Last week, while browsing Twitter, I scrolled past a short note and photos from Fraser (MM0EFI) describing his recent activation of Ben Newes in NE Scotland. I’m not sure if it was the snow, the KX2, or his vintage Land Rover (or all of these) but I wanted to know more about this activation.
Fraser kindly agreed to share the following field report for us here on QRPer.com:
Ben Newe SOTA Mini-adventure
I’ve lived on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park in north east Scotland for around six years. I’ve always climbed the hills, winter and summer, enjoyed rock & ice but now just love being outdoors. I’ve held an amateur radio licence for 18 years but have to admit that until I discovered Summits on the Air (SOTA), my licence was under utilised!
SOTA has allowed me to discover local hills that I had previously driven by on countless occasions on my way to bigger adventures, or so I thought, because it’s possible to have amazing adventure on smaller hills just by picking the time of day, season, or even choice of radio gear. Sometimes I’ll just carry VHF gear, which is always a challenge in a rural area! Of course I still love a big day out in the mountains, but todays story concerns a little hill just 7 miles from my home in Royal Deeside.
It’s called Ben Newe and its’ SOTA reference is GM/ES-053. It stands 565m or 1853’ above Strathdon in Aberdeenshire. I’d planned on climbing it after work. Generally I work a really early shift one day a week and the motivation for getting out of bed at 0340 is knowing that I’ll generally be on a summit around 12 hours later.
I left for work at 0400 (British Summer Time, UTC+1) and that’s when the snow started falling. It actually didn’t stop until 1900 that evening. We’d had an unusual winter, with little snow. Here we were in April and it had snowed for over 12 hours! I really wanted to get out for a SOTA activation and the snow was only going to enhance my adventure. I spent some time (probably too much time) thinking of suitable peaks to climb whilst at work that day. Ben Newe fitted the bill perfectly.
At 1400 I was back home and by 1430 I’d set off. I decided to take my old 1969 Series II Land Rover for a run. Cold, noisy, thirsty but will get me anywhere.
The usual walking route up Ben Newe is only a couple of miles on decent forest roads, but it’s still badly blocked by windfallen trees from winter storms, so instead I legged it up the downhill mountain bike track. Even under a 5-6” covering of snow, the track was just still visible. Soon enough this led to a firebreak, then a traverse, before finally climbing open slopes towards the partially wooded summit. The final part of the ascent was in a whiteout at times. Time taken – 30 mins, 1.7km and 215m ascent. Snow falling throughout.
I’d chosen Ben Newe because I thought the summit shelter and trig. point were just the right size to stretch a tarp over. I don’t usually carry a tarp., however I picked one up at home with this in mind.
I set about arranging the sheet over the stone wind shelter, guying it using small sapling trees, heather and a few pegs jammed into the rocks. I’m no expert at this – the thing had lain in the attic for 10 years! However, it would be key to success today. It looked OK.
Activating Ben Newe for SOTA
I’d brought an inverted V (linked for 40/20m) and also a W3EDP. Why two antennae? Well it’s handy to have an end fed and a centre fed in the bag. It gives more flexibility on a summit, as depending on weather, terrain, summit “furniture” etc, one or the other may be the only suitable option. It’s also good to have some redundancy, as they can take a beating in the hostile Scottish winter.
The W3EDP always generates comments and questions. It’s such an old school design and has (I think) gone out of fashion. Mine doesn’t even use ladder line. It’s just 84’ of radiator, usually set up as inverted V, and 17’ of counterpoise laying on the ground. It plugs straight into the KX2, sometimes with a 9:1 un-un if I can’t get a match, which is rare. It gets me on every band from 80m to 10m. It also gets me DX into the States on 17m & 20m, so can’t be all that bad.
The rest of the station comprised my Elecraft KX2 (with newly fitted homebrew internal battery) and a 7m Spiderbeams pole, complete with 3 guy ropes and pegs.
In the end I decided to use the W3EDP because having the pole some distance from me on snow covered heather/soil would be easier to rig, as the ground was very rocky directly around the summit shelter. It would also open up more bands to me without having to go out in the snow showers to un-do links. I connected it to the KX2 via a 9:1 un-un this time.
I settled down under the tarp, sitting on an off-cut of foam mat. I used my phone to put a “Spot” out using the excellent sotl.as app. I was on the air for around 20 minutes in total, firstly on 15m SSB, where I worked just two stations, both Greek and what turned out to be the best DX of the day at 2900km/1800 miles. Then switching to 20m, I found QSB and another eight European stations.
On most activations I would do a run on 40m too, as the shorter skip brings UK stations in, as well as other parts of Europe. However, later in the day it can be difficult to avoid QRM (the European allocation only extends up to 7.200MHz) and can be a frustrating venture with a QRP set up.
The snow was now being pushed into the shelter due to a change in the wind and I was now sitting in a whiteout, with snow pouring onto my radio. So, with worsening weather and no desire to suffer afternoon 40m QRM, I decided to call QRT.
I packed up and was away from the summit just before 1700 and was back at the Land Rover in around 25 mins, having followed the same route.
Twenty minutes after that I was home, and was 15 minutes early for once! My wife Mo often accompanies me on SOTA hikes but for some reason she’d decided to sit this one out!
Lots of boxes ticked today. Fun in the snow, both on foot and on the drive over. I pulled off an activation on a day when no one else would be out. I had a mini-adventure in a safe way, on a hill I know well and got to talk to some nice folk on the radio. I got to use some kit I haven’t used in a while too.
The highlight of course was that I did all of this after a full shift at work, so it feels like I’ve had a day off! And that’s always a Win…
Many thanks for sharing this excellent field report and video with us, Fraser!
Readers: Please check out and subscribe to Fraser’s YouTube Channel “The Radio Rover” for more of his projects and activation videos.
If you have a field adventure you’d like to share with us, contact me!