SOTA Activation: Scald Law, GM/SS-125

My attempt at a Darwin Award

22 April 2011

River MacLeod, MM0HAI

I have been distracted by bike radio and thinking about unicycle mobile operations recently so wasn't planning any SOTA activations but on the way home from work on Friday I met a friend and learnt he was planning to go into the Pentlands, our local hills, that night to test a new bivvy bag. This sounded rather familiar but I thought it would be a good excuse for some exercise that weekend so decided to join him. Most of my equipment was surprisingly organised but I had to remove the mast from my bike, which required cutting through an abundance of duct tape and cable ties. Nevertheless I managed to get ready in about an hour. I decided to keep things simple and not take the unicycle.

Colin had no particular plans for his trip. We got a lift up the road that runs along the Pentland Hills with the intention to stop somewhere when we felt like it. I spoiled this plan slightly by saying we should stop near Scald Law and then continued to mention it until we had a plan to go up it. This was of course because it is the highest hill in the area and qualifies for SOTA.

We set off at about 2330 and proceeded at a leisurely pace towards Scald Law. It was theoretically dark but there was a much higher level of light pollution than usual. I think the fog was reflecting it from Edinburgh and surrounding settlements. There was initially some embarrassment about navigation. We both knew the area but were still unsure exactly where we were to start with. At night we judged scale and distance wrong - a nearby hump looked like a large hill.

As well as the street lights and cars there were also occasional flashes from an unidentified source. We initially thought it was cars but later decided it must be lightning. It was not classic forking lightning but flashes over a large area of low cloud.

It was also very warm and humid. As we climbed I felt the need to take my top off. I have never needed to do this while walking in Scotland before and at this time it was after midnight and still April. I was sweating anyway.

It became more obvious that this was thunder weather. I hoped we would be in our bivvy bags before it started to pour. It also occurred to me that it might not be a very good idea to put a mast up on top the highest available hill during a lightning storm. I pondered this as we climbed.

We put up the mast anyway. I thought it might be interesting to see what would happen. Also, if I got struck by lightning I probably wouldn't need to worry about it for very long anyway.

I got set up and in my bivvy bag, and then tried a bit of radio, but the battery seemed near flat. It started to rain. Then I touched the plastic case of the battery and got a shock off it. I decided it would be a good idea to disconnect the aerial at this point but maybe a bit stupidly touched the metal connector, which gave a much worse shock. I became rather concerned around this time when I realised I was in a constricted and space I could not get out of very quickly, damp, and with the feeder from a mast on top of the highest hill in the area in a lightning storm coming into it. Maybe this wasn't a very good idea. I managed to undo the connector by holding it with some cloth, and threw the cable outside. A spark jumped a couple of inches from the connector to the ground.

In morning, I tried the radio again. No shocks this time, and interestingly the battery had started working. Maybe the lightning had charged it up. :) I made many good contacts, including the USA and Canada. Nothing on 2m. Colin was getting bored though, so I packed up. We walked back over the hills towards Edinburgh. In the fog, I could almost imagine we were on a mountain. We reached Flotterstone for lunch, then walked further and down Hillend for a bus home.

Fishing pole supporting HF dipole and 2m J-Pole SG-211 autotuner in plastic bag, mast behind Bivvy bag radio station (Lack of) View from my bivvy