Thursday, 31 December 2015

A late December North Pennines SOTA Day to garner points...

December 28th 2015 and my last chance to ensure that I came out as the highest scoring UK SOTA Activator, SOTA Chaser and SOTA Completist in 2015. Some radio amateurs say that SOTA - a specialised branch of the amateur radio hobby is not competitive. I think the opposite. In my opinion the league tables promoted by the SOTA Management Team, encourage healthy and competitive rivalry and this is what spurs us on to challenge ourselves to some demanding fellwalking and to visit places we would not go to if it wasn't for SOTA. The exercise in climbing to summits keeps one fit and healthy. SOTA is good for the body, good for the soul - but as many of us have found, it can become addictive and quite expensive due to all the travelling involved! However, the cheaper fuel prices, and low cost flights available with Easyjet, Jet2, Ryanair and others have helped this year in reducing our travel costs.  

To be sure I came out on top of the 2015 activator table I would need to garner as many points as possible in a single day. In past years my big winter bonus points gathering walk would be in the Lake District from Patterdale. It has been proved that in winter with the extra bonus points available it is possible to gather as many as 65 SOTA points in a single day (John Earnshaw G4YSS operating as GX0OOO/P in 2014):

A walk as tough as this in a single day in December would be beyond my capabilities in terms of daylight and stamina. The most I had achieved previously being 49 points was in February 2012. This was achieved by leaving out Blencathra and Great Mell Fell from John's list above. I had insufficient strength to do any more and I was four years younger then than I am today.... What turned me away from trying this round again this year was the terrible situation in Glenridding and Patterdale which was caused by the December 2015 floods, so I turned my attentions to the North Pennines area of North Yorkshire with a view to climbing as many summits as I could reach in the day. I was carrying a Yaesu FT-1500M 2m FM Mobile transceiver capable of 40 watts output. My battery was an Ultramax 7 AH LiFePo4, and my antenna was a home made half wave dipole mounted on a 57 cm long travel pole extended 5m above ground.  

Morning activations 

G/NP-010 Buckden Pike and G/NP-008 Great Whernside from the 500m ASL Cattle Grid at Tor Dike SD 986757. Points available: 18

First summit climbed Buckden Pike second summit climbed Great Whernside
I left my home in Pickering at 5.45am driving via Middleham through Coverdale. There was lots of standing water on the road and caution was needed with a reduction in speed in places to prevent aquaplaning. I reached the Tor Dike cattle grid at 7.30am and by 07.45am I was out of the car and on my way in the half light as the sun came up. This was the first time I had used this route up to Buckden Pike and I enjoyed it. The navigation was easy, following the walls and fence and it took less than an hour to reach the Memorial Cross where I set up behind the wall. 

Buckden Pike War Memorial
VHF Conditions were excellent and my first contact was with Gary M6GAD in Cromer followed by another with Andy M0TTB in Watford. I operated for 10 minutes on 2m FM completing 9 contacts before packing up when there were no more callers, returning to the car for some food and drink - one benefit from using this parking place in between the two summits which reduces the weight as there is no need to carry a lunchbox and flask! 

The walk from Tor Dike to Great Whernside I had done several times before. The climb is well used and is boggy in places but very straightforward. To save time I operated from the shelter rather than the trig point. This lies within the 25m activation drop zone and is 650m closer to the parking place than the trig point is.  
Shelter on Great Whernside - poor quality picture taken with mobile phone
I was getting out well from this location, which I hadn't tried before, as in the past I have always operated from the trig point. This  time from the shelter I completed 21 contacts at a rate on one per minute. Ascent time was 41 minutes, descent took just 25 minutes. 

Afternoon activations

G/NP-010 Pen-y-ghent from the Dale Head cattle grid at SD 843714 (424m ASL) and G/NP-017 Fountains Fell from the Blishmire Cattle Grid (425m ASL) at SD 853723. 
Points available: 14

GPX Tracks to NP-010 and NP-017 are available from the Viewranger and SOTA Mapping Project Websites
There is a metal postbox in the wall at Dale Head cattle grid for car parking donations - I posted my £1 coin. Once again this was a new route for me as previously I have climbed from the Pen-y-ghent cafe in Horton village, which normally takes me exactly one hour. This route is shorter and the walk up took me just 43 minutes. 
Pen-y-ghent on the day of my walk - weather dry perfect conditions for walking
Most of my time on the summit was spent chatting to walkers who were curious about what I was doing on the radio. I operated for 20 minutes in the end and made 24 contacts. The earlier enhanced propagation was no more, but the high contact rate with line of sight ground wave stations delighted me, as some amateurs on a recent thread on the SOTA Reflector were saying that 2m band contacts had declined compared to some years ago. 
My Berghaus 38+6 rucksack is packed and ready to leave Pen-y-ghent
I got back to my car at 3.10pm and moved it to the Blishmire Close cattle grid. I was walking again (wearily due to fatigue I have to say...) by 3.20pm and at the wall in the activation zone on Fountains Fell (SD 868720) at 3.54pm. There were fewer contacts from here as the take off on VHF is not so good. Out of the 13 contacts best DX was with my friend Dave from Pickering G3TQQ/M, who to be sure of a contact had driven up on to the top of the North York Moors near to the RAF Fylingdales radar site.

Fountain Fell wall stile from where I operated on 2m FM
It was quite dark when I left the summit and my headlight was deployed. I reached the car at 5.00pm, with 32 points earned, and 67 QSOs completed on 2m FM - a mode which is still very effective and popular for SOTA in Northern England. The 32 points meant I was now the highest scoring UK SOTA activator in 2015 by just 6 points, so the 7 points climb up Fountains Fell, despite the fatigue, was just enough to clinch the title of top UK Activator, Chaser and Completer in 2015:


This was final SOTA activation of 2015, which was a year when I travelled extensively pursuing my hobbies of amateur radio and hiking.  Countries with a SOTA Association where I visited in 2015 were England, Scotland, Wales, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Mallorca, Italy, Czech Republic and Ibiza. I look forward to adding to this list in 2016.    

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