The Burren walk traditionally takes place on the last Saturday of August each year. In its earlier years this event was run by an orienteering group that was about to be wound up when the Galway VHF Group and the Galway Civil Defence decided to continue to run the event themselves.
The walk is a circular route from Fanore Beach car park onto a Green Road, towards Gleninagh and Black head before a descending route to the Finish at Fanore Beach car park. There are six checkpoints manned by a Radio operator and Civil Defence personnel. There are three circuits in this walk that offer a 27k, 24k and 14k loop designated the A, B, and C walks. The operation is on 80 meters as this is the only suitable means of communication across mountainous terrain. Four of the six checkpoints can be operated from vehicles and the remaining two require a good portable set up which is light enough to carry over a distance of some half an hour of a walk. Walkers were supplied with maps and directions and if all else failed they could ask the checkpoint operators to point them in the right direction.
The Galway VHF Group and Civil Defence met at 08:30 am in the Fanore Beach car-park. The registration area was in a large vehicle with slide doors on one side. In the mean time, Tom EI2GP placed direction signs along the route. A quick meeting was held to designate tasks, checkpoints and operations packs to the Civil Defence and respective Radio personnel.
Registration commenced from 09:00 onwards and the first few walkers were underway by 9:30. At this point each team made their way to checkpoints. Accountability for walkers is essential so the logging aspect was of paramount importance. At intervals a check-in to base occurred where the numbers we logged also. At times walkers would appear to go missing which was probably due to a delay whilst they had lunch. Sure enough they would appear at their next point eventually. There was no excuse to get lost, although many actually walked past signs as they ware so busy soaking up the scenery.
The portable operators used FT817 transceivers with an output power of five watts (Peak Eenvelope Power) Single Side Band into an MP1 mini-screwdriver antenna. This is a very lightweight kit easily transportable in a rucksack. Probably the heaviest part of this station would be the lead acid gel battery. For a full day of activity a 7 AH battery is recommended. The internal battery pack is slightly short of 2 AH and seldom lasts for the full day. The mobile operators used Pro-Am whips and sufficient power to enable good readability for the duration of the event. Apart from the FT817 operators, the rest could get by on 10 watts with no difficulty. One operator was using the Tarheel mobile screwdriver on his vehicle which worked well also.
Net Control would periodically update each checkpoint with the numbers of walkers that had registered until the cut off point at mid-day. One or two were sneaked in after that time on the proviso that they would not delay in the early stages. Once all walkers were accounted for at a checkpoint, 20 minutes grace was given to allow for them to turn back otherwise it was assumed they were to continue. The checkpoint could then stand down. At times a walker would decide to transfer from a shorter walk to the longer walk in which case net control would be alerted by the checkpoint in question who would then appraise the following checkpoints of the walker’s intentions.
Probably the most worrying point of the walk is the last two checkpoints where walkers occasionally manage to bypass a checkpoint and it is then not possible to account for them until they are reach next point or even the finish. This year there were only a few that managed to miss the vital point at checkpoint 5. As a precaution, another point was set up along the road to take numbers of walkers passing. Often walkers do not check in at the finish point. By having the checkpoint on the road we were able to check that they were off the hills safely. It is surprising how many people purposely make it their business to bypass checkpoints. We had told them at the start that any who did not check in would have the rescue services initiated on their behalf and that they would be liable for the bill afterwards. This year none bypassed the finish line!
At the end of the walk, the gear was stowed away and a final check of the site was made before leaving. All of those who participated were treated to a sumptuous feast and drink in Hyland’s Hotel in Ballyvaughan as a reward for the day’s work.
In conclusion our 80 meter links worked well despite the fact that number of operators in the another country decided to establish a net on the frequency we had been using since 09:30 and then whine about the Interference from Irish stations! The FT817s can only be described as a fantastic radio with their performance surpassing all expectations, although one has to bring an additional gel cell battery as the internal battery pack is not sufficient for a long day of operating. Would be SOTA enthusiasts do take note! The days operation was very smooth and uneventful, with only one walker eluding a checkpoint but was caught at the following one. The success of this operation is generally dictated by the long periods of silence that denotes all is well. The end of walk accountability worked well and there were no excessive delays as everybody was checked in at the final checkpoints and the finish.
Special thanks to the following operators: Gerry EI8DRB Checkpoint 1 and the final check along the road section, John EI7FAB Checkpoint 2, Enda EI3IS at checkpoint 3, John EI1EM on checkpoint 4, Tom Rea on Checkpoint 5, Joe EI3IX on checkpoint 6 and Steve EI5DD on registration and Net Control. Special thanks to Civil Defence who provided First Aid cover and personnel to assist at the checkpoints.