Monday 12 October 2015
Since my return to hill walking and SOTA activating in April of this year following a 8 year absence due to family and health issues I have tended to take on easyish summits. Even when activating 4 hills in a day the total climb has probably been no more than 800 feet combined. With the prospect of running out of 1 pointers to activate within my one day drive range it was time to push myself to see what I was capable of. Walking distance on the flat is not an issue as I regularly take 10 – 15 mile walks around my village, the real issue with me is the ability to climb the higher and steeper hills. So to put myself to the test I chose 3 one pointers close to each other with a total climb of 1850 feet, including a single climb of 922 feet most of which was in one short section. The first hill was to be the shortest climb followed by the highest, this allowed me to skip the third if the legs were done in! Oh – and I was also breaking in some new boots!!!
So it was off to the 3 hills around Abergavenny leaving home at 04.30am aiming to get to the first hill just before sunrise.
FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle, VX-170 plus RSS 2M dipole.
Graig Syfyrddin GW/SW-020
Following an easy and relatedly quiet drive down the M4 to Wales, I arrived at the parking spot opposite the start of the footpath to Graig Syfyrddin (SO 412212). The sun hadn’t risen yet but the light was good enough to head off up the hill. There is a beautiful silence about walking just before dawn even the birds seems very quiet – just waiting for the sun to appear above the horizon. The walk up is fairly straight forward. Head up the obvious path to the style, from here continue in the same direction until you reach the trig point at the summit. Because the path was heading west I had my back to the rising sun until I turned back once at the summit to see the sun appear above the misty hills – all very misty eyed. Distance travelled 0.5 miles, ascent 388 feet time taken 20 minutes.
I tried to self spot 7-ssb but was not getting any joy from the phone signal so went straight for 7-cw and managed to get an RBN spot. Six stations were working in reasonably quick succession generally with good report but with some deep and rapid QSB – the story of the past few months. There was little logic to the location of the contacts as they covered I, DL, LA and G. However, leaving the best to last I managed a summit to summit with Jan DL/OK2PDT/P on DM/BM-089.
Tried to self spot again for 7-ssb but was not able – made a few calls on 2-fm but it seems all sensible people were still in bed!! So it was back to the car for coffee and a quick breakfast then off to the next location
Ysgyryd Fawr GW/SW-016
A 20 minute drive brought me to the large car parking area at the southerly start of Ysgyryd Fawr or The Skirrid (SO 328164). Arriving here at 08.30 local time I was surprised to see a couple of other cars already parked up. I had heard that this was a popular hill but this was early Monday morning. Whilst I was kitting up another car pulled up and out hopped a couple of fell runners who very quickly vanished towards the hill.
The initial pull up through the woods is steep but aided by cut steps. This was the sort of terrain I was after to really test me and my legs, and boy did it test me! However, having said that I only stopped twice on the way up – once to check my GPS at a junction and the other to chat to a woman and her dog just as I cleared the woods. We spoke for a short while and she warned me of the three false summits ahead – so it was onward and upward along the more gentle rise of the ridge with some stunning views in all directions. Eventually the summit trip came into view as I reached the top. Distance 1.25 miles, ascent 922 feet time taken 50 minutes (including the chat time).
Set up for HF against the trig and tried to self spot for 7-ssb – nothing. Switched at 7-cw as earlier but despite calling for 10 minutes – not takers. later found that RBN had not heard me! As the time was now 09.45 local I called on 145.500 Mhz and bingo established a good flow of 9 contacts. Hill qualified it was time to pack up as I noted a steady stream of walkers heading for the summit. The walk back only took about 35 minutes and would have been quicker except for having to explain the SOTA pole and VHF RSS aerial to every passing group. The steep descent back down through the woods did highlight one thing about my new boots – I needed to tighten them more across the main part of my foot to stop my foot sliding forward into the front of the boot. Apart from that the boots were performing brilliantly.
Having returned to the car park it was time to assess the state of my legs and the new boots I was breaking in. Well on both counts I was doing well, I felt no tiredness from the climbing and there were no aches or pains. The boots felt like a pair of gloves – I was really starting to like them a lot.
Bryn Awr GW/SW-026
For this hill I had chosen to start from the car park that serves the northern approach to Sugarloaf as suggested by Phil G4OBK from his most recent activation of this summit (SO292200). From here a short walk down the lane to a turning sign posted for Upper Bettws Farm. Follow this lane all the way to a junction at (SO 295202) where a road, not shown on my map, goes straight ahead and a road goes to the right signed for Upper Bettws Farm. Take the right had road for about 20 feet were you will see a style on the left signed ‘The Hill’. The track upwards is very overgrown in places so try to get to the edge of the field as soon as practicable. Follow the way marked path towards the summit though in places you could be fighting your way through thick ferns depending on the time of year you take on this hill. Eventually you arrive at the non-descript summit where there are some clear patches of short grass amongst the gorse and ferns. However, be warned the reason the grass patches are short is because they are kept that was by the sheep. So look out for their bye products which are everywhere! Distance 1 mile ascent 546 feet time taken 30 minutes.
From the summit I suffered exactly the same problems that I had experienced from the previous hill with the inability to self spot and conditions so apparently poor that the RBN was not hearing my – unless there is another problem which I will need to investigate before my next trip (with my radio/aerial that is not my phone). So it was back to 2-fm and a call on 145.500 Mhz. Now the strange thing is that both my 145-fm self spots went through but my HF ones wouldn’t. Now I know this is not a problem with the system, I was just jinxed today. Anyway back to the radio – for a painful 20 minutes I struggled to get 4 QSO’s in the log but manage I did and my thanks goes to G4ILI, M0JLA, G4WTF and G0SNB for coming to the rescue. A further attempt self spot and call on 7-ssb resulted in no further contacts so it was back to the car for tea and tiffin – well coffee and marmite sarnies actually.
Overall it was a great day out. The radio conditions were poor to non-existent (nothing new there) but the weather was excellent and the mountains were all that I had expected from them, especially The Skirrid which was my main reason for coming here. My concerns about my ability to climb the higher hills has proven to been unfounded. My new boots performed very well. I was a little concerned about wearing them on the hills without road testing them at home, for this reason I had my old boots in the car. However, I needn’t have worried because they working very well. The boots, another birthday present from the XYL, are Brasher Gore-Tex Extralites and true to Chris Brasher’s philosophy they were rugged and firm but felt as though I was wearing a trainer. I just hope Chris’s concept and philosophy is maintained now that the company has been bought by Berghaus (RIP Chris).
As always a big thank you to all the chasers who called me today, your continued presence is always appreciated.
73 Glyn G(W)4CFS/P