Wet weather activations in NW

Three Clwydian Hills and Raw Head
Saturday 6th September 2008

A week of weather forecast watching preceded this activation with good reason. Meteorologically it was now autumn and autumn weather was what we were expecting – it would be a case not of whether we would get wet, but when. By mid-week I wondered whether I would be setting out from Northampton in full waterproofs, but it turned out that as is often the case at home, it was relatively calm and benign when I left at 4.05 a.m. Inevitably the weather worsened as I drove towards Stourbridge, but it had stopped raining when I arrived at 04:20UTC.

After the customary and most welcome cup of coffee, we left Stourbridge at 04:35UTC and made good progress through mixed weather to the parking spot to the south south east of Penycloddiau GW/NW-054 our first summit of the day. Not surprisingly at 06:31UTC we had the car park to ourselves. The weather got a bit personal while we readied ourselves for the ascent, but the waterproofs were donned without getting too wet and we decided to use the waterproof covers on our rucksacks. We started up the well defined path at 06:52 some 13 minutes ahead of schedule. Access to the summit is along a section of the Offa’s Dyke path which here is initially surfaced with stone chippings as the path makes its way along the right hand side of a section of forest. The main hazard was where tree roots cross the path as these have been polished smooth with countless boots passing over them. We therefore took our time. After about half a kilometre the path became exposed as the trees to our left had been felled and we felt the effect of the wind that was blowing. Despite the wind, the visibility worsened the higher we got, though this is a summit where it is virtually impossible to get lost. The path passed through a gate, thereafter being a grassy track right up to the summit. In the mist with visibility down to little more than 50 metres a number of false summits were encountered before we arrived at 07:24 at the low cairn marking the highest point.

As we arrived the weather seemed to get worse, with the wind strengthening and the driving rain thoroughly soaking us. Water was pouring off my waterproofs and I was convinced it would not be long before it got through to the layers beneath. Paul took advantage of a depression to the north of the summit and set up his station there. I decided to sit it out at the cairn with my back to the wind and rain as I would be running 70cms and 23cms and did not want any obstruction. It was not easy to set up at either position, but we were both ready to operate at 07:43. However, this was where our fortunes differed. Paul immediately received a response from Roger G0TRB and went on to work a reasonably steady run of 11 contacts. I called CQ on 432.222MHz for about 20 minutes until a gust of wind took my mast down, plucking a guy peg out the ground. Fortunately I managed to catch the mast before it hit the ground, but it twisted round and the 70cms antenna took a glancing blow on a rock. This severed the connection between the connection socket and the driven element. I therefore had to resort to the careful use of a couple of reusable tie wraps to force an electrical contact. While all this was going on, the cover had partly blown off the rucksack and so when I returned to the rig I found the readout to be beneath a couple of millimetres of water!

After clearing the rig of water, checking the Emley Moor beacon and making a few more CQs, Roger G0TRB eventually found me on 70cms. A couple of minutes after working Roger I heard Frank G3RMD calling on CW, so peaking the beam I gave him a call and we managed to exchange reports. Despite Frank spotting me, it was then back to calling CQ with no results – this was not going well! I was getting wet holding the mast in the wind with water running down my arm inside my waterproof top. I then decided to try a CQ on 433.500MHz FM where I was immediately called by Phil G0CPJ in Freckleton. We QSY’d down 25kHz and while we were exchanging details, I decided to check the 23cms kit and put a carrier out on 1297.500MHz. This resulted in a response from John MW1FGQ calling QRZ, so I quickly asked him to stand by while I finished with Phil. Announcing my move to 23cms FM, I was then called on 70cms by Chris G4UDG in Kidsgrove who indicated he would stand by for me, so qualification on 70cms was thankfully a done deed. I could now relax and I moved to 23cms to work John before returning to pick up Chris. As we were signing Paul came over to see how I was doing and was greeted by a whoop and me raising a fist into the air. Contrary to my hopes I hadn’t worked many chasers, but the summit was qualified.

Returning to 2m SSB, Paul heard several chasers asking where he had gone, so a second phase added a further 5 contacts to his tally. Finishing first I packed up and managed to take some photographs in the mist. We started our descent at 09:06 and met a cyclist making his ascent! Well, it takes all sorts. Further down a family was out for a stroll in the rain and when we got to the car, it was one of four parked up. Despite the slippery conditions underfoot we made good time on our descent and arrived at the car some 5 minutes early which provided us with time to sort out our kit. The weather seemed to be getting better – certainly it was much calmer at the parking spot than on the summit.

Our next summit was Moel Gyw GW/NW-053, which we were intending to ascend from the north west. On arriving at the restaurant car park we debated getting permission to leave the car and eventually decided on a complete change of plan and to make our ascent from the south. Paul had brought the appropriate maps with him and he expertly guided me through the lanes to the parking spot that he had determined on Google Earth. As the tarmac road ran out and just beyond a sign indicating the road beyond was unsuitable for motor vehicles, we parked up on a wide verge. The Offa’s Dyke path crosses at this point, but Paul had worked out a better and more direct route along a grassy farm track, so we decided to take that approach.

We started our ascent at 10:30 which was 25 minutes behind schedule, but made up a few minutes on the evenly graded track to arrive at the summit of Moel Gyw at 11:06 where the wind was still blowing, but the rain seemed to be more vertical. Whether this was a blessing, I’m not sure! After setting up, it initially seemed that our fortunes were about to repeat themselves. Paul was worked on 2m SSB by Barry 2E0PXW who spotted him and then Barry kindly looked for me on 70cms repeating the spot for me. Paul made a steady run of 16 contacts in around half an hour, while on 70cms I was fortunate enough to continue with a contact with Graham G3OHC. Having spoken to Paul, Dave G7SKR came up a band to provide me with a third contact and then Frank G3RMD called in, once again on CW. Mike GW0DSP/P on Hope Mountain followed on using CW. We had arranged to meet Mike on Hope Mountain, so it was good to have an S2S with him beforehand. Roger G0TRB called me on SSB after the contact with Mike, but the rig was damp and refused to change mode. I therefore decided to try a reset by switching it off and on…… well, off yes, on no! I therefore had no option, but to move to 23cms where my initial call raised Andy G1HBE who indicated John MW1FGQ was on frequency. By raising the 15 over 15 to 5 metres and stabilising the mast by standing against it to provide additional support in the strong wind, I managed to make the contact with John, so two QSOs were in the bag on 23cms.

I had over-run, so I packed up quickly, managing to lose the whip to the C710 which I found I had already packed away in my haste. More haste, less speed! Anyway, we were ready for the off at 12:20, still with a 20 minute deficit, but at least the weather was slowly improving. The visibility had greatly improved and we were able to get some idea of what this area of Wales is like. Back at the car we decided to delay lunch in an effort to get to Hope Mountain GW/NW-062 in reasonable time – at least we knew Mike would be providing us with a welcome brew. We parked up at the end of the tarmac road up to the transmitters at 13:20, just 5 minutes adrift and made our ascent to where Mike was waiting. After a bit of chat we set up our stations while Mike got the drinks underway. The weather was now quite reasonable and our activations started on schedule at 13:40. Paul was once again quickly away on 2m SSB to chalk up a run of 21 contacts in around an hour, including one up into Scotland. Frank G3RMD was first in the log. On 70cms I experienced another slow start before I was called by Frank, initially on CW, but we moved to SSB as signals were much better on this summit. Mike G4BLH then called me from his home and we made a successful if somewhat difficult contact. After a few minutes calling CQ, Andy G1HBE called in. I then had a rare 70cms SSB contact with Graham G4JZF, this being followed by one with Barry 2E0PXW/M en route to Raw Head, our next destination. Graham G3OHC at a respectable 56 followed the contact with Barry. Before saying our goodbyes to Mike and leaving the summit we both made a 2m FM contact with Barry using our handhelds following his arrival at Raw Head.

Lunch was eventually eaten at 15:05 when we got back at the car and we then set off for Raw Head G/SP-016 where we met Barry at 15:45. It was now comparatively pleasant, though dark clouds flitted by reminding us that we might still yet get wet. Together with Barry and his young son we walked around to where Barry indicated was the best operating position and we set up using the fence to support our masts. Paul made 18 contacts in 47 minutes, this time headed by John M0JDK and again working up into GM. He finished off at 17:26 by making a 2m FM contact with Barry on his way home. On 70cms SSB I was called by Mike G4BLH/P who had made a half hour journey up to a site just to try to contact me on 23cms. I suggested we try 23cms without delay and as I was setting up, Graham G3OHC called in on 70cms and we exchanged reports. Since Mike’s signals were very strong on 70cms, I decided to try holding the 15 over 15 above my head rather than taking time to mount it on the mast and we were soon in contact. The weather worsened at Mike’s end and he had to retreat into his car, but we were still able to continue the contact despite the fact that the C710 only puts out 280mW. Returning to 70cms SSB, contacts were made with Dave G0AOD, Frank G3RMD and Tom M1EYP. I called CQ for quite awhilke thereafter, but with there being no further calls, I moved to FM and had an enjoyable QSO with Martin G0HRZ operating from his houseboat on the Macclesfield Canal near Nantwich. Steve GW7AAV concluded the activation with massive signals on 70cms FM – unfortunately the battery on his 23cms handheld was dead, so we were not able to make a contact on that band.

This was a day when things got better as time progressed. However, despite the weather, the summit of the day for me was Penycloddiau because it took so much effort to qualify it - an unusual position for me to be in, but there it is. Frank said that he was amazed that I was trying to qualify the summits using only 70cms and 23cms, but I knew really that I could have chickened out and used 2m had I been in difficulty – personally I would have regarded that as a failure.

Many thanks to those that spotted us – G0TRB, G4JZF, G3RMD and 2E0PXW. It was a pleasure to meet Mike and Barry on the hills and it made a change to working them in their shacks. As for the next joint activation, look a little further north at the end of the month. I might even take a risk and use just 70cms and 23cms again…….

73, Gerald G4OIG