A busy weekend here not made easier by my internet going off and my son harranging me with texts about how to fix his lack of access as I parked up to get ready. In the end I told him it was them not us to get some peace!
Yesterday was the 1st Scottish Microwave Round Table. It was a fab day, good talks, good company, lots of laughs and some useful junk acquired to improve the 23cms FM SOTA gear. I didn’t get back till gone 11.30pm and fell into bed knowing I had to get up early Sunday. 7.11am Sunday and I crawled out of bed, dressed and tried to prepare the gear ready for today. I had Beinn Dorain or The Fara as targets. as my net was down I couldn’t get a last check on the WX but the forecast was better for more NE so The Fara won. Whilst packing the bag, filling water bottles, filling me with injections and breakfast I had the car idling so it would defrost as everywhere was very, very white. Temp was +3C though and the sun was shining double bright. Must be because the SFI is so high
The route is M9/Forth Road Bridge/M90/A9 and off at Dalwhinnie. The WX was poor just North of Perth with seriously thick fog. It was a thin layer as you could see the sun up through the fog. Cold too near Bruar and House of Bruar with the temp showing -3C. All the hedges were white with frost. It looked like Winter was here with a bang. Anyway, off at Dalwhinnie up behind the distillery and look for somewhere to park.
There are 2 obvious routes. One is from the level crossing at Dalwhinnie station, along Loch Ericht for a few kms, then up the massive (M A S S I V E) firebreak. There’s a deer fence with a gate in it. Then up the steep bank right to the top. Or my route, which is rubbish! I parked at NN636858 so I didn’t block the gate. The along the path to the forested bit at NN633859. I was going to nip up the break between the woods and then onto the open hill. Get onto the ridge and follow that to the top. Simples!
The ground seems quite different to the OS map. More than just one bit of woods being missing. I didn’t see stumps or signs of felling either. Strange. I knew some firebreaks led off the path shown of the map but as my net was down I couldn’t check onlie 1:25k maps and find which break I wanted. There were lots of deer fences and few styles. So I tried as best to follow my original plan through long grass covered in frost. It must have been cold because the ground was frozen in places. I plugged along till I realised the field the other side of deer fence looked better. At suitable (very unsuitable) place with a rotting wooden fence I managed to cross the 10ft fence with damaging me or the fence. The ground wasn’t much better, very boggy in places and hard going.
I soon got fed up with this! Now when I was on Meall Chuaich the other week I studied the side of this hill for hints. With the felling that looks to have taken place there was a road visible. I wasn’t sure if this was the one on the map or not. But it was obvious it was a new one unmarked on maps. A track is better than a bog so I made for it. Good choice. It climbs almost to the ridge. It made life easy. I didn’t know whether it would be useful and head to the road and my car for the way back but I decided to worry about that later.
At the end of the track I headed straight up the heathery slope. Not difficult at all and soon the heather was short and the slope less steep. I was walking into the sun and even with sunglasses it was hardwork seeing ahead. For November and with lots (LOTS) of frost on the ground, a T-Shirt was more than enough on top. I watched a helicopter land in the next glen, I assume they were deer surveying. I suprised 4 females who scarpered to be followed by a huge herd. No wonder they have so many fences here!
From here it’s a mild bimble to the summit. Nothing difficult, just go up at all times. In 1hr50 I was at the top. The wind was now strong and diabollicaly cold. There is a huge cairn and wall which I used to give me shelter. There’s lots of iron fence posts which could be used to support poles but they were out in the wind so no good today. I had good phone service at the bottom of the hill when I couldn’t see the mast. But from 911m ASL, I could see the mast and got full scale signal. But I couldn’t get a net connection, make calls or send texts. Bah!
Onto 60m and 9 were worked without much effort. Ken GM0AXY told me that Jack GM4COX was QRV on East Lomond on 2m. He had his sherpa with him, Ann GM4UXX so he had a full complement of antennas. However, with my 1/4wave telescopic and counterpoise he was 53. I had a contacts with him, Ann and finally Robin GM7PKT on WS-302. Jack couldn’t hear Robin unfortunately. Back to 60m and it had gone quiet so I QSYd to 40m. I wasn’t sure to try 40 or 30 but I did 30 last week so it was 40’s turn. Very busy with very well behaved chasers. I’ve been practicing callsigns on LCWO.net’s callsign feature. I was confident enough to up my keyer to 15wpm. Off course I hadn’t practiced sending that fast so it was, to be honest, a bit ropey at times DXCC worked included G, GM, GW, DL, OK, S5. I was surprised at working S5 near midday on 40m when the G’s were all 59+++++.
Next was something higher: 10m? 12m? Both were busy. But I wanted to try my cloned Buddipole for 20/17m from a summit. It looks a complete joke as the radiating elements are made from pieces of 2cm steel tape measure. It was left over from when I made a fox hunting 2m beam. Whilst steel conductivity is less than copper, the large area should increase the bandwidth and make up for the lower conducitivity. There’s a 4 turn coil part way up and a single elevated radial about 50cms AGL. Fine tuning is by altering the length of this radial. It looks awful. I had had a contact from the garden with it to a contest station a few weeks back. Would it work on a hill?
Yes! I head LA5WNA/p calling CQ SOTA on 14.285. A quick call and he came back with a 58 report. Excellent. I tuned to 14.281 and called CQ for a bit. Nothing. Well sod that for a game of marbles, down to 14.061+/- and more paddle waggling. I only called CQ SOTA twice before I had S52ON come back. He was a huge 599 and gave me the same. Followed by Laci, HA7UG. Both them spotted me and then the deluge of calls came. I thought I had had pileups call me on 40m/30m but this was enormous. Perhaps this wasn’t the day to pretend I can copy 15wpm. I can copy calls much faster than that one at a time. But when everyone in the world calls it was hard. I need to find a pileup practice facility (maybe LCWO, I haven’t looked.).
So I worked S5, HA, F, DL, I, VE2, SP, OK. Hang on, VE2? Yes Jean-Paul VE2JCW was in there and was a good strength. I was so surprised my writing for my report is not readable. Looks like 539. Unfortunately, I had to go QRT with a big pileup left. This wasn’t through choice and I do apologise. But I needed 15mins to packup, at least 1hr30 to get down and then I had to find if the track went the right way or if I had some bog bashing to do. I wanted to do that with some real daylight. So QRT it was. I haven’t mentioned the views. Blindingly brilliant. Ben Alder with a cloud hat, the view up Strathspey being excellent.
I know conditions are good on HF bands now but I was pleasantly surprised how well this Heath-Robinson contraption worked. Would it be better mounted higher up? Is it down on a 1/4GP? The only reason for making it was that it fits on my 5m pole and a 20m 1/4GP wont. Also if I short out the 4 turn coil and shorten the radial it’s a good match on 17m and I’ve had a contact or 2 from home on that band as well. Next time 17m I think.
The return was the reverse. I followed the track right down. It crosses the Allt ant-Sluic with a ford near NN628863. It was a bit deep in places but I got across dry. From there I followed the old drove back to the main road and walked down to the car.
Now the only problem with working 60m/40m/20m/2m is the time it takes. It’s getting quite an effort to work so many bands. As the daylight reduces I may have to limit the number of bands worked. I really don’t want to do that at all. The higher bands are a novelty for me so I’d like to try and include one of them. But if I miss out 40m/30m then there will be some keen chasers who wont get to collect a GM summit. I’ve done 60m since the beginning of SOTA activating and I’ve made some excellent friends there and I don’t want to let them down either. It’s a real dilema. But for illustration, today I spent over 5 hours driving, 3hrs25 walking and 2hrs on the summit. I’m absolutely knackered with being out late yesterday as well. I could do with a day off to recover!
Total walked: 11.1km, total ascent: 583m, total driven: 208miles.
This 911m hill isn’t a Munro so it’s nice and quiet, and so very well worth doing on a clear day.