VHF SOTA Expedition in the Snowdonia National Park 6

Mid QSO on Yr Aran (GW/NW-019)

Mid QSO on Yr Aran (GW/NW-019)

In April I finally finished a big project at work and had some time off to relax – the perfect break would be some walking in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales.

Of course the first thing that usually happens when I start to relax is that I get a cold, annoyingly this happened again, but I still managed to drag myself up for some SOTA fun in the (no) sun.

 

Summits Activated

I stayed a total of 8 days and activated the following 11 summits (in order of first to last):

Summit ASL  Points Band Used QSO’s Made DXCC
GW/NW-010 – Moel Siabod 872m 8 2m FM 18 3 (Wales, England, Ireland)
GW/NW-004 – Y Garn 947m 8 2m FM 11 4 (Wales, England, Isle of Man, Ireland)
GW/NW-005 – Elidir Fawr 923m 8 2m FM 17 4 (Wales, England, Isle of Man, Ireland)
GW/NW-003 – Glyder Fawr 1,001m 10 2m FM 11 3 (Wales, England, Ireland) 
GW/NW-070 – Great Orme 207m 1 80/60m 9 3 (Wales, England, Northern Ireland) 
GW/NW-040 – Tal y Fan 610m 4 2m FM 6 3 (Wales, England, Ireland) 
GW/NW-022 – Moel Eilio 726m 6 2m FM 6 2 (Wales, England)
GW/NW-001 – Snowdon 1,085m 10 2m FM 9 3 (Wales, England, Ireland)  
GW/NW-026 – Mynydd Mawr 698m 4 2m FM 4 1 (Wales)
GW/NW-002 – Carnedd Llewelyn 1,064m  10 2m FM  14  4 (Wales, England, Northern Ireland, Ireland)  
 GW/NW-019 – Yr Aran 747m  6 2m FM  1 (Wales) 

Why the Focus on VHF?

As you can see the majority of contacts were made using 2m FM. There were several reasons for this despite having an HF setup as well:

  1. Lightweight – These summits (mostly) involve serious walking, usually an all day hike involving scrambling, so the weight reduction allows me to carry everything comfortably with space for a flask of tea and (a couple of) cakes
  2. Summit Conditions – Usually at these elevations you can be quite sure that the summit conditions will be bad, usually strong winds, meaning a 10m HF mast is unlikely to stay up for very long.
  3. Excellent VHF Takeoff – on the whole these summits offer a phenomenal VHF takeoff, mostly due to their lofty elevations
  4. Chance of 2m FM DX – Their location next to the sea offers a good saltwater path into GD, EI and GI. Indeed I worked EI stations on almost every summit.
  5. Busy summits – Some of these summits are busy with other visitors and some of them quite small, so an HF setup in my opinion, would take up too much space
  6. Quick to get on the air – While activating with my YL I have learned to be as quick as possible, I can arrive on a summit and be on the air in 5 minutes with this setup.

Equipment Used

My VHF equipment was simple and minimal, I was often walking for 7+ hours and needed to take other provisions. Here’s what I used:

  • Yaesu FT-270 2m FM Handheld – great filtering, great receive, waterproof, rugged, possibly bomb proof 😉
  • SOTABeams MFD 2m Dipole – basically a vertical dipole, made using plumbing tubing. Better performance than a rubber duck and lightweight. I’ve activated 50+ summits using this now.
  • Home made 2m Moxon – Sadly I only got to use this once but performance was excellent
  • 5m fishing pole mast – I used this on some summits to get the SOTABeams MFD a little higher and clear of rocky ground – often I could just clamp this between my legs, while lodged in my rucksack – doing away with the need for guying
  • Apple iPad for logging, using the RumLogNG app
  • Garmin GPS – In addition to a paper map/compass, I used my GPS to assist with navigation – very useful when navigating to summits in thick fog (i.e. most of the time).
  • Bothy bag – Small roll up shelter used when conditions are particularly nasty. I only used it once on Glyder Fawr (GW/NW-003) where there was strong wind and freezing conditions – warms up in seconds
Sheltering inside my bothy bag, mid-QSO on the FT-270

Sheltering inside my bothy bag, mid-QSO with G7OEM on the FT-270

Fantastic book of walks taking quite a few Snowdonia SOTA summits

Fantastic book of walks covering quite a few Snowdonia SOTA summits

My Cicerone Mountain Walking in Snowdonia guide book was indispensable. I followed these walks to get to the various summits and would highly recommend it.

I took my Yaesu FT-857 as well, intending to try a QRO 2m FM activation but I never got around to this! My Elecraft KX3 and a linked dipole were used for my one HF SOTA activation on Great Orme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highlights

  • Real 2m FM DX – I worked Don G0RQL, down in Devon which we calculated was 246 km away, once again with 5w FM and a vertical dipole – I was very happy with this!
  • Packing in 11 SOTA summits – without overdoing it – although my legs disagreed
  • Working multiple DXCC on many summits – GW, G, GD, GI and EI were all worked on 2m FM
  • Lots of fresh air – I slept like a baby every night after food and a beer
  • Working lots of Summit to Summit (S2S) stations – On Carnedd Llewelyn (GW/NW-002) I worked 15 stations in 15 minutes, 8 of those were S2S contacts!
  • Activating Great Orme (GW/NW-070) down on the coast at sunset, after a tough and cold activation of Glyder Fawr (GW/NW-003)
Activating Great Orme (GW/NW-070) at sunset - my only HF activation

Activating Great Orme (GW/NW-070) at sunset – my only HF activation

Lowlights

  • Having to cut short my activation of Carnedd Llewelyn (GW/NW-002) – YL was not happy, so I couldn’t indulge in radio anymore. Real shame as there were many S2S around and an Irish FM contest on!
  • The weather, predictably wasn’t great. The mountain weather forecast often predicted a clear day after initial fog, but on several days the fog never lifted until I descended.
  • Snowdon summit – Because this is the tallest mountain in Wales everyone and their dog wants to climb it, especially on a bank holiday weekend! Being up here with hundreds of others was not why I go walking.

This was a great break from work and we both thoroughly enjoyed our time in North Wales. I also became a half mountain goat (500 activator points) half way through the trip!

Me activating Yr Aran (GW/NW-019)

Me activating Yr Aran (GW/NW-019)

The author pondering how he can return to a desk job after all this mountain walking

The author pondering how he can return to a desk job after all this mountain walking

The author about half way up Snowdon (GW/NW-001)

The author about half way up Snowdon (GW/NW-001)

The ridge we walked along to summit Snowdon (GW/NW-001)

The ridge we walked along to summit Snowdon (GW/NW-001)

Author on top of Yr Aran (GW/NW-019) - you can see Snowdon in the distance

Author on top of Yr Aran (GW/NW-019) – you can see Snowdon in the distance

Author activating Moel Eilio (GW/NW-022)

Author activating Moel Eilio (GW/NW-022)

YL scrambling during our walk on Carnedd Llwelyn (GW/NW-002)

YL scrambling during our walk on Carnedd Llwelyn (GW/NW-002)

YL Descending - we'd just gotten out of the cloud here

YL Descending – we’d just gotten out of the cloud here

YL sheltering on a miserable Mynadd Mawr (GW/NW-026)

YL sheltering on a miserable Mynadd Mawr (GW/NW-026)

The cloud cleared for a few seconds on Snowdon here

The cloud cleared for a few seconds on Snowdon here

Me and the YL at the Toposcope on top of Snowdon (GW/NW-001) - Summit was packed!

Me and the YL at the Toposcope on top of Snowdon (GW/NW-001) – Summit was packed!

Descending up into the mist covered summit of Carnedd Llwelyn (GW/NW-002)

Descending up into the mist covered summit of Carnedd Llwelyn (GW/NW-002)

Rebuilding a Cairn

Rebuilding a Cairn – look at those hills!

6 thoughts on “VHF SOTA Expedition in the Snowdonia National Park

  1. Reply frank Apr 30,2017 07:32

    Wonderful.
    Frank, G7THI

  2. Reply Mark Wickens Apr 30,2017 08:37

    Thanks for the great write up and photos. I’m looking forward to long summer summit stays with the YL happy to be basking in the sunshine.

    Will maybe get one of these in the Lake District this year, possibly 😉 I’m trying to perfect a backpack VHF/UHF rig so radio isn’t just restricted to the scurry at the summit.

    North Wales seems to be very well placed for good DX contacts, more so than the Lakes. I have worked Ireland on occasion and down to the midlands, but that’s about it. Congratulations on the Devon contact, excellent going on 2m.

    Regards, Mark. M6VMS

    • Reply James Stevens May 1,2017 06:15

      Warm, summer summits? In the UK? That’d be nice!

      I’d say both locations have great 2m takeoffs, but yes, Snowdonia probably has the edge. That said it was all I could do not to work GI stations when I was on the Old Man of Coniston last year! You do also have the chance of a GM station in LD too!

      73 James M0JCQ

  3. Reply Jack Welch May 1,2017 09:40

    Amazing expedition — sounds like huge fun. Thanks in particular for posting your list of equipment. I’m always curious what people lug along and why they make those choices.

    I’ve always given short shrift to FM. On my activations, I spend most of the time on HF and stick a dualband 70cm/2m HT antenna on my FT817 for a quick check before descending. It is more of an opportunistic check of the calling freq. However, in a few cases, when I have had trouble with the HF antenna or when propagation has tanked, having FM capability has saved my bacon.

    I imagine that the value of FM may be somewhat context dependent. In the UK, on a given weekend, it is likely that other SOTA operators will be operating portable themselves, ham-per-sq-km is pretty high, and there is a culture of monitoring a calling frequency.

    73,

    Jack
    5R8SV / AI4SV

    • Reply James Stevens May 2,2017 10:38

      Thanks for your comment Jack.

      “ham-per-sq-km is pretty high”

      I completely agree with this, while 2m FM works well in some places here in the UK, it certainly wouldn’t in others. The majority of my activations were during the working week and I still managed to easily qualify the summits, this is probably testament to the levels of active hams around the summits.

      73 James M0JCQ

  4. Reply KI4HTC May 6,2017 03:12

    Keep up the good work.

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