Oscar Wilde once said: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone”. How right he was, because despite having a recent birthday and thus gaining age I certainly didn’t gain any wisdom, at least not if yesterdays’ performance is analyzed. The day started well, once again myself and the other Victor had decided to do a couple of activations in The Sperrins and planned to leave at 08:00 and amazingly that goal was achieved. On reflection that was probably the highlight of the day!
We had a drive of an hour and a half to Slieve Gallion with a reasonable forecast for the day ahead and so far the weather was fine, but that scenario was short lived. Had we not been following the sat nav it’s doubtful if we could have found this summit because on arrival at our parking area we were already engulfed in dense low cloud. Being overly optimistic, and fuelled with enthusiasm, we set out for the top assuring each other that it would soon clear – WRONG – if anything it got worse. Eventually we made it to the trig point with visibility less than 50 metres, feeling a bit gloomy and slightly damp, however we soon had both stations QRV but had no GSM signal so couldn’t spot, déjà vu! (Thanks to DL6KVA & GW4ZPL for spotting us.)
On 7 MHz I got off to a steady start and JST was doing well on 2 FM when we had an unwelcome visitor – rain, but thankfully it didn’t like our company and left 15 minutes later. After 40 minutes contacts were getting slower so we decided to go QRT and try to find our way back to the Land Rover. Once again without the GPS I don’t think this would have been possible because, despite staying rigidly to a compass bearing and the GPS track, the Land Rover was only visible when it was about 30 metres away and offline to the right. The activation of GI/SM-007 had taken 2.5 hours in less than favourable conditions but somehow the prospect of activating Carnanelly still held attraction.
It took less than 1 hour to drive to the parking space at Goles forest where we had lunch before setting off. The weather had cleared and the sun was just visible through the mire but soon disappeared without return for the rest of the day. Initially we followed the forest track for about 2.5 Km before getting onto horrendously spongy wet sphagnum moss and blanket bog, oh well the summit is now only 1.5 Km away. This was a challenging slog, steep incline, very wet underfoot and just to add insult to injury the rain returned with a vengeance. On arrival at the summit we desperately searched for cover from the driving rain, which was now interspersed with hail, but this was non-existent so we set about getting QRV as quickly as possible. Thankfully we had GSM, so a spot was posted and the usual pile up ensued on 40. Over on 2 FM Victor was getting a steady stream of replies to his CQ calls. My homebrew key had been misbehaving earlier on SM-004 and was at it again here, I later discovered the contacts were suffering from the damp conditions in the form of corrosion! After enduring 30 minutes of miserable operating, (25 contacts), I decided to call it a day and turned to see how JST was doing. Turn I did, but see I didn’t, because despite setting up about 25 mtrs apart he had merged into the mire and I found him huddled into a ball behind a large clump of turf after finding the fluorescent guy lines for his mast. It would be an understatement to say he didn’t need to be asked twice if we should pack up! The return to the Land Rover was pretty unpleasant until we reached the forest track and got some shelter from the wind and rain and we had just got to the car park when the rain ceased – Murphy’s Law or what! This activation had also taken 2.5 hours.
After finishing off the left-overs from lunch we headed for home, at least that was the intention. It’s amazing how a few sandwiches and a mug of hot tea can re-kindle enthusiasm, (insanity?). Earlier in the day I had mentioned that Benbraddagh (GI/SM-009) was only a short way off route on the way home and as it was now clearing up into a nice evening we decided to give it a go. From 1967 until 1977 The US Navy had a communications station on an 800 acre site near the top of Benbraddagh and because of this there is a road to within 2.5 Km of the summit. When we arrived at the locked gate at the end of this road we were treated to fine views to the North and West, and although it was a bit windy it was dry with the summit clearly visible on a background of light grey cloud. We got kitted up and started towards the top. Twenty-five minutes later we were there, had good phone signal, sent a spot and were QRV by 18:30. As we were setting up the stations, JST passed comment that it was getting a bit windy – nonsense I said – WRONG – it was getting very windy, getting the antennas erected was quite difficult. By now it was virtually dark and despite the howling gale we were once again engulfed in wet, cold cloud. Operating in these conditions was very challenging, I was struggling to hear the side tone from the 817 and, although I had the volume at max, hearing the received CW was far from easy, Victor was getting complaints about the wind noise on his FM audio. Eventually after 20 minutes I had enough and went QRT and JST soon followed suit. I would like to apologise to all the stations that were calling me and didn’t get a contact but I simply could not hear due to the wind noise, I’m sure there was some interesting CW from my end because with only a very weak side tone I was guessing at the characters. With the Garmin guiding us, and head torches sending eerie streaks into the gloom, we picked our way back to the fence and road and left for home at 19:20.
Another 3 first time HF activations yesterday, but with the uselessness of hindsight, we should have been happy with 2 and quit when the going was good. Oh well, good decisions come from experience, however, most experience comes from bad decisions, and doing the third summit was a bad decision (we think)
Until the next time, 73 once again, we are the Victors (GI4ONL & MI0JST)