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Wot no spot?

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

In reply to G4OIG:
Sorry I missed you both.
This is one occasion when the spot would have helped down here in the west country,I was unable to monitor the frequency but kept popping in and out of the shack but missed you thinking possibly a cancellation or delay due to wx.
I wonder why no spot and only the other day an activators spot dissapeared?Don.

Great decision. Much better to give the second part of your day-out to a good pint in a classic country pub, rather than racing against the clock and the weather for another tick. I wonder if Stanley the British Bulldog was in attendance at the Inn?

The walk you attempted was a long tough one. And as you discovered, it requires a gruelling V-shaped drop and reascent at the saddle between the two. I did that rocky scramble as an ascent in good conditions - I wouldn’t fancy it as a descent with ice to contend with (and the requirement to ascend back up it later).

That was a linear walk for Jimmy and I - we parked at Haweswater and climbed the ridge onto High Street. Then it was Stony Cove Pike via Thornthwaite Beacon and Threshwaite Mouth, and down to the Kirkstone Pass Inn for dinner and overnight accommodation. That was a pleasant and comfortable day’s walk; your itinerary was necessarily more demanding!

On another occasion we also had to decide against Hard Knott - but in our case it was because of the actions of a certain Mr Derrick Bird.

I guess now that you need LD-011, but not LD-018, you may well approach it from the Haweswater side?


In reply to G0RQL:

The activator deleted his own spot on that occasion Don. All is explained in his activation report elsewhere on the reflector.


In reply to G0RQL:

Hi Don,

Your absence was noted - we did compare notes! Neither of us realised we had not been spotted, otherwise I would have self-spotted, assuming of course that O2 reaches Stony Cove Pike. Hopefully catch you next time we are out.

73, Gerald

In reply to M1EYP:

I’ve already started looking at the approach to High Street from the other side. Not sure how it will fit into our itineraries, but it could well make a lazy activation on the first or last day when we do a round of activations later in the year. We are both keen to get back to Cockermouth and a lovely pint of Bitter End Lakeland Golden…
I guess that would make it the last activation of the round as we’d be bound to be late up the following morning!

73, Gerald

In reply to G4OIG:

A pleasure to work you both. Your alerts helped me choose a summit as I hoped to get a s2s with you. I was expecting High Street when I worked you but assumed you’d just reversed the summits until you explained during the QSO. Best laid plans and all… still I think an early pint is better than requiring a ride in the “big yellow budgie”, a policy you obviously agree with.

You were initially about 3-1 when I first called and I hoped you’d turn the beam my way which you obviously did, thanks.

The approach of High Street, LD-011 from Haweswater is recommended by me, it’s a bit of a twisty road to get there but there are a couple of nice routes up to the summit.

It’s amazingly hard work breaking trail in the kind of snow you obviously found, I think each step requires about the effort of 3, but different day, different snow and different walking speed, anyway well done getting there.

Iain, MM3WJZ

In reply to G4OIG:
Gerald and Paul,
My apologies for not spotting you. Let me explain, but not excuse. My VHF operating position is in our conservatory (quite cool this weather) and I had left a receiver monitoring 2M ssb for Paul. I heard Paul, worked him and QSYd to 70cm and worked Gerald. I normally have a PC on at the VHF position, and avidly monitor SOTA, but due to the chill had not switched it on. I made a rather stupid assumption that, given your alert, and strong signals, you had already been spotted. I heard Paul working a gaggle of stations, wrongly concluded that he had been spotted, but did not check. Sorry! inexcusable really, when someone is perched on a high mountain in severe winter conditions.
Well done Paul on your DX contact, and you both exercised good judgement in retreating.

In reply to MM3WJZ:

Hi Iain,

It was a real surprise to hear you - many thanks for going out and synchronising your activation with ours. I was hoping that your patience wasn’t being tried - it was just unfortunate that you called as my first battery pack failed. I checked it today and it tested okay - maybe the cold got to it. I think I’ll put the battery pack in the backpack on top of the 857 in future to keep it warm.

We both had in mind avoiding a ride in a helicopter, as exciting as that may have been. The fact that there were so few people out and about heightened our sense of isolation - there were only 10 cars in the car park at Kirkstone Pass when we returned and half of those were pub customers. Nothing like the numbers we encountered back in January when we activated Red Screes.

73, Gerald

In reply to MM3WJZ:

Good to work you too Iain, and apologies for calling you Chris - don’t know where that one came from! Blame the cold and exertion…

Easily the most bizarre activation of my SOTA career so far, with no spots, relatively few takers and unprecedented DX (1261km on 2m with 4w isn’t bad, even if the station at the other end is doing all the work!) but great fun anyway. Thanks to all with whom I did make it!

Hoping for a more “normal” outing next time (when I’ll be back on my usual HF QRG’s)

73 de Paul G4MD

In reply to G3RMD:

No problem Frank, just very good to work you and enjoyed the chat. It was quite amazing how many “random” contacts I did achieve. Never even suspected we hadn’t been spotted until my XYL rang to find out what was wrong! By which time we’d packed up…

Maybe the ducting that gave me the excellent DX was sending my signals straight over the heads of most of the “regular” chasers?

Look forward to catching you on the next outing - spotted or not!

73 de Paul G4MD

In reply to G3RMD:

Hi Frank,

No need to apologise. We certainly didn’t realise that this was why the contacts were coming slowly - I think we both assumed that most people were out Christmas shopping. 70cms is often slow anyway and I was aiming to use 2m FM as a back up on this occasion. I was pleased that I qualified the summit on 70cms as when I called on 2m FM, I heard no-one at all - zilch: all simplex channels quiet. Weird or what?

73, Gerald G4OIG

In reply to G0RQL:

Sorry to miss you too, Don. Did beam in your direction and call on several occasions, but things were very quiet and thought it was due to the strange conditions. Will be looking out for you on the next one, fourth line of the log already filled in just needs the time adding :slight_smile:

73 de Paul G4MD

In reply to G4MD:

Hi Gerald / Paul,

I also wondered if you’d made it to the summit, because I had my 70cm gear set up on SE-008 hoping for a S2S on Saturday, however i suspect i’d just missed you and managed to contact Don G0RQL and Frank G3RMD. Thought you both did very well, under those wintry conditions.



In reply to G4MD:

fourth line of the log already filled in just needs the time adding

Don knows much better than to fill in the log in anticipation when myself and Brian G4ZRP are on a joint activation. Don’t you Don! :wink:


In reply to MM0FMF:
Yes Andy,lesson learned??

In reply to G4OIG:
To G4OIG and G4MD.
Sorry to have missed you and was on 2mtrs at the time having a chat up north I see in your notes people were monitoring both yourself and maybe the spots page but to selfish to help others as from the info below about spots from another thread.

The I am alright Jack approach rears its head again.
As taken from the 4m calling channel QRM subject on the reflector .
In reply to G0TRB and G0RQL

The problem on 2 mtr SSB is due to the same chasers putting on 144.300
and thats why some people get frustrated and keep asking for a QSY

and G0RQL

This is an issue that I posted some while ago,the spotting of activations on > > calling frequencies or centres of activity are absolutely useless to the point > now that if I see one spotted there I do not even turn the radio on.

Erm, well it is not always that simple. There have been many occasions where I have heard a very weak SOTA station calling on a calling channel, but have not heard where they have qsyed to, and cannot find where they have gone (sometimes to a frequency that is perhaps already occupied by a strong local station). Nobody else has spotted them, so I have done to alert other folk to their presence.

It would appear from these comments that I should desist from doing this because it causes frustration, and there I was just trying to help others. If I know the frequency a station has moved to, I always put it, but if I do not know it, it would appear that I must not ‘spot’ the activity at all.

Regards, Mike G4BLH (with apologies to Ian for the hijack of the 4m thread)

And the final comment

Simply add to the comment that the QSY is not known and another spot
is needed.

I can live with that, if I remember HI.

Regards, Mike G4BLH

The level of precision in the spotted frequency can convey the necessary information. for instance “144.300” will imply that the activator is running on the calling frequency, whereas a spot of “144” indicates that the activator is ‘somewhere’ on the SSB part of the 2m band.


In reply to M1EYP:

Its not the frequency spots of where but the fact that regular chasers wont put a spot .

Therefore should it now become Selfishness On The Air .

The sprit of helping others has now vanished.

No Alerts no spots please as its always said the activator is king work your 4 local mates and sod the rest.

In reply to G0TRB:

Seems to me that some people want it all putting on a plate for them, when I spend time in the shack with my dad, he always told me that part of the excitement was scanning up and down the band to seek and find stations. I suppose its a bit like fishing, and if everytime you put your rod in the water you got a fish it would become a bit boring.

Going back to my sick bed and listening to Dad in the shack.


In reply to G0TRB:

I have to say I agree with Roger,there are a number of Activators and Chasers that are not using the “Spirit of SOTA”

I agree with the Activator being in charge especially as they are in the midst of the bad WX etc, but I have heard some actually saying Ive got my four and going QRT now(with no thought for the regular chasers who may still wish to work the summit).

I always do my upmost to carry on till the frequency goes quiet,before packing up. and if I am chasing from the shack will always put a spot on if there isnt one already up.

As we have all said in the past SOTA will only work with Activators needing chasers and vice versa!! We need to work together and support each other!