Welsh Marches Tour 2016 – Day 1

Sunday 15 May 2016

Long-Mynd-towards-the-Wrekin short
A weeks leave had been booked and now it was time to decide what to do with it.  The wife had a hospital appointment on the Wednesday and a beautician appointment on the Friday so I decided to take my self off for two days on the Monday and Tuesday.  I wanted to do the Welsh Borders 2 pointers and as much else as I could squeeze into two days. Then my wife suggested travelling across on the Sunday afternoon to save an early start on the Monday.  This allowed me to get one summit in on the Sunday evening.

Day one was now going to be The Wrekin which was literally 5 minutes off of my route.

Day two was easy to plan – it was going to be the ‘Famous Five’, the four high points of the Shropshire Hills – Titterstone Clee Hill, Brown Clee Hill, Long Mynd-Pole Bank & Stiperstones along with their close neighbour Corndon Hill.

Day three was not so easy to decide or plan.  Various options were considered but the final list ended up as Beacon Ring, Y Golfa, Stingwern Hill, Caeliber Isaf, View Edge then on the way back home Walton Hill.

The question was – had I bitten off more than I could chew?  It all looked feasible on paper!  Well there was only one way to find out.  The priority was to get the 2 pointers done regardless and then as many of the 1 pointers that I could manage.

Equipment

FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle, VX-8, VX-170 plus RSS 2M dipole.

Day One

The Wrekin G/WB-010

Having left home at 12:30 it was a good drive up the A34, M40, M42, M6, M54 to Telford and the car park for The Wrekin (SJ 638092).  The Car Park reminded me why I don’t normally activate on a Weekend – it was jammed with every man and his dog heading to and from the track to the summit.  There was even the ubiquitous Ice Cream Van with its associated rubbish laying all over the ground.  Anyway ignoring the crowds I booted up and decided just to carry the VX-170 and the half-wave 2m vertical dipole.  The walk up is fairly easy with just a couple of steep sections following what appears to be an extension to the M54!  The only observation to make is the amount of rubbish the hundreds of visitors leave behind.  Once at the trig the view was spectacular and allowed me to scan the hills that I would be doing over the next 2 days. Distance 1.33 miles, Ascent 814 feet, Time Taken 40 minutes.route

Moving away from the summit area and the hoards of trackie clad sightseers I found a convenient hollow and set up the 2m vertical by sticking it into the side of my boot.  A self spot and call on S20 quickly brought in local station Adrian G4AZS followed by a very nice summit to summit with G1ZAR/P on Heath Mynd G/WB-007.  Several more calls brought Don M0HCU, Pete G4URM & Steve G4ZWY in to the log before I called it a day and got ready to descend and get to my hotel.  The RF break through problems discussed on the reflector in the days leading up to the trip were not evident today however, they would create problems tomorrow.
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Before leaving the summit area I took the time to survey the Iron Age Hill Fort remains (I have an MA in Archaeology) a theme that would repeat itself several times over the next couple of days.

73 Glyn G4CFS/P

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GW/SW-008 Cefn Yr Ystrad

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It was time to start tidying up the remaining summits in South Wales GW/SW, I had one 4 pointer and two 2 pointers left to complete along with a handful of one pointers.  The primary target for today was Cefn Yr Ystrad GW/SW-008 (4 points) starting the walk from Pontsticill. The weather forecast looked very good for today so an early start was made to get on the hill nice and early.  Leaving home at 0430 and headed off down the M4 for South Wales.

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.

Cefn Yr Ystrad GW/SW-008

I arrived at a layby just across the road from the Water Works (SO 05992 11411) at 0730L and after kitting up set off for the bridle way at 0740L.  The track goes under through the tunnel under the Brecon Mountain Railway and gradually gains height until breaking on to access land at SO 065 119. From this point the landscape changes to one of limestone moorland.  The track goes straight uphill until it intercepts an obvious wide track used by off roaders.  For the next mile or so the walking is very easy as you make steady progress towards the disused quarries.  Start the ascent of the steep escarpment following the line of the quarry boundary fence until a large track is intercepted.  Follow this onto the higher ground until the summit trig point becomes visible to the NE.  At this point follow the best route towards the trig avoiding the shakes holes and rocky crags.  Distance 2.6 miles, Ascent 1132 feet, Time Taken 1hour 50 minutes.

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Self spotting on 145-fm I was immediately answered by Martin G4ENZ but then despite several calls no further contacts were made on 2m.  Using the hole in the top of the trig I set-up the HF and self spotted on 7-ssb.  After a couple of calls HB9MKV entered the log but then there was a long wait of over 9 minutes before the self spot went live, then 7 further stations entered the log in quick order.  All of these were European stations with the exception of a very weak Don G0RQL who passed me a 33 report, I am happy I received a ‘Roger’ to my 44 reply but there was some QRM from other stations calling me!! – if not I am sure he will tell me so I can delete the contact.  SSB soon dried up so a self spot on 7-cw resulted in 2 further QSO’s before silence again.  Though I did notice however, that RBNHole was reporting my signal on 7.033 and I was on 7.032MHz.  Not the best radio conditions with reports of rapid and deep QSB but better than the conditions have been recently and at least the summit was easily qualified.

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For the return route I took the more direct line back down to the main track and found it very easy going with a good track feeding between the shake holes.  Next time I do this hill this is the route I will take up as well.

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The track up towards the quarries in the distance – summit is up to the right of centre.

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The station set-up with Corn Du, Pen y Fan and Cribyn in the distance

Summary

 

Overall a very pleasant day out with a good walk and average radio.  I had hoped to have activated Coity Mountain GW/SW-012 afterwards and even drove to the Big Pit Car Park.  But when I put my left boot on I got a sharp pain in my foot.  This is a pain I have been getting on and off for the past couple of weeks and whilst it didn’t bother me this morning it suddenly flared up.  So it was off home for an early bath and medals.

73 Glyn G(W)4CFS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

G/SE-009 Chanctonbury Ring, G/SE-003 Black Down, G/SE-004 Butser Hill

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Having spent the past few months activating in South Wales and along the Welsh Borders, I fancied a local day out.  I didn’t want to drive too far so went the Chanctonbury, Black Down, Butser triangle, a lovely series of hills all achievable with just 100 miles of driving.  The other advantage of doing local hills is I can have a lie in (not getting up till 6am) and I can get home quickly (30 minutes) rather than the usual 3 hour drive after a day in the hills.  So leaving home at 06:30 hours I set off along the M27/A27 for a hours drive to the start of the first hill picking up a Breakfast Wrap enroute.

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.

Chanctonbury Ring G/SE-009

After the hours drive I arrived at the Washington Car Park (TQ 120120).  I set off up the obvious hardcore track signposted South Downs Way walking past the Gas Pressure Reduction facility to a junction in the track.  The main hardcore SDW path carries on to curving to the right but straight ahead is a footpath through a gate which offers the steeper but shorter route to the top.  The footpath leads up through chalk/flint working and continues up to the high point.  I slight drop in the path take you across the cattle grid adjacent to the SSSI Dew Pond then a short climb up to the Trig Point.  I last did this hill 11 months ago on my return to SOTA and hill walking after a few years break and what a difference a year makes.  Last year I struggled to get up here having to stop regularly, today I only stopped for the view and felt fresh at the top.  Distance 0.92 miles, Ascent 429 feet, Time Taken 25 minutes.
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I moved away from the trig and set the station up on the fence line by the Dew Pond. Now I knew today was going to be difficult radio wise because the Earths orbit was passing through a strong solar wind and the K index this morning was 4!  This was borne out on tuning around a fairly quiet 40m.  I self spotted for 7-ssb and called, and called, and called and was eventually answered by EA2CKX but then nothing again.  Changing to 7-cw and self spotting (no RBN Hole today) I called for about 5 minutes then started a good run of contacts for 12 minutes with all bar one being outside the UK.  It appeared that UK propagation was non-existent.
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One everything was packed up I decided to take the hardcore track back to the car and set off for Black Down, 45 minutes to the north west.

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The Dew Pond SSSI

 

Black Down G/SE-003

Once I pulled into the car park (SU 920308) I gave the XYL a quick call then set off for the trip point.  The hill is typical of many forestry commission locations with a myriad of footpaths taking you everywhere except where you want to go.  The aim was to walk to the trig point which on this hill is not the easiest to find in amongst the trees.  However, armed with my trusty GPS I soon made my way to the trig.  Distance 0.85 miles, Ascent 104 feet, Time Taken 20 minutes.
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I located a suitable tree as a support in a cleared area fairly close to the trig and set of the station.  Despite the problems earlier with SSB I still chose to self spot and open up on 7-ssb.  First into the log was Victor GI4ONL and this was followed by a steady flow of European contacts with the only other UK station being Ken (AXY) in Edinburgh.  Changing to 7-cw expecting a few more stations but I was disappointed with nil response.
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Heading back to the car I came across this strangely coloured Daffodil which, according to the South Downs Ranger, to whom I tweeted the photo, could have been caused by a an insect eating at the petals!
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Butser Hill G/SE-004

The final hill of the day is Butser Hill, my local hill.  Parking up at the car park (SU 711199) I decided to walk in my shoes as this is a very easy hill and it was dry.  Leaving the car park I passed several paraglider enthusiasts either kitting up or soring in the updrafts that occur on the west side of the hill.  A little further along I stopped to speak to some Radio Control Glider pilots who knew my late Father in Law – also a very keen RC Glider pilot.  It seemed rather appropriate to activate this hill today as it was just after the anniversary of his passing and his ashes are scattered across the area I set up my station. Distance 0.6 miles, Ascent 121 feet Time Taken 15 minutes including time chatting to RC pilots and photographing a C-130 Hercules Tactical Transport aircraft flying below us!
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By this time the bands had really died, on first investigation the whole of 40m was silent!  However, not to be put off I self spotted for 7-ssb and called, and called – you get the drift by now.  Eventually Pa0B called in followed by DL8DXL then the proverbial silence again.  After 20 minutes and 2 contacts I changed to 7-cw and struggled to 2 more into the log including an English station Roy (SSH).  A further call back on 7-ssb secured one more contact but that made just 5 contacts in over half and hour, so I decided to call it a day go and watch some more gliders and home for an early shower.
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RC Glider pilots

 

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Paragliders

 

Summary

All in all it was a very gentle day out and nice to sit on the first hill Chanctonbury Ring and soak up the warm spring sunshine.  Whilst I have already visited these 3 hills it was nice to make a return trip as they are right on my doorstep.  The radio however, was up to its usual terrible state.  A lot of the reports I got reported a lot of very deep and rapid fading and it was strange to work so few UK stations today.

73 Glyn
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G/DC-001 High Willhays, G/DC-005 Christ Cross, G/SC-004 Staple Hill, G/SC-008 Win Green

Friday 8 April 2016

cropped For the second outing of April, it was time for a wee change and a chance to draw G/DC towards a close this year.  Three summits remained to be climbed to complete the region, Brown Willy G/DC-002 would be climbed when we visit relatives in Cornwall later in the year.  This left my primary targets for the day, High Willhays G/DC-001 and Christ Cross G/DC-005 with Staple Hill and Win Green as secondary hills on the drive home.  Leaving home at 0430 the route took me down the A303 and A30 to Oakhampton, then up through the army camp to a parking space at SX 590912.  High Willhays lies within a live Army Firing Range so it is always important to check that the range is accessible to the public, this information is available at Okehampton Range Open Access Days or by calling Freephone 0800 458 4868.

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.

High Willhays G/DC-001

From the Okehampton Army Camp follow the single track tarmacked permissible road to the end where there is plenty of parking area.  Thanks to Phil (G4OBK) for the access info. Setting off at 07:50 the way to the top is very straight forward and easy going, just follow the hardcore track to the cul then turn left along the grassy track to the top.  It was just a shame that the visibility all the way up was no more than 20 metres so it was not possible to get a view of the High Willhays/Yes Tor ridge.  Distance 1.83 miles, Ascent 560 feet Time Taken 45 minutes.

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A self spot and call on 2-fm produced absolutely no calls whatsoever.  So set of the HF on the rock recommended by Phil and tried to self spot for 7-ssb.  However, there seemed to be a problem with the #DroidSpot today as the spots were registering as having been sent but were not making it to the Sotawatch.  A check of Sotawatch showed that MW0KCB/P had spotted for 7.160 MHz however, he was to be heard so I called on freq and got WABer M6NTM almost straight away.  This was quickly followed by G0RQL who spotted me (Tnx Don) and a total of 9 QSO’s made it into the log before switching to 7-cw for a further 4 QSO’s.
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During a series of ‘Tweets’ the previous evening I discovered that Colin M1BUU was also planning to activate High Willhays today.  However, no sign was seen of him by the time I got to the car.  It later transpired that he had seen me in my car driving off the moor at the Army Camp!

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Phil’s Stone

 

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Parking at the end of the permissive road.

 

Christ Cross G/DC-005

It was an hours drive to Christ Cross where I parked up just down from the junction (SS 965050).  Through a rusted and broken field gate there was a piece of old farm machinery which served perfectly for securing the mast.  I tried self spotting for 7-ssb but #DroidSpot was still not working properly so relied on RBNGate and called on 7-cw.  I could hear a few very faint calls but nothing intelligible.  Eventually I made it with one station but then nothing at all.  Were the bands really that bad?  QSYing to 7.160 hoping for some WABers I managed one very weak QSO but again nothing else on a very quiet dead band.  A quick call on 2-fm provided a couple of mobile calls to qualify the hill later followed by a local pedestrian portable QSO.  I tried one more time to raise more on 60m and 20m but with no joy.  It was then I became aware of someone stood behind me.  It was Alex G0JZE who had just arrived to activate the hill.  His was the first mobile call I took whilst he was driving up the hill!  After we spent some time chatting I packed up and Alex started to call on 2-fm.  It was whilst I was packing up that half of my linked dipole parted company from the T-piece!  Was this the real reason why I couldn’t hear anyone very well – I was using a broken aerial!
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Whilst this is a cheats summit (a drive-on) it was a significant summit for me as it was my 100th unique summit in 103 summits activated.

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Alex G0JZE

Staple Hill G/SC-004

 

The drive home was going to take me fairly close to Staple Hill and later Win Green, so it made sense to activate these two hills as well.  They had both been activated last year but were worth 2 more points to the tally.  Like Christ Cross Staple Hill is also a drive on summit so I parked up in the forestry gateway at (ST 232163) and moved along the fence a couple of hundred metres so a suitable operating position.  The first order of the activation was to carry out a Battle Field Damage repair to the dipole.  A quick call on 2-fm produced a QSO with G0VFK in Ilminster but nothing further.  So using RBN again I called on 7-cw and managed 3 further QSO’s.  The bands were definitely dead but were slightly better with a properly work aerial!

Win Green G/SC-008

The journey to Win Green had been torturous with a lot of very slow moving traffic on the A303 due to the mass migration home of the Easter holiday crowd slowed even more by the scourge of the motorist – the caravanner.  Parking up at the car park (ST 92347 20485) I moved along the southern boundary fence and attached my aerial to a convenient post.  Again due to ongoing issues with #DroidSpot I went straight for 7-cw and  very quickly managed 5 QSO’s into the log for the final qualification of the day.

Summary

The main aim of the day had been to activate to two new summits DC-001 and DC-005 and I doing so bring up my 100 uniques.  Both goals were achieved with the addition of to a couple of revisits enroute home for a further 2 points.  I struggled whilst on Christ Cross due to a combination of a broken aerial and a broken sky.  But perseverance paid off and the hill was qualified.  High Willhays is a very easy walk with the majority of it along proper hardcore paths.  It was just a shame that the fog and low visibility was against me today because I love the views over the Dartmoor National Park on a clear day.  I will however, be back next year.

Thanks for all those that braved the poor propagation to work me.  Always very much appreciated.

73 Glyn G4CFS

 

GW/SW-003 Fan Brycheiniog

Friday 1 April 2016

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The line of the footpath can clearly be seen

 

Had hoped to have done this summit before the 15 Mar but there was only so many days I could get away and it wasn’t to be.  Having started to plan several mini expeditions for the forthcoming spring season I realised that most would require a lot more daylight to complete than was currently available.  As a result I decided to complete the GW/SW 8 pointers by taking on Fan Brycheiniog in the western Black Mountain region of the Brecon Beacon’s.  Parking at SN 853217 where there is room for about 3 cars.  There are other suitable parking places very close by.

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.

Fan Brycheiniog GW/SW-003

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Setting off at 0830 I followed the very ephemeral footpath that likes playing hid and seek all the way up (now you see me, now you don’t!).  Initially I headed towards the derelict sheep pens following the up the left side of the juvenile River Tawe.  Crossing the river via well placed stones I made a beeline for the main summit cliff which was barely visible due to low cloud.  In just over an hour I arrived at the lake side and had a brief chat with a guy who had camped out overnight.  He advised me that the path to the summit was very icy in places and the large patches of snow had started to turn to ice.

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Heading off up the obvious footpath that runs diagonally up the side of the cliff I soon encountered the ice.  The way ahead was treacherous but with care the ascent was made onto a very windy and cloudy summit plateau with visibility about 20m.  The track headed off up slope to the right until the stone shelter then the trig point slowly appeared out of the mist.  The path to the summit was also very icy and to the side was a good 2 feet of iced snow, all of this with a gusting wind trying to blow me towards the drop back down to the lake.  Distance 2 miles, ascent 1230 feet, time taken 1 hour 40 minutes.
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After the duty photo call I hunkered down inside the stone shelter but this didn’t provide much protection from the cold and even with thermal gloves on I lost the feeling in the ends of my fingers with 15 minutes, even the hot coffee didn’t help.  The decision was made to see what happened on 2-fm and leave the HF till I come back on a summers day.  A selfspot for S20 quickly brought MW0PJJ into the log followed by Don G0RQL.  Over the next 12 minutes 5 further stations made their way into the log before 2m went very quiet.  Apart from my fingers I also noted that my left GTX boot leaked!! so after sitting in the shelter for about half an hour my left big toe had frozen and had no feeling either.  Enough was enough and I quickly packed up and very carefully headed off the summit.

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A slightly bent VHF aerial clearly seen poking out of the stone shelter

 

Once the very careful descent of the cliff path was negotiated I had warmth and circulation flowing again to my fingers and toe and spent a pleasant 5 minutes talking with a D of E assessor who was out with a group of teenagers.  He was keen to know the state of the path and the summit plateau and following our chat decided to re-route the group elsewhere.  The rest of the descent was uneventful and was most grateful for more hot coffee once back at the car.  Having changed into dry warm clothes I noticed that after several hours of the summit being shrouded in cloud, the summit suddenly cleared and I was finally able to get a photo of the whole hill.

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It always happens to me – I get back to the car and the cloud finally lifts!

GW/SW-006 Fan Gyhirych & GW/SW-007 Fan Nedd Round Trip

Monday 7 March 2016
Fan Gyhirych

This walk was likely to be my last of the winter bonus season and I was keen to maximise the return.  I wanted to do SW-006 & SW-007 however, whilst the route up SW-007 looked fairly straight forward, the route up SW-006 suggested by Pete (ISJ) looked fairly gruelling.  I was however, interested in the blog by Tom (M1EYP) who did the two hills as a ’round trip’, this also had the advantage of not having to drive to different start points.  Whilst, as Tom said, the path skirting the northern end of Fan Nedd along the line of the wall does not appear on 1:25 OS map it can clearly be seen on the Google satellite imagery.

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Footpath clearly seen following line of wall (Courtesy of Google Map)

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Taken on return to car showing Fan Nedd to the left with the wall line clearing shown and Fan Gyhirych in the distance just above the boot lid.

 

Setting off from home at 04:30 I arrived at the parking space (SN 923196) at 07:30.  The satellite imagery suggested that there should be room for a couple of cars and sure enough when I arrived there was room for 2 maybe 3 cars. The drive up to the parking space had been treacherous due to icy conditions and the weather didn’t look too promising.  I was unable to see either summit from the car due to the low cloud base and the driving snow blowing horizontally up the valley.  However, once all kitted up I set off along the line of the wall.

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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

Fan Gyhirych GW/SW-006

The route is initially fairly straight forward, just follow the line of the wall and the obvious path until you intercept a wall in front of you in the cull between the two mountains (SN 903193).  Passing through the broken down gate the obvious track heads up to the right – ignore this track and take the fainter path which sets off up hill to the left.  Follow this un-mapped way marked path until you reach a hardcore track.  Go left here until you see an obvious path leading up the flank of the mountain to the summit.  As I left the hardcore track the visibility dropped to about 20 metres so care had to be taken as the path runs close to a drop on the right into the corrie below.  Thanks to the GPS I eventually found the  white painted Trig Point in a white snowy summit with a white snow filled sky!!  Distance 3 miles, Ascent 1200 feet, time taken 1 hour 45 minutes.

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The view ahead approaching the summit.

 

Self spotting on 2-fm quickly brought in a couple of local contacts followed by Pete (GW4ISJ) saying he was enroute to GW/SW-010.  After a quick chat with Pete I was called by Don G0RQL in Holsworthy for the best DX of the day. I then get a call from Viki MW6BWA to let me know she is on her way up Troed SW-009.  No further calls were forthcoming on 2 so I self spotted for 7-ssb.  A quick CQ on 7.128MHz resulted in a contact with G7BGA but then just as the QSO ended I started getting a loud howling noise from the radio.  I powered down and started up again (standard IT procedure) but the noise on the band was horrendous.  A quick check of 20m – same problem, so turned off and packed up the HF kit.  No sooner had I packed my rucksack I received a call on 2-fm from Viki from Troed GW/SW-009 for an S2S followed by Rod MW0JLA/P for a S2S from Mynydd Llangorse GW/SW-015.  No sooner had I finished with Rod I am called by Pete for a S2S from GW/SW-010, then to close the account off nicely a 70-fm S2S with Viki – my first 70cm QSO in SOTA.  Usually I only use 70cm for Satellite communications believing you will get a nose bleed if you do terrestrial operations at that high a frequency!!

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So with rucksack packed I head off in near zero visibility and am suddenly stopped in my tracks by a dark shadow ahead.  I had made a classic school boy error and left the featureless summit on what I assumed to be the correct heading and was heading straight towards the steep descent on the NW side of the summit!!  I was 180 degrees out.  A quick backtrack to the trig point and set off this time on a compass bearing to quickly pick up the path off the summit and back to the hardcore track.  I add this  to highlight the point that even an experienced hill walker can make a fundamental mistake and whilst on this occasion the error would not have had a nasty outcome it does remind you to  Never Assume CHECK.
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Fan Nedd GW/SW-007

Once on the hardcore track I retraced my steps to the way marked path and then back down to the broken down gate (SN 903193).  From this point I took the obvious track up the side of Fan Nedd to the trig point.  The top 300 feet was difficult going due to the amount of snow that lay on the ground but I finally arrived at the trig and small stone shelter. Distance (from summit to summit) 2.5 miles, Ascent 600 feet, time taken 1.25 hours.

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Fan Nedd from he hardcore track just before a snow storm passed through.

 

Once on the summit a quick call on 2-fm brought GW7MMG into the log followed by Rod (JLA) advising me he was on his way up Troed.  Two further calls made it into the log before the band went quiet. By this time the cloud base had risen high enough to be able to see the summit of Fan Gyhirych so a short time out was taken to snap a few photos.  The afternoons activation were concluded with S2S QSOs with Rod on Mynydd Troed on 2m and Viki on Mynydd Llangorse on 2m and 70cm.
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The walk back to the car was a fairly straight forward affair in good visibility and took 20 minutes via the substantial cairn that lies at the northern end of the summit plateau.  It was only when I got home and inputted the information into the SOTA database that I realised that Fan Nedd was my 100th activation.  Not a big achievement in the greater scheme of things but a significant milestone for myself.

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The summit of Fan Nedd not to be fooled by the lack of snow – when it fell it was horizontal!

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Fan Gyhirych from Fan Nedd

 

Summary

This was a most enjoyable day out and the chance to take in 2 summits on one continual walk.  The going was hard at times due to the amount of snow that lay near the summits and the very poor visibility on Fan Gyhirych.  It was a chance to relearn from fundamental navigation errors.  But more importantly is was the great V/UHF radio contacts that made it all worthwhile.  Many thanks for all the S2S contacts especially those on 70cm.

Thank you to all those who called me and sorry to those waiting patiently on 7-ssb for me to check in.

73 Glyn G(W)4CFS

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

 

 

 

 

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.