What if the footprints are wrong?

Friday 8th February 2013, and another opportunity to get some much needed exercise done. I thought “local-ish summit, an hours drive, straightforward walk, done it several times before, winter bonus applied”. I was thinking of course of Black Hill G/SP-002, but most of my other assumptions were wide of the mark.

Three quarters of an hour after setting off from Macclesfield, after a very enjoyable 2m FM natter with Graham GW0HUS, I found myself at the A663 Rochdale Road junction off the M60. I exited the motorway here to have a quick glance at the road atlas, confirming that my exit was a few junctions back. From the junction I was at, I worked my way through Chadderton and Oldham before finding the intended A635 road to Holmfirth.

At the summit of the road was the old Pennine Way route to Black Hill summit. No chance, it’s a nightmare. So onwards, and a little lower in altitude to the usual lay-by - which had six inches of snow over its entire area. As it was flat, and slightly raised from the road, I judged that I could safely park on it. Big mistake! The snow was of course concealing the pot holes in the lay-by, and soon my left wheel was in one and suddenly half submerged in a brown muddy puddle - surrounded by deep snow!

I was stuck and could not escape the trap. It was “swallow your pride time” and I raised my hand to the next passing motorist. He was happy to help, as was a second who pulled over to offer assistance. The three of us rocked the car until we finally had enough play on it to push it right out of the lay-by. I thanked them and went to park on the other lay-by a bit further down and opposite the Wessenden Road. This also had snow and ice on it, but a fair bit of tarmac still showing as well.

By now, due to considering the possibility of calling my breakdown service, I had found out that I had left my mobile at home! Panic set in as I realised I had not brought my camera out of the house when I set off. Panic evaporated when packing my rucksack and finding that the camera was still in it from last time out.

At last, and running a bit late as usual, I set off along the roadside to the Pennine Way gate opposite the originally intended lay-by. The gate could not be opened for there was so much snow either side of it. But at least this made it easy to step over!

There wasn’t much sign of the flagged path, made with the floor stones from former Lancashire mills and factories. The snow covered much of the proper path, and this became the norm for most of the route. There were just two sets of footprints in the snow, suggesting that there had been overnight snowfall, or high winds and drifting.

I was keen to follow these footsteps, especially when the path disappeared under snow, or when a section of the path was so treacherous with ice that a diversion was recommended. I tried to keep particularly to the footprints that had barely pressed into the snow, indicating a strong consolidation underfoot. By and large, this worked, although from time-to-time, the snow would be suddenly penetrated and my leg was in up to my knee!

This ‘ascent’ route to Black Hill summit is downhill to start with, and then steeply downhill to a clough that needs to be crossed. Shortly afterwards, and even deeper and steeper clough needs to be crossed. New signs were in place explaining that the cloughs might be difficult to cross after periods of heavy rain, and pointing out an alternative route that had footbridges.

On both cloughs, heavy drifting had completely obliterated the footpaths on the north banks. For the first one, I was able to edge myself down into the bed of a subsidiary stream, then work down that to the main stream in the clough, while avoiding slabs of ice on the rocks. The south banks were more straightforward - to ascend anyway, but I made a mental note to exercise caution on the return journey.

I could not see a way of safely descending to the stream on the second clough, so I took a long diversion, gradually descending across the snow-filled heather until at the stream - but a good way downstream from the usual crossing. I then needed to work my way beside the stream to that point to resume my route.

A footbridge which is two narrow planks of wood, was completely hidden under snow, as was the pool it crosses. I put all my faith in the footprints in the snow of earlier walkers, and made a safe crossing. The going got slightly easier as the path began to climb and curl right towards the summit, and the first cairn on the edge of the plateau came into view.

I should also mention that it was turning into a beautiful day. The air temperature was about zero degrees Celcius and the wind no more than 10mph. Above was lots of blue sky and bright sunshine. The views all around were glorious.

I enjoyed the walk across the flat plateau to the trig point, even though I did still periodically lose half a leg to the snow! At what appeared to be an intersection of paths (but probably an optical illusion caused by a perpendicular long strip of snow unpenetrated by heather), the temptation was to bear right a little. However, the footprints continued ahead, and so did I.

At one point the footprints suddenly stopped, and the underfoot conditions sharply deteriorated. A glance down to my left showed a very sharp turn in the footprints as an error was realised and whoever it was made a direct hop back to where they considered the correct path to be. And then I was at the trig point - phew!

It had been a much more strenuous walk to Black Hill than usual, but fun and rewarding in its own way. I paused to get my breath back and take some photos, before erecting the SOTA Pole and BHIV four-band linked dipole. Pegs were not need as the kite winders slotted straight into the firm dry snow for a strong hold.

I felt incredibly hungry! Unusually, I had started a SOTA day with two rounds of toast and a bowl of museli. And not brought any soup or food with me! Just my bladder, from which I enjoyed a few refreshing slurps of ice cold water.

Kicking off on 20m CW with the HB1B, 22 contacts were made in 17 minutes. Not a bad start. When this run died down, I closed the first set of links in order to work on 30m CW. This brought 17 QSOs in 14 minutes. Finally, on 40m CW, it was 8 contacts in 6 minutes, bringing up a total for the activation of 47 QSOs.

It was edging towards 3pm and the sun was edging towards the horizon. I decided to leave 80m and get on my way. I did however call on 2m FM prior to leaving the summit, but no replies were received.

The first part of the descent was a joy, with easy underfoot terrain and snow, and superb visibility ahead of me, overlooking a frosty Yorkshire. The first difficulty was the “narrow planks of wood footbridge”, where this time I planted my right foot on snow that did not have a plank beneath it. Suddenly I had a very wet and muddy boot and sock!

The descent down to the first clough was a real chore, with every footstep planted with extreme care down the steep snow-filled path. On the other side, the challenge was greater, but different. This time it was a case of finding a suitable line to scramble up.

The pattern repeated for the next clough, but then it was relatively plain-sailing uphill to the A635, and along to my car. I was absolutely exhausted, and a little dehydrated, as my bladder had frozen! I certainly felt like I had been quicker and fitter than I was on Kinder Scout G/SP-001 eleven days earlier, but there is plenty of improvement yet to be achieved.

I called CQ on 2m FM as I began the drive home, and Karen 2E0XYL came back. We tried to keep the conversation going as I got lower and behind hills. We briefly managed to resume the QSO by going on GB3MP, but this did not last well for me. Nearer home, it was Graham GW0HUS again on 2m simplex.

And then? Shower, beer, curry, wine, bed. G’night all… (Zzzzzzzzzz) Many thanks to all the chasers that worked me - superb stuff.


In reply to M1EYP:
Great story Tom - thanks for sharing it.


In reply to M1EYP:

Well Done Tom on such an unlucky day, your grit and determination made me say " you’re a better man than I am Gunga Din !"

I went up there on Saturday 2nd Feb and there was only the odd Ice pool on the path, but temp was below zero and a wind chill on that day.

Although I had glorious sunshine also, it was bitterly cold on top!

If I had arrived at the park spot to see what you seen yesterday I would have cancelled, just because of "those 2 clough’s and that plank bridge (which was icy when I went over it last week)

Well done again and glad your experience got you back safely



In reply to G1JPV:

Hi Tony,

I was talking to Tom about Black Hill, today.

Dreadful summit, IMHO. Must be one of the worst places for VHF in the country.

Even the 5/8 over 5/8 colinear had its work cut out up there.

Done it twice, doubt there will a third time :frowning:

Thanks for the call today.

73 Mike

In reply to 2E0YYY:

Yeah but you’re into HF and the kite antenna now. Yesterday would have been perfect condx for HF kite activating.

Brilliant to see you today, Saturday 9th Febraury 2013, Mickey, and also brilliant to meet Graham Illing on The Cloud G/SP-015, a veteran of 1549 Marilyns - just 3 on St Kilda Islands, plus the two stacks not summitted in GB Marilyn-land.

Liam and I went for an amble up to Cloud summit to say hello to Mike 2E0YYY after a youth club meeting in Congleton. Sadly, we had missed Mickey’s kite, which was now laying on heather. Another walker seemed to be kitted up for a longer route, and we got chatting. “So are you doing SOTA then?” he said, and hence a more detailed conversation ensued. This most excellent discussion, with Graham Illing of MARHOFN fame, lasted a further 20 minutes as we shared stories from our Marilyn-bagging past.

I was all “starstuck” to meet such a front-runner in Marilyn bagging, and took a photo for my website. Mickey 2E0YYY came across to join the discussion when his activation took a natural break in proceedings.

I unleashed my handheld to call on 70cm FM, but there were no replies. I checked with Mike if he was on 2m, but he said that he was now going to spend some time packing his HF aerials away, and invited me to operate 2m FM from his excellent station of the FT-857 into the 5/8 over 5/8 vertical on the fishing pole.

Naturally, I accepted, and worked 16 QSOs in short order. Liam and I then descended from the summit, which was still shrouded in mist, to the parking spot. Switching the FT-8800 mobile radio on in the car, I heard Saskia M6POE in QSO. I had met 9 year old Saskia at the Nantwich rally, where Mike had told me that she was a fine operator. Listening to her for the first time, I had to agree, and I broke in for a quick chat. As did Mike after he descended from the summit.

It was then onto the mobile phone part of the spectrum, as I organised meeting up with Sean M0GIA and Jimmy M0HGY for a beer or three to celebrate Sean’s 47th birthday today. We convened at the Park Tavern in Macclesfield and enjoyed an afternoon session on ales from the Bollington Brewing Company.

The SOTA fun never ends, and you never know what it will bring next!


Some nice photos from this Cloud activation, and the very snowy Black Hill activation, are now on my website at http://tomread.co.uk

Also added some more photos on the Gun page from activations last week.

Click on SOTA on the left menu.


If the footprints today were wrong, it would have been my own fault. The only human footprints I saw all day were mine - coming the other way!

Monday 11th February 2013 and another chance to build my fitness with a walk. This time I headed west to North East Wales, via some congestion on the M56, arriving at the Ponderosa Cafe on the A542 Horseshoe Pass around 10am.

The opening time of the cafe had been put back two hours while the staff cleared the car park and footpaths of ice. I commenced my walk to the summit of Moel y Gamelin GW/NW-042, and my thoughts quickly turned to the option of abandoning. All the dirt/stone paths were encrusted in a layer of hard ice, and it was, to say the least, treacherous! Progress was extremely slow as a result, as I was very keen to avoid a Pillar-style slide, or a Barber Booth-style knock-out!

Eventually, I managed to work out that the narrow strip of snowy grass, between the main tracks and the abundance of heather, was the best way for me to get some traction and make some forward progress. With an improved rhythm, I topped Moel y Fan and turned left to take the narrower (fading to almost nothing in the heather) path across to the main track. I just wanted to avoid the steep descent on the main drag from Moel y Fan, which I anticipated would be a bit of a death trap!

From the saddle between Moel y Fan and Moel y Gamelin, I made good time in getting to my target summit. It was extremely cold, so I was keen to find some degree of shelter from the wind. It wasn’t particularly strong, but it would have had a significant wind chill factor nonetheless, and the temperature was low enough to start with!

I found a spot on the south side of the summit and set up the 40m dipole here. The Youkits HB1B was sprung into action, and I made a swift 22 QSOs in 11 minutes, before packing away again. There has been a short period of some very light and fine frozen rain. I didn’t really noticed it while operating, but kept the HB1B covered. My coat had clearly taken a bit of moisture, but the effect was most felt on the SOTA Pole. It was absolutely covered in ice, and frozen solid.

The SOTA Beams recommended procedure for dealing with this issue was not currently available to me, so I had to reluctantly place hands on the iced up pole and start to fight and wrestle with it. By taking the pole over to the track, I had a hard surface on which to bang the poles, and I managed to free up the sections. As a bonus, the act of doing this had actually warmed up my hands, quite surprising since they were directly in contact with ice!

The return route commenced, and I was amused to notice lots of grouse footprints in the snow, that hadn’t been there on my ascent. These were the only footprints, other than my own coming in the other direction. This time I did take the direct track up to Moel y Fan, feeling more confident ascending the steep slope.

Soon I was taking my place in the Ponderosa Cafe for my lunch. I got chatting to a road cyclist who was at the halfway point of his ride from Nantwich. I should really try some other stuff at Ponderosa, but as soon as I see that tray-baked steak & kidney pie, which is served with chips, peas, carrots and gravy for £5, I have to have it. It really is a super plate of food. Accompanied by a giant Eccles cake and a bottle of Lucozade, this completed a substantial luncheon.

It was 2.30pm and time to get cracking up to Cyrn-y-Brain GW/NW-043. I climbed over the stile and walked up the snowy grass path to the main track. This track, like all others so far encountered during the day, was very dangerously icy and slippery. I continued to walk along grass where available, and also found areas of deeper snow to be suitable for being able to plant feet more confidently.

Because of wishing to avoid the access track, I for the first time followed the wooden footpath sign which appeared to point to cut the corner just before the track bended sharp right and began to climb. However, what I never knew was that this path in fact does not rejoin the access road partway up that next stretch, but continues in a straight line and joins a rather impressive terrace where a very steep drop lurks to one side for 50 yards or so. I kept my head down while on this section, which ascended gently and was very good going underfoot. Eventually, this looped back and rejoined the access track at its hairpin bend.

I made a careful mental note of this point so I could descent that way later. The uphill road walk remained to the summit, but now the track was not just dangerous with hard ice, sometimes on very steep gradients, but impossible. I looked for any stretches of grass or deeper snow at the sides of the track to walk along, and even had to get in the heather occasionally to avoid the access road, which was just an accident waiting to happen for the walker.

It was a very wintery and lonely scene at the summit. Again, shelter was needed, and I found this just to the right of the locked gate into the transmitter compound. A call of nature beckoned, but I suspected I might need this for practical reasons later, so I left it for now. The 40m dipole went up with little difficulty, and it was radio time again. in 24 minutes operating with the HB1B I made 30 QSOs. The operating from some chasers was rather undisciplined on this one with one station in particular sending his own callsign almost continuously, included when I was transmitting, and when the station I was working was transmitting. Marvellous thing this full break-in - you can hear everything!

Another station repeatedly sent his callsign twice every time I sent a partial. This station didn’t have any degree of match to the partial I sent, but seemed undeterred. I had also asked on air for stations to send their calls once only. The DL and OM stations in particular seemed to be exemplary in their on-air behaviour today.

When packaway time came around, this time there was one join on the fishing pole sections that was completely frozen hard and could not be dislodged. I had saved myself (see earlier) especially for such a situation, and employed the SOTA Beams recommended procedure for being able to finish packing the pole away. It worked a treat!

The descent route was the ascent route in reverse, and again, there were new grouse footprints in evidence that were fresh since I ascended. I reached my car, parked opposite the Ponderosa Cafe, in the twilight around 4.55pm. That had been a good and enjoyable days’ walking.

The HB1B continues to be a joy of a radio to use. The 52 contacts made in just 35 minutes aggregate operating time took the total made on the HB1B and its internal battery pack (not yet recharged) to 259 across six activations. The voltage indicator was still showing 10.8V at the end today, so even more left yet.

The drive home was not too much of a chore thanks to company on the GB3VT repeater courtesy of Mike G7NBE, Richard G3CWI and Roy M6CEQ.


In reply to M1EYP:
Thanks Tom,

Enjoyed reading that. I have never done that one - well not since before SOTA started at least. You didn’t let poor conditions deter you.
All the best, John.