Monday 6 June 2016
A return to South Wales and the Brecon Beacons National Park was long overdue. So it was that I decided to head for Sugar Loaf and Coity Mountain the last remaining 2 pointers on my South Wales tick list. I had kept an eye on the weather forecast for a few days and all looked well. What I hadn’t banked on was an Amber Aurora alert the night before, caused by high speed stream of solar wind that was buffeting Earth’s magnetic field, sparking off geomagnetic storms around the poles. As I went to bed the K Index was already hitting 5! Well that put doubts in my mind about the state HF was going to be in the morning.
FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle, VX-8 plus RSS 2M dipole.
Sugar Loaf GW/SW-011
With the customary 0430 start I headed off down the M4 and over the bridge into Wales then up towards Abergavenny, arriving at the Car Park (SO 266168) at 0650. Once booted and fully kitted up I set off up the well defined footpath at 0700. The walk to the summit is a gentle climb along nice broad grass paths. The summit is not initially visible from the car park and its not until you walk onto the first ridge – Mynydd Llanwenarth, that you can see the top. The track takes you north west along the ridge then climbs up the south west ridge to the top. The steepness increases as you approach the rocky summit but the track is clearly defined and not difficult. Distance 1.63 miles, Ascent 826 feet, Time Taken 1 hour.
Once at the trig point I checked the K-Index and it was still at 5 so decided to start with 2m and use HF if insufficient contacts were made. Well I did not expect to hear what I did when I turned the 2m radio on – a Dutch station calling CQ! I tried to respond but was too weak and the east coasters were all over him. A quick check of all the channels showed a massive lift was on, probably as a result of the solar storm. Self spotting quickly brought the first station into the log then all hell let loose. Over the next 30 minutes I worked 17 stations from all over England. It could have been a lot more but for the fact that there were several QSO’s underway on each channel across the entire spectrum. I could have cried – because stations were reporting numerous europeans on 2-ssb and my portable 2m beam was in the car!
When it eventually went quiet I packed up and made a 30 minute descent back to the car. The sun was now starting to break through the early morning haze and the temperature was rising. By the time I got back to the car it was already hitting 25 C and I was still the only person on the hill.
Coity Mountain GW/SW-012
The drive to the Big Pit Mining Museum took my over the Blorenge and down into Blaenavon. A parking area especially for walkers is provided and was only occupied by one other car (SO 238088). Once kitted up I set off along the track that forms part of a public walk arounf the spoil heaps of the former collery. Once over the style onto open access land the problems start, the track is not very clear and requires avoiding numerous marshy areas. However, I headed for the obvious quarry face ahead and then proceeded up the left hand side of the quarry to the plateau summit. Distance 0.7 miles, Ascent 629 feet, Time Taken 30 minutes.
Checking the K-index again and this time it had dropped to 3 so the decision was to set-up for HF and hope for the best. I self spotted on 5-ssb almost immediately Phill (OBK) was in the log with an excellant report followed by a struggle to complete with Don (RQL). The band conditions were not brilliant but workable. Reconfiguring the linked dipole I self spotted on 7-cw and had a quick run of 6 contacts in 6 minutes including a Summit to Summit with Heinz HB9BCB/P on Horntube HB/BE-144. I considered 7-ssb but given the problems I had with 5-ssb I gave it a miss today.
Following the reverse route back to the car I was glad to be off the hill. It is not the most pretty summit in the area and the ground damage caused by the mining operations increases the problems on the lower reaches of the hill. Next time I will opt for the more scenic but longer approach from the west.
This had been an excellant day out in my favourite area the Brecon Beacons. The weather was outstanding and dispite the ‘knocks’ it takes, Sugar Loaf was a fantastic walk in beautiful scenery. Given the number of paths and the large parking area I would not like to be here at the weekends though! In complete contrast Coity Mountain is a mess and arduous walk for a dull boring plateau summit.
I knew from the previous night that this was going to be a challenging HF activation due to the untimely arrival of a solar storm. However, I was not expecting the amazing conditions that prevailed on 2-fm. I was just a shame that I left my portable 2m beam in the car, it weighs so little, it should live in the rucksack.
73 Glyn G(W)4CFS/P