Fan Brycheiniog

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GW/SW-003 – A new approach

Fan Brycheiniog was the last of the 8 point SOTA summits in the Brecons I had still to do in 2017 so on a bright sunny October morning we set sail for a north westerly approach past Llyn Y Fan Fach.  Compared to last week on Fan Fawr it couldn’t have been more different.

Looking up towards Fan Foel with the Pant y Bwlch pass to the right

Arriving at the car park, it was fairly full but there were still a few places to be had.   After some initial confusion establishing exactly where we were on the map we set off south along the obvious track towards the lake.  At the filter beds, rather than following the westerly route up around the lake we chose to strike off cross country to find the more challenging route up through the Pant y Bwlch pass.  This should only be tried if you are confident on steep ground and the weather is appropriate.

The path up the Pant y Bwlch pass

From the top of Pant y Bwlch there is a clear path following the edge of the summit plateau, around Fan Foel, past the summit cairn and onward to the trig point marking the highest spot on Fan Brycheiniog at 802m asl.

The view from the trig point on a clear day is incredible.  We set up the station next to the trig point on the edge looking out over Llyn y Fan Fawr with a clear takeoff to the north east. A quick call on the FM calling channel was rewarded immediately with a number of stations coming back.  We moved of to S18 where I worked through the mini pileup.  In the next hour I worked 17 stations from locations as diverse as Southern Ireland, Manchester and Stockport including two S2S contacts, one into the Lake District and the other in the West Midlands.

Tracklog showing the route taken

For the return route we decided to track cross country straight across the plateau heading for Picws Du.  There is a faint path most of the way which is fine in good visibility.  Back at the pass we elected to take in the summit of Picws Du as a bonus so headed up and over the top.  Again to be rewarded with glorious views over the lake and beyond.  The path back down this way is fairly clear and close to the steep drop back down to the lake.

Journey Details

Date – 8th October 2017

Postcode – SA19 9UN

Parking – SN 799 238

Radio – Kenwood TH-D74 + 50W PA on 2m

Antenna – 2 ele dipole

Band – 144 FM

Contacts – 17

SOTA points – 8

Group – Myself & Peter

Log

Walking Route Summary

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SOTA

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.

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Fan Fawr

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GW/SW-005 – Wet, Wet, Wet

On Sunday 1st October I activated Fan Fawr.  I had been watching the weather forecast for the last week intently. At times it was looking fine and then the next forecast would be bad again.  On the night before I checked the BBC and the MWIS forecasts, one said rain in the morning then clearing, the other said starting clear then raining.  Looking at the synoptic charts for the next 24 hours didn’t help much either.  That’s British weather for you!

I decided to give it a go anyway, I have wet weather kit so should survive and my radio is IP54/55 rated, it was more of an issue for the external amplifier which is an old  MML 144/100, more suited to the desktop than to the mountain top.

In the event it was a nice enough morning as I drove West along the M4, if a bit overcast, but as I got deeper into South Wales the clouds got darker.  Once I passed Merthyr it started to rain and as I got higher into the Brecons the rain got heavier.

The Pen Y Fan lay by was absolutely full, with cars parked up and down both sides of the main road as well as in the lay-by.  If you want to climb Pen Y Fan on a wet day in October, make sure you arrive early.  Arriving at the Storey Arms car park just a few hundred yards further North, it was also packed full but I managed to find room to squeeze in between two minibuses.

On the mountain

Fan Fawr is a fairly nondescript slope, rising 150m from the car park in a gentle slope up to the Bryn Du plateau through typical Brecons moorland.  From Bryn Du the ground starts to rise more steeply as you approach the summit with a fairly steep section around the 650m mark.  Although there is no specific path all the way to the top, it is fairly easy to find in good weather so long as you have a rough idea which way to look.

On my visit the weather was anything but good.  From the car park I could see the stile and a bit of grass beyond but not as far as Bryn Du and all the time it was getting worse.  This would be a bit more of a challenge.

Towards the top there is a reasonable path leading directly up the nose of Fan Fawr which can be found on a clear day, but in the gloom I managed to miss it by about 130m.  Not a problem though as the northern flank is easily ascended with a bit of care.  Knowing this I worked my way around and up towards the summit until I reached the flatter ground.  It was then a simple task to pick up the summit path and follow it to the summit cairn.

There is a trig point at the South Westerly end of the plateau and a cairn at the North Easterly end.  The cairn is the higher point (and the nearer to the road) so I set up here.  There were already a couple of people there with a tent so even in this weather I had company, they said they had been there since six am that morning and were manning a checkpoint for an iron man competition, more on this later.

APRS

I set up my station alongside a large bog just a few yards from the cairn.  From previous experience I knew there was a good chance I would be able to get into GB3TD, my local 70cm repeater back in Swindon, so I called in.  It turned out there were a few of the locals there waiting in anticipation to see if they could contact me on the summit.  They had been following my progress on the aprs.fi web site so had a good idea that I was at the top and almost ready to go.  Switching over to 2M simplex operation I put out a call of CQ SOTA on 145.500Mhz and was immediately swamped with replies.  I had soon logged Richard, G4MUF and then Rob G4XUT, both from my local club.   I logged another five contacts before I started to have problems being heard.

By this time I was soaked right through and getting cold.  I am still not sure what was wrong, I was hearing people clearly but no-one seemed to be able to hear me.  I tried a few things and eventually returned to 70cm FM on the whip antenna to contact the repeater and let them know that I was going to pack up.  At the time I thought that I must have got water in the amplifier, although subsequently this proved not to be the case.  Anyway, I had enough contacts to count as an activation so I packed up and headed back down the hill.

The path down the nose of the plateau is easy to find even in the poor visibility so getting off the top is not a problem.  Once down onto the edge of Bryn Du though it is classic ‘getting lost in the Brecons’ territory.  Flat featureless moorland bog in all directions as far as you can see, which was about 20m.  Some careful work with the map and compass soon finds the welcome sight of the Storey Arms lay-by appearing out of the mist.  If you are not very confident with a map and compass then I would not recommend trying this in anything less than clear visibility.

“I am Iron Man”

Those of you who were Sabbath fans when younger may recognise the quote.  Arriving back at the lay-by there was a tent there now and as I approached the stile I was greeted by an official who thought I was the first competitor down on the Iron Man competition.  I was quite pleased that he thought I looked like an Iron Man.

What went wrong

Back at home I tested everything but couldn’t find anything wrong, no sign of water in the amp and it was putting out about 50W into a dummy load running on the same batteries.  In the end I put it down to user error, perhaps I had knocked one of the switches on the front of the amp without noticing.  I worked out that a 2M amp doesn’t actually put out any signal when you drive it at 70cm so I think that when I swapped to 70cm on the hill that is what made me think the amp was not working, and in the cold and wet conditions I just didn’t follow a rigorous enough test procedure.  Probably a bit of hypothermia setting in as well 🙂

Journey Details

Date – 1st October 2017

Postcode – LD3 8NL

Parking – SN 982 202

Radio – Kenwood TH-D74 + 50W PA on 2m

Antenna – 2 ele dipole

Band – 144 FM

Contacts – 7

SOTA points – 6

Group – Myself

Log

Walking Route Summary

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Walbury Hill

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G/SE-001 – Not quite a mountain

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.

Journey Details

Date – 23rd September 2017

Postcode – RG17 9EL

Parking – SU 370 620

Radio – Kenwood TH-D74 + 50W PA on 2m

Antenna – 2 ele dipole

Band – 144 FM

Contacts – 5

SOTA points – 1

Group – Myself and Jacob

Log

Walking Route Summary

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Waun Fach

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GW/SW-002 – A novel approach

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.

The route up Waun Fach from the West

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 old summit boulder
Photo ©Nigel Davies Shown under CC licence

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.

Unexpected visitors

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

Dropping off stone at the top of Waun Fach

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.

Journey Details

Date – 17th September 2017

Postcode – LD3 0EU

Parking – SO 186 290

Radio – Kenwood TH-D74 + 50W PA on 2m

Antenna – 2 ele dipole

Band – 144 FM

Contacts – 13

SOTA points – 8

Group – Myself and Peter

Log

Walking Route Summary

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Pen y Fan and Corn Du

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GW/SW-001 – SOTA virgin

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.

Pen y Fan summit from the top of Corn Du

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.

View from Pen y Fan looking towards Cribyn

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!

Journey Details

Date – 9th September 2017

Postcode – LD3 8NL

Parking – SN 987 199

Radio – Kenwood TH-D74

Antenna – Nagoya NA771

Band – 144 FM

Contacts – 4

SOTA points – 8

Group – Myself and Peter

Log

 

Walking Route Summary

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