SOTA is an awards programme that is aimed at radio amateurs who want to combine operating amateur radio with walking in the hills and mountains.
I first started with SOTA in August 2016 when one day I heard someone calling “CQ SOTA” from the top of Walbury hill. I had heard of SOTA but had never really got around to investigating so I answered the call and from that moment on I was hooked.
I found the main SOTA web site at www.sota.org.uk and started reading. Once I had registered I was able to log my first chaser contact and so gain my first point. Only 999 more needed to get my first award.
In 2017 I started a programme of hill fitness training in anticipation of trying to activate a few summits. Below you will find a few posts relating my progress.
Sunday dawned wet and wild. By the time we arrived at the National Trust car park it was tipping down. Suddenly realising that we needed cash for the parking we searched our pockets and managed to find the six pounds required. Checking the machine though it was out of order so panic over.
Ordinarily this is a fairly mundane climb, the main hazard being the tourists gasping for breath beside the path, but today was different, the path was deserted.
The Lingmell Gill crossing below Brown Tongue was interesting, there had been a lot of rain in the last few days and it was very swollen, but with care still passable.
We met the snow line at about 300m just above the Gill crossing. The rain turned to heavy white snow, settling well and at times hiding the path completely. We lost it through the Stones and had to get the map and compass out. Wasn’t expecting to have to do that on Scafell Pike.
Around here we passed a couple of groups on their way back down who were the only ones we saw on the mountain that day. None of them had summited as conditions were too bad higher up.
By 750m the snow was significant and the wind gathering force. We found a little shelter behind a rock where we stopped to add another layer. I think that’s the first time I have ever had to do that on the way up!
The final push up to the summit was challenging, at times breaking ground through snow up to our thighs. On steep uphill ground this really takes it’s toll but Peter took the challenge and heroically forged the path through. We were certainly glad though when the summit cairn finally appeared out of the gloom.
On the lee side of the cairn the wind had left us a nice clear gap to sit in where we settled down to set up the station. I put my radio above me up on top of the cairn for a better take off, but was rewarded half way through the activation when it landed on my head, blown off by the wind. No damage done though and I was soon back on the air.
Conditions were good and I soon had sixteen contacts in the log, although by the time I finished I had lost all feeling in my fingers. Looking up from the radio I was surprised by how bad the viability had become. It was total whiteout, then one of the other pointed out my eyebrows.
Once I had broken my eyes free of the ice we hastily packed up and headed back down. By this time all three of us well chilled. The decent was quick, at times plunging into waist deep snow between the rocks. We did our best to follow the path when we could find it, but mostly it was just follow the compass. Judging by the pains in my fingers as they defrosted I think I had a touch of frost nip in them. The trouble is you just can’t operate a radio with thick winter gloves on your hands. The windchill was well down into double digits.
Back at the Gill crossing I was relieved to see that it hadn’t got any deeper and we were still able to cross safely. We did pass another party somewhere around here walking up in street level anoraks?
From here is was now a pleasant walk back to the car, the rain had stopped and the sun was appearing. A great end to another great day out in the mountains. I wasn’t expecting much for this one, just doing it for the SOTA points, but never underestimate the ability of the mountains to surprise, in this case very much to our benefit.
With the end of the winter bonus season rapidly approaching we decided to fit in one more high scoring sessionthis time to the Lake District. The plan for the Saturday was the three peaks of Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Pillar. A fairly ambitious target which I failed to complete all in one go in 2018, so a personal challenge to overcome this year.
We were the first car to arrive in the car park at Wasdale head, as we were kitting up another car arrived and parked beside us, shortly followed by a third. The driver of the third car wound down his window and asked us where Scafell Pike was. After putting him right and pointing him back to the NT car park the occupants of the second car admitted that they were also planning Scafell Pike. They were soon packed back into their car and heading off the same way. One has to wonder sometimes.
The last time I attempted this route I went around clockwise, I was defeated by the weather that time and had to descend via the Blacksail path, only completing the activation of Pillar that day. As the weather was forecast similar again with winds gusting up to 60mph we decided to try from the other direction this time as we were more likely to complete the first two summits that way rather than just the single but more difficult Pillar.
G/LD-005, Great Gable – 899m, 8 Points
From Wasdale Head we took the easy path East alongside Lingmell Beck before turning North East to pass up beside White Napes and up onto the col marked Beck Head on the map. From here the path South East up to the summit of Great Gable is patchy at best. Generally it is just a case of picking the best route over the rocks until reaching the summit plateau. Conditions on the top were severe so we did our best to find shelter in amongst the few rocks marking the summit where we set up our stations.
There were quite a few operators around so to save time and batteries we all three worked the first four to qualify and then I continued to work the pile up whilst the others packed away their radios and did their best to keep warm. I worked ten stations including a summit to summit with G4YTD Tim and an M6 from Northern Ireland MI6LNP Norman. Although I know it’s not really that far away it always seems a bit exotic to work someone on another island on VHF.
The return back down to the col was soon accomplished thanks to a clearing of the clouds which makes navigation so much easier. There was quite a bit of fresh snow cover on the ground from overnight but as it hadn’t yet had time to consolidate it made the decent easier in some ways by filling many of the cracks and gaps between the rocks.
Once back down at Beck Head we stopped briefly for some lunch before heading over past the tarn and beginning the Eastern ascent of Kirk Fell.
G/LD-014, Kirk Fell – 802m, 8 Points
The path from Beck Head up to Kirk Fell was barely discernible under the snow cover, but fortunately the weather remained clear for the ascent so we enjoyed some fabulous views back over the Gables.
The top of Kirk Fell is fairly flat and when approaching from the East has a false summit at 787m. Although this is within the activation zone it is only a couple of hundred metres beyond to reach the true summit and the trig point so persevere. We soon set up our stations in the small summit shelter and set about the pileup. As previously we all worked the first four contacts but this time Richard completed the operation so I only logged six contacts, including another summit to summit, this time with Allan GW4VPX/P down in Mid Wales. It was a real challenge as he was barely audible but after much perseverance I finally completed the contact. Thank you Allan
With time and daylight still in hand and some reserve still in the energy banks we decided we would descend into Blacksail Pass and go for our third activation of the day on Pillar. This was an unknown route as I had never done it previously, what a pearl it turned out to be. The route off Kirk Fell is easy to spot as the old boundary fence posts are still there to mark it, although the fence itself has long ago rusted away. Once you reach the edge of the plateau there is a steep rocky scramble down over Kirkfell Crags and into Blacksail pass. A great opportunity to get some hands on the rocks. I am not sure if this is officially rated but I personally would class this as a short grade one winter scramble so wouldn’t recommend it unless you are comfortable with winter scrambling and have the correct gear.
G/LD-006, Pillar – 892m, 8 Points
From Blacksail it is an entertaining route up onto Pillar. Hard work after a long day but with a nice mix of steep rock and flatter grass sections, albeit a bit drawn out.
By the time we reached the top we were certainly ready for a break.
The summit shelter was full of snow when we arrived so we set to digging it out and soon had a cosy(ish) home from home in which to set up our stations.
Same procedure once again, all working the first four then it was M6XPE’s turn to work the pile up but by now he was struggling a bit with his radio and not a lot of battery remaining so I took over and worked the pile up for him making another thirteen contacts, including another two MI stations. Magic stuff.
By the time we were ready to leave the summit the weather had closed in almost to the point of a white out. It is unusual to see it quite that bad here in the Lakes, it was more like a Scottish winter day than the good old friendly Lake District 🙂
We descended down the ridge line into Wind Gap which was an exciting experience. As we reached the col we dropped below the cloud to reveal the full majesty of the Mosedale valley.
Descending the scree slope below Wind Gap we spotted a couple of walkers below us who had followed the path down to the bottom and were now trapped in the junction between Mosedale Beck and Gatherstone Beck. This provided great entertainment as we watched them trying to find a way out of the trap. In the end they took the plunge and got their feet wet. Learning from their experience we instead contoured around the valley crossing Gatherstone Beck higher up the valley side. Even so it was still not easy to cross, there had been a lot of rain in the preceding week. We finally reached the car back at Wasdale head just as the sun was setting, a great end to a great and successful day out SOTAing.
A trip down to the West Country afforded the opportunity to pop over to Minehead and bag Dunkery Beacon before the end of the Winter bonus period.
Parking at the car park next to the cattle grid at SS 895 406, it is just a short easy walk up to the Beacon along a clearly defined path. With the wind behind me pushing me up the hill I was soon at the top and set the station up in the lee of the large cairn marking the top.
It didn’t take long to put nine contacts in the log from a wide area ranging from Salisbury in the SE up though Cheltenham to the NE and around into Nelson in mid Wales. As soon as I had worked the pileup I was packed away and on the way back down again. Job done.
Sunday was forecast to be a glorious day and it didn’t disappoint. It was shirtsleeve walking.
I elected to approach from the North West, perhaps not the usual route but with easy parking available at SH 596 630 it would avoid the crowds on what was likely to be a busy day out in the hills. Passing the car park at Pen Y Pass just after 8:30am it was already closed with the ‘full’ signs out.
The track from the parking up to the Marchlyn Mawr dam is exceptional being surfaced all the way. Once you reach the dam there is a path off to the left of the tunnel access leading up onto the hill. The path soon fades out though and from here it is just a case of picking the best route up over a large boulder field.
Once you reach the top there is shelter if it’s windy but for once I didn’t need it. I soon set the station up and had nine contacts in the log.
The return back down is more of the same. Once back onto the track below the dam it may be worth cutting straight down avoiding the long sweeping curves of the track.
A few miles South of Great Rhos is Gwaunceste Hill.
It was not clear if there would be room to park on the farm track down to Rhewey so I parked in the lay-by on the main road at SO 150 575. Walking along the track I could see it should be possible to park on the verge at SO 149 573 without causing an obstruction. The farm at Rhewey is not terribly welcoming with dogs chained up in the yard and signs on every fence stating the private nature of the land. Hold your nerve though and walk straight through as is your right. Once beyong the gate at the end of the farm yard it is a pleasant stroll up a good track. South of the gate at SO 155 565 the land is signed as a SSI. Stay on the good track here rather than taking a bearing for the summit as the going is very tough once off the track. Make your own decision how far to follow the track before turning cross county for the final push up to the trig point.
This year I decided to try the approach to Great Rhos from the North. There have been reports that the danger area to the South and West of the summit has ben expanded and although access should be still possible from that direction the route may be extended to avoid the expanded area.
There is room for a couple of cars to park at the end of the track at SO 156 655. It’s fairly obvious with an old railway truck dumped beside the road.
From the parking spot it’s a pleasant walk gently climbing to an obvious left turn that leads up towards the summit. When the track meets the fence line continue North and then North East following the fence until you find the gate at SO 178 641. From here you will need to take a bearing and head South East out over the heather until you spot the trig point marking the summit.
Sunday started out wet and continued so right up until we got back to the car. The plan was for a shorter day activating Tryfan then leaving to get home at a reasonable time.
We managed to park right next to the gate, probably the bad weather put off the crowds.
The route up is well known and documented on many youtube videos so I won’t go into detail here. Just try and follow the ridge line as much as possible and don’t forget to stop at the cannon stone for the photo opportunity.
There were a few others around on the top, a number seemed to have come up via the South Ridge and one or two seemed to be there by accident, we were asked a couple of times if this was Tryfan and one person asked if it was the Glyders.
We found a little shelter between a few big rocks and soon set up the station. Conditions were good and I logged 23 contacts all over Northern England. The temperature was well below zero so we were soon getting very cold and had to pack up to leave. We dropped down the South Ridge and then SW down towards Cwm Tryfan and some welcome shelter from the winds. By this time we were very cold and very wet so were pleased to see the sun put in a showing as we arrived back at the car! Not a long day but a great adventure.
The weather looked promising for this activation of two new summits for me. This is a route that is overshadowed by it’s more illustrious neighbours to the South but it is well worth doing, offering a mix of just about everything Snowdonia has to offer terrain wise and 22 SOTA points as well.Parking is easy at the Gwern Gof Isaf campsite atSH 685 601. Pop in and pay the farmer his £2 and for your money you will receive a days parking and some great local advice on conditions and the route.
GW/NW-002, Carnedd Llewelyn – 1064m, 10 Points
Cross the road to the obvious track heading NE. Follow this to the bend where you will see the remains of a building on the right. Turn here. Initially there is not much sign of the path but you should soon pick it up, it becomes more obvious as you approach the reservoir. The final push up to Bwalch Ery Farchog is a bit steep in places but nothing too difficult. Once on the ridge, follow it to the left, NW along a fairly clear path. There is a short section at SH 692 635 that will require scrambling skills. It’s not too difficult, approach it to the right then traverse along a small ledge to the left and up. Just after this section there is a fork in the path, take the right fork, although it looks steeper it’s an easier path. From the crags of Craig yr Ysfa it’s an easy stroll across Penywaun-wen and up onto the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn.
We set up the station in the shelter of the summit cairn. By this time the wind was up around 30 – 40 mph and the temperature was well below freezing. I soon had seven contacts in the log.
Once we had packed up we headed back down to the ridge and on towards Pen Llithrig y Wrach. The down scramble at the crags was no more difficult than coming up but care does need to be taken.
GW/NW-013, Pen Llithrig y Wrach – 799m, 6 Points
From the bwlch continue SE to gain the height of Pen yr Helgi Du. This is a quite imposing ascent that looks far more dramatic than it is. Keep your nerve and stick to the path up and you will soon reach the top where it opens out onto the flatter summit plateau. Stick with the path and drop back down into Bwalch y Tri Marchog and then climb the final ascent up onto Pen Llithrig y Wrach.
Once we arrived at the summit we quickly set up the station and soon had four contacts in the log including a summit to summit contact with GW7HEM/P on Mynd Langorse which I was very pleased to get as SW-015 is well known as a difficult summit to activate on VHF.
By this time the weather was coming in and the wind was still ferocious so we didn’t hang around on the summit but headed back down to calmer conditions. There is the option to just take a bearing down the side of the hill but the fence marked on the map was fairly substantial where we crossed it at the bwalch so I was not sure we wouldn’t end up following it back North to the stile in the bwalch, rather we opted to follow the path back down and take a bearing from there. There is no obvious path ondown from here but the dyke running West to East is very obvious and impossible to miss. There is a good path along the South side of the dyke leading back to the access road and down to the A5.
Sunday and another early start, this time planning to ascend the Devils Kitchen and up onto Y Garn.
GW/NW-004, Y Garn – 947m, 8 Points
Normally this is a long but quite easy paved route, today though the path was barely discernible under deep snow and ice. Eventually reaching Llyn Cwn we turned North in conditions approaching white out at times. We eventually summit-ed and found room in the small shelter on the top. It was fairly busy on top even given the poor conditions.
After making twenty QSOs from Y Garn we were all pretty cold and pleased to head back down to the col. Conditions were deteriorating for the afternoon with rain forecast lower down but blowing blizzard conditions on the tops.
GW/NW-003, Glyder Fawr – 1001m, 10 Points
We reached Glyder Fawr a couple of hours later where we found shelter beside a few large rocks marking the summit. By this time the other two were fairly cold and wet so they weren’t over pleased when I put another seventeen contacts into the log, including couple of summit to summit contacts
It was still a long walk out but as we started to lose height the wind dropped and the weather improved. We finally got back to the car just as we lost the daylight.
In total over the weekend we activated four SOTA summits worth 48 points and made 53 QSOs over much of the North West and Midlands regions. We climbed nearly 3000 metres of mountain and spent 17½ hours out walking.
Saturday morning we were up for an early start, planning to complete the Snowdon horseshoe, a classic Welsh route including a traverse of the infamous Crib Goch, a knife edge ridge. Unfortunately the crowds beat us to it and the main Snowdon car park was already full when we arrived at 8:30am. A quick re-plan and we headed down to do the Watkins path instead.
GW/NW-008, Y Lliwedd – 898m, 8 Points
A few hours later we arrived at the summit of Y Lliwedd at 898 metres. With temperatures well below freezing and an additional ten degrees of windchill, we didn’t want to stay there for too long. We set up the radios and worked stations from the Wirral through to Eire, a few in Anglesey and over to Manchester and Bolton. There is no shelter at the top of Y Lliwedd so after nine QSOs we were all ready to leave.
GW/NW-001, Snowdon – Yr Wyddfa – 1085m, 10 Points
From Y Lliwedd, it’s just over 150 metres of decent back to the Bwlch Ciliau and then the long climb up to Snowdon summit. The snow was fairly deep in places; on some of the steeper sections we were cutting steps to make the ascent.
Once we reached the ridge at the top of the Watkins path though we were greeted by the masses that had come up via the Pyg track from the main car park.
The wind on Snowdon summit was stronger and the temperatures even lower but we found a little shelter beside the summit cairn and soon logged contacts into Dublin, Telford, Anglesey and around the North West of England.
By the time we left the summit we had all lost contact with our PTT fingers which were now frozen solid. Our return route was back down Bwlch Main, over Alt Maenderyn and down to the lake at Bwlch Cwm Llan where we turned East to regain the Watkins path and back home.