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 morning we decided to bag the local summit of Pen Y Garn. It is possible to drive almost to the summit up the forest track from The Arch on the B4574 but we decided to walk in from the South starting at the top of the road North out of Cwmystwyth.
Parking at SN 791 753, there is just room for one car on the top of the bend. The track up towards Nant Cwta is overgrown and swampy but passable with care. You will pass a derelict cottage with some interesting machinery abandoned outside. The track is clearly visible all the way up to where it meets the forestry road but is overgrown and decaying so take care if you go this way. Once onto the forestry road it is an easy route up to the summit with some lovely views.
The wind at the top was bitterly cold but there is a wonderfully complicated shepherds shelter on the top with a windproof entrance curled around to the side to keep the wind out which worked very well. Unfortunately I was without the amplifier having been unable to fix the fault from the previous day so had to work the summit with five Watts from the HT with the Nagoya antenna. This proved difficult. I soon had Allan GW4VPX and Frank MW0OFA in the log but then spent quarter of an hour calling CQ with no response. Eventually I found Keith G0RQF chatting on another channel and managed to tail-end his conversation to get a third contact in the log. Luckily Belinda had brought her radio so she started on down back to the car to get out of the AZ and make a fourth QSO to complete the activation. Not ideal but by this time we were both getting very cold.
As soon as I had the fourth contact I quickly raced down the hill to catch up and we enjoyed a pleasant walk back down to the car.
A weekend break on the Welsh coast delivered the chance to have another go at these three peaks. This time with the weather a bit warmer and some sunshine promised. This year we were staying to the South of the route so the approach to the drop off point was along the lakeside road around the Nant-y-moch reservoir which has some wonderful scenery.
GW/MW-008, Drosgol – 550m, 2 Points
The route up to Drosgol summit is straightforward along the lakeside track until Nant y Baracs. Choose a point here to leave the track and head East up to the top of Drosgol. There is no best route but there are a number of tracks made by the farmers quad bike that can be followed at times to aid progress. Otherwise it is just a slog up through the undergrowth to the top. The views from the top are worth it though on a clear day.
Conditions were not the best for contacts but fortunately Allan GW4VPX was also out activating this day. I heard his call just as I was entering my spot into APRS so soon had him in the log. It took me a quarter of an hour to get another five contacts for a total of six from Drosgol. This time I made sure the radio was recording properly as well.
GW/MW-007, Banc Llechwedd-mawr – 560m, 2 Points
From Drosgol Descend NE down to Afon Llechwedd Mawr. There is a footbridge located at SN 766 888. It’s not marked on the maps and I had forgotten to mark it on mine but at least this year I knew it was there. From the summit take a line directly through the 454m spot height and extend to where it crosses the river. The footbridge is there. The descent and following ascent are entirely over rough ground. There is no track that I have found other than again the odd bit of quad bike track that rarely goes in the right direction. Once you reach the false summit at 543m the going is much easier accross and onto the true summit of Banc Llechwedd-mawr. Here there is a summit cairn and a shelter which was welcome as even though the sun was shining the wind was bitter.
I set up the station and again contacted Allan who had waited on his summit for me to get here. Thanks Allan. Again it was har going to get the contacts but I eventually managed six in the log.
GW/MW-001, Plynlimon-Pen Pumlumon Fawr – 752m, 6 Points
From Banc Llechwedd-mawr. it is an easy decent down to Afon Hyddgen/Afon Hengwm. Again there is an unmarked footbridge, this one located at SN 779 891 on the short section where the river turns North-South. This is a nicely sheltered spot so I took the opportunity for lunch sat beside the river in the sunshine.
After lunch it was time for the big one. This is a real slog up here as apart from a short section it is almost all off piste through long undergrowth. This time with the wind in my face as well. Following the footpath from the river up to the track, don’t be tempted along this, cross straight over and make directly for the marked track up at the 463 spot height marker. From here a short releif South along the track until it starts to drop away at which point it’s time to say goodbye and head South up to the high ground. Once you get to the 668m spot height keep an eye out to the right, there is a faint track over there somewhere that will take you to the summit.
It was busy at the top. Having not seen anyone all day I was surprised to find the shelter full and a few other folk milling around. I set up the station beside the trig point. The wind was fierce by now and this was the only shelter I could get. I soon realised that there was something wrong with the setup as I was hearing Allan again when I arrived but as soon as I swapped over to the Long Ranger antenna I couldn’t hear anything. I swapped back to the Nagoya duck antenna and managed to log my four contacts but it was a struggle with only five Watts.
The descent down to the A44 is easy enough with a clear track all the way back to the road. I was soon back down in the car park waiting for my lift. Unfortunately I was an hour and half early so had a bit of a wait. It was worth it though for another glorious day out in the Welsh hills.
After a fine lunch in Hayfield it was a short hop down the road to the old Cat & Fiddle pub, the so called second-highest inn in England. Unfortunately no longer so as it has been closed for the past couple of years. The building is still there though and seemingly still in good repair. There is plenty of parking in the lay-by opposite the pub, or on a quieter day there is room for a couple of cars on the corner where the route leaves the road.
This is an easy walk rising gently up a well defined track. The summit itself is marked by a trig point where there is plenty of room to set up.
When I was there the wind was from the East and the sun in the West so I set up on the Western side of the North/South wall affording a lovely sheltered sun trap. On calling CQ I soon has twelve contacts in the log before packing up and heading back down to the car. Altogether an easy and pleasant additional two points.
A trip up to the Peak District for a family do offered the chance for a bit of SOTA activity in an area new to me. Kinder Scout, famous of course for the mass trespass, was one I have wanted to do for a long time, at last the chance came along.
We managed to get an early start and so M7BBE and I were in the car park at Bowdern Bridge for a 9am start. The map is not clear exactly where the car park is so after a bit of faffing around we found the bridge over onto Edale Road and up to Tunstead Clougth.
Here the road ends but the path on up through the fields is easily followed. Once you reach the access land at SK 064 866 there is a path straight up Kinderlow End but we chose instead to take the longer but easier route around to the South of the hill, then turning North at Edale Cross. This Cross is a stone monument on the side of the path marking the turning up towards Kinder Low.
From here there is a narrow path up past some rocks until reaching a well paved route across the top leading to Kinder Low trig point.
The true summit of Kinder Scout is a further 750m North East from the trig point but the height difference is only 3m gain so Kinder Low is well withing the activation zone. The trig point is situated on the edge of the escarpment with good takeoff from the South through West to the North.
This is a popular summit with plenty of people around so we set up the station a little distance away from the trig point on some convenient rocks. We soon had twenty contacts in the log including three summit-to-summit contacts.
Once I had cleared the pileup we soon packed away the station and headed back down the same route to a well earned lunch at the pub in Hayfield!
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.