DD5LP/P – March 30th. 2018 – The race for winter bonus points DL/AM-180 Berndorfer Buchet, DL/AM-060 Laber, DL/EW-001 Wank.

Preparation:

The original plan was to activate Eisenberg DL/AL-171 on Good Friday 30th. March 2018 to try again for long path into VK/ZL after failing about two weeks previously. In the interim I had addressed some of the gear problems and hoped for better success. At least  I should be able to grab the 3 winter activator bonus points (which cease at the end of March in the DL region). This summit, which while still some distance from home, given the clock change a week prior, would be accessible hopefully in time for the long path window. I did not want this to be an organised S2S event as the previous had been but did ask a few people if they were likely to be on. One, Rod VK2LAX said he would probably be able to get out to Mount Elliot VK2/HU-093 while Mike 2E0YYY and John VK6NU also planned to get out as well. Due to a few problems, I decided to reschedule the early activation to Easter Saturday, the 31st. of March and announced this on the reflector. Given that I now had Friday clear, I could go and activate the normally easy Laber and Wank summits on Good Friday, to grab their winter bonus points.

On the Thursday before Good Friday, Rod sent me a short note asking if I was still set to go out early on Friday as he had arranged a small group from the Central Coast ARC to come along. At this point I realised that as Rod doesn’t follow the SOTA reflector he didn’t know of my (and others) reschedule to Saturday. With the clock difference and the short time window after first letting Rod know that Eisenberg would only be on Saturday morning not Friday, I decided it would only be fair to fit in another (early morning accessible) summit on Good Friday prior to the Laber and Wank activations and planned for Berndorfer Buchet, my closest summit. I have contacted VK previously on a few occasions from this summit. Berndorfer Buchet does not gain winter bonus points but I had not activated it in 2018 so it would still be another activator point and the purpose was to try for some contacts into VK/ZL rather than the activator points. So all was set, I thought, except I found out early Friday morning that in parallel Rod had rescheduled the group at his end to Saturday. Never mind, the plan was there now and I’d catch Rod and group on Saturday all being well, now to concentrate on the three summits planned for Good Friday.

Equipment-wise I was determined to use the new Xiegu X108G rig rather than the FT-817 and amplifier however for safety sake the 817 would be packed as well. The antenna was the issue. My experiments with the QRP-Guys tri-bander vertical were not going well with my modifications to add 60m being reversed but the antenna would not be ready in time. The Komunica Bazoka Pro was not looking like a good solution after previous trials but I knew on the second two summits, especially Laber, I would have very little space for an antenna,. I decided to go back to my Diamond RHM-8B loaded vertical whip which had worked from a summit in the past. As I would not have room for a tripod and while this antenna is designed to fasten directly to the rig, I added a mounting plate to the back of the X108G where the antenna would mount. I would also take the usual 6m squid pole and the linked dipole as I knew for sure this works well from Berndorfer Buchet where I have more than enough room to put it up. I would however also be taking a new base for this mast – much smaller and lighter that the sun umbrella screw-in base that I had used before. The battery box now had a new regulator that should handle up to 10 amps (the rig can draw up to 7.5 amps) so this is another change in the equipment. These activations would have the risk of something failing or simply not working – hopefully I have enough alternatives to try if something lets me down.

Time would tell …

The Locations:

Berndorfer Buchet is about 30 minutes drive from my home and located in a forest. From the car park to the summit is a good 15 minutes walk. The hill is located above the village of Pähl at the southern end of the Ammersee lake.

Laber is accessed by a sixty year old cable car taking you up from Oberammergau (the village famous for its “Passion Play” every 10 years). Space at Laber is restricted at the best of times with it under several feet of snow safe space really is limited.

Wank is the “house mountain” of Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the German, Austrian border and is also accessed by a cable car plus a short walk up about 30 vertical metres to the summit which is covered with radio equipment both commercial and amateur and a large golden holy cross which is very much a tourist attraction.

The Activations:

Berndorfer Buchet.

The weather at home when I set off at about 7am local time was cold with a little drizzle.The drive over to Berndorfer Buchet was uneventful and I was at the car park near Kerschlach by 05:30 UTC. The track into the forest was very muddy. It looks like they had just finished harvesting some trees out of the forest and the large vehicles used had torn up the track. In addition to the mud, this track is also used often by a local horse stables, so there were quite a few “deposits” from the horses to be avoided as well.

The last climb up to the summit was difficult with lots of small branches left behind from the tree harvesting and a moss like ground underneath. Some care was needed to get up the slope with my two equipment packs without twisting an ankle. Once at the summit, everything was as previous visits and I was able to quickly put down my painters plastic sheet and start unloading the bags. The first new item was the stake from Decathlon that Luc ON7DQ had tipped me off about. I’m glad to say it went straight into the ground without any problem and the squid pole was dropped into it, with a couple of pieces of wood that were lying around at the side to stabilise it. Then I ran the SOTABeams Band-hopper out, un-did the 20m links and put the mast up. Then the battery box and Xiegu rig came out of the bags. I connected everything up, get out the log and pen – and then it starts to rain… Luckily not for long though (the rain came and went and was never too hard). So I tuned around 20m and finding nothing on, picked a frequency, spotted myself and started calling CQ. Nothing … The band was so quiet I checked that the rig was working, that the antenna had a good SWR (the X108G has a nice SWR scan feature) and everything looked fine. OK I was quite early for 20 metres, I had started at 05;50 UTC. I lowered the mast, put the links back together and raised the antenna to use it on 40m. This time I could hear stations OK so I found a clear frequency and again spotted myself and started calling. After a while I heard a weak call from Terry G0VWP in York. As we talked there was a lot of QSB on both signals but slowly the strength seemed to be getting stronger. It was as if someone had turned the bands off overnight!. After talking with Terry, I switched backwards and forwards between 40 & 20 metres trying to get the needed extra 3 contacts to at least qualify the summit. At 06:55 UTC I found a Special Event station in France and worked him with no problem, so I was getting out OK. After this contact, I again found a free frequency and spotted my self. There then followed nine contacts in eight minutes, all on 40m, nothing on 20m. As I wanted to activate the other two summits, it was time at 07:10 UTC to pack up and head back to the car. No 20m contacts this morning not even within Europe. Conditions were bad.

Once back at the car, I selected DL/AM-060 Laber in the GPS Navi and set off for the next summit. The GPS took me a slightly different way than I expected but I was soon on the back roads that I know well and after about an hours driving I was at the car park for the Laber cable car.

Laber.

This lift is the oldest in Germany and celebrates its 60th. year of service this year. It consists of just four gondola cabins and the runs in 1/4 rotations and then stops. That means once you are in the cabin, you travel half way up the mountain and stop. This is to allow people to embark and disembark at the top and bottom of the lift in the cabins ahead and behind you. The fourth cabin is alongside you at half way, but on its way down the mountain. This means the cabins don’t have to connect and disconnect from the cable except when the cableway is out of service over night. A simple system that has worked well for 60 years!

The run up the mountain takes about 13 minutes and once you leave the cable station you are already on the summit. at this time of year a few skiers are there, sometimes there are hang-gliders setting off and quite often people come up in the lift and then take 2-3 hours to walk down sometimes with their dog. Laber is a friendly summit, that has a cosy restaurant in the cable car station but rarely gets very busy due to the limited capacity of the cable car system.

Today Laber WAS busy though as with the snow falls over the last few weeks there was only limited space available. I quickly headed to the bench and put down my painters sheet and gear. This was now time to use the Diamond RHM-8B antenna to pull in the needed 4 contacts, pack up and leave to go down the mountain after taking a few photos. Starting at around 09:30 UTC, I could get no responses whatsoever to my calls using the Diamond antenna. So I decided I had to get the dipole up “somehow”. I strapped the squid pole to the back of the bench and the run of the dipole back down towards the cable car station was at least off the ground but the run in the opposite direction, that I managed to tie off part way up a flag pole was literally laying in the snow! Not a good configuration! It worked though! From 09:49 I managed the needed 4 contacts and packed up at 10:00 UTC. the people I had ridden up with in the cable car had been watching me and when we saw each other in the valley, they asked what I had been doing and I explained a little about amateur radio to them. I think they may have just been being polite but all left to our cars with a smile.

Wank.

The third and last summit for the day was Wank, near Garmish-Partenkirchen. I lost some time in the car park here as the parking meters only take the exact amount. parking is 3 Euros for up to 24 hours and in small change I only had 2 2 Euro coins which all three machines rejected. as I went to the place you buy tickets for the cable car, the lady knew exactly what was coming and had two 1 Euro coins ready for my 2 euro that I asked to change. What a crazy system. in any case once I got the ticket for the car, i then went back to the same lady to buy the ticket for the ride up to and down from the Wank Summit.

The cabins at Wank are about the same size as the ones at Laber however there are a lot more of them. there are in fact two lift systems one from the valley to the middle station and one from the middle station to the summit. the cabins automatically go from one system to the other at the middle station. Interesting technology. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the top station of the Cabin railway but that’s not the end of the journey. The actual summit is a further about 30 vertical metres above the top of the railway, so it’s at least another 10 to 15 minutes before one reaches the summit, which is behind a very large golden holy cross. On this day getting from the cross to somewhere that I could set-up was “interesting” as the snow had drifted and at one point, I was up to my knees in snow! Luckily I got safely through that and flattened my own area out in the snow before laying out painters plastic sheet and my gear. I tried the new stake here as I had at Berndorfer Buchet – no chance the snow was too soft, it just kept falling over, So as there was a bank of snow handy, I simply pushed the squid pole down into that. With two sections under the snow it was stable enough to support the dipole and I ran out the dipole ends in opposite directions. Here as well, the dipole ends were close to the snow, but I just hoped it would work and it did, at least to a good enough extent. several youngsters then came by playing in the snow and really enjoying themselves and letting everyone know by their screams, so it was out with the headphones and switch on the blocking of outside noise.

When I looked at the rig I knew I had a problem. I could not see what was being displayed on the LCD screen. It had been difficult to read at Laber but here it was impossible.the sunlight reflecting off the snow simply raised the light level to a level where the display could not complete. Trying to shade the display didn’t help and thinking about it later, it was probably my eyes that needed the shade not the display as my pupils will have drastically reduced in size to reduce the light input into the eye. If only I had, had a SOTA Baseball cap in my bag! Wait a minute – I did ! but of course as I didn’t realise what the problem was at the time i didn’t wear the cap. I did try my auto-tinting polarised driving glasses that I had brought up with me as I thought they might help – but they actually made things worse as they went black and then there was no chance of seeing anything.

l could not see what frequency I was on, but I hoped it was still 7090 KHz which was the last frequency I had used on Laber, so I self spotted on that frequency and started calling CQ SOTA from the snow. Ivo 9A1AA was the first to respond at 12:17 UTC and he was then followed by a further ten contacts 15 minutes. All through this I had to fight interference from another station on frequency. I can’t say who was on the frequency first but I knew I couldn’t move as turning the tuning dial, I would not know where I was, as I couldn’t see the display!

While packing up, I was approached by a young woman whose husband and son kept walking and left her behind. She showed a real interest in Amateur radio and I gave her a brochure on the hobby that I have with me and I hope that something might come out of that. It’s a real shame she didn’t come by 10 minutes earlier when I still had all the equipment connected and working.

The trip back down the mountain gave me a chance to catch up on my emails and the drive home, considering this was Good Friday, went reasonably well if a little slower than normal.

 

And what about DL/AL-171 Eisenberg on Saturday morning?

I’ve had to bail (cancel). I set off from home at 06:40 local (04:40 UTC) and as I stepped outside, after no rain overnight, it started to spit with rain – nothing to worry about I hoped. It’ll stop and even if it doesn’t, it’s bearable. After about 20 minutes driving, the rain had become a constant down-pour, so I pulled into a lay-by to asses whether continuing the 1hr+ drive was sensible. Looking in the direction I would be going the skies were full of black clouds and at that point the regional weather forecast came on the radio to say the rain would be continuous until about midday at least.Given that the walking track up to Eisenberg is both steep and slippery even in the dry, it would most likely have been a bog with a river running down it, by the time I got there.

I considered going to a different summit, just to get on but the weather was looking fairly threatening, so no matter where I could have gone, it would have been questionable as to whether I would have got to the summit. As the SFI (Solar flux Index) hadn’t raised as predicted, it was still down at 68, I decided the best option was to call off my activation and wait for a better day (Terrestrial and Space weather-wise). After returning home, I saw that as well as SFI still being at 68, the K index has gone up to 3 so not only hadn’t the RF conditions got better, the noise level had also come up.

Eisenberg will have to wait until December to get the bonus winter points this year but I may activate it before then in any case as it is a nice trip out in the sunshine.

Photos:

   1. DL/AM-080 Berndorfer Buchet.

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  2. DL/AM-060 Laber.

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  3. DL/EW-001 Wank.

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108-D “outdoor” version.

Diamond RHM-8B 40-6m vertical antenna.

SOTABeams “Band-Hopper” linked Dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m telescopic fishing pole.

Decathlon push in mast base.

Battery box with 2 x 5Ahr 4S LIPOs and regulator to 13.8v.

Logs:

 1. DL/AM-180 Berndorfer Buchet.

  2. DL/AM-060 Laber.

3. DL/EW-001 Wank.

Conclusions & actions:

  1. The diamond RHM-8B antenna is a real let down. It is only worth using when conditions are good and any antenna will do. In bad conditions as we have at the moment, it’s a waste of effort.
  2. I will need to do something about operating in the sunlight, whether it be a matt plastic cover on the Xiegu’s OLED display or a cap with a large sunshade – something has to be done.
  3. The new small lightweight base from Decathlon was a success.
  4. The X108G (apart from the display visibility problems) and the new regulator work fine.
  5. With using the 4G connectivity on my smart phone during the activation along with the inbuilt GPS, the battery drains fairly quickly and the phone did not charge in the car between summits – an investigation there found a faulty USB cable which has now been replaced so next time a car recharge of the smart Phone battery between summits should be possible.

73 ’til the next Summit!

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DD5LP/P – March 15th. 2018 – DL/AM-178 Ammerleite.

Preparation:

After a poor activation for the VK-EU S2S on the 10th. of March I had returned home with some things I wanted to check in my equipment and possibly improve things ready for a new attempt at long path VK contacts on Good Friday morning – 30th. March. In addition to that I had finished my QRP-GUYS lightweight tri-band HF antenna and this would be an opportunity to try this out along with the commercially made J-Pole antennas for 15, 17 & 20m from LambdaHalbe. The weather was a little better than it has been for several months and the winter bonus of 3 activator points was valid until the end of the month.

So my intention was to give all the new equipment – the Xiegu X108G rig and antennas a good try out and see how they performed from a summit that I didn’t include in my 5 summits in a day action about a month earlier – Ammerleite. I also had downloaded a WSPR beacon program to my smart phone which I had tried from home, with the intention that if I could not find any contacts on a particular band, I would send out the 2 minute long WSPR signal and check where my beacon was heard when I got home.

The Location:

Ammerleite, whose correct name is Schnalz (Ammerleite is the whole region alongside the Ammer river) is a one point summit with an impressive cross and importantly, two nice bench seats and a fence to keep the cows away and provide mast supports. It’s located above the village of Boebing and is about a 45 minute drive from my home so definitely a “local” summit for me. In nice weather the views are lovely and at least for this day any rain would only come after lunch time.

The Activation:

Upon arrival at the summit there was actually some sunshine, the first we’ve seen for some time. I decided I would perform my tests methodically one band at a time and start with 21MHz (15m) and then go in sequence down in frequency. I had only brought the one, 6 metre mini-mast, so tests of antennas would have to be done one at a time, at least until I got to the QRP-GUYS tri-bander.

My first problem was that with the rig sat on the bench, I could not read the LCD display. I have had this problem before with the FT-817, and so I had a small fold-up box in my rucksack to provide shade but no matter how I set it up, I couldn’t get the X108G’s display screen shaded enough to be able to read it. I ended up putting the rig under the seat bank on top of the re-flattened box and operated that way. I would research what was possible to have greater contrast on the display when I got home.

After setting up and tuning around 15m, I could hear no stations – this didn’t bode well, but I sat myself on 21.285MHz put out a spot and started calling CQ SOTA – nothing, tried again – nothing. Is all the gear working and the antenna connected – yes. It was band conditions! I was prepared for this in that I had bought a WSPR Beacon App for my smart phone that can create WSPR messages and send then out time-synced to fit the WSPR beacon system. Ideally this should be wired into the rig but I had tried it out at home and simply holding the phone to the microphone and pressing the PTT before the 2 minute sequence starts and releasing it afterwards works fine. So I tried it, set the rig to the correct frequency and keyed the PTT 8 seconds before the sequence started. Then I waited and waited until the whistling finished (2 minutes is a long time – luckily this was at a time before I got my three separate visitors, all with a dog with them (this appears to be on a favorite dog walking route) otherwise the dogs and the owners would most likely complain about the noise). When I released the PTT something was wrong. There was no sound from the radio, the display was off. What had happened? I looked at my intelligent voltage regulator – voltage – zero volts! I turned it back on again and tried again – this time watching the red Tx light on the microphone – the same thing happened again after about 40 seconds the power was cut to the rig.

I was not sure why this was happening – perhaps RF getting back into the electronics in the regulator that I use to reduce the LIPO4 16.5v down to 13.8v? So I turned down the RF to 10watts from 20 and tried again. This time the transmission completed. OK, that’s a solution, I thought.

I now took down the 15m J-pole antenna and put up the 17m one and repeated the process – still no takers on 17m SSB, no reply to the spot and this time the WSPR spot action dropped off even with the rig set to 10 watts so I decided to leave the WSPR actions until I knew exactly what was causing the problem. I left the rig set to 10w for the rest of the activation “to be safe”.

Testing the 20m J-pole I actually heard a couple of stations on the band but again there was no response to my CQ SOTA calls despite the fact that I spotted myself.

My operations at this point were interrupted by a young guy who was interested in what I was doing as he had been in the communications section while in the military. He and his dog were quite entertaining, with stories about how he had loaded up a barbed wire fence to get an NVIS antenna as their other antennas couldn’t make the needed contact just over the next hill and that his senior officer had come along and exploded worrying that he would damage the equipment! His dog brought pine cones for me to throw so he could catch them. It’s interesting who you meet on summits sometimes!

At this point, I had planned to go on and test the QRP-GUYS tri-bander vertical but as I had lost so much time and the sky had grayed over and the temperature dropped (the sun was gone), I decided that it was important to qualify the summit, so down came the 20m J-pole vertical and up went the SOTABeams linked dipole after moving the mast along two fence posts to give me enough room.

I left the links closed for 40 metres and breathed a sigh of relief as I got my first contact for the summit from Jan OK2PDT. After that the calls came in quick succession with a couple of breaks as QSB hit the band and I had to change frequency once because of QRM. At the point that I thought the calls had finished and was prepared to start packing up, the second wave of calls came in. In all I worked 35 stations on 40m from this summit – I’m sure there were more calling but either I couldn’t pull them out of the noise as they were weak or (more often) a stronger chaser came on top of them. So, my apologies to those who called but could not get a completed contact.

As I had tidily packed away each antenna as I took it down, the pack-up action went well and relatively quickly. The drive home was uneventful and the rain started just as I got home.

Investigations at home:

As is often the case with activations with new equipment, a review is valuable when you get home to see what had caused problems or what can be improved.

Rig Display: Looking at the manual, I though the LCD visibility issue would be simple to solve by increasing the contrast and brightness settings in the engineers menu in the rigs firmware. Not so – the menu option to adjust contrast was not in the menu and the brightness option was already set to 100%. I have sent an email to the manufacturer and posted a question to the help forum for the rig. My suspicion is that my (latest model) version, has the OLED screen rather than the LCD, which is a high contrast screen in any case and so perhaps there is no way to increase its contrast. As this is the “outdoor” model of the X108G, I hope the manufacturer has a solution for me. In the meantime, I’ll look into creating a sunshade specifically to fit around the display.

Rig powering off: One should ALWAYS read the specs! I had thought that for a 20w rig 5 amps at 13.8v should be sufficient. It would be just for the PA stages but all the other stages before that also consume power and the drain can peak at 7.5 amps. The intelligent regulator that I bought and built into the battery box is rated at a maximum of 5 amps – hence the reason when on the 100% duty cycle WSPR transmissions, the regulator closed off the power thinking a short had occurred. Solution – order a 10 amp, non-intelligent, “buck” voltage down converter to replace the intelligent 5A one. I have found one rated at 8 amps continuous and 10 amps peak current and found a supplier in the UK who can supply this within a week as opposed to 4-5 weeks from China. Hopefully I will be able to test and install this before I want to make my next activation, where I will test out the QRP-GUYS antenna.

QRP-Guys Antenna and LambdaHalbe J-Pole tests incomplete: while I do not expect any problems with the commercially built Lambdahalbe antennas, the QRP-GUYS antenna that I built will be tested on my next activation.

Noise when trying to do WSPR: I already have a data interface that I have used to send and receive FT-8 with the X108G and my laptop. I should be able to add a cable adapter to go from the current 2 x 3.5mm mono audio jacks to a 4 pole jack suitable for the smart phone. this will then mean no loud audio to disturb visitors. I wont bother with any vox-ptt solution as this set up will be used only rarely to test antennas.

5 amp intelligent regulator

10 amp non-intelligent buck regulator

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

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

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

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Modified QRP-GUYS tri-band loaded vertical (my version for 20, 40 and 60m).

SOTABeams Band hopper linked dipole (20,30,40,80m).

Log:

Conclusions:

Unexpected problems with the power supply regulator turning off the rig mid WSPR transmission can only be resolved with a regulator that is capable of handing higher currents. I have ordered one and hope it will arrive in time for me to test it out in another action prior to the VK-EU one on Good Friday.

I’m not sure what I can do as regarding the readability of the screen in sunlight – I have sent an email to Xiegu in the meantime I will try to build a sunshade.

The QRP-GUYs antenna still needs to be tried “in the field”.

The SOTABeams inverted-V linked dipole and the 6 metre Mini-Mast are the most reliable parts of the pack.

73 ’til the next Summit (s) !

DD5LP/P – March 10th. 2018 DL/AM-176 Rentschen (for VK-EU S2S event).

Preparation:

I was involved in organising and publicising the VK-EU S2S event for several weeks before it would happen. At the end we had stations from Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, the UK, Germany, Russia, Austria, The Slovak Republic, Rumania and Canada committed to taking part. My initial plan was to activate from Roemerstein, a 10 point summit over 2 hours drive away from where I live. The weather and radio condition forecast 10 days out was very good but that soon changed. An expected sunspot fizzled and died meaning conditions on the day were probably the worst so far : here is the space weather from later in the morning on the 10th:

SFI of 67 (The formulae given in the June 1996 edition of the IPS Solar Geophysical Summary states 67.0 as the minimum possible value.). K index of 4 means REALLY noisy.

As well as the propagation conditions being expected (and proved) to be bad, the expected 15 degrees and sunshine was moved back by a day by the forecasters (and then never came). These factors along with the fact that I took a pretty hefty tumble on the ice in -15 degrees temperatures a week before the event meant that if I was going to take part at all, I would have to go to a more local summit. All of the 6 point and above summits are accessed via a chair lift or cable car and none of those start service until 9 am local. In fact several are not even running again until the “summer season” which starts at Easter. My next choice was Eisenberg while only a 2 pointer it is relatively close but requires a good 10 minute steep walk. Two days before the event I was in a great deal of pain from my back injury so I decided even that summit might be too much and switched my activation to Rentschen, which is a literal “drive on summit”. Unfortunately as I have already activated this summit this year, I would get no points for it, but at least I would be taking part in the event.

Equipment: I wanted to use the Xiegu X108G for this activation and as I had repaired the linked dipole after the problems at Attenberg a few weeks earlier, that would be my 40m antenna. I had also bought but not yet used 3 commercially made J-pole antennas from Lambdahalbe. One for 20m, one for 17m and one for 15m. All of this new or repaired equipment was to be tested out on the Wednesday or Thursday in the week prior to the S2S event with an activation of Ammerleite – again a close summit, only 1 point but up until the end of March it earns another 3 winter bonus points and I hadn’t yet activated it in 2018. Well that activation never took place as I was suffering with my back and there’s no way I could have managed the climb up to Ammerleite. Friday allowed a quick test in a local field and I was all prepared with a WSPR beacon program installed on my smart phone, so that I could connect up the antennas in turn, send a transmission and then check later via wspr.net how they performed. We decided to combine this short 30 minute test session with taking the dog for a walk and my wife agreed to come along and take the dog for her walk in the fields while I “did my radio stuff”. Long story short, the tests did not get completed as the 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass support mast caused me several problems. Compared to my shorter (and much lighter and cheaper) 6 metre mast, the DX-wire “Mini-mast” bends far too much even before it is at full height. I have had problems before with this mast collapsing into itself without warning – this time the opposite occurred. When it was obvious I was not going to be able to complete my tests, I wanted to lower the mast but then sections jammed meaning I had to man-handle it down and bring it home in sections not collapsed in the car and totally disassemble and rebuild the mast (again) once I got it home.

One thing was for certain – that DX-wire 10m mini-mast was not going on my Saturday activation! It was replaced with one of my two Lambdahalbe 6 metre masts, which would impact the use of the J-pole antennas due to their length.

So Saturday would be a risk. As well as having to get up early to be in time for the long path window to VK/ZL several parts of the equipment were untested. The activation may not even take place if I felt bad when I got up  – we’d have to see …

The Location:

Rentschen is a drive-on plateau just outside Wildsteig according to Google, 47 minutes drive away from my home. I managed it this time in just under 40 minutes but the return journey took over 50 minutes. The difference a bit of traffic makes. In any case one of my closest summits. I have activated here many times before, so I knew the layout and for that reason packed the screw-in sun umbrella base to support the mast as there is no convenient fence post or small tree around (see photos below).

The Activation:

The run down was uneventful and with relatively clear roads, I was able to get a good run down leaving home at 6:15 am local time. The weather was cool but not cold and it wasn’t raining – the ground was wet from overnight but not muddy, so compared to the last couple of weeks a very good situation. As well as not being any available support for the mast, there’s also no seating, so the plastic painters sheet was put down and my two bags sat on top of it until I sorted out the mast and antennas. My idea was that I would put the SOTABeams Band-hopper linked dipole up as usual for 40 & 20 metres and then from a carabiner under the dipole feed-point hang the end of the J-pole. Initially I put up the 17m J-pole but later tried the 15m one as well. I initially set the links on the dipole to be 20 metres as I could already see some spots for that band.  Once the antennas were up in a relatively stable condition (leaning a little but not as bad as I have had), I turned to unpacking and laying out the station. With the new rig (the XIEGU X-108G) I do not have the convenience of an internal LIPO battery as I have on my FT-817ND, so I have constructed a battery box that holds a hardcase 5AH 4S (16.5v) LIPO and an electronic regulator that reduces the voltage to a constant 13.8v for the rig. What I found on this activation was that if I close the (see through) boxes lid, it can press on one of the regulators buttons, which turns the power off! Not ideal. After I realised that, I left the lid open but the unit did switch off a couple of times later without warning – more investigation needed – I did say this configuration was not tested didn’t I?  On turning on the rig on 20 metres there was immediately a high noise level (around S7) – this did not bode well but when I tunes the band there were spots where it was not as bad and the noise also seemed to move around the band. My first thought was that the voltage regulator was causing this problem however I did not have this problem the last time I used this configuration, so either something is failing in the (new) regulator or the problem was external – possibly something to do with the overhead high voltage lines or some new equipment in the nearby buildings. In any case there was nothing I could do on the summit apart from try to hear stations through the noise. As I would find out after the event from other people’s reports 20m was dead and very noisy at this time and I had arrived just as the band had closed to VK/ZL – the thought is that the last hop into Europe was actually Sporadic-E which would explain the hour earlier time than had been the case earlier in the week and the sudden band turning-off rather than fading.

Here’s my log of attempts to get contacts (after having searched for spotted activators and self-spotted):

  • 20m 0620-0625 UTC – N/C
  • 40m 0635-0640 UTC – N/C
  • 17m 0640-0645 UTC – N/C
  • 20m 0705-0715 UTC – N/C
  • 15m 0725-0730 UTC – N/C

Luckily from 0730 UTC I had a run of contacts on 40 metres including one S2S. Once that run finished, I decided to check 20m again and found Herbert OE9HRV/P booming in talking to another summit so I waited until he had finished and then called him for my 2nd. S2S. Another fruitless 10 minutes spotting and calling on 20m and I decided to call it a day!

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.
  • 6 metre Lambdahalbe mast
  • Screw-in umbrella base
  • Plastic painters sheet
  • SOTABeams linked dipole (repaired).
  • Three Lambdahalbe single band J-pole antennas for 20, 17 and 15 metres.
  • Battery box with hardcase 5AH 4S LIPO battery and electronic regulator.

Log:

Conclusions:

After tests at home, I am happy to report the interference did not come from the voltage regulator so it must be something on the summit creating that horrible noise. That added to atmospheric noise being so high and there was inevitably going to be problems.

The regulator did not turn off at home, so I can only think that something managed to press on one of the buttons during the activation. I have now found how to lock the buttons to avoid this happenein.

The Xiegu appears to have worked correctly on this activation, so I can rely on the rig in the future.

The antenna situation needs work. I have looked around and there does not appear to be any good quality 10 metre mini-poles on the market. The only one is the DX-Wire one where the fibreglass sections simply have walls that are too thin to be reliable. My options are therefore to either buy one that is longer to carry (and hence has less sections, each of which with thicker walls) or find an alternative way to support the J-Pole antennas – perhaps I can install them in an Inverted-L format?

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – February 5th. 2018 5 summits in a day DL/AL-169 & 179, DL/AM-001,176 & 177.

Preparation:

As it’s now a new year and we still have the winter bonus of three extra points to the activator in force, I decided to put together the well tried and tested gear and head off to five local, easy access summits. Originally I had though of including a sixth – DL/AM-178 Ammerleite however since the easy access road has been made private, there is a long walk of about 2 kilometres from another road and the last part of that route is not on a prepared track, rather across a field up to the summit cross. this last part can be problemsome. I have been up to my knees in snow on this last part of the ascent and even if the snow has cleared the ground will almost certainly be very muddy. Not a good candidate for a “quick” activation.

Equipment would be the “tried and tested” Yaesu FT-817ND plus modified Ramsey HF amplifier, the SotaBeams band-hopper linked dipole and my 6 metre fishing pole plus this time a screw-in Sun umbrella base.

The Locations:

Auerberg is accessed from the church and restaurant’s car park and then a walk of about 50 metres up the side of the church (quite a steep climb but not long). Around the back of the church this is a bench seat to sit on and fence posts to attach the antenna mast to.
Weichberg is accessed from a forest car park and then walking up through the forest about 150 metres to the Chapel with table and bench seats outside.
Rentschen is a drive up summit formed by a plateau. Once there I walk across to the trig-point stone and set up. No bench at this one, take something to sit on.
Kirnberg has no car park so I drive to the farmers gate and then walk up alongside his fence to the cross (this farmer is really cool, he towed me out when I got bogged once – typical country guy). There’s a bench at the cross here as well.
(Hoehen-)Peissenberg is the easiest of all, you drive to the car park and then walk up the concrete steps and path to the other side of the church and set up on the bench there.

My plan was to activate DL/AL-169 Auerberg, DL/AL-179 Weichberg, DL/AM-176 Rentschen, DL/AM-177 Kirnberg and DL/AM-001 Peissenberg in that order. The order seemed reasonable however as I later found out, it would have made more sense to reverse the first two as the route from DL/AL-179 to DL/AM-176 took me back through the village underneath DL/AL-169. Oh well, next time I should know better. In the same way the route from Auerberg to Weichberg could be along main roads but leaving my GPS Navi to do the route planning it took me along single track country roads, in at least two places these went THROUGH farm yards on their route! Oh the fun of GPS-Navis!

The Activations:

The weather at home although cold there was no snow to be seen. Surprise, surprise all summits were still snow covered from snow that came down a couple of weeks ago! Temperatures varied from -9C on Auerberg “up” to -4.5C on the last summit Peissenberg. I was glad of taking my thick winter jacket but despite that, the way I felt when I arrived home, I believe I suffered some Hypothermia.

Apart from the realisation that I should have done the first two summits in the opposite order, the drives to the summits were uneventful.

Auerberg (my first summit) has a surprise for me when I arrived apart from the horribly cold temperature (-9°C) access to the summit had been closed as renovation work on the church building that sits on the actual summit has started and everything was fenced off. At this summit, even down to the car park is part of the Activation Zone so I set up on the short track up to the church. Of course now I had no bench seat, so I put out my painters sheet which kept sliding down the slope on top of the hard packed but also frosty snow. This was not starting off the day well! After spotting and calling for some time I did manage to get 5 contacts despite at one point, my smart phone being so cold that it stopped working actually “froze up” and then rebooted. This was cold. So as soon as I didn’t hear any more calls I packed everything up and headed back to the warmth of the car. Even folding the painters sheet was difficult in the cold and several items simply got pushed untidily into the rucksack.

After a scenic run along single lane country roads, I got to Weichberg. While there was still the bench seats and table here, a small tree that I used to strap the antenna mast to was no longer there and I had to use a fence post some distance further away. The end result was that the coax from the antenna was not long enough, so I had to put the station on the painters sheet on the ground again. That new antenna location can’t be very good as I had difficulty getting contacts just managing the minimum four required before packing up. Even though the temperature had now risen to -6°C the small rubber reels that I wind the antenna leads onto was really stiff and that combined with the, mandatory in these temperatures, gloves meant winding up the antenna took longer than normal. Everything takes longer than planned in such cold temperatures. To add to the fun, the antenna wire broke when I was taking it down and so got a quick repair so that it could be used on the next summit.

It was while driving to Rentschen, I realised that I was driving back past Auerberg and could have activated the two Algaeu summits in the reverse order. Apart from that the drive was uneventful. On arriving at Rentschen I decided to park just half off the road to avoid getting bogged, took the usual two packs plus my sun umbrella screw-in base as I knew at this location, there is no where to strap the mast to. I set up about half way between the road and the trig point stone (the whole plateau here is in the activation zone). By now the temperature had risen to -5°C and a lot more chasers were active. I managed 15 contacts on this summit in 12 minutes and then started the pack-up again. While I could have tried 20 metres for more contacts, I was already running late on my planned schedule, so I only operated 40m SSB on each summit.

The next summit about 30 minutes drive away was Kirnberg and I here I left the car parked on the road (I learnt my lesson getting bogged once before here). The wind had increased and the temperature had fallen one degree down to -6 again. Once I walked up to the summit cross and put the gear on the bench seat, I again used the screw-in base to support the mast. I have strapped it in the past to the fence posts but it has often tilted over a lot, so while I had the base with me, I decided to use that. This summit brought me eight contacts in five minutes before I packed everything up again and headed back down to the car. Just one more summit to go.

The drive over to Peissenberg was probably the longest and went past the point where I would have turned off to do Ammerleite but the overall direction was heading towards my home now. I grabbed a little lunch (I had brought a pack-up with me) before setting up at my normal spot on the bench overlooking the valley from the side of the church. This time 15 minutes brought 12 contacts and an interested visitor who I talked to for five minutes. Now that I had enough contacts on 40m, any thoughts of perhaps activating 20m were curtailed by the fact that my Smart Phone (which had been running 4G comms for watching and spotting all day and Bluetooth for hands-free while in the car) had 100% drained its battery. Without being able to self spot, no one would know that I was on 20m looking for contacts. So it was definitely time to pack up and while packing away one of the link connectors in the antenna broke away from the wire  – another thing to fix at home (along with the broken wire, which was now wound together and taped). Peissenberg was a “warm” -4.5°C by the time I left for the well used by me, country back roads route to my home.

Photos:

   1. DL/AL-169 Auerberg.

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  2. DL/AL-179 Weichberg.

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  3. DL/AM-176 Rentschen.

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  4. DL/AM-177 Kirnberg.

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  5. DL/AM-001 Peissenberg.

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

SOTABeams “Band-Hopper” linked Dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m telescopic fishing pole.

Screw-in Sun Umbrella base.

Modified Ramsey QAMP amplifier (30-35W on 40m).

Logs:

   1. DL/AL-169 Auerberg.  2. DL/AL-179 Weichberg.  3. DL/AM-176 Rentschen.  4. DL/AM-177 Kirnberg.  5. DL/AM-001 Peissenberg.Conclusions:

I was surprised by the fact that there was still snow on these low summits (at home it had melted 10 days earlier) and especially the wind that I found made the low temperatures even worse. It took longer than normal to get anything done.

I am glad I didn’t try for the sixth summit, it could have ended with me being very ill by the end of the day. Do not under-estimate the effect of cold on the human body.

I decided to stay with the same equipment on each summit. Had I used my Aerial-51 OCF dipole instead of the SOTABeams band hopper, I could have switched to 20m without having to take the aerial down but it probably was wise to stay just on 40 metres when I had limited time available for each summit.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – January 22nd. 2018 DM/BM-286 Ebersberg.

Preparation:

As I was in Lower Bavaria (Niederbayern) I decided to plan a visit to and activate what looked like a very straight forward summit in DM/BM-386 Enbersberg. At the same time I could test my wide-band vertical antenna with NVIS wire added at the same time. The mobile antenna – a Komunica Bazoka Pro from Spain has been used on previous activations with varying results. Mounted on a camera tripod, it has worked well on 40 metres but not so well on 20m. A discussion on the SOTA reflector alerted me to an antenna from the US that claimed to be wide-band AND good for both close in and DX contacts. The initial reaction was I can’t belive that, but looking at eHam reports the antenna from “Alpha Antennas” was getting some good reviews. Reading the online available, handbook for the antenna, it consists of a tripod with an earthing lead, an UNUN matching piece, a vertical whip and from the same connection above the UNUN, a 7.62m long wire, that should slope down to form half of an inverted-V configuration antenna for close in (up to 300 miles) communications. The vertical whip with its low angle of radiation adds the DX capabilities to the antenna. Looking at my Bazoka Pro configuration, I could easily emulate this antenna and indeed two tests, one in the garden at home and one at a portable location outside of the village, both showed that the antenna worked better with this extra wire connected to a conveniently already there hole at the top of the Bazoka’s UNUN, than without the wire. The Antenna analyser trace also showed a flatter SWR reading with the wire added than without.

I have all of the DM & DL summits programmed into my car GPS Navi but I also printed out a Google map and the instruction of how to get as close to the summit as possible. It looked like a short walk from a rough car park up to the look-out tower on the summit.

The Location:

Ebersberg is near Kirchberg and following directions to Kirchberg will get you in the general area until you see road signs for Ebersberg. The summit is located on a range of hills that run along the northern banks of the Danube river, so views should be great on a clear day. There is in fact a Hamlet called Ebersberg that “should” be at the start of the track up to the summit (see report below, why I say “should”). The lookout tower should be a great location for a VHF activation with contacts likely possible into Austria and the Czech Republic as well as Germany if conditions are good. As I would have my dog Bonnie along, the tracks up to the summit through the forest should also be enjoyable for her as well. This is only the third time I have had Bonnie on an activation and the previous two times my wife was along and could take care of Bonnie if needed. This time it was just Bonnie and I.

The Activation:

The weather the two weeks prior to my planned visit was cold with snow and ice in Upper Bavaria (Oberbayern) where I live but there had been no snow, just a little drizzle and grey days in Lower Bavaria. That was until the day I travelled over when they had several centimeters of snow along with sleet and high winds. They were simply not ready for the weather, meaning when I set off from where I was staying about 40 minutes drive south of Ebersberg and the Danube valley, I was challenged with some “interesting” road conditions. Luckily as I got about 15 minutes north of my starting point the snow ploughs and gritting machines had been out and done a good job of clearing the roads. With temperatures around -1.5C and a lot of water on the road, along with one snow blizzard I still needed to take care and the 40 minute drive took just under an hour.

My Navi tried to take me via the autobahn but as I was hearing on the radio of many accidents causing blockages and delays on the Autobahns, I wanted to take the more direct, country roads route, which were actually quite good roads. After a while and a couple of “recalculating route” announcements, the Navi recognised the route I wanted to take and brought me nicely to the location. Well actually, that’s not 100% correct. At what I later realised was the very end of the journey, the Navi told me, “take a right turn in 100m”, “take the next right turn”. There was no right turn! I kept driving and got the “recalculating route” message again. The recalculated route, was to take me to the next village, turn me around and come back to the point where it had said make a right turn but this time it wanted me to take a left turn into this non-existent road. Then the penny dropped! The road was under 15cm of Snow drift and hadn’t been cleared. I could see a half-submerged information board at the end of what I guess was the rough car park, I had seen on Google Earth. So I parked the best I could half off the main (country) road, hoping that afterwards I would be able to get back onto the road! I picked up my bags, put a lead on the dog and we headed back up the road to where the turn-off should have been…

From that point I saw a metal archway, which appears to be over a track, as I could see some dog and owner tracks going up into the forest. Winter may stop the road clearers but when a dog needs to go out for its morning walk not even deep snow can stop it! Indeed this was the track and it isn’t very far at all up the track into the forest before one see’s the lookout tower and a flat round area in front of it. What I found interesting was, that there were a series of huts around the edge of this clearing. I wonder if these are still there from before Christmas and they were the sales huts for the Christmas market? Alternatively perhaps the locals hold events up here – the lookout tour was built by the local forestry club, so it could be that (when there’s not so much snow) they use the area for outside events. I had let Bonnie, my dog off the lead as we went under the archway and she seemed to be very obedient and that was one of the successes of this activation, that I could let the dog wander and investigate wherever she wanted but she came back every time I called her. This is a big thing as it means I can take her with me on future activations. She showed some interest while I was putting together the radio equipment and setting up the tripod mounted antenna but the woods and the huts around the area where far more interesting. I think we both enjoyed the morning out!

From a radio point of view, I was surprised to find a contest going on, on 40 metres. This was a Monday, contests are usually only on weekends. It seemed to be mostly Italian stations on the band, so perhaps an Italian national contest? The other thing I noticed after setting up, was, when tuned away from the loud contest stations, the atmospheric noise seemed very low. This was both on 40 metres and 20 metres. Later I checked and the K Index was only 1, which could be part of the reason but I suspect something else – perhaps the antenna, – perhaps the (IPO) pre-amp was turned off on these bands, perhaps I had turned the attenuator on by mistake? I checked at home and while I can’t be 100% sure, I think these settings were not wrong. In fact the problem may have been the multitude of strong stations, de-sensing the receiver and it would perhaps have been good to turn the IPO function off? From the reception reports that I got, I seemed to be getting out, despite the small antenna and the closeness of the trees. I’ll need to check this on the next activation.

My activation was a constant battle against the contest stations. as soon as I found a free frequency and started calling CQ, a station would start-up either on my frequency or so close to it that they splattered over it (again, had I thought of turning off IPO this may have helped). In any case it took some time to get the minimum 4 contacts required and I know there were others calling me but as soon as I heard part of a call sign, the QRM wiped out all but the very, very strong stations.

 

the temperature was “warm” for most of the time at around +2C but despite that after about an hour, my hands were starting to feel very cold and I was aware that at some point the dog would get bored or perhaps walk off and get lost. So after my 5th. contact I packed up and we left. All of the contacts were on 40 metres. I did try 20 metres for a short time but with no response to my spot and CQ call.

The drive back to where I was staying me the road clearers just starting to clear the roads around the village at about 12:30. All in all a nice outing and an area where I’d like to activate more summits but as the closest summit is at least 3 hours drive from my home QTH in good weather, I think any activations will have to wait until Summer.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

Komunica Bazoka Pro plus “NVIS wire”.

Photo tripod.

Modified Ramsey QAMP amplifier (30-35W on 40m).

Log:

Conclusions:

A great trip out, especially as regards how well the dog behaved but I am a little worried about the low noise level on the FT817 using the Bazoka antenna – more tests are needed.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – December 26th. 2017 DL/AM-060 Laber.

Preparation:

As my brother was visiting, I wanted to take him to an easy summit and while (although he still holds a call) he is far more interested in photography than radio these days, I wanted to have a quick deployment activation, with the minimum of equipment. I have a Diamond RHM-8B 40-10m loaded vertical that fastens directly to the top of the FT-817, that I have used on an earlier activation, so that is what I built this activation around. One small bag (rather than the usual two), no mast, no amplifier just 5 watts to the whip antenna “Handy Talkie” style. To improve the antenna somewhat I have created a set of counterpoise wires (different lengths for different bands) that clip as one unit to the case of the FT-817, this would hopefully help a little in the activation.

As the cable car up to the Laber mountain above Oberammergau had started running again a couple of days earlier after its annual maintenance (it is the oldest cable car in Bavaria after all), I could fit this activation together with a visit to the beautiful village of Oberammergau, famous for its “Passion Play” that it puts on every 10 years.

The Location:

Oberammergau and the valley station of the cable car is less than an hours drive away from where I live. It is in the foothills of the Alps (the village at around 800m ASL and the summit around 1600m ASL). The drive down I had done many times before.

The Activation:

The weather was fine if cold. There was still snow in Oberammergau and a LOT of snow on the Laber summit. So much in fact, that my normal operating position was under snow and not reachable. A lot of people (and their dogs) were on the summit and a few (very brave people) were actually skiing down from this mountain (this is really one of the most difficult “black” runs in the area, especially with limited snow in the lower parts of the run). This meant that, as the ski slope was open, the path down the mountain was closed and a lot of the people on the summit who would normally taken a nice leisurely walk down to the valley were “stuck” viewing from the summit. All of this reduced the available space, so that if I had brought my normal mast and Inverted-V antenna, I would have had problems deploying it. As it was I was unable to fully deploy the counterpoise wires.

What became very apparent when I connected up the antenna to the rig was the noise from the microwave link station on this summit. With my horizontal antenna from my normal operating position this has not given me any problems but the vertical antenna picked up this noise very well! The way that the RHB-8B works, is that you slide the coil up and down the base of the antenna, adjusting for maximum received signal and then put out a low power carrier and trim for least SWR. On the FT-817, there are 4 power levels which can be selected and selecting the lowest and then going back to the highest before putting out the CQ had its own problems. Add to this the fact that the antenna is not stable on the FT-817’s BNC connector and was affected by nearness to both the snow and my body and adjusting first for a frequency on 40m and then 20m and finally 17m was a challenge. 40m was quite busy with a contest on, so the usual issue of finding a free frequency was there and of course keeping the frequency was even harder! It took quite some effort to bag 4 contacts over about 30 minutes. THANK YOU to those 4 chasers that managed to get through. Try as I did, I couldn’t manage an S2S contact with another activator that I could hear quite well on 40m. The fact that he was giving low signal reports to chasers that with me were booming in, suggests he may also have been having local QRM affecting his receive capabilities.

I went into this activation looking at it as an experiment and indeed, I have some actions to do before I try again. All in all however we both (my brother and I) enjoyed a nice (if a little cold) day out.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

Diamond RHM-8B rig mounted antenna.

Counterpoise wire.

Log:

Conclusions:

It would have been better to test everything out before heading out, however with other “tourist guide” duties in the days running up to the activation, I simply had no time.

The Diamond RHM-8B antenna needs to have some non-metal attachment added to it to give it far more stability while connected to the FT-817.

I need to change the counterpoise wire from being wound on a plastic stake to something larger to make deployment and recovery quicker and easier.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – December 6th. 2017 DM/BM-374 Wuelzburg (first activation).

Preparation:

As the title states, this was the first activation of this summit. A few summits were added to the DM association on December 1st. 2017 and while this was a surprise, I took a look at them all and realised that Wuelzburg would be well within my capabilities to activate (others were a lot further away or difficult to access or were wooded summits, which can cause transmission problems). I have been the “first activator” of a new summit in VK2, Australia (VK2/HU-093 Mt Elliot)  and had a chance to activate a new Austrian summit about a year ago but I waited too long and another activator got there first!

With this summit, I was unable to get there in the first few days due to bad weather conditions. I kept an eye on SOTAWatch spots and alerts and luckily no one decided to activate Wuelzburg, so as the weather improved, I decided that December 6th. (St. Nikolas day) was going to be “THE DAY”. I planned my route, programmed the GPS and loaded all the usual equipment into the car the night before, so that I could get an early start.

The Location:

Wuelzburg (Burg meaning castle or fortification in German), sits on a steep-sided hill above the town of Weissenberg about 1 3/4 hours drive away from my home QTH. So in no means a “local” summit for me – however in this case the route was all major roads. Only the last 3 km or so was up country roads. The “fortress” itself is open for public tours during the summer and has a car park near to the gate to the castle. The castle and car park sit on the flat-topped hill and so anywhere you go along the walking track around the castle walls or within the castle walls, is well within the SOTA activation zone.

The Activation:

The weather forecast from the previous day was for some sunshine and the temperature warming up however on the morning this was revised to be cloudy with drizzle but at least with temperatures above the freezing point. So no ice on the roads thankfully. The journey up was uneventful and went at a good pace except on approaching Augsburg from the south where the traffic slowed to a crawl. This was not an accident, simply the normal morning traffic overloading the road’s capacity. Once past Augsburg it was possible to cruise at around 100 km/h again. There were some delays on the two lane part of the B2 highway with trucks limited to 80 km/h and no safe places to pass and road works where a bridge has been in repair mode for the last 6 months but all in all a good run. I made only one mistake, taking an exit too soon from the B2 road at Weissenberg and the GPS constantly wanted to re-plan the route. Once I realised what was wrong, I got back onto the B2 and then took the next exit (which was already signposted to Wuelzburg!).

On arriving at the castle, I was surprised to find the car park almost full but not a lot of people around. My guess is that some kind of course was being held using the buildings within the castle walls. When there’s little public interest in winter, it makes sense that they use the facility for something else.

From the car park, I could see some seating, which turned out to be a platform overlooking the drop down into the Altmuhltal valley. This was probably about 100 metres from the car park and the route up there could be made with a little difficulty by a disabled activator in a wheelchair if required. There are also other green areas around the castle that would also be suitable for activations without any large hindrances in the way.

As you’ll see from the pictures, it was still quite misty when I arrived and stayed that way until I left. My feeling is that it was only a degree or two above zero and there was a wind meaning it felt cold (which in the end limited how long I stayed).

After setting up the linked dipole on the 6 metre fishing pole at the wooden lookout platform, I was surprised to find lots of stations on 40 metres. There wasn’t a contest as far as I know, so I can only assume that several people have already started their Christmas holidays and were on the air. I tuned around and found 7.130 clear and so spotted myself and started calling CQ SOTA. At 08:47 UTC Mariusz SP9AMH was the first to come back and told me something was wrong with my audio. I turned off the RF compressor that is built into the microphone and he then said all was fine. Of course with the compressor off I lose 50% of my signal “punch” so I need to look at what has happened there – perhaps the cold has affected the electronics? I ran the complete activation with the compressor off in any case.

In total I had 20 contacts, the best being an S2S into Mallorca. As I expected, I was getting worse reports than normal but I was getting out, which was the main thing. As time went on I was getting colder and colder, so when the calls eventually dried up at around 09:07 UTC, I decided to call it a day and pack everything up.

The run home had less delays from traffic but strangely seemed to take longer (which it didn’t). I was home just after Noon local time.

I had achieved what I set out to do – to be the first station to activate a new summit and in the process I also broke the 500 activator points, something I have been trying to do over my last few activations.

 

Cell phone coverage at this summit at first looked to only be “Edge” (2G) from the car park however from the lookout platform, Vodaphone got a 4G link so that was fine.

Band conditions were very average but there is no QRM at this location, so signals down to S1 were audible. Given that this summit has no winter bonus, it would make a nice summit to visit in summer, to be combined with a tour around the fortress perhaps?

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

SOTABeams Bandhopper linked dipole.

Lambdahalbe 6m fibreglass mast.

Modified QAMP amplifier (30-35W on 40m).

Log:

Conclusions:

Although there are no extra points for being the first activator of a summit, it’s nice to have one’s name at the top of the list. The 6 points from this summit were also nice to break that “HALF-GOAT” 500 point barrier.

On the equipment side, I need to look into what is wrong with the in microphone RF-Clipper as the extra punch is very important when one has a weak signal. I also need to service the much suffering SOTABeams band hopper linked dipole. The tape I used to keep the coax coiled refused to come off without splitting, so I need to use a different type next time. The cloth type doesn’t dry up or crack in the heat or cold but if it wont come off and re-stick easily when I need it to with my cold fingers, I will have to find something better. Perhaps a Velcro tie?

73 ’til the next Summit!