Ever hopeful of some long path contacts into VK/ZL, while John VK6NU/P in West Australia was to be out, I decided with a couple of other activators around Europe to go out. This was not an organised S2S event rather just another attempt at contacts despite the current horrible radio conditions. It also provided me with an opportunity to see if the changes I had made to my gear had brought any improvements.
Zwieselberg is another Allgaeu summit not far from Auerberg and Weichberg. Access is through the viillage of Rosshaupten and overlooks Forggensee (Lake Forggen). One needs to drive into the unilaterally declared republic of Zwieselberg and in fact via the Berghof Eberle in Vorderzwieselberg village. The road is marked as use at your own risk, it is not restricted for access. So I drive carefully through the farm yard at Berghof Eberle and perhaps another 300 metres up the road to where it is no longer a tarmacced road. Given the steepness of the track and all the loose stones, only tractors are able to get past this point in any case. From my parking spot, just off the road near a farm out-building it’s an 89 metre vertical climb in about 300 metres distance, some of that over steep sections. This summit is definitely not disabled operator accessible, at least not from the Vorderzweiselberg side. Apparently cyclists get to the summit from the Hinterzweiselberg village up a much longer, but not as steep track.
The drive down took just about an hour and I had no problem finding the summit again. I did use my GPS Navi in the car (where I have SOTA summit locations programmed in) and it was fine until the last 500 metres or so where it wanted me to take a different route through the Berghof Eberle grounds. I decided to turn the car around, to save time on my return journey and parked the car off the side of the road where others had parked before. As the sun was shining, even though it was still only a couple of degrees above zero, I took a couple of photos looking across the valley.
It took a good 15 minutes to climb up the track with my two bags, the 10m pole and a 6m one “just in case”. Once I arrived at the summit I started to set everything up. The expectation was that “perhaps” a contact into VK or ZL might be possible on 40 metres as 20 meters had been so bad of late. I was about 30 minutes ahead of my expected start time and Mike 2E0YYY had spotted himself as on 40m and on Billinge Hill (G/SP-017). I put up the 10m DX-Wire mini-mast and strung out the Aerial-51 OCF antenna, which I hadn’t used for a while, roughly north/south to give a little directivity east/west. I noticed that the connection from the plug on the coax seemed a little intermittent but managed to get it stable and made a note to look at it when I got home. I managed to work Mike at 06:03 UTC (8:03 am local time). He gave me a better signal strength that I did him, however just a few minutes later, after we had finished our QSO, his signal came up – there was a lot of QSB on the band it seems. John VK6NU in West Australia had also spotted so I went to see if I could hear anything of him on 20 metres. Nothing! Tuning around 20m, I could hear a Russian and an Italian station, both relatively weak (S4 – S5), so band conditions were not looking good. I decided to go back to 40m, find a clear spot and start CQing. My first contact was probably the longest for the day with OH9XX in finland – but he seemed rather quiet and normally that station comes booming in. I turned around to see that the DX-Wire mast had done its usual trick and collapsed into itself so that the antenna was about 1.5m off the ground instead of 10m I asked OH9XX to wait and I raised the mast again and signals came up in both directions. With the Off Centre Fed dipole, I could switch easily between 40m and 20m. Well it should have been easy, but I had the problem with the display on the rig being unreadable even when a little sunlight got on it. The anti-glare plastic that I had added, had not helped, in fact it had made it worse and I took it off. Because of the inability of being able to read the display, I eneded up at one point calling CQ on 20m on lower sideband! It was only as I tuned around and couldn’t resolve a Russian station that I realised. After realising I was on the wrong sideband and changing, John in Australia had spotted again and I took another listen – nothing heard. Then I decided I would see if the rule that verticals are better than dipole for DX is true. I lowered the mast, removed the OCF dipole and put up the Lambdahalbe end-fed 20m vertical (J-pole) – I could still not hear anything on John’s frequency and tuning around I could still hear a Russian and an Italian station but I think a little quieter than on the dipole (but this could also have been conditions). Down came the J-Pole, back up went the OCF Dipole and back onto 40m to at least qualify the summit with the needed total of 4 contacts. In the next 7 minutes I worked 6 different stations. I kept trying for another hour before deciding to pack up and head home. The conditions were simply not there.
I did however have a few items to follow-up on when I got home…
Investigations/changes done after returning home:
Rig Display: This was again difficult on this activation with the sunshine it was a little better by shading it with my hand but this is not n acceptable or practical solution. I searched around and found another way to contact Xiegu, the manufacturer of the rig and they have confirmed that the contrast on the display cannot be adjusted but the brightness should be able to be – their website advertises how easy it is to read in sunlight! This is not the case with my rig. Although only a few months old, as I bought the rig from a private seller the conditions of Xiegu’s warranty does not cover me. I am hoping for some more technical details so that I can investigate and hopefully resolve the problem myself.
Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole connector – I had changed this to a BNC plug from the original PL-259 when I used the antenna with my FT-817. As this BNC plug was now having problems, I have cut it off and added a PL-259 plug back onto the lead which not only means I avoid the problem BNC plug but I also no longer need to use the BNC to PL259 adapter (as the socket on the X-108G is a SO-239).
Shortcuts using keys on the microphone – there are two programmable keys on the microphone, F1 and F2 that can be set to do special functions. Given the problems that I have had with seeing and changing the band and mode on the rig, I thought I might set these up to do that rather than switch menus on the (unreadable) screen however when I looked at the details of the other buttons on the microphone, there is already a button to change modes (e.g. LSB to USB) and one to switch between VFO A and VFO B which was how I was going to switch between 20m and 40m in any case, so F1 and F2 can stay as Pre-amp and Attenuator on/off switches.
Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.
Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.
J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe (20m).
DX-Wire 10m mini-mast.
Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.
As confirmed by others that were out, band conditions were very bad and 20m was probably above the MUF, hence nothing but ground wave contacts would be possible, if at all. The OLED display on the rig remains a major problem but at least the Portable PSU box now seems to be working reliably as the rig did not go off at any time during the activation and I was running full power the whole time.
I had forgotten how practical the OCF dipole is compared to the linked dipole when I want to quickly switch bands. In previous years I have tested the OCF against the linked dipole and there was no noticeable difference in performance. The OCF is twice the weight of the linked dipole because of its BALUN however.
With conditions they way they are, I’m wondering whether it makes any sense to go out next saturday for the EU/NA S2S event although the weather forecast is for a sunny day, so even without any DX contacts it could be enjoyable IF I can find a way to make the rig’s display visible.
73 ’til the next Summit !