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

Preparation:

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

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos:

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Equipment:

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

Logs:

DL/AL-179 Weichberg:

DL/AL-169 Auerberg:

Conclusions:

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

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

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

73 ’til the next summit!

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

Preparation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Activation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G.

Aerial-51 UL-404 OCF dipole.

Surveyors tripod.

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

Thick plastic painters sheet.

Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable.

Log:

Conclusions:

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

It was strange to hear absolutely nothing from New Zealand.

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

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

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

73 ’til the next Summit!

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!