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 …
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 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.
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.
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.
1. DL/AM-080 Berndorfer Buchet.
2. DL/AM-060 Laber.
3. DL/EW-001 Wank.
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.
1. DL/AM-180 Berndorfer Buchet.
2. DL/AM-060 Laber.
3. DL/EW-001 Wank.
Conclusions & actions:
- 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.
- 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.
- The new small lightweight base from Decathlon was a success.
- The X108G (apart from the display visibility problems) and the new regulator work fine.
- 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!