SOTA Activation: Black Hill, GM/SS-167

27th to 28th January 2011

River MacLeod, MM0HAI

I decided it would be fun to try snow holing on top of a mountain. It would provide a warm and comfortable way to spend time on a summit that could be used for radio. I ordered a bivvy bag on ebay. Seasons passed. Emails were sent. New year came. Snow melted. It did not arrive. I ordered a bivvy bag from and it arrived the next day.

I was excited about my new toy so I decided to cycle to the local hills and try it out. The objective was to test my bivvy radio setup somewhere relatively close to civilisation before heading to mid-nowhere.

I had already ticked Scald Law (GM/SS-125) and Allermuir Hill (GM/SS-171) so I decided on Black Hill. Standing at 501m in an area I know quite well I expected it to be trivial and left at around nine pm, planning to be QRV at midnight.

The problem with declaring things to be trivial is that the universe doesn't like it when you do that and is prone to react by directing an extra dose of its ever increasing entropy at you. Whereas the last time I cycled this route I found a mountain biking playground, now it seemed the ground was playing with me.

I took the route through the gap between Allermuir Hill and Capelaw Hill to gain the track which leads to Castlelaw. The parts which were meant to be paths resembled rivers of mud. Traction was minimal and further reduced by the lack of off road tires which I didn't have time to fit. Thinking I was going cycling, I had decided not to wear proper boots. This turned out to be a mistake.

I then set off down the side of Castlelaw Hill for what I remembered as a fun off-road descent to Glencourse Reservoir. The frozen ground must have been causing more resistance than there had been in the summer and I could hardly move. I used a bike light of "be seen" power and a headtorch so could not see clearly more than a couple of meters ahead. I thought this would make it more exciting. I couldn't see the obstacles.

For its next trick, the earth produced the ditches. These were also more difficult than last time and I had to put feet down or be thrown off exactly where the deepest piles of mud were. How convenient.

I eventually reached the road. I hadn't actually looked at the route from here before leaving, because it would be trivial, of course, but now that I examined the map I realised the hill was rather steep on all sides. I didn't fancy going up what I expected to be a horrible boggy river valley to the East so I cycled quickly to an other reasonable option at The Howe, where I began my ascent.

Getting up here was not even a matter of pushing the bike. It was more a case of scrambling up and then dragging it behind. Later, the slope eased slightly and I could push again. However, most of the ground was covered with burnt heather: rather tough stuff, all branches pointing downhill. Every time I tried to move the bike forwards it would catch in the spokes making it like dragging an anchor.

I reached the summit nearly two hours late and put a spot on by SMS, partly to log my arrival. I pulled out the IC-T8E for a quick call on 2m but had little expectation of anyone being awake to hear me. I though I should try anyway.

I gave this up quickly and moved about 50m south-west of the rather sad looking summit cairn to set up my mast for HF and lay out the bivvy bag. After the inevitable faffing I was in my sleeping bag with a flask of coffee and some chocolate cookies. Life had improved.

Comfort seems to be enhanced by proximity to discomfort. I think this is partly why I like bivvying. You can also see the world around you and, if lucky, stars, rather than some canvas or plaster. Cloud and thin mist occluded the cosmos tonight so I watched the lights of central Scotland instead.

My water was beginning to freeze.

I slept well and awoke dry; the breathability of the bivvy bag confirmed. I wanted to go back to sleep but thought I ought to make at least one of my scheduled alerts so put the battery in my sleeping bag and warmed up the radios.

The self spotting SMS certainly helped with the contacts. I began with one on 2m, then with no further activity there moved to 40m for nine contacts with stations in Norway, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Edinburgh. My new 5MHz NoV enabled me to add three more contacts, Wales and England.

When I got up I found yesterday's mud had not finished its work. I now had frozen shoes. The left, which I typically put down when stopping, was particularly well wetted and it took some time to fit the block of ice over my foot.

The route down was much more enjoyable. I decided to head North East and found a cycleable track which I followed initially. The steep slope was not a problem on descent when taken indirectly; traction and rough ground no longer mattered with gravity on my side.

I then made my way to a path leading to Harlaw and Thriepmuir Reservoirs, which were pleasant in the sun, and noted with mild amusement normal people walking their dogs, presumably from houses and cars. I left them to it and cycled on.

Threipmuir Reservoir More photos
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