DD5LP/P – November 18th. 2017 3rd. annual EU-NA S2S event – DL/AL-167 Falkenstein.

Preparation:

The third annual, NA – EU/UK S2S event, was set for this date a couple of months ago, before we could know how either weather or radio conditions would be. My initial plan was to make this interesting for chasers by activating DM/BW-064 Heersberg, a 10 pointer south of Stuttgart and towards the French border. When it became obvious that the weather may be fairly bad and that with my nearly 3 hour drive each way, I could not be on the summit at the same time as the North American activators, I decided to change the summit and after looking around for one with at least a few points which didn’t need a lift for access (all mountain lifts in southern Germany close around November 5th. until just before Christmas for maintenance, upgrades and repairs before the Ski season starts) I settled on the 4 pointer DL/AL-167 Falkenstein which I have activated twice before, but not yet in 2017.

After my tests with new antennas over the last few activations, I decided to take the new Lambdahalbe J-pole antenna for 20m with the 10m mast and the Komunica Bazoka Pro mobile whip on my tripod for 40 metres. The rest of the set-up would be my FT-817, and home-modified 25w amplifier.

The Location:

Falkenstein has the highest castle ruin in Germany on top of it at 1267m ASL summit. This castle was intended to become another of King Ludwig’s residences but his death under suspicious circumstances drowning in the Starnberg Lake occurred before the work on Falkenstein could commence. The mountain lies above the town of Pfronten, close to the Germany/Austria border. Access to the summit car park from where it’s about a 15 minute walk to the castle ruins and summit is via a one-way toll road. This road really is one-way with no passing points and sheer drops off the side of the road in places. Road use is controlled with lights and cars are allowed up the road (fee € 4) between quarter past the hour and 5 minutes before the full hour. Cars coming down are allowed on the road between the full hour and 10 minutes past. It takes about 5 minutes to drive up the windy narrow road. An expensive hotel is located about 30 vertical metres below the summit but access to that car park is restricted to hotel guests and the public car park is a further 40 vertical metres below that. So after parking, there is a relatively steep climb both up to the hotel car park and then on up a set of stone steps to the summit. Located near the hotel is a communications tower – which made itself know during the activation!

The Activation:

Once I arrived at the summit, or more accurately at the top platform within the ruins on the summit, I found the table still present that I remember from last time although moved into a corner (which was fine). There was still some packed snow on the wooden floor of the platform and ice on the table and it was… COLD!

I first of all set up the 20m J-pole, winding it around the 10m mast as I raised it – the counterbalance 1/4 wavelength stub and feed coax ran nicely across to the table. Once that was up, putting up the tripod was simple and quick, the most time being needed to run out the counterpoise wire so that it wouldn’t be in the way of visitors who came up occasionally. The Komunica Bazoka Pro was then unpacked and the top element connected and the complete antenna screwed on to the SO-239 socket on the tripod.

Once the rig and amplifier were unpacked and cabled up, the station was ready to go. I took my usual set of photos to document the (somewhat overcast) conditions.

I started on 20 metres as this was the intention of the activation. Tuning around the band sounded good and not too busy. It was 11:53 UTC a little early for the other activators so I decided to make sure everything was working by making some chaser contacts and I was rewarded with contacts from the UK and Spain. When these calls ran out I decided to give 40m a try. As soon as I switched over antennas and band – I realised I was going to be in for a difficult time. The last time I activated Falkenstein I noted QRM from the radio tower at the side of the hotel. I had thought that had been VHF interference – wrong! This tower produces S8-S9 noise all across the whole of 40 metres (and presumably beyond). This of course meant any chasers calling me on 40m would need to be at least S8 and better S9+ before I could easily hear them. I pulled my headphones out of my rucksack and concentrated to pull the stations through the noise. I was very surprised that 11 contacts from some very patient chasers came in from all around Europe!

It was now 12:30 (UTC) and as I had to be back at my car in time to drive down in the time window when the road was open, I would need to start packing up at 13:30 at the very latest. I switched back to the 20m antenna and looked for some of the now spotted other activators. There was no way that I would hear any of these it seemed as the LZ DX contest had started and the band was full of loud (and hence wide) stations – trying to hear a portable station through that noise would be difficult at the best of times but there was now another factor – QSB. Stations that came back to my CQ SOTA call were varying in strength 3-4 S-points (and I presume they were hearing the same thing with my signal). After a while I took a break and took down and packed away the 40m antenna to reduce the time I would need later to pack up. I also realised that the battery in the amplifier was almost drained and so attached my external battery ready for some more 20m contacts. Eight more contacts followed including one S2S with Ralf HB9GKR on HB/AI-010 – I believe  this must have been a ground wave contact. My several attempts to call Sylvia OE5YYN/P came to nought, I was obviously too weak a signal – Sylvia was at best 3-3 with me so I was not surprised that my signal (which would have been a ground wave contact again) didn’t get through. At 13:30 UTC it was time to pull down and pack up the 20m antenna and mast and pack all equipment away into my small rucksack and photo bag and head down to the car – where I arrived about 5 minutes before the hour and was the first through the lights to head down the mountain and then knock 15 minutes off the time I had needed driving there, arriving home just before a heavy storm came over.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

LambdaHalbe 20m J-Pole antenna.

Komunica Bazoka Pro loaded Mobile antenna (40m).

DX-wire 10m fibreglass mast.

Hama camera tripod (modified with SO-239 socket) and counterpoise.

Modified QAMP amplifier (30-35W on 40m, 20-25W on 20m).

Log:

Conclusions:

Band conditions were marginal at best on 20m and when the contest stations came on they flattened what SOTA stations that were on. I think I was lucky to get the number of contacts that I did on the day. On 40 metres that S8-S9 interference from the communications tower right across the band made things REALLY difficult and the headphones certainly came into their own on this activation!  Both antennas worked well in the conditions and the Bazoka Pro certainly sets up very quickly. It’s a shame it doesn’t perform as well on 20m as it does on 40m (it’s supposed to be a wideband 40-10m antenna). The schedule of the one-way road closing meant that I had to leave quite early to get home before it got too dark. If I had been able to stay longer I still don’t think I would have achieved a North American S2S this year in any case.

73 ’til the next Summit!

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DD5LP/P – March 28th 2016 – DL/AL-167 Falkenstein.

Preparation:

Originally planned 10 days earlier to be activated with Eisenberg, time was running out to get Falkenstein (a reasonably easy summit) in before the end of the 3 point winter bonus. I would have liked to have also activated the nearby DL/AL-166 Zwolferkopf, however as the wife initially agreed to come along, I dropped that extra 2-2.5 hour commitment. I then decided I would try use 80m during the activation and stay a little longer at Falkenstein. As it turned out my wife could not come along after all. As I wanted to try 80m and I knew space was at a premium (especially on this Easter Monday when I expected several other visitors to be there), I decided I would take my 10 metre mast along as well as the normal 5 metre one, as if I could get the centre of the linked dipole higher, I would not need to go out as far as I would with the five metre mast to get the 80m dipole in and not touching the ground.

The Location:

I had activated Falkenstein previously along with Zwolferkopf, which used to be a dual-summit with both German and Austrian SOTA summit code allocations but no longer has this added attraction. Falkenstein sits above the town of Pfronten very close to the Austrian-German border. The access to Falkenstein is interesting in that it is via a private one-way road that is open in the upwards direction for 40 minutes of the hour and in the downwards direction for 10 minutes of the hour (there is a 5 minute gap between the two time zones to avoid contention of the road use). Access to the road costs €4 payable at the start of the road in a machine in a pay and display operation. The drive up the road is interesting with tight hairpin curves and no protection on the side of the road from sheer drops at some points. It takes less than 5 minutes to navigate up the road.

The Activation:

The small public car park is located about 50m vertical height below the summit. There are car parks further up the hill but these are reserved for the people staying at the hotel under the castle (a rather expensive, high class one). The first time I was at Falkenstein I saw Ferrari’s, Jaguars, a Lamborghini and a couple of the top end Audis, Mercedes and BMWs, so you can judge the clientel of the hotel. You have to actually walk up through the hotels car park to the start of the path up to the castle. There was a big sign saying no winter service – which means the path is not cleared in winter and while to this point there had not been very much snow around, the path had hard packed ice and snow on it making it difficult to climb safely. Luckily I had chosen to put my hiking boots on at the car, despite the bright sunshine and probably 8-10 degrees temperature. After setting off from the car, I actually turned back and collected the fasten-on spikes for my boots. A decision that was a very good one when I needed to come back down with more weight than usual, with the extra mast.

On arriving at the castle ruins (the highest in Germany and another of King Ludwig II’s buildings) I first looked at whether I could possibly set-up at the front of the castle with the antenna basically on the front wall of the ruins. This of course would be far from ideal and also would block access for the public. The last time I came, I set up at the rear of the ruins but again the high castle walls did nothing to help my signal. I decided to take a look inside and although not obvious there is a section or railing that is actually a gate that your can go through and although there are no more floors inside the (church sized) castle, steps have been built up to a viewing platform at the far end of the ruins. As I was the only one there at the time I decided to check this out as a location. The fact that when I got to the top there was a table there, made my decision for me. Unfortunately I would not be able to get an 80m antenna in here either, so all thoughts of trying 80m were dropped. Perhaps next time an end-fed half wave antenna thrown out down the hillside from the top of the castle ruins could be an option? In any case this time I got busy and put up the usual Aerial-51 40m OCF but this time on top of the 10m mast as space was also cramped for this antenna. For the first time in many activations, I was able to fly the SOTA flag, although with no wind, it drooped more than flew.

After 15 minutes the equipment set up – FT817 + Ramsey QAMP + Aerial-51 OCF on the 10 metre mast. This was a trial of the new modification I had made to the fan in the amp, so that it only turns on when I am transmitting (and so avoids the rf-noise from the brushless fan motor) and with an increased output of 20 watts on 20m and 30 watts on 40m by running the amplifier at 16v. I decided to start on 20m – no fan noise, great but then I realised there was still some QRM and remembered what I had found the last time I was here. Something – most likely the microwave relay or mobile phone cell station on top of the hotel puts out so much RF hash across 10m through 20m that signals have to be really strong to be worked. My first 3 contacts on 20m were difficult and I decided to switch to 40m which doesn’t have this RF interference but was full with activity making finding a free frequency difficult. I had to move a couple of times due to interference from other stations. I finished off the activation on 20m with quite a few contacts despite the local QRM and assisted by headphones. I actually managed 3 S2S contacts during the activation, which was a nice bonus.

During my activation, more and more people came up to take in the views and I ended up explaining what Amateur Radio is to a couple of semi-interested people. One surprising visitor was from my home county in the UK, East Yorkshire and he had previously known a local Radio Amateur some 40 years earlier in Hull, so it was good to have a bit of a chat in English for a while. The weather was beautiful however rain had been forecast for the afternoon and while more and more visitors were arriving at the ruins, I decided to call it a day at about noon local time after a one hour activation.

After packing up (which took a while longer than normal as I had to do it around the people there), I carefully picked my way down the path and stopped to put the spikes on my boots at the most icy spot (which despite the sunshine, still hadn’t melted). I arrived back at the car 5 minutes late for the downward time window for the private, single track road. I wasn’t worried, it gave me a chance to eat my packed lunch and check a few emails (no problem with 3G/Internet coverage from this summit).

The drive home was uneventful and the forecast rain only came the next day. All in all a nice day out which if I had tried to do Zwolferkopf as well might have been too much. I’ll go back and do that one in summer when the track up through the forest will be both clear of snow and easier to see.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 UL-404 off centre fed dipole.

10 metre DX-Wire mini-mast.

Ramsey QAMP 20/40m amplifier & PSU (5Ah 3S LIPO plus battery booster).

Log:

Activator log

Conclusions:

Propagation is still not good – in fact it’s probably as bad as I have experienced on a summit and the extra power from the QAMP definitely helps to get me heard over the QRM.

If with higher band propagation getting generally worse, using 80 metres is going to provide a physical challenge. Getting an 80m dipole in on some of the busier summits like this one will be difficult. End fed antennas may be an answer as long as we can also get the needed counterpoise out as well.

The QAMP is working well with the increased power output, but there is still probably 1 S-point of noise added when the amplifier is turned on as this is no longer coming from the brushless fan I need to find where it is coming from – perhaps the battery booster when it is on load, even just the small load of the RF-Vox circuit in the QAMP. Perhaps I need to trigger transmit directly from the FT-817 accessory socket rather than using RF-Vox. One thing is for certain, the amount of receive noise added now is a lot less than when the fans were running on receive.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP – May 17th. 2015 – Falkenstein and Zwolferkopf twice – DL/AL-167, DL/AL-166, OE/TI-670

Preparation:

I planned to activate a “border summit” (one that has two SOTA references in different associations) and one that should have been an easy summit, so that my wife and dog could accompany me. As it turned out this became a solo effort. I was determined to bag that border summit and start my entry into the 10 metre challenge by activating on 10m. I think in the end I really earned the few points these summit brought, as you will read below in my activation report.

I decided upon the usual FT817, 6 metre mast and Aerial-51 antenna (no amplifier used – but actually carried on this trip, but didn’t unpack it as the amp doesn’t cover 10m). I always recharge batteries and re-pack equipment after an activation, so everything was ready to go.

The Location:

The location of Falkenstein is quite close to Eisenberg, which I managed to activate after a couple of aborted attempts. On the map, it looks quite simple – turn off onto Konig Ludwig weg just before entering Pfronten. Well at the roundabout before the road to Pfronten, there was a clear sign to Falkenstein. Great! However that was the ONLY sign and the road I was looking for, although shown on the map as Konig Ludwig weg, has in fact another name. After driving past the road into Pfronten, expecting to find further signs (there were none), I back-tracked and took the road that I thought it MUST be. For others looking for this road, it goes into a suburb of Pfronten called Meilingen (and is signposted to there). If, like I, you end up in the middle of the village, simply keep taking roads that go up-hill and if you pass the “AlpenBad” you are heading in the right direction. When I came down from Falkenstein I managed to bypass the centre of the village completely.

The Activation:

I already knew that part of the way up the road to Falkenstein I would have to wait for traffic lights on the last, single track part of the road and pay €3 for the use of the private road. They have a strange set up where the road is open for cars going up the road for 45 minutes each hour and then it’s open for 15 minutes for cars coming down. They must assume that cars travel at three times the speed coming down as going up. Unfortunately I did not have the chance to try this theory out as the road was closed! The reason being one day a year (yes wasn’t I lucky, this was the day), the local ex-servicemen clubs hold a service at a memorial to fallen soldiers that is near the top of Falkenstein and there is only limited parking. So those attending the service were couriered up and back down in a minibus belonging to the Red Cross. Kindly they offered me a lift up as well but as the last bus down would be at 12 noon, I would have to walk down (which turned out fine, walking up with all the radio gear, food and water would have been pretty hard).

OK, so when I arrived at the memorial, I had probably another 25 or so vertical metres to struggle up to the ruins of the Falkenstein castle. This is the highest ruined castle in Bavaria and had been bought with the intention of being rebuilt á la Neuschwanstein style by Konig Ludwig of Bavaria before his suspicious death. So it stayed a ruin and someone built a very posh and expensive hotel below it. On the day I was there the hotel had a Ferrari, a Mercedes, a Porsche and an Audi R8 parked in the car park.

The weather forecast was for some showers, but luckily none came. At my first summit DL/AL-167 Falkenstein. I set up at the back of the ruins where I just managed to fit the inverted-V antenna in. I started on 10 metres, and found to my horror an S9 signal warbling all over the bottom half of the band. It sounded like an instable signal generator with a large amplifier attached. It was not radar like. I was a real problem though. There was a couple of other activators who had spotted activations on 10m. I took a listen – no chance. I then moved up the band far enough to miss the worst of the interference and put out a call but then I had all kinds of problems with Radio Rucksack Tool complaining about errors in XLS files and shutting down. I found the problem later, it was that I did not have any Internet credit left on my phone and it seems the RRT reacts strangely when it can’t get Internet access. In any case, the self-spot on 10m did not help so, I decided to move to 20m where I managed a few contacts. I also took a look on 40m but there was some contest on meaning I could not find a free frequency. I made enough contacts to qualify the summit in any case. As time was pressing on and I could see the next summit in the distance at the top of a pretty craggy climb, I decided if I was going to manage my “border summit”, I would need to pack up and head off, With having to walk back down the mountain a ways and then climb up the other side, I estimated it would take me an hour – it took nearer to an hour and a quarter.

Again sign-posting did not help at all. There was no reference to Zwolferkopf or Einerkopf that comes before it, on any of the walking track signs, so I “plumpted” for the one that I hoped was correct. For future reference, the track starts at the Austrian border stone shown in my pictures below just off the road up to Falkensten – about 2/3 of the way up from the start of the private, single track, traffic light controlled section.

It was certainly a long climb up to Zwolferkopf, but you certainly knew you were above everything else once you got to the top, where two seating banks are located alongside the track. The track doubles as the German and Austrian border marker.

Once set-up I called first in Austria using my Australian callsign – OE/VK2JI/P (when I am outside of Germany, I dont have to use my German call, I can also use either my Australian or English call sign). This was Zwolferkopf defined in SOTA as OE/TI-670. Although 10m was again a wash out with the Interference, I made a good selection of contacts on 20m including a S2S with Guru EA2IF/P on EA2/NV-121. I think using the VK call helped somewhat in the number of chasers calling. After grabbing some lunch, I then activated as DD5LP/P from DL/AL-166 (still Zwolferkopf). This time the number of contacts were less, so I decided to try 40m and managed a few more contacts there.

As usually happens, once I had packedd up a couple more activator spots came through that I might have been able to work, but with everything packed away ready for the climb back down the hill, I couldn’t unpack everything again. The walk down to the road went quite quickly but the walk from there down to the car park was some distance, leaving some blisters on my feet.

All in all an exhausting but successful day!

Photos:

1. Falkenstein

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 2. Zwolferkopf:

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Equipment:

Yaesu FT817ND,

Aerial-51 model 404-UL asymetric dipole.

6 metre squid pole.

Logs:

Falkenstein DL/AL-167:

DL-AL167-logZwolferkopf OE/TI-670

OE-TI670-logZwolferkopf DL/AL-166

DL-AL166-log

Conclusions:

I have been unable to find what caused the horrible inteference on 10m near Falkenstein and Zwolferkopf however I’m sure it is local and would suspect something within the hotel, a plasma TV possibly.

I really do need to cut down my equipment to one rucksack from the current rucksack plus camera bag and if I decide that I don’t need the amplifier, take it and it’s 2 5aH LIPO batteries out of my pack!

I’m not fit – I need to get out some more. It was a real achievement to get to the top of Zwolferkopf but I shouldn’t have been panting so much when I got there and there were  few points where I almost twisted my (weak) ankles. Definitely more exercise is called for!

73 ’til the next Summit!