SKARS out in the cold
South Kesteven ARS, based in Grantham and current holders of the RSGB Small Club of the Year trophy, had a discussion at the end of 2018 to decide what 2019 should look like. “More activity” and “More social events” were the key messages, so that is how three intrepid SKARS members found themselves on top of Mam Tor in the Peak District in the middle of winter!
Mam Tor is 517m ASL and, more importantly, it is easy to park near to the summit so that there is only about 100m of ascent which can be done in about 15 minutes; important when you have a bit of kit to get to the top. Steve Marsh 2E0WCG organised the event and kept a close eye on the weather, making the final decision to go the day before. The forecast was for sun and cloud, winds below 5kph, temperature just above freezing and no rain. That is about as good as it gets in mid-January, so the event was on.
The plan was to get there just before 11 and operate for about 2 hours, activating the trig point TP4623 and WAB square SK18 on 80m and VHF. Steve was using an FT817ND (5 watts) into a tripod mounted Yagi that could be easily flipped between FM and SSB polarisation on VHF. Paul Briggs (M0OFV) was using a coiled vertical on an FT857 (50 watts) on 80m phone and FT8, and Ivan Szabo M6HET was using his VHF rig with a magmount antenna on the trig point itself. All were using the club callsign M0SKR and it was the first mobile WAB activation for each of them. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot actually! There was sun, but it only appeared once the cloud on the hill had gone – visibility was only 30m for most of the day. While there was no rain, it had snowed the night before, which made everything slippy and muddy as it melted. They had all wrapped up warmly, so it wasn’t too bad though. They made 12 QSOs on VHF (mainly FM), but unfortunately none on 80m despite hearing lots of activity on the WAB net. With the help of club members Stewart Mason M0SDM and Darren Eaton M0YPU/P using a mixture of VHF and HF they worked out that although reception was fine on 80m, nothing could be heard on transmit. Subsequent investigation showed that the antenna coil wasn’t tuning up correctly and was giving an SWR of over 8.0, which was improved to 2.6 on retuning the antenna, but still nothing was getting out. They therefore had to abandon operation on 80m and switched to WSPR on 40m for the last hour which generated quite a few spots. Steve also realised that a laminated map of the UK (and compass) would be good addition to help aim the beam, but managed quite well with his mental map of the UK.
One unexpected benefit was that, despite the weather, the summit was really busy. There were normally at least 10 walkers on the summit at any point in time and as many as 50 at the busy times. Many of them wanted to know what was happening; “Are you part of the military?”; “Are you surveying for the National Trust?”; “Why have you got a TV aerial?” were all typical of the questions being asked. In the end, the three operators spent as much time explain our hobby as they did making (or attempting to make) QSOs. After 3 hours operating the cold got too much so they all decided it was time to pack up. Would they do it again? “Yes. Definitely.” said Steve, “but maybe when it is as bit warmer