Tuesday, 11 December 2018

SOTA GM/SS-139 Cairnkinna Hill

I was staying in the Lake District for a short pre-Xmas break and decided to venture north of the border into Dumfries & Galloway to activate some unique (to us) SOTA summits. My friend from Malvern, Geoff M0PYG, headed north up the M6 and we met at Rheged near Penrith at 9.00 am on Tuesday 11th December. 

Our ambitious plan was to activate two summits in Scotland that day - in the event we only activated one.  Due to the lack of daylight remaining we headed back to the Lake District to activate an easy summit there at 5.00 pm. 

Cairnkinna Hill was the target - a 554 metre hill seven miles north west of Thornhill. We parked up off a narrow lane in a small worked out quarry at NS787005:

We had fine drizzle and mist as we set off uphill through the remains of an old wood. The walking was tough with bramble and brash underfoot but once we reached the broken wall at 789004 things became a little easier, albeit at a slow pace, on what was initially a steep climb.  It took 84 minutes to reach the trig point and large cairn on the summit, which was longer than I anticipated for what was a distance of under 1.5 miles.

We easily made the required number of contacts on VHF (145 MHz) to qualify the summit for SOTA and then made our way back to the car.
Geoff M0PYG at our operating position behind the cairn of Cairnkinna Hill - equiment used was Yaesu FT-1802 - a 50 watt transceiver and half wave dipole on a 5m high pole

Our plan was to then go east and climb Queensberry GM/SS-072, however time, daylight and the weather was against us, so we headed back south to the Lake District to activate Little Mell Fell G/LD-037, before returning to our hotel for showers and a dinner.

Friday, 16 November 2018

SOTA GM/SS-161 Larriston Fells Cycle / Walk

SOTA Cycling - is it worthwhile?

In this blog report I will try to analysis if SOTA Cycling is really worth it....

After leaving the track to Calkin Rig the nearest town to which is Langholm, I motored over to Newcastleton which is the nearest significant settlement to SOTA GM/SS-161 Larriston Fells. The plan was to park at the end of the track at NY 529921 near Dinlabyre and then cycle up the Scottish side on a forest track to within 1 Km of the summit trig point on Larriston Fells. From the radio mast I would then walk. 

When I reached Hermitage Bridge, 3 miles from Dinlabyre there was a road closure due to resurfacing work:

An approach to the road worker sat in his van stopping traffic worked, and I was allowed to drive as far as where the road was being resurfaced. I was able to get my car off the road there and ride the rest of the way on the bike to Dinlabyre and onto to the summit track.  Here is my route:

Parking place by the resurfaced B6357 road a miles from Dinlabyre
Progress riding the bike was slow once I left the main road, and on a significant part of the steeper uphill stretches I was forced to push. I'm apparently not so fit now as I was a year or two ago.... When I reached the radio mast and comms cabin where the track ended, I laid the bike down, locked it and proceeded to the trig point on foot. The mast is not within the activation zone. 

There was no trace of any path (a dotted line is shown on the map but was not apparent on the ground) and it was difficult making progress on the rough and boggy moor. Not a route I would recommend, I certainly would not return here again. The day was becoming damp with thick mist forming and I was uncomfortable after putting my leg in a hole full of water on the walk back from Calkin Rig in the morning. I knew when I reached the summit I did not want to stay longer than necessary..... the going on the tussocks was so difficult to be honest, I may have been better setting up at the fence around NY 564917 which was within the 25m drop zone, however when I got there I was thankful of the trig for shelter from the bitter wind and also the shelf beside it which was dry for sitting on and the right height for bending forward and sending the Morse.  There was good coverage at Larriston on the Vodafone network so I was able to spot myself using SOTA Spotter. I only operated on the 40m band on Larriston, cutting my operating time down to 20 minutes due to the failing light and the cold. I heard Don G0RQL in Devon give me a courtesy call at the end of my brief 40m SSB session, Don was 5 & 4 but the lack of power at my end - 10 watts from a KX2, meant there was no chance of a 2 way QSO unfortunately... the only UK station actually worked was the CW QRS operator David G0FVH:  

Relying on my GPS for direction, I headed back to the radio mast which had disappeared into the mist, relishing the thought of the quick ride back down the hill and the clean dry pair of socks waiting for me back at the car! As I made my way back I fell forward at one stage whilst negotiating a peat hag, no injury fortunately for me, just a moan and a groan as I continued on my way! If I had been using my normal walking poles I wouldn't have fallen like that. 

The summit - Larriston Fells GM/SS-161 - now activated 17 times - no view today - the Scottish Border lies less than 1 Km away to the south east of the summit 
I hardly peddled on my way down, reaching speeds of around 30 MPH on the rough track, It was a little foolhardy really as I wasn't wearing a helmet.  I reached the car just after 4.00 pm and the road had re-opened to traffic. It took me just 4 hours to drive home, which included a fast food refuelling stop at the KFC near the M6 roundabout at Penrith. 

Going back to my heading on this blog - was cycling to the summit worthwhile - in terms of the time saved? 

Ride and walk out = 4.6 miles 
Time taken = 96 minutes  (68 minutes ride/push & 28 minutes walk)

Walk and ride back = 4.7 miles 
Time taken = 47 minutes (21 minutes ride & 26 minutes walk) 

Before I rode back down the hill I had to ride around this concrete perimeter track:

https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/453337 and I am not the only one to wonder why this concrete circle was laid on a desolate near the Lothians & Borders Police radio mast - does anyone know? 

So what time did I save by riding and walking to this summit? At my normal walking pace on the track I estimate the total distance of 3.9 miles would have taken me 75 minutes walking time on the track and the same 28 minutes on the moor - so by using the bike I saved myself just 7 minutes on the upward journey. 

However, the return is different. On the downhill run at my normal walk pace I estimate it would have taken me 65 minutes walking time plus the same 26 minutes to negotiate the moor on foot.  So by using the bike on the return journey I saved myself another 45 minutes. 

So to sum up I reckon on this summit I saved myself around 1 hour by cycling Larriston Fell, however there are drawbacks - I needed to clean the bike the next day, as well as my rucksack which was mud splattered from the fast downward run. The other drawback is that when cycling on tracks, particularly at the easily reached speeds achieved (in excess of 25 mph) when riding downhill you are more at risk of an accident.  Other drawbacks are the fuel consumption on my car on what was a 320 mile journey with the bike on the carrier at the back causing drag. This means my diesel estate car only achieves around 45 mpg, when without the bike on the back I would likely get around 50 mpg.  I was unable to carry my walking poles on the bike - they would have been useful walking on the rough moor and would have likely prevented my falling into the murk - so another drawback there. The final drawback as I see it, is that when riding the bike it was not practical to wear my knee length walking gaiters - these are essential when walking on the type of rough wet moorland on border summits like Larriston Fell. Yes, I could have bagged the gaiters up and carried them in the rucksack and donned them before the moorland section, but I never the realised how rough and wet that moor would be....

So with hindsight, I have concluded for the purpose of saving just one hour in time I should have left the bike at home and walked the whole distance to the summit of Larriston Fell.  Walking the whole way would have meant I would have arrived back home at 9.00 pm rather than 8.00 pm. In terms of physical energy used, I have concluded there would not have been much difference in the effort expounded, whether walking the whole distance or cycling and walking the remaining distance across the moor. 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

SOTA GM/SS-196 Calkin Rig walk

I decided when I got parked to leave the bike locked on to the carrier and walk to the summit... so car and bike were left at NY 312884, part way along the access track to Calkin Rig GM/SS-196:

This is my Focus (Non-Electric) Hybrid "shopping bike" on the back of the car - the only bike I currently have. It is fine for riding on forest tracks if they are a reasonable grade. The frame is aluminium so it is reasonably lightweight. If I'm SOTA cycling I usually pack my KX2 transceiver and aerial bag in the saddlebag, and the pole and ancillary radio bits, food and drink (if needed), are carried in a day sized rucksack on my back. Carrying some items in the saddlebag takes some of the weight off my back. I don't think it is good for balance to have a big heavy rucksack on your back when cycling.  The bike is usually fitted with panniers for carrying shopping, but I remove these when I am riding on rough tracks. 

When I got to the Calkin Rig summit access track there were no restrictions and the gate was undone, so I drove up the track a half mile to the first closed gate at NY 312884, where I could park.  At that point I decided that I would walk to the summit rather than cycle. It took me 23 minutes to reach NY 294885, the point at which I left the track to go SSW. This is where I would have stashed my bike had I ridden it.  After climbing a steep bank I was on the boggy moor following the fence right to the summit of Calkin Rig, which took another 25 minutes. There was mobile coverage on the EE Network on the summit for spotting, but no coverage for Vodafone.  You will see from this map which way I went to the summit, and the way I came down, which was an improvement on the walk up with more level grass on which to walk and less rough moorland. There were still sheep grazing in this area despite the onset of winter:

My activation on 40m and 20m CW/SSB. One QSO on 2m FM was completed with G7THI in Hoff, near Appleby, Cumbria, with the remaining 36 contacts being on HF with all stations within Europe.   

HF CW Operation on Calkin Rig GM/SS-196
Operating a few metres down from the highest point on Calkin Rig
Walking down to Calkin to exit the moor on to the track at NY 301886 - note the drystane sheepfold centre of picture which I passed on the way down
The boarded up property Calkin and the gate on the left of the photo where I exited the moor
Coming down the moor back to the gate near Calkin was a better route than following the fence on the way up, however I did encounter an unseen water hole with my left foot, going down to the knee which left me with a boot full of water for the rest of the day. I was back at my car at 1145z having left it at 0910z.  When I re-programmed the Satnav it told me that my destination - the parking place for my 2nd summit, Larriston Fells GM/SS-161, was 19 miles away.  Blog report on that activation to follow...

Friday, 26 October 2018

SOTA in Scotland October 2018 - Penvalla, White Meldon and Caedmuir Hill

I'm not very fond of winter activating involving driving long distances in a single day, so with a respectable weather forecast I took my chance on October 26th 2018 to drive to the Scottish Borders and tackle three SOTA Complete activations in a day.

It is becoming more difficult to find three unique summits in Southern Scotland that are easy enough to reach and then climb and activate in the one day, from my home in North Yorkshire. In addition to the walking, the driving distance is around 400 miles. This means leaving Pickering before 6.00 am if I want to return home before 10.00 pm.  

The three summits identified were all in the Peebles area, so my route to reach the first was to the village of Stobo, via Scotch Corner, Penrith and Moffat to reach Stobo or the first walk, which is near Peebles. I left home at 5.45 am and reached Moffat within three hours for a comfort break, bacon butty and pot of tea at the Rumblin' Tum Cafe in the Market Place. I had made good time on the journey north, making contact on 2m FM when I was driving on the M74, with Geoff Harper G(M)4WHA/M on his way to work in Penrith. 

GM/SS-145 Penvalla

Proceeding to Stobo took less than an hour from Moffat, and I was walking on the John Buchan Way long distance path towards Penvalla SS-145 at 9.40 am, reaping the benefits of an early start.  I was carrying an Elecraft KX2 transceiver, 5m pole and a link dipole. It took 73 minutes to traverse the three miles to the summit. The first two miles were relatively flat with the real ascent starting when I left the JBW at around NT155385.  I was following the GPX track provided by Terry G0VWP which was loaded into the SOTA Maps website. The track used was perfect and could not be improved on in any way.

Derelict building "Harrowhope" at path junction on JBW (NT164383)

Proceeding towards Penvalla it was interesting to note that wide galvanised metal horse/bicycle gates had been recently fitted at every farm gate / stone wall that crossed the JBW making it effectively, into a bridleway - no doubt this is a popular route for mountain bike enthusiasts - indeed there was plenty of evidence along the way of tyre tracks.  Soon I got a view of Penvalla GM/SS-145 at 537m high and worth 2 Points:

When I reached the top it was featureless and devoid of any rocks, fences or fixtures so I deployed my guying ring to support a 5 metre pole with the link dipole. The 40m band was used and 22 contacts were completed quickly in Morse and Voice.  The wind was turning to the north and for the first time since last winter a pair of fleece gloves and a woollen hat was needed to be worn for the return walk back down to the car. 

SS-208 White Meldon 

A country lane signposted "The Meldons" leads north from the A72 and I followed this to the north west side of White Meldon summit. At NT 217439 there is a stile at the roadside which takes you on to the moorland access land leading to the summit. Car parking is roadside, where you can see the stile: 

Another stile a little further up the fenceline takes you on the moorland proper. The moor here is a mix of heather, bracken and grass and there are sheep tracks and a quad track if you are fortunate enough to find it. I tended to walk from patch of grass to patch of grass interspersed with heather. The going was reasonably easy, allowing me to reach the summit trig point in 25 minutes. 

The view from White Meldon GM/SS-208

The same methods were employed as on Penvalla - using 7 MHz Morse and Voice with my 18 contacts being spread around Europe. I found a quad track for the downhill walk which lasted for part of way before I reverted to walking the rougher moorland again, but walking was relatively easy on this tussock free moor.

GM/SS-219 Cademuir Hill

A good part of the Cademuir Forest was harvested a year or two ago and the public are encouraged to use it as amenity woodland. A car park is provided at NT 247383 where this sign is situated:

It was half term and I noticed a few youngsters riding bikes in the forestry and a few dog walkers using the tracks. Peebles is around a mile away and the forest is no doubt very popular with the locals. When I reached the summit which had been cleared of trees, there was no one there except me for the duration of the activation.  As usual I found a better route down than going up and this is the track which will be uploaded to to the SOTA Mapping Project. It took me 26 minutes to walk up and 18 minutes to walk down. 

The top of Cademuir Hill near Peebles GM/SS-219

The wind had turned north and was bitter so I quickly completed the contacts with the 22 stations who called me as quickly as possible and then headed back down the hill for the long drive home to North Yorkshire.

25th October 2018: Penvalla > White Meldon > Cademuir Hill:

Departed Pickering 5.45 am - returned Pickering 9.00 pm (No meal stop on return journey)

390 Miles driven
8.7 Miles walked
2330 feet ascended
69 Contacts completed (All 7 MHz)

Equipment used:

Elecraft KX2 Transceiver 8 watts output, 1/2 wave resonant inverted vee dipole on 5m pole
Palm Pico Paddle Morse Key, Seinnheiser boom microphone / headset.

Click photo for larger impression

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

SOTA Cycling in Southern Scotland - August 2018

I was really fortunate yesterday in many ways in my effort to go SOTA Cycling in Scotland - I activated 4 unique / complete summits but only needed to cycle to one of them!

I left Pickering at 5.42am. 

Wether Hill GM/SS-147

I got to the gate from the B729 at NS 684912 which leads up to the wind farm on SS-147 Wether Hill - a workman opened the gate for me and waved me through... I took that to be the granting of permission, so I drove smartly through with a wave and this saved me cycling to the top. I parked near to the summit and walked a half mile from the car rather than cycling up the hill.   2 points, a SOTA Complete and 20 QSOs including Derek 2E0MIX in Cumbria on 2m FM with my handheld and RH770 whip.  I took some pleasure out of working my friend Jan OK2PDT operating as DL/OK2PDT/P on DM/BW-008. The short skip propagation conditions for inter UK communications were poor - the stronger stations were south of Bristol - the likes of G4WSB, GW4VPX and G0RQL were logged. On leaving the site the man came out of his cabin again and opened the gate for me - the workmen had been regrading the road up to the wind farm but their machines were resting. I complemented him on how good the work on the road was, and he thanked me in return...

Green Lowther GM/SS-056

The radar station on Green Lowther near Wanlockhead was next. I went there some years ago with Geoff M0PYG one late afternoon and the security gate was locked. Yesterday the gate was open, which was an invitation for me to drive to the summit. I saw two contractors vans up there and a cyclist and drove to within 100m of the trig point where I set up the KX2 and link dipole on my 5m fishing pole. No problem and no questions asked, even though a contractor went to the nearby transmitter building. 16 QSOs were completed including another with Derek on 2m, which is when I discovered that the “fully charged” battery on my FT-270 was worn out and needs replacement. We did complete the contact but my radio was cutting out due to the worn battery at the end of our QSO - I was using 5 watts output with the RH770 whip antenna. Jan DL/OK2PDT/P came on again, this time from DM/BW-003 and we made our 2nd and final S2S contact of the day.

Common Hill GM/SS-174

Another wind farm and no closed gates. I drove almost to the top - total walk to the trig was around 300m. 11 QSOs on 40m CW/SSB from this summit, and I was finished by 1300z.

However, this was supposed to be a SOTA Cycling day and it hadn’t been. I felt like a cheat having walked less than one mile bagging three SOTA Unique Completes.  I had some time left before heading back south and home so I studied several summit locations using Viewranger on my phone and on the local OS 1:50000 map I had with me. I opted for a nearby summit called Nutberry Hill SS-156 not far from SS-174.

Nutberry Hill GM/SS-156

I saw on the map there was a track leading into the forest - the nearest village was an old mining community I had never heard of named Coalburn. From there I drove beyond a derelict farm called South Cumberhead until I reached a locked gate at NS 777337 where there was just room to park my car off the track. This parking place left me with a 5 mile journey to the summit, mostly on the bike with the last half mile from a quarry being a moorland walk.  It was 3.30pm when I set off on the 10 mile round trip - it would have been too late to walk it and get back home before midnight, but it was feasible on the bike. It wasn’t the best surface for SOTA Cycling and there was a significant amount of ascent, descent and then re-ascent, but I managed to ride 4 miles out of the 4.5 miles, pushing the bike for a half mile, before leaving it and walking the final half mile over the wet moor. If I had taken the time to plan this route at home I would likely have decided it was not worth it.

In the event, it took me 70 minutes to reach the trig point after the 5 miles of cycling and walking and when I got there it was raining. This was that wetting, misty drizzle that soaks you in time at all. I operated my KX2 on CW in a small pack bag which I use to carry my headset in. After just six 40m contacts (including Victor GI4ONL) there were no more callers and I packed up.

The walk and ride back I was not looking forward to, however I actually enjoyed it, reaching a maximum speed of over 27 mph on the downhill rough surface without falling off the bike! I was wearing my helmet as a precaution..... The journey time back, including the half mile walk to the bike took me 47 minutes for the five miles. I got back to the car at 5.54pm and promptly changed my sweaty T shirt and socks which were soaked. I was cycling and walking in my leather walking shoes rather than the usual Scarpa leather boots and the boggy moor meant I had returned with wet feet. This did at least remove some of the hard skin which I suffer from on my feet!

This left me with a 200 mile drive back to Pickering, which included a stop at KFC Penrith for the usual feed. The A1 was closed so I purposely diverted early from the A66 via Richmond onto minor roads and then on to Brompton on Swale and Northallerton to Thirsk. The detour cost me another half hour and I reached home in Pickering at 10.40pm having driven 458 miles.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Activating with VK2IO in New South Wales - Day 2

For my second day activating with Gerard VK2IO it was determined that the best place to head for were the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, which lie around 40 miles south of Sydney. The summits of Knights Hill (VK2/IL-007) and Mount Kembla (VK2/IK-015) were our priority as these would be SOTA Complete for me. In addition Gerard factored in three more summits in the day. Neither of us lived "en-route" to the area of interest so to speak, so we arranged to meet at 7.15am on the southern outskirts of Sydney where Gerard parked his Subaru Forester up for the day. I had to take a few photos of Gerard's mobile installation as it was of great interest. Their was a Codan (motorised tuned) HF antenna on the rear bumper, with a vertical whip for the 10 MHz HF APRS transmissions mounted on the front bumper. A Codan transceiver in the boot provides the automatic data transmissions for APRS location on 10.140 MHz:

VK2IO's HF Codan APRS radio - the HF transceiver is a Yaesu FT-100 with remote head near the driver
VK2/IL-015 Mount Kembla

The trail to Mount Kembla which tops out the Illawarra Escarpment was well marked. It takes around 30 minutes to reach the lookout where I set up my station. Thanks to Simon G4TJC, who came here in December and provided this track for the SOTA Mapping Project:

Setting up on the rock at the lookout I just had room to accommodate my 40m length link dipole. We agreed I would start on 20m - I had drawn the short straw - nil propagation! This was unlike my visit to Mount Elliot the previous week when I worked DX - Larry K0RS in Colorado on 20m CW.  
An idyllic operating position for VK2/G4OBK/P on Mount Kembla VK/IL-015 - now SOTA Complete
After wasting time and power calling CQ on 20 metres I moved down to 30m for my six QSOs in SSB/CW and then topped it off on 40m with one CW QSO with Ian VK5CZ. Gerard was operating in a clearing about 200m from me and we kept in touch as usual on 2m with our handhelds. 

VK2/IL-007 Knights Hill

A 40 minute drive from Mount Kembla brought us to Knights Hill - a TV and commercial comms site with three very tall masts on it. The public area is well with the 25m drop activation zone. I operated on a patch of grass in full sun with a view of the masts. The radio got pretty hot:

Once again after trying CQ calls and spots I found within 10 minutes that the 20m band was closed. It took me another 30 minutes to complete 8 contacts on 30m and 40m, a different experience to what I find operating in Europe when in that space of time I would have expected to make many more contacts than that with the 50 watts I was running from the FT-857. 
My operating position - I had no groundsheet - on leaving the summit Gerard remarked he had previously seen snakes here...
VK2IO operating in his short legged camping chair - drive on summit

Once again this was "SOTA Complete" for me and we moved off to our next three summits which were clustered more closely together. 

VK2/IL-002 Wingecarribee

90 minutes after packing up on Knights Hill we were driving up Trig Station Lane to VK2/IL-002. It took longer to reach the drive on summit than expected as we were hungry - we had stopped off at the Robertson Pie Shop, renowned for the many certificates and diplomas won in pie making competitions throughout Australia. A fabulous place this was, standing on its own near a road junction:

Gerard chose Steak & Kidney, I chose Potato - which turned out to be Cottage Pie. Suitably fortified we made for Wingecarribee.

The summit is on private land, however a public road, a cul-de-sac, goes to several smallholdings which lie within the activation zone. There was room to park the Toyota and using the benefit of Gerard's knowledge we both set up on the right hand side of the road near the smallholdings about 150m apart. I setup my station on some neatly manicured grass behind a broken wire fence on private land, but not in view of the smallholders house. A few passing farmer types gave a jovial wave as they passed in their vehicles during my 30 minute operating session on 30m and 40m SSB from 0345z onward. Again I drew a blank on 20m due to the propagation and I was unable to solicit CW contacts on any band despite spots on SOTAWatch and calls. 
Gerard VK2IO/P busy packing up at his position on Trig Station Lane within the AZ on IL-002
Thanks to the 11 Australian Chasers who made it into my log on SSB. 

VK2/IL-001 Mount Gibraltar
This was the least enjoyable activation for me, in full sun on a concrete pad of a former radio mast near to the trig point. 

However, at last there were signs of limited propagation on 20m where I worked VK3CAT and ZL1BYZ. 

(To be continued)

Monday, 5 February 2018

VK2/G4OBK/P Mount Elliot VK2/HU-093

A week or so after activating with Gerard VK2IO I drove north from the Balgowlah Sydney suburb with my XYL, to activate Mount Elliot. We made a day out of the trip. It took 90 minutes to reach the summit area which is 6 miles east north east of Gosford in the Central Coast Region of New South Wales.  The summit is the most southerly of the SOTA VK2/HU (Hunter Valley Group) and is activated on a regular basis but the locals. I imagine that is probably why I have worked the summit 4 times from back home in England....

The summit area is a "drive on" one point hill within a nature reserve. It has a picnic area with BBQs provided, lookout, large car park and clean toilets. 

I arrived too late to catch the 0000z rollover time, where it would be possible to work the same chaser station either side of midday and provide double points. By the time I got set up it was after midday:

My friend Gerard VK2IO in Castle Hill, North Sydney was well featured in my log with 4 QSOs. The best DX QSO was into Colorado - Larry K0RS. 

A comfortable operating position on Mount Elliot at the picnic site within the 25m activation zone
After almost an hour on 20m, 30m and 40m I packed up. I tried a few CQ calls on 2m FM with my handheld and long whip from the lookout platform - there were no takers. 

All done we motored down to the coast at Terrigal. This was a very nice resort. We had brunch, a bit of a wander along the coast and then up to the highest point... VK2/HU-093 was another SOTA Complete for me. Onwards and upwards.....