Friday, 22 February 2019

SOTA GM/SS-072 Queensberry - 22nd Feb 2019

I drove to the start point for Queensberry after activating Cairnharrow GM/SS-191 near Gatehouse of Fleet, so this was an afternoon walk. I started my 3.2 mile walk in from the public road at Mitchellstacks NX 965960, six miles from the A76.
This was a good walk on better surfaces than the previous 4 boggy summits I had walked to on this two day expedition. A graded track for the most part took me to Brown Knowe and then I had a dry moor with quad tracks from there to the summit. 5m contours are shown here on the map, making the summit look steeper than it was, however I was tired after the previous day so it took me 110 minutes to walk the 3.2 miles / 1630 ft ascent. 
This was the turn off the track on to the moor at Brown Knowe - New House can be seen beyond, with another ruin that bit further away.  A small cairn was encountered at 680m within the activation zone as I rounded out on to the plateau, but the main cairn at 697m was another 400m further on. The large pile of stones and shelter was a pleasure to see and use, and allow me to finally tick Queensberry off my priority list of summits that I wanted to visit in the region: 

I netted 22 contacts in 22 minutes on 20m CW and 40m CW/SSB - not a bad rate, which included two stateside contacts. I had no callers on 2m FM:
It took me 83 minutes to get back to the car where I changed into fresh clothes for the drive back to North Yorkshire, punctuated with a customary stop at the KFC in Penrith.  I drove 440 miles on the two day trip, walked 18 miles and climbed 4650 feet all told. 

SOTA GM/SS-191 Cairnharrow - 22 Feb 2019

22nd February 2019 was my 2nd and final day in Dumfries and Galloway. I stayed at Barholm Accommodation in Creetown, which fitted my needs perfectly. After my previous days activation in the area on 21st February 2019 (SS-238, 245 and 232) I arrived after sunset. The warden showed me the room and kitchen etc and then left me to it. I'll certainly stay there again when I return to activate the other summits in the area. The accommodation is unattended overnight. 
Barholm is reconstructed from an old pub, the conversion of which was achieved with the aid of a lottery grant - a brilliant and most fitting project in my opinion.  The only remaining pub in the town itself now, is the traditional Ellangowan Hotel. This is a "locals pub" and I got a steak and ale pie meal there and a few drinks, as I was starving hungry after defeating the moorland bogs on the three activations that day. 
Parking place near gate at NX 525542 - Cairnharrow seen in background
My first target on day two was the nearby summit of Cairnharrow GM/SS-191. I drove up the lane off the A75 to grid ref NX520531 and turned left on the broken tarmac road running NNE. I got to the cow barn at 525546 where the road was narrow and muddy. I was able to just turn the car round here without getting stuck, returning to a gate and parking place at 525542. From here I walked back to the cow barn and followed the line of the wall up to the corner at 53391 55268 where there was a through stoned wall stile giving access to the moor leading up to the summit - you will find my track in the SOTA Mapping Project.
Wall access point leads you on to the excellent quad track pictured below:
It took 57 minutes from my car to reach the trig point, which was over the wall and out of the wind, and the best place to set up my station:

I concentrated my operating on the 7 MHz band and made 27 contacts - phone was disappointing with just three callers, yet on CW I had 24 contacts! A call on 2m FM yielded just one caller - Victor GI4ONL near Bushmills who I had already worked on 40m CW. I heard Nick G4OOE/P operating from Ingleborough G/NP-005 on 145.400 MHz, however my 5 watts and whip antenna was not powerful enough to make contact. I also briefly heard John G4YSS but he dissapeared after I called him back - I think John was mobile and travelling between summits in the Yorkshire Dales - this would have been at around 0935z.  After 25 minutes operating I closed down, to allow time to reach the parking place for the walk to Queensberry GM/SS-072, which was 40 miles north east of Cairnharrow.  This final photo is the view north to Pibble Hill SS-232 and Cairnsmore of Fleet SS-065. The Cambret Hill TV relay station can be seen slightly left of centre :

Return walk to Cairnharrow - 3.2 miles with 930 feet ascent  

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Bengray, White Top of Culreoch and Pibble Hill - 21 Feb 2019

I had planned to activate three summits in the Borders area over two days this week, however accommodation at the Tushielaw Inn near Selkirk was unconfirmed the day before I travelled so I decided to go west into Dumfries and Galloway and activate some unique summits there. I booked an accommodation in the right place the day before I travelled which was good and cheap for the solo traveller, so off I went...

Depart Pickering: 0550z
GM/SS-238 Bengray start walk:10:03 arrive:11:04 Depart:11:48 return car:12:34
GM/SS-245 White Top of Culreoch start walk:13:09 arrive:13:43 depart:14:41 return car:15:04
GM/SS-232 Pibble Hill start walk: 15:41 arrive:16:29 depart: 17:11 return car:17:54
As I expected, this was a long day, however my overnight stay in Creetown was only a few miles from the parking place for Pibble Hill....

Equipment: Elecraft KX2, link dipole on 5m pole, Yaesu VX-170 RH770 whip

GM/SS-238 Bengray 
The C class road north from Gatehouse of Fleet led me to the parking place for Bengray at Laghead Bridge. A core path leads from here to Loch Whinyeon.

I used the core path for about a half mile before heading off on uncharted territory towards Bengray over the top of Benfadyeon. I used occasional quad tracks before reaching the fence and wall where I turned up to follow right to the highest point. I stopped at the wall outside of the wood and well within the 25m drop activation zone - noting that the contour spacing on the 25K OS map in this area is 5 metres. 

I made one single contact on 2m FM - with Derek 2E0MIX  in Cumbria. This was not surprising as I was using a VX-170 with the RH770 whip. 40m was rather disappointing and I closed down after 13 contacts on that band:
Visibility was poor in mist both ways and I returned via a slightly different route avoiding the climb over Benfadyeon. Looking back a better route may have been possible via Burnt Mound:
A short drive took me to the track leading to SS-245 White Top of Culreoch.

GM/SS-245 White Top of Culreoch

An excellent graded forestry road with no restrictions or gates took me to NX602624 where there is a parking bay and turning point, pictured above. 

The fence and wall was followed until the summit was neared where the fence was climbed at a strainer post. The forest was felled some years ago and as the top was neared the remaining brash was encountered for a short distance.
A call on 2m with the handheld netted two contacts into Wales. HF was fairly successful with a further 20 contacts:

There was just time to reach Pibble Hill and activate that summit before going to my accommodation for the night in Creetown... 

GM/SS-232 Pibble Hill

The summit was approached from the south from parking near the cattle grid on the Corse of Slakes Road NX525584. There was no recognisable path, just a boggy moor with the occasional faint quad track to follow, never too far from the substantial stone wall on the left.
Pibble Hill ahead on the moor - I will not be going back again

It was mid February and mild - this was the 3rd hairy caterpillar I had seen on the moor, so I photographed it:

I made for the wall junction at NX 53333 60553 where there was a support for my pole at the wall junction. 20 contacts on the 40m band were quickly made in CW/SSB and I went QRT feeling cold as the mist was down again at 1700z.

Distance walked in the day: 8.2 miles with 2000 feet ascent

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

G4OBK 2018 ARRL DXCC Challenge Submission

I've just submitted my annual DXCC endorsement claim to the ARRL. Whilst I hadn't been particularly active in 2018 hunting DX stations I have been more active as a DXer than in recent years, with my main interest at present in Amateur Radio remaining in Summits On The Air (SOTA)In the course of the year I managed to pick up 19 Logbook of the World (LoTW) credits. This was mainly due to two reasons - the newly developed Machine Mode called FT8, where I have used the WSJT-X software over HF radio to provide datamode credits. When the ARRL allowed Kosovo into the DXCC scheme as a valid country this encouraged me get back on and try to work that country on all bands.

So this was how my 2018 claim worked out:

I decided not to submit paper QSLs this year as I only have two, and the cost of an on-line submission with field checking in the UK by Lionel G5LP would cost me an inflationary $20 plus postage, just for two QSL cards to be checked! The cost of submitting the 19 credits for checking via LoTW however was a more economical $14.27.

This year I claimed Z6 Kosovo as a new DXCC Country in LoTW in Mixed, Phone, CW and Data modes and with DXCC Challenge counters on all bands completed from 160m through to 6m, barring the 10m band for which I have a paper QSL for a contact with Z61DX. The other paper QSL I received this year (Thanks to RU4SS) was for a contact with EZ8BO (Turkmenistan) on the 12 metre band in 2004. Amateur radio has been banned in that country now for some years and the operator Eugeny is now "silent key". 
I remember all the DX contacts claimed very well - a few were routine, such as HB9CXZ Switzerland on 160m FT8 - my first HB9 credit for a datamode surprisingly...  The other datamode confirmations (thanks to the new FT8 mode) were BH1TSU China (17m), ZP6ARO Parguay (20m), D44TWO Cape Verde (160m), RI1ANL Antarctica (15m) and PJ4P (17m) and a new counter point for the DXCC Challenge. 

After I cleared up Kosovo for the DXCC Challenge bands, additionally I worked 9K2NO Kuwait on 6m CW, VK9XG Christmas Island on 80m CW and lastly EP6RRC Iran on 30m CW for three more Challenge Points putting me at 2928 Challenge Points and No. 1 Honour Roll Phone / Mixed Mode with all 340 DXCC Countries confirmed. In CW the two countries I haven't yet worked are P5 North Korea and FT\W Crozet Island. 

I now need 72 DXCC Challenge Points to reach my lifetime target of 3000 points.  It remains to be seen if this is achievable with my current station, as this is entirely dependent on the effects of the sun on the next one or two solar cycles and for how long into old age that I am able to continue operating. 

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Hensbarrow Beacon - Cornwall in a day from Wales

I was in Cardiff on business last week and this presented an opportunity for me to re-visit the newly positioned summit of G/DC-008 Hensbarrow Beacon, near St Austell, Cornwall. This meant driving 380 miles return from Cardiff via Bristol, where I met up with my friend Geoff Fielding M0PYG who lives near Malvern. We were together the last time we activated Hensbarrow in 2014 for SOTA. That operation was from the trig point in a thunder and lightning storm, when Geoff got flashed with static, a quite frightening experience when green sparks were travelling from the shaft of his umbrella on to his hand! In 2014 on that same day we also activated Brown Willy near Jamaica Inn - but there was no point going there again today for the sake of a few points. 

Quote from Wikipedia via CCL:
"Geographically, the hill is also the highest point of the St Austell Downs, a large region of downland to the north-west of St Austell. The large degree of separation between it and Bodmin Moor to the north-east gives it enough relative height to make it a natural Marilyn, although the official Marilyn has been moved to the top of the highest spoil tip. (its parent is Brown Willy)"
The reason I had to return to this God forsaken place was to set my station up among some rocks on the highest point on the spoil heap which was created by the Littlejohn / Gunheath China Clay Mining company and re-complete activating all 175 English summits. This is the Cornwall most visitors coming here never see - the exploitation of the land for minerals but of course Cornwall has has this exploitation for centuries.

In 2017 the Relative Hills of Britain group surveyed the area and determined that the official position of the Marilyn Summit be moved to the top of the spoil heap. As this is in excess of 25 meters height above the trig point, then the SOTA reference point was also moved. This meant that I was no longer the only SOTA Activator to activate and chase all English Summits - no one had actually "done it" when I had before - hence the need to re-visit the area and do it again... 

I met Geoff at Cribbs Causeway Retail Park, North Bristol at 8.00 am, and from there I drove us both down the M5 and A30 to reach a turn off at a new service area near Roche.  The summit car parking place at SW 992575 is less than 4 miles from the A30 roundabout.  The map above shows the path we took passing the original summit position. We saw a gap in the bank to the east of the trig and that led us on to the spoil heap access track and one on that it was an easy climb on to the top of the heap. A pile of large stones marked "Boulders" on the map rovided some cover from the wind and the rain, when it came.  Our return path follows the mine company's roads and no vehicles or persons were seen in the time we were there. 
Miserable weather walking on Hensbarrow Beacon - the nearest highest point to Brown Willy

Geoff M0PYG by the boulders where we set up the station
Looking towards the freshly painted trig point with the spoil heap and the new summit behind it
HF Contacts completed from Hensbarrow Beacon by G4OBK/P on 24 January 2019
A shout on 2m FM with a handheld and whip raised Don G0RQL in Holsworthy. After that nothing else was heard, so we set up on 40m (7 MHz) for CW and SSB and made another 34 contacts between us. The rain came on half way through the HF operation so my golf umbrella was deployed to keep the rain off the FT-857 - 50 watts to a link dipole.

We had some lunch at the services on the A30 before heading back to Bristol where Geoff had parked his car. 

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - Ward Law GM/SS-119

A poor walk route up on the right side and a good route coming down on the left side of the map
I don't recommend the route I took climbing up to Ward Law - poor ground for walking over and onwards from Ramseycleuch Kip into a depression on rough ground, before climbing again.
On the ascent of Ward Law - before the ground got rough Ramseycleuch Farm is at the bottom of the hill
When I reached the summit I found a ladder stile, a deer fence and the Jubilee Cairn - not just a rough pile of stones like I had encountered on Ettrick Pen earlier that day. I set up initially on 2m FM with my handheld and dipole and immediately heard Colin M1BUU/P calling CQ SOTA from the summit of G/NP-004 Whernside - first contact summit to summit which bode well for a successful activation.  Next call it was Derek Edge 2E0MIX in Whitehaven, good DX for the equipment used at my end for sure.... 20 minutes later when the FM radio signal broke the squelch it was a call from G3TQQ/P - so I left HF CW to one side for a couple of minutes to work another two S2S contacts - Nick G4OOE with Dave G3TQQ who were both on G/NP-016 Dodd Fell. That was me done on 2m FM, so like on Ettrick Pen earlier, the summit could have been qualified with just 5 watts and a dipole on VHF thanks to other operators mainly operating from high places.  Good to see that part of the radio spectrum getting plenty of attention in Northern England and Southern Scotland by the SOTA gang...
Summit of Ward Law - 5m pole inverted vee link dipole - KX2
15 contacts on 20m and 40m CW: USA (2) and EU (13) were worked

From the summit when it was time to leave, I looked below for where the sheep were grazing and headed for them, grazing on the few green areas of grass left on the flank of the hill. It was far drier and smoother than my chosen route up for sure - and an effective quad track was found leading to the sheepfold at NT 26181524 (Slightly out of position on the OS 1:25K map). I had parked in the parking area at NT 273142, but on reflection I would have been better parking at the former School or Memorial Hall at 266144 and climbing the hill from there, the way I came down.
The sheepfold I made for at NT 26181524 (Slightly out of position on the OS 1:25K map)
Walk started 12:57 - Ward Law reached at 14:04 - 67 minutes.
Ward Law departed 15:09 -  my vehicle reached south of Ettrick at 16:03 - 54 minutes.

The GPX track was shared in the SOTA Mapping Project, and I recommend the downward route.

Below the sheepfold mentioned looking to the row of houses (No access) and sheep pens to the right
The white house on the extreme right middle is Ettrickhill NT 2627 1440

I'll be heading up north again as soon as I get the chance, and will stay overnight at the Tushielaw Inn, Ettrick Valley again. The evening meal and bed and breakfast were excellent - too excellent in fact, I ate too much. Next time I will be targeting Broad Law SS-029, Dun Rig SS-052 and Deuchar Law SS-144. Let's hope the snow stays away, I don't enjoy getting cold sat on the top of a snowy summit.

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - Ettrick Pen GM/SS-074

My walk route
After a good nights kip and big breakfast at the Tushielaw Inn in the Ettrick Valley I drove south west to the end of the road near Potburn and parked at NT 189092 - which is the end of the public road.  On the way I passed by Ward Law - a summit I planned to climb in the afternoon. 
Parking place for Ettrick Pen
Unoccupied farmstead at Potburn
The steady walk to the summit took me 75 minutes and I stopped off to look inside the Over Phawhope Bothy at 181081 and meet Maud from Edinburgh by chance, who had just got up after staying overnight in the bothy. The bothy was extremely cosy and Maud told me she'd slept on the sofa in the property overnight.

Over Phawhope Bothy - inside & out
Proceeding on the track gave way to moor near the sheepfold shown on the map at 190076 and I found a foot beaten track around some newly planted trees which took me up towards the fenceline and then south east to the highest point where the three fences meet and where there is a big pile of stones for shelter. The route taken has been shared in the tracks section of the SOTA Mapping Project. 
The pile of stones on Ettrick Pen
I set up and spent 45 minutes on the air. I could have qualified this summit with my VX-170 handheld and vertical on 2m FM - five contacts were made with this, including a summit contact with G4OOE and G3TQQ on G/NP-015 Great Knoutberry Hill in the Yorkshire Dales. The 40m band kept me busy though, with 26 EU callers in Morse but only 2 contacts on phone, despite repeated CQ calls. I gave up at 11:16z and packed up, reaching my car at 12:28z for my lunch prior to driving back up the valley for the final summit of my two day trip, Ward Law.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - Law Kneis GM/SS-168

Parking for Law Kneis by B709 NT 280130 - exit on foot via frosty footbridge to Forest Track - Start 14:30 return 17:30. 
My research on climbing Law Kneis led me to the walkhighlands sub2000s web page where I found several "tales of woe" describing efforts from hillwalkers who had climbed it. In the end I opted for the steep and awkward climb by the side of White Sike burn to reach the forest track. I then followed an awkward and difficult forest ride to the summit itself. You'll see from the map that I did not return alongside White Sike - it was too dangerous to contemplate descending this way in the dark, the wide graded forestry track traversing the side of Deephope Hill was an excellent alternative, and as I was walking down I wished I had gone up that way:

I don't recommend the rough walk route up by White Sike. Future activators may have no choice but to tackle the forest ride which heads east from 286133 though, unless they know of anything easier. There were around 10 fallen trees to negotiate in this forest gap on the ride and the boggy sections were all frozen, so it wasn't all bad - not that I will be returning for what is just a one point 498m high summit.
At NT 286133 on the graded track looking down on the Angecroft Cottage Caravan Site 
As I exited the forest almost on the highest point it was approaching dusk and I found a place along the old fence. The posts were rotten, but strong enough to support my aerial pole and home brew link dipole:

Darkness fell and my headlight was used to allow me to continue the activation....

HF operation on 20m, 30m and 40m was successful, 18 contacts were completed, including K3TCU and K4DY in USA. The usual lightweight KX2 and link dipole at 5m AGL were used.  Unsurprisingly from such a remote place, VHF with a handheld with long whip fastened to the fence post was ineffective. Constant monitoring on 145.500 MHz for almost an hour proved fruitless...

Here is the bag I won in the SOTA raffle at Ham Radio in 2018 - I use it stowing my aerial etc in my rucksack:

Walking off was most enjoyable with the headlight illuminating the sparkling frost in the ground surface throughout the length of the forest ride. The decision to take the safer track pictured above was made - once I overcame the bad step down the bank on to it. My car was reached exactly 3 hours after leaving it. The GPX track for this route both ways is lodged in the SOTA Mapping Project Tracks page. 

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - White Coomb GM/SS-030

The long range weather forecast on New Years Eve was settled for several days ahead so I decided then to have an early start on January 2nd and head back up to Scotland to visit summits I had seen, but not climbed.  I booked in for an overnight stay at the Tushielaw Inn, which lies in the Ettrick Valley - a pub which is surrounded by Marilyn Summits, some of which I had already climbed.  The pub had been fully booked for the New Years Eve festivities, but the landlord Rab told me on the phone there were vacancies the following night, when I was the only resident and as it turned out, was the only customer having a meal and enjoying a few drinks.   

Tushielaw Inn
On my way to the pub I climbed White Coomb GM/SS-030 near Moffat and Law Kneis GM/SS-168 which is only three miles south of the pub. 

Leaving Pickering at 5.50 am, I was walking from the Grey Mares Tail Car Park in Moffat Dale to White Coomb at 9.20 am. Car parking is £3 per day or free if you are a National Trust Member. The popular route up to Loch Skene was quiet and empty as I climbed up beside the waterfall following the Tail Burn. The temperature when I started my walk was -4.5c, on what was a clear and beautiful morning. Without paying attention to the map of my proposed route I continued on the path for almost a kilometre more than I should have done, crossing the Tail Burn just before I reached Loch Skeen and then doubling back on myself across the moorland to rejoin the beaten path just below Rough Crags.  My navigational error made me late and I reached the summit after almost two hours walking at 11.15 am.  I stayed on the summit for one hour. It was cold even in the sun - but not unpleasant. The summit was visited by just one other walker while I was there. From 11:30 until 12:00 I operated on the 145 MHz FM band for SOTA and completed 20 contacts using 50 watts of power to a vertical dipole on a 5m pole. The contacts included summit contacts with G4VFL/PAndrew  on Shillhope Law, 2E0MIX Derek on Blake Fell and G4OOE Nick with G3TQQ Dave, on Great Mell Fell. The map below shows the contacts made - the one mapping error is the contact shown in the banner. This was with G4YTD/P Tim, who was not near Hull where he lives, but Tim was actually in a camper van near Penrith!

My routes both ways -  The contacts made on 2m FM - The summit with my aerial in the cairn
I took the more direct and correct route back, following a broken wall down to the Tail Burn, where a crossing was again made. It was just a case of climbing down this bank and crossing where the burn looked the shallowest:

Once on the main path it was like a procession. 2nd January is a Bank Holiday in Scotland and there were tens of people making their way up to Loch Skeen alongside Grey Mares Tail. The earlier empty car park was now rammed with car, vans and campers when I reached it at 13:30, after taking 75 minutes to get back down from the summit:

I now had a 22 mile drive to the parking place from which to climb to the remote summit of Law Kneis GM/SS-168. On my drive there by St Mary's Loch I was to hear G4OOE and G3TQQ on t2m FM again whilst driving - and completed a mobile contact with them when they were activating from the summit of Little Mell Fell.