GW/SW-004 Waun Rydd & GW/SW-013 Tor y Foel

Monday 29 February 2016

waun rydd ridge
This winter period has not been the best for me from a walking point of view.  Firstly there was illness at the start of December then the bad weather through January and now work issues.  With one member of staff on leave there is flex to continue running the shop without hassle.  However, add a member of staff off sick for 2 weeks means no time off for 14 straight days and hence no walking trips since the 7 February.  With the bonus season fast running out (as pointed out by a well trained Mrs CFS) I took the first opportunity to get back into the hills.

The target today was always going to be Waun Rydd with the add-on of Tor y Foel at the end.  From the reports that I had read Waun Rydd was going to be a fairly straight forward walk of about an hour and a half.  I wanted to do this mountain on a reasonable day as the views promised to be breath taking.  As always, this time of year, I set off at 0430 along the M4 for South Wales and the Brecon Beacons.  I arrived at the car park at the start of the walk at 0730 (SO 056175).
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Equipment

FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle, VX-8 plus RSS 2M dipole

Waun Rydd GW/SW-004

By 0745 I was off up the steps that follow the line of the stream and beautiful waterfalls.  Its bad when you have to stop for a genuine photo opportunity within 5 minutes of starting a walk!  The first part of the walk is a fairly steep pull up onto the ridge,  The path is well maintained by the Parks Authority and use of the natural indigenous stone means the paths blends in well with the terrain.  Stopping for a couple of photo opportunities on the way up as more of the local scenery comes into view, I reached the ridge in 45 minutes.  From here it is just a case of following the well defined path and avoiding falling over the steep drop on the right hand side.  The views are breath-taking especially on a nice sunny morning but as I gained more height the temperature dropped to -6 C plus wind chill .  The only bad part of the whole walk is the section from the cul to the top where you have to cross peat hagged ground.  The summit is marked by the smallest cairn possible and must a be a pig to find in poor visibility. Distance 2.44  miles, Ascent 1354 feet, Time Taken 1:45.

route

The plan had been to open up on 2m then follow this with a spell on 40m.  Self Spotting on 145.500MHz quickly brought 2E0MDJ into the log who also spotted me on the working channel.  Within a further 6 minutes I had 3 more stations in the log and despite several calls had no further response on 2m.  Time to set up the HF when I encountered a problem I have never experienced before.  The ground was frozen solid and I couldn’t get the pegs into the ground.  I decided I gather a few stones but there were none large enough to hold the fishing pole up without moving.  By this stage I had spent 30 minutes messing around and I couldn’t feel my fingers even with my gloves on.  So with just 4 QSO’s in the log I called it a day and packed up for the walk back to the car.

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The start of the path up to the ridge

 

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View from Craig y Fan Ddu towards Graig Fan Las and the Summit

 

 

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The summit of Waun Rydd with Pen y Fan shrouded in cloud

 

Tor y Foel GW/SW-013

After just a 30 minute drive I parked up on the left side of the road adjacent to a charming seat to take in the view (SO 110187).  This is a very straight forward walk – just follow the path until you run out of hill to climb!  I think it was Phil, G4OBK, who said it was a popular winter bonus hill and an easy 2 pointer – I totally agree.  Distance 0.58 miles, Ascent 441 feet, Time Taken 30 minutes.
route

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The obvious route up Tor y Foel

 

A quick check of Sotawatch on the phone showed Adrian GW4AZS/P was on 145.400MHz from GW/NW-049, so the scorecard was opened with a nice S2S contact.  However, although Adrian was working a veritable pile-up with his 40 watts and a J pole, I was struggling with just 5 watts and an RSS and managed no further contacts on 2m.  Setting up for 7-ssb and self spotting I quickly started a good run of contacts and in a matter of 12 minutes 15 QSO’s went into the log.  A pleasant point of note about this activation was the behaviour of all the chasers.  Having started to work the pile-up on 40m I was called by Pete GW4ISJ/P on 2-fm from Pen y Fan GW/SW-001 for a S2S.  I quickly advised those calling on HF that I had a S2S on 2m and requested they standby.  On return from 2m to 7-ssb I put out one call and continued with the pile-up.  After all the recent bad press some chasers have received it was a real pleasure to work such a well mannered and patient bunch of chasers – thank you.

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A nice sheltered hollow just below the summit made a great shack

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The view from the shack towards Waun Rydd with Talybont Reservoir in the Valley

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The path back down to the car

 

Summary

This was a fantastic day out in the hills with some most enjoyable walking and great radio.  The only down side was the inability of me to operate on HF from Waun Rydd.  I shall be looking into what alternates I can take with me.  An interesting encounter with a local whilst walking up Tor y Foel who enquired about the poles in my ruck sack.  When I explained he said oh yes I have met one of your guys several times- old chap must be pushing 70 and I think his name was Allan (poss GW4VPX??)

Thanks as usual to all the chasers and spotters – without you this would be just a walk in the park!

73 Glyn G(W)4CFS

 

 

 

 

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GW/SW-002 Waun Fach

Sunday 7 February 2016

 

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Featureless summit of Waun Fach

 

With just a few days of my holiday left and the XYL quickly making claim to them I made the move to go walking on Sunday.  As regular readers will know, weekends are not my favourite time for walking but Sunday is the only day I can fit in before returning to work.  The weather was not looking brilliant, forecasting high winds and heavy snow – bring it on.

Waun Fach GW/SW-002

Today’s target was Waun Fach, the largest of the Black Mountains at the eastern end of the Brecon Beacon range.  At 811 metres this mountain is worth 8pts plus the 3pt winter bonus making it a worthwhile solo walk for a 6 hour return drive from home.  Leaving home at the customary 0430hrs I set off along the A34 & M4 for South Wales.  I arrived at a parking place near to Castell Dinas at about 0730 (SO 176303) and by 0740 was heading off down the track.  Sorry did I say track – more like a river, the stream that flows along side the track had burst its banks, so grateful for GTX boots.

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This was very much a walk of two halves.  The first is the magnificent Y Grib ridge or Dragons Back, an enjoyable ridge walk talking you up to the main plateau at Pen y Manllwyrr.  The second is the atrocious bog and peat hag ridden plateau walk to the summit.  I followed the obvious route straight up the ridge of the first hill.  The walk up is deceptive, as on the surface the ridge appears to be one steady gradual ridge climb.  However, the local name ‘Dragons Back’ gives away it real profile of a series of climbs and descents getting progressively higher. Very much like a saw tooth profile.  The views during the climb were very good in all directions though the summit of Waun Fach was shrouded in cloud.  At the top of y Grib there is a substantial cairn before the ground levels off for half a mile before the final climb up to Pen y Manllwyrr. From this point the track becomes very ephemeral and you find yourself having to weave all over the place to avoid the worst of the peat hags and bogs.  There had been  quite a considerable snow fall over night which had drifted into the gaps between the hags causing some consternation as I disappeared up to mid-thigh on several occasions.  All of this contributed to slow progress for the last mile of the walk but I did eventually arrive at the top to see the summit scattered with gravel bags in preparation for the laying of tracks.  Shame they hadn’t started from Pen y Manllwyrr.  Distance 3.2 miles, Ascent 1660 feet, Time Taken 2 hours 15 minutes.

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Sitting on one of the gravel bags I put out a call on 145.500 MHz and got an immediate response from Stewart G0LGS who kindly spotted my.  This was quickly followed by GW1BXX, G4WTF & GW3XJQ then silence.  I called several times but heard nothing more and as the snow was falling again and the temperature had fallen I decided to get off the hill.  Heading back I made quicker time across the plateau finding a slightly better route to take.  The only point of note on the return is that good navigation is required in order to pick up the descent point off the plateau back down to Y Grib as the track cannot be seen until you are at the very edge of the slope.  I had used my reverse track on the GPS to find the correct point to start the descent.

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Bags of Gravel and hardcore scattered around the summit

 

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The descent of Y Grib Ridge (Dragons Back)

 

This was a real winter activation with a reasonably high summit, snow, high winds and falling temperatures.  The ridge walk was excellent but the plateau left a lot to be desired.  The radio side was disappointing though in fairness I didn’t hang around too long and it was planned to be a VHF only activation.  Thanks to those that checked in and to Stewart for the spot, very much appreciated.

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Should have entered the ‘Milk Tray Man’ competition

South Wales Tour Feb 2016 – Pt2

 

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Tuesday 2 February 2016

When I was planning this trip a couple of weeks ago I was very much undecided as to what hills to do on the second day.  Originally I had looked at the group of hills just north of Merthyr Tydfil – Cefn Yr Ystrad, Waun Ryyd and Tor y Foel.  There were various reasons why I rejected them but primarily it was one of maximum reward within a given time bearing in mind I had a 3 hour drive after I had finished to get home.  In the end I decided that the best pairing with minimum driving was Pen y Fan and Fan Fawr

Equipment

VX-8 plus RSS 2M dipole. (I had made the decision that morning to reduce the weight of the rucksack and do away with HF).

Pen y Fan GW/SW-001

After a very good nights sleep and an excellent breakfast at my Premier Inn in Aberdare I headed north on the road to Brecon arriving at the Pen y Fan car park at about 0845 (SN 987198).  There were already several cars in the car park so I guessed I wasn’t going to have a quiet day today – but the mountain is big enough so it wasn’t going to be a problem.  Last time I was here was 45 years ago as a young 14 year old and I didn’t remember the motorway that now winds its way up the side of the mountain.  I suppose at the end of the day its that fine line between allowing access to the masses with an element of damage limitation.  At least virtually everyone I saw that morning were properly dressed for the environment!

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Packing my now redundant GPS, map and compass away in my rucksack I set off up the M4 extension for very pleasant walk to the col then skirting around Corn Du and up to the summit of Pen y Fan.  As I gained height I felt the wind get stronger but even when on the exposed summit platform the gusts were not as strong as they had been the day before.  Distance 1.78 miles, Ascent 1440 feet Time Taken 1hr15.

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Self spotting on 2-fm, I quickly opened the account with Mal GW6OVD who was the first of 8 QSO’s all within 12 minutes.  The best DX was Don G0RQL in Holsworthy, N Devon but the highlight was 3 summit to summit QSO’s.  Initially I was called by Vicky MW6BWA/P from Mynydd Carn y Cefn GW/SW-014 (were I had been yesterday), this was followed by Rod MW0JLA/P on the same hill.  Then towards the end of my activation I was called by Allan GW4VPX/P on Tor y Foel GW/SW-013.

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Fan Fawr GW/SW-005

I made quick work of my descent as I didn’t want to waste any time sight seeing before heading 500 yards up the road to the car park opposite the Storey Arms Centre (SN 982203).  Having looked at Fan Fawr from the decent of Pen y Fan I had seen the ephemeral track that makes its way up to the summit from the Storey Arms car park however, this path was not so clear from ground level.  Using the GPS and the map I just made a beeline for the scarring on the final approach to the summit.  On occasions the path was obvious and progress was good, the final pull up through the badly scarred area was a bit tricky due to the amount of water flowing off the top. Distance 1.45 miles, Ascent 953 feet, Time Taken 45 mins

route

The wind here seemed stronger than it had on Pen y Fan so I didn’t venture too far onto the summit plateau but stayed just within the AZ to avoid the worst of the wind.  I put out a few calls on 145.500MHz and made contact with 3 local stations in fairly quick order, one of which I tail-ended.  However, the calls dried up so a self spot onto Sotawatch brought GW6OVD into the log to qualify the hill.  Mal spotted me as well for which I thank you but there were no further contacts.

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Mission accomplished, all hills activated and qualified now just to get down, back to the car and home.  However, as I got myself back up onto my feet I realised that my legs were not in a good state.  This had been the most climbing I had done in a concentrated period for many years especially having done almost 2500 feet in one morning, my poor body was not used to it.  The instability of my legs however, reunited me with something I used to do as a teenager when coming down hill – rump bumping!  This is when you sled downhill on your derrière.  I this case today though it was totally unplanned but brought on by a loss of footing just as I came off the summit.  Quickly recovering my posture, I realised it was actually a quicker and probably safer way to descent using my walking poles to control the speed of descent in much the same way as you would use an ice axe.  You don’t know how good it felt to act like a teenager again, I am just glad there was no one else around to see my irresponsible antics.  On the plus side I was off the hill in about 25 minutes and the downside was explaining to the XYL why my trousers were so dirty.

Action-man

Anyway composure regained as I made the final descent top the car park I could see someone near the cars looking towards me with what looked like binoculars.  This is very disconcerting as you worry that the behavioural police are out to tell me off for ‘rump bumping’ at my age and setting a bad example.  I needn’t have worried because as I draw closer in noted a SOTA badge on the hat of the person in the car park.  It was indeed Allan GW4VPX there to greet me off the hill.  This was a very pleasant surprise as it is the first time that I have ever met another SOTA activator in the wild, so to speak.  We chatted for a short while but then bade our farewells as we both had pressing engagements.  It was a shame that we couldn’t have chatted more but at least we did have time for a joint selfie.  Thanks Allan great to meet you.

CFS-and-VPX

Summary

Today had been a real challenge for me primarily because of the height I was planning to do in the one day.  It had been many years since I done 2500 feet in a day so I was curious to see how well I performed.  I was happy with how things went and I now know that I can take on most summits that I want to do.  I have really enjoyed the two days spent in the Brecon area, done some great walking and seen some spectacular scenery.  Unfortunately it is now back to work but I will be back before the end of February – weather permitting.

73 Glyn G(W)4CFS

South Wales Tour Feb 2016 – Pt1

 

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I had some holiday to use up before the end of February 2016 and took the last week of January and the first of February off.  The plan had been to spend 2 days in South Wales during the first week and maybe a single day the following week.  This had to be changed due to weather constraints so a 2 day trip was planned for 1&2 Feb 16.  A total of 10 summits were identified as possible targets and the planning started in earnest.  I had looked at various forms of accommodation in the general area including Youth Hostels and B&B’s however, in the end I settled for a Premier Inn in Aberdare.  The choice was swayed by the price and facilities provided and as an employee of the Whitbread Group I get 50% discount on Premier Inns and 25% off the food so it really was a no brainer!!

The choice of accommodation had a direct impact on the choice of summits as well.  I had intended to do Black Mountain GW/SW-041 and Sugar Loaf GW/SW-011 plus one other.  That one other became Craig y Llyn GW/SW-010 because it was close to the Hotel.  In order to get 3 summits in during the hours of daylight with a reasonable time for operating I dropped Sugar Loaf and picked up Mynydd Carn y Cefn GW/SW-014 instead.

Monday 1 February 2016

As the departure day approached it became apparent that I was going to catch the edge of Storm Henry which was to batter the North of England and Scotland.  I did consider postponing the trip but the met office assured me that the winds wouldn’t be that severe in South Wales!  I decided to proceed but was going to make this a predominantly VHF activation.  Leaving Southampton at 0430 I arrived at the parking area for Black Mountain at Gospel Pass in good time (SO 236350).

Equipment

FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle, VX-8 plus RSS 2M dipole.

Black Mountain GW/SW-041

As I set off towards Hay Bluff the wind seems fairly calm but it was not long before this all changed and by the time I got to the trig point the wind was making it hard to stand still to take a photo. Leaving the trig I continued towards the highest point of this very exposed ridge until my GPS assured me that I was well inside the AZ.  Distance 1.76 miles, Ascent 554 feet, Time Taken 45 minutes.

route

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I am glad I chose to do a VHF activation because it would have been virtually impossible to erect my HF aerial in this wind.  I was struggling to stay on my feet and I placed a self spot for 145.500 and started calling.  It was about 5 minutes before the first station got into the log and a further 21 minutes to get 3 more QSO’s.  By this stage the wind had increased and I was getting blown over each time the wind gusted so I pulled the plug and headed back towards the trig and the path back to the car adopting a crouched position each time the wind gusted!!

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Mynydd Carn y Cefn GW/SW-014

The drive from Black Mountain to Nantyglo took about 45 minutes and I parked up at the Golf Course (SO 184104).  The walk to the top is fairly straight forward following a rough track for most of the way initially across the golf course then up the gentle slope to the summit ridge.  The wind had been fairly tame until the final pull up onto the ridge when it really kick off again with high gusts. Distance 1.25 miles, Ascent 545 feet, Time Taken 35 minutes.

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After self spotting called for some time on 145.500 MHz but with no joy, so tuned around and ‘tail-ended’ a QSO with G3LBT who was putting a cracking signal into South Wales from Essex!  I listened to him for a short while afterwards and he was working all over the UK on 2-fm.  Back to calling frequency again and after 10 minutes was called by a portable station walking to work.  It took a further 6 minutes to get 2 more QSO’s in the book to qualify the hill.  The radio was as difficult as the weather, one minute I’m working across the country the next I am struggling to work the locals.

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In order to give myself some protection from the wind I had sat on the grass slightly down the leeward side of the hill with my back to the wind.  Everything was fine until one huge gust caught my rucksack (still attached to my back) and physically lifted me back onto my feet.  At this point I decided to call it a day and get down off the hill soonest.  I was glad to get off the ridge and start heading back to the car as the wind was starting to take its toil and I was still planning to do one more hill before the end of the day.

Cairn y Llyn GW/SW-010

From Nantyglo I headed along the ‘Heads of the Valley’ road to Hirwaun and up the mountain road to a large access drive to a wind farm.  There is plenty of room to park a few cars without blocking any access to the farm track (SN 923027).

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Care should be taken as you walk back up the road to the start of the track as this is a very busy road.  The way ahead is very clear as it is a badly churned up muddy quagmire created by off roaders.  Progress was very slow but after about 500 metres the track climbs up to a proper forestry track and going becomes easy and brisk.  Eventually the track comes to a way marker with a track off to the left heading into the forest.  Approximately 100 metres along this track is the trig point.  I decide to return to the way marker as this is relatively in the clear and more suitable for 2-fm. The added bonus was that the forest was protecting me from the wind so this was a more pleasant activation.  Distance 1.5 miles, Ascent 422 feet, Time Taken 35 minutes.

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Self spotting as earlier brought in 2 QSO’s in quick order but then the deathly silence prevailed once again.  This was finally broken by GW3XJQ with whom I had a very pleasant chat discussing the 4 contact rule of SOTA and explaining that I needed one more contact to make the summit count.  At which point he declared that his XYL was licenced and close to the shack.  Three minutes later the hill was qualified and following a final call which brought in Allan ‘VPX’ who was out mobile, I decided that I had done enough for one day and with the cold, wind and now the rain starting all I wanted was a hot bath and a good meal.  So it was that I set off to Aberdare for a pleasant nights sleep.

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Summary

This had been a difficult day having to contend with the incessant wind and the wind chill factor that brought with it.  As a result of the wind I was having to operate on a band that I usually use as a side-line for picking off the odd local (not suggesting for one minute that the locals are odd).  I am primarily an HF man but that option would have been nigh on impossible today.  As a result I struggled to get enough contacts on all three hills.  But manage I did and as a result it has given me the greatest of respect for those activators who operate purely VHF from the hills.  More power to their elbows.

South Wales Tour Feb 2016 – Pt2 to follow.