DD5LP/P – February 21st 2019 – DL/AL-169 Auerberg.

Preparation:

After analysis of the activation of Peissenberg the previous week, I decided that part of the reason for no VK/ZL contacts was that from my operating position, for the signals to travel on the long path, they would need to pass though the church building – I needed to give this another try from a better summit.

The Church at Auerberg and the land around it, which is the actual summit have been closed for some months hence I needed to find out if it was now accessible again before travelling there to find that I couldn’t set up. This summit is of interest as my location at the back of the church building is at the top of a steep slope dropping off roughly in a NNW direction, which is exactly the direction needed for long path into VK/ZL when a dipole is run along the top of the ridge.

I contacted the local government through their website and was forwarded onto the church group, who told me that the church would only be open after the re-blessing ceremony,  following all the renovation work, in April. I sent another note asking if the area around the church is once again open to the public and the reply was positive but with a warning that there was still a lot of snow up there. I’ve activated Auerberg in winter before, so I knew what to expect.

Unfortunately the space at Auerberg is not enough to deploy the new VP2E antenna for a test and as 40m was more likely to deliver a contact, one of my dipoles (either the linked SOTABeams “bandhopper: or Aerial-51 UL-404 off centre fed dipole) would be better suited to be used for 40m & 20m.

These two dipole antennas are always at the bottom of the small rucksack and so they stayed there, while the two VP2E antennas were removed. I also decided to give the troublesome DX-Wire 10 metre mini-mast another chance as the dipoles work better for DX the more height they have. (I’d also take the 6m Lambdahalbe mast as backup). As for supporting the mast, since the surveyors tripod had done such a good job in the snow on Weichberg about 10 days before, I decided, despite its size and weight, it would go along as well to Auerberg. As it turned out this was a good decision as the fence posts that I used to use were partly bent over by the weight of snow on them.

Again Mike 2E0YYY was going to head out to a summit in the UK and he decided to take a vertical antenna for 20 metres and a dipole for 40m. We informed the usual hams in Australia who promised to try for a contact with one or both of us if the conditions allowed.

Unfortunately our timing was bad with the largest amount of Plasma from a Coronal Hole on the Sun, hitting the Ionosphere  on the evening before the activation but after making all the arrangements, I decided to go anyway “you never know”…

So as this would be an even earlier start than last time (needing to be operational on the summit by 0700 UTC) all the gear was packed into the car the night before and the alarm set for an early start ….

The Activation:

As with the Peissenberg activation the previous week I didn’t need to set the alarm as I was wide awake an hour earlier than I needed to be. I didn’t want to leave early as I would end up sitting around in the snow waiting for the long path window to open, so I actually left home at about my planned time. The trip down was uneventful and although I did have the GPS navi on, I didn’t need it having driven the route a few times previously.

As I approached Auerberg, the snow at the side of the road started to get higher and higher and I wondered what would be facing me when I arrived at the car park (the kind lady from the Church group had told me that the road up to the car park had been cleared, which was indeed the case. Looking up to the church from the car park, I was relieved to see that someone had cleared the complete set of steps from the restaurant up to the church and when I got up there. A track around the church had also been cleared. I headed to my normal spot so that I could put the radios and masts down on the bench seats …. I couldn’t as they’re no longer there. The area at the back of the church was part gravel, part mud and also part snow. So the old reliable painters plastic sheet came out of the rucksack and everything was put on there while I took a look to see how I would put the antenna up. I had already decided to use the Aerial-51 OCF antenna for this activation to avoid the need to lower and raise the antenna when I wanted to change between 20m & 40m. Given that I had decided to use the DX-Wire 10 metre mast – lowering and extending that mast multiple times, with its habit of collapsing into itself, was to be avoided if possible. Before the mast and antenna could go up though the first action was to put up the surveyors tripod. This had to go again into the snowy part of the area and the spiked legs again did a good job. After the tripod was up, the mast was fed through my wooden plate that is permanently fitted to the tripod and then the antenna slid down onto the mast sections. Before extending the mast up, I ran the ends of the antenna out in the two required directions and the coax back to the painters sheet, where the radio would be connected up. Much of the fencing had been damaged by being pushed over by the weight of snow that had been present. It was still over one metre deep in places which made getting the antenna wire out where I wanted it, a little difficult at times.

Up went the mast, I had just about guessed the positioning of the cords on the ends of the elements to two of the remaining upright fence posts so only a little adjustment was needed there.

It was now time to prepare the operating position, so out came the Xiegu X-108G, its microphone, the battery box, my log book and pen and the smart phone and USB cable. I expected to have to use the smart phone to see the settings on the rig and change them when needed, but for most of the two hours that I was on the summit, the display on the X108 was just readable.

After checking for any spots from other activators (the last shown were from hours earlier) I decided to set-up and start on 20 metres. 20 metres during this activation was a flop – I only managed one contact on 20m with Sergei RV9DC at a much lower strength than he normally is. 40 metres was the band to be on, although during the activation I went back to 20m a few times to see if there was any DX to work – there wasn’t. Only European nets it seemed.

Even 40m didn’t deliver the hoped for DX, despite some close calls. At one point I could hear Ernie VK3DET but he couldn’t hear me. Then later he heard me but could break in, in between the European chasers, despite the fact that I specifically listened for VK/ZL stations on several occasions. The conditions were simply not good enough. I mentioned earlier that Mike 2E0YYY and I had planned this together and indeed I worked Mike for an S2S and for a couple of short chats. We ran one frequency between us at one point (for about 30 minutes) which caused some confusion with the chasers calling me Mike on a few occasions and I had to explain who they were actually working. I suspect Mike’s self spot on the frequency was after mine and hence was seen more easily.

Towards the end of the activation, I had a visit from a couple from Garmish Partenkirchen who had come out for a walk and the views. He knew something of what I was doing as he had been a TV repair man before he retired.

At the end of the activation I ended up with 29 contacts all from around Europe and as my location was shaded from the sun, I also ended up very cold until I got back down to the car, which was sat in the sunshine reporting +9C. I believe at my operating location it would rarely have got over the freezing point.

For this activation, I had only planned to try the long path. To have waited for the short path would have been another 2-3 hours after I packed up because of the cold and I would have had to again transmit through the church building, this time for the short path direction.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G.

Aerial-51 UL-404 OCF dipole.

Surveyors tripod.

10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass “Mini-Mast”.

Thick plastic painters sheet.

Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable.

Log:

Conclusions:

The propagation seemed to be one-way at times and with the Plasma hitting the Ionosphere still at the time of the activation, it would have been surprising to make any contacts into VK or ZL.

It was strange to hear absolutely nothing from New Zealand.

I was surprised by the DX-Wire mast. For once it held up through the complete activation and the surveyors tripod was certainly worth the extra effort of taking it as it made the setting up of the antenna very straight forward indeed.

Although Mike was running 50 watts to my 20 watts and is at least one “skip-hop” closer to VK/ZL than I via the long path, he also managed no contacts “down under” so it simply wasn’t to be on this occasion.

Although the display was (just) readable on the X108G I did use the Smart Phone to set or change parameters as the small rubberised buttons on the X108G itself are difficult to use – especially in the deep cold. After changing cables and adding more ferrites, since the last outing, the USB link between the rig and phone worked fine on 40 metres but when I changed to 20 metres the link failed often and many times left the rig on Tx after I released the PTT switch. Some noise still comes from the phone into the X108G’s receiver. More work needs to be done on both of these problems.

73 ’til the next Summit!

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DD5LP/P – February 18th 2019 – DL/AM-001 Peissenberg – another 40m long path attempt.

Preparation:

Following the debacle the previous week where I got to my summit 30 minutes after the 40m long path to Australia had closed, I decided to go to a summit, where I knew I would not be delayed in getting there and could be set-up well in time for any chance of contacts into VK/ZL.

The chosen summit was one of my more local summits – DL/AM-001 Peissenberg. This is a drive-on summit with its own car park and a road that is kept open as it also leads to the governmental weather monitoring stations.

I decided to rely on a known antenna, mast and radio and would use my normal location at Peissenberg, despite the fact that for long path I would be firing directly through the church which sits on the very summit. It has worked before, so why not again – not the perfect set-up but a reliable one that I knew I would be on the air with in good time.

Everything was packed and ready to go the night before and the alarm set.

The Activation:

I didn’t need to set the alarm as I was wide awake an hour earlier than I needed to be. Preparation to leave home was therefore a casual, rather than a rushed action. Although still cold initially once the sun was to come out, things would warm up. Despite that I went with my winter jacket but before the activation was finished I had taken it off and even just in the sweatshirt I was feeling a little warm.

The sunrise occurred while I was driving my, well-known by now, route and after arriving parking and walking the 500m to the usual set-up point, looking across the valley I could see the last of the sun rising into a blue, almost cloudless sky. This hasn’t happened on my activations for a long time, but sure enough – it was a wonderful few hours in nice sunny weather and no longer sub-zero. A real spring-like day.

I soon got the mast and SOTABeams linked dipole up with the links set for 40 metres – this was going to be a 40m only activation.

One of my first contacts was Mike 2E0YYY on “Gun” in the UK, he had a good signal this time – the previous week, I couldn’t even hear him. The contacts flowed early on and via email I knew Ernie VK3DET was listening but not hearing Mike or myself. Between the European contacts I specifically took a listen for VK/ZL stations and at one point I heard what I think was a ZL station but not strong enough to work them. I also listened in to Mike’s QSO with John ZL1BYZ and could hear him fine, unfortunately when Mike asked him to listen for me, he could not hear me. At one point I could hear Ernie VK3DET calling Mike but not strong enough for me to try for a contact. There was a lot of QSB on the band and I had to move a couple of times due to QRM from stations on nearby frequencies. added to thi the fact that my remote control USB connection would lock-up leaving me the only option of turning the rig off and back on was annoying to say the least.

The fact that it was a beautiful sunny morning and that I did in fact get 39 contacts around Europe made it a nice activation however just one contact into VK or ZL would have made it perfect.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G.

SOTABeams Band-Hopper linked dipole.

6 metre fibreglass “Squid Pole”.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Log:

Conclusions:

The propagation wasn’t there to enable long path contacts for me on 40m. Perhaps 20m would have been better? Perhaps being at the other side of the church would have increased my chances?

Although having the display from the radio’s functions on the smart phone screen is a big improvement, the fact that the USB link is susceptible to RF causing lock-ups will need to be addressed asap.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – February 15th 2019 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

Preparation:

At last the weather had improved enough to get out and do a SOTA activation again! Interestingly Mike 2E0YYY in the UK and I were finding that propagation between EU and VK has been changing over the last couple of months and long path on 40m around 0830 UTC and short path on 20 metres around 1130 UTC seem to be the best at this moment in time. A cunning plot was hatched to confirm or deny this principle and at the same time test a new VP2E (Vertically polarised 2 element) antenna I have built for 20m.

As to test the VP2E’s directivity (it’s supposed to have 3dBd gain in one direction) I need quite a lot of space, I decided that I would go to Rentschen DL/AM-176 which is a very flat plateau with easy access to it. I could then set-up two antennas – the normal linked dipole for 40m and on a second mast, the VP2E on another mast. While waiting for conditions to come good on 40m, I would run the VP2E with my WSPRLite attached so I could see how it’s 200mW was getting out and rotate the antenna from time to time to see what effect it had. While there are several hours between the expected long path time and the short path, I decided I that after finishing contacts from Rentschen, I would pack up and head off to Weichberg, a 30 minute drive away. That summit isn’t quite as easy to access, so I would just carry one mast and the 20m mast up to that summit.

The equipment was packed the night before with my large Surveyors tripod as one mast support and the screw-in sun umbrella base as the support for the second mast as there are no convenient posts to strap the masts to at either Rentschen or Weichberg. The rig would be the Xiegu X108G with its “good” 20 watts of output and a USB cable and the PocketRxTx smart phone App as the OLED screen on the “outdoor version” of the X108G is totally unreadable outside! I can read and control the rig from my Android smart phone using PRxTx.

We managed to line-up Ernie VK3DET, John VK6NU from their homes and Jonathan VK7JON with Helen VK7FOLK who would drive out and set up portable on the coast They would listen on the bands for myself and Mike who hoped to get to one of his favourite Welsh SOTA summits. Unfortunately Mike’s car failed the annual “MOT” test and the garage didn’t have the parts so he had to order them, which did not arrive on time, so Mike decided to head out to a local pack within 15 minutes walk of his home and operate from there.

The Location:

Rentschen is about a 45 minute drive from home, the road goes right over the top of it and I usually park next to the one tree on the top of it. The exact summit is marked by a trig point stone about 50 metres into the field – along a track from there – under the high voltage power lines, which can sometimes cause some interference.

Weichberg is also one of my “local” summits, the drive from Rentschen should take almost exactly 30 minutes along the country roads from Weichberg back home takes about 40-45 minutes. There is a parking space and a track up through the forest which normally takes another 5 minutes. Weichberg has a small chapel on top of it along with a regional TV and radio transmitting tower so it’s relatively easy to find. There is a table and bench seats and enough room for one antenna on the lawn next to the chapel. Like at Rentschen, there are no handy posts to support the mast bases, hence the need for the tripod or screw-in umbrella base.

The Activation:

The alarm was set for 6:30am local (0530 UTC) and I was on the road by 7:30 am as per my planned schedule. The main roads were now clear of ice and snow although as I approached Rentschen, things started to look less good. There were some black ice patches on the small road up to the summit where care was needed and as I came over the brow onto the plateau, I could see I had a problem. the road had been cleared for traffic in one direction to get through but at the side of the cleared road, the snow was still almost 2 metres high in places and when I got to the small track where I normally park, it hadn’t been cleared. There would not be enough room to park at the side of the cleared road for anyone else to get past and how stable the deep snow would have been to hold my weight was questionable. I drove further along the road and started to go down the other side of the hill where I found someone’s drive way which had been cleared. I wasn’t going to park there but it served as a place to turn around and head back down to the main road (the actual road stops about a kilometre further along). This was about 8:30 am by now and I decided my best option was to head for Weichberg without any further delay in the hope that it’s car park spots had been cleared and access was possible up the forest track. I had already jotted out on a piece of paper the cross-country route to the second summit and followed that to arrive at the Weichberg car park 30 minutes later. The car park had been partially cleared but the forest track was going to be a challenge, but I could see others had used it (albeit carrying less equipment and hence  weight as I would be), but it should be possible.

At this point of course I had to reduce the equipment I took with me and as well as the radio equipment in my usual two bags, I decided on taking the large tripod and leave the sun umbrella  base and just take one short mast of the three I had brought with me. All of the wire antennas were in one of the two bags, along with the FT-817 which was the spare rig, so that all got left in the bags and with the 6 metre mast, the large tripod and the two bags slung on my back or over a shoulder I set-off. Then I stopped as I realised the ground was very icy and I had my shoe spikes with me in the large anorak that I had on. I fitted those to my shoes (they were a real help and stayed on all the time until I returned to the car). The walk up the forest track took a different route to what I remembered but while I was following other people footprints (in some cases in 1 metre deep holes at other times on top of the snow), I stuck with the route that the others had taken and after about 10 minutes I had reached the summit. What I found there you can see in the pictures below. The snow had drifted and was over 2 metres deep in places. Luckily with the severe frost from the night before the surface was solid as long as you didn’t stand in one place for too long. The area around the bench and wooden table was fairly clear and so everything got put on the table to start with and I would take things out onto the snow one at a time as I needed them. This would take longer but I shouldn’t lose things that way.

First of all I wanted to put the tripod almost in the middle of the lawn so that there would be room to run out the linked dipole in the correct direction for sideways radiation towards Australia – long path and also enough room for targeting the VP2E later for the short path 20m attempt.

The linked dipole, set to 40m went up first and the coax thankfully was just long enough to run back to the bench. The X108G and battery box were taken from one bag and connected up along with the smart phone as already it was difficult to read what was on the Xiegu’s screen!

I was in contact via email with Ernie VK3DET through the whole activation, so I let him know where I was going to be on 40m and also put out a spot on Sotawatch. Both of these actions were made more difficult by the fact that the phone was connected via the USB cable to the rig to act as its control display.

Activity on 40 metres was quite brisk with me making a total of 23 contacts between 0830 UTC and 0910 UTC, with breaks every 4 or 5 stations to specifically call for any VK stations (none came back).

The start-up time had been exactly 08:30 UTC and as I was later to find out, exactly the END of the 40m Long path window to VK from Europe. If I had set up at Rentschen as planned or if I had decided to use Weichberg as my first summit. I would have had a chance of some long path contacts into VK. Mike had also been delayed by waiting on the replacement parts for his car so once he was on we were both trying with Ernie and John in VK to no avail. I did get good reports from the 23 stations around Europe but nothing further a field.

Once 40m was quieter and it was obvious that it was too late for long path contacts, at around 0945 UTC I took down the 40m dipole and put up the VP2E, aimed at Australia Short Path. I was interrupted at this point by a walker and explained to her what I was doing. It was obvious she wasn’t so interested so with a few comments about the weather, she continued her journey. I then tried a few CQ calls after spotting myself on the SOTA cluster but go no contacts. As it was still some time before the hoped for short path to Australia,  I put the WSPRlite on the antenna and left it to get logged while i got something to eat from my pack-up. In the cold temperatures, despite the sunshine, some food was a good idea!

While monitoring the WSPR map, it seemed that contacts were getting better, so at around 1040 UTC, I switched back from the WSPRlite to the rig. At this point I could here a lot of interference that I hadn’t heard earlier on 40m and tracked it down to being the Smart Phone passing interference down the USB cable. So I know moved into a mode of only connecting the USB cable when I wanted to change frequency and otherwise operated the rig “blind”. Despite several moves because of QRM from other stations and several spots on SOTAWatch, I only managed one contact on 20m with the VP2E and that was with Oleg RN3QN near to Moscow and we exchanged true 5-9 signals both ways. Watching WSPR on the smart phone I could see that propagation on 20m was getting worse again – it had peaked only over about 15 minutes between 1100 and 1115 UTC. After talking to Oleg another walker came by and he showed more interest than the earlier visitor and so was given a brochure in German about Amateur Radio that I have with me for such situations. After a bit of a chat and him wishing me good luck he went off on his way. Unfortunately the good luck didn’t help and by 1145 UTC, I decided to pack up, with my VK stations heading to bed in any case, there would be no more chances today.

The trip back down the forest track didn’t have too many problems, those shoe spikes continuing to do a good job and only sinking into the snow twice, I got safely back to the car and the drive home was uneventful.

Photos:

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Equipment taken to summit:

Xiegu X108G 20w transceiver, with FT-817ND along as a spare.

SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.

Home made VP2E 20m antenna with 20/17m linked version along as backup

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Surveyors tripod with wooden plate and hole for mast to pass through.

Thick plastic painters sheet (not used).

Logs (WSPR & SOTA):

Conclusions:

  • Too late for the 40m Long path into VK. 30 minutes earlier and there may have been some VK entries in the log.
  • The surveyors tripod, despite it’s size and weight gives a reliable support when no other is available – even on top od 2 metres of snow!
  • The test of the VP2E antenna was inconclusive because of conditions and the lack of possibility to do a comparison test against the dipole.

To be fixed / changed:

  • On 20m, the RFI from the smart phone back down the USB cable to the rig is totally unbearable and needs to be addressed.
  • The BNC plug on the cable to the VP2E antenna was intermittent and should be changed for a PL-259 to avoid the need of using an adapter.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – January 1st 2019 – DL/AM-060 Laber.

Preparation:

With the new year, activation points for already activated summits are reset. After having to cancel two activation attempts in December 2018, I wanted to get out and activate ASAP in 2019 and chose Laber as my target summit. It is a simple summit to access, not too far to drive and worth 6 points (plus 3 winter bonus points).

The weather looked OK, so access, which is simply via a cable car and a 3 minutes walk to the summit should be fine.

The equipment would be the XIEGU X108G, battery box and headphones with the standard 6m mast and two wire dipoles as backup but the intention was to use my tripod and the Kommunica HF-PRO-2 antenna that had worked well at Hinteres Hornle in November. A new addition this time is a small USB cable and USB-C OTG (“on-the-go”) adapter as I intended using the PocketRxTx remote control software and my Smart Phone so that I could see the frequency and other settings on the phone which become invisible on the XIEGUs 2″ OLED screen when there is any sunlight. In addition to the small rucksack and a photo bag this time I would be carrying a plastic water pipe that I have converted into a holder for the HF-Pro-2 to avoid the antenna getting caught up on anything (or anyone) which was an issue at its last outing.

As my intention was to try for some short path contacts into VK around 10:00 UTC a departure from home at 10am local time (09:00 UTC) was planned.

The Location:

Laber is the mountain located above Oberammergau, which is famous for its Passion Play every 10 years. It’s just under an hours drive from my home to the car park of the cable car (which is the oldest still running in Germany).

After the, about 15 minutes, ride up in the cable car, the summit is only 3 minutes walk from the “top station”. There is a convenient seating bank where I usually operate from.

The Activation:

Some activations just don’t go smoothly!

The journey down to Oberammergau went without incident and the ride up the Laber mountain in the cable car was enjoyable, chatting with some tourists from Dortmund. On arriving at the summit, it was in the clouds and my planned activation bench, was under several inches of snow. After cutting some steps into the snow to get safely to the bench, I set to with clearing the bench with an ice scraper that I had brought with me for just this purpose.

The HF-PRO2 antenna went up on the tripod with its legs about 50% down into the snow. The top was a little “wobbly” something that will need to be addressed. It was difficult to get the 8 radial wires out over the snow while balancing on what is a knife-edge ridge line, so I threw them out in two bunches of four in opposite directions and hoped that would be OK. Although this was less than perfect putting up the fibreglass mast and linked dipole antenna with the deep snow would have been very difficult. This is exactly one of the situations why I have the simpler vertical antenna / tripod set-up.

The next problem was that for some reason my self spots were not getting through to SOTAWatch, I switched phone networks (I have a dual SIM smart phone) but that didn’t seem to make any difference. During the whole activation I only got two contacts, one on 20m with Sweden at 5-3 and one on 40m at 5-5 into Holland, so although I was getting out it seems either people weren’t calling me or I wasn’t hearing them. So no activator points and after 45 minutes my fingers were frozen despite having some good quality gloves with me as I had to take them off every time I wanted to do anything.

 I set the loading coil on the HF-Pro2 by my measurements that I had made at home as the SWR trace feature on the XIEGU rig was totally invisible on its built-in 2″ OLED display. OLED displays have a problem to be seen outside, why XIEGU ever changed from the TFT screen that had brightness and contrast controls I’ll never understand! So in any case the antenna probably wasn’t exactly on tune.

One of the things that did work (sort of) was using my smart phone (which has more than enough brightness in its display) as an external display – actually it runs the PocketRxTx remote control program so not only did I use it for displaying the frequency but also for tuning and switching bands and side-bands, oh and yes for adjusting the power and pre-amp / attenuator settings as well. Practically that was a success …. except the USB cable kept coming out of the bottom of the phone and RFI was transferred down the USB cable to the rig bringing up the noise level (which could be the reason I wasn’t hearing weaker stations calling me).

So I came away with more things to fix than contacts in the log. There’s still some work to do to get to the “perfect” solution.

In the end the elements were getting to me and I decided not to keep fighting to see if I could manage to get two more contacts and packed up after just 45 minutes.

Oh well I’ve now got a reason to go back to DL/AM-060 Laber once I have “fixed” the problems to try again to get the summit and winter bonus points.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G and battery box.

Modified HAMA photographic tripod.

Kommunica Power HF-PRO-2 loaded vertical antenna.

Water pipe carrying tube for vertical antenna.

Thick plastic painters sheet.

USB OTC cable and PocketRxTX software on my smart phone.

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: The use of the smart phone to display what the rig is doing works but needs some fine tuning, and additions such as enabling the SWR reading feature.

The Kommunica HF-PRO2 antenna, despite probably not being correctly tuned still managed to get a signal out and set-up and take down times are very good even in several feet of snow!

The Bad: The Smartphone is causing QRM across the bands and needs to be further away from the rig. The power supply no longer causes QRM since I changed to a diode matrix instead of the “buck converter”, so replacing QRM from one source with QRM from another is not a good idea.

The Ugly: Loose physical connections both on the USB cable into the phone and the PL-259 base on the tripod. I have ordered a new connector/OTC adapter for the phone and will glue the top of the tripod to be solid as the only adjustments needed can be made with the legs, photographic accuracy in level mounting of the base of the antenna is not needed.

73 ’til the next Summit!

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!

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 Aerial-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!