It was a fine Saturday morning so decided it was time to bag my ‘local’. We quickly gathered the essentials and jumped into the car for the short drive over to Walbury Hill. Parking is easy in the large area to the west of the summit marked on the map as a viewpoint. It’s just a quick walk up the track and over a field to the trig point.
I set up next to the trig point and quickly bagged the required contacts. It was railways on the air weekend so three of my contacts were with special event stations located at railway sites.
With the point in the bag we packed up the kit and headed for home returning in time for lunch.
For my second SOTA summit I headed over to Waun Fach. I have climbed to this summit a number of times in the past but always from the East. For a change this time I decided to find a route up the westerly flanks.
Parking was a bit tricky with no recognised parking area in the vicinity. We managed to find a spot on a verge near our planned starting point. At a squeeze there would be room for two cars but definitely no more.
The ascent was pleasant enough with good visibility. There is a fairly clear path all the way to the top. On reaching the top I was surprised to find that the big boulder that used to mark the summit has been removed. There is now a made up path across the summit plateau which certainly makes passage somewhat easier than the old quagmire that used to be there.
The bowl that the boulder sat in is still there if you look carefully but for how much longer I don’t know. There appears to be extensive work being done to counteract the erosion with planting mats laid around to try and stabilise the surface. I am sure it will improve access but there was a certain sense of achievement missing now the summit point is so easy to find.
A few minutes after we arrived at the summit we heard the distinct sound of a helicopter approaching. Much to our surprise the helicopter touched down
about ten meters in front of us, right in the summit bowl, and dropped two people off before leaving again. I asked them what it was about and they informed me that they were about to fly in a pile of supplies for further reconstruction work.
We set about establishing our operating position. After our previous success on Pen Y Fan this time I had brought along a small 2 element beam for 2m that I had built from an old set of fibreglass tent poles. Whilst setting this up I heard activity on the radio and realised it was still monitoring GB3TD, our local 70cm repeater back in Wiltshire. The signal from Wiltshire was extremely good and I was able to have a chat with some of the locals from Swindon radio club.
Once everything was connected I called ‘CQ SOTA’ on the 2m FM calling channel and immediately ended up on the sharp end of a small pileup. Having relocated to S21 I managed to work thirteen QSO’s in the space of about thirty mins, regularly interrupted by the helicopter flying in and dropping off large bags of stone.
Power to the people
In addition to the small beam, I had packed a small linear amplifier for 2m. In tests made before we left I was measuring about 50w output when driven from my Kenwood TH-D74. Power for the amplifier was provided by a set of four cell LiPo packs (4S4P) with a small buck converter dropping the voltage to 13.8V. Adding the amplifier and batteries of course increased the weight we were carrying but it was still within acceptable limits. In thirty minutes of operating I used about 2.5Ah from the total capacity of 10.4Ah available so it looks like this is certainly a viable option for those more distant summits.
I chose Pen y Fan as my first SOTA summit as a quick and easy win. It’s a mountain I am very familiar with so could focus primarily on the radio side. It’s also the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons so I figured it would give me the best chance of getting a signal out. Not really knowing what to expect I just took my 2m/70cm fm handie to see what could be done. I had ‘spotted’ my attempt on the SOTA website, but at this stage didn’t have the SMS service up and running so couldn’t self spot from the top.
We arrived at the layby at the foot of the climb only to find it was absolutely packed. Probably more than a hundred cars, it was clearly going to be a busy day on the mountain. We eventually found the only remaining space to park which was in a very large puddle. It made for some interesting gymnastics getting out of the car and kitted up.
As expected, the climb up was very straightforward. We reached the saddle within about 45 mins then decided to take the path up to Corn Du before passing over to Pen y Fan. At the top of Corn Du I put a call out on the 2m FM calling channel not really expecting to hear anything much.
To my great surprise I immediately received a response back with a good strong signal. Unfortunately as I wasn’t expecting the reply I wasn’t ready to log the call, but I think it was from GW7MMG. I let him know that I wasn’t quite at the summit yet and could he please stand by for ten mins.
Quickly dropping down the back of Corn Du and up to Pen y Fan summit we were met at the top by the usual coach parties of tourists. We managed to find a clear spot to stand and I put out a call of ‘CQ SOTA’.
Straight away I was rewarded by three QSO’s back to back, clearly this was going to work. Another CQ call and I had my fourth in the log. Not bad for 5w FM on a hand held, all in the space of about 10 mins.
A little bonus
Flushed with success we sat down to eat lunch near the far edge of the summit plateau trying to avoid the crowds coming and going to the summit cairn. Whilst there I idly tuned the radio back to my usual settings on our local repeater, expecting that the next time I would use it would be when back at home the next day. Incredibly I heard the ident transmitted by GB3WH in Swindon, our local 2m repeater. Hardly believing my ears I put out a call, but although the repeater acknowledged me no one replied. Spurred on by this I then tried GB3TD on 70cm, also in Swindon, I was rewarded by a QSO with someone in Abingdon. Unfortunately again I never managed to log the call but signal both ways was strong and clear. I checked when I got home and this was a 178Km QSO back to the repeater, not bad for 70cms!