DD5LP/P – June 23rd 2020 – DM/BW-854 Höchsten & DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg.

Preparation:

After multiple cancellations on a weather basis with incorrect forecasts, I was determined that two days after the official start of summer, I was going to get to these two eight pointer summits and get them activated! These two summits are the two nearest to Friedrichshafen that most SOTA activators visiting Ham Radio Friedrichshafen will somehow manage to fit into their trips. This year with COVID-19 restrictions the government ordered the cancellation of all large venue events until at least the end of August. Ham Radio was scheduled for June 26-28th and so was cancelled for this year. I was actually going to activate the summits in what would have been the week before Ham Radio Friedrichshafen.

The first of the two Summits – Höchsten DM/BW-854 is a fairly recent addition to the SOTA summits list and was added a little while after two lower summits were removed. It is the location for several TV, radio and microwave towers and is a true “drive-on” summit, with its own car park on the top from where you can walk into open grassed areas to set-up the gear or walk over and visit the Rondell which marks the exact summit.

As this is an open summit with no trees I could plan to simply use the light kit, with the X108G driving the Komunica HF-PRO2 loaded vertical on a photo tripod. This could also be an opportunity to try out a new, lighter and smaller tripod for which I have re-calibrated my table of HF-PRO2 settings. However, this wide-open grassed area also invites the use of the large surveyor’s tripod, 10m mast and either the Aerial-51 OCF dipole or the SOTABeam’s band hopper linked dipole. On my last visit here, I actually set-up the VP2E antenna, so you can see Höchsten has plenty of room for antennas! Given the drive-up nature of the summit, it lends itself to packing all options into the car and then to decide when I arrive what I will use.

The second planned summit – DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg is a summit in a forest with lots of trees, so using a vertical in this environment would be a waste of time. So in this case, despite the relatively long walk in from my parking spot on the side of the road before the “forestry access only” sign, I would have to take the heavier equipment set-up including the large tripod and 10 metre mast.

The car was packed the day before for a pre-8am start for what was expected to be a 2-hour drive to the first summit.

The Activations:

I awoke to sunshine and no rain. After the preceding couple of weeks, this was a change. I hoped the weather would stay fine as I left at 7:50am with the car Navi(GPS) saying to expect a 1hr 40-minute drive, so a little time possibly won as there were no traffic problems en-route, even the standard roadworks on the autobahn around Memmingen didn’t cause an excessive delay and I was soon off the autobahn onto the country roads that would form over half of my journey. This was not to be the section of the journey which caused me problems and I arrived at Höchsten around a quarter to 10am and was set-up and operational by 10am (0800 UTC).

DM/BW-854 Höchsten:

On arriving at the summit, I sent Ernie VK3DET in Australia a note in the hope that we might just still have a chance of a contact however the sun had already set in Victoria, Australia and the HF bands gone to sleep. Despite a couple of hopeful calls, there was no DX contact this time. This was not a surprise – I would have needed to be at the summit an hour earlier for any real chance and at the moment, late evening European time rather than early morning is when the EU-VK contacts are being made.

Given the closeness to the car and the open flat location, I decided to use the Aerial-51 OCF antenna atop the 10m mast supported by my surveyor’s tripod. Although I took the amplifier with me to my operation spot, I never bothered connecting it in and just ran with the 20w from the X108G. As it was sunny, I was happy that my solution using a SmartPhone as an external display works so reliably as the display on the X108G itself would have been totally invisible in this light.

Using the X108G on 20 watts output, the 10m mast and the Aerial-51 OCF dipole, I managed 17 contacts on 40m SSB including 3 S2S contacts and 8 contacts on 20m SSB. I shut down and started packing away three times, only to see other activators on, who I might get an S2S with. This activation was exactly 45 minutes long and when the calls dried up, I decided to pack-up as some winds had arrived on the summit and I’d also rather have some time in hand for getting to the next summit.

DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg: The trip to this summit ALWAYS seems to cause me problems! I had not approached this summit from Höchsten before, so the roads were a little different and the most direct route was closed because of the total re-building of one road (this was to provide an even bigger problem later). My Navi(GPS) does not understand when I don’t follow the given route and keeps trying to take me back towards the blockage. This is the standard GPS installed by the car manufacturer, in previous cars, where I had added cheap Chinese aftermarket Navis/Car multimedia devices, they realised when I took a different route and recalculated the guidance – not so with this Peugeot unit! In any case, I knew how to get to Gehrenberg from Markdorf and a route to Markdorf was still signposted, so I followed that and headed to Gehrenberg from there. This probably added 30 minutes to the direct route, but I got there and found my usual parking spot.

I now did a little selective packing into my rucksack. As I hadn’t needed the amplifier on the last summit, it and its box of cables/controller got left in the car as did the photo-tripod and the HF-PRO2 antenna but everything else was to come with me. It was now getting warm, so I packed my waterproof jacket into the rucksack rather than wearing it and with my rucksack on my back and the surveyor’s tripod containing the 10m mast, over my shoulder, I set off up the track into the forest where the Gehrenberg summit is located. (I have posted a short video of this walk on YouTube – link is below).

On arriving on the summit and catching my breath, I put up the tripod and mast and while the Aerial-51 OCF had worked fine at Höchsten, I decided to put that up again. As you’ll see at the very end of the video – this didn’t end up being the antenna that I used from Gehrenberg as it broke, right at the balun/feed point. Luckily I had brought my SOTABeams Band hopper antenna along as a backup and after taking down and packing away the broken antenna, I put this other one up, with it set initially for 20m as it looked like there was more activity on that band over 40m. Unfortunately while taking the first antenna down, the DX-Wire 10m mini-mast decided to collapse rather than lower smoothly, jamming some sections inside it a further cracking an already cracked section.

After the delays of both getting lost driving here and the first antenna breaking, I was eager to get some calls in the log. To add to this the sky had started to turn grey (nothing actually came- it just threatened in the end). From this summit using the X108G and SOTABeams band-hopper at about 8.5 metres. I worked 12 stations on 20m and then switched over to 40m to add another six – two of which were Summit-to-Summit contacts.

Once the contacts dried up again, I decided to call it a day, took the mast first down as far as I could and then took it apart to un-jam, the jammed section inside and empty out the pieces of broken fibreglass. Then it was time to head back to the car – here is the APRS track that I made from the car to the summit – actually it’s two tracks as I turned on tracking in both directions.

Once back at the car, and everything packed, it should just be an easy trip home, right? Wrong? I set the Navi(GPS) for my home address and followed its directions. Unfortunately, that same total road closure that had meant I had to divert on the way to Gehrenberg, was an integral part of the route home and as this Navi doesn’t like you not to follow directions and will not re-calculate a route, but rather re-routes you constantly back to the same closed road and … I had joined this important road AFTER where the diversion had been signposted, so I was on my own and my only option was to head back, past Gehrenberg again to Markdorf, where I knew I could pick up another major road and from there head back onto my home route. So 30 minutes wasted and being a little later, the traffic was now busier. So I had a 1-hour 40-minute journey to the region and a 2-hour 20-minute journey home. I suppose this averages to the 2 x 2-hour trips that I had planned overall …

 Photos:

   Höchsten:

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   Gehrenberg:

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Link to video of the walk up to Gehrenberg summit: https://youtu.be/Jn8F2sxBQb4

Equipment taken:

  • Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Portable 70w amplifier and switching cables (not used).
  • Surveyors tripod and 10m mast.
  • HAMA Photo Tripod (not used).
  • Komunica Power HF-PRO2 loaded vertical (not used).
  • Aerial-51 OCF dipole (used at Höchsten).
  • SOTABeams Band-hopper (used at Gehrenberg).
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Thick Painters plastic sheet.
  • Lightweight headphones.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DM/BW-854 Höchsten:

DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg:

Conclusions:

  • From the weather forecasts over the last two weeks, 80% were inaccurate – one has to simply go and hope the weather will be OK. This time it was, there was some wind on Höchsten and some dark clouds approaching on Genrenberg but overall the weather was wonderful for a change!
  • The fact that I carried a “reserve” antenna to Gehrenberg paid off when the planned antenna broke (now repaired). Had I not had the spare with me, I ‘might’ have been able to do a temporary fix on the Aerial-51 antenna, but whether it would have held…
  • The filter setting changing problem now seems to be fixed after replacing the CMOS battery again in the X108G.
  • The 1:1 balun at the feed point on the SOTABeams band hopper linked dipole feels fragile and since returning home, I have now fastened this to a far more solid “T-piece”, so I think it will now be strong enough.
  • I took the amplifier along in case there was a chance of a contact into VK but decided not to use it. The additional cables and switch unit, make it cumbersome to set-up unless really needed. The 20w from the X108G even without a speech compressor or amplifier was getting good reports. (I have yet to test the DYC-817 external speech processor from a summit, but again, it is more cables and another device that can go wrong, so except for a situation where I want to drag the last small piece of signal out of the station, it probably isn’t worth the extra complexity).

73 ’til the next summit.

DD5LP/P – June 3rd. 2018 – DM/BW-854 Hoechsten & DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg while attending HamRadio FN 2018.

Preparation:

Since the previous year when only one summit was easily reachable from Friedrichshafen following the removal of two summits from the SOTA scheme, a new SOTA Summit “Hoechsten” has been added making it relatively easy to activate two 8 points summits while attending the Ham Radio Hamfest in Friedrichshafen. To this end I booked a hotel about 15 minutes drive away from the new summit. The original plan was to activate both summits on Friday afternoon prior to the annual SOTA Dinner that I had arranged again, However the weather forecasts were predicting serious rain on Friday, so I changed my activation plans to Sunday morning. In the end NO rain came and all three days were sunny and warm. My intention was to have group activations of both summits, with S2S contacts between them however when I saw the weather, I suggested all make their own plans. Several stuck with Friday afternoon and enjoyed some nice weather and lots of contacts. Some planned to activate at least Hoechsten prior to or after the Ham Radio event as they were taking a longer holiday in the area.

My revised plan for Sunday morning was adjusted to fit in with some of the ICQ Podcast team who I was working with to get interviews for the podcast, so they could also take a look at a SOTA activation. The final plan was that I would activate Hoechsten before breakfast on Sunday, then return to the hotel, have breakfast and check-out, then go and pick the guys up and head up to Gehrenberg and when finished go back to Ham radio for a couple of last interviews and then take and drop them off either at the ferry to Switzerland or Memmingen airport. That is finally what came about.

The Locations:

Hoechsten  was about 15 minutes drive from my hotel near Wilhelmsdorf and the closest hamlet is Glashuetten. From the car park to the summit is an easy 5 minutes walk up to “Aussichtspunkt Hoechsten” (in fact not to block the lookout point I went past it to a larger grassed area behind the lookout).

Gehrenberg is a few km north of Markdorf and is approached best from a small road just on the southern end of the village of Harresheim (make a note of this as every Navi/GPS I have used has taken me to the wrong location!). It’s about a 10-15 minute  walk from where no motor vehicles are allowed, up to the summit. I usually activate near the base of the radio tower (which well within the AZ) but this time I decided to follow the track up through the forest to the actual summit.

The Activations:

Hoechsten.

I woke before the alarm went off and was underway to the summit before 6am. The navi takes a while to lock onto satellites but I didn’t want to wait with the engine running in the hotel car park and wake the other guests up, so I set off in the rough direction that I expected the summit to be. Once the Navi locked in its satellites, I was one village past the turn off I needed, so I had to turn around and head back. From there on the Navi diligently lead me up the (small) roads to Hoechsten and I came out at the road junction across from the car park. I could just see the small bandstand like lookout building through the trees. Not as obvious as I was expecting it to be, but sign-posted from the car park. So I unpacked the usual two SOTA bags and the Surveyors tripod which was a new addition to the kit. It stands about 1m 80cm high, has spikes on the legs and a hole through the mounting plate where a theodolite would normally be mounted. I have also added a pass-thru SO-239 double socket for use with mobile HF whips but today it would act as a simple support for my fibreglass fishing pole meaning I would not need to seek out a convenient fence post or tree to fasten the mast to and can position it where I want it.

I was set up and calling CQ SOTA by 6:15 AM but unfortunately with no response. Despite putting up spots for 40m and 20m on SOTAWatch, I was getting no calls, so I decided to tune around to see if any “normal” stations would be willing to talk to me. Several I called either couldn’t hear me or simply ignored me as I wasn’t “DX”. I was glad when Fabio II4AMP cheerfully came back to me and gave me a “True 5-9” he was well over 5/9. So it seems the gear was working OK, after some more attempts at calling what turned out to be contest stations and another spot Jan OK2PDT a very active SOTA chaser came back to me but it seems he was the ONLY SOTA chaser who was out of bed that early on a Sunday morning as the other two needed contacts came from a contest station and a friendly Greek station just looking for contacts.

With the delay in getting the minimum 4 contacts (which took me over half an hour), I was now going to be tight on my schedule for the rest of the morning, so it was a quick pack-up (the new tripod being quick to set-up and take down helped somewhat), back to the car and back to the hotel for breakfast which started at 7:30am. I arrived back at the hotel at 7:29am, went up and brought my case down into the car and then went to breakfast. At 8am I was checking out and off to pick up the other guys from near Friedrichshafen.

Gehrenberg.

I arrived a few minutes earlier than planned into Burg and the extra time was not a bad situation as Colin M6BOY and Chris M0TCH (the ICQ Podcast guys) were already just about ready to go. So off we went with the Navi now set to Gehrenberg. All was well until in Markdorf (near to the summit) I missed one small turn off and the Navi said “re-calculating route”. In hindsight it would have been best to turn around and return to the exit as the Navi now took us to a road at the other side of the summit from where access is not possible. I recognised this and after 5 minutes referring to maps on smart phones, we were off again to hopefully go around the end of the hill, to the correct road towards the summit. This was not to be our day as we went past the exit, which I realised as we came to the hotel that I had used last year for the SOTA dinner. Another stop and look at maps to see why we had missed the exit. The key point is that the small road needed is at the very southern end of the village of Harresheim, whereas the maps were showing it as outside of the village.  Another thing to look for is signs for “Sturzhof” this is a building just past the corner where the track goes off up to the summit. While there is no red circle sign, there IS a sign that says only Forestry vehicles are allowed past this point. Last year (and I suspect this year as well) several cars drove up the track all the way to within 50 metres of the summit. I normally set up on some flat land near the bottom of the radio tower but as Luc ON7DQ told me last year that a few more minutes up the road, there was a track up to the actual marked summit, I decided to we’d check that out. It took about 15 minutes from where I parked the car just off the road to the summit. It is quite a steep track but with two extra willing pairs of hands to carry some of the gear, it was a reasonable walk up to the summit. The summit is totally forested, so no interesting views from it and it is also on a favorite track for cyclists, so I had to be careful where I strung the dipole out to! We were at the summit just before 10am.

The new tripod again proved a great advantage as there were no obvious places to strap the mast to and with the tripod I could position the antenna to be out of harms way for the cyclists (and my antenna). The radio and its battery box were placed on the large stone on the summit and the antenna connected. On 40m there was an S7-S9 noise level – I suspect coming from the microwave radio link tower although there were reports of the bands being noisy as a lot of solar debris was hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at the time. In any case after some spots to the SOTAWatch website and tuning around I managed a few contacts on 40m. these would have been enough to get the points for activating the summit but as Chris was recording the activation for a possible feature on ICQ Podcast I thought I should try for some more and switching to 20 metres immediately dropped the noise level. It was at this point however that I saw that the SWR was over 2:1 on the antenna, which normally sits between 1.2 & 1.5:1. I’ll need to investigate that. In any case I managed to get a good run of contacts going and at the end we worked a total of 18 stations across Europe.

This again had taken more time than expected and after packing up we got back to the car at about 11:00 am and then drove back to the guys apartment to pick up their luggage and the 4th. member of the team Conor, Colin’s son. So by the time we got to the show again it was 11:30 and we needed to leave for the airport at the latest at 1pm, so there would not be a lot of time to do anything. As we went into the halls about 25% of the stalls had either already or were starting to pack up in any case. One last interview went into the can and we were ready to leave.

A very busy day but well worth it.

Photos:

   1. DM/BW-854 Hoechsten.

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  2. DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg.

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108-G “outdoor” version.

Laptop tilt stand.

Surveyors tripod.

Aerial-51 OCF dipole.

LambdaHalbe 6m telescopic fishing pole.

Battery box with 2 x 5Ah 4S LIPOs and regulator to reduce voltage to 13.8v.

Logs:

 1. DM/BW-854 Hoechsten.

  2. DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg.

Conclusions & actions:

  1. I may have a problem on the Aerial-51 dipole which I will need to investigate for a bad connection causing that 2:1 SWR.
  2. The surveyors tripod was a real success but I may add a small plug or plate to reduce the size of the hole in its centre.
  3. Shade is definitely what is needed to make the display on the X108-G visible. When Chris stood in the way of the sun, the display was perfectly readable. I ordered a small sunshade for the rig (really meant for a camera LCD screen) which arrived while I was away, so I will try that to see if it gives me a solution.
  4. I’ll try to remember NOT to use the Navi, the next time I am heading to Gehrenberg!

73 ’til the next Summit!