DD5LP/P – June 23rd 2020 – DM/BW-854 Höchsten & DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg.

Preparation:

After multiple cancellations on a weather basis with incorrect forecasts, I was determined that two days after the official start of summer, I was going to get to these two eight pointer summits and get them activated! These two summits are the two nearest to Friedrichshafen that most SOTA activators visiting Ham Radio Friedrichshafen will somehow manage to fit into their trips. This year with COVID-19 restrictions the government ordered the cancellation of all large venue events until at least the end of August. Ham Radio was scheduled for June 26-28th and so was cancelled for this year. I was actually going to activate the summits in what would have been the week before Ham Radio Friedrichshafen.

The first of the two Summits – Höchsten DM/BW-854 is a fairly recent addition to the SOTA summits list and was added a little while after two lower summits were removed. It is the location for several TV, radio and microwave towers and is a true “drive-on” summit, with its own car park on the top from where you can walk into open grassed areas to set-up the gear or walk over and visit the Rondell which marks the exact summit.

As this is an open summit with no trees I could plan to simply use the light kit, with the X108G driving the Komunica HF-PRO2 loaded vertical on a photo tripod. This could also be an opportunity to try out a new, lighter and smaller tripod for which I have re-calibrated my table of HF-PRO2 settings. However, this wide-open grassed area also invites the use of the large surveyor’s tripod, 10m mast and either the Aerial-51 OCF dipole or the SOTABeam’s band hopper linked dipole. On my last visit here, I actually set-up the VP2E antenna, so you can see Höchsten has plenty of room for antennas! Given the drive-up nature of the summit, it lends itself to packing all options into the car and then to decide when I arrive what I will use.

The second planned summit – DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg is a summit in a forest with lots of trees, so using a vertical in this environment would be a waste of time. So in this case, despite the relatively long walk in from my parking spot on the side of the road before the “forestry access only” sign, I would have to take the heavier equipment set-up including the large tripod and 10 metre mast.

The car was packed the day before for a pre-8am start for what was expected to be a 2-hour drive to the first summit.

The Activations:

I awoke to sunshine and no rain. After the preceding couple of weeks, this was a change. I hoped the weather would stay fine as I left at 7:50am with the car Navi(GPS) saying to expect a 1hr 40-minute drive, so a little time possibly won as there were no traffic problems en-route, even the standard roadworks on the autobahn around Memmingen didn’t cause an excessive delay and I was soon off the autobahn onto the country roads that would form over half of my journey. This was not to be the section of the journey which caused me problems and I arrived at Höchsten around a quarter to 10am and was set-up and operational by 10am (0800 UTC).

DM/BW-854 Höchsten:

On arriving at the summit, I sent Ernie VK3DET in Australia a note in the hope that we might just still have a chance of a contact however the sun had already set in Victoria, Australia and the HF bands gone to sleep. Despite a couple of hopeful calls, there was no DX contact this time. This was not a surprise – I would have needed to be at the summit an hour earlier for any real chance and at the moment, late evening European time rather than early morning is when the EU-VK contacts are being made.

Given the closeness to the car and the open flat location, I decided to use the Aerial-51 OCF antenna atop the 10m mast supported by my surveyor’s tripod. Although I took the amplifier with me to my operation spot, I never bothered connecting it in and just ran with the 20w from the X108G. As it was sunny, I was happy that my solution using a SmartPhone as an external display works so reliably as the display on the X108G itself would have been totally invisible in this light.

Using the X108G on 20 watts output, the 10m mast and the Aerial-51 OCF dipole, I managed 17 contacts on 40m SSB including 3 S2S contacts and 8 contacts on 20m SSB. I shut down and started packing away three times, only to see other activators on, who I might get an S2S with. This activation was exactly 45 minutes long and when the calls dried up, I decided to pack-up as some winds had arrived on the summit and I’d also rather have some time in hand for getting to the next summit.

DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg: The trip to this summit ALWAYS seems to cause me problems! I had not approached this summit from Höchsten before, so the roads were a little different and the most direct route was closed because of the total re-building of one road (this was to provide an even bigger problem later). My Navi(GPS) does not understand when I don’t follow the given route and keeps trying to take me back towards the blockage. This is the standard GPS installed by the car manufacturer, in previous cars, where I had added cheap Chinese aftermarket Navis/Car multimedia devices, they realised when I took a different route and recalculated the guidance – not so with this Peugeot unit! In any case, I knew how to get to Gehrenberg from Markdorf and a route to Markdorf was still signposted, so I followed that and headed to Gehrenberg from there. This probably added 30 minutes to the direct route, but I got there and found my usual parking spot.

I now did a little selective packing into my rucksack. As I hadn’t needed the amplifier on the last summit, it and its box of cables/controller got left in the car as did the photo-tripod and the HF-PRO2 antenna but everything else was to come with me. It was now getting warm, so I packed my waterproof jacket into the rucksack rather than wearing it and with my rucksack on my back and the surveyor’s tripod containing the 10m mast, over my shoulder, I set off up the track into the forest where the Gehrenberg summit is located. (I have posted a short video of this walk on YouTube – link is below).

On arriving on the summit and catching my breath, I put up the tripod and mast and while the Aerial-51 OCF had worked fine at Höchsten, I decided to put that up again. As you’ll see at the very end of the video – this didn’t end up being the antenna that I used from Gehrenberg as it broke, right at the balun/feed point. Luckily I had brought my SOTABeams Band hopper antenna along as a backup and after taking down and packing away the broken antenna, I put this other one up, with it set initially for 20m as it looked like there was more activity on that band over 40m. Unfortunately while taking the first antenna down, the DX-Wire 10m mini-mast decided to collapse rather than lower smoothly, jamming some sections inside it a further cracking an already cracked section.

After the delays of both getting lost driving here and the first antenna breaking, I was eager to get some calls in the log. To add to this the sky had started to turn grey (nothing actually came- it just threatened in the end). From this summit using the X108G and SOTABeams band-hopper at about 8.5 metres. I worked 12 stations on 20m and then switched over to 40m to add another six – two of which were Summit-to-Summit contacts.

Once the contacts dried up again, I decided to call it a day, took the mast first down as far as I could and then took it apart to un-jam, the jammed section inside and empty out the pieces of broken fibreglass. Then it was time to head back to the car – here is the APRS track that I made from the car to the summit – actually it’s two tracks as I turned on tracking in both directions.

Once back at the car, and everything packed, it should just be an easy trip home, right? Wrong? I set the Navi(GPS) for my home address and followed its directions. Unfortunately, that same total road closure that had meant I had to divert on the way to Gehrenberg, was an integral part of the route home and as this Navi doesn’t like you not to follow directions and will not re-calculate a route, but rather re-routes you constantly back to the same closed road and … I had joined this important road AFTER where the diversion had been signposted, so I was on my own and my only option was to head back, past Gehrenberg again to Markdorf, where I knew I could pick up another major road and from there head back onto my home route. So 30 minutes wasted and being a little later, the traffic was now busier. So I had a 1-hour 40-minute journey to the region and a 2-hour 20-minute journey home. I suppose this averages to the 2 x 2-hour trips that I had planned overall …

 Photos:

   Höchsten:

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   Gehrenberg:

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Link to video of the walk up to Gehrenberg summit: https://youtu.be/Jn8F2sxBQb4

Equipment taken:

  • Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Portable 70w amplifier and switching cables (not used).
  • Surveyors tripod and 10m mast.
  • HAMA Photo Tripod (not used).
  • Komunica Power HF-PRO2 loaded vertical (not used).
  • Aerial-51 OCF dipole (used at Höchsten).
  • SOTABeams Band-hopper (used at Gehrenberg).
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Thick Painters plastic sheet.
  • Lightweight headphones.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DM/BW-854 Höchsten:

DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg:

Conclusions:

  • From the weather forecasts over the last two weeks, 80% were inaccurate – one has to simply go and hope the weather will be OK. This time it was, there was some wind on Höchsten and some dark clouds approaching on Genrenberg but overall the weather was wonderful for a change!
  • The fact that I carried a “reserve” antenna to Gehrenberg paid off when the planned antenna broke (now repaired). Had I not had the spare with me, I ‘might’ have been able to do a temporary fix on the Aerial-51 antenna, but whether it would have held…
  • The filter setting changing problem now seems to be fixed after replacing the CMOS battery again in the X108G.
  • The 1:1 balun at the feed point on the SOTABeams band hopper linked dipole feels fragile and since returning home, I have now fastened this to a far more solid “T-piece”, so I think it will now be strong enough.
  • I took the amplifier along in case there was a chance of a contact into VK but decided not to use it. The additional cables and switch unit, make it cumbersome to set-up unless really needed. The 20w from the X108G even without a speech compressor or amplifier was getting good reports. (I have yet to test the DYC-817 external speech processor from a summit, but again, it is more cables and another device that can go wrong, so except for a situation where I want to drag the last small piece of signal out of the station, it probably isn’t worth the extra complexity).

73 ’til the next summit.

DD5LP/P – June 2nd 2020 – DL/AM-058 Hinteres Hörnle.

Preparation:

Whitsun weekend saw the re-opening of the cable cars and chair lifts on mountains around Bavaria as part of the reduction of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Most of the summits that can be accessed without a lift, I have already activated this year and the couple that I haven’t are fairly distant 1-pointers, so getting back to a 4 or 6 or 8 pointer is of interest.

As solar cycle 25 slowly starts up there have been some good and some not so good conditions over the last couple of weeks. One target I always have on activations is to try to get a contact into either New Zealand or Australia. At the present time, that means being on the mountain early in the morning or late at night to take advantage of the short-path windows. Long path is not performing well at the moment.

The original plan was to head down to Bad Kohlgrub as soon after 9am (when the lift starts) as possible to maybe get to the summit by 10:15 am – still not very early but I have made VK/ZL contacts at this time previously. Earlier would be even better but not possible because of the lift.

Unfortunately, on May 31st my wife injured her foot and it wasn’t getting better. While she did not need me to stay home, she would be in no condition to take our dog for her two daily walks in the next few days. I had considered perhaps postponing my activation a day or two however the weather forecast said that as from about midday on Wednesday 3rd of June for 10 days we should expect high winds and rain. So that could easily mean my new date would be scuppered.

The compromise was that I would take the dog out on her long, morning walk prior to heading off to the summit and then get back in a reasonable time to take her for her afternoon walk. This, of course, meant there would be little or no chance of contacts into VK/ZL this time around.

The chairlift from Bad Kohlgrub is a very small rickety old one and carrying a lot of gear with me was not an option. So I decided to reduce down to my mini-pack with just what I needed to set up a station and no more. Added to the restrictions of the chair lift, the walk from the top station to the summit is both steep and long so excess weight should be removed. On arriving at the actual summit there is limited space and it is usually quite busy but I know from previous trips that just down from the summit there is a grassy area where I can set-up out of the way of others while still being well within the AZ.

So all gear was checked and (hopefully) not required items removed from the rucksack to reduce weight and bulk. Everything had to go in or on the rucksack.

The alarm clock was set and all packed for what should be an “easy activation” with the very slim chance of a contact into VK3 where Ernie VK3DET had promised to listen for me and a possible SOTA-HEMA S2S contact with Mike 2E0YYY in north-west England.

The Activation:

With the first dog walk completed, I managed to fit in a call to Mike 2E0YYY from my home station as he was already on his HEMA summit “Mow Cop”. It was then time for the trip down to Bad Kohlgrub which took longer than normal due to extra traffic on the roads caused by the school holiday period. On arriving at the village station of the chairlift, the car park was overflowing, so there would be a lot of people on the mountains but there’s also quite a lot of space and many people only head up to sit in the sun or visit one of the two restaurants – which are allowed to serve food again – at least in their outside gardens.

Another surprise was that the fare had been increased from €10 to €12 “because of COVID-19” however the website still lists the fare as being €10. I got a discount of half of the parking fee of €3 (for four hours) so I was just about back at the original price.

This time I was able to mount and dismount the chair without almost falling off as happened the last time I rode it (also with radio gear along). The lift took longer than usual stopping often, I presume due to the need to space people with only one to a seat pair – except if passengers are members of the same family. So by the time I arrived at the top station, it was already 11 am. Any chance of contacts into VK or ZL was now definitely gone.

The walk from the top station to the summit was longer than I remembered. I expected it to take around 25 minutes. 45 minutes is closer to the requirement.

After I got to the summit and set up the station – 20m was only open around Europe it seems, but stations from Sweden to Spain, from the UK to the Ukraine were BOOMING in – better than I have heard on 20m for a long time. I worked 12 stations in 12 minutes, including a bit of a chat with some of them. I had two S2S contacts, one of those after I switched over to 40m but what was strange was while I gave Robert HB9OME/P a true 5-5 report, he was having trouble hearing me at 3-3. After that contact, I realised something was wrong as tapping the gear the noise level came up and went down – I tried moving cables around and even removing the short adapter cable that I have so that I can leave the rig in the rucksack and connect whichever antenna I want to the rig from outside of the rucksack. Then I couldn’t get the noise level back where it had been, so I decided that this needs to be investigated at home – my suspicion is the coax that is attached to my home-made tripod base may be broken or have a dodgy joint. As it was, I was running behind schedule so I decided to be happy with the contacts I had got and packed up the station and headed home, arriving there in time for the afternoon walk for the dog.

Because of the antenna cabling problem, one thing I didn’t manage to test, which I had hoped to, was the external speech processor but that’s now something for the next activation (again).

Photos:

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Equipment:

For those interested here is the exact list of everything that was packed into or onto the rucksack: Equipment configuration – light kit

Log:

Conclusions:

There’s always something to learn from these activations. Today I learnt three things:

  1. The walk from the top station of the chair lift to the summit isn’t 20-30 minutes as I remembered, it’s over 40 minutes!
  2. The Komunica HF-Pro2 performs above it’s price-level both on transmit and receive. It has done well in the past on 40m and today it was a marvel on 20m (I think had I been able to be on the summit at an earlier time, contacts into VK/ZL could easily have been possible with this antenna).
  3. I need to do an inspection on my coax leads and perhaps have some fall-back option in the future – perhaps a 2-way SO-239 connector on the Tripod and a separate coax lead, rather than a CB SO239 base with its own crimped on coax.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – May 19th 2020 – DM/BW-078 Römerstein & DM/BW-484 Bussen.

Preparation:

Wanting to get back into the activating frame of mind now that the weather has got somewhat better and after a couple of cancelled attempts (because of the weather), I was planning an activation of Schwarzer Berg DL/MF-082 but it is quite a long drive away from my home. If I could link up another summit with it that would make it more worthwhile but as the cable cars and seat lifts are all still stopped because of the Coronavirus, (UPDATE: they will start again on June 1st) there was no easy second summit to include. I then started thinking, that if I was to invest an extra 15 minutes over 1hr 30mins in driving time to get to the bottom of this 1 point summit, I could go in the opposite direction into the DM/BW or DM/BM regions which tend to have easier to access and higher scoring summits than in the DL association.

I have activated Römerstein previously and for a 10 point summit, it is easy. I knew I hadn’t activated it this year but when I took a look, I saw I hadn’t activated it since 2017 – so in 2018 and 2019, I had missed out on these easy 10 point activations. While looking at the approach to Römerstein I found a new car park and track coming up from the other side of the hill which was a lot shorter. What I was to find out later was that it was shorter because it was steeper – but more of that later.

So if I’m travelling so far, why not combine a second summit with Römerstein to make the journey worthwhile? Previously I have combined Teck which is relatively close to Römerstein however as the summit is covered by Castle Teck which is closed due to COVID-19 and it is highly likely the car park and the track up to the castle are also closed. This is probably not the best choice, therefore. I had combined Bussen with Römerstein before as Bussen is “sort of”  on the way home (only on the map is it sort of en-route but you certainly would not normally take a route past Bussen from Römerstein as it’s all slow windy country roads in contrast to the mostly Autobahn route I would take to go to Römerstein). In any case with the fact that Bussen would be open as it has a church and other facilities on it that are now allowed to be visited, Bussen (DM/BW-484) it would be.

As I now have the portable amplifier “tamed”, I wanted to use it along with the Xiegu X108G and the repaired-again linked dipole as being a good strong station. Should the bands be bad the extra power helps as does the dipole antenna. I had also scheduled a possible contact with Ian VK3YFD in Australia. To make sure the antenna could bring the most advantage it could I packed the 10m mast and the Surveyors tripod as its support, but I decided to take the 6m mast as a backup as well. You can probably see where this is going …. far, far too much weight to carry to these summits even before I had the surprise of the steeper than expected path up to Römerstein!

In any case, in order to get a good start, all the gear was loaded into the car the previous evening to enable an 8:30 start. My calculations indicated a full day returning before 6pm.

The Activations:

The alarm didn’t get a chance to go off as I awoke 10 minutes before and turned it off. I was on the road by 8:20 am local time – my target was to be set-up and operational by 11am local (0900 UTC). The GPS Navi in the car told me I would need 1 hr and 45 minutes to get to the village of Römerstein – the GPS wouldn’t recognise the actual summit, but I had programmed the new car park’s location into my phone in Google maps in case I got lost. The trip did not follow the route I expected. Just before Ulm it diverted me off the Autobahn onto a B-road that I would follow almost all the way to Römerstein. I would have preferred to stay on the Autobahn network longer and turn off later but the GPS system believed going down this B-road would be quicker. There were no major delays and indeed I arrived in Römerstein pretty well on schedule.

DM/BW-078 Römerstein:

As I had been in the area before, I knew that the Römerstein summit and lookout tower is close to the road from the Römerstein Village to the Donnstetten village. So I programmed Donnstetten as my next destination and I was soon on the road that I recognised and finding the new (to me) car park on the K6704 road was straight forward.

After unpacking the completely filled rucksack and the surveyor’s tripod in which I had also packed the 10 metre fibreglass mast from the car it was time to set off up the track. The start is not bad and the route is signposted so there is no danger of taking the wrong route. Then the track started to get steeper and both the tripod and rucksack started to weigh on my shoulders. Perhaps I should not have packed the kitchen sink and anvil?

Eventually, I saw the tower and realised I was approaching it from the rear. I had expected to be coming up past a scouting hut but that must be another access route. Perhaps I should try that one next time.

As I arrived on the parkland in front of the tower another small family group arrived and took up residence near the fireplace where they would later cook their lunchtime meal. I went ahead and set up the tripod and mast followed by the rest of the station – which I sat on a convenient wooden camping table of which there are several around the place. All was looking good. I sent out an email to Ian VK3YFD to let him know I was almost ready and which frequency I had found free on 40 metres (where I had decided to start). Something didn’t sound right though. Although while tuning around I could receive strong stations and they were very clear, when I tuned off the stations there was no static noise and the radio sounded almost as if it didn’t have an antenna on it. I checked all antenna connections and ran without the amplifier turned on. I decided to put out a call anyway and a couple of stations came back telling me that the audio was very difficult to understand. I wondered if the internal speech compressor was on – it wasn’t – I took the amplifier out of circuit – still the same problem. Then while checking cables I lost power a couple of times. What’s going on? Have I travelled all this way only to find the radio has major problems? I located the power problem. A new fuse holder which I had installed on a direct lead to the radio from the battery box along with a bad connection to the back of the radio had combined to create this problem. I performed some more moving of cables and unplugging / re-plugging with the hope of at least temporarily fixing the problem. This resulted in the wire inside the new fuse holder breaking off completely – this was not a wire which I had soldered to the fuse holder – it came with it’s leads already attached (not very well it seems!). So now what? I had a small glimmer of hope, among all the things that I had brought, ( most of which I didn’t need to), had I perhaps left the old power lead for the rig in my rucksack??? Yes! Someone is on my side, the lead was there and once plugged in the power was stable again.

So one problem solved but why is there an audio problem on transmit and why is the receive performance so bad? The penny dropped. This rig has three filters a 500Hz one for CW, a 2.4KHz one for SSB and a 6kHz one for AM. It seems these filters are used on both receive and transmit, as when I switched filters (by pressing what I hoped was the right button as the sun was out by now and I could only just see the OLED screen’s lettering), the receiver sprung back to life and when I checked with a couple of SOTA chasers, the audio was now fine as well with or without the amplifier but they preferred the signal with the 70 watts from the amplifier rather than without!

OK, the problems were fixed, but I had lost lots of time in the process. Time to make some contacts! 50 contacts in 35 minutes later, the pile-up had died away. All reports were fine. I think everything is working correctly again. I had no time to try 20 metres as I needed to get packed up and moving to the next summit, Bussen. While packing up I was approached by a visitor who showed some interest and cost me about 20 more minutes that I didn’t need to lose but – so be it. I wasn’t going to be rude and he did seem interested. I gave him a DARC brochure which he then read from cover to cover while having his lunch. Once I had just about everything packed, I realised that I hadn’t taken any of my standard station and antenna photos but I wasn’t going to set-up again just for those photos, so on this summit, you just get to see the area not the station in the slideshow below.

The trip down the track to the car park was quite hurried but as I arrived at the car, I found that I was only about 5 minutes behind schedule on my (very conservative) plan, so perhaps I could make the time up en-route to Bussen which was about an hour’s drive away.

DM/BW-484 Bussen: The trip from Römerstein to Bussen, was thankfully quite straight forward.

I knew it was going to be a “slog” up the road/path from the car park and so removed some items from the backpack – it was still too heavy, however. The tripod and 10m mast, while being a heavy load I can justify as it gives flexibility as to where I can set up my antenna. Indeed this allowed me to pick a point in the park between the church and the castle ruins, quite close to the trig-point stone, so I knew I was correctly located on the summit. The station set-up went quite quickly but then, HORROR of HORRORS – the filter problem was back! The receiver was dead and now, as this was after midday, the OLED display on the X108G was totally unreadable. I ended up laying on the floor with my jacket over my head and the radio, peering as hard as I could to try to make out the writing on the screen. I eventually managed to see what appeared to be “FIL” and pressed the button alongside it to change the filter from 500Hz to 2.3kHz and the radio burst into life again. This is becoming a major problem which I can’t get around by using my remote control Android program PocketRxTx as the Xiegu does not allow filer changes via the CiV command set. After getting home, I found a solution to this particular problem, however. The multi-function microphone has a button to change the filter setting!! Should this problem occur again, I should be able to resolve it using this button. I wish I had known this earlier!

I started operations at Bussen on 40 metres again and found the band now to be very noisy with what sounded like a distant storm creating electrical crashes across the band. I once again found a free frequency and emailed Ian in Australia asking him to listen for me. Unfortunately, once again, this contact wasn’t to be, so I spotted myself on SOTAWatch and started working chasers. There were fewer chasers on this summit, possibly due to the fact that signals would suddenly drop 5 or more S-points in QSB before coming slowly back up again. The 40m band was in a poor state now. Rather than labour the band, I switched the rig and antenna over to 20 metres and worked a few of the stations who couldn’t get through on 40 metres.

As I was thinking of calling it a day with 22 contacts in the log at Bussen a lady walked up and asked me what I was doing. Another 15 minutes conversation and another DARC brochure given out and then it really was time to pack up and head home.

The journey home was two thirds on country roads and was made more interesting in that a B-road on my route had been completely closed for road works and while a diversion was signposted, the GPS-Navi constantly wanted to direct me back to the point where I had been forced to leave the road onto an even smaller one for the diversion. Eventually, I got back to the same B-road only further down its length and the Navi was happy again.

I arrived home at just before 5:30 pm about 30 minutes earlier than my conservative plan, with some repairs and modifications to look into and a lot of log entries to enter into the SOTA database!

 Photos:

   Römerstein:

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   Bussen:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Surveyors tripod and 10m mast.
  • 6-metre mast (not used).
  • Photo Tripod (not used).
  • SOTABeams linked dipole.
  • Aerial-51 OCF dipole as a reserve (not used)
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Thick Painters plastic sheet (used at Bussen but not at Römerstein).
  • Lightweight headphones.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DM/BW-078 Römerstein (50 contacts):

DM/BW-484 Bussen (22 contacts):

Conclusions:

  • The weather was wonderful for a change!
  • The amount of “reserve” equipment that I took AND carried up to the summit and did not need – was far greater than I should have had.
  • I am happy that I DID leave one power cable in my pack from earlier as it was needed, however.
  • The filter setting changing problem is difficult to resolve when you can’t see the X108G screen (Xiegu do not support changing filter settings via CiV commands, so I cant add this function to the PocketRxTX) – however … what I have realised after returning home, is that the multi-function microphone has the ability to change filter settings! In fact, perhaps it’s the microphone that is causing the incorrect setting in the first place by the small button being caught perhaps?
  • The repaired linked-dipole works fine however after adding the 1:1 balun the feed point feels more fragile than the old one that I have used for years. Maybe I should go back to the old – no-Balun solution or find some way to strengthen this feed-point.?
  • I knew that the steep climb up to Bussen is unavoidable but I may return to my longer (but not so steep) access route to Römerstein tower the next time that I activate there.
  • My new lightweight headphones simply work and are comfortable.
  • I had planned to try out the speech processors internal & external but after the other problems, I left well alone as I would have been even later leaving Römerstein and most chasers are not interested in such tests in any case – I was very happy with the help that I DID get in locating the bad audio being the filter problem.
  • The bands were not conducive to DX contacts, so despite my hope that I might get a contact with Ian VK3YFD – it was not to be, despite the amplifier working correctly this time (bias issue corrected).

73 ’til the next summit.

DD5LP/P – May 8th 2020 – DL/AM-180 Berndorfer Buchet.

Preparation:

With the mobility restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down being lifted two days earlier, this was my first chance to get out onto a SOTA summit again.

On the 7th. I had worked Ron, ZL4RMF from his superstation in Dunedin from my home QTH at 05:20 UTC and so I sent him an email asking if he might be on the following day about the same time (long path time for New Zealand to Europe contacts) and he kindly said he would be happy to listen out for me. Given the early time, I needed a close summit and Berndorfer Buchet is my closest summit and while only one point, I hadn’t actually activated it this year as yet.

During the lock-down, I had investigated why I was getting RF into the audio of my portable rig (the Xiegu X108G) when using it with my portable 70w RF amplifier. I tried everything to screen all inputs but in the end, it turned out not to be RF ingress (although it sounded like that). The problem was in fact that the Chinese amplifier module that I had set-up exactly to the provided instructions was not running in class AB1 as it was supposed to be but when in use was going into class B or even class C amplification which of course distorts badly an SSB signal!

The problem was found, corrected and then tested firstly local into a dummy load and then via a WebSDR in the days before this activation, so the activation would be the proof of whether indeed now everything was OK.

Berndorfer Buchet is just 30 minutes drive away from home but to make sure I would not be too late for the possibly ZL contact, everything was packed into the car, the night before – including a spare antenna and small tripod.

So the equipment to be used would be the Xiegu X108G, the 70w portable amplifier, the 10m mast and surveyors tripod to support it plus I would also take a new external speech processor to test out if I had time, alongside the built-in one. As always the rucksack had the linked dipole and the 40m OCF antenna (just in case). The extra antenna and tripod I mentioned above are the Konumica HF-Pro2 loaded vertical and a photo tripod, which stays in the new rucksack in any case. Given that Berndorfer Buchet has a forest on top of it, having to revert to using a vertical antenna would be a last resort.

So all packed for what should be an easy activation with the small chance of a nice contact to Ron in New Zealand again.

The Activation:

The trip across to Burndorfer Buchet went without any problems and I arrived at the parking area about 10 minutes ahead of my schedule. Ten minutes that I would need later.

The walk from the road up the forest track while a little cool is nice in the morning. A small deer ran across about 10 metres in front of me – no fear, that is simply the way it goes to get to its feeding area or whatever. The last part of the climb and often covered in leaves and twigs that are easy to fall through, but this time a large forestry vehicle had been part of the way up the slope and made a really muddy mess, that I had to work my way around with my new “Mountaintop” rucksack on my back (appropriate name HI) and the large surveyor’s tripod with the 10m fibreglass mast packed inside it over one shoulder.

Suffice to say when I got to the summit, I was somewhat out of breath! After a slug of water and a quick check around, I started by putting the tripod and thee mast up ready to take the antenna. Then out came the thick green plastic sheet and all of the equipment including the linked-dipole antenna which I intended to use. On taking it out of its plastic bag, I got an unfortunate surprise. One complete leg of the antenna was no longer attached to the feed-point. I considered whether I could somehow work out a way to fasten it together but as the antenna wire also forms the guy rope for the mast, I decided that might not be such a good idea. I always have a second antenna with me and I’m not talking about the loaded vertical HF-Pro2 – I had left that in the car as it would not have radiated with all the trees soaking up the radiation. I’m talking about the Aerial-51 404-UL off centre fed dipole. This antenna has the advantage that it will work on multiple bands without having to be taken down. It has the disadvantage of having to have a 4:1 balun which is additional weight at the top of the mast. In any case, I was glad I had the antenna in the rucksack and that became the antenna for this 40-metre activation.

Once I had all the equipment connected up and turned ion, I started tuning around 40 metres as Ron had told me around what frequencies he normally tried to operate on. The band was electrically noisy, which is strange as there are no buildings anywhere near this summit – so the interference was coming down from the Ionosphere. The signals that I could hear on the band (and there were lots of those) were varying dramatically with QSB. I was starting to doubt whether I would manage any contact with Ron from my portable set-up. In any case, I wanted to try out the amplifier, so rather than immediately calling for SOTA, I went and did some search and pounce but wasn’t able to get any contacts so I put up a spot and called for SOTA contacts. My first reply now was not a SOTA chaser at all – it was Peter G8HBS who had simply heard me calling CQ and called me. We exchanged similar 55 / 56 reports and then I moved on and Terry from York G0VWP called me and again we exchanged similar reports, this time 57 both ways. No one was complaining about my signal being distorted, all was OK with the amplifier – that’s one item off the to-do list completed. I then had a call from Leonardo in Italy IW0QO and this time the signals were not balanced with me giving Leonardo a 59 and getting just a 52 – but that’s OK, the Italians tend to run LOTS of power.

As the SOTA contacts dried up, I went hunting for Ron again and came across a UK station who was also looking for him while talking to some other UK station – so I knew that conditions were perhaps not good enough yet for New Zealand or perhaps simply not good enough, full stop. While tuning around I came across Peter near Belfast in Northern Ireland MI0AIH and had a bit of a chat with him and then tested how well he could hear me without the amplifier so I went down from 70w and turned up the Xiegu to its maximum 20w. result? Peter could hear I was there without the amplifier but could no longer understand what I was saying because of QRM. With the amplifier on, we exchanged 59/57 reports.

By this time I had just about given up on getting any contact with Ron when  I came across that UK station – Rob, M0KPD/M who had been looking for Ron as well. When he finished talking with Per DK7LJ I gave him a call to ask if he had found Ron ZL4RMF. Instead of Rob coming back to me, Per did and once he recognised my callsign, he said that he had worked Ron and Ron had been looking for me. Per checked and indeed Ron was still listening on frequency and Ron and I managed a contact. Not nearly as good as from my home station the day before but despite conditions being worse we did manage a 54 / 45 contact – so the contact was made. When Ron had to go, I carried on talking with Per in Keil in North Germany and he has TWO 40 metre capable beams – one with 3 elements on 40m and one with 4 elements – unreal! No wonder he can get through to Ron in New Zealand on most days!!

The short activation ended very nicely in the end. I didn’t manage to test the speech processors but that’s now something for the next activation.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTABeams linked dipole and Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.
  • Thick plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable.

Log:

Conclusions:

The portable amplifier is working well. When I dropped it off-line as a test with the station in Northern Ireland he noticed a difference immediately. I “guesstimate” 2-S-points improvement using the amplifier over the 20w from the X108G on its own.

My very quick test with the internal speech compressor proved nothing and I need to test how this should be set (and whether the external DYC-817 is any better) on an activation where I am not in a rush to pack up and leave. as was the case on Berndorfer Buchet as we had a short family outing planned for 10am.

The fact that the linked-dipole broke as I was taking it out of its bag was just unlucky and in the meantime, it is repaired and ready for use again.

The contact with Ron in Dunedin, New Zealand is 90% down to his great station and the help from Per DK7LJ letting Ron know that I was there, but contact was made, the radio waves travelled half the way around the world and back again and this on 40 metres at the bottom of the solar cycle!

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – March 20th 2020 – DL/AL-149 Blender & DL/AL-281 Urserberg.

Preparation:

With the likelihood for a mobility ban to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus imminent, and the weather being still sunny for another day before winter-like weather was forecast to return, I wanted to pack these two summits into the log before the winter bonus points stop at the end of March.

Unlike the last two summits, these two ARE near to each other and easy to navigate between. They are located just outside of Kempten in East Allgau with the first summit, Blender, hosting the TV transmitter tower for the area.

Preparation apart from mapping work (noting junctions to turn on paper) to make sure I took my known route to the summits was to pack the equipment which going to be the same as the previous four summits – the X108G plus the Komunica HF-PRO2  and photo tripod. As that configuration has been working reliably I decided not to pack the surveyor’s tripod and DX-Wire 10m portable mast. Meaning that I am now down to just one rucksack to carry to the summit. It’s still about 17 kilos though, so some more work is required to reduce this down for future usage. When I intend trying for specific DX locations, the heavier, larger kit will be needed but for the current summits, where I just want to bag a few European contacts, this simplified set-up seems to be working well.

The Activation:

When I woke, it was a little overcast to start with but would turn into another nice morning. I casually loaded the Rucksack and HF-Pro2 in its tube into the car and was on the road around 9am. I had no rush to get to the summits, knowing as it got closer to midday it would get warmer and be more pleasant to operate. Both of these summits are “relatively” easy summits although the walk from the car is about 10 minutes in both cases, with the first summit needing a somewhat steep climb however compared to summits earlier in the week, these are easy to get to.

DL/AL-149 Blender: When approaching blender by the road a good tip is to look out for the VW sales garage in Wegschiedel and turn right there, and not take the earlier right turn from the ST2376 road and end up in the wrong place as I did this time! I only lost a couple of minutes though and as soon as I saw the VW garage, I remembered, that’s where I should turn. Although marked as locals-only, access to a hotel along the same road is allowed and hence public usage is not forbidden. Turn left in Eschachberg (the road up to the Blender TV tower) and I park at the point where the road goes off to the hotel and walk from there as there is enough space by the bench seat without impacting access on the road.

From the parking spot simply head up the road and field towards the transmitter tower. Any of this area is well within the AZ but going off to the left and through the turnstile, there is a nice area with another seat and flat area to set-up the antenna.

As the seat was taken up by two cyclists I simply set up on a plastic sheet on the ground and out up the Komunica HF-PRO2, photo-tripod and radial wires and fired up the rig – plenty of noise and stations on the band, so no re-occurrence of the fauöltx antenna cable issue of a few activations ago (I replaced the short length of coax that comes from the rig out of the rucksack, so it would be strange if the new cable was also faulty).

After trying a couple of frequencies, I found a usable one, self-spotted and settled back to pulling 25 stations out of the pile-up. There was a little QSB but apart from that, this operation went quite well.

Once the flow of calls dried up, I packed everything back into the rucksack and headed back down the hill to the car.

DL/AL-281 Urserberg: The trip from Blender to Urserberg is fairly straight forward. Drive back to the main road and at the VW garage, turn left and then take the small road which is the next right and signposted to Eschachreid. In Eschachreid at the T-junction turn right and follow the OA20 road through Eschach and up to the car park for the local lake, the “Eschacher Weiher”. From the end of the car park, there is a farm road which goes up the hill to Urserberg. A point of reference is the tops of the ski-lifts as Urserberg is above those. To be really accurate, the very summit lies within the forest on the top of this hill, however, the grassy area in front of it is within the Activation Zone (AZ) and far more practical to set up a vertical antenna on, rather than within the forest.

I was surprised to find the car park quite full (usually there is one abandoned car and my car in it) and cars were also parked alongside the road (outside of the car park). I presume all the locals were taking advantage of the nice day and heading down to the beach at the lake.

I could see some darker clouds heading my way, so I decided to get up to the summit and get the activation completed before the sun went in. The walk up the road is quite long but the views on the way up are also quite awe-inspiring. Despite the sunshine, there was still some snow at the side of the road as I walked up. Beware of mountain bikers on this road, it appears to be a favourite route for them and they come down the road at quite a speed.

Once I got to the corner before the start of the forest, I went through the open gap in the fence and up into the grassed area. This is obviously a farmers field however there are several tracks across it, and in winter it is most likely a skiing area, so as there are no signs to say otherwise, I believe it to be public access.

After setting up the gear, which is happening quicker and quicker as I have my routine sorted out, I soon had my rucksack with radio and battery box still inside and Android phone display and control on top of it and the HF-PRO2 antenna set up on its tripod and I was ready to operate.

All went well with stronger signals on this summit than the last one but also with deeper QSB making a couple of contacts difficult but in general, a relaxed activation – that was until I saw the farmer coming up the hill will his tractor with the tank and muck-spreader attachment heading up the road. He was going to come into the field but when he saw me, he turned and started with a lower field but I could see he wanted to do the whole area, so I tried to get the calls finished and the station shut-down but more and more chasers kept calling. Eventually, I managed to get a gap when there were no more callers and started packing everything up. As I got finished and started to walk down from my operating position, I saw the farmer coming back up with a refilled tank of slurry and heading to where I had been, so I had cleared just in time. Add to that time limit that those clouds had arrived and covered the sun so it had got clod quite quickly. On arriving back at the car in the car park, I turned the radio on and heard live, the surprise announcement from the Bavarian prime minister, that a lock-down was going to be put in place from Midnight. So I had got my last two activations for a while in, just in time!

 Photos:

   Blender:

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   Urserberg:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Photo tripod and radial wires.
  • Komunica HF-PRO-2 multi-band HF vertical antenna.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Aerial-51 OCF 40-10m dipole & SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole (taken but not used).
  • Thin plastic groundsheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DL/AL-149 Blender:

DL/AL-281 Urserberg:

Conclusions:

  • The weather was wonderful – the timing just right!
  • The “rapid deployment” (lighter) kit continues to work well but I do still need to remove some weight and possibly also locate the rig better so that the loudspeaker is not obstructed.
  • The two climbs still had me pausing for breath but with the views, it was worth the effort.
  • I had planned to try out the speech processor on Urserberg however the approaching farmer with muck-spreader meant that I decided to leave that for another day (perhaps I can try it out from home while under the “lock-down” order?).

73 ’til the next summit – whenever that may be!

DD5LP/P – March 18th 2020 – DL/AL-170 Zwieselberg & DL/AL-172 Senkelelkopf.

Preparation:

These two activations were originally planned to be part of my activation two days earlier as they are in the general same area as Falkenstein and Zwolferkopf however they would have been too much and so got left.

With the continuing good weather and increasing threat of a lock-in (where no-one would be allowed to leave their homes) because of the Coronavirus, I decided to go and complete these two summits which are located close to each other. Well, that needs some qualification – they are close “as the crow flies” but getting between them via road is more difficult!

One part of my preparation was to see if I could find a shorter route between them to save me some time. I gave Google Maps™ the task and it came back with a route using farm roads, which as I was to find out later, were only legally accessible by farm or forestry traffic. I had suspected this might be the case and in the event had the car’s Navi pre-programmed for it to take me the long way around using normal roads. It’s an interesting area with small villages or actually hamlets, hidden away down small roads in the hills and valleys and what looks like a wonderful lake to go to one summers day some time to enjoy nature.

In any case, preparation apart from the mapping work was to pack the same equipment as for the previous summits – the X108G plus the Komunica HF-PRO2  and photo tripod plus I also packed the two dipoles and the surveyors tripod and DX-Wire 10m portable mast just in case I decided the effort was worth carrying the extra weight to put up a more effective antenna.

The Activation:

I woke to another nice looking day, loaded the gear into the car and was on the road before 9am. I had deliberately not started too early as these are “relatively” easy summits and as the day goes on the temperatures would rise. I was not looking for any DX  stations and as it turned out propagation was poor. This time I was not plagued with closed roads on the journey down and I deliberately avoided the closed road I knew about on the way back.

DL/AL-170 Zwieselberg: It always seems a little bit strange driving to my parking spot for Zweiselberg as the group of houses there have declared independence from the local government authorities (see the first picture in slideshow below). Also, I have to drive up through what is a farmyard between the houses, however, as the sign says, private road use at your own risk, rather than no entry, all seems legal to use it and I have never had any problems. One should watch out for kids who are often playing there though.

After parking in the car park on a bit of a slope, putting the hand brake fully on, leaving the car in gear and putting something under the rear wheel (yes it was that steep a spot). I unpacked the new rucksack containing the radio gear, put the tube containing the Komunica HF-PRO2 antenna on the side of the rucksack and decided to leave the heavy tripod and mast in the car. At this point, you can see how steep the track is and the particular problem here is that the track has been covered with stones to help keep it stable for the farmer’s tractor in winter but for a walker, the stones can easily slip away from you under-foot. Hence the long, steep climb with a heavy rucksack on my back was taken slowly with lots of stops to catch my breath and take some photos of the amazing views. As I approach the holy cross near the summit trig point stone the hut that I remember being there, now has a nice garden with some outside cooking facility added, so it looks like the locals may come up here for their parties.

The cross itself is in a fenced-in enclosure with a long bench and an information table. I set up the antenna at one end of the bench and the rig, in the rucksack on the bench. With my first contact, I was informed that my audio had a problem and it was most likely because of this closeness I think (after all I was standing on the radial wires!). In any case, after moving the radio and battery box a little further away from the antenna, it seems things were fine again.

The views were wonderful from Zweiselberg and  I would have quite happily simply sat there in the sunshine for a couple of hours, but I was there to qualify the summit, so I’d better get three more contacts into the log. I ended up with 24 contacts in the log before the pile-up came to an end.

Time to pack up and head back down the track to the car and then head off to Senkelekopf, the next summit. After packing the gear into the car I got out the instructions from Google Maps and set off following those instructions but also with the car’s Navi turned on. It wasn’t long until I came to where I was supposed to turn off according to Google – while one could have driven a car down the road, there was a sign stating (as I had expected) that “normal” motor vehicles were not supposed to use the road, only farm or forestry traffic. So I gave up on the instructions printed out from Google Maps and concentrated on following the directions given by the ladies voice in the cars Navigation system. It took over 20 minutes to get to the same car parking spot near a small chapel in Oberlangegg that I  remember from the last time I activated this summit.

DL/AL-172 Senkelekopf: From the rough ground where I park my car, it’s a short walk across to the chapel building and from there one follows first the fence up the side of the field to the stile and then the slopes become clear where the tracks go, always heading upwards and a little to the right and eventually you come to what appears to be a farm building (called Senekle Alpe on maps) and alongside it on a small hill to the left is a holy cross, but it is fenced in so that you can’t get to it. Heading off past the building,  to the right, the ground rises up to Senkelekopf where I set up my station. This last rise is less than 25 vertical metres so you could set up anywhere on the flatter ground and still be within the activation zone.

Before I started operating from here, it was time for lunch and a chance to sit in the sunshine and admire the views! I was really enjoying these two activations. The climbs at Zweiselberg and Senkelekopf are strenuous but it’s worth it.

This Summit bagged 25 contacts in all. All on 40m SSB and without a re-occurrence of the bad audio problem as on this summit I made sure to not set up on top of the antenna!

 Photos:

   Zwieselberg:

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   Seneklekopf:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Photo tripod
  • Komunica HF-PRO-2 multi-band HF vertical antenna.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Surveyors tripod with DX-wire 10m mast (packed in the car but not used).
  • Aerial-51 OCF 40-10m dipole & SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole (taken but not used).
  • Thick plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DL/AL-170 Zwieselberg:

DL/AL-172 Senkelekopf:

Conclusions:

  • The weather was wonderful again! – I can get used to this!
  • The “rapid deployment” (lighter) kit appears to work well apart from when I set up too close to the antenna. It’s not as “light” as it needs to be though!
  • The two steep climbs exhausted me but the summits were worth the effort.
  • It still had some issues with some SOTA chasers being over-eager but nothing like the problems, two days earlier.
  • I would have liked to have tried out the speech processor (which I had with me) but with the RF feedback happening on Zweiselberg, I decided better of it and just concentrated on getting the two activations into the log.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – March 16th 2020 – DL/AL-167 Falkenstein & DL/AL-166 Zwolferkopf.

A day of blockages, diversions and re-routing – but at least it was warm & sunny!

Preparation:

This activation was originally planned to cover 4 summits, the two 4-pointers listed in the title plus two other 2 pointers that were not too far away. Even at the planning stage, this looked like it may not be possible time-wise as access to Falkenstein and Zwolferkopf is via a single track road with sheer drops at the side which only opens in each direction at certain times to avoid traffic meeting each other with possible “unfortunate consequences”. I, therefore, changed my alerts the day prior to the activations to indicate that I was concentrating on the first two activations and one of the other two would only be attempted should I be well advanced time-wise from the first activations. This turned out not to be the case and that third alert got deleted from the second summit as it was not going to happen (it’s nice to be able to edit and delete alerts via the SOTLAS website now).

Falkenstein has limited space to set up an antenna and Zwolferkopf is a long steep walk from the road, so in both cases, I decided I would use my “rapid deployment” set-up using the loaded mobile whip antenna rather than taking a mast and wire dipole. While I was still thinking of activating the third summit, that one would have had the mast and dipole set-up, so that was also packed into the car.

In any case, a reasonably early start was planned and all equipment charged up ready to go on Sunday evening.

The Activation:

I woke to a nice looking day, (for a change). The gear was loaded into the car with two jackets, one for rain and cold and one for a warmer day. The trip down to Pfronten, where Falkstein is located above is about an hour and 10 minutes trip normally. However … at about halfway, there was a diversion because the road was closed, taking me way off my expected route and to make it worse as I approached Pfronten at the round-a-bout on the outskirts of the town, there was a barrier across my normal exit but with a sign saying that the road was open up until Meilingen, which is where I needed to turn off to head up the road to the castle ruins in any case. So for a change, I was lucky. I even arrived at the start of the single track road, while it was still in the phase for people to drive up the road!

DL/AL-167 Falkenstein: After parking in the car park at the top of the road I packed everything I needed into my new rucksack, including the Komunica HF-PRO-2 antenna in its protective tube on the side of the rucksack and set off up the road. At Falkenstein, there are car parks for the general public and for those staying at the hotel on the summit. The public car park is about 50 vertical metres below the hotel, so there is quite a walk up to the hotel entrance and then from there up to the castle ruins is probably another 70 vertical metres up a lot of uneven steps. On arriving at the ruins, the metal gate needs to be opened and then it’s up two sets of stairs in the wooden platform where I was glad to find that the small round table was still there.

This was the first time in a while that I had such nice weather on a  summit – as I hope the pictures show. After setting-up the photo-tripod, I re-assembled the vertical antenna from its three pieces and screwed it onto the tripod and last of all fitted the 8 radial wires to the bottom of the antenna socket. I have listed on the transport tube which I made for this antenna, the setting on the coil-slider for various bands  (15 for 40  metres for example) so I set the coil slider at 15 and went back to the table where I had my rucksack laid on. Opening the bottom section of the rucksack I have the rig, the battery box, the microphone, the smartphone which acts as the rigs display and control panel and a new coax antenna lead (this is a replacement for the one which created me problems on my last two outings) which the coax lead from the tripod was then connected to.

On turn on, I found lots of stations booming in. I searched for a free frequency but after not getting a reply to my question “is this frequency free”, spotting myself and calling CQ, I heard a station booming in, only 1 or 2 kHz away, making the frequency unusable. This happened time and again on both summits and on the second summit, I had at least one station deliberately causing QRM on my frequency – where is the mentality in that? In any case, once I got on a semi-free frequency the contacts came rolling in and I ended up with over 20 stations for this first summit in the log and it was now time to look at heading for the second summit. Remember that the single track road is open in one direction at a time so I had to get back to the car before the full hour to be able to drive down the road to the spot that I wanted to park at before setting off on the about 2-kilometre track to Zwolferkopf from about halfway down the road. Well again, it worked out well with me with everything packed in the car in the car park ready for the traffic light to turn green from red.

DL/AL-166 Zwolferkopf: On arriving at the start of the track which is about half the way down the single track road I found a place to park which was not too muddy and did not cause any obstruction, locked up the car and set off again with the loaded rucksack up the track. This is a summit where some care is needed. In places, it is not clear where the track goes but thankfully every so often you see there red/white/red mark on a tree or rock, to let you know you are on the track. We are following track E4 here but apart from the start at the roadside, the track number is not indicated en-route. So some fitness is definitely needed as well as no fear of heights as the track weaves it’s way first up the side of the ridge and then along the top of it. This time there was an added complication. From the high winds, we had about two weeks earlier several very large and tall trees had been ripped out by their routes and were blocking the track making it impassible in about four places. This meant some off-track excursions down and around the bottom of the tree or at least to a point where it is possible to climb over the tree or trees blocking the way. With a fairly heavy backpack – I estimate between 15 and 17 kilos – this made the journey “interesting” and longer than expected. When I eventually arrived at Zwolferkopf, which used to carry two SOTA IDs as it sits exactly on the German / Austrian border, it was time to have lunch. The views in the sunlight from this summit are also amazing

As I mentioned earlier, I seem to have been plagued by stations causing me  QRM and this summit is where I had one deliberately causing QRM by running a carrier for minutes on what had been a free frequency (In had checked and called) – there are some strange people in the hobby these days! I managed to copy some chasers through the carrier but after a while, I had to try to find a different frequency and it was on the third frequency that I had QSYed to that I eventually got the calls rolling into the log. I could have, of course just logged the first four contacts and then packed up but I realise that for many chasers this could be a new summit for them as it’s not activated that often. Most likely because of the problems of getting up that track. That being said, while I was there a young guy came up to the summit on a mountain bike! How on earth did he get that past the trees with the bike?

I had just one technical problem on this activation – when I put my hand near to the microphone socket while transmitting, the receiver started making strange noises. I presume this was RF feedback as I had experienced with the amplifier previously but at the moment, I did not have the amplifier installed!

Once I finished and packed up the antenna, tripod etc. into the rucksack, it was time to head down and try to get to the car at the right time to be able to drive down the hill. With no traffic lights visible where I had parked, it would be a matter of checking the clock. Quarter past to 5minutes to the next hour has cars coming up the road and from the full hour for 10 minutes has cars going down to the valley.

I thought as I had found my way around, over, under or through the fallen trees on my way up the track to the summit, it would be straight forward to reverse the process on the way back. It wasn’t and at one particular point where several trees were blocking the track, I was guessing as to how to get around the obstacle. Unfortunately, a couple who had been in front of me were now out of sight so I couldn’t see how they had got past the obstacle. My attempts at getting around the trees took me further and further down the side of the ridge with what felt just like leaves and branches and leaves underfoot. Eventually, I got past the bottom of where the trees were (this was definitely not the route I had taken on the way up the track!) and rather risk heading further down the side of the ridge to come out at a place I would not recognise, I clambered back up the ridge to the track, so that I could follow that back to my car. A lot of effort with the heavy rucksack!

It all worked out though, but through the lost time getting pat the fallen trees, I had missed the narrow, downhill time window for the road, so rather than wait, parked where I was, I decided to drive back up to Falkenstein and wait in that car park which has the traffic light and in fact went and sat in the park nearby in the warm (20 degrees C) sunshine and caught up with my emails until it was time to be able to head down the road again, this time all the way to the bottom.

Knowing my preferred route home had the blocked road, I took a different route home as recommended by my car Navi which took about 5 minutes less than my normal route.

All in all a successful day out. good radio, good exercise and sunshine!

 Photos:

   Falkenstein:

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   Zwolferkopf:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Photo tripod
  • Komunica HF-PRO-2 multi-band HF vertical antenna.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Surveyors tripod with DX-wire 10m mast (packed in car but not used).
  • Aerial-51 OCF 40-10m dipole & SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole (taken but not used).
  • Thick plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DL/AL-167 Falkenstein:

DL/AL-166 Zwolferberg:

Conclusions:

  • The weather was wonderful for a change!
  • The “rapid deployment” (lighter) kit appears to work well with just the one RF feedback issue appearing.
  • I was right to drop the other two summits, I was exhausted after the problems getting back to the car from Zwolferkopf.
  • It seems the un-healthy amateurs from 80m have moved down to 40m so next time, I may try activating just using 20m if the MUF is high enough. This should allow me still to get the needed 4 contacts to claim the points for the summit (and the winter bonus points at the moment).
  • I would have liked to have tried out the speech processor (which I had with me) but with all the DQRM going on, I wouldn’t have been able to make any reliable tests.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – March 13th 2020 – DL/BE-093 Buchberg.

Preparation:

I had written out a list of simple summits that still have winter bonus points and grouped them together. As the weather forecast was for some occasional light rain but otherwise OK, I decided after my activation of Laber on Wednesday to activate both DL/BE-093 Buchberg and DL/MF-082 Schwarzer Berg as they are not too far apart and both are summits I have already activated in 2019 and access is fairly straight forward. These activations were in principal “points grab”  activations with the period when winter bonus points drawing ever closer.

As it turned out because of the unexpectedly severe weather that I hit on the first summit, I never got to the second one.

I had checked out and re-charged the equipment from the Laber activation and so added the large surveyor’s tripod, the 10 metre mast and my two dipole antenna to the gear to be taken and loaded it all into the car on Thursday evening as I was planning an 0830 (local time) departure for Friday.

The Activation:

 When I set off from home it was raining, but not too bad and after about 20 minutes driving it stopped…. until I approached the town of Bad Tölz, that the summit “Buchberg” where I was heading for, is close to, then the rain started and by the time I got to where I park my car, it was driving snow! I sat for a while wondering what to do. After having driven for an hour, it would be a real waste if I didn’t try to activate. At that point the snow stopped, the skies looked clearer, so I decided to go for it! By the time I reached the summit, it was snowing again (well a mixture of sleet and snow) and the winds started to blow. Oh Great! but I decided to carry on – a quick activation – four contacts, then pack up and head off to the next summit! I put up the mast and dipole wire antenna at less than two metres high – just so it cleared the tripod support and the ends of the dipole were not on the ground. Not ideal but “it’ll do” for getting four European contacts on 40m I think.

Checked a suitable frequency – the band sounded quiet. No response to my question “is the frequency in use” so I self-spotted and called – no response. Tried again – still no response. Tuned around – the band is REALLY quiet. Then I tried moving the antenna cable and … it nearly blew me over. The band noise and stations suddenly were there! The short PL-259 extension cable that I thought I had a problem with on the last activation but could not find a fault when I tested in the workshop was indeed still faulty! I took it out of circuit, pulled the rig half out of the rucksack so that the antenna cable would reach the socket on the rear of the rig and now I could work stations! I searched around and found a frequency where there was a little less splatter-QRM from the other SSB stations on the band, self spotted and called CQ. At last, over 20 minutes after arriving at the summit I got a reply – Andrew G4AFI (who is becoming a welcome entry in the log of late) was followed by 10 other contacts from around Europe in just 5 minutes.

All of this time though, the storm was getting worse and as I kept having to take off my large gloves to operate or enter log data, my hands were losing feeling and when I was finally able to go QRT, I didn’t bother to pack the antenna properly, rather I bundled it as best as was possible into the top of the rucksack. I lowered and packed the mast inside the folded tripod for transport and headed away from the summit and storm as quickly as possible, taking care not to slip over on the now very muddy track on the way back to the car.

I was happy to get back to the car and after a few minutes de-frosting, I considered the situation. Better weather was forecast but could I believe that. The set-up at the second summit would take longer as I would have to un-raffle the antenna, which is a job better done in a warm cellar at home. So I decided to call it a day and leave Schwarzer Berg for another day. On the drive home, the snow and sleet stopped and the sun came out however the winds did not die down, so it would have been a difficult activation at the second summit even if I could get some protection from the winds using the concrete tower there.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • DX-Wire 10m mast.
  • SOTABeams linked dipole antenna.
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet (not used).
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Log:

Conclusions:

I was unlucky with the weather but I persevered and got the activation in the log. I would have liked to have gone on to the next summit but I was in no conditions to do so.

  • Positives
  • Despite the sudden weather change, I managed the activation and the equipment survived.
  • Operating the radio while still within the new rucksack, controlling via the Android App works well (at least when the android phone is not covered with ice and water!).
  • Ten contacts in five minutes once I had the equipment working was quite a good run-rate.
  • Negatives
  • The faulty coax lead wasted a lot of time – I should have ditched it after the problems on the last activation.
  • Again I did not get time to test the speech processor, which I had with me, but in that weather, it was certainly quite low down my priority list!

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – March 11th 2020 – DL/AM-060 Laber.

Preparation:

This activation was in principal a “points grab” with the period when winter bonus points drawing ever closer, but more of a problem, the fact that the cable car that is needed to access the Laber mountain will stop for its annual maintenance on March 23rd so with that date approaching and the weather varying from day to day with high winds being the main concern, I decided to try to get up to Laber on Wednesday 11th and if that wasn’t possible I might include it in a group of summits the following week.

After my problems on the last two activations with the RF from the amplifier getting back into the rig’s audio, I ordered the official interface unit for the rig but as that has to come from China, the amplifier is now out of service for a few weeks and the next few activations will have to make do with 20 watts instead of 70 watts. Laber is a summit with limited space, so I decided to just take my loaded HF whip antenna and small photo-tripod. This configuration does not perform as well as the squid pole and either of my HF dipole antennas but it should be good enough to get me 4 contacts from the top of Laber. Friends in Australia (Ernie VK3DET and Ian VK3YFD) agreed to take a listen for me but with the reduced antenna and the timing (too late for Long path / grey-line), the chances of a DX contact were going to be minimal.

I am still trying to adapt my new rucksack to allow me to operate the rig without taking it out of the rack sack and at the same time, pack all required gear for an activation into just this one bag instead of the two which I normally need to carry.

On Tuesday I did a mock set-up in my cellar of the gear that I would be taking to Laber. This could not operate from underground however it was a check that I had packed everything that would be needed in the new bag. There’s nothing worse than getting to a summit to find you have forgotten one part that is needed to make everything work! An outside test was not possible as it was pouring down with rain and there were high winds – not a good omen for Wednesday!

The Activation:

I woke to a fairly clear morning with some wind but certainly not as bad as the previous day. A quick check of the webcam at Laber and I decided to try. I set off at just after 8 am and the 1-hour drive went without any problems.

I headed out from the cable car’s top station to the actual summit, which is less than 50m away and set up as I usually do on the seat bank under the flag-pole. I set up the photo tripod in the snow behind the seat and then slung out the radial wires in a few directions before attaching the Komunica HF-Pro2 antenna. It was actually pre-adjusted to the right spot on its coil however I moved it to see whether I could hear the difference. Nothing – no change in background noise. I then moved the cable that I have coming out of my rucksack to an SO239 line socket and suddenly the volume of the receiver shot up – so I have an intermittent contact there which I will need to investigate before my next activation.

With the battery box and radio still in the rucksack, all operation is performed using the PocketRxTx Android app on a smartphone, which acts as the display and controls for the rig.

Initially, I wondered if I was getting out or not as after spotting and then calling CQ, I was getting no replies but the delay appears to have been in the spotting system as after a while I got a call from Manuel EA2DT and then a string of calls from around Europe. Eight calls in thirteen minutes. As there were no more calls that I could hear I decided to pack-up with my “mission” completed. It was good that I chose that point to close down as the winds rose and some clouds came in (as can be seen from the webcam shots in the slideshow below).

Overall I was very lucky with the weather as when I arrived home some thousand metres lower, the winds were quite severe, so they would have blown everything away on the summit.

Photos:

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Video:

Some of the cable car ride down the mountain can be seen here:

Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Photo tripod with clip-on radial wires.
  • Komunica Power HF-Pro-2 loaded vertical antenna.
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Log:

Conclusions:

I was lucky with the weather but at the moment I have to “chance it” as it is so variable and the forecasts continue to be unreliable.

  • Positives
  • The new voltage regulator circuit in the battery box performed without any issues.
  • The HF-PRO2 antenna and small tripod is hardly a very good antenna system but given the summit, it’s a good combination to get contacts from around Europe.
  • Operating the radio while still within the new rucksack, controlling via the Android App works well.
  • No RF Ingres problems as I did not have the amplifier with me.
  • Negatives
  • No DX calls but given the timing, this was to be expected.
  • The antenna cable extension needs attention but as this was the first time that it has been used, I was lucky that it was only an intermittent problem not a permanent one.
  • I did not get time to test the speech processor, which I had with me, but it was more important to get back down the mountain before the winds got too bad!.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – March 4th 2020 – DL/AM-178 Ammerleite & DL/AM-177 Kirnberg.

Preparation:

This activation was originally planned for February 25th however after arriving at Kirnberg the winds got up to somewhere near to 100 km/h, bent the mast over horizontal and blew the antenna feed-point off the top of the tipped-over mast. At this point I decided, the risk wasn’t worth continuing and packed up and returned home.

With the forecast for only light winds, no rain and some sunshine, March 4th. was the first opportunity to try these summits again.

The plan was to activate these two summits plus Laber DL/AM-060 – making three in all, so an early start was planned and the gear loaded into the car the night before.

Each summit was to have different requirements. The first Ammerleite has a nice fence where it is easy to fasten the 6m mast to and run the antenna coax back to one of the two seating banks there. So this summit would have the rig, amplifier and 6-metre mast. Kirnberg, on the other hand, has no simple mast support so for this summit, I packed my ex-surveyors tripod (in which I store my 10 metre mast) – again the plan was to use the X108G Xiegu rig and my 70w amplifier also at Kirnberg. Laber was to be the only summit where I would have snow to deal with being almost twice the height of the other two summits. Access to Laber is limited and has a very small cable car system, where my surveyors’ tripod would probably not have been welcomed as the cable car can get busy at times. Although I have managed to operate using the 6-metre mast and dipole here previously, this was intended to be a short activation and hence limited equipment for some contacts around Europe should be sufficient. So for Laber, the plan was to use my “small” kit of just the X108G, my Komunica HF-Pro2 loaded mobile whip and a photo tripod.

So the rear of the car was filled with all the various components so that when I got to the parking spots below the summits, I would choose what was needed and only take that up to the summit.

Since the last activation, I had changed from my diode matrix to reduce the voltage of the 4S (16v) LIPO battery down to an acceptable voltage for the rig, to using a proper voltage regulator. This would be it’s first real test. I had also modified the PTT switch cable between the amplifier and the rig to hopefully stop the RF getting into the audio input to the tranciever when on transmit that I had previously experienced.

The Activation:

I woke to a clear if cold morning at the home QTH but at least, there were no winds. The roads down to my first summit were reasonably clear and I found my way back to the place I park my car fine. I had realised while on the way, that I had forgotten to pack my light “inner gloves” but as the forecast was that the day would warm-up, I thought nothing more of this.

DL/AM-178 Ammerleite: The approach to the Schnalz (the real name of the summit, Ammerleite is the name of the area) became more and more muddy, not surprising after a week of rain nearly every day. It remained cold and the winds started – looking around there were some very black clouds heading my way, so I’d better hurry this activation along. I had hoped to catch an NZ or AUS chaser via grey-line propagation but it was not to be, not so much because of propagation but rather because of my delay in getting the station operational.

After putting the mast and linked-dipole antenna up and connecting the rig with the amplifier to the antenna, there were loads of stations coming in on 40m. I spotted myself and put out a CQ call – no takers. I tried calling some of the very strong stations on the band – no response or in one case a response but he said I was too weak to copy. What? 70 watts from the top of a mountain, he’s well over S9 and can’t copy me – that’s strange. I decided then to try 20m but again with no takers. At that point I got an email from Ernie VK3DET who had been listening for me, saying he had heard absolutely nothing on either band. I came to the conclusion that either the rig or amplifier were not putting out any power or that the antenna was broken in some way.  I had an RF sensor with me and that showed output from the amplifier so it had to be the antenna. Luckily I always carry a spare and took down the SOTABeams Band hopper and put up my Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole instead.

I then tried calling a very strong signal from a mobile station on Sardinia – he came back to me but said that I had distorted audio which made it difficult to understand me (remember I said, I had hoped I had cured this high power RF signals getting into the audio stages problem – it looks like I haven’t). When I switched off the amplifier and turned the rig up from 3 watts to 20w – he said all was fine. This was about an hour after I had arrived on the summit and was now far too late to hope for any DX via the long path. I decided to get another three or four contacts in the log and then pack-up as by this time I was VERY cold. I wish I had gone back earlier for the inner gloves as for some of the intricate actions, I had to take my large gloves off and my hands got quickly very cold. Many of these actions would have been possible with the thin inner gloves on. There was a sort of light sleet that had come through, not enough to make you wet but certainly enough to make you even colder. I was now running behind schedule and so decided I would pack-up and head to my next summit. At that point I got about another 8 stations call me on 40m all with good reports for my signal. Now I started to wonder whether the first antenna may have been fine but the problem was the RF getting into the transmitted audio however I’m pretty sure that I had tried with and without the amplifier to rule out an amplifier switching problem. In any case, the OCF antenna would get used on the next summit and the linked dipole checked once I got home.

As I was so cold, on the way back down the summit to the car I was wondering whether to head home rather than to the next summit, however after a warm drink and something to eat in the car, I decided to at least do a short activation of Kirnberg and then see about Laber.

DL/AM-177 Kirnberg: As I thought the linked dipole had broken at Ammerleite, the configuration for this summit was to be the surveyors’ tripod with my 10 metre mast (only at about 4 m high as it turned out), the Aerial-51 OCF dipole and the rig (with no amplifier because of the RF getting into the transmitted audio problems). This meant I only had one bag instead of the usual two plus the large tripod and mast. The short climb up to the cross on Kirnberg was very slippery, again not surprising considering the weather we have been having. Soon after arriving the winds started to increase and the farmer, on whose land the cross is, came by collecting blown down tree branches. I went and had a quick word with him just to check I was not in the way. No problems – we had met a year before and he has no issues with Radio Hams setting up and operating near the cross. If I remember correctly from last year, this farmer had been in the communications corps of the German army and so has an idea of what I was doing and was interested. This time though he wanted to get on and do as much as possible as he, like I, thought this would be the one day of the week when the weather was not too bad.

Thankfully this activation didn’t hit the technical problems that I had on the first summit and I could get a few stations on 40m and 20m into the log. By this time there were also a few other activators out and I tried for some S2S contacts but unfortunately, other chasers kept transmitting on top of my call and no one told the other activator that they had an S2S calling. The longer I was on Kirnberg, the stronger the winds were getting, so the forecast of it getting better (warmer) during the day and there being no winds was totally wrong again! Having got about a dozen stations in the log, I decided to call it a day and as I was taking the mast down, the winds increased drastically. That was my decision made. If the cable car at Laber was running at all, it would not be a nice ride and going onto the summit in these winds would not be the most sensible thing to do, so I decided to scratch Laber from this trip and hopefully get back to it before the winter bonus points stop or it’s cable car closes for maintenance.

 Photos:

   Ammerleite:

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Kirnberg:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • DX-Wire 10m mast.
  • Lambdahalbe 6m mast.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • Aerial-51 OCF 40-10m dipole (Ammerleite & Kirnberg).
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole (Ammerleite).
  • Thick plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DL/AM-178 Ammerleite:

DL/AM-177 Kirnberg:

Conclusions:

  • The weather again was not what was predicted but at this time of year, I have to grab whatever day looks like it might be OK!
  • The new voltage regulator in my battery box worked well giving no problems and not getting hot as my old diode matrix did.
  • Since getting home, I have checked the linked dipole and have found no definite problems with it. DC continuity and solder joints on the feed-point appear OK, so perhaps the problem was the RF getting into the audio – I was putting out a signal but people couldn’t understand what I was saying perhaps? I will need to test the antenna again. As regards the RF Ingres, I have ordered the official interface split-out board from China which claims to totally isolate all lines from each other. Until that arrives I won’t be running the amplifier.
  • I still have my new dynamic speech compressor to test, however trying that while I had other problems would not have been a good idea.

73 ’til the next summit!