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

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

Preparation:

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Photos:

   Falkenstein:

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   Zwolferkopf:

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Equipment:

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

Logs:

DL/AL-167 Falkenstein:

DL/AL-166 Zwolferberg:

Conclusions:

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

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – December 30th 2019 – DL/AL-167 Falkenstein – Winter Bonus points activation.

Preparation:

As the end of the year got closer, I realised there was one more summit that I might be able to squeeze in, that I hadn’t activated in 2019. In fact, the last time I had activated Falkenstein was in 2017, so I missed the points from this summit in 2018 somehow!

Looking at the weather forecast, Monday the 30th. December looked like being a dry day and as it turned out, while cold enough that the ice and snow on the summit hadn’t melted, it was actually quite sunny.

This summit does not need a cable car to get to it. It is a “drive-up” summit, at least to about 70 vertical metres below the summit. It does have a novel access restriction however, in that the road up to the summit is a private, one-track road with tight hairpin turns and sheer drops off the mountain face at some points! The road is owned and maintained by a hotel that is located just below the summit and there is a charge of €4 for the use of the road, which is paid at a ticket machine at the start of the road by the traffic lights. To avoid vehicles meeting each other going in different directions (there are no passing spots) the road is controlled with traffic lights on a timer and cars are allowed to drive up the road between a quarter past the hour and 5 minutes to the next hour and drive down the road between the full hour and 10 minutes past. As it takes 5 minutes for the drive, the no-drive gaps of 5 minutes allow for those risking a last-minute sprint (usually the hotel supplies van).

So that I could get on-air at my planned time and return home for some afternoon shopping, I had to plan the trip precisely so as not to be delayed too long if I arrived at the traffic lights at either the bottom or top of the road, at the wrong time as that could cost me 30 minutes easily.

I decided that I would once again use the small set-up with the photo tripod and the Komunica HF-PRO2 loaded HF mobile whip. But, just in case, I would also take along my 6-metre mast and a couple of Inverted-V dipoles. My operating position is on the summit, upon a platform within the ruins of the castle. This does not allow a lot of space to run out dipole wires so it would be simpler if I could get my required 4 contacts just with the mobile whip.

Falkenstein is the highest castle ruins in Germany and it was to be another hunting lodge type castle for King Ludwig II but he was drowned in Lake Starnberg before the work could be completed. The location therefore also has a Castles on the Air and a World Castles Award designation of SWB-13014 and DL-0246 respectively.

As there is no cable car involved I decided to take both radio bags, so including the amplifier and various spare cables and things “just in case” i.e. twice as much weight as I really needed! All was packed the day before however for me it was a relatively late start at 9:45 local time for the estimated 75-minute drive. To arrive just as the road would open for traffic to go up it.

The Activation:

The drive down went well and I actually arrived 15 minutes earlier than I expected, meaning as I arrived I saw the light change from green to red. As I hadn’t paid my ticket at that point, to dash through the light would have been a bad idea. I waited the 15 minutes and then took off up the road. I have driven this road two times before but some of the hairpin bends were interesting to negotiate, as was getting past a parked truck, in use by a crew installing Armco barriers a little further up the road. In any case, I was back in my schedule when I arrived in the “day visitor’s” car park and loaded myself up with two bags and the HF-Pro2 antenna in a protective tube that I made for it.

The walk from here up the rest of the road to the hotel entrance is steep – especially when carrying the weighty bags, but the road was fairly clear of ice and so no problem to get up. The next stage after passing the hotel, on the final path and stone steps up to the ruins were more of a challenge and I stopped and added spikes to my boots, which made all the difference. Where other tourists were having some real problems with lack of grip, my spikes were cutting into the ice-covered stones and giving me good traction with my heavy load.

Upon arrival at the ruins, I found the gate open (as it’s supposed to be) and went in and up the wooden tower that has been built inside the stone walls. On arriving on the top, I was happy to see the same wooden table that was their three years ago – much better than having to put the equipment on the floor, especially as more and more people were arriving as I set-up.

The tripod and HF-Pro2 went up quickly and then it took a while to untangle the eight counterpoise wires and run them out. Once that was done, I set the loading coil on the antenna to the position for 20 metres connected the rig to the battery. I decided not to bother with the amplifier despite having carried it up to the summit, I also left the speech compressor and power microphone in the bag and stuck with the standard microphone. As I turned on the rig I wondered what I would hear. On my last two activations at this summit, QRM from the hotel or the microwave relay station behind it wiped out 20 metres on one activation and 40 metres on another. This time although there was some background QRM on both bands, it wasn’t enough to be a problem, so it looks like whatever was causing the QRM previously has been fixed.

I started on 40m but the band was busy and the first two frequencies where I called CQ and spotted myself were immediately swamped by splatter from stations just off frequency, so I’d hear someone call me – I’d go back to them, pass it back and then hear nothing more from them as I presume, I had been flattened by the other station. Perhaps I should have put the amplifier on? In any case, my third frequency worked fine and I got a nice series of seven contacts including one S2S contact with Rudi OE7RDI on Laber. When the calls dried up (bearing in mind, my wish to get back to the car to be there at the right time for the 10-minute window when one can drive down the hill) I decided to give 20 metres a quick try and made two contacts there before shutting down, packing up and heading back down to the car. The trip home was uneventful and I managed the planned shopping trip as well.

All in all, it was a successful activation, getting me the 4 activation points plus 3 winter bonus points and proving again that the simple loaded whip on a tripod can get a signal out all around Europe.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Komunica HF-PRO2 HF bands vertical whip.
  • Converted Photo tripod and counterpoise wires.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTA Beams linked dipole (not used).
  • 6-metre Lambdahalbe fibreglass portable mast (not used).
  • Plastic painters sheet (not used).
  • 2 Smartphones one running PocketRxTx App and USB cable as an external display for X108G and one used for spotting and taking pictures.

Log:

Conclusions:

Keeping the operation simple is the best solution and when I receive my birthday present of a slightly larger rucksack, I’ll be trying to cut back to include all essential equipment in the one bag, but not more than is required.

Overall the outing was worth it as I got my points and some time out in the sunshine.

73 ’til the next summit!