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).
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.