Apart from being a SOTA outing, this action had another non-radio related reason. We – Gabriele, my wife and I have a young dog “Bonnie” who has never been away with us on holiday. As I had found on my last activation of Attensberg that the Gasthaus (hotel) on the foot of the hill, was “Pet friendly”, we decided to take a short, two night, break to see how the dog copes with staying overnight in a strange environment. This area (about 1 hr 40 minutes drive away from my home QTH) has several SOTA summits that I haven’t as yet activated, so, if time permitted, I should be able to fit one or even two activations in.
The hotel – the “Gasthaus am Paradies” in Berg near Oberstaufen is a wonderful, family run hotel and cafe in a very beautiful location in the southern most part of Allgau not far from the border between Germany and Austria. Even without the 10 or so SOTA summits in the area, if you wish to visit a really beautiful part of Bavaria this area is worth the visit. The highest and hence highest scoring, summit in the Area is DL/AL-132 Hochgrat and as a look at the SOTA database statistics will show you, this is a much visited 8 pointer summit (not only visited a lot by SOTA activators but also by the general public). The cable car takes you to within 125 vertical metres of the summit and then it’s a 30 minutes hike up a trail to get to the summit cross. So that was the plan, activate HochGrat on the main day that we were staying and then possibly fit in an activation of Attensberg again as it was literally a 5 minute climb up the hill outside the back door of the hotel!
The drive down I knew from my previous activation and the GPS Navi took us the same route. The journey was uneventful and thankfully the weather changed from pouring rain when we set off to sunshine as we arrived. This was a good omen!
The Tuesday that we travelled down was actually a public holiday “Tag der Deutsche Einheit” (Germany’s re-unification day) and as the weather was expected to be bad at least until mid afternoon, we did not plan any activities for the Tuesday and just concentrated on settling into the hotel with our dog and taking her for a long walk to get her accustomed to the area. She and we, had a bit of an unsettled night that first night, which meant we were all awake early and I decided to do an activation of Attensberg (aka Kapf) before breakfast was going to be served. This was combined with a morning walk for the dog up the hill escorted by my wife. This also coincided with when Andrew VK1AD and Mike 2E0YYY hoped to be out to catch the long path window between EU and VK. Unfortunately Andrew had to cancel and I could not even hear Mike at any time during my activation but the activation itself went VERY well – as you’ll hear below:
Wednesday 4th. October 2017.
Once the equipment was set up (I had carried my sun umbrella screw-in base up the hill as well but decided to simply strap the squid pole supporting the linked dipole to a fence post – which worked fine). I spotted and called CQ on 14.285MHz as it was clear. Nothing, no responses, so I tuned around the band and it was very quiet – even the background atmospheric noise level was low. Eventually I got a call at 05:55 UTC from Rainer DF4TD from some 35-40 km away (obviously just ground wave) this proved at least that I was getting out! Listening on 14.285, I could JUST hear some stations in the noise that sounded like they were Italian. This wasn’t looking too good. At this point my wife suggested she go back down to the hotel and I helped her down the steepest parts by taking the dog (who of course was having fun and pulling on the lead to run down the hill).
Upon returning to the station at about 0620 UTC, I realised immediately that the noise level was higher and those Italian stations that were in the noise were now 5-9+. It was as if someone had turned a switch on to make the band usable. Checking the MUF later, it was under 8MHz up to around 0615 and then shot up to above 14MHz, so I think this is what I experienced.
Mike had spotted himself on 14.325 MHz, I listened but there was no sign of him there. I gave a quick call – no response, so I decided to move to 14.310 (away from the Italians who were still chatting on 14.285), re-spotted and called CQ to be welcomed by a call from John ZL1BYZ in New Zealand! If that had been the only contact to the antipodes it would have made the activation. Once I finished a brief chat with John however it was followed by calls from Tony VK3CAT in Victoria Australia, Alexi RW3XZ in Russia, then another well-known VK chaser, Ernie VK3DET. Not to be beaten by the VKs, Warren ZL2AJ then called in, followed by Dinos SV3IEG from Greece and Jon VK7JON from Tasmania Australia. The activation was finished off after two more long distance EU contacts with George SV1PBC in Greece and Vadim R1BCE in Russia. The band went quiet again at 0650. As you can guess, I was really happy with this activation. I never expected to get so many contacts from down under and I’m fairly sure that was my first VK7 contact from Europe. But was this just a fluke? Or are we now back with a stable “Long Path” window to VK/ZL in the mornings? I decided I would try on Thursday morning before we leave to go home and see if something similar occurs – using the same equipment from the same location.
But first there was Hochgrat to be activated in the afternoon. Or was there? Actually I had to cancel. I simply didn’t feel fit enough even for the simple 30 minute hikes to and from the summit to the cable car. Perhaps this was caused by the sleepless night and the early rise. In any case, as I had now decided to do the second activation the next morning, I decided to have a relaxing afternoon with my wife and dog. Hochgrat won’t go away, it’ll be there for our next (longer) visit to this area or perhaps I might just drive down one day from my home QTH just to activate Hochgrat.
Thursday 5th. October 2017.
This mornings activation was Interesting – somewhat similar to yesterdays (using the same equipment from the same location at the same time). Signals were down a little on yesterday and the weather a lot colder but I still had the pleasure of calls from 3 stations in ZL. ZL1BYZ John, ZL2AJ Warren and ZL1WA, Jacky (being the new contact). In VK both Tony VK3CAT and Ernie VK3DET came on again so I had a good comparison between the two days for both ZL and VK stations. I should also mention that I also worked Ian VK5CZ in South Australia. Nice as I haven’t spoken to Ian for a long time.
In Europe I managed contacts with Jack, OH3GZ in Finland and Rainer DF4TD who had gone out static mobile to see if he could get some contacts into VK/ZL. It does look definitely like skip was long on both days.
I also noted a time when the band appeared to “turn on” – on Wednesday that was 0620 UTC, today it was about 0600 UTC. I saw very clearly the window move from east to west across NZ and then VK. It looks like from what Mike 2E0YYY reported that a similar thing was happening in Europe with Mike only getting the contacts probably about 30-40 minutes after they were loudest with me on Wednesday.
My conclusion (from this not very scientific test) is that we do have a good Long Path windows between EU and VK/ZL of about 30-40 minutes (after the MUF gets high enough) covering in turn ZL through VK5. The action then repeating for the UK after the Central EU stations, 35 minutes later. So as someone in Germany is in contact with someone in VK5, the UK stations may start getting the ZL stations.
The VK & ZL stations are well equipped with 400 watts or more and 3 element beams, whereas I was using just 25 watts and a dipole at 5 meters AGL. For any S2S contacts to work, I would suggest some more power would be good – perhaps 50 watts at each end and if one end has some kind of portable antenna with gain (perhaps phased verticals) the chance of a contact between two summit stations will be increased. It’s not going to be easy in this months VK<>EU S2S event on the 21st. but it seems it will be possible for contacts to be made at least between chasers and activators.
John ZL1BYZ was kind enough to record a little of my signal from his end and it shows what can be achieved with about 20 watts of SSB and a simple dipole antenna (as long as the other station has a nice beam and good receiver of course) – here is that audio clip:
SOTABeam band hopper linked dipole.
6 metre LamdaHalbe telescopic squid pole.
Modified QAMP amplifier (20-25W on 20m).
Sun umbrella screw-in base (not used).
A very succesful pair of activations that showed consistency across the two days, so it appears that the Long Path window is now back for the Autumn/Winter season and this is just in time for the planned VK<>EU S2S event on the 21st. of October.
Using “tried and tested” equipment is always good. The new antennas need some more work before I can rely on them.
Most importantly, the first hotel trip with “Bonnie” our dog despite some early uncertainty on her part worked out to be VERY successful and opens up other holiday / SOTA possibilities for the future.
73 ’til the next Summit!