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 21st and 22nd 2019 – DM/BW-348 Gehrenberg and DM/BW-854 Hoechsten.

Preparation:

Well it’s Ham Radio Friedrichshafen time again – the largest Ham Fest in IARU Region 1. There are two summits within reasonable driving distance from Friedrichshafen and indeed I picked my hotel (and the location of the annual SOTA Dinner) to be near one of them – Hoechsten.

I had to change my planned activation dates based on some storm warnings. In fact the storms never came but I managed to fit both into my 3 day, two night, stay in the area in any case. I had several antennas with me but the plan was always to use the linked dipole at the wooded Gehrenberg and the VP2E at the more open Hoechsten and indeed that’s what I did.

The Activation (Gehrenberg):

I had intended activating this summit on Saturday evening on the way back from Ham Radio to my hotel but as the weather forecast assured me that it was going to pour down for the whole of Saturday, I decided to fit the activation in on the Friday and then still get back to the hotel in time to check-in, get changed and ready for the SOTA dinner which I had organised.

I have activated this summit for the last three years but one year the Navi (GPS) took me to the wrong place so this time I had a printed map of the area with me as well. There was no need however and I found my way to the edge of the woods fine. Although the track goes up almost to the summit, that road is restricted and intented for use only by the forrestry commission (see photo of sign below). Whetehr anyone ever chexcks, I doubt it, but I wanted to do the “right thing” so I unload and walked up the track to the summit with large tripod, 6 metre mast and linked dipole along with the Xiegu X108G rig, microphone, logbook, etc. etc. – i.e. the normal gear. I checked the spots and saw nothing, so as i was setting off from the car, I spotted myself, saying I would be QRV in 20 minutes.

as it turned out, on arriving at the summit I was met by two other SOTA activators who were just coming to the end of their activation and had seen my spot. It was lucky that they were there as after setting up my gear and when they had finished on HF, I was only able to get two contacts for the summit. Appraently there had been a constant flow of activations all day long meaning that the chasers were no longer intere4sted as they do not get points for a duplicate contact within a day. Thomas DL1DVE, seeing my problem, quickly “rustled up” three simplex contacts on 2 metres from his Handy Talkie (one of them an S2S) meaning, I had the needed contacts. Thanks Tom! Tom and his friend (sorry I forgot the name and call sign), then left the summit and I started to pack up as Luc ON7DQ arrived. This is a busy summit indeed! After greeting Luc, who seemed to find contact easily using CW, I left back to the car.

I then set the Navi (GPS) to take me to the hotel by the shortest route and that route took me first to Hoechsten. I was tempted to stop and make my activation there but decided the time was too short and I’d leave it for the next morning.

Arriving backt the Hotel, the weather was still beautiful and it was to stay that way for the complete weekend, despite whet the forecast had said.

There followed a lovely evening with a total of 33 SOTA-ists at the dinner, most who had or were planning to activate the two summits over the weekend.

At the dinner I met Jaan SM0OEK who had managed to activate Hoechsten on his way from Friedrichshafen with Steve G1INK who had given him a lift from the Ham Radio show. Jann was also staying at the hotel like me, so wwe agreed I would give him a lift in on Saturday.

The Activation (Hoechsten):

Saturday started with an early breakfast and then Jaan and I set off for Hoechsten. As Jaan has activated the summit the previous day, he was not worried about activating again but happy to help me set up the equipment.

This time the arcitects tripod and the 10 metre mast along with the 20m/40m VP2E antenna and all the radio gear was taken out of the car.

Hoechsten is a real “drive-up” SOTA summit with us setting up no more than 500 metres away from the car, which was good as it would turn out.

Jaan assisted with the set-up and the (large) antenna was soon up and ready to go. The weather was still nice and the sun had come up, meaning I was back to my normal issue of not being able to read the OLED screen in the X108G. I didn’t want to have to connect up my phone if I could avid it as this was to be a “hit and run” activation so that we could get to the show ASAP. The problems turned out to be even worse that the bad visibility. The wrong filter and mode had been selected and pressing the buttons made no difference. I had to get the rig somewhere where I could read the display, so I disconnected the antenna and took the rig and battery box back to the car, where thankfully I could sort everything out. The problem is one I have had before – the CMOS battery had gone flat and hence no settings were being remembered. The CMOS battery should be recharged from the rig’s supply but that seems not to work in the later X108G models. I do have a spare (solder tab equipped) CMOS battery but not with me in Friedrichshafen, so this would be the laast operation of the rig until I got it repaired after returning home. So with the rig still running I went back out to the field and antenna where Jaan was waiting and thankfully managed to get six quick contacts on 40m before we packed up and headed into the show. It was during driving back that I realised I had not taken any photos for this report but thankfully Jaan had and he sent me the photos, so those you see below for Hoechsten are courtesey of Jaan SM0OEK. Thanks Jaan.

Photos (Gehrenberg):

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Photos (Hoechsten):

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Equipment used:

Gehrenberg:

  • Xiegu X108G plus battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs)
  • Linked dipole antenna
  • 6 metre Lambda-Halbe fibreglass portable mast.
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • Thick plastic painters sheet.
  • Tom DL1DVE’s HT with RH-770 antenna.

Hoechsten:

  • Xiegu X108G plus battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • Linked (20/40m) VP2E antenna
  • 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • Thick plastic painters sheet.

Log (Gehrenberg):

Log (Hoechsten):

Conclusions:

Don’t trust that your equipment will continue to work, even if you test it. Previous problems WILL return in the gear – it’s only ever a question of time (OLED display and CMOS battery in the X108G).

Taking a lightweight dual-band HT along would have been good “insurance” in this case where there is known to be a lot of 2m/70cm activity in the area (normally there’s nothing).

73 ’til the next Summit!