DD5LP/P – November 3rd 2018 – DM/BM-135 Hesselberg (NA-EU S2S) an activation that was more of a demonstration.

Preparation:

I decided that Hesselberg would be my summit for the big EU-NA “Transatlantic” S2S event. After the activation on the previous Thursday, this one is a “walk in the park” to get to from the car park.

Having had some success with two NA contacts from Hinteres Hornele, I was hoping conditions would hold up not realising the “small” contest that was on was actually the Ukrainian DX contest and it would cause problems.

I had decided that the new Komunica HF-PRO-2 plus tripod would be my primary antenna for 20m with the standard SOTABeams linked dipole covering 40 metres for me, as well as being a back-up for 20m. The rig would be the X108G again and I was not expecting any sunshine from the forecast, so maybe the difficulty of reading the display on this (marketed as an “outdoor” transceiver) rig would not be a problem (wrong!). After my experiences on Hinteres Hornele, I was back with the two backpacks. The camera case with the rig, battery box and headphones in it and my small rucksack with the wire antennas, to which I added my three J-pole antennas from Lambdahalbe (20m, 17m and 15m) – well you never know! I also put the 10m DX-Wire portable mini-mast in the car as I would need that if I decided to use the 20m J-pole. So again, I’d be taking more than I need but I could leave the heavy things in the car and pop back for them if I needed them at this summit.

Hesselberg is a 6 point summit, so I hoped it would be attractive to the chasers and especially other activators looking for an S2S contact. Timing-wise, given the 2 hour drive each way, I’d need to be leaving by 3:30pm local to head back home before it gets too dark. Based on this, a departure from home at 10:30am local would give me sufficient time on the summit, if a little earlier than ideal for EU-NA contacts.

The Location:

Hesselberg is located north of Augsberg and about half way between Ingolstadt and Stuttgart. It has the advantage that having a Radio transmitter mast on top of it, there’s a road almost all the way to the top. It is also in an area where access to the summit for walkers is well-defined. There are even disabled persons spots in the car park, making this summit a possible for disabled operators although some help getting up the last few metres to the summit would be needed as it’s a rough track.

At the summit, as well as the standard cross, there is also a mini-cross and a trig point stone along with two information boards and a table with bench seats at each side of it.

The Activation:

The drive was uneventful and the weather clear and it stayed that way on arrival for a change. I was actually able to take some shots from the summit that weren’t just clouds and fog as they had been in the last two visits.

After leaving the car park and heading up to the summit, I could see this was going to be a busy summit. The table and benches were occupied but as I approached, I was lucky, they were just leaving. There were also some other people standing around enjoying the view but they indicated they didn’t want the table, so I unloaded both packs, mast and HF-PRO-2 onto the table and set to putting the vertical antenna together. At this point I got asked what I was doing and I stopped to explain something about Ham Radio and gave out a brochure. This was going to be the pattern all through the activation. I spent more time explaining the hobby thank being on the air.

The HF loaded whip was set up quite close to the end of the picnic table and the 6m mast got fastened to one of the information signs and the linked dipole put up. One end of the dipole ran out nicely into some bush land. The other end unfortunately ran out into the open area. Later one woman tripped on it (despite it being bright yellow). She didn’t hurt herself, apologised and asked what it was all about … I put the peg back in and went through my explanation again. The worst visitor was one unruly young girl who despite being told by her teacher or parent (it was a big group) continually kicked at the antenna guy peg until it came out (bent). I was not happy but there was little I could do! To their merit another family group had three young ladies probably between 9 and 12 years old and they politely asked if they could sit at the table and asked polite questions and they were a pleasure to talk with. They were learning English at school but didn’t try any with me, the conversation was in German – but I think they’ll have a story to take back to school about meeting the crazy English man with his radio talking to people in other countries. Their parents also got one of the DARC brochures that I had luckily thought to print out on Friday.

Somewhere in between all the explanations, I did manage to get on the air. First I tried the HF whip on 20m – I could hear lots of stations as there was the contest in full swing but from the start of the activation to the end it was very, very difficult to read anything on the X108G display and while it was light, there wasn’t any bright sunshine. I could hear lots on the whip but all of the stations that I called and my CQs never received any answers. So I switched to the wire dipole and changed the links to cover 20m. to find …. I could hear lots of stations but no one came back when I called them! I started to wonder if I had hit one of the buttons on the rig and something wasn’t set right – but I COULDN’T READ THE DISPLAY!

Perhaps it’s 20m? So I switched to 40m. and I managed to get through to F5KKD/P – this was my first contact after over half an hour on the summit! I was starting to think I wasn’t going to even get the needed 4 contacts to get the points for this summit, never mind any S2S contacts NA or EU! I went back to twenty metres to see if I could hear any of the other SOTA activators who by this point were on their summits – NOTHING and this using the trusted linked dipole. Conditions seemed to be going up and down but this was worse than I had seen for sometime. Had the solar winds already hit? (I found out later – no, we were lucky and missed those). Another 20 minutes, some more instruction on Amateur radio to visitors and then CT2IUV replies to my spotted CQ call (oh yes while using Vodaphone the Internet connection was questionable and I was unable to spot, despite the fact that the phone was showing 3 bars and a 4G indication – once I realised and switched to the other SIM to get a Deutsche Telekom 3G link, everything worked fine). Another half an hour passed by which time it had got cold on the summit and my departure time was fast approaching. This was starting to look like a failed activation, then all of a sudden I got a stream of calls on 40m – 16 contacts in 15 minutes.

Once the calls stopped, it certainly was time to pack up and while packing away the HF vertical, the clip for the radials broke from its wire (I don’t think this will have affected the performance as it was still hanging by a few wires I guess), but who knows and also the wire to one of the links in the linked dipole broke – this one I think could have affected the dipole antennas performance as would have the number of people stood next to the wire and that unruly female offspring kicking the peg!

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G and Battery box

Komunica HF-PRO-2 and tripod.

SOTABeams Bandhopper linked dipole plus home-made loaded J-Pole for 20m and

LambdaHalbe “End Fed Half wave” (J-pole) antennas for 20m, 17m & 15m (not used).

Lambdahalbe 6m fibreglass mast.

DX-Wire 10m portable mast (not used).

Log:

Conclusions:

The good: I did mange two S2S contacts (albeit this side of the “pond”) and qualified the summit. The battery box with it’s diodes replacing the “Buck” converter worked without RFI problems again.

The Bad: The continuing problems with not being able to read the rigs display! The suspicion that perhaps one half of the antenna was not fully connected on 40m.

The Ugly: That little brat-ess kicking away at the antenna! In fact trying to operate from a summit when there is a contest on and it’s a summit that is easy to get to and so is crowded. The variation in the conditions and the fact that apparently, some better conditions arrived after I had packed up.

73 ’til the next Summit!

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DD5LP/P – November 1st 2018 – DL/AM-058 Hinteres Hoernle – or another success with the HF-PRO-2.

Preparation:

For a few days twenty metres has been performing surprisingly well (at least compared to the last year or so). November 3rd sees the annual NA-EU S2S event now renamed to the transatlantic S2S event as we had hoped some South American activators may join in. I had originally planned this summit for that event, however over the last week, because of high wind the seat lift has not been running one day and OK the next, so this was a risk for the big event and I chose to activate Hesselberg DM/BM-145 instead. As November 1st is a holiday in most of germany, I decided that one last test after changing the power supply box to no longer use the noisy “Buck converter” unit and building a new cardboard shade for the X108G’s – unreadable in sunlight – display, would be a good idea and if the seat lift is running, then why not Hinteres Hoernle?

The equipment would be the X108G and battery box and headphones with the standard 6m mast and two wire dipoles plus my tripod and the Kommunica HF-PRO-2. Also water and all the usual fix it bits. Normally this would go in a small rucksack and a photo bag but this time I decided that as I would be taking the seat lift one rucksack with anything would be a better idea. So I dug out my full-sized rucksack, that I know the photo bag fits exactly in its bottom section and everything else went in the top section. Everything that is apart from the 6m mast and the HF-PRO-2 which even when taken apart is still over a metre long. these went strapped onto the two sides of the rucksack. This has the advantage that the antenna doesn’t stick out “too” far above the rucksack.

Great idea I thought and all was ready for the next day, where I had planned a casual 1pm departure with a 1 hour drive to the valley station of the lift and then, I was thinking a 15 minute ride up the mountain and then a casual 15-20 minute walk to the summit, right ? … wrong! Read further.

The Location:

Hinteres Hoernle is located above the village of Bad Kohlgrub, from where you take the seat lift. Remember to take the small tab from your parking ticket with you when buying a ticket for the lift, as they rebate 50% of the parking fee, so that the lift (up and down) plus my parking cost only €10. The “Hoernle Schwabebahn” built in 1956 (and it shows it), takes you up from Bad Kohlgrub (very slowly – it takes the best part of 30 minutes) to the “Vorderer Hoernle” (front horn). From there you walk past or over the “Mittlere Hoernle” (middle horn) before you get to the highest of the three summits – the Hinteres Hoernle (Rear horn). In my memory this walk would take 15-20 minutes (I had activated this summit in 2015). The actual signposts on the track indicate a 40 minute walk – and that is without obstructions – read on …

The Activation:

Before I set off at 12:40pm I was having second thoughts about the large rucksack. It appears putting the contents of two bags into one bag makes that bag weight 50% more than the combined weight of the two bags alone – too late now, I’ll have to manage. The drive down to Bad Kohlgrub went without incident although a new bridge and some changed road junctions at Bad Kohlgrub may confuse some GPS Navis if they’re not up to date.  I arrived at the Bad Kohlgrub valley station of the lift at 1:30pm and managed to get one of the last free parking spots. it looks like a lot of people had decided to visit the mountains on this public holiday.

Well the journey nearly ended before it started. While getting into the moving seats I nearly fell but luckily the attendant grabbed me from behind, by the collar, and pulled me back into the seat and I then manhandled the very heavy rucksack onto the seat beside me. That rucksack was far too heavy! Later, on the trip down the attendant took the rucksack off me and put it in the seat next to me before the seat reached me for getting on. Getting off this lift at either the top or bottom is very simple – you just stand up and the seat splits in two and goes around you. What a neat system! Anyway, I’m now on the lift catching my breath after the near accident and looking at the time. I had forgotten to ask when the lift stops working – I know the last ride up is at 4pm, but what about coming down – I must ask when I get to the top… I forget to of course! The lift takes ages to get up the mountain but it’s nice saying hello to the people passing you going back down to the village having been at the restaurant at the top of the lift for lunch. It’s cold but sunny and getting warmer all the time – of course I have my thick winter jacket on, something that over time I will regret. Once we reach the top I disembark without any problems, exit the lift station and take a few photos before heading off in the direction of Hinteres Hoernle. I think I’m running late for my schedule and it’s only after walking for about ten minutes that I realise that I forgot to check when the last lift would be going down. Oh well, I’m not going back, I’ll just have to be back their by 4pm to be certain of a ride down – otherwise it’s an up to 4.5 km walk down the mountain depending upon the route taken.  I now see the signpost saying I have a 40 minute walk in front of me, so I press on, that is until I come to a fallen tree that is totally blocking the track. If I didn’t have the rucksack I could have climbed over or through the tree branches as I saw someone else do but with the rucksack with the antenna pointing out of the top of it, no chance. So I had to scramble up the hill a little then cross behind a copse of trees and then get back down to the track. I could see by the number of footprints, this is what many people had already done today.

In my usual style I kept pushing on, passing lots of people and only occasionally stopping to catch my breath on some of the steeper parts. The sign on the path says to always stay on the main path but as Hinteres Hoernle came into view it was obvious everyone was simply going straight up the side of it as the route is far shorter than the one I had taken a year ago, so I did the same. I had taken almost exactly 30 minutes from the lift to a flat patch just down from the Holy Cross on the very summit, where there was room to set-up without obstructing anyone as it was quite busy by this time. This was about 2:30PM. I decided initially to set up for 20 metres as that was the band I was hoping would be open and the fact that the tripod and HF-PRO-2 was the quickest antenna to set up and needed the least space. I had them set up and the rest of the gear unpacked in about 15 minutes.

I spotted and started calling CQ SOTA and to my surprise my first chaser was N4EX, Richard in North Carolina. More contacts followed and in the end I had two US contacts, one from Northern Ireland, one from Cornwall (south-west England), one from Sweden, one from Greece and two German station contacts, all in just over 10 minutes. 20m was playing good again. I might have bagged some more contacts but a couple with a dog came along and expressed some interest, so I bent their ears about Ham radio for about 10 minutes. Not the dog – he got bored and went off to explore on his own on the top of the “Hinteres Hoernle” mountain. By the time I finished that conversation, I put out another couple of CQ calls and as there was no reply, I started to pack up as I was running short on time to get back to the lift. I had everything packed by 3:30pm and was heading back to the lift where I arrived as planned right on 4pm to find they were still going to be operating until 10 to 5. Oh well! Time to settle in for a calm 30 minute ride back down the mountain and think about what had been achieved.

I was blessed with sunny weather, which as I had dressed for the cold meant I sweated a lot on the climb up with the heavy back-pack! I had forgotten how far the summit was from the top of the chair lift and that along with the slow lift meant my time on the mountain transmitting was limited but at the end it was a lovely day out.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G and battery box.

Modified HAMA tripod.

Kommunica Power HF-PRO-2 loaded vertical antenna.

Thick plastic painters sheet.

New cardboard sunshade for the X108G display.

Other items taken but not used:

SOTABeams Band-Hopper linked dipole.

6 metre fibreglass “Squid Pole”.

Aerial-51 UL-404 OCF dipole.

Log:

Conclusions:

The Good: With the diodes dropping the voltage in the battery box in place of the buck converter there’s no more RFI from the box. Activation achieved with just the new Komunica HF-PRO-2 antenna – I did not need to put up the mast and dipole to get contacts.

The Bad: The new cardboard sunshade didn’t help at all …. but …. I found that standing the full-sized rucksack behind me (and so blocking the sun) did work and I could read the display. Now I don’t intend carrying the large rucksack to any more summits but perhaps I can work out some other kind of lightweight screen that I could set-up behind me using my hiking sticks (which would also have been useful on this outing but got left at home).

The Ugly: Me stumbling along with that rucksack – two lighter bags are better than one over heavy one!

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – October 20th 2018 – DL/AM-001 Peissenberg – EU-VK S2S event or “Mixing SOTA with JOTA”.

Preparation:

This was the date chosen for the annual EU-VK (actually UK+EU – VK/ZL/JA) S2S event where we would try to get Summit-to-Summit contacts between the two sides of the Earth. With conditions as they were, we were more likely to be happy with a contact with a Chaser “Down Under” if even that was possible. Several tests and contacts with Chasers in VK & ZL had been made over the previous weeks but more on 40 metres than the usual 20 metres band. In any case About 45 activators were expected to head out and if nothing else some S2S contacts should be possible within the regions if not between them – time would tell.

I had planned to head over to Steig a 2 point summit which I have not activated yet this year but twisting my ankle while taking the dog on her walk through the local fields mid-week put paid to that as it’s a long walk up a rough track to Steig. Instead I decided to take the closer option of Peissenberg with its short walk from the car park to the summit by the church. I would not get any activation points for this action as this would be my third visit to the summit this year. Hopefully I’d come away with a few summit-to-summit points though.

Band conditions on the days before the event had improved so hope was high of some good contacts.

I also had a new antenna to test – a Komunica HF-PRO-2 which is a large vertical whip with an adjustable loading coil at the bottom which is designed to be mounted on a car (either a mag. mount or a boot-lip or similar mount). In my case I would be using it on a small Hama photo-tripod that I have added an SO-239, coax and 4 short non-resonant radial wires to. I tested this configuration just in the garden with the antenna analyser and receiving with the rig but this activation would be its first real test. I would of course still be taking my old faithful linked dipole and 6 metre mast and just in case… my Aerial-51 OCF antenna as well (a choice that paid dividends as it turned out).

I knew the route down to Peissenberg very well and so to be operational by 8:30 local time (0630 UTC), I set my alarm for 6 am with a planned departure time of 7 am. All the gear was packed and ready to go.

Getting to the Location:

Although I know the route very well, what I hadn’t reckoned on when I woke up was a pe-souper fog with visibility down to about 10 metres. As I set off from home, I decided that if it didn’t get any better, I would need to stop and turn around and give up the activation. Luckily as I drove further I found that on the roads between the villages the visibility was a lot better but driving through the villages with their limited street lighting and in some other cases to bright street lighting, the drive down was difficult to say the least. Eventually I reached the summit car park and it had only taken me about 15 minutes more than normal. I was glad to have arrived safely. as I got out of the car the damp cold hit me and I was so happy that I had decided to take my thick winter anorak instead of the lighter jacket!

The Activation:

As I got to the usual set-up point and looked out across the valley all I could see was white. as if the summit was in the middle of a cloud – but this was definitely fog. I decided to set up the new antenna on the tripod first and while I had planned a spot for it to stand on the ground, I decided to simply set it up on the seat bank that I always activate from. It was at this point that mechanical failure number one occurred – the adjusting bolt that is used to make the top pad that has the SO-239 on it level broke where I had repaired it a few weeks earlier from a similar problem. So for the duration of the activation the antenna would be sloping a little off vertical – but it was up and I adjusted the coil close to the setting I had recorded at home for 20m.

OK with that antenna up for 20m, I started to put up the old reliable linked dipole – mechanical failure number two now occurred. I had the mast strapped to the railing corner as usual and started to unwind one of the dipoles elements – all of a sudden I had two wires in my hand when there should only be one! The wire had broken exactly as it went into the 20m link piece. So I took the wire stripped a little insulation off the end with my teeth – re-threaded it into the link plastic and wound it around the metal connector and taped it up. That should be it, that’ll work now until I get home and get it soldered properly…

As I had planned to test the new Komunica antenna, this would be its “baptism of fire”. I tuned to a clear frequency on 20m, switched on the SWR trace function of the Xiegu X108G and fine tuned the antennas coil setting. Once I was happy I spotted my self on the SOTA Cluster and back came two calls – OE9TKH portable in Austria – which could have been ground wave and we exchanged 5-5 reports and then a surprise a call from RW3XZ in Russia who was a booming 5-9 signal and he gave me a 5-9 report as well. The new antenna was working! For a while there were no more calls but then I saw Mike 2E0YYY/P had spotted as being on 40m so I swapped antenna cables and worked Mike.

Unfortunately the contact with Mike showed another problem on the linked dipole. On my last activation, I had a bad connection to the rig from the antenna – I checked the BNC plug on the antenna cable and could not re-produce the break so I replaced the BNC to PL-259 adapter but with the new (known good) adapter, I once again had problems with the connection. This got so bad after just one contact that I declared this as mechanical failure number three and took down and packed away the linked dipole antenna. Do you remember I said I had also packed my Aerial-51 off centre fed antenna “Just in case” – well this was the case, so my wire horizontal antenna now became the Aerial-51 404-UL antenna.

All of this repair and replacement work took time and I was losing the chance to work other summits!

As the Aerial-51 antenna works on 40m & 20m without any switching, I then tuned around 20m and 40m to see what I could hear. what I could hear was a loud background noise that got louder if I moved my hand towards the battery box that has a voltage regulator to drop the up to 16.5v from the 4S LIPO batteries to 13.5v for the rig. Electrical failure number one – the regulator is creating RF noise – this will also have to be looked into.

I then heard a station on 14.298MHz with a loud signal, so i decided this would be a good contact to test that the Aeril-51 OCF antenna was working – plus the call was SU8JOTA, so I thought I might be able to help by speaking with some scouts. Unfortunately there were no scouts there at the time and Yaser was trying to contact other scout stations, so I left him to it, happy that the antenna was working as I got a 5-8 report from him. I thought the “SU” call sign was possibly a special call from Poland or Greece, in fact SU8JOTA was the Scout Centre in Cairo, Egypt. So at least I got one, outside of Europe contact. After a contact with a local chaser who returned to my CQ call on 20 metres, my next contact was another Scout (JOTA) station with the call sign II5BP/J or I-I-Five-Baden-Powell slash JOTA as I referred to it – again no scouts were present or perhaps simply not eager to speak English on the radio?

All of this time I was listening for and checking the cluster for any SOTA stations from VK or ZL but without success. My next two stations I worked on 20m using the dipole were Ralf on a summit in Switzerland and Herbert on a summit in Liechtenstein. As time was getting on, I took down the dipole and mast but then decided to put out one last call on the new loaded vertical and I was rewarded with a call from Santiago in north-west Spain on the atlantic coast.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G (20w).

Komunica HF-PRO-2 vertical antenna and modified Hama photographic tripod.

SOTABeams Band-Hopper linked dipole.

Aerial-51 Off Centre Fed dipole 404-UL.

6 metre fibreglass “Squid Pole”.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Log:

Conclusions:

The number of failures that occurred were a challenge but despite this and terrible radio conditions, I believe the activation was a success with 4 x S2S contacts, 2 JOTA contacts (one into Egypt where I don’t think I’ve had a contact before), a new small portable antenna tested as suitable for difficult to get to, or crowded summits and being able to deal with the weather conditions. The weather was something that a lot of the activators in VK2 & VK3 could not fight against and had to cancel as their summits would have been too dangerous in the heavy storms.

I have a lot of repairs to complete before my next activation.

November 3rd sees the annual EU-NA S2S event (now renamed to the Transatlantic SOTA S2S event as there are now South American SOTA countries who will take part). At least in that event, it’s afternoon in Europe, not really early morning!

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – October 14th 2018 – DL/AM-180 Berndiorfer Buchet.

Preparation:

As the opportunity came up to get to Berndorfer Buchet as part of an action to drive the wife somewhere and while I had just managed to match the Antron A-99 (CB/10m) vertical on 20m I decided this would be a great opportunity to try everything out before the following Saturdays UK/EU <> VK/ZL/JL S2S QSO Party. To support the Antron antenna, I have a large surveyors tripod so it would need to go along as well. to avoid having to struggle up the steep and slippery last part of the track to the actual summit will this extra weight, I did some research to see how far the activation zone extends and where possible find a spot with less trees as the vertical antennas do not perform well between trees.

In fact simply walking further along the access track brings one to a more open spot with plenty of space away from trees.

Of course I would pack the linked dipole and mast “just in case” something doesn’t work or 20 metres is dead and I need to go onto 40m (which the Antron can’t cover even with matching components.

A nice coincidence was that the 100 Watts and a Wire “FALLOUT” event was also going to be on, so I would take part in that as well by mentioning the group on-air as part of my CQ calls, and explain it to anyone who asked.

What I was to find out there was another, not so nice, coincidence in that the Scandinavian Activity contest was taking place also up until 1200 UTC and the bands would be full of crocodiles taking part in it (big mouths little ears). It’s especially a shame when these stations operate in the “non-contest” parts of the bands but no matter which contest it is, no one seems able to take action against these bad contest operators (note not all are bad, mainly it’s the wanna-bees – the top operators are no problem).

My timing would be about 0900 to 1000 UTC so too late for any hope of any contacts “down under” this time. So lets see how the equipment works out ….

The Location:

As mentioned above actual set-up location on Berndorfer Buchet was changed because of the heavy vertical antenna but the access is still the same track as is the parking spot on the road down to Kerschlach from the Weilheim to Starnberg B2 road.

The Activation:

As I carried all of the extra equipment to the different location, the ideal spot in the grassland seemed to be being worked on, there was a reel of cable there and some other item, so rather than set-up there only to be moved on if the workers came back (unlikely of course as it was Sunday), I decided to set up at the end of a small track, which was certainly better for the vertical antenna than if I had set up by the trig point stone in the forest on the actual top of the summit. after un-packing, I first set-up the Antron A-99 in the Surveyors tripod (pictures below) and then connected up the gear on the laid out painters plastic sheet. As it turned out this was NOT going to be an easy activation!

I experienced the following problems:

  1. The sunshine! – the display on my Xiegu X108G Chinese HF radio is totally unreadable in sunshine, I set up a lot of things to try to create shade and I had to strain my eyes to get on the right band let alone frequency!
  2. The voltage regulator board in my (2x 4S 5000maH LIPO) battery box decided to become a wide band noise generator across 20 & 40m. I’ve had this problem before but thought I had it fixed – it’s back.
  3. Even my Cell phone checking in to the cell towers managed to get into my headphones lead to cause audio problems.
  4. I set up the Antron A-99 vertical antenna initially to see how it performed but it picked up nothing but noise. Some of this was from the battery box but I think there’s something else on this summit that is also creating electrical noise, (perhaps something underground that was being worked on with the cables on the ground about 10m away from me) which of course vertical antennas are more prone to hear. I didn’t have this problem when I tested the antenna in my back garden.
  5. After taking down the Antron and putting up my fibreglass mast and linked inverted-V dipole, I found the BNC plug or the BNC to PL-259 adapter has an intermittent contact, so so careful positioning was needed to get this to stay connected.
  6. CONTEST TRAFFIC – both 20 & 40m was full with crocodiles – in principal for a test a contest can be useful but not when a contest station doesn’t even acknowledge you calling and later a station from the same part of the country gives you a 5-5 report – so the contest station can only be bothered with 5-9 signals it seems!

DESPITE ALL THAT, I did manage eleven contacts including 4 x S2S contacts (see log below) in just over an hour, by which time it was time to pack up and go and collect my wife.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G Chinese 20w HF transceiver “outdoor” model.
  • Antron A-99 vertical antenna with capacitive matching circuit for 20m.
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.
  • LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.
  • Thick plastic painters sheet.
  • Sun Umbrella screw-in base (not used).

Log:

Conclusions:

I suppose it was too much to hope for that a newly organised antenna would work in the field without problems on my first attempt however as this model is used to great effect by 2E0YYY from the UK, I was hoping for better than what I got from the Antron. I don’t expect that I will take this antenna for next Saturdays S2S event. It needs some more “normal” activations before it can be trusted to work correctly.

I have had a look at the battery box and cannot see anything obvious why it should start and create so much noise on the bands. It did appear to be radiating from the board (over the air) rather than down the power cables, so this will need some work this coming week to try to resolve.

The SOTABeams linked dipole “saved the day” again and deserves a new BNC connector on its cable if that’s where the connection problem is – that’ll get checked and replaced if needed.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – October 10th 2018 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

Preparation:

Following an aborted activation on Monday the 8th. due to bad radio conditions and as part of an investigation to see if we get better conditions on the HF bands after a Solar Storm passes the Earth (we already know we get better propagation, the two days before – or at least so it seems), Mike 2E0YYY and I decided head out on Wednesday the 10th. hoping this would be the day after the Solar Storm passed.

In my case this activation would be the first one using the Xiegu X108G since I repaired it, replacing its soldered in rechargeable CMOS memory lithium button cell. So this would be a check that everything was working correctly. I also wanted to test three loaded whip HF Vertical antennas that I have in preparation, perhaps of another attempt to activate DL/AM-031 Breanderschrofen as this summit does not have room for a dipole antenna and lightweight compact equipment is needed as the ascent is a little difficult in places.

The equipment had already been packed for the aborted Monday activation, so a quick check was all that was needed.

Ernie VK3DET promised to try to hear Mike and myself and Jonathan VK7JON was also going to head out to a Tasmanian summit.

The Location:

Weichberg is one of my “local” summits, the drive taking 40-45 minutes and the track up through the forest from the parking spot another 5 minutes. Weichberg has a small chapel on top of it along with a regional TV and radio transmitting tower so normally it’s relatively easy to find. There is a table and bench seats and enough room for the antennas next to the chapel. There is no longer the small tree in the middle of the grassed area which used to act as the support for my mast, so nowadays I take my screw-in umbrella base along to provide that support.

The Activation:

The alarm was set for 6am local (0400 UTC) and I was already on the road by 6:45 am as the morning, like the last two was foggy, so I wanted to allow myself more time to get to the summit. I did not set the Navi (GPS) for this summit as I have been there several times before but as I nearly missed one turn-off in the fog I wondered if it would have been a better idea! In any case, I arrived at the parking spot without any issues picked up the various bags and headed up the track to the summit. On trying to screw the base into the ground I had forgotten that there’s a level of stones not far underneath the grassed area with the result that the support was at somewhat of an angle – it held up though, which was the main point. Once the linked dipole was up on the 6m travel mast, I connected up the X108G and turned it on and …. nothing! Oh NO! now what’s wrong? I checked the fuses in the power cable, they looked fine and then opened the battery box to make sure nothing was shorting there, I lifted out the voltage regulator and put it on top of the batteries but did not see anything wrong. I tried turning the rig on again – this time it burst to life. OK, I made a note to investigate the battery box when I got home. The battery box and regulator worked fine during the activation but when packing up I spotted the problem – the output lead had come out of the terminal block. As I had positioned it on top of the batteries it made contact again but could have stopped at any time!

This was now 05:45 UTC and I spotted myself and put out a call on a free frequency – no takers. OK possibly a bit early. Then I saw that Peter VK3PF was out in Australia on 40m – I took a listen – nothing. So another couple of CQ calls and tuning around. Apart from some italian and Russian nets there was not a lot on, so I took the opportunity to put up my second antenna, A Komunica Bazoka Pro on my converted camera tripod with an SO239 socket and 4 radial wires. I then saw a spot for Herbert OE9HRV who was out on a summit not too far away. I gave him a call and we had a bit of a chat and asked him to listen for me on the loaded vertical. He could not hear anything from me and he was probably 3-4 S-points weaker on the vertical than the dipole.  I let Herbert get off and try for more DX contacts and in fact later he achieved the best DX contact of any of us who were out with a contact into ZL on 20m.

During this activation, I switched often between 40m and 20m as at the moment both are possible candidates for a contact into VK/ZL if one was going to be possible at all.

I now tried my other two vertical antenna (a Diamond RHM-8B and a no-name antenna with a banana plug lead to short out parts of the loading coil) on the tripod to see at least how they were receiving and what the SWR on transmit looked like. None of the three loaded vertical antennas seemed to be working very well. The one with the banana lead appeared to receive the best of the three but its SWR was very bad. It was only after testing the last of the three antennas and was removing the coax from the rig to go back to the dipole that I heard the receive signals get stronger as I was removing the PL259 plug. At this point I thought there may be a problem in the plug and made a note to test it when I got home.

Later in the day when I tested the coax, I found the problem at the tripod end not the rig end. The braid on the coax is only crimped into the socket (a commercially built one) and was intermittent at best, most of the time open-circuit. This would mean that the radial wires were never connected to the antennas and as two of the three are designed to have a metal car roof underneath them a set of radials when there is no car roof, is very important. No wonder they didn’t work well ! The joint is now repaired and all three antennas will need to be tested again.

After the loaded vertical antenna testing, I tuned around 40m and found what appeared to be a free frequency, but to make sure called “is the frequency in use” and got a polite reply back that it was and I said OK I’ll QSY. Then I stopped, I recognised that voice and in fact the next thing I heard was Mike 2E0YYY (or from the summit he was on in Wales 2W0YYY) call CQ SOTA. So of course I went back to him and we had a short chat and that was contact number two, another S2S contact in the log. I then searched for another free frequency, spotted myself and put out several calls with no responses. I tried 20m as well as 40m – no callers – I know I was getting out – why there were no chasers calling me is a mystery.

The conclusion regarding the hoped for better conditions was that the solar winds had not yet passed the Earth as the K-Index was still up at 4, so another couple of days may be needed before the “day after the storm” comes along.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G 20w transceiver.

SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified camera tripod with SO239, coax cable and radial wires.

Komunica Bazoka Plus wideband loaded vertical

Diamond RHM-8B loaded vertical with sliding coil tuning

No-Name loaded vertical with banana plug cable band switching on the coil.

Thick plastic painters sheet.

Sun Umbrella screw-in base.

Log:

Conclusions:

We were out too soon to test the “after-the-solar-storm” conditions and any contacts into VK/ZL would have been a fluke. There were stations specifically listening and calling from VK and this time I could not hear anything from Ernie (who I was in touch with via email during the test).

As regards the loaded vertical antennas, these will need to be tested again, now that the mount has been repaired.

Lets hope that conditions do improve for October 20th. which is when a large group of operators in VK/JA/ZL/UK and EU will be trying for S2S contacts.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – September 29th 2018 – DL/BE-094 Irschenhausen.

Preparation:

After the attempt for a 40m contact into VK from Peissenberg failed on the Wednesday, I decided that while the weather was good I’d have another go. With the confidence that the old gear was still working well, I decided to activate Irschenhausen which I had not yet activated in 2018 yet and hence would earn me 1 more activation point.

The equipment would be the same as for Peissenberg with the addition of the screw-in umbrella base as I know this summit hasn’t any convenient support posts.

Luckily, the day before the activation, I checked the route to find out that the connecting road from the Autobahn to the area where I needed to be was closed and would be closed for another few weeks as it was being upgraded and re-surfaced. I worked out an alternative route which would mean a drive of about 1 hour and 15 minutes rather than just an hour, so the alarm clock was set even earlier. the plan to be to leave at 7am local at the latest in order to be on the summit at the right time for the long path to Australia (around 0630-0730 UTC). My normal “partner-in-crime” for these attempts, Mike 2E0YYY in the UK would not be able to take part as he had his stall at the UK’s National Hamfest on this weekend. I contacted John VK6NU and Ernie VK3DET both of whom kindly listen (either from their homes or portable) for these attempts and Ernie was available, so maybe there was a chance?

I checked the contests calendar to see the only major contest was a RTTY contest and thought fine, they won’t affect the SSB part of the band … They did – see below!

The Location:

As mentioned above the normal run from my home QTH to my parking spot would normally take about an hour but with the closed road and hence a different route, I was looking at an extra 15 minutes drive. Irschenhausen summit is located above the village of the same name just off the B11 road running north-south down the eastern side of Starnberger See – one of five large lakes near Munich. The walk from the parking spot takes about 20 minutes, first along a field track and then into the forest and keep going upwards at every junction until you find yourself at the highest spot. If you find the Trig Point stone, you’ve found the summit (see pictures).

The Activation:

The alarm was set for 6am but I was already up by 5:45am with all the gear laid out ready to be picked up and taken. I actually was able to leave by 6:45am rather than my planned 7am. On the run to the summit apart from the last small country roads the traffic was flowing very well and after parking and walking to the summit, I was already on the air by 0600 UTC (8am local). What did I find on 40 metres? The total bottom half of 40 metres from 7.0 to 7.1MHz was full of RTTY contest stations and above 7.1 it was busy as well – as those forced off the bottom half of the band had moved up into the top half. Add to this what sounded like an Over The Horizon RADAR station warbling up and down the top half of the band and the prospects didn’t look good!

After tuning around I came across a strong station and decided to call him to make sure I was getting out, despite the fact he had a pile-up going, who did he come back to? Yes me – with my 30 watts and a dipole! OK, so I was getting out fine.

I searched for a free frequency, double checked it was free and then spotted myself. Contacts only came slowly but there was a nice one from a special event station, probably only about 10-15 km away DL100BY celebrating 100 years of the state of Bavaria (or Bayern), which was being operated at the time by a local SOTA activator Rob, DL4ROB, from Munich. I put out special calls for VK & ZL a couple of times and had to move a couple of times as my frequency was stolen by a French net. I then got an email from Ernie, saying he couldn’t hear me on my spotted frequency, so I asked him to put out a “blind call” and I COULD hear him, not strong, probably 4-2 at best but he was there! We tried for about half an hour hoping the conditions might get better but at the end we had to give up as Ernie went back down into the noise.

Ernie was running 100W to a dipole at his home QTH while I was running 30W also to a dipole but out in the country on a summit and I think that was the difference. My noise level was practically zero once the OTHR left, while Ernie has Metro-noise to hear through. Had I been a CW operator, I think a contact would have been possible and any of the weak signal digital modes would have certainly got through. I see this as a positive experiment – the path (on 40 metres) is there with the long path as it is when 20 metres works – which at the moment with a MUF of 8.6MHz, an SFI of 66 and a K Index of 3 – it isn’t!

After this experiment with Ernie I went back to “normal” SOTA contacts and dropped another five into the log making a total of thirteen valid contacts for the day.

On my way walking back to where I had parked my car a small tractor with the farmer and his very young son came past me and I said good morning to them. As I was driving off, I could see the farmer waving to me, so I stopped and walked back, expecting perhaps a comment that I shouldn’t be there but it was completely the opposite. He was interested in what I was carrying and as I explained Amateur Radio to him (and gave him a German DARC brochure) he seemed genuinely interested and we chatted for about 15 minutes before grandad came by to say there was farm work to be done! That was a nice end to the activation. If he’s around next time I activate this summit, I’ll invite him up to see for himself. Who knows this could be a new radio ham in the making!

The drive back hit the Saturday morning traffic on the Autobahn and so took a little longer but I was back before 11 am (local) which was as I had planned.

All in all a nice activation.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified QAMP amplifier (30W on 40m).

Thick plastic painters sheet.

Sun Umbrella screw-in base.

Log:

Conclusions:

Although I did not achieve a two-way contact with VK, the fact that I could hear Ernie proves the path is there, perhaps a little more power from my side, a higher antenna – or it set up in a better direction, might just make the difference. Running FT-8 would work, I’m sure.  A few more sunspots would certainly help!

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – September 26th 2018 – DL/AM-001 Peissenberg – trying for VK on 40m.

Preparation:

For some time now twenty metres has been in the doldrums and not providing contacts into VK/ZL on the morning grey line via Long Path. After hearing some stations on 40m from home during the previous few days Mike 2E0YYY from the UK and I decided to try to get out and see if indeed we could manage contacts into VK on 7MHz from a SOTA summit. All looked good the two days before and we lined up Ernie VK3DET and John VK6NU to be listening for both of us.

Unfortunately my normal rig – the X108G was out of service awaiting a replacement CMOS battery for its memory. So this activation would double as a check that the “old gear” still works, I carefully re-packed my SOTA bags with the FT817ND, my vastly modified Ramsey amplifier and (hopefully) all cables and batteries needed to run the old system.

The Location:

As is often the case, the need to be on the summit relatively early meant that the higher scoring summits were out and I had planned to activate Irschenhausen, a one point summit that I have not yet activated in 2018. It’s just over an hours drive away and then 15-20 minutes walk from the parking spot to the summit. Although in the middle of a forest, I have had contacts into VK from this summit in the past. A couple of days before however, I  decided, given the chance that the equipment may not work for some reason, the “drive-up” Peissenberg summit would be a better choice even though I have already activated it in 2018 and hence would not get any points for activating it.

Peissenberg is also closer and simpler to drive to – although not my closest summit, it is the easiest drive which is about 40-45 minutes at most down well driven (by me) country roads.

The Activation:

As I said above I have driven the route down many times and this time as well, everything went without problems. As I was setting up the station around 0615 UTC almost an hour earlier than I had alerted (always better to be early rather than late!) – just as I finished setting up the antenna and station on my usual bench with all required cables, fuses and connectors in place,  I saw an alert for Mike 2E0YYY/P on GW/NW-070 Great Orme and so this first contact was also an S2S contact, so I did get one point for my outing. Despite listening specifically for VK/ZL on several occasions, none were to be had. Mike also was unsuccessful, however his attempt was hindered by high winds meaning he had to set up down the hill a little to get some protection from the winds which would also affect his antenna.

Although I made no VK/ZL contacts, as you can see from the log below, I made plenty of contacts around Europe and that with a limited transmission “punch” as I realised after the activation that the, in microphone, RF-Speech-Clipper had been turned off and this does make a difference. Generally an apparent S-point over having no compression. I have switched that switch back on already for next time.

Checking with Ernie and John afterwards they heard neither me nor Mike on the band. It appears we were just one day late as there had been VK-EU QSOs on 7MHz the day before.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

Ramsey HF amplified (30w on 40m).

SOTABeams Band-Hopper linked dipole.

6 metre fibreglass “Squid Pole”.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Log:

Conclusions:

The VK contacts were not to be, but I still think they are possible and will try again. as we have now passed the equinox and are moving into Autumn, radio conditions will change – hopefully for the better.

73 ’til the next Summit!