White Coomb, Cairnmore of Carsphairn and Shalloch on Minnoch.
25th to 27th February 2018
Four to six months for bypass surgery the Cardiac Consultant advised in early August 2017. Undertaking an outing in early October was therefore comfortably outside of that timescale. After successful activations on Penvalla GM/SS-145, Hart Fell GM/SS-037 and Broad Law GM/SS-029, a further outing was planned for late December 2017. This timing sat firmly within the window for surgery, so it was likely we would be cancelling, but we proceeded to plan the outing. In the event Blackcraig Hill GM/SS-070 and Windy Standard GM/SS-071 were wiped off the Uniques slate, though one day was lost to snowy conditions.
Our next target would be our “birthday” outing in late February 2018. Since this outing would be somewhat beyond the six months schedule for surgery, we decided on a flexi-booking at Ayr Travelodge and proceeded to plan accordingly. Most of the planning had been done in the form of Plan B summits when we prepared the two previous outings, so it was a relatively easy task to agree the itinerary and all we had to do was wait to see whether I would receive the call. It turned out that I didn’t…
Sunday 25th February 2018
The day started with the customary alarm call at 02:20. On this occasion the car was not packed as I had an issue with the locking on the car boot on the Saturday evening and it was touch and go that we would have the use of the boot for the duration of the outing. All I could do was apply copious amounts of WD40 and pray that it would be serviceable (prayer answered!). I loaded my kit into the car and set off for Paul’s QTH at 02:55 with the temperature sitting at minus 2C, though with a thankfully low humidity level de-icing was not an issue.
Roadworks delayed my arrival at Paul’s house until 04:30, but after a welcome cup of coffee, a quick turnaround saw us on our way at 04:48. We had a break for breakfast at Tebay services and fairly light traffic conditions allowed us to reach the parking spot for White Coomb GM/SS-030 at the Grey Mare’s Tail car park at 09:15, some 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Shortly after passing through Moffat, we saw a Goshawk, which was a new one for us, making a change to the regular sighting of a juvenile Goldie. At the car park the temperature had risen to a heady zero C which turned out to be the hottest it got during the entire outing!
Just before leaving the M74 motorway, Paul had taken the opportunity to check SOTAwatch on his mobile and had noted that Andy MM0FMF would be activating Andrewhinney Hill GM/SS-083 just across the valley from our summit, the access point being a few miles east of our parking spot. I therefore decided to give a call on 2m FM to see whether we could set up an S2S. Unfortunately there was no response to the calls I put out as we prepared for our ascent, so I stowed the handheld and we set off up the hill in bright sunshine at 09:35.
On the initially paved section of the path there were plenty of opportunities to take photos of the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall which had ice around it indicating a protracted period of low temperatures.
Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall
We were not alone during the first part of our ascent, with many people walking up past the waterfall to Loch Skeen. However, once we left the main path we were on our own.
View of White Coomb once we left the main track to Loch Skeen
The steep section of the path up Rough Craigs, though provided with stone steps, was largely buried under hard-frozen snow, so we took considerable care. Eventually we reached clearer ground and a while later the summit cairn at 12:07. After taking a couple of photographs we headed for the nearby fence so we could utilise our tarps to give us some shelter from the cold wind which was running at around 20 mph.
The summit of White Coomb
After setting up the station on the fence line, I gave another call out on the handheld, but apart from some activity on a repeater it was all quiet. Starting up on 2m SSB at 12:30, it took 5 minutes to get a response which was from Paddy 2M0IPO. Unfortunately, no-one followed on. I decided to check on the spots, but the internet service was in and out, so it took several attempts to get onto SOTAwatch and I eventually managed to self-spot at 12:50. Don G0RQL was quickly on the frequency with reports easily exchanged, but there were no further calls after that. I decided to move to FM where Andy GM7GDE gave me a call at 13:00. Despite remaining on the mode for over quarter of an hour, I heard no-one else.
My next move was to have another look at SOTAwatch and I saw Andy had been spotted on 30m CW, so I went there to give him a call. Unfortunately he had finished his run of contacts and so at 13:20 I called CQ on my usual frequency of 10.124MHz hoping that he might call me. Manuel EA2DT was first in the log to head a run of 12 contacts in as many minutes around EA, OK, DL, EA8, HB9, I and SM. I called for a while longer and then it was back to 2m FM again on the handheld before moving to 14.064MHz. George N1GB was first into the log at 13:42 which was pleasing. I made 8 contacts on the band, 4 of which were with the USA, Rich N4EX, Pat KI4SVM and Bob AC1Z being the other three. I concluded operations with yet another visit to 2m FM where I worked Derek 2E0MIX and Reg 2E0LDF.
Paul started off by checking SOTAwatch for Andy as he hoped to secure a Complete. Andy was spotted on 7.178 ssb, but when Paul checked that frequency was no longer to be heard there. It turned out Paul was fractionally too late and Andy had just QSY’d to the CW end of the band. Indeed it was perhaps a matter of no more than a minute. Paul tuned up on 60m and was quickly enjoying a run of 21 contacts around G, GW and GI headed by Frank G3RMD who confirmed Andy was now on 40m CW. A move to 80m at 13:12 following a self-spot brought another 11 contacts with decent signals from G and GM. Another 12 contacts were made on 40m assisted by a self spot, the long skip providing contacts with G, PA, ON, DL, HB9, OZ and SM. Paul concluded his activation around 14:05 after a number of CQ calls went unanswered and came across to see how I was getting on.
My set up on White Coomb - sat on 15cm of iced snow
We set off back down the hill at 14:36, again taking the steep section very carefully. The use of poles certainly was essential on this section and indeed throughout the entire outing as walking on frozen snow was required on each hill. It took us several years to get used to using poles, but now they are firmly a part of our equipment.
Paul negotiates the steep section of Rough Craigs; Loch Skeen in the background partly frozen
Frozen banks of the stream at the head of the Grey Mare’s Tail
We reached the car at 16:10 a little behind schedule, but that did not matter. After resetting the satnav for the journey, I realised the itinerary was set for Abington some 46 miles distant, whereas we were going to Ayr which was 75 miles away. As it turned out, the extra mileage didn’t cost us too much more time and despite a stop for fuel, we reached our accommodation at 18:14.
After checking in, a brew and a shower, we met up at 19:30 and walked to Frankie and Bennies next to the Travelodge. Over beers and some excellent spaghetti and meatballs, we discussed the day and the details of the next hill. A short journey of 24 miles out to the parking spot would afford us a relative lie in – we would meet at the car at 07:10.
Monday 26th February 2018
The alarm was set for 06:30, but I awoke at 06:00 – old habits die hard. When we activated many of the Lakes summits we were ascending hills by 07:00. With just one summit to activate, this would be a relatively relaxed day, or at least we hoped. It was minus 1.5C when we set off and it remained so until we reached the parking spot for Cairnsmore of Carsphairn GM/SS-038, which is near Bridge-end on the A713. I shoehorned the car onto the verge and we set off up the hill at 08:15.
The first two and half miles of the walk is on a farm track. What it doesn’t say on the information board for the route is that a section of this is covered by a deep layer of mud mixed with cow excrement, which on the ascent was thankfully frozen reasonably solid. The path after the track ran alongside a stone wall which continued right up to the summit. Again we were walking across frozen snow in some areas, so had to take care. The summit was reached at 11:00 where we found a local private internet installation that had suffered wind damage. Standing up in the cold blast that was coming in from the north-east, we could understand the reason for its demise.
Galloway hills to the west seen from the route up Cairnsmore of Carsphairn
Looking up the ascent route
Cairnsmore summit with the damaged private internet installation
We chose to operate alongside the wall, but it was necessary to dig some snow out to get out of the wind – not easy without a shovel. This look some time and we were not operational until around 11:35. I managed to self-spot which brought Geoff G6MZX onto the frequency and a short while after Paddy 2M0IPO called me, followed by Derek 2E0MIX. I then heard Mike GW0DSP and Don G0NES call me, but they were not hearing me for some reason. Somewhat more persistent was Steve MM0XPZ who stayed on frequency until I had changed the beam to vertical polarisation to make the contact at 12:11. Further calls solicited no response, so I moved to FM as I knew Neil 2M0NCM/P would be looking for me. My first call received a response and a fifth contact was in the log to be followed by another with Jack GM4COX. After a chat with Jack, I noted the time had moved on to 12:45. I was starting to shiver and it looking across I could see that Paul was packing up. Unfortunately 2m had been hard work on this occasion, so I decided to call it a day and give HF a miss which was a disappointment. Standing up to dismantle the antenna however confirmed my decision – my thermometer was reading minus 4C and the wind was now gusting up to 30 mph and more.
Paul’s first contact was with David G3RDQ on 60m at 11:42, David placing a spot on SOTAwatch. In all 18 contacts were made on the band around G, GW, GM, GI and EI in around 27 minutes. Moving to 80m at around 12:10, Paul was soon found by Michael EI3GYB, with a spot being placed by Karl M3FEH who made it into the log a couple of QSOs later. The band produced a decent run of 9 contacts around the same areas as 60m. Pedro EA2CKX provided an excellent contact with EA and Esther GI0AZA concluded the activity on the band at 12:25. Paul came up on 40m shortly afterwards, but 7.118 MHz was in use, so he moved up to the nearest clear frequency of 7.124 MHz and called CQ. After five minutes calling without any response, he decided it was time to go QRT rather than possibly extend the stay on the summit by trying a self-spot. Like me he was getting cold.
Snow drifts against the wall on Cairnsmore summit
On the descent we stopped to examine some magnificent ice formations…
…and then there was the dreaded cow patch. This took some time to circumvent as being at a considerably lower altitude it was now less firm. We reached the car and cleaned off our kit before setting off back to Ayr where we had two and a half hours to chill before we went out to meet with Neil 2M0NCM and Cat his XYL. It was around minus 2.5C at 19:00 when we set out for the Minishant Inn a few miles to the south of Ayr where we enjoyed an excellent meal – venue: highly recommended! The temperature had dropped to minus 4C when we left the restaurant some time later.
Tuesday 27th February 2018
We set out from Ayr at 06:55 slightly earlier than planned and arrived at the parking spot for the summit of Shalloch on Minnoch GM/SS-042 to the south of Stinchar Bridge at 0745. At first we were unable to locate a suitable position to park on the verge, but after further investigation and a three point turn on the frosty road, we found it. With a fairly light breeze at just below 400m asl, the minus 2C temperature didn’t feel that cold as we got ready for the ascent. However, we knew that it was forecast to get windier and colder as we ascended, which indeed it did. We soon had both our hats and hoods on to keep the worst of the chilly wind at bay.
It was 08:05 when we set off up the faint path from the parking spot which soon joined a more prominent track from the next passing bay where an old post indicates its start. There was an icy stream to negotiate and in places the track was thoroughly iced up requiring regular detours. The track, shown on the OS map, took us over a series of hills until it reached the final ascent to summit plateau. It actually extended further than shown on the map.
Crossing point of the stream where the ice was thick enough to support our weight (photo taken on our descent)
Icy or what?
At the foot of the final climb we were faced with a series of icy snow fields which had a light covering of snow on them. This treacherous combination would have been near impossible to climb had it not been for a series of boot prints in the snow, obviously made when it was soft. The problem was trying to get a firm foothold on each impression since they had been made by someone descending the slope. They were well spaced which required careful attention to the placement of our feet and the use of our poles to take some of the load. Progress was slow and steady.
The snow fields which were steeper than they appear on this photo
We reached the summit shelter at 10:08 and decided that we would utilise it for the activation as there was no other practical alternative. If anyone else was out there on such a day, they would have had to share the shelter with us! I checked the temperature which was minus 4C and the wind was around 30 to 40 mph as had been forecast. Thankfully the shelter provided reasonable respite from the wind and it felt quite comfortable provided that we did not stick our heads above the stonework. We both had difficulty rigging our antennas and I had to keep the beam height to around 2 metres on account of the wind. Even at that height it refused to stay in the direction that I placed it, preferring to beam at Ireland for much of the time.
View to the south east from the summit of Shalloch on Minnoch
View towards Kirriereoch and The Merrick
After a few calls without a response on 2m SSB, I decided to self-spot and once again Paddy 2M0IPO was first into the log. Contacts came slowly with Don G0RQL being followed by Phil G4OBK and Steve MM0XPZ, this time without the need to change to vertical polarisation. Frank G3RMD resorted to CW to call and interspersed by pauses to realign the beam (with appropriate expletives), I managed to complete a QSO with him. Paul kindly offered to pause his activation to hold the beam, but we managed to make it without his assistance.
In the cold wind it took a while to dismantle the 2m set up and erect the HF antenna, but I was determined to get more out of this activation than that the previous day. The RBN spotted me on 30m and Jan OK2PDT called me at 11:44 followed by another six in EA, HB9, DL and OH. The frequency went quiet at 11:58, so I reset the antenna for 20m and called. Alfonso EA4CWN was first into the log followed by Mariusz SP9AMH with strength 7 reports both ways (later to be update to strength 9). A total of 9 contacts were made around EA, SP, 9A, OK, S5, HA, OM and Les K4DY in North Carolina worked me from across the pond.
60m produced its usual excellent fare for Paul with Don G0RQL heading a run of 15 contacts around G, GW, GI and EI. Amazingly, 80m was even better with a huge total of 18 stations worked around G, GM, GW, GI and EI, Karl M3FEH heading the list at 11:33 and placing a spot for Paul. My operation on 30m caused a bit of an issue for Paul since our antennas were quite close and aligned in the same general direction, but he managed to work through this. As per the previous day Paul decided that given the weather conditions 40m would be a band too far, so he started to pack up while I finished off on 20m.
The descent was fairly straightforward, though we had to take great care on the snow fields which had received another layer of fine show while we were operating. We set off at 12:38 and reached the car at 14:33, the time being only 8 minutes less than our ascent time. Conditions on the descent were somewhat less favourable as the wind speed had increased and we were walking into it for much of the time. Thankfully, it was still relatively calm at the parking spot, so we took time to have a soup and a snack before we set off at 15:08.
The return journey was better than we had expected, with heavy snow falling each side of Shap summit in the Lakes, but otherwise the motorway was running reasonably quickly. A stop was made at Lancaster services for coffee where it was minus 2C and at Paul’s QTH at 21:17 it was minus 3.5C. I eventually reached home at 22:58 where the temperature was even lower! All I can say is, roll on Spring!
We would like to express our thanks to everyone that came on to work us and apologies to those that missed out, particularly on account of me not getting onto HF from Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. It now remains to be seen what transpires with regards to my surgery and when I will be able to get back onto the hills. Hopefully it won’t be too long as I still have that target of Ben Nevis GM/WS-001 in the autumn in mind.
73, Gerald G4OIG