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Winter Fun Evenings

Why should the fun end in the Summer? Well the minor inconvenience of darkness didn’t stop me last winter, whether it be early morning or teatime, so I figured there was no need for me to miss last night’s RSGB 6m activity contest.

Only thing was, I had already activated The Cloud G/SP-015 on the Tuesday morning. But I quite fancied a walk up Shining Tor G/SP-004 anyway. Jimmy M3EYP was all set to join me for an evening out by torchlight, but decided at the last minute that he preferred to stay in and revise for his maths exam.

I was a bit behind schedule when I arrived at the parking spot just before the Cat & Fiddle, at 7.30pm. There was just about enough shreds of daylight left to see me to the summit unilluminated, by 7.50pm. But there wasn’t enough daylight left for setting up, so on went the headtorch.

It was rather tricky getting the 6m delta loop up by torchlight in quickly enveloping darkness, and increasingly strong westerly wind. However, by 8.10pm, I was settled into a dry grassy patch under the wall, warm and comfortable, and QRV.

There was the occasional glimpse of tropo on the 6m band, in other stations’ contacts that I overheard. Generally though, conditions were flat and I worked 16 contacts into G, GW and EI, with the best DX being 305km into IO80.

By 9.10pm, I had made only two contacts in the past 30 minutes, and all the stations still audible on the band I had already worked. CQ calls on 6m FM, 70cm FM and 2m FM were unanswered, ao I set about the painstaking task of very carefully packing away.

After a very careful scan of the area with my torch, I set off on the descent. A little earlier, the sky had cleared to leave a wonderful view of the night sky. It had now clouded over again, and a little light drizzle was falling, so the torch were crucial on the descent. At 10pm, I reached the car, loaded the boot, and decided not to have a swift pint in the Cat & Fiddle.

Despite having alerted on SOTAwatch, and having my own QRG in the contest for a while, no regular chasers appeared, and I found when I returned home that I had not been spotted. I might return to Shining Tor in a couple of weeks for the 2m contest.



1 Like

In reply to M1EYP:

Mike GW0DSP asked me to post the following on his behalf…

Thank you Barry for posting this for me, it is appreciated because I can’t do it myself and feel it important to state the following.

I find that the heading of this thread might be misleading to some, so I would like to make it 100% crystal clear that this thread is nothing whatsoever to do with the SOTA Fun Evenings which are normally announced by myself. The final “official” Fun Evening date is next Tuesday 30th September 2008. The Fun evenings as we know them will return in late spring 2009. The dates can always be found at http://www.summitsbase.org.uk/tiki-index.php?page=Summits+Fun+Evenings

I feel that to encourage Fun evening activity outside of those dates would be very irresponsible and bordering on stupidity with the nights drawing in and winter weather approaching. We must remember that we may have young or inexperienced prospective activators out there. So just to reiterate, the SOTA Fun Evenings as we know them end on Tuesday 30th September 2008. If anybody wishes to encourage fun evening activity after that date, can I suggest that you contact them for details.

Thank you.


OK, fair enough. Just in case anyone is indeed “misled” (hopefully not), “Winter Fun Evenings” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to my own personal habit of using torchlight to activate local summits that I know inside-out. It is not an organised SOTA event.

I have a lot of experience of navigating the hills in the dark, as indeed Barry does, someitmes on his bike. But it is definitely a minority activity!

If you know what you are doing, have good knowledge of the area, are well-prepared and equipped, and can take full responsibility for your own safety, then after-dark (or even before-light) expeditions can be great fun.

I will be having quite a few “Winter Fun Evenings” over the next few months, just as I did last year. But I quite agree that it isn’t an appropriate concept for an organised event. :wink:


In reply to 2E0PXW:

I appreciate Mike’s concern for young or inexperienced activators, winter hillcraft can be a very different affair to summer hillcraft, and the dangers can be a lot greater. However this opens up into an old, old dilemma. Youth is self-correcting, alas, but experience only comes from going out and doing things. In my youth we decided we wanted to sample the hills in winter, we read books by Murray, and later Blackshaw, and we went out and did it. We survived our mistakes (like wearing blue jeans which had NO insulating power when wet!) and learned from them. From this perspective, people today can seem to be wrapped in cottonwool!

I suggest that anyone who has enjoyed some summer activations and wants to sample the joys and hardships of the winter hills has three alternatives.

  1. Read up on the topic, watch films and videos, memorise the basics and go out and do it!

  2. Find a more experienced activator willing to endure your company on the hills and show you the ropes!

  3. Pay for a guide or a winter hillcraft course, learn from the professionals, then go out and do it.

I make no recommendations, different approaches suit different temperaments (and pockets!) but all three approaches work.

To be honest, I am undecided on the concept of a winter fun evening. Some hills lend themselves to activations in the hours of darkness, some most definately do not. The broad easy path to the Stiperstones would go in any conditions, but Tryfan at night is only for those who know the route well by day! Plus, of course, a show of light from a summit is likely to earn you a visit from a disgruntled mountain rescue team, leading to a forced unwanted rescue! I would suggest that unless you have a fair amount of experience, a two point summit should be the limit.


Brian G8ADD

In reply to G8ADD:

This again from Mike GW0DSP…

Thanks for clearing that up Tom, much appreciated.

To Brian

Safety has to be first, middle and last priority, more so as winter approaches. The time for anyone to learn their hill craft has to be in the warmer months, then, having gained some experience, maybe tackle some of the easier summits in the winter months.

You offer some valuable advice Brian, I would mention here that John G4YSS safety article which can be found on the SOTA website is a valuable source of information, even for the more experienced among us.

I thank MT for allowing my 2 posts on this serious issue, through Barry. I will now refrain from doing so again as per my ban. Thank you.


In reply to 2E0PXW:

A useful article on night walking appears in the November issue of Trail. Night walking and night SOTA activations can be a lot of fun but obviously such trips require some slightly different skills to daytime trips. Last winter I did a night ascent of Shining Tor with my daughter (9 years old). This was done with a clear sky and under a full moon. No torches were needed and it was a memorable night for both of us (complete with SOTA activation). There was both snow and ice about.

A few years ago I also did a night HF activation of Gisborough Moor in the snow. I will never forget the torch illuminating the crystals of the snow giving a dazzling twinkling effect. Magic moments.

The hills are very different at night and even familiar places seem strange and new. I know that Jon, GM4ZFZ used to specialise in night ascents. There are some accounts of his adventures at: http://www.gm4zfz.com/ - inspiring stuff.



In reply to G3CWI:

The hills are very different at night and even familiar places seem
strange and new. I know that Jon, GM4ZFZ used to specialise in night
ascents. There are some accounts of his adventures at:
http://www.gm4zfz.com/ - inspiring stuff.

That was/is a great blog Richard. I read alot of it when I “found” SOTA. Great stuff. Its a pity there are no more posts there. Do you happen to know why?

Also, regarding hill activity in winter - it woudl be very useful to do a course like a mountain skills /mountain leader course.


In Ireland we have the MCI- Mountaineering Council of Ireland. I recently did some Mountain Skills courses:http://www.mountaineering.ie/trainingandsafety/viewdetails.asp?ID=9 to remind me of skills I had learned years ago.

There is no reason why we should wait and rely on the emergency services. Know the basics (and abit more) and you will increase you chances of missing out on accidents.

Just my 2 cent.


Anybody who worked me from Wards Stone, Calf Top, Hoove, Dent, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Mellbreak, White Hill, Dodd Fell Hill will be aware of night activations or night descents. I am supportive of ‘dark activations’, but I wouldn’t wish to be considered irresponsible. The above activations were done solo, but its a case of taking extra care, accepting progress will be slower and reducing significantly the risk taking each step, yes it demands more concentration but it can be a joy. I would suggest Richards (CWI) approach is excellent, snow on the ground on a clear moonlit will provide a surpisingly good level of light where torchlight may not be necessary, so consequently I wouldn’t consider the risks increase at a particular time of year, indeed the reflection from snow covered ground can reduce risk (slightly). Most of my night-time activations have been in the winter bonus season.

I think its about judgement, it’s similar to taking those steps whren you first decided to climb a mountain in mist with limited visibility. First, you improved your map reading and compass work, you probably planned your route in more detail, you gained the knowledge, learned more skills and put them to the test WITHIN YOUR COMFORT ZONE! And remember, if you wish to move outside your comfort zone, then employ the help of a more experienced colleague, and use the opportunity to build up your skill levels.

As a precautionary note, I would add, work within your abilities, keep doing the mental risk assessments as terrain and conditions change and dont go out ill equipped (light or dark!). Take two torches and spare batteries and most importantly, ENJOY!

73 Ian

That reminds me of a mistake I mind on a night activation of Shining Tor a few years ago. I took a torch and spare batteries. When the batteries in my torch ran out, I couldn’t see a thing and couldn’t replace the batteries. It was a foggy night, so visibility was low anyway.

It just had to be a painstakingly slow descent, concentrating hard and checking each and every footstep carefully. The fact that I knew the hill inside out helped too!

I have done torchlight activations, or at least torchlight descents on Shining Tor G/SP-004, The Cloud G/SP-013, Cadair Berywn GW/NW-012, Great Orme GW/NW-070, Ruardean Hill G/WB-021, Garway Hill G/WB-013, Great Whernside G/NP-008, Cringle Moor-Drake Howe G/TW-002 and Robinson G/LD-021. It was only on the latter that we were in unfamiliar territory, it being a new unique at the time, and it being a linear walk - ie we hadn’t ascended that way!

I concur with Ian and Richard. If you have the skills, experience, preparation and confidence, it can be great fun and rewarding. It wouldn’t normally be my first choice for most activations, as I love the views too much.

Anyway, I may do one tomorrow evening, but if not, I should definitely be out the following week for the 2m SSB club championship.

73, Tom M1EYP

In reply to M1EYP:

Hey I noticed your callsign on this great Sota Fever Video! enjoy! :slight_smile:

73, M3XEM

In reply to M1EYP:

I wouldn’t like to try to change the batteries in my Petzel head torch in the dark. I don’t think I could do it. I carry a small Li-powered single LED torch on a key fob carabiner on my rucksack. It weighs nothing. I’ve never practiced it and I should, but in theory at least, it should help me with the swap if I ever needed to.

Don’t ask me where to get such a mini-torch. It was a freebie at the Outdoors show last year.

Given decent WX I’d love to join in on an evening bash - from Cleeve Hill in my case. It’s fun but as you say, it’s a very different experience walking in the dark and one not to be undertaken lightly (sorry - unintentional). Best done for the first time on a familiar hill.

73, Richard

In reply to G4ERP:

On the subject of headtorches, a well known low-priced store (four letters begins with A and ends in I) used to do a cheap led headtorch (about £5) in a plastic package. The batteries were already pre-installed. I used to have one unpackaged in the sack and a spare unopened in its packaging. That way you could rely on having a fresh set of batteries in the new torch.


In reply to G7ADF:

When I was mad keen on winter ice climbing descents in the dark were normal. I practiced changing the batteries in the dark by touch: the positive button was easy to distinguish and in the holder the negative ends had springs that were easy to find by touch. I had a couple of sets of NiCds (they were really expensive, then!) but found the trouble with them was if you wore a helmet and had the headlamp on it, NiCds didn’t like the cold and gave you a brown-out! Oh, yes, I always kept the helmet on until the descent levelled out a bit, having once lost a spectacle lens due to it having an argument with a falling icicle and losing!

I just LOVE the LED torches, if I was still that crazy a set of batteries would last for a few descents! Anyway, I need more light for soldering nowadays and the headtorch is ideal!


Brian G8ADD

In reply to G8ADD:

Oooohhhhhhhhh , dont get me started on Torches (flashlights) my name on another forum is Lumalee and I am a confirmed flashaholic (the light kind not the other that wears a mac) lol

One of my favourites is a 3d maglite sized light, called a Tactical 1500, its LED and puts out 1500 lumens for 3 hrs compared to a 3d mag which puts out 80 lumens for an hour, its like switching the sun on !!!


These sound great Lee. I enjoy my night-time activations, so I Googled the Tactical 1500 and discovered the WiseLed torches. Then I discovered the price, some of them up to around £369!

Are there any in the range that are within a reasonable budget, perform anything like the T1500, and can be bought as a headtorch?

No “Winter Fun Evening” for me last night, with no RSGB activity contest to entice me out, although there was plenty of activity for the last official Summer Fun Evening (in the wet and the dark!). I intend being out next week though, for it is the 2m SSB contest from 8pm to 10.30pm local.

These days I use rechargable NiMHs in my headtorch, so they are always topped up ready to go, plus also have a couple of small LED torches in my pocket. This morning indicated that it won’t be long before they will be switched on for my morning ascents of The Cloud.


In reply to M1EYP:
the wiseled tactical is £369 correct, then there is the Street at £299 with 450 lumens, then the Adapt at £279 with 400 lumens and finally the Stealth at £225 giving 230 lumens, I have a full set of them as I am one of the UK distributors of these products. There are other great flashlights out there Tom but the Tactical 1500 is one on its own.

But I dont really want to highjack the thread so I will set up another thread on www.sotaforum.co.uk where we can discuss flashlights specifically and I will also give you some great info on batteries that will amaze you as well as a great new headtorch thats just been released… This is my time of year now, dark nights from 4pm, yipeeee


NP discussing it here Lee, after all, much of this thread has been discussing the topic of fellwalking in darkness.

I’m interested to know about the “great new headtorch”.


In reply to M1EYP:

The only difference is Tom , I can include photos in the thread on SOTA forum which I feel makes a hell of a difference when people can SEE what we are discussing , so you are more than welcome to join in there.



In reply to M1EYP:

I will probably make a night activation in near future on a familiar and easy nearby summit. I do not see other possibility to simulate the northen winter conditions here at central EU. After sun set the 80 m and 40 m bands should be best for the communication - maybe also 30 m. Aurora is too rare at these latitudes, so its effect can not really be tested here.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL

In reply to M1EYP:

Are there any in the range that are within a reasonable budget,
perform anything like the T1500, and can be bought as a headtorch?

I’m not sure about performing like the T1500, but my ‘best’ headtorch is a recently purchased Gelert brand LED. It was about £10, has a 1/2 watt LED that throws an amazing beam and runs off a single AA that is easily replaced (even in the dark) I would strongly recommend it. The only downside is that the LED is too bright for maps & ‘close in’ work so I carry a petzl zipka as well.