Wot no Spot? - Weird or what?
The two summit activation of High Street G/LD-011 and Stony Cove Pike G/LD-018 had been planned for a long time and all we needed was an appropriate time slot to carry it out. The itinerary had been checked and rechecked and Paul G4MD had even produced a winterised version based on our previous experience. However, when it came to the actual activation, things did not exactly go to plan.
The day started well enough. I left home at 02:58 and arrived at Paul’s house 1 hour and 20 minutes later - so far so good. After the usual cup of coffee and packing Paul’s kit into my car, we got on the road at 04:44 only to find the slip road onto the M5 closed. This meant that we had a slight detour which I hoped wasn’t an omen for the day. When it came down to it, nothing that happened could have been predicted. If anyone had said that I’d be in the pub drinking a pint of ale later in the day, I’d not have believed them, but that’s how it turned out.
The drive up the M6 was reasonably pleasant, if not a little boring as we have somewhat cornered ourselves geographically by our policy of activating unique summits. It rained for a while, but we soon ran out of it and the temperature stayed reasonably constant around the 7C mark. Once off the motorway, the temperature started to plummet – rapidly. By the time we were on the Kendal by-pass it was down to 2C. Would this be the first outing for my crampons? Bizarrely, by the time we reached the parking spot at Kirkstone Pass at 07:29 it was 4C and the dawn was bright. I was pleased to see the forecast mist and cloud wasn’t in evidence and all was set for a fair day weather-wise.
Red Screes G/LD-017 looked superb in the light of dawn and there was considerably less snow lying than either of us had imagined. We set off towards what was to be our second summit of the day at 07:55 – the plan was to pass Stony Cove Pike and activate High Street first before returning to pick up the lower summit on the return leg of our walk.
From the start of our ascent the track was treacherous with thick ice lying, some of it with a snow covering. The grass to the side of the track was an easier option, but the surface was greasy and care had to be taken when taking every step. Much of the path had been obliterated by drifting snow. This was quite deep in places and was softening beneath its icy crust. Not having walked this route before, it was a matter of constantly making an assessment of where the path lay – or indeed might lay. This was quite difficult up the initial steep section out of the valley, but was less of an issue higher up when the ground flattened out. The rocky sections were the worst – these were overlaid with verglas. The snowy sections were also difficult, but for a different reason. Very few areas of the icy crust overlying the snow supported our weight and we were constantly plunging knee deep into the soft snow beneath. Breaking through the crust was very wearing for whoever was breaking trail. No-one had been up this way for many days. Crampons were useless under these conditions and much of the time we had to make detours across the tussocky grass to avoid the snow, though this was hard going in itself.
The difficult ground conditions meant that it took us 1 hour and 50 minutes to reach Stony Cove Pike which is at 763m above sea level. The ground here was somewhat easier to walk across, having been scoured by the biting northerly wind running over the summit. At this stage we remained optimistic that we could reach High Street, though we realised that this would be somewhat later than we had planned – the activation would just have to be carried out quickly.
Without much of a pause at Stony Cove Pike, we set off downhill towards the col at Threshthwaite Mouth which would entail a drop of around 180m. This would immediately be followed by a steep ascent of around 200m to the summit of Thornthwaite Crag and then a reasonably level trek of about 1500m to the summit of High Street which is some 40m higher than Thornthwaite Crag. I was in the lead on the descent and after a couple of very awkward sections lying in deep snow about three quarters of the way down, I came to an edge and looked over. What I saw didn’t please me – a steep rocky section with lying ice. Paul joined me and he wasn’t impressed either. I made a mental calculation of how long it might take us to get down this section, then up the slope opposite and came out with at least another 2 hours to get to High Street. It was now 10:15, so we would most likely not be on summit until 12:30. Then we had the return journey and the two activations to consider. I could see us being out in the hills well after dark and although I was prepared for this eventuality, it wasn’t one I was keen to experience under these conditions. Paul came to the same conclusion. The activation of High Street could wait for another day.
About half way back up the hill, we met the first people we had seen since setting out from the car. They told us that they were intending climbing Thornthwaite Crag, from where they would head north to Gray Crag and then down to Hartsop. We kept looking for them for the next hour or so, but never saw them ascend Thornthwaite Crag. Maybe they had more sense once they had seen what we had seen and had taken the track down the valley along Pasture Beck.
We got back to the summit of Stony Cove Pike at 10:45 and after a quick recce decided to gain what shelter we could from the wind by digging ourselves a couple of snow holes close to a wall. Our ice axes came in handy here. Ice crusted snow drifts allowed us to plant the antenna poles without guys and I was soon on air to find Mike G4BLH out at his usual portable location ready waiting for me. After exchanging reports on 70cms, I stood up and braved the cold wind to make contact on 23cms using my handheld and quadruple quad antenna, my stay in the cold lengthened by John MW1FGQ tail-ending the contact. After a couple of CQ calls I retired to the relative warmth of my operating position. Bob G6ODU came back after a couple of calls on 70cms and signal strengths were good both ways, but thereafter the frequency went quiet. I was still calling alternately using CW and SSB when Mike G4BLH called in to say that Paul had just worked Frank G3RMD and that Frank would be looking for me. One further call on the key produced the QSO and signals were good enough for Q5 copy on SSB. At the end of my QSO with Frank, my battery pack went low voltage, so I switched packs – nothing, no volts whatsoever. Fortunately my LiPo / NiMH packs have an additional power connection to run the LiPo on its own when I use my FT-817 and this gave me 12 volts. The NiMH had failed. Frank confirmed I was back in business and immediately afterwards I was called by Iain MM3WJZ/P on Hart Fell GM/SS-037 who was my last contact – just 4 on 70cms and 2 on 23cms. Oh well, my log entry would be easy to complete.
Paul took a little longer to create his snow hole and so was not on until 10:12. Bob G6ODU was first up followed by Laurie G6XLL. The contact with Laurie took a while to complete and it was then a few minutes before Frank G3RMD called Paul. Mike G4BLH was monitoring and was next to contact Paul followed by S2S contacts with Neil 2E0TDX and Karen 2E0XYL who were on Long Mynd - Pole Bank G/WB-005. Bill G4WSB and David G2BOF were the next two log entries and then Paul had a real surprise when he was called by Javi EA2LO/1 in IN83FD – Paul’s best ever 2m DX. Jim EI3GE completed the activation for Paul.
Paul had just finished when, more or less simultaneously, I arrived to photograph Paul’s set up and his mobile rang indicating he had a text message from his wife. A call home revealed she was extremely worried about our well-being. Neither of us had been spotted – weird or what?
We left the summit at 12:25 and it took us 1 hour and 18 minutes to make the descent to the car. Several people had asked us whether we would be activating a second summit during the afternoon, so the first task when back at the car was to carry out an assessment of whether this would be practical. The only summit on our list that didn’t require a long walk in was Hard Knott G/LD-034. Although this was only 14 miles from where we were, the journey would take 40 minutes according to my satnav, assuming that Wrynose and Hard Knott passes were open. I knew the ascent time under good conditions would be around 40 minutes and possibly up to an hour through lying snow. That translated itself to an activation time of around 16:00 and probably a descent in the dark. There was therefore only one course of action – a visit to the Kirkstone Inn for a pint of Kirkstone Brewery “Red Screes” in front of a warm open log fire.
So some valuable lessons learnt. Perhaps a deeper study of timings in snowy conditions is needed, but at least we know our limitations. High Street will certainly be there for another day.
73, Gerald G4OIG