DD5LP/P – May 19th 2020 – DM/BW-078 Römerstein & DM/BW-484 Bussen.

Preparation:

Wanting to get back into the activating frame of mind now that the weather has got somewhat better and after a couple of cancelled attempts (because of the weather), I was planning an activation of Schwarzer Berg DL/MF-082 but it is quite a long drive away from my home. If I could link up another summit with it that would make it more worthwhile but as the cable cars and seat lifts are all still stopped because of the Coronavirus, (UPDATE: they will start again on June 1st) there was no easy second summit to include. I then started thinking, that if I was to invest an extra 15 minutes over 1hr 30mins in driving time to get to the bottom of this 1 point summit, I could go in the opposite direction into the DM/BW or DM/BM regions which tend to have easier to access and higher scoring summits than in the DL association.

I have activated Römerstein previously and for a 10 point summit, it is easy. I knew I hadn’t activated it this year but when I took a look, I saw I hadn’t activated it since 2017 – so in 2018 and 2019, I had missed out on these easy 10 point activations. While looking at the approach to Römerstein I found a new car park and track coming up from the other side of the hill which was a lot shorter. What I was to find out later was that it was shorter because it was steeper – but more of that later.

So if I’m travelling so far, why not combine a second summit with Römerstein to make the journey worthwhile? Previously I have combined Teck which is relatively close to Römerstein however as the summit is covered by Castle Teck which is closed due to COVID-19 and it is highly likely the car park and the track up to the castle are also closed. This is probably not the best choice, therefore. I had combined Bussen with Römerstein before as Bussen is “sort of”  on the way home (only on the map is it sort of en-route but you certainly would not normally take a route past Bussen from Römerstein as it’s all slow windy country roads in contrast to the mostly Autobahn route I would take to go to Römerstein). In any case with the fact that Bussen would be open as it has a church and other facilities on it that are now allowed to be visited, Bussen (DM/BW-484) it would be.

As I now have the portable amplifier “tamed”, I wanted to use it along with the Xiegu X108G and the repaired-again linked dipole as being a good strong station. Should the bands be bad the extra power helps as does the dipole antenna. I had also scheduled a possible contact with Ian VK3YFD in Australia. To make sure the antenna could bring the most advantage it could I packed the 10m mast and the Surveyors tripod as its support, but I decided to take the 6m mast as a backup as well. You can probably see where this is going …. far, far too much weight to carry to these summits even before I had the surprise of the steeper than expected path up to Römerstein!

In any case, in order to get a good start, all the gear was loaded into the car the previous evening to enable an 8:30 start. My calculations indicated a full day returning before 6pm.

The Activations:

The alarm didn’t get a chance to go off as I awoke 10 minutes before and turned it off. I was on the road by 8:20 am local time – my target was to be set-up and operational by 11am local (0900 UTC). The GPS Navi in the car told me I would need 1 hr and 45 minutes to get to the village of Römerstein – the GPS wouldn’t recognise the actual summit, but I had programmed the new car park’s location into my phone in Google maps in case I got lost. The trip did not follow the route I expected. Just before Ulm it diverted me off the Autobahn onto a B-road that I would follow almost all the way to Römerstein. I would have preferred to stay on the Autobahn network longer and turn off later but the GPS system believed going down this B-road would be quicker. There were no major delays and indeed I arrived in Römerstein pretty well on schedule.

DM/BW-078 Römerstein:

As I had been in the area before, I knew that the Römerstein summit and lookout tower is close to the road from the Römerstein Village to the Donnstetten village. So I programmed Donnstetten as my next destination and I was soon on the road that I recognised and finding the new (to me) car park on the K6704 road was straight forward.

After unpacking the completely filled rucksack and the surveyor’s tripod in which I had also packed the 10 metre fibreglass mast from the car it was time to set off up the track. The start is not bad and the route is signposted so there is no danger of taking the wrong route. Then the track started to get steeper and both the tripod and rucksack started to weigh on my shoulders. Perhaps I should not have packed the kitchen sink and anvil?

Eventually, I saw the tower and realised I was approaching it from the rear. I had expected to be coming up past a scouting hut but that must be another access route. Perhaps I should try that one next time.

As I arrived on the parkland in front of the tower another small family group arrived and took up residence near the fireplace where they would later cook their lunchtime meal. I went ahead and set up the tripod and mast followed by the rest of the station – which I sat on a convenient wooden camping table of which there are several around the place. All was looking good. I sent out an email to Ian VK3YFD to let him know I was almost ready and which frequency I had found free on 40 metres (where I had decided to start). Something didn’t sound right though. Although while tuning around I could receive strong stations and they were very clear, when I tuned off the stations there was no static noise and the radio sounded almost as if it didn’t have an antenna on it. I checked all antenna connections and ran without the amplifier turned on. I decided to put out a call anyway and a couple of stations came back telling me that the audio was very difficult to understand. I wondered if the internal speech compressor was on – it wasn’t – I took the amplifier out of circuit – still the same problem. Then while checking cables I lost power a couple of times. What’s going on? Have I travelled all this way only to find the radio has major problems? I located the power problem. A new fuse holder which I had installed on a direct lead to the radio from the battery box along with a bad connection to the back of the radio had combined to create this problem. I performed some more moving of cables and unplugging / re-plugging with the hope of at least temporarily fixing the problem. This resulted in the wire inside the new fuse holder breaking off completely – this was not a wire which I had soldered to the fuse holder – it came with it’s leads already attached (not very well it seems!). So now what? I had a small glimmer of hope, among all the things that I had brought, ( most of which I didn’t need to), had I perhaps left the old power lead for the rig in my rucksack??? Yes! Someone is on my side, the lead was there and once plugged in the power was stable again.

So one problem solved but why is there an audio problem on transmit and why is the receive performance so bad? The penny dropped. This rig has three filters a 500Hz one for CW, a 2.4KHz one for SSB and a 6kHz one for AM. It seems these filters are used on both receive and transmit, as when I switched filters (by pressing what I hoped was the right button as the sun was out by now and I could only just see the OLED screen’s lettering), the receiver sprung back to life and when I checked with a couple of SOTA chasers, the audio was now fine as well with or without the amplifier but they preferred the signal with the 70 watts from the amplifier rather than without!

OK, the problems were fixed, but I had lost lots of time in the process. Time to make some contacts! 50 contacts in 35 minutes later, the pile-up had died away. All reports were fine. I think everything is working correctly again. I had no time to try 20 metres as I needed to get packed up and moving to the next summit, Bussen. While packing up I was approached by a visitor who showed some interest and cost me about 20 more minutes that I didn’t need to lose but – so be it. I wasn’t going to be rude and he did seem interested. I gave him a DARC brochure which he then read from cover to cover while having his lunch. Once I had just about everything packed, I realised that I hadn’t taken any of my standard station and antenna photos but I wasn’t going to set-up again just for those photos, so on this summit, you just get to see the area not the station in the slideshow below.

The trip down the track to the car park was quite hurried but as I arrived at the car, I found that I was only about 5 minutes behind schedule on my (very conservative) plan, so perhaps I could make the time up en-route to Bussen which was about an hour’s drive away.

DM/BW-484 Bussen: The trip from Römerstein to Bussen, was thankfully quite straight forward.

I knew it was going to be a “slog” up the road/path from the car park and so removed some items from the backpack – it was still too heavy, however. The tripod and 10m mast, while being a heavy load I can justify as it gives flexibility as to where I can set up my antenna. Indeed this allowed me to pick a point in the park between the church and the castle ruins, quite close to the trig-point stone, so I knew I was correctly located on the summit. The station set-up went quite quickly but then, HORROR of HORRORS – the filter problem was back! The receiver was dead and now, as this was after midday, the OLED display on the X108G was totally unreadable. I ended up laying on the floor with my jacket over my head and the radio, peering as hard as I could to try to make out the writing on the screen. I eventually managed to see what appeared to be “FIL” and pressed the button alongside it to change the filter from 500Hz to 2.3kHz and the radio burst into life again. This is becoming a major problem which I can’t get around by using my remote control Android program PocketRxTx as the Xiegu does not allow filer changes via the CiV command set. After getting home, I found a solution to this particular problem, however. The multi-function microphone has a button to change the filter setting!! Should this problem occur again, I should be able to resolve it using this button. I wish I had known this earlier!

I started operations at Bussen on 40 metres again and found the band now to be very noisy with what sounded like a distant storm creating electrical crashes across the band. I once again found a free frequency and emailed Ian in Australia asking him to listen for me. Unfortunately, once again, this contact wasn’t to be, so I spotted myself on SOTAWatch and started working chasers. There were fewer chasers on this summit, possibly due to the fact that signals would suddenly drop 5 or more S-points in QSB before coming slowly back up again. The 40m band was in a poor state now. Rather than labour the band, I switched the rig and antenna over to 20 metres and worked a few of the stations who couldn’t get through on 40 metres.

As I was thinking of calling it a day with 22 contacts in the log at Bussen a lady walked up and asked me what I was doing. Another 15 minutes conversation and another DARC brochure given out and then it really was time to pack up and head home.

The journey home was two thirds on country roads and was made more interesting in that a B-road on my route had been completely closed for road works and while a diversion was signposted, the GPS-Navi constantly wanted to direct me back to the point where I had been forced to leave the road onto an even smaller one for the diversion. Eventually, I got back to the same B-road only further down its length and the Navi was happy again.

I arrived home at just before 5:30 pm about 30 minutes earlier than my conservative plan, with some repairs and modifications to look into and a lot of log entries to enter into the SOTA database!

 Photos:

   Römerstein:

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   Bussen:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Surveyors tripod and 10m mast.
  • 6-metre mast (not used).
  • Photo Tripod (not used).
  • SOTABeams linked dipole.
  • Aerial-51 OCF dipole as a reserve (not used)
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Thick Painters plastic sheet (used at Bussen but not at Römerstein).
  • Lightweight headphones.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DM/BW-078 Römerstein (50 contacts):

DM/BW-484 Bussen (22 contacts):

Conclusions:

  • The weather was wonderful for a change!
  • The amount of “reserve” equipment that I took AND carried up to the summit and did not need – was far greater than I should have had.
  • I am happy that I DID leave one power cable in my pack from earlier as it was needed, however.
  • The filter setting changing problem is difficult to resolve when you can’t see the X108G screen (Xiegu do not support changing filter settings via CiV commands, so I cant add this function to the PocketRxTX) – however … what I have realised after returning home, is that the multi-function microphone has the ability to change filter settings! In fact, perhaps it’s the microphone that is causing the incorrect setting in the first place by the small button being caught perhaps?
  • The repaired linked-dipole works fine however after adding the 1:1 balun the feed point feels more fragile than the old one that I have used for years. Maybe I should go back to the old – no-Balun solution or find some way to strengthen this feed-point.?
  • I knew that the steep climb up to Bussen is unavoidable but I may return to my longer (but not so steep) access route to Römerstein tower the next time that I activate there.
  • My new lightweight headphones simply work and are comfortable.
  • I had planned to try out the speech processors internal & external but after the other problems, I left well alone as I would have been even later leaving Römerstein and most chasers are not interested in such tests in any case – I was very happy with the help that I DID get in locating the bad audio being the filter problem.
  • The bands were not conducive to DX contacts, so despite my hope that I might get a contact with Ian VK3YFD – it was not to be, despite the amplifier working correctly this time (bias issue corrected).

73 ’til the next summit.