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Winter bonus trip to Brecon Beacons

Some reports from Martyn and my trip to the Brecon Beacons at the end of the winter bonus period: given the high winds that dominated the whole week, combined with periods of rain and occasional hail or snow we would probably have done better a couple of weeks earlier.

The high winds restricted most of our activations to VHF only, only being able to get the HF antenna in the air twice. We also ended up with some activations where we both worked the same 4 contacts each and then closed down, which is disappointing and not our normal style, but conditions were against us. There are no photos for a couple of the activations as it wasn’t fit to get phone or camera out.

Friday 8th March 2019 GW-041 Black Mountain

We did this activation on our way to the holiday cottage at Talgarth that was our base for the week. The weather forecast wasn’t good but suggested that there would be a break in the rain around the time we were due to arrive. There was no sign of any imminent break in the rain and wind as we parked up below Hay Bluff, and we struggled to open the car door. These were not the conditions Caroline had hoped for on what was to be her 2*MG activation. In the hope it would improve we headed up Hay Bluff in full waterproof mode fighting against the wind. Passing the trig point with dragons we carried on along the ridge until we were over the 700m contour on Black Mountain. The true summit is indistinct and recent surveying suggests the highest point may be 350m north of the previous survey point, so we just made sure we were above 700m and probably not far from the latest idea on highest point. There was no way we could get an HF antenna up and there was no shelter, so we just stood with backs to the wind on the Welsh side of the path and did a VHF activation using the rucksack antenna and handheld. 20 minutes later with 6 contacts each there were no more callers, so we returned. We didn’t manage any photos of the activation as it was too nasty to get either camera or phone out. As we returned the rain eased and the visibility improved enough that we could get vague views from Hay Bluff.


Wind blown puddle around Hay Bluff trig

Saturday 9th March 2019 GW/SW-004 Waun Rydd

The forecast was for a mostly dry day but with high winds. Our original plan was to do Mynydd Troed and Mynydd Llangorse but we weren’t early enough to get one of the limited parking spaces at the col between the two hills. Plan B was Waun Rydd and Tor y Foel from the Talybont Reservoir, so we parked by the side of the road overlooking the overflow, which was passing quite a lot of water. We had hoped to take a track going uphill opposite the reservoirs, but it was marked as no public access, so we headed south on the road to pick up a public bridleway heading back north. Initially very muddy it improved, and we made our way to a pleasant sunken track which led to the access area. It was a lovely day when we started, and we were soon overheating but once out of the valley we were exposed to the cold wind. Unlike yesterday there was no rain but it was only slightly less windy, so it was hard work.

We vaguely considered activating from Carn Pica which at 750m is well within the activation area but carried on to the true summit. It was too windy at the summit and not much better a little way down the less windy side of the hill. With extra clothing applied we tried a VHF only activation getting 9 contacts each with a highlight of a S2S with fellow Cambridgeshire activator Neil G4HUN on Bredon Hill – this would turn out to be the only S2S of the entire week. We returned the same way but had unfortunately left the large activation area before we heard Tom M1EYP calling from The Wrekin but we at least got to chase him. It was almost 6 by the time we got back to the car, so we didn’t have time to do Tor y Foel.


Tor y Foel & Talybont Reservoir on ascent Waun Rydd


2m Antenna struggling in the wind

Sunday 10th March 2019 GW/SW-014 Mynydd Carn-y-cefn and GW-SW-012 Coity Mountsin

This was a day when we earned our winter bonus. The forecast high winds with heavy showers encouraged us onto slightly lower hills, so we went for the two winter bonus hills at the heads of the valleys.

Our drive to our first target of Mynydd Carn-y-cefn was less than ideal as the closure of the Heads of the Valleys road forced us onto congested single-track roads between Gilwern and Brynmawr. We left Nantyglo in full waterproof mode and were soon treated to wind-blown hail as we crossed the golf course but as we ascended the hail subsided, but the wind remained strong and gusty. It was hard to stand at the summit but there were now good views all round. Unfortunately, there was no shelter, so we ended up sticking the rucksack antenna in the hole in the trig point and huddling up against it. The wind ruled out HF and VHF was slow going and it took us half an hour of being exposed to the impressive wind chill to get 4 contacts each. A fifth soon followed but there were no more so we packed up, thankful that it had remained dry at the summit. On the way down we found some shelter in a disused quarry to eat lunch but that was interrupted by more hail.


Mynydd Carn-y-cefn

We drove to Blaenavon and parked near Big Pit on rough ground around the back of a barrier around SO240986: when we visited Big Pit later in the week, we noticed that there is signed “walker’s parking” just before the pay and display parking for Big Pit itself. It was dry as we set off up Coity Mountain, but hail returned before we had got far and the wind got the better of Martyn’s rucksack cover which looks to be at end of life since the elastic and cord has frayed and broken. The weather got worse as we ascended steeply by a quarry and by the time we were well in the activation area we were in near white out horizontal snow. The only sane option was a hit and run VHF activation with handheld and rucksack antenna. Thankfully we got our 4 contacts each in under 10 minutes. On the descent the weather cleared briefly to give some views but the snow returned just as we got back to the car.


Descending Coity Mountain after snow


Looking back at ascent route by quarry on descent

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Hi Caroline,

Congrats on the 2xMG. An excellent achievement! Sorry you had the sort of weather normally reserved for Gerald and myself and glad you managed to qualify the hills you tackled despite the conditions.

Looking forward to working Martyn and yourself again soon

73 de Paul G4MD

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Monday 11th March 2019 GW/SW-001 Pen y Fan and GW/SW-005 Fan Fawr

The forecast was for the best weather of the week with slightly lower winds and no rain during daylight hours, so it looked like the only possible day to do the Pen y Fan and Fan Fawr pair. It didn’t quite work out like that and ended up as a day of two contrasting halves.

Starting from the busy Pont ar Daf parking, it was a lovely day as we took the tourist trail up Pen y Fan with blue sky, fluffy clouds and the hills topped with scattered snow from yesterday. The summit was busy, and we never noticed the summit cairn free enough of people to photograph it. There was a cold wind at the summit, but we found a relatively calm spot on the east side where we could guy the 2m dipole for VHF (10 contacts for Caroline and 11 for Martyn) with Caroline also managing 4 UHF contacts using handheld and whip.


Corn Du & Pen y Fan


Towards Cribyn & Fan y Big


Corn Du from Pen y Fan


VHF station (UHF was handheld & whip)

As we descended towards Storey Arms we spotted some threatening looking clouds to the south and there were a few spots of rain as we ascended Fan Fawr. As we approached the summit cairn it turned to serious rain and then hail. A quick cover up and we dropped down slightly from the summit and resorted to a joint VHF activation using FT-817 and rucksack antenna. Half an hour later we had 7 contacts each. The rain continued as we descended finally easing as we got back to the car rather wet.


A brief break in the rain: looking cheerful as hill already qualified!

Tuesday 12th March 2019 GW/SW-011 Sugar Loaf

We made the best of a not very good day. It started with heavy rain which was forecast to last until mid-afternoon. We didn’t fancy fighting high winds and heavy rain, so started the day by visiting the interesting Big Pit Mining Museum in Blaenavon and doing the underground tour. By the time we returned to the surface the sun was out earlier than predicted so after a quick look round some of the other displays we headed off to try to fit in a hill.

We went to the car park between Sugar Loaf and Bryn Arw and calculated that we should just have time for the winter bonus points available on Sugar Loaf. We were ascending from the less windy side of the hill, and although it was still windy with occasional slight blustery rain/hail showers we made good speed not hitting difficult winds until at the summit by the trig point. We dropped slightly on the NE side of the hill to get reasonable relief from the wind. We had about half an hour so did a VHF rucksack antenna and FT-817 activation getting 5 contacts each in about 20 minutes, but another 5 minutes calling produced no more. A rapid walk and we were back at the car 2 hours and 20 minutes after leaving and still with some daylight.


Operating position sheltering from the wind


Evening light over Ysgyryd Fawr on descent

More reports to come later.

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Well done on the activations, especially in such trying weather conditions!

Is the Ruck Sack antenna a VK2ZOI Endfed Dipole? Often referred to as a Flower Pot Antenna??

73

Matt G8XYJ

Hi Caroline and Martyn

First of all Caroline, congratulations on your Mountain Goat x2 which is a tremendous achievement especially braving some rotten weather conditions in South Wales to get it. Perhaps a different title to your post would have attracted a little more attention as the achievement is hidden in your report.

I’m sorry that I don’t appear in either of your logs for those South Wales summits that you activated but I just couldn’t hear you…it was not for the fact that I’d didn’t try but G/WB and these G/SW summits are difficult on VHF even with my beam unless someone is using a high gain antenna and a little extra power.

Thank you for the report and pics of the summits that I know only too well and I hope next time I’ll be in a position to make your log and even get a few s2s again.

73 Allan GW4VPX

Some really nice pictures here.

It’s an end-fed halfwave bought from SOTABeams many years ago. Unfortunately they don’t make them any more, since mine has seen a fair bit of wear and tear and had various repairs, so I might end up trying to make my own replacement at some point.

Thanks: I guess I was disappointed that it wasn’t an inspiring activation!

On the ascent of one summit (I think Waun Rydd) when I think you were on MW summits, I thought I briefly heard you on the calling channel, but nothing more - if it was you I guess it was probably something like aircraft reflection since it was short lived.

All our future SOTA trips this year are in Scotland, so S2S opportunities may be limited to HF!

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One of the benefits of risking “interesting” weather is that it can produce good views, though keeping the camera steady in the wind was a challenge!

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Wednesday 13th March 2019 GW/SW-010 Craig y Llyn and GW/SW-013 Tor y Foel

It was raining we got up was the forecast was for it to clear but with more rain due late afternoon to early evening. Given the forecast high winds, due to ease by mid-afternoon, our first target was Craig y Llyn which is unusual for the higher South Wales summits in being wooded. The rain continued as we drove to the parking at the viewpoint on the A4061 thankfully stopping by the time that we got there, but it was still windy. We loaded up and braved the exposed section by the side of the road eventually getting some relief as we got to the trees

We located the trig point which is in a bit of a clearing in the trees. The trees provided enough shelter from the high winds so we could try HF, which was a good thing because Caroline only managed 3 contacts on VHF – perhaps the trees attenuating signals too much. HF wasn’t much better as the ionosphere didn’t seem good. Martyn only managed one 5Mhz contact but 80m came to the rescue with 7 contacts one of which Caroline grabbed to qualify the hill. Caroline’s attempt at 40m yielded just 3 contacts.


HF on Craig y Llyn

VHF and trig point on Craig y Llyn

Having suffered a minor diversion on our way to Craig y Llyn, our route to Tor y Foel was considerably lengthened by yet more closures around the Heads of the Valleys Road. We used the same parking by the Talybont Reservoir as we had for Waun Rydd. Our route took us across the dam and zigzagged up through woods to the access area. The forecast was for the wind to have eased by mid-afternoon, but it was still strong making the ascent of the open hill hard work. There is no shelter on the summit, and the various delays meant we were short of time so HF was out. We dropped down slightly to get some relief from the wind but the VHF antenna still had to be lower than ideal to prevent it breaking. It was hard going taking 25 minutes to get the necessary 4 contacts, and we were beginning to fear this would be a failure as we didn’t want to return in the dark. The light was fading and the rain was just starting as we headed across the dam and back to the car, so good timing.


Ascending Tor y Foel

Tor y Foel towards Sugar Loaf

Tor y Foel limited station

Thursday 14th March 2019 GW/SW-009 Mynydd Troed and GW/SW-015 Mynydd Llangorse

The forecast was again for early rain and high winds with the rain easing by 10ish and the winds due to drop mid-afternoon. The wind turned out to be the main characteristic of the day, and at times was the worst of the week. Our targets were the two closest hills to our base.

We arrived at our starting point of the col between Mynydd Troed and Mynydd Llangorse as the rain was turning to showers. Unlike our earlier attempt we had the small parking area to ourselves. Togged up in waterproofs we were soon overheating as we toiled upwards and against the wind and the sun appeared. It became almost impossible to stand or make progress on the main path up Mynydd Troed so we headed right on rough ground to get some relief but were exposed to the full force of the wind at the summit. The only shelter were some hollows near the trig point, so we huddled down in one of them and put the 2m rucksack antenna as high as we dared. Contacts were slow to come and we feared a failure but after about half an hour we had 4 each and were able to descend, and this time could manage to negotiate the more sheltered of the main paths.


Ascending Mynydd Troed

Mynydd Troed

Sheltering in a dip on Mynydd Troed

After lunch in the comfort of the car we braved the wind to ascend Mynydd Llangorse. We hoped the wind would ease as forecast as we expected to need HF on this lower hill. It was still too windy at the true summit of this flattish hill which offers little natural shelter. However, dropping down about 6 vertical metres there was enough reduction in wind that we could get HF up. We needed it too as Caroline only got 2 contacts on 2m. Thankfully the ionosphere seemed in better shape than yesterday with Martyn getting 13 contacts on 60m followed by a bumper crop of 29 across 40m and 80m for Caroline. This seems to be a good hill for HF for me since on a previous occasion in 2012 I managed 91 QSOs here, which is probably my best ever summit QSO count.


Mynydd Llangorse

We finished off the day with fish and chips from the shop in Talgarth – enormous pieces of cod!

One more report to come.

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Love the reports and pictures Caroline & Martyn. The Brecon Beacons is a fantastic area for SOTA, and over the years I’ve enjoyed some wonderful trips there with Jimmy & Liam - from when they were little lads, through teenage years and into adulthood! We’ve done camping, youth hosteling, holiday cottage and B&B in the area, and always had a lot of fun.

Any region in GW is tough to complete as they are all regions with lots of summits. But GW/SW has probably the best accessibility and, overall, the easiest walking underfoot. Despite it being the moist distant GW SOTA region for me, it’s still the only one I’ve completed as an activator!

Thanks for bringing back some great memories Caroline, and well done on getting to the “Rooster & Peanut” (2 x Goat).

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Friday 15th March 2019 G/WB-002 Brown Clee Hill

Our final summit of the expedition wasn’t in the Brecon Beacons but on the way between South Wales and a visit to Blackpool. The single-track road where there is roadside parking for Brown Clee Hill was busier than usual as it was being used as a diversion route for a closed wider road, but we were able to get into one of the roadside parking spaces around SO610870.

We set off up the hill intending to use permitted paths through the woods, which was fine to begin with, but then ended at a fence for a new plantation. We eventually found our way through to the public footpath which leads through more pleasant woodland, which gave some shelter from the wind. Emerging from the tree to views of the ruined remains of a stone crushing factory the wind became more noticeable. After an abortive shortcut to avoid walking up the transmitter station road we followed the road round past lakes in the remains of old quarries and up to the toposcope where the wind made it hard to stand. There were cloudy views, but we needed to find somewhere more sheltered to operate and found a dip where we could shelter while guying the rucksack antenna to be above the ridge of the hill and reasonably clear of obstructions. We were restricted to 2m only with 15 contacts for Caroline and 12 for Martyn. With lunch eaten we retraced our steps avoiding the futile attempted shortcut and by following the public footpath for longer found a better way down through the trees.


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We still have quite a lot of the GW/SW one-pointers to do: we need to visit outside winter bonus time to avoid the temptation to only do higher hills.

Love the “Rooster & Peanut” image. It’s taken me slightly longer to get the second 1000 then the first, but that’s partly because we’ve been prioritizing uniques and completes over points. However this trip was more about points, and I think is probably the first week SOTA trip where we’ve not done any uniques.

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Many congrats Caroline on your double Mountain Goat and my apologies for the weather you got on our local hills. I am very impressed by the number of successful ascents you made despite the horrible weather conditions. You are obviously more prepared and determined that we are! We, also, found that the weather was not very helpful on the first weekend when we had arranged to go up to Settle for a few days. Dreams of Ingleborough, Pen y Ghent - or even Sharp Haw (!) went away as the wind howled on Saturday (9 March) and then the forecast snow arrived on Sunday. The rest of our walking group went home but we, like you, thought that Monday looked the best possible option but were somewhat daunted by the lying snow (not good for my eyes and I have to wear very strong glasses or goggles) on the roads as welll as the hills. We therefore went for softer options and aimed for Pendle Hill, G/SP-005, which was shining brightly in the sunshine when it came into view. I was rather daunted by the amount of snow and the very cold wind but knew the path was good so agreed to give it a try.


What we didn’t know was that a new shelter had been built in the wall last year, apparently, and I was very grateful for the protection from the biting wind - and the seat!!! However contacts were very slow and I had to wait for some time to qualify on 70cm (and I had been expecting a pile-up!) I think I had chosen shelter rather than good take-off and was paying the price.
Descending was into the wind and a bit icy at the top and I warmed up a bit on the walk out. Then we aimed for Fair Snape Fell, G/SP-007, where the snow had been almost completely blown off and M0JLA enjoyed the downhill slope from Parlick Fell (I like the cheese but no sign of the sheep this time) until he realised
that he had to regain the height and then follow the wall for quite a long time. He went and hid in the peat bogs but I needed take-off for 2m and remembered the the trig point and shelter (but has it been improved?) which was worth the extra distance. .

Was there time for a third one as we were looking over at Longridge Fell, G/SP-014?? We zoomed round, parked by the end of the footpath and followed the wall (no route finding challenges here) and the bogs were as bad as we’d remembered but the wind had gone down so I could operate from the trig and the calls piled in on both 2m and 70cm. I was having a good time until Rodney pointed out that it was beginning to get gloomy and that 1800 was rather late to be activating in mid March with a rather tricky wet path back to the car. A quick photo,

pack away and fast march got us back to the car with the headtorches still in the rucksack pocket - just! It was fish and chips in Settle and then pack as the rain/snow was due back on Tuesday and we had a long drive home. Our hopes of picking up another winter bonus or two on Wednesday or Thursday were dashed by the weather conditions - but they didn’t stop you two as you went up Craig y Llyn and Tor y Foel (by the long route over the dam and up and up - I must admit that we usually drive up but Rod has had to practice his backing skills when meeting a tractor or delivery van) on the Wednesday and then Troed and Llangorse on Thursday, followed by Brown Clee on Friday. You certainly harvested a lot of well deserved Winter Bonus points and Caroline has sailed past the 2000 and is now on 2075. Well done. We look forward to some s2s when you come and knock off the SW 1 pointers - especially as I haven’t chased all of them yet (and I only chase from summits) but i don’t expect to be able to keep up with you both!
73 Viki M6BWA

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We discovered and used the nice new shelter on Pendle when we were up there at the New Year, it was cold but rather less snowy on the 2nd January. It looks like I worked you S2S on that occasion, and I did reasonably well on 2m, but no 70cms contacts.

We also did Fair Snape around the New Year, and it looks like my antenna position wasn’t far from yours.

Although it was extremely windy in the Brecon Beacons, the weather was probably better there than further north: we kept looking at the forecasts and often thinking it would have been worst if we had chosen to do North Wales instead. We were also fortunate that the majority of the precipitation fell at night, though stll enough in the day for us to get seriously wet a couple of times.

My main regret was that I only managed 70cms contacts on one summit. As far as chasing goes I now almost only chase on the hills: we’re too far from hills for VHF/UHF chasing, and the HF noise levels at home are now so high it’s rare for us to hear anyone. We only got 6 chaser points over the week, compared to 82 activator.

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That Pendle hill shelter certainly did look rather new when you used it - and when you spoke to me on Glyder Fawr. I’d forgotten that S2S - but it wasn’t a ‘shelter 2 shelter’ as we didn’t find one on NW-003, just lots of fascinating rock formations gleaming with frost and no snow (thank goodness). It’s probably not surprising that we activated from very similar positions on the hills as we need the take-off (which is why I didn’t join M0JLA behind his peat hag) and we are sensible enough to take some shelter if offered. I’m sorry that 70cm was so poor in SW but i find that rain/mist doesn’t help 70cm propagation - nor my willingness to hang around and try and get 4 70cm contacts! In good weather I usually manage to qualify them all on 70cm except for M LLangorse which can even be a struggle on 2m but we have now found a spot facing M Troed with some take-off which usually works eventually. I have spent what seems like many weeks near the trig point trying for 2m/70cm contacts and I’m not sure that I’ve ever got 4 from there without the help of S2S. I’m very impressed with your SSB contacts from M Llangorse but I don’t want to carry a heavier radio than the VX7 - nor cope with anything more complicated. However the VX7 is very badly affected by masts, especially on Brown Clee, and I hide between the ramparts and usually get more contacts on 70cm than on 2m. I have got a 2m filter (made by M0JLA) which I use when essential (Cyrn y Brain) but it does take the power down. I find that the popularity of the 70cm band varies widely round the country with some areas using it for local nets and quite happy to QSY there while others think it doesn’t work and no one will answer - because they haven’t tried it. Also when aerials are blown down it always seems to be the 70cm mast that they haven’t quite bothered/got round to reinstating but I’m spreading the message… I’m still reeling from the fact that you gained 82 activator points during a week of foul weather and I think it is quite possible/highly likely that you got few S2S because the other activators (like us) stayed indoors!! Keep up the good work.
73 Viki M6BWA

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Thanks for the excellent reports, with very useful information when I venture out of the Lake District at some point (Arran is booked for July, can’t wait!)
Mark. M0NOM