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

Preparation:

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Photos:

   Blender:

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   Urserberg:

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Equipment:

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

Logs:

DL/AL-149 Blender:

DL/AL-281 Urserberg:

Conclusions:

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

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

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

Preparation:

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

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Photos:

   Zwieselberg:

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   Seneklekopf:

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Equipment:

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

Logs:

DL/AL-170 Zwieselberg:

DL/AL-172 Senkelekopf:

Conclusions:

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

73 ’til the next summit!

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

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

Preparation:

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Photos:

   Falkenstein:

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   Zwolferkopf:

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Equipment:

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

Logs:

DL/AL-167 Falkenstein:

DL/AL-166 Zwolferberg:

Conclusions:

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

73 ’til the next summit!

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

Preparation:

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

Photos:

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Equipment:

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

Log:

Conclusions:

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

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

73 ’til the next summit!

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

Preparation:

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

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

Photos:

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Video:

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

Equipment:

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

Log:

Conclusions:

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

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

73 ’til the next summit!

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

Preparation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Photos:

   Ammerleite:

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Kirnberg:

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Equipment:

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

Logs:

DL/AM-178 Ammerleite:

DL/AM-177 Kirnberg:

Conclusions:

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

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – February 17th 2020 – DL/AL-171 Eisenberg.

Preparation:

After the problems at the last two (same day) activations (Weichberg & Auerberg) I had been wanting to get out again both to test the repaired equipment and to bag some more activator winter bonus points before it is too late. The weather had different ideas however with some storms and heavy rain. In winds gusting up to 140 km/h on the lowlands, I didn’t fancy my chances on a summit!

I was watching the weather forecast and Tuesday 17th. February was supposed to be fine, between two storm fronts coming through here. I had my doubts on Monday however which was supposed to be raining all day and was totally dry and sunny. Could the weather forecasters be out by one day again? I had originally planned to get to my first summit in time for the grey-line window to Australia & New Zealand but scrapped that idea and decided rather go later so that I could see how the weather was. The plan was then to head to Eisenberg and activate, followed by having lunch at Schlossbergalm, whose private road, car park and footpath I use for accessing this summit. This Tuesday was their first day open after a staff holiday break, so this should fit well. After “re-tanking” myself at the restaurant, it’s only a short drive over to Falkenstein (another castle ruins on a summit), where I could make my second activation.

I do have a new rucksack which I am trying to set up in such a way, that I can operate the rig (and amplifier) while they are still in the rucksack. To do this I have bought some plastic drawers which fit nicely into the bag. Unfortunately, I ran out of time in this work, so I decided it was best to use my normal “2-bag” set-up, which I prepared on Monday. For antennas, I decided not to take the surveyors tripod and 10 metre mast this time, rather to just take the 6-metre mast and strap it to the fence post which I know is available on the lookout platform at Eisenberg and while space is limited at Falkenstein, I packed my photo-tripod / Komunica HF-Pro2 combination for that activation.

The Activation:

I woke to rain and wind at 6:30 am. It looked like my activation may not be possible but by 8:30 am the storm had passed and I was on the road by 8:45 am. The drive to Eisenberg was a little blustery en-route a couple of times but nothing too bad.
On arriving at the restaurant car park just before 10 am, the place looked deserted (they are supposed to open at 10 am but this being the first day back after their break, someone probably slept in!) – they were there doing good business when I returned from the summit at around 1pm.

The walk up to the summit is quite steep and took a good 15 minutes but it is nice to arrive at a summit, knowing where you will attach the mast, lay out the plastic sheet etc. I was on the air just before 10:30 am local time (0930 UTC) and 40 metres was very busy – I thought there must be a contest on or something – but on a Tuesday? No – just good (short skip) conditions. After about 10 minutes working a few stations, (just running the 20w rig without the amplifier) snow started to fall but it was only light and didn’t last more than 15 minutes and afterwards, the sun came out. About this time I had to move frequency as the frequency that was clear when I started using it, now had another station right next to my frequency causing QRM. So I moved and re-spotted myself to be greeted after a couple of CQ calls with a pile-up of 30 stations that kept me busy up until 11 am local (1000 UTC). Before moving frequency I had already worked 6 stations and had the summit “activated” in any case.

I decided to give 20 metres a try but couldn’t get even one SOTA chaser to call me although the band seemed quite active. At 1010 UTC I decided to pack up and head down to the restaurant for something to eat. As I had got all the radio gear packed away and was about to start on the antenna, I got an email from Ernie VK3DET saying that he had listened for me on 40m & 20m but not heard anything, but that Mike 2E0YYY was now on 14.290MHz and could I give a listen! I wondered whether it would be worth it, and considered saying it was too late but as the antenna was still up I decided to unpack everything and connect it all up again to take a listen. Well, once I was on frequency, I could hear someone at a reasonable strength but it wasn’t Mike in England, rather it was Ernie VK3DET in Australia! The next station I heard was Ian VK3YFD – both were S4 or S5 signals – this was a surprise. They were a lot stronger than the 3-3 signal I started to get from Mike. I tried calling both the Australian stations and Mike had them listen for me but it was not to be. I even dug out the amplifier to take the signal up from 20w to 70w – then I couldn’t even get a response from Mike although his signal had come up a little – so I thought there must be something is wrong in the amplifier (This turned out later to be operator error – I had the low pass filter switched to 40m although I was on 20m). I switched back to just 20w and no amplifier in circuit and Mike could hear me again. The next surprise was an Indian station Patel VU2XO who called in on the frequency, worked the two Australian stations, then swung his beam around and I think worked Mike. I could actually hear him off the back of his beam when he first called in and when he was calling Mike. He couldn’t hear me though.

By 1110 UTC the 20m band had closed and I packed everything up again. By staying so long at my first summit, my schedule was out for the second one and the batteries both for the rig and in my mobile phone had been drained a lot, so I decided to not go to the second summit and rather get something to eat at the restaurant and then head home.
After walking back to the car park from the summit, I could see that the restaurant was full, meaning I would most likely have to wait 30 minutes before getting served, so I decided just to eat my pack-up while driving home.

The journey home was straight forward and I was home mid-afternoon – just in time to take the dog out for her afternoon walk.

When I came to test the amplifier later in the day, I realised what I had done wrong with the LPF setting!

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • 70-watt portable HF amplifier.
  • DYC-817 speech compressor and Clone Yaesu microphone (not used).
  • LambdaHalbe 6m mast
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Photo tripod with clip-on radial wires (not used).
  • Komunica Power HF-Pro-2 loaded vertical antenna (not used).
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole (now with 1:1 SOTABeams balun fitted).
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Log:

Conclusions:

I was lucky that the weather was, apart from a 15-minute snowstorm, cold but dry and sunny. I was nice to have so many people come up and ask what I was doing so that I could promote the hobby. One couple I think were really interested and we may see another retiree joining our ranks soon.

Deciding to put the gear back together, despite making no DX contacts, hearing the Indian station and the two Australian stations was a thrill and worth the reschedule, even though it meant I had to drop the second activation.

  • Positives
  • hearing both Australia and India (India for the first time for me) from the summit.
  • the repaired linked dipole antenna after it breaking on the last outing CERTAINLY works and perhaps the addition of the 1:1 Balun has improved it.
  • the diodes in my voltage-dropper arrangement did not de-solder themselves despite the heavy usage of the 13.8v supply at 20 watts.
  • I was visited by about 8 people (4 couples) and was able to pass some information on about the hobby. The 6 dogs who also called by didn’t seem that interested!
  • Negatives
  •  the silly mistake on the amplifier LPF setting meant that I didn’t check whether I now have the RF feedback problem resolved, nor did I have a chance to try out the external dynamic speech processor.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – January 23rd 2020 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg & DL/AL-169 Auerberg – “Smash & Grab activations ??”.

Preparation:

Wanting to get out and grab some more winter bonus points while the roads are not blocked, I put together a plan to go and activate two “easy” summits. This activation pair got delayed a couple of days due to freezing fog, local to my home QTH but was eventually to go ahead on Thursday 23rd. January. I believe I have found where the RF is getting into the audio when I use my amplifier but I decided for this outing NOT to test out that solution nor to try out the VP2E antennas again (even though there is “just” enough room at Weichberg for the 40m VP2E). So back to the old, reliable linked dipole but I’ll take the surveyors tripod and the 10 metre mast as there is a lack of trees and fence posts in the right place at Weichberg to put up a mast in any other way.

I also decided to simply run the X108G rig at 20 watts rather than bothering with the amplifier on these activations. I would have it with me “just in case” the conditions turned so bad that I had to use it but as I didn’t expect any contacts in VK/ZL, it wasn’t needed for that reason and installing the cables to the amplifier needs more time on the summit in what would certainly be freezing temperatures.

When I indicated I would be going out, my mate in the UK, Mike 2E0YYY/P said he would also head to a SOTA summit and perhaps we would manage an S2S. As he had further to drive, if this happened at all, it would be from my second summit Auerberg. He would be staying later as well, waiting for the short-path window to VK to open – which I had decided I would not, given the worse propagation conditions compared to previous attempts where I failed to get a contact (or even hear any VK stations).

So the expected configuration on both Weichberg and Auerberg would be the X108G at 20 watts, surveyors tripod with 10 metre mast and the SOTABeams linked dipole. This (along with some spares) was loaded in the car on Wednesday afternoon, ready for an 8am (local) start on Thursday …

The Activation:

I woke to clear, if cold weather at the home QTH but this was not to stay that way, rather than it getting warmer and clearer as I drove up into the mountains, the fog got worse as did the roads.

Weichberg: The very last part of the road to my first summit, Weichberg was actually snow-covered. It was packed down, but not cleared so, as I don’t have a 4WD car or spiked tyres, I was a little careful on the last 500 metres or so.

Never mind, I was there now, or at least I was at the car park, there remained a 70 or so metres climb up through the woods to the actual summit with its chapel and holy cross.

After I got to the summit, I tried to kick the ice of the bench with some success but the painter’s plastic sheet went down to give me a dryish spot to sit. I set up the SOTABeams linked dipole on the 10 metre DX-Wire mast, supported by the surveyor’s tripod, with its spiked legs pushed down hard into the frozen ground under the snow. the coax just reached back to the wooden picnic table. As I connected up the radio and got out the logbook, I realised I was starting to feel really cold, especially in the hands. Operating the smartphone to send my self-spot was difficult, not this time because of cell-network, rather because of the temperature. It was still foggy but there was also a light ice-rain in the air blowing over the summit. this was an activation, I would keep as short as possible – as I had warned in my alert on SOTAWatch in any case. After working ten stations, it was time to pack-up and this is where the first equipment breakage occurred. after I lowered the mast (with some effort needed to get it to telescope back into itself), the plastic centrepiece of the Inverted-V antenna would not release from the mast. What had happened was that the ice-0rain blowing across the mast in the fog had frozen this piece to the mast. Remember I only had limited feeling in my fingers at this point and my attempts of trying to free the plastic feed-point piece from the mast resulted in it breaking in half. Well, I couldn’t do anything about that now, so I bundled up the antenna as it was into my rucksack and continued with packing the packs, tripod and radio gear so that I could get back to the car and some warmth. With everything packed and over my shoulders I started off down the hill and then remembered that I had not taken ANY photographs for this report, so I put down the mast, took out my smartphone and took a few “scenic shots” of the summit and the fog around it and then eventually headed down to the car with all the equipment. When I reached the car, I sat for a while to allow my hands to warm up again and wondered if I should go on to the second summit, or just head home. I decided to head on to Auerberg….  It was still very foggy some of the way and this on small country roads – never mind we arrived OK at the car park.

Auerberg: As the linked dipole had broken at Weichberg this meant on my second summit, Auerberg, I had to use my backup antenna, the Aerial-51 OCF dipole with it’s (relatively heavy) balun in the middle. After climbing to the top of Auerberg from its car park (somewhat easier than at Weichberg)- I went to the rear of the Church – my usual location to find that the two benches that has disappeared the last time I was there had been returned but were iced over, needing some more boot work and the plastic sheet. At this location, there are fence posts that can be used to support a mast and to tie the ends of the antenna off onto but as I had again brought the tripod up with me, I decided to put that up. At this point, I realised that the spikes on the legs of the tripod had mud frozen to them which I could not kick-off, so I tried to get the tripod to stand up through the snow and into the ground below. The result was not as stable as I would have liked. the tripod was standing one (not in) the ground under the snow. I carried on in any case and got the antenna up nicely and was on-the-air fairly quickly. I checked if the frequency (7.145 MHz) that I had been using at Weichberg, was still clear here at Auerberg. “Is the frequency in use” … “is the frequency in use?” – no response, so I self-spotted and off we went. I had call after call after call or rather call on top of call on top of call – a true pile-up. So it seems I was certainly getting out! I wonder if that frequency is really meant for WWFF operation as I got a few stations using “44” rather than “73” which is a sign of a WWFF (Parks) operator.

Mid pile-up, I got a surprise as the 10m DX-Wire mast collapsed down into itself. After the trouble I had to get it to come down on Weichberg, it seems (perhaps as ice inside slowly melted in the sunshine) it now wanted to come down without my help – the extra weight of the balun on the UL-404 antenna puts more weight on the mast than the linked dipole which may be part of the reason for the collapse as well. Never mind, got it back up and tried to get back the station who had been calling me when no doubt my signal strength dropped significantly with the mast!

All was running OK, except that I was getting cold again then after about another 10 minutes of contact after contact, the rig went off. What? Turned the rig off and on – nothing. Then looking into my battery box the problem was apparent. For my 13.8V supply from the 16.8V LIPO supply, I use a matrix of high current diodes. I have tried electronic “step-down” boards but they all create QRM across HF bands. the simple diode matrix uses the voltage drop across the diodes to reduce the voltage. The diodes are rated at more than enough current. they can get hot but won’t break. What I didn’t allow for however was that this heat transfers along the wires from the diodes and melts the solder connecting some of them together ! Running the X108G at 20 watts output for a really busy 30 minutes was too much and one diode simply de-soldered itself! That was the end of that activation! Strangely had I been running more power – 70 watts using my amplifier, this problem wouldn’t have occurred. Why? Well, the battery-box has two 5Ah LIPO batteries in it One feeds the diode matrix to give 13.8V output for the X108G. The other goes straight out to the amplifier which needs the 16.8V from the second 4S LIPO battery. When I run the amplifier the X108G rig only runs at 3 watts and the amplifier runs off the second 4S LIPO battery, so the current drawn for the power stages does not go via the diodes.

 I took this power failure as a sign to pack up. I was getting some great reports from there though – lots of 59 or 59+ and that was without using the amplifier! Just 20 watts. The battery at the end of the day still had at least 40% change in all of its 4 cells, so had that diode not de-soldered I could have continued and perhaps got an S2S contact with Mike but it was time to stop. Even in the occasional sunshine, I guess it was still under zero degrees and I was getting cold again.

After packing up the gear and heading back past the church, I realised that once again, I had been so busy that I had not taken any photos, so once I again I put down the tripod and mast and took some scenery shots, which are better than nothing but it would have been nice to have a picture of the station.

Photos:

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Equipment:

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

Logs:

DL/AL-179 Weichberg:

DL/AL-169 Auerberg:

Conclusions:

The weather was not as expected and on both summits, I stayed too long with the cold getting into my hands. The propagation was good compared to the previous few days with calls on Auerberg from all around Europe but no DX calls from outside of Europe. I’m rather proud of the 48 contacts in 30 minutes on Auerberg but there would have been more, had the DX-Wire mast not collapsed into itself about halfway through the activation and the battery box failing as the diodes over-heated. Perhaps with the cold, that was the best time to stop in any case? It would have been nice to have an S2S with Mike 2E0YYY/P in the UK but it wasn’t to be (I think had I stayed longer on Auerberg that may have happened).

I wonder if 7.145 is a WWFF frequency? I certainly got a lot of calls there and more than one ended with “73 & 44” – 44 is the usual WWFF code. In any case, I was glad to get a free frequency on 40m and the fact that I could use it on both summits was a real bonus!

Testing whether I have cured the RF Ingres and whether the external speech compressor works still needs to be done but while it remains so cold on the summits, I expect my next few activations will stay with the minimum and simplest set-up I can muster to keep activations short.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – January 15th 2020 – DL/AM-176 Rentschen – Antenna and grey line tests.

Preparation:

As we have had some sunspots from the new solar cycle 25 and the SFI index was up at 75, I decided to do an activation back at the just after dawn hours to coincide with the grey line and long path propagation to Australia. I wanted to see if this window was once again open to Australia as of late we’ve been using the later short path windows at around 1030-1130 UTC. The predictions were that the SFI should stay in the mid-70s for a couple of weeks.

I chose Rentschen as it is an easy access plateau type summit where I have lots of room and could put up my 40m VP2E antenna which I was still not happy was working as expected and I could also put up my 40/30/20m linked dipole so that I had a comparison. As conditions were unlikely to be “easy”, I would also take my recently purchased and boxed Chinese 70 watt HF amplifier to give the signal a kick. I considered also re-testing my new external DYC-817 dynamic speech compressor but then (correctly as it turned out) decided I would be testing too many things in one go.

So the aims were;

  1. Test if the old early morning long path/grey line window to ZL/VK was once again available as the SFI had risen.
  2. Test the VP2E against the linked dipole on 40 metres (the dipole also providing 20-metre coverage if required).
  3. Make sure the rig sounds OK, without the speech compressor in use.

 As it would be an early (8am) start, all the gear was loaded into the car the night before so that I could just get up, get ready and go.

The Activation:

As planned I was up early – and hit the road a few minutes earlier than expected. As I would be putting up two antenna systems, having some more time available before the activation time that I had alerted on SOTAWatch would be useful.

The SFI, while predicted to stay at around 75, had dropped to 71 and worse still the K index was up at 3 and hence the bands would be noisy.

I like to coordinate my activations with when Mike 2E0YYY/P goes out as he will more often than not get contacts into VK/ZL from his local summits in the North of England. Today he was going to a HEMA summit, Mow Cop which has performed very well over the last few months for him. Mike, however, was still going out for the later window, so it was quite possible that I would be packing up at the time Mike was starting up but we usually try for a contact. Mow Cop, however, has a strange “curse”, that it seems to be blocked towards southern Germany and the only way I have worked Mike from this summit is via aircraft scatter (the summit is quite close to Manchester airport and the Manchester – Helsinki flight seems to provide a nice mirror for us on 20m).

The run down to Rentschen was uneventful and I was happy to see that the field where the summit marker trig point stone is located was bathed in the early morning sunshine. That wasn’t to say that it was warm – it might have got up to 2 degrees Centigrade while I was there, mostly it was around zero.

I set up the 40m VP2E on my 10m portable mast supported in my modified surveyors’ tripod, pointing in the correct direction for VK/ZL via long path. The linked dipole, set to 20m initially, so I had the ability to switch bands quickly if needed, went onto my 6-metre pole which had its base supported by a screw-in sunshade base peg.

One of my planned actions was to test whether the early – (Grey line) connectivity was again possible given the improved conditions over the last week. I can tell you – it wasn’t! I called and called and although I got several contacts around Europe, there was nothing from further afield on 40m or 20m. Interesting on 40m was how weak Scandinavian stations were but Spanish, French and some UK stations were booming in like they were next door – so this suggests that the VP2E is indeed providing gain in the direction it is pointed while reducing signals from other directions as it should. I left it a bit too long before thinking about comparing signals between antennas (next time I need to take a simple manual antenna switch to make it easy (and quick) to compare. By the time I remembered that I wanted to compare directivity and signals, we started to have QSB affect the bands.

With the sunspots disappearing and the SFI dropping to 70 despite the fact that the predictions were for it to stay in the mid-70s, along with a CME, which probably was the reason that there was so much QSB and higher noise levels on 40m & 20m, meant that conditions were not good for me.

I did make another discovery – the bad audio which I put down to a problem in the speech processor on my last activations is actually RF getting back into the rig’s audio. It only occurs when the amplifier is on and switching off the amplifier and hence dropping from about 70 watts to 3 watts stops the “rasping” sound in the audio. I noted to investigate this further when I got home and as I was told the audio was perfectly readable at the higher power and hence higher signal level, I decided to put up with it as I could do little on the summit (see conclusions section below).

On this activation, I lasted over 3 hours in the cold which is more than previous activations.  I arrived on the summit at 0800 UTC and left at 1115 UTC one reason that I stayed so long was in the hope of making a contact with Mike 2E0YYY/P on Mow Cop. For a long time, I could hear stations working Mike but nothing from him. When I eventually heard Mike, it was after he had switched from his Antron A99 vertical to a simple inverted-v dipole. I guess this shortened the skip distance as the signals take-off angle would be higher. He was only a 3-2 signal when we managed a contact (I was 3-3 with him) and then only for a short period. In any case, the Mow Cop screen to Southern Germany still seems to be in place! I even tried swinging my dipole 90 degrees but I couldn’t tell if it made any difference as his signal had dropped back into the noise. There’s something about Mow Cop that stops it from being able to get signals down here!

I started packing up the station at 1045 UTC and found out later that Mike made contacts into VK about an hour afterwards. So it appears the short path is still working down to VK/ZL but not the early morning long path/grey line.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • DX-Wire 10m mast and Lambdahalbe 6m mast.
  • Portable 70w PEP HF amplifier and cables.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase 4S LIPOs).
  • VP2E (Vertically polarised, 2 element, 40m directional wire antenna).
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • Screw-in sun umbrella base.
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet and an orange plastic tablecloth.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Log:

Conclusions:

The propagation was not as good as I had hoped for, there was a lot of QSB around that meant any antenna comparisons would not be valid. Even swinging the linked dipole around on 20m to try to get a better signal from Mike had no apparent effect but as Mike went into the noise at that point, we’ll never know if the linked dipole’s positioning was important or not

The problems of “raspy” audio when the amplifier is turned on, appears to be RF getting into the rig and as the accessory cable carrying the Tx/Rx PTT switching also has the Auxilary audio input pin wired up but going nowhere, my modification of cutting that wire in the cable near to the rig end of the cable along with adding ferrites to several of the other cables might resolve the RFI – we’ll see at the next activation. If the RFI is now stopped, I can again look at testing the external dynamic speech processor.

What is with the cell phone networks? From the Rentschen summit, I can see the cell tower but despite that, it stopped working during my activation making spotting and communicating via email, difficult to say the least. I have a SIM for each of the two major networks in Germany (Telekom and Vodafone) in my smartphone and I seem to be having issues with both networks!

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – January 8th 2020 – DL/AM-001 Peissenberg – Intending to test new speech compressor.

Preparation:

As we are now in a new year (2020) all the summits I activated last year, will furnish activators points again, and some, such as Peissenberg, 3 winter bonus points as well.

I have recently bought a DYC-817 speech processor “kit” from FunkAmateur/Box73 and modified it to work with my Xiegu X108G transceiver (they are wired to work with the Yaesu FT8x7 range of transceivers normally). I have tried using this unit on a previous activation and I did not get the expected results. Following this I have been involved in a thread on the SOTA reflector where others are also trying to get the unit to work correctly – some with great success.

As Mike, 2E0YYY had arranged to go out on the 8th of January as the weather forecast looked good in the UK (after some recent rainy days) and he had lined up skeds with Jonathan VK7JON, Ernie VK3DET and John VK6NU to listen for him, we agreed I’d tag-on to the schedule and activate Peissenberg at the same time as he was on Shining Tor in the UK.

I would test the speech processor now that I had the controls inside the unit set where others had had success and at the same time, perhaps manage an S2S with Mike in the UK and contacts also into Australia.

As I was not going to use the VP2E antenna, to keep the things being tested to a minimum, so while I would still use the HF amplifier I would rely on the good old linked dipole antenna and 6-metre fishing pole mast. Then the only variable from items that I know work would be the speech processor.

The Activation:

The 40 minute run down to Peissenberg went without any problems. This time I had decided to go back to my usual location, right on the summit beside the church, as I didn’t need the room to put up the VP2E.

Here’s a 360-degree picture of the bench location by the church, on the exact summit thanks to Google maps: https://maps.app.goo.gl/nGJb47z2JbqHpMen7

Upon arrival, I checked the Internet connectivity via my phone and was surprised to see an indication of 4G+ on my phone on both networks that I have (Telekom and Vodafone) – so no spotting problems on this activation, the internet access was really “snappy”. I wonder if they have installed 5G already in this location and as my phone is “only” 4G capable it was indicating this? This was certainly the first time I had seen 4G+ on the phone and the network was stable the whole time I was on the summit.

After setting up the station on my usual bench (about 30 minutes earlier than I had alerted for) I tuned around 20 metres and found activity from Russia and Italy – so nothing out of the ordinary but more importantly the band wasn’t dead.

I found a free frequency of 14.290 MHz (which for most of my time on the summit, stayed clear of QRM), spotted myself and started calling CQ. I actually started with the speech compressor in circuit but turned off and using it with my Leson amplified microphone that I have re-wired to look like a Yaesu Microphone.

First CQ call, no response, second call no response, so I checked my spot was up – yes no issues there. After 15 minutes of getting no calls, I decided to take the whole speech compressor set up out of circuit and plugged in just the standard Xiegu microphone. Another self spot on SOTAWatch and I got my first call – Lars SA4BLM from Sweden called and gave me a 5-5 report. When I asked him about the audio, he said it was strong but occasionally with a little crackling. Given that this was with the standard microphone, and that I wanted to get 4 contacts in the log to get the summit’s points, I decided to leave it at that and see if anyone else was hearing me now. They were, Lars was followed by Jack OH3GZ – a booming 5-9 signal which he also said I was. The next contact was with Jose EA7GV in Spain who was even stronger than Jack, so the band was definitely opening up! Number 4 contact to get the summit points was a surprise – it was John ZL1BYZ from New Zealand “You BUTE!”. We exchanged 5-3/4-2 reports but I knew it was John’s antenna system that was doing all the work. He is often the first ZL SOTA Chaser to come back to calls from EU. He has a good station and good ears! After John, there was a call from Hans SM4CJM where we exchanged 5-7 reports. About 15 minutes later I heard John ZL1BYZ working Mike 2E0YYY in the UK and while I couldn’t hear Mike, John had gone up to a good 5-5 signal!

For the next 45 minutes, I couldn’t “buy” a contact and signals that had been strong were suddenly weak and later strong again. Looking at Propquest when I got home, it seems the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) was bouncing up and down like a Yo-Yo around this time and sometimes dropping below 14MHz, which would, of course, explain the stations disappearing.

During these 45 minutes, I also took a listen for Ernie VK3DET who I had an email conversation running with and we “blind called” each other. Based on the contact with John in New Zealand, this should have been about the right time to have got a contact but it was not to be. I also heard nothing from VK7JON or VK6NU either (but in John VK6NU’s case, it may have been too early for Western Australia).  Interspersed with my attempts for a contact into VK, I was also putting out CQ calls and also listening on Mike 2E0YYY/P’s frequency. Nothing!

During my time on the summit, I had two different couples come up and ask what I was doing, so they got an introduction in Amateur Radio and a brochure in German.

It was 50 minutes after my last contact that I got another call and that was from Christos SV2OXS down in Greece. I had activated this very summit with Christos when he was visiting Bavaria two years earlier, so he commented that he remembered the summit.

Jack OH3GZ then called me again and asked if I was still on the same summit as my signal had dropped considerably and I could confirm that I was indeed still on the same summit. Jacks signal, although still easily readable was down from the earlier good S9 to an S5 level, so the band was dancing all over the place.  After Jack, Ricardo EA1DHB came in with a good solid 5-9 signal and gave me a 5-4.

All of this time, I had not had the opportunity to get any reports on the speech processor as the signals were varying too much. For some of my CQ calls, I put the processor in, some not. In any case, none of my SOTA contacts were made with the speech compressor in place – so I still don’t know if it works!

After being active for almost an hour, I decided to take one last listen for Mike 2E0YYY/P and suddenly he was there at about 5-7, so I gave him a call and we made the contact. 3 minutes later, he was gone again, I couldn’t hear anything from him, only the chasers calling him. Strange band conditions indeed.

A quick last spot and CQ call and then it was time to pack up and head back to the car.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G 20w HF transceiver (running at 3w)

50/70watt HF portable linear amplifier

LambdaHalbe 6 Metre telescopic “Squid Pole” mast.

SOTABeams “band hopper” linked dipole antenna at about 5m AGL in inverted-V format.

Painters plastic sheet.

Battery Box with 2 x 5Ah 4S LIPO hard-case batteries

Smartphone using PocketRxTx app to control and display the X108G display

Log:

Conclusions:

The main purpose of the activation was to test out the speech processor – that was not possible with the 20m band the way it was. The contact into New Zealand was a nice bonus but why wasn’t I able to get through to the VK stations?

Coldness (even in the sunshine) remains a limiting factor to the length of my activations. If I had been able to stay another hour the contact into VK3 may have been possible, even though those into VK3 and VK7 failed. A small tent could help with this problem but it needs to be one that is an instant pop-up type as I wouldn’t put it up if a lot of time is needed. It would not work at the bench location at Piessenberg but it would in the field near the lower car park.

I was using the bench effectively as my table for the radio equipment but I ended up crouching in front of it, which was uncomfortable. I have some small lightweight camping stools in the car, which I need to think about bringing up to the summit next time.

73 ’til the next Summit!