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

Preparation:

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

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

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

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

The Location:

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all a nice activation.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified QAMP amplifier (30W on 40m).

Thick plastic painters sheet.

Sun Umbrella screw-in base.

Log:

Conclusions:

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

73 ’til the next Summit!

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

Preparation:

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

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

The Location:

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

Ramsey HF amplified (30w on 40m).

SOTABeams Band-Hopper linked dipole.

6 metre fibreglass “Squid Pole”.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Log:

Conclusions:

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

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – July 10th. 2018 – DM/BM-345 Kalavarienberg.

Preparation:

From the 10th. through the 17th. of July, I was supporting the World Radiosport Team Championship in Wittenberg, about 6-7 hours drive north of this QTH. I had thought I might get out at some point to accivate a local SOTA summit but as the closest to Wittenberg is probably at least a 90 minute drive away, my idea changed, to doing one en-route, so breaking the driving up as well. I have found that the “Adventure Radio” maps that cover SOTA, GMA, Humps, IOTA and other portable operation programs has a rather nice feature, that the summit information shown on the map has a note as to whether it’s a “drive-up” summit. Which in this case I needed if I was not to lose too much time on the journey. I looked at several possible summits and DM/BM-345 Kalavarienberg was the one I chose. I had hoped to be able to take the magnetic loop antenna and spent a lot of time trying to get it to a reliable state but I wasn’t quite there, so before I took it and had a wasted journey, I decided to take the 6m mast and linked dipole along with the surveyors tripod, which is becoming my preferred support method for the mast. The rig would be the X108-G again.

The Location:

Kalavarienberg is about a 45 minute drive north of Nuremberg and about 10 Km off  the A-9 Autobahn that I would be using to head north on to Liepzig and then Wittenberg. The nearest village is Thurndorf.

The Activation:

I set off in dry sunny conditions but as I approached Nuremberg the rain started and got heavier and heavier as I got closer to the summit. When I arrived at the summit and parked in the chapel’s car park, the rain was coming in spurts. I wondered whether to wait and see whether it cleared but I was little tight on time, so I decided to put the antenna up and then see if the rain changed it didn’t. as I already had my winter waterproof jacket on, I decided to operate in the rain and probably just “bag” 4 contacts and then call it a day. Well the first three came slowly (this included one S2S) but then there was a flood of calls and that 4 target was well beaten with 23 in the log within 20 minutes. The use of the tripod paid off as it allowed me to locate the antenna close enough for the coax to run to a wooden table and benches near the chapel. Everything got wet but the new pens I have bought indeed kept working in the wet, didn’t smudge or rip the wet paper which I could have rung the water out of by the time I hd finished but rather I put the log page in a place to dry out slowly. I didn’t bother trying 20m after 40m as I wanted to head off on my long drive and dry out a little in the car. Just as I completed taking the station down and packing it in the car, the rain stopped and the sun came out! Typical! In dry weather this would be a nice summit for a family visit, the views without cloud and rain must be really nice and the propagation from there is certainly good.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X-108G.

SOTABeams linked dipole

Battery box.

Lambdahalbe 6m telescopic fibreglass mast.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Surveyors tripod.

Log:

Conclusions:

The ease of putting up the mast and antenna with the Surveyors tripod far outweighs the problem with its bulk.

The X108G now seems to be working well, although the sunshade was certainly not needed this time!

In the interim, I have found out that some of my problems with the Mag loop are down to a fault in the Rig Expert AA-30 Antenna Analyser that I use to tune the antenna. So perhaps now that I have the loop re-calibrated I’ll take it to a simple summit to try it out on again. It’s also now modified so that it can use the surveyors tripod as it’s base rather than needing a table.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – June 28th. 2018 – DL/AM-176 Rentschen to test Mag. Loop antenna.

Preparation:

Having set up and calibrated the magnetic loop antenna that I bought at Friedrichshafen (details to be added under equipment/antennas at some point). It was time to try it out for real on a summit rather than just on the antenna analyser or on the balcony. So equipped with a piece of equipment that hopefully later I wont need to take with me (a table). The now standard Xiegu X-108G, with its sunshade (not that it was needed), battery box and other accessories along with the disassembled “DL4KCJ Direct gamma match fed asymmetrical magnetic loop antenna” were packed for the outing. I planned to try to make contacts on 80m (which hasn’t been done from this summit before), 40m and 20m. It would be interesting to put up the normal dipole as well to compare the antennas but I decided just to concentrate on the loop.

The Location:

Rentschen is a one point, flat summit which lends itself well to antenna tests as there is a lot of space with no obstructions. It is about a 50 minutes drive from my home and therefore one of my “local” summits. The actual summit is marked by a trig-point stone which is about 100m away from the road, where I would park my car as usual. The summit is between Rottenbuch and Steingaden villages.

The Activation:

I have driven the route down many times so I did not need my GPS navi or maps. About 15 minutes into the drive a few spots of rain fell and then it stopped. Some rain was forecast but hopefully there would also be some dry intervals, so I kept on driving. Soon the rain was back and as time went on, it got heavier and heavier. It never got to storm level but by the time I arrived at the summit it was a constant soaking drizzle. In fact it continued this way for the rest of the day.

OK so after driving down, I wasn’t going to turn around without at least trying some tests. I didn’t need 4 contacts as I had already activated the summit in 2018, so I would get no points for it, but a few contacts would be nice.

I started on 80m with the antenna set as I had calibrated it at home, SWR looked good tuning around I could hear a couple of stations fairly well, so I chose a free frequency, spotted myself and started calling CQ. Nothing! I called for over 10 minutes without one response. OK I thought, there simply aren’t that many chasers on 80m, I will try the more usual band, 40m. After adjusting the antenna to my settings for 40m, I could see there was something wrong straight away as the SWR was so high that the rig refused to transmit. I played around with the antenna settings, the location of the gamma match and the setting of the variable capacitor, but could not make any improvement to the SWR. It had tested OK at home, so this was a strange problem. In any case, I didn’t want to spend more time in the rain than I must, so I switched to 20m, adjusted the antenna again and this time the SWR was under 2:1 so I spotted myself and called CQ SOTA with the reward of three contacts. 20m was strange though, with a high noise level plus very deep QSB, with the result that stations I would normally be able to work without trouble, I was having to really listen to hear their reports. Not ideal conditions to test an antenna in!

By this time I had, had enough of the rain. I had proved that the antenna works on 20m albeit not brilliantly, I think 80m is fine but 40m would need more investigation. Why do the settings work from home on the other bands but not 40m? I will definitely need to do some further portable tests with the antenna, perhaps not another SOTA summit until I understand better how to tune the antenna.

For now I was happy to get back into the car and drive home.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X-108G.

DL4KCJ Magnetic Loop antenna.

Battery box.

Fold-up table.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Mini-VSWR meter and coax cables.

Log:

Conclusions:

The loop needs to be checked on 40m again, first at home and then at some portable location. – Later tests showed that my Rig Expert AA-30 Antenna Analyser was no longer accurate. It was indicating the wrong frequency for the resonance of the antenna. Strangely – when used attached to a PC, the PC software shows the correct frequency, so I have now re-calibrated the loop using the PC program through the analyser. As yet Rig Expert have been unable to find the reason for this fault in their equipment when used stand-alone.

The mini-VSWR bridge I had with me was not good for some bands as in cal. it wouldn’t go all the way across. However the SWR scan feature in the rig – while rather wide on it’s frequency range does appear to be accurate.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – June 3rd. 2018 – DM/BW-854 Hoechsten & DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg while attending HamRadio FN 2018.

Preparation:

Since the previous year when only one summit was easily reachable from Friedrichshafen following the removal of two summits from the SOTA scheme, a new SOTA Summit “Hoechsten” has been added making it relatively easy to activate two 8 points summits while attending the Ham Radio Hamfest in Friedrichshafen. To this end I booked a hotel about 15 minutes drive away from the new summit. The original plan was to activate both summits on Friday afternoon prior to the annual SOTA Dinner that I had arranged again, However the weather forecasts were predicting serious rain on Friday, so I changed my activation plans to Sunday morning. In the end NO rain came and all three days were sunny and warm. My intention was to have group activations of both summits, with S2S contacts between them however when I saw the weather, I suggested all make their own plans. Several stuck with Friday afternoon and enjoyed some nice weather and lots of contacts. Some planned to activate at least Hoechsten prior to or after the Ham Radio event as they were taking a longer holiday in the area.

My revised plan for Sunday morning was adjusted to fit in with some of the ICQ Podcast team who I was working with to get interviews for the podcast, so they could also take a look at a SOTA activation. The final plan was that I would activate Hoechsten before breakfast on Sunday, then return to the hotel, have breakfast and check-out, then go and pick the guys up and head up to Gehrenberg and when finished go back to Ham radio for a couple of last interviews and then take and drop them off either at the ferry to Switzerland or Memmingen airport. That is finally what came about.

The Locations:

Hoechsten  was about 15 minutes drive from my hotel near Wilhelmsdorf and the closest hamlet is Glashuetten. From the car park to the summit is an easy 5 minutes walk up to “Aussichtspunkt Hoechsten” (in fact not to block the lookout point I went past it to a larger grassed area behind the lookout).

Gehrenberg is a few km north of Markdorf and is approached best from a small road just on the southern end of the village of Harresheim (make a note of this as every Navi/GPS I have used has taken me to the wrong location!). It’s about a 10-15 minute  walk from where no motor vehicles are allowed, up to the summit. I usually activate near the base of the radio tower (which well within the AZ) but this time I decided to follow the track up through the forest to the actual summit.

The Activations:

Hoechsten.

I woke before the alarm went off and was underway to the summit before 6am. The navi takes a while to lock onto satellites but I didn’t want to wait with the engine running in the hotel car park and wake the other guests up, so I set off in the rough direction that I expected the summit to be. Once the Navi locked in its satellites, I was one village past the turn off I needed, so I had to turn around and head back. From there on the Navi diligently lead me up the (small) roads to Hoechsten and I came out at the road junction across from the car park. I could just see the small bandstand like lookout building through the trees. Not as obvious as I was expecting it to be, but sign-posted from the car park. So I unpacked the usual two SOTA bags and the Surveyors tripod which was a new addition to the kit. It stands about 1m 80cm high, has spikes on the legs and a hole through the mounting plate where a theodolite would normally be mounted. I have also added a pass-thru SO-239 double socket for use with mobile HF whips but today it would act as a simple support for my fibreglass fishing pole meaning I would not need to seek out a convenient fence post or tree to fasten the mast to and can position it where I want it.

I was set up and calling CQ SOTA by 6:15 AM but unfortunately with no response. Despite putting up spots for 40m and 20m on SOTAWatch, I was getting no calls, so I decided to tune around to see if any “normal” stations would be willing to talk to me. Several I called either couldn’t hear me or simply ignored me as I wasn’t “DX”. I was glad when Fabio II4AMP cheerfully came back to me and gave me a “True 5-9” he was well over 5/9. So it seems the gear was working OK, after some more attempts at calling what turned out to be contest stations and another spot Jan OK2PDT a very active SOTA chaser came back to me but it seems he was the ONLY SOTA chaser who was out of bed that early on a Sunday morning as the other two needed contacts came from a contest station and a friendly Greek station just looking for contacts.

With the delay in getting the minimum 4 contacts (which took me over half an hour), I was now going to be tight on my schedule for the rest of the morning, so it was a quick pack-up (the new tripod being quick to set-up and take down helped somewhat), back to the car and back to the hotel for breakfast which started at 7:30am. I arrived back at the hotel at 7:29am, went up and brought my case down into the car and then went to breakfast. At 8am I was checking out and off to pick up the other guys from near Friedrichshafen.

Gehrenberg.

I arrived a few minutes earlier than planned into Burg and the extra time was not a bad situation as Colin M6BOY and Chris M0TCH (the ICQ Podcast guys) were already just about ready to go. So off we went with the Navi now set to Gehrenberg. All was well until in Markdorf (near to the summit) I missed one small turn off and the Navi said “re-calculating route”. In hindsight it would have been best to turn around and return to the exit as the Navi now took us to a road at the other side of the summit from where access is not possible. I recognised this and after 5 minutes referring to maps on smart phones, we were off again to hopefully go around the end of the hill, to the correct road towards the summit. This was not to be our day as we went past the exit, which I realised as we came to the hotel that I had used last year for the SOTA dinner. Another stop and look at maps to see why we had missed the exit. The key point is that the small road needed is at the very southern end of the village of Harresheim, whereas the maps were showing it as outside of the village.  Another thing to look for is signs for “Sturzhof” this is a building just past the corner where the track goes off up to the summit. While there is no red circle sign, there IS a sign that says only Forestry vehicles are allowed past this point. Last year (and I suspect this year as well) several cars drove up the track all the way to within 50 metres of the summit. I normally set up on some flat land near the bottom of the radio tower but as Luc ON7DQ told me last year that a few more minutes up the road, there was a track up to the actual marked summit, I decided to we’d check that out. It took about 15 minutes from where I parked the car just off the road to the summit. It is quite a steep track but with two extra willing pairs of hands to carry some of the gear, it was a reasonable walk up to the summit. The summit is totally forested, so no interesting views from it and it is also on a favorite track for cyclists, so I had to be careful where I strung the dipole out to! We were at the summit just before 10am.

The new tripod again proved a great advantage as there were no obvious places to strap the mast to and with the tripod I could position the antenna to be out of harms way for the cyclists (and my antenna). The radio and its battery box were placed on the large stone on the summit and the antenna connected. On 40m there was an S7-S9 noise level – I suspect coming from the microwave radio link tower although there were reports of the bands being noisy as a lot of solar debris was hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at the time. In any case after some spots to the SOTAWatch website and tuning around I managed a few contacts on 40m. these would have been enough to get the points for activating the summit but as Chris was recording the activation for a possible feature on ICQ Podcast I thought I should try for some more and switching to 20 metres immediately dropped the noise level. It was at this point however that I saw that the SWR was over 2:1 on the antenna, which normally sits between 1.2 & 1.5:1. I’ll need to investigate that. In any case I managed to get a good run of contacts going and at the end we worked a total of 18 stations across Europe.

This again had taken more time than expected and after packing up we got back to the car at about 11:00 am and then drove back to the guys apartment to pick up their luggage and the 4th. member of the team Conor, Colin’s son. So by the time we got to the show again it was 11:30 and we needed to leave for the airport at the latest at 1pm, so there would not be a lot of time to do anything. As we went into the halls about 25% of the stalls had either already or were starting to pack up in any case. One last interview went into the can and we were ready to leave.

A very busy day but well worth it.

Photos:

   1. DM/BW-854 Hoechsten.

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  2. DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg.

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108-G “outdoor” version.

Laptop tilt stand.

Surveyors tripod.

Aerial-51 OCF dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m telescopic fishing pole.

Battery box with 2 x 5Ah 4S LIPOs and regulator to reduce voltage to 13.8v.

Logs:

 1. DM/BW-854 Hoechsten.

  2. DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg.

Conclusions & actions:

  1. I may have a problem on the Aerial-51 dipole which I will need to investigate for a bad connection causing that 2:1 SWR.
  2. The surveyors tripod was a real success but I may add a small plug or plate to reduce the size of the hole in its centre.
  3. Shade is definitely what is needed to make the display on the X108-G visible. When Chris stood in the way of the sun, the display was perfectly readable. I ordered a small sunshade for the rig (really meant for a camera LCD screen) which arrived while I was away, so I will try that to see if it gives me a solution.
  4. I’ll try to remember NOT to use the Navi, the next time I am heading to Gehrenberg!

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – April 25th. 2018 – DL/AL-149 Blender.

Preparation:

As the conditions seemed to be improving with the SFI up to 75 and K down to 1, on Monday Mike 2E0YYY suggested an early morning activation on Wednesday, looking for some long path grey line contacts into VK/ZL on 40m or 20m. As no rain was forecast until Thursday, I said I’d get out as well. The target time was 0700 UTC as it was expected that at this time there may be some chance of contacts. Equipment would be the X-108G, the 10m mini-mast, the Aerial-51 dipole and the LambdaHalbe 20m j-pole vertical (hence the need for the 10m mast instead of the normal 6m one). I would take the 6m mast as well, just in case there were problems with the DX-Wire mast again. As the lightweight Decathlon base had broken on the last activation, I planned to take the old sun umbrella base again and put it ready.

The Location:

I have been to this summit twice before, so I knew where I was going to park. After that there would be a steep climb up to the seat bank that Thomas DK1TK found for us on the last activation. At least the field shouldn’t be as wet this time.

The Activation:

I picked up my two “SOTA bags” and set off from home at around 0500 UTC leaving the sun umbrella base as I went past it half asleep. Luckily I didn’t need it later as I could strap the mast to the side of the bench seat. What stuck me was that at 7am local, it was already light, no sign of dawn at all. Thinking about this later, 2 and 3 years ago when I was regularly getting long path contacts into VK/ZL, I would be on the summit setting up at dawn as the sun came up. I have the feeling we are going out too late for the grey line propagation these days, even though the times are similar. The drive down was supposed to take about an hour and ten minutes. It took 20 minutes longer due to morning rush hour traffic around Kempton. Unfortunately there’s no obvious way to avoid this town to get to Blender from my home location, without taking a far longer route.

Once I had parked and grabbed my bags (still not realising I had forgotten the mast base) I set off across the fields to my planned location. The fields were indeed dry, so no problems there and on arriving at the bench, there was no one around. In fact I only had two groups come by during the time I was there – both times with dogs. It was already sunny but still cold with a little breeze.

As soon as I put the antenna up and got the rig on, I could tell this was going to be a difficult activation. The noise level on 40m was sat at S9! and on 20m it was S7. Unfortunately overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday the SFI had dropped from 74 to 71 and the K index had gone up from 1 to 3.

The first antenna up was the off centre fed dipole as I would need that for 40 metres (but it works on 20m as well). I started calling and looking for contacts on 20 metres after about 15 minutes and no contacts on 20m, I switched to 40 metres and bagged 6 difficult contacts in 5 minutes. Then when the calls stopped I decided to take down the OCF and put up the 20m vertical (J-pole) to see if that allowed me to hear any of the spotted stations on 20m. I couldn’t and getting any more contacts took some effort. I got a very good report on the antenna from Luk YO8SSB in Rumania. As well as Luk, who responded to my CQ SOTA, I also worked two Italian stations who I simply found on the 20m band. During these contacts, even though the mast was only supporting the vertical, the winds had built up so much that the mast was leaning over dangerously. As all amateurs do, I found a simple solution, by using three guy pegs pushed in around the base of the mast, I was able to stop the bottom moving. Of course if I had remembered to bring the sun umbrella base I wouldn’t have had this issue!

With the UK, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Poland and Rumania in the log, I decided to call it a day and packed up and headed back home.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

20m J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe.

DX-Wire 10m mini-mast.

LambdaHalbe 6m mini-mast.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.

Log:

Conclusions:

A day earlier would have had better radio conditions however I don’t believe I would have made any VK/ZL contacts then either. Band conditions are as bad as they can be at the moment.

I was surprised that I didn’t manager an S2S contact with Mike 2E0YYY/P in the UK during this activation but as the chaser contacts that I did make into the UK were 4-6 S-points down on what I would normally expect, I suppose it’s not surprising!

I’m wondering whether being out at sun rise would produce better results. WSPR doesn’t appear to suggest this but I have the feeling we are going out too late for the grey line.

I still have the visibility problem with the X108G display and have heard NOTHING more back from Xiegu, so my only hope is that the tilt mounts and magnifiers that I have ordered will come and be the solution for me.

I will need to recheck the J-Pole antenna on my analyser for its resonant frequency as, while the SWR trace on the X108G showed a dip when in use on the summit, the scale was too small to see if that dip was where it should have been. – NOTE: completed test at home – 1.3:1 at 14.285 and under 2:1 across the band – so that’s fine.

73 ’til the next Summit !

DD5LP/P – April 21st. 2018 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg (For EU-NA S2S event).

Preparation:

A regular SOTA event as well as the EU-VK S2S events is the annual NA-EU S2S event and this one had been planned months in advance with no way of knowing what the climatic and Radio weather would be like. As it happened in Southern Bavaria we had come into an early summer after so long with ice and snow, we had sunshine and warmth. the days up to the event also looked a little better on the radio conditions side – that was until a CME on the sun though a lot of Solar winds at the earth on Friday. The result of this was a high noise level – up to a K index of 5 by late Friday afternoon. Luckily this reduced a little on saturday but despite the SFI raising above the 70 level that it had been under for several weeks, background noise on the bands was probably at least 3 S-points higher than normal. When Solar winds like these hit, it not only raises the noise floor but also reduces the maximum usable frequency (MUF). Often 15 or 17 metres can provide good contacts between EU and NA – this would not be happening and even 20m would find it difficult to delivery. Who knows perhaps 40 metres can come to the rescue?

I had originally planned to travel early to a 10 point summit in Baden Wurtemberg, to be on the air at around 1300 UTC and then be packed up and coming home by 1500UTC at the latest. it then turned out that many of the North American activators would only be getting to their summits after 1500 UTC. With a 2.5 hr drive in each direction, the lovely 10 point summit wasn’t going to be practical if I was to stay into early evening on the summit. So I decided to plan to activate a simple 1 point local summit that is about 40 minutes away from home and then expect to be on the air from about 1500 UTC. On hearing that I would be going to the local summit (Weichberg), my wife suggested we make a “family event” of it and she and our dog would come along as well. She would provide a picnic. Given the nice summer like weather this was decided upon as a good solution. Equipment would be the X108G despite its continued visibility problems, it’s LIPO battery box with regulator, the Aerial-51 OCF dipole and the Lambdahalbe 20m J-pole antenna. Given their small size I packed all three J-pole antennas for 15, 17 & 20m. I decided to give the DX-Wire 10m portable mast another chance as I would need that height for the 20m J-pole antenna. I would take one of my 6m masts as well as back-up. As a base (foot) for the mast, I have my new Decathlon one packed in the rucksack. what could go wrong ? ….

The Location:

Weichberg in Allgaeu is near the village of Rettenbach and has a large radio transmitting mast and a small chapel on top of it. It also has a nice wooden bench with banks behind the obligatory holy cross. Importantly there is an open space with enough room to run out the dipole in inverted-V configuration. There are no convenient posts to strap the mast to however, hence the need for the base foot.

There is a convenient car parking area under the summit and a track that leads up along the edge of the woodland to the small chapel area. There is also a longer, less steep access route around the rear of the hill past the radio tower and that is what my wife and dog would take as the direct route is full of tree roots and other trip hazards.

The Activation:

The drive down took just about 35 minutes. I have been to this summit so often that I needed no GPS/Navi or map to find my way. Once we were parked, Gabriele and Bonnie set off on their route and I took the more direct route, hoping to be set-up by the time they arrived.

As I approached the summit, I could see several people there and over the next hour it would be a constant coming and going of cyclists. What do these people think they’re doing on MY summit? It got even more interesting later when as well as a second dog, two Shetland ponies appeared on the summit and the 5 year old leading one of the ponies had to lead it over to where Bonnie, our dog was sat! Of course it shocked the dog – some children need to be kept on leads, not just animals. Nothing serious happened but it didn’t help operations.

Anyway back to the set up. I chose my spot in the middle of the grassed area and put in the decathlon mast base spike but when I then took the 10 metre mast to put in it, I realised it wouldn’t fit – the outside diameter of the mast was larger than the inside diameter of the cup on the top of the spike. I was just happy that I had brought the old reliable 6 metre mast as well. So that now went in the cup and I dropped the Spiderbeam aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole onto the top of the pole and ran out the elements / guys. I tied one end off to a fence post and put a peg in the ground for the other end. I raised the mast and while it was leaning a lot moved the ground peg and tried to tighten things up a little. While my back was turned the mast slowly tipped over and rather than stopping the mast from falling, the cup on the top of the spike on the Decathlon base smashed itself ripping the spike out of the bottom of the cup. This is NOT a well built unit! So I then unscrewed the bottom off the mast and dropped it over the top of the (still in the ground) metal spike. This served to hold this up for the whole of the activation.

Once I checked my Smart Phone, I could already see that there were some European activators operating on both 40m and 20m. I listened for them but could not hear any of them. 20m was particularly dead but 40m was active, so I tuned around and found a strong station calling CQ, GB2GM (this was the Pohldu ARC with their Marconi Day station) so I gave him a call to make sure I was getting out. Nothing, he just kept calling CQ. Then someone else called him – same reaction – he just kept calling CQ. Perhaps they were using a Crystal receiver? Whatever it was, it was deaf! Just at this point another spot came on my phone from Stavros SV2RUJ/P saying last calls before he packed up and headed to his next summit of the day. I found him, called him and we managed a contact. It was difficult because of the atmospheric noise and what was this booming station 1KHz away – Aha a contest station! This was going to be the story of this activation fighting QRN and QRM the whole time. I “searched and pounced” a little more on 40m making sure I got a few in the log (not that I needed to qualify the summit as I have already done so earlier in the year) before spotting and putting out CQs on both 40m and 20m. I made no contacts whatsoever on 20m and a total of nine on 40m, two of which were summit-to-summit contacts within Europe. I did not hear one North American station unfortunately and I packed up at 15:50 UTC so that we could eat our picnic and then head home.

Investigations/changes to equipment that previously had caused problems and new problems:

Rig Display: I’m not sure if the new large brimmed cap helped or not bit I found that tilting the radio at some angles made it easier to read the display. Not ideal but at least readable. On arriving home I looked to see what tiltable platforms I could find that might be usable and came across a simple wire system used to support laptops – I have ordered this and now have to await delivery from China which could take a few weeks.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole connector – The replaced connector worked without problems on this outing, so hopefully that’s one less problem in the future.

Shortcuts using keys on the microphone – I tried these out and especially the A/B switch option allowing me to switch quickly between 40m and 20m (and be on the correct sideband on the band chosen) worked particularly well.

Mast base foot – although the Decathlon base is small, light and had worked on a couple of previous activations, it’s now been thrown out. It was damaged past repair from the simple mast fall. I’ll be going back to the solid sun umbrella foot from now on. Both sized masts will fit this base as well.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

J-Pole antennas from LambdaHalbe (15, 17, 20m).

DX-Wire 10m mini-mast. LambdaHalbe 6m mini-mast.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.

Decathlon mast base spike.

Log:

Conclusions:

As confirmed by others that were out, band conditions were very noisy on both 20m and 40m. The additional problem of contest stations blocking most frequencies on 40m (as they were getting no where on 20m) made life very difficult.

It appears that had I stayed 2 hours longer, some S2S contacts were made between NA and EU but the majority of these were on CW.

The Decathlon spike was rubbish. It wasn’t that expensive but I’m surprised that it broke so easily. I will go back to the stronger Sun Umbrella base for summits where there are no fence posts.

When putting up the mast not strapped to a post in the future, I should add at least one if not two additional cords to act as guy wires in addition to the antenna elements.

I still need to find a way to make the rig’s display visible. Perhaps the tilt base will be the answer as Xiegu aren’t able to provide a solution to the non-working brightness setting.

73 ’til the next Summit !