ILT and Rich NE4X joining Gary as the DX.
It was 13:35 when I went QRT and after taking some photographs, the process of dismantling the station got underway. Phone calls to “mission control” delayed our descent and it was not until 14:05 that we set off back to the car. The 7.6km walk took 1 hour and 50 minutes, taken at a leisurely pace despite us being a little behind schedule.
The sun streaming up a wide ride between the trees lit up the vegetation by the track on our descent
We actually made up time by foregoing a stop on the return journey and we met up with Paul’s XYL just off junction 9 of the M6 at 19:45, three and a half hours after setting out and a quarter of an hour ahead of schedule. After transferring Paul’s kit to his car, we said our goodbyes and got under way to our respective homes. I arrived at 20:57 to be greeted with “you’re early”. Well, it seems that at least someone reads our itineraries!
Ettrick Pen GM/SS-074: 60m SSB 12, 80m SSB- 6, 30m CW – 4, 2m SSB – 5
Croft Head GM/SS-100: 60m SSB – 16, 80m SSB – 1, 2m SSB – 4, 70cm SSB – 1
Capel Fell GM/SS-082: 60m SSB – 12, 2m SSB – 8, 2m CW – 1, 70cm SSB – 1
Scaw’d Fell GM/SS-142: 60m SSB – 15, 80m SSB – 3, 40m SSB – 5, 30m CW – 8, 20m CW – 11, 2m SSB – 6, 2m CW – 3, 70cm SSB – 1
Both stations Yaesu FT-817ND, HF power 5W, 2m linear 25W.
Antennas – 80 / 60 / 40m doublet, 30 / 20m inverted vee dipole, 2m 5 el yagi (used for 70cm as well)
Thanks as usual to all who came on to work us on this outing. Despite a ten month break since our last joint activation, it all went to plan and we were slightly early on all four summits. The reliability of 60m was the foundation of Paul’s activations, while I returned to my preference for 2m SSB with HF as an additional string to my bow. I had hoped to get onto HF on all summits, but the cold wind limited operations for both of us on the second day.
As to our next outing, we are looking at a number of GM summits a little further north and this will be planned for late February. We will then probably spend a few Saturdays on some of the larger summits in Wales airing our alternative callsigns in preparation for activating the Ben sometime in May.
73, Gerald G4OIG