The 10th SOTA Trans-Atlantic S2S event
Meall nan Tarmachan GM/CS-015
Saturday 23rd April 2022
For once events transpired in my favour. Family plans resulted in a prolonged stay up at the /A location in Northumberland over Easter and the following week. The holiday period would be taken up by visiting local areas with family and then I had the task of tiling out the kitchen area before I was free to head north into Scotland to carry out an activation. Everything went as planned and the lead up to the Trans-Atlantic S2S event on Saturday 23rd April was very calm and civilised. Even the batteries were charged well in advance.
I totted up the weight of my backpack for this outing and decided just to take my 4 LiFePO4 4.2AH batteries rather than deploy any of my LiPOs for running the IC-703. In the event I had ample capacity and didn’t actually need the fourth battery. As the weather was set fair, I would be carrying my Paramo jacket rather wearing it and this added a little to the total weight, which with food and water came to 14kg or 30.8lbs in old money. To accommodate this I added quite a bit of time to my ascent schedule, less so to the descent since I would probably be wearing my jacket and would have consumed the food and drink. The distance from the car park to the summit would be around 4km.
I set out at 04:30z and the 175 mile (280km) journey went very well with little traffic to impede my progress. I reached the National Trust for Scotland car park for the Ben Lawers range at 07:53z to find plenty of spaces available. Many other walkers arrived as I kitted up ready for my day on the mountain and a number of them set off before me. I took time to pre-hydrate sufficiently and set off up the path at 08:20z, some ten minutes earlier than planned. The sky was clear at this time of day, but I knew that cloud would soon roll in and it might be chilly on the summit. However, the weather turned out to be much better than forecast.
Meall na Tarmachan GM/CS-015 from the start of the walk
View of the Lochan na Lairage reservoir on the ascent
Snow still lying on Ben More GM/SS-001 and Stob Binnein GM/SS-002
Prominent to the south - Ben Vorlich GM/SS-008 and Stuc a’Chroin GM/SS-010
The descent on the ascent… down to the ladder stile
Carrying a reasonable load, I paced my ascent. There was absolutely no need to navigate this one – the path was very clear and after a period without rain it was in excellent condition. From time to time a number of younger walkers passed me with the usual exchange of pleasantries. After reaching an intermediate peak at 923m, there was a descent down to 890m before a climb up a steep gulley. It was on this section that I took time to let a number of groups and individuals pass me… some going up and some making their way back down. I lost some time here. It was 10:27z when I reached the summit cairn, more than an hour earlier than planned.
Summit of Meall nan Tarmachan
Ben Lawers GM/CS-001 across the valley
The Tarmachan Ridge
I spent some time assessing the best place to set up on, It had been forecast for 30mph winds with 40mph gusts, but it seemed somewhat calmer. However, I had to bear in mind that the situation could change rapidly so I was keen to minimise the effect of the strong breeze on both the antenna and my operating position. I suitably flat piece of ground was found just north-east of the summit. What I didn’t check though was the presence of a 4G signal at that position. Accordingly I was handicapped by having to leave my operating position to get a signal on my phone, walking a short distance complete with note pad and pencil in hand!
The set up on the summit
Sandwich style tarp - not pretty, but reasonably effective
After setting up my tarp like a sandwich with the corner pulled up and attached to a walking pole, I put up the 7m pole with the 20 / 17m vertical attached. I was pleased to note an acceptable amount of bend in the pole – during the S2S event last November it had been much worse. Once set up I decided to have my lunch and I did a little tuning around before settling down to operate. 20m seemed reasonably lively, but I couldn’t hear anything other than EU stations, so at 11:27z I called CQ on 14MHz CW running the IC-703 barefoot at 5 watts output. This resulted an immediate response from Kurt HB9AFI, who was then followed by another 9 EU chasers. That was the summit suitably qualified and any concerns that my journey might be wasted duly allayed.
When the frequency went quiet, I got up out of my shelter and took my first look at the spots and noted several Stateside calls. I decided to use the linear running around 50 watts to give me a bit of an edge. Paul N1ZF on Red Spruce Knob W8V/PH-007 was the first DX in my log at 11:46z. There was quite a bit of fading, but we exchanged reports and summit details okay. Pat KI4SVM on Sassafras Mountain W4C/US-001 was next at 11:54z followed by Andy N4LAG on Craggy Dome W4C/CM-007 at 12:06z. I awarded myself three pieces of white chocolate… very naughty for someone with my history!
Another look at the spots got me contacts with Ed DL20SOTA/P, Franz DL8DBN/P and Stavros SV2RUJ/P. I then decided that it was worth a punt on 17m, so I dropped the pole, changed the links on the vertical element and 3 counterpoises and back up it went. Scott KW4JM on Mount Mitchell W4C/CM-001 was heard calling CQ at good strength, so T/A S2S number 4 was quickly in the log. I looked around for others to work, but couldn’t hear anyone, nor indeed were there any new spots for Stateside activations on the band. Calling CQ netted an S2S with Juerg HB9BIN/P followed by a contact with Andy DL6AP/P on a GMA summit, plus a couple of well known EU chasers. There were no calls from any of the Stateside chasers that I usually work in these events.
Back on 20m I worked Michael OK7SE/P on a HEMA summit before chasing another 6 EU summits on CW and SSB, including Roberto IW2OBX/P who was on 15m CW. Calling CQ on 20m and 17m CW netted further EU chasers and calls from those tuning around. When the frequency was quiet once again, I decided to have a proper look at 15m, though the antenna is not intended for use at this frequency. John VE3TV was a good signal on 21.300MHz, so I gave him a call. He came straight back, but I was only 42, so I wasn’t convinced I was missing much there. Thereafter it was 20m CW all the way to work many regular EU chasers, Jany LZ1GJ/P, Colin M1BUU/P and another QSO with Juerg HB9BIN/P (the other had been on 17m). Finally Eric VA2EO on Mont des Trois Lacs VE2/ES-034 brought the total number of T/A S2S contacts to five.
63 QSOs in all, with a couple of potential T/A S2S ruined by QRM from one source or another. I did suffer some deliberate QRM, but used those periods to get up, have a walk around and check the spots. After working Eric at 15:46z, I decided that I had had enough, so went QRT, very much aware that I had another 175 mile, three and half hour journey ahead of me… and I had to get myself off this mountain first. Part of me wanted to stay a while longer to enjoy the stunning views from the summit with even Ben Nevis in view on the horizon.
Ben Nevis GM/WS-001 and other summits in the haze
A view down the path just after I started my descent
After packing away, taking some photographs and messaging the XYL, I set off down the path at 16:23z having spent just short of six hours on the summit. The descent was straightforward, with the steep gulley proving no problem with the aid of my walking poles. I reached the car at 17:53z and after stowing the kit and changing my footwear, I had some food and drink before setting off south. The return journey took 3 hours 25 minutes on account of some slow traffic and I reached home at 21:40z.
The excellent weather, the enjoyable walk, the stunning views and success on the radio all combined to make this one of the most enjoyable activations that I have carried out in a long time. November seems to be a long time, but I am sure that it will be worth the wait.
Many thanks to everyone that I worked, indeed to everyone that turned out for this event. As I have said on many occasions, the event organises itself. All I do is prompt activators and chasers to put dates into diaries… so 5th November 2022 it is then.
73, Gerald G4OIG
operated as GM4OIG/P