DD5LP/P – February 17th 2020 – DL/AL-171 Eisenberg.

Preparation:

After the problems at the last two (same day) activations (Weichberg & Auerberg) I had been wanting to get out again both to test the repaired equipment and to bag some more activator winter bonus points before it is too late. The weather had different ideas however with some storms and heavy rain. In winds gusting up to 140 km/h on the lowlands, I didn’t fancy my chances on a summit!

I was watching the weather forecast and Tuesday 17th. February was supposed to be fine, between two storm fronts coming through here. I had my doubts on Monday however which was supposed to be raining all day and was totally dry and sunny. Could the weather forecasters be out by one day again? I had originally planned to get to my first summit in time for the grey-line window to Australia & New Zealand but scrapped that idea and decided rather go later so that I could see how the weather was. The plan was then to head to Eisenberg and activate, followed by having lunch at Schlossbergalm, whose private road, car park and footpath I use for accessing this summit. This Tuesday was their first day open after a staff holiday break, so this should fit well. After “re-tanking” myself at the restaurant, it’s only a short drive over to Falkenstein (another castle ruins on a summit), where I could make my second activation.

I do have a new rucksack which I am trying to set up in such a way, that I can operate the rig (and amplifier) while they are still in the rucksack. To do this I have bought some plastic drawers which fit nicely into the bag. Unfortunately, I ran out of time in this work, so I decided it was best to use my normal “2-bag” set-up, which I prepared on Monday. For antennas, I decided not to take the surveyors tripod and 10 metre mast this time, rather to just take the 6-metre mast and strap it to the fence post which I know is available on the lookout platform at Eisenberg and while space is limited at Falkenstein, I packed my photo-tripod / Komunica HF-Pro2 combination for that activation.

The Activation:

I woke to rain and wind at 6:30 am. It looked like my activation may not be possible but by 8:30 am the storm had passed and I was on the road by 8:45 am. The drive to Eisenberg was a little blustery en-route a couple of times but nothing too bad.
On arriving at the restaurant car park just before 10 am, the place looked deserted (they are supposed to open at 10 am but this being the first day back after their break, someone probably slept in!) – they were there doing good business when I returned from the summit at around 1pm.

The walk up to the summit is quite steep and took a good 15 minutes but it is nice to arrive at a summit, knowing where you will attach the mast, lay out the plastic sheet etc. I was on the air just before 10:30 am local time (0930 UTC) and 40 metres was very busy – I thought there must be a contest on or something – but on a Tuesday? No – just good (short skip) conditions. After about 10 minutes working a few stations, (just running the 20w rig without the amplifier) snow started to fall but it was only light and didn’t last more than 15 minutes and afterwards, the sun came out. About this time I had to move frequency as the frequency that was clear when I started using it, now had another station right next to my frequency causing QRM. So I moved and re-spotted myself to be greeted after a couple of CQ calls with a pile-up of 30 stations that kept me busy up until 11 am local (1000 UTC). Before moving frequency I had already worked 6 stations and had the summit “activated” in any case.

I decided to give 20 metres a try but couldn’t get even one SOTA chaser to call me although the band seemed quite active. At 1010 UTC I decided to pack up and head down to the restaurant for something to eat. As I had got all the radio gear packed away and was about to start on the antenna, I got an email from Ernie VK3DET saying that he had listened for me on 40m & 20m but not heard anything, but that Mike 2E0YYY was now on 14.290MHz and could I give a listen! I wondered whether it would be worth it, and considered saying it was too late but as the antenna was still up I decided to unpack everything and connect it all up again to take a listen. Well, once I was on frequency, I could hear someone at a reasonable strength but it wasn’t Mike in England, rather it was Ernie VK3DET in Australia! The next station I heard was Ian VK3YFD – both were S4 or S5 signals – this was a surprise. They were a lot stronger than the 3-3 signal I started to get from Mike. I tried calling both the Australian stations and Mike had them listen for me but it was not to be. I even dug out the amplifier to take the signal up from 20w to 70w – then I couldn’t even get a response from Mike although his signal had come up a little – so I thought there must be something is wrong in the amplifier (This turned out later to be operator error – I had the low pass filter switched to 40m although I was on 20m). I switched back to just 20w and no amplifier in circuit and Mike could hear me again. The next surprise was an Indian station Patel VU2XO who called in on the frequency, worked the two Australian stations, then swung his beam around and I think worked Mike. I could actually hear him off the back of his beam when he first called in and when he was calling Mike. He couldn’t hear me though.

By 1110 UTC the 20m band had closed and I packed everything up again. By staying so long at my first summit, my schedule was out for the second one and the batteries both for the rig and in my mobile phone had been drained a lot, so I decided to not go to the second summit and rather get something to eat at the restaurant and then head home.
After walking back to the car park from the summit, I could see that the restaurant was full, meaning I would most likely have to wait 30 minutes before getting served, so I decided just to eat my pack-up while driving home.

The journey home was straight forward and I was home mid-afternoon – just in time to take the dog out for her afternoon walk.

When I came to test the amplifier later in the day, I realised what I had done wrong with the LPF setting!

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • 70-watt portable HF amplifier.
  • DYC-817 speech compressor and Clone Yaesu microphone (not used).
  • LambdaHalbe 6m mast
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Photo tripod with clip-on radial wires (not used).
  • Komunica Power HF-Pro-2 loaded vertical antenna (not used).
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole (now with 1:1 SOTABeams balun fitted).
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Log:

Conclusions:

I was lucky that the weather was, apart from a 15-minute snowstorm, cold but dry and sunny. I was nice to have so many people come up and ask what I was doing so that I could promote the hobby. One couple I think were really interested and we may see another retiree joining our ranks soon.

Deciding to put the gear back together, despite making no DX contacts, hearing the Indian station and the two Australian stations was a thrill and worth the reschedule, even though it meant I had to drop the second activation.

  • Positives
  • hearing both Australia and India (India for the first time for me) from the summit.
  • the repaired linked dipole antenna after it breaking on the last outing CERTAINLY works and perhaps the addition of the 1:1 Balun has improved it.
  • the diodes in my voltage-dropper arrangement did not de-solder themselves despite the heavy usage of the 13.8v supply at 20 watts.
  • I was visited by about 8 people (4 couples) and was able to pass some information on about the hobby. The 6 dogs who also called by didn’t seem that interested!
  • Negatives
  •  the silly mistake on the amplifier LPF setting meant that I didn’t check whether I now have the RF feedback problem resolved, nor did I have a chance to try out the external dynamic speech processor.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – January 23rd 2020 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg & DL/AL-169 Auerberg – “Smash & Grab activations ??”.

Preparation:

Wanting to get out and grab some more winter bonus points while the roads are not blocked, I put together a plan to go and activate two “easy” summits. This activation pair got delayed a couple of days due to freezing fog, local to my home QTH but was eventually to go ahead on Thursday 23rd. January. I believe I have found where the RF is getting into the audio when I use my amplifier but I decided for this outing NOT to test out that solution nor to try out the VP2E antennas again (even though there is “just” enough room at Weichberg for the 40m VP2E). So back to the old, reliable linked dipole but I’ll take the surveyors tripod and the 10 metre mast as there is a lack of trees and fence posts in the right place at Weichberg to put up a mast in any other way.

I also decided to simply run the X108G rig at 20 watts rather than bothering with the amplifier on these activations. I would have it with me “just in case” the conditions turned so bad that I had to use it but as I didn’t expect any contacts in VK/ZL, it wasn’t needed for that reason and installing the cables to the amplifier needs more time on the summit in what would certainly be freezing temperatures.

When I indicated I would be going out, my mate in the UK, Mike 2E0YYY/P said he would also head to a SOTA summit and perhaps we would manage an S2S. As he had further to drive, if this happened at all, it would be from my second summit Auerberg. He would be staying later as well, waiting for the short-path window to VK to open – which I had decided I would not, given the worse propagation conditions compared to previous attempts where I failed to get a contact (or even hear any VK stations).

So the expected configuration on both Weichberg and Auerberg would be the X108G at 20 watts, surveyors tripod with 10 metre mast and the SOTABeams linked dipole. This (along with some spares) was loaded in the car on Wednesday afternoon, ready for an 8am (local) start on Thursday …

The Activation:

I woke to clear, if cold weather at the home QTH but this was not to stay that way, rather than it getting warmer and clearer as I drove up into the mountains, the fog got worse as did the roads.

Weichberg: The very last part of the road to my first summit, Weichberg was actually snow-covered. It was packed down, but not cleared so, as I don’t have a 4WD car or spiked tyres, I was a little careful on the last 500 metres or so.

Never mind, I was there now, or at least I was at the car park, there remained a 70 or so metres climb up through the woods to the actual summit with its chapel and holy cross.

After I got to the summit, I tried to kick the ice of the bench with some success but the painter’s plastic sheet went down to give me a dryish spot to sit. I set up the SOTABeams linked dipole on the 10 metre DX-Wire mast, supported by the surveyor’s tripod, with its spiked legs pushed down hard into the frozen ground under the snow. the coax just reached back to the wooden picnic table. As I connected up the radio and got out the logbook, I realised I was starting to feel really cold, especially in the hands. Operating the smartphone to send my self-spot was difficult, not this time because of cell-network, rather because of the temperature. It was still foggy but there was also a light ice-rain in the air blowing over the summit. this was an activation, I would keep as short as possible – as I had warned in my alert on SOTAWatch in any case. After working ten stations, it was time to pack-up and this is where the first equipment breakage occurred. after I lowered the mast (with some effort needed to get it to telescope back into itself), the plastic centrepiece of the Inverted-V antenna would not release from the mast. What had happened was that the ice-0rain blowing across the mast in the fog had frozen this piece to the mast. Remember I only had limited feeling in my fingers at this point and my attempts of trying to free the plastic feed-point piece from the mast resulted in it breaking in half. Well, I couldn’t do anything about that now, so I bundled up the antenna as it was into my rucksack and continued with packing the packs, tripod and radio gear so that I could get back to the car and some warmth. With everything packed and over my shoulders I started off down the hill and then remembered that I had not taken ANY photographs for this report, so I put down the mast, took out my smartphone and took a few “scenic shots” of the summit and the fog around it and then eventually headed down to the car with all the equipment. When I reached the car, I sat for a while to allow my hands to warm up again and wondered if I should go on to the second summit, or just head home. I decided to head on to Auerberg….  It was still very foggy some of the way and this on small country roads – never mind we arrived OK at the car park.

Auerberg: As the linked dipole had broken at Weichberg this meant on my second summit, Auerberg, I had to use my backup antenna, the Aerial-51 OCF dipole with it’s (relatively heavy) balun in the middle. After climbing to the top of Auerberg from its car park (somewhat easier than at Weichberg)- I went to the rear of the Church – my usual location to find that the two benches that has disappeared the last time I was there had been returned but were iced over, needing some more boot work and the plastic sheet. At this location, there are fence posts that can be used to support a mast and to tie the ends of the antenna off onto but as I had again brought the tripod up with me, I decided to put that up. At this point, I realised that the spikes on the legs of the tripod had mud frozen to them which I could not kick-off, so I tried to get the tripod to stand up through the snow and into the ground below. The result was not as stable as I would have liked. the tripod was standing one (not in) the ground under the snow. I carried on in any case and got the antenna up nicely and was on-the-air fairly quickly. I checked if the frequency (7.145 MHz) that I had been using at Weichberg, was still clear here at Auerberg. “Is the frequency in use” … “is the frequency in use?” – no response, so I self-spotted and off we went. I had call after call after call or rather call on top of call on top of call – a true pile-up. So it seems I was certainly getting out! I wonder if that frequency is really meant for WWFF operation as I got a few stations using “44” rather than “73” which is a sign of a WWFF (Parks) operator.

Mid pile-up, I got a surprise as the 10m DX-Wire mast collapsed down into itself. After the trouble I had to get it to come down on Weichberg, it seems (perhaps as ice inside slowly melted in the sunshine) it now wanted to come down without my help – the extra weight of the balun on the UL-404 antenna puts more weight on the mast than the linked dipole which may be part of the reason for the collapse as well. Never mind, got it back up and tried to get back the station who had been calling me when no doubt my signal strength dropped significantly with the mast!

All was running OK, except that I was getting cold again then after about another 10 minutes of contact after contact, the rig went off. What? Turned the rig off and on – nothing. Then looking into my battery box the problem was apparent. For my 13.8V supply from the 16.8V LIPO supply, I use a matrix of high current diodes. I have tried electronic “step-down” boards but they all create QRM across HF bands. the simple diode matrix uses the voltage drop across the diodes to reduce the voltage. The diodes are rated at more than enough current. they can get hot but won’t break. What I didn’t allow for however was that this heat transfers along the wires from the diodes and melts the solder connecting some of them together ! Running the X108G at 20 watts output for a really busy 30 minutes was too much and one diode simply de-soldered itself! That was the end of that activation! Strangely had I been running more power – 70 watts using my amplifier, this problem wouldn’t have occurred. Why? Well, the battery-box has two 5Ah LIPO batteries in it One feeds the diode matrix to give 13.8V output for the X108G. The other goes straight out to the amplifier which needs the 16.8V from the second 4S LIPO battery. When I run the amplifier the X108G rig only runs at 3 watts and the amplifier runs off the second 4S LIPO battery, so the current drawn for the power stages does not go via the diodes.

 I took this power failure as a sign to pack up. I was getting some great reports from there though – lots of 59 or 59+ and that was without using the amplifier! Just 20 watts. The battery at the end of the day still had at least 40% change in all of its 4 cells, so had that diode not de-soldered I could have continued and perhaps got an S2S contact with Mike but it was time to stop. Even in the occasional sunshine, I guess it was still under zero degrees and I was getting cold again.

After packing up the gear and heading back past the church, I realised that once again, I had been so busy that I had not taken any photos, so once I again I put down the tripod and mast and took some scenery shots, which are better than nothing but it would have been nice to have a picture of the station.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • DX-Wire 10m mast
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • Aerial-51 OCF 40-10m dipole (Auerberg).
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole (Weichberg).
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Logs:

DL/AL-179 Weichberg:

DL/AL-169 Auerberg:

Conclusions:

The weather was not as expected and on both summits, I stayed too long with the cold getting into my hands. The propagation was good compared to the previous few days with calls on Auerberg from all around Europe but no DX calls from outside of Europe. I’m rather proud of the 48 contacts in 30 minutes on Auerberg but there would have been more, had the DX-Wire mast not collapsed into itself about halfway through the activation and the battery box failing as the diodes over-heated. Perhaps with the cold, that was the best time to stop in any case? It would have been nice to have an S2S with Mike 2E0YYY/P in the UK but it wasn’t to be (I think had I stayed longer on Auerberg that may have happened).

I wonder if 7.145 is a WWFF frequency? I certainly got a lot of calls there and more than one ended with “73 & 44” – 44 is the usual WWFF code. In any case, I was glad to get a free frequency on 40m and the fact that I could use it on both summits was a real bonus!

Testing whether I have cured the RF Ingres and whether the external speech compressor works still needs to be done but while it remains so cold on the summits, I expect my next few activations will stay with the minimum and simplest set-up I can muster to keep activations short.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – January 15th 2020 – DL/AM-176 Rentschen – Antenna and grey line tests.

Preparation:

As we have had some sunspots from the new solar cycle 25 and the SFI index was up at 75, I decided to do an activation back at the just after dawn hours to coincide with the grey line and long path propagation to Australia. I wanted to see if this window was once again open to Australia as of late we’ve been using the later short path windows at around 1030-1130 UTC. The predictions were that the SFI should stay in the mid-70s for a couple of weeks.

I chose Rentschen as it is an easy access plateau type summit where I have lots of room and could put up my 40m VP2E antenna which I was still not happy was working as expected and I could also put up my 40/30/20m linked dipole so that I had a comparison. As conditions were unlikely to be “easy”, I would also take my recently purchased and boxed Chinese 70 watt HF amplifier to give the signal a kick. I considered also re-testing my new external DYC-817 dynamic speech compressor but then (correctly as it turned out) decided I would be testing too many things in one go.

So the aims were;

  1. Test if the old early morning long path/grey line window to ZL/VK was once again available as the SFI had risen.
  2. Test the VP2E against the linked dipole on 40 metres (the dipole also providing 20-metre coverage if required).
  3. Make sure the rig sounds OK, without the speech compressor in use.

 As it would be an early (8am) start, all the gear was loaded into the car the night before so that I could just get up, get ready and go.

The Activation:

As planned I was up early – and hit the road a few minutes earlier than expected. As I would be putting up two antenna systems, having some more time available before the activation time that I had alerted on SOTAWatch would be useful.

The SFI, while predicted to stay at around 75, had dropped to 71 and worse still the K index was up at 3 and hence the bands would be noisy.

I like to coordinate my activations with when Mike 2E0YYY/P goes out as he will more often than not get contacts into VK/ZL from his local summits in the North of England. Today he was going to a HEMA summit, Mow Cop which has performed very well over the last few months for him. Mike, however, was still going out for the later window, so it was quite possible that I would be packing up at the time Mike was starting up but we usually try for a contact. Mow Cop, however, has a strange “curse”, that it seems to be blocked towards southern Germany and the only way I have worked Mike from this summit is via aircraft scatter (the summit is quite close to Manchester airport and the Manchester – Helsinki flight seems to provide a nice mirror for us on 20m).

The run down to Rentschen was uneventful and I was happy to see that the field where the summit marker trig point stone is located was bathed in the early morning sunshine. That wasn’t to say that it was warm – it might have got up to 2 degrees Centigrade while I was there, mostly it was around zero.

I set up the 40m VP2E on my 10m portable mast supported in my modified surveyors’ tripod, pointing in the correct direction for VK/ZL via long path. The linked dipole, set to 20m initially, so I had the ability to switch bands quickly if needed, went onto my 6-metre pole which had its base supported by a screw-in sunshade base peg.

One of my planned actions was to test whether the early – (Grey line) connectivity was again possible given the improved conditions over the last week. I can tell you – it wasn’t! I called and called and although I got several contacts around Europe, there was nothing from further afield on 40m or 20m. Interesting on 40m was how weak Scandinavian stations were but Spanish, French and some UK stations were booming in like they were next door – so this suggests that the VP2E is indeed providing gain in the direction it is pointed while reducing signals from other directions as it should. I left it a bit too long before thinking about comparing signals between antennas (next time I need to take a simple manual antenna switch to make it easy (and quick) to compare. By the time I remembered that I wanted to compare directivity and signals, we started to have QSB affect the bands.

With the sunspots disappearing and the SFI dropping to 70 despite the fact that the predictions were for it to stay in the mid-70s, along with a CME, which probably was the reason that there was so much QSB and higher noise levels on 40m & 20m, meant that conditions were not good for me.

I did make another discovery – the bad audio which I put down to a problem in the speech processor on my last activations is actually RF getting back into the rig’s audio. It only occurs when the amplifier is on and switching off the amplifier and hence dropping from about 70 watts to 3 watts stops the “rasping” sound in the audio. I noted to investigate this further when I got home and as I was told the audio was perfectly readable at the higher power and hence higher signal level, I decided to put up with it as I could do little on the summit (see conclusions section below).

On this activation, I lasted over 3 hours in the cold which is more than previous activations.  I arrived on the summit at 0800 UTC and left at 1115 UTC one reason that I stayed so long was in the hope of making a contact with Mike 2E0YYY/P on Mow Cop. For a long time, I could hear stations working Mike but nothing from him. When I eventually heard Mike, it was after he had switched from his Antron A99 vertical to a simple inverted-v dipole. I guess this shortened the skip distance as the signals take-off angle would be higher. He was only a 3-2 signal when we managed a contact (I was 3-3 with him) and then only for a short period. In any case, the Mow Cop screen to Southern Germany still seems to be in place! I even tried swinging my dipole 90 degrees but I couldn’t tell if it made any difference as his signal had dropped back into the noise. There’s something about Mow Cop that stops it from being able to get signals down here!

I started packing up the station at 1045 UTC and found out later that Mike made contacts into VK about an hour afterwards. So it appears the short path is still working down to VK/ZL but not the early morning long path/grey line.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • DX-Wire 10m mast and Lambdahalbe 6m mast.
  • Portable 70w PEP HF amplifier and cables.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase 4S LIPOs).
  • VP2E (Vertically polarised, 2 element, 40m directional wire antenna).
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • Screw-in sun umbrella base.
  • SOTABeams Band Hopper linked dipole.
  • Thick green plastic painters sheet and an orange plastic tablecloth.
  • Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.

Log:

Conclusions:

The propagation was not as good as I had hoped for, there was a lot of QSB around that meant any antenna comparisons would not be valid. Even swinging the linked dipole around on 20m to try to get a better signal from Mike had no apparent effect but as Mike went into the noise at that point, we’ll never know if the linked dipole’s positioning was important or not

The problems of “raspy” audio when the amplifier is turned on, appears to be RF getting into the rig and as the accessory cable carrying the Tx/Rx PTT switching also has the Auxilary audio input pin wired up but going nowhere, my modification of cutting that wire in the cable near to the rig end of the cable along with adding ferrites to several of the other cables might resolve the RFI – we’ll see at the next activation. If the RFI is now stopped, I can again look at testing the external dynamic speech processor.

What is with the cell phone networks? From the Rentschen summit, I can see the cell tower but despite that, it stopped working during my activation making spotting and communicating via email, difficult to say the least. I have a SIM for each of the two major networks in Germany (Telekom and Vodafone) in my smartphone and I seem to be having issues with both networks!

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – January 8th 2020 – DL/AM-001 Peissenberg – Intending to test new speech compressor.

Preparation:

As we are now in a new year (2020) all the summits I activated last year, will furnish activators points again, and some, such as Peissenberg, 3 winter bonus points as well.

I have recently bought a DYC-817 speech processor “kit” from FunkAmateur/Box73 and modified it to work with my Xiegu X108G transceiver (they are wired to work with the Yaesu FT8x7 range of transceivers normally). I have tried using this unit on a previous activation and I did not get the expected results. Following this I have been involved in a thread on the SOTA reflector where others are also trying to get the unit to work correctly – some with great success.

As Mike, 2E0YYY had arranged to go out on the 8th of January as the weather forecast looked good in the UK (after some recent rainy days) and he had lined up skeds with Jonathan VK7JON, Ernie VK3DET and John VK6NU to listen for him, we agreed I’d tag-on to the schedule and activate Peissenberg at the same time as he was on Shining Tor in the UK.

I would test the speech processor now that I had the controls inside the unit set where others had had success and at the same time, perhaps manage an S2S with Mike in the UK and contacts also into Australia.

As I was not going to use the VP2E antenna, to keep the things being tested to a minimum, so while I would still use the HF amplifier I would rely on the good old linked dipole antenna and 6-metre fishing pole mast. Then the only variable from items that I know work would be the speech processor.

The Activation:

The 40 minute run down to Peissenberg went without any problems. This time I had decided to go back to my usual location, right on the summit beside the church, as I didn’t need the room to put up the VP2E.

Here’s a 360-degree picture of the bench location by the church, on the exact summit thanks to Google maps: https://maps.app.goo.gl/nGJb47z2JbqHpMen7

Upon arrival, I checked the Internet connectivity via my phone and was surprised to see an indication of 4G+ on my phone on both networks that I have (Telekom and Vodafone) – so no spotting problems on this activation, the internet access was really “snappy”. I wonder if they have installed 5G already in this location and as my phone is “only” 4G capable it was indicating this? This was certainly the first time I had seen 4G+ on the phone and the network was stable the whole time I was on the summit.

After setting up the station on my usual bench (about 30 minutes earlier than I had alerted for) I tuned around 20 metres and found activity from Russia and Italy – so nothing out of the ordinary but more importantly the band wasn’t dead.

I found a free frequency of 14.290 MHz (which for most of my time on the summit, stayed clear of QRM), spotted myself and started calling CQ. I actually started with the speech compressor in circuit but turned off and using it with my Leson amplified microphone that I have re-wired to look like a Yaesu Microphone.

First CQ call, no response, second call no response, so I checked my spot was up – yes no issues there. After 15 minutes of getting no calls, I decided to take the whole speech compressor set up out of circuit and plugged in just the standard Xiegu microphone. Another self spot on SOTAWatch and I got my first call – Lars SA4BLM from Sweden called and gave me a 5-5 report. When I asked him about the audio, he said it was strong but occasionally with a little crackling. Given that this was with the standard microphone, and that I wanted to get 4 contacts in the log to get the summit’s points, I decided to leave it at that and see if anyone else was hearing me now. They were, Lars was followed by Jack OH3GZ – a booming 5-9 signal which he also said I was. The next contact was with Jose EA7GV in Spain who was even stronger than Jack, so the band was definitely opening up! Number 4 contact to get the summit points was a surprise – it was John ZL1BYZ from New Zealand “You BUTE!”. We exchanged 5-3/4-2 reports but I knew it was John’s antenna system that was doing all the work. He is often the first ZL SOTA Chaser to come back to calls from EU. He has a good station and good ears! After John, there was a call from Hans SM4CJM where we exchanged 5-7 reports. About 15 minutes later I heard John ZL1BYZ working Mike 2E0YYY in the UK and while I couldn’t hear Mike, John had gone up to a good 5-5 signal!

For the next 45 minutes, I couldn’t “buy” a contact and signals that had been strong were suddenly weak and later strong again. Looking at Propquest when I got home, it seems the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) was bouncing up and down like a Yo-Yo around this time and sometimes dropping below 14MHz, which would, of course, explain the stations disappearing.

During these 45 minutes, I also took a listen for Ernie VK3DET who I had an email conversation running with and we “blind called” each other. Based on the contact with John in New Zealand, this should have been about the right time to have got a contact but it was not to be. I also heard nothing from VK7JON or VK6NU either (but in John VK6NU’s case, it may have been too early for Western Australia).  Interspersed with my attempts for a contact into VK, I was also putting out CQ calls and also listening on Mike 2E0YYY/P’s frequency. Nothing!

During my time on the summit, I had two different couples come up and ask what I was doing, so they got an introduction in Amateur Radio and a brochure in German.

It was 50 minutes after my last contact that I got another call and that was from Christos SV2OXS down in Greece. I had activated this very summit with Christos when he was visiting Bavaria two years earlier, so he commented that he remembered the summit.

Jack OH3GZ then called me again and asked if I was still on the same summit as my signal had dropped considerably and I could confirm that I was indeed still on the same summit. Jacks signal, although still easily readable was down from the earlier good S9 to an S5 level, so the band was dancing all over the place.  After Jack, Ricardo EA1DHB came in with a good solid 5-9 signal and gave me a 5-4.

All of this time, I had not had the opportunity to get any reports on the speech processor as the signals were varying too much. For some of my CQ calls, I put the processor in, some not. In any case, none of my SOTA contacts were made with the speech compressor in place – so I still don’t know if it works!

After being active for almost an hour, I decided to take one last listen for Mike 2E0YYY/P and suddenly he was there at about 5-7, so I gave him a call and we made the contact. 3 minutes later, he was gone again, I couldn’t hear anything from him, only the chasers calling him. Strange band conditions indeed.

A quick last spot and CQ call and then it was time to pack up and head back to the car.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G 20w HF transceiver (running at 3w)

50/70watt HF portable linear amplifier

LambdaHalbe 6 Metre telescopic “Squid Pole” mast.

SOTABeams “band hopper” linked dipole antenna at about 5m AGL in inverted-V format.

Painters plastic sheet.

Battery Box with 2 x 5Ah 4S LIPO hard-case batteries

Smartphone using PocketRxTx app to control and display the X108G display

Log:

Conclusions:

The main purpose of the activation was to test out the speech processor – that was not possible with the 20m band the way it was. The contact into New Zealand was a nice bonus but why wasn’t I able to get through to the VK stations?

Coldness (even in the sunshine) remains a limiting factor to the length of my activations. If I had been able to stay another hour the contact into VK3 may have been possible, even though those into VK3 and VK7 failed. A small tent could help with this problem but it needs to be one that is an instant pop-up type as I wouldn’t put it up if a lot of time is needed. It would not work at the bench location at Piessenberg but it would in the field near the lower car park.

I was using the bench effectively as my table for the radio equipment but I ended up crouching in front of it, which was uncomfortable. I have some small lightweight camping stools in the car, which I need to think about bringing up to the summit next time.

73 ’til the next Summit!

DD5LP/P – December 30th 2019 – DL/AL-167 Falkenstein – Winter Bonus points activation.

Preparation:

As the end of the year got closer, I realised there was one more summit that I might be able to squeeze in, that I hadn’t activated in 2019. In fact, the last time I had activated Falkenstein was in 2017, so I missed the points from this summit in 2018 somehow!

Looking at the weather forecast, Monday the 30th. December looked like being a dry day and as it turned out, while cold enough that the ice and snow on the summit hadn’t melted, it was actually quite sunny.

This summit does not need a cable car to get to it. It is a “drive-up” summit, at least to about 70 vertical metres below the summit. It does have a novel access restriction however, in that the road up to the summit is a private, one-track road with tight hairpin turns and sheer drops off the mountain face at some points! The road is owned and maintained by a hotel that is located just below the summit and there is a charge of €4 for the use of the road, which is paid at a ticket machine at the start of the road by the traffic lights. To avoid vehicles meeting each other going in different directions (there are no passing spots) the road is controlled with traffic lights on a timer and cars are allowed to drive up the road between a quarter past the hour and 5 minutes to the next hour and drive down the road between the full hour and 10 minutes past. As it takes 5 minutes for the drive, the no-drive gaps of 5 minutes allow for those risking a last-minute sprint (usually the hotel supplies van).

So that I could get on-air at my planned time and return home for some afternoon shopping, I had to plan the trip precisely so as not to be delayed too long if I arrived at the traffic lights at either the bottom or top of the road, at the wrong time as that could cost me 30 minutes easily.

I decided that I would once again use the small set-up with the photo tripod and the Komunica HF-PRO2 loaded HF mobile whip. But, just in case, I would also take along my 6-metre mast and a couple of Inverted-V dipoles. My operating position is on the summit, upon a platform within the ruins of the castle. This does not allow a lot of space to run out dipole wires so it would be simpler if I could get my required 4 contacts just with the mobile whip.

Falkenstein is the highest castle ruins in Germany and it was to be another hunting lodge type castle for King Ludwig II but he was drowned in Lake Starnberg before the work could be completed. The location therefore also has a Castles on the Air and a World Castles Award designation of SWB-13014 and DL-0246 respectively.

As there is no cable car involved I decided to take both radio bags, so including the amplifier and various spare cables and things “just in case” i.e. twice as much weight as I really needed! All was packed the day before however for me it was a relatively late start at 9:45 local time for the estimated 75-minute drive. To arrive just as the road would open for traffic to go up it.

The Activation:

The drive down went well and I actually arrived 15 minutes earlier than I expected, meaning as I arrived I saw the light change from green to red. As I hadn’t paid my ticket at that point, to dash through the light would have been a bad idea. I waited the 15 minutes and then took off up the road. I have driven this road two times before but some of the hairpin bends were interesting to negotiate, as was getting past a parked truck, in use by a crew installing Armco barriers a little further up the road. In any case, I was back in my schedule when I arrived in the “day visitor’s” car park and loaded myself up with two bags and the HF-Pro2 antenna in a protective tube that I made for it.

The walk from here up the rest of the road to the hotel entrance is steep – especially when carrying the weighty bags, but the road was fairly clear of ice and so no problem to get up. The next stage after passing the hotel, on the final path and stone steps up to the ruins were more of a challenge and I stopped and added spikes to my boots, which made all the difference. Where other tourists were having some real problems with lack of grip, my spikes were cutting into the ice-covered stones and giving me good traction with my heavy load.

Upon arrival at the ruins, I found the gate open (as it’s supposed to be) and went in and up the wooden tower that has been built inside the stone walls. On arriving on the top, I was happy to see the same wooden table that was their three years ago – much better than having to put the equipment on the floor, especially as more and more people were arriving as I set-up.

The tripod and HF-Pro2 went up quickly and then it took a while to untangle the eight counterpoise wires and run them out. Once that was done, I set the loading coil on the antenna to the position for 20 metres connected the rig to the battery. I decided not to bother with the amplifier despite having carried it up to the summit, I also left the speech compressor and power microphone in the bag and stuck with the standard microphone. As I turned on the rig I wondered what I would hear. On my last two activations at this summit, QRM from the hotel or the microwave relay station behind it wiped out 20 metres on one activation and 40 metres on another. This time although there was some background QRM on both bands, it wasn’t enough to be a problem, so it looks like whatever was causing the QRM previously has been fixed.

I started on 40m but the band was busy and the first two frequencies where I called CQ and spotted myself were immediately swamped by splatter from stations just off frequency, so I’d hear someone call me – I’d go back to them, pass it back and then hear nothing more from them as I presume, I had been flattened by the other station. Perhaps I should have put the amplifier on? In any case, my third frequency worked fine and I got a nice series of seven contacts including one S2S contact with Rudi OE7RDI on Laber. When the calls dried up (bearing in mind, my wish to get back to the car to be there at the right time for the 10-minute window when one can drive down the hill) I decided to give 20 metres a quick try and made two contacts there before shutting down, packing up and heading back down to the car. The trip home was uneventful and I managed the planned shopping trip as well.

All in all, it was a successful activation, getting me the 4 activation points plus 3 winter bonus points and proving again that the simple loaded whip on a tripod can get a signal out all around Europe.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Komunica HF-PRO2 HF bands vertical whip.
  • Converted Photo tripod and counterpoise wires.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTA Beams linked dipole (not used).
  • 6-metre Lambdahalbe fibreglass portable mast (not used).
  • Plastic painters sheet (not used).
  • 2 Smartphones one running PocketRxTx App and USB cable as an external display for X108G and one used for spotting and taking pictures.

Log:

Conclusions:

Keeping the operation simple is the best solution and when I receive my birthday present of a slightly larger rucksack, I’ll be trying to cut back to include all essential equipment in the one bag, but not more than is required.

Overall the outing was worth it as I got my points and some time out in the sunshine.

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – December 26th 2019 – DL/EW-001 Wank – Winter Bonus points activation.

Preparation:

I have been wanting to get an activation of Wank mountain which lies above Garmisch-Partenkirchen in, for a while but had to wait for the cabin lift to start running again after having been closed for annual maintenance, as most are around Southern Bavaria at this time of year. The cable car was supposed to start running again on Christmas Day (25th December) but it didn’t because of high winds. I could see from the webcam near the summit that the tracks had not been used, let alone cleared on Wednesday so my trip on Thursday (Boxing Day) was in the balance until the last minute. As it was the lift would only start operation at 10am instead of the more usual 8:30 or 9am.

At least the weather forecasts said that this activation would be a nice sunny one albeit quite cold on the summit.

Given that this is a favourite tourist summit and that there are a lot of people and visitors in Garmisch who would most likely be glad to get out after two or three days inside because of the storms, I expected cramped lift cabins and a busy summit and so would not take the normal gear rather just one bag and the Komunica HF-Pro2 loaded HF whip antenna and a photo tripod. No amplifier or large tripod or large antennas on this excursion. Of course, as a backup, I squeezed the small fishing pole and the linked dipole into the small rucksack, making it quite heavy.

As usual, all gear was prepared the day before and put ready to take near the main house door.

The Activation:

After waking, I still wasn’t sure whether I would be setting off as I was worried that the drive down would be wasted if I found the cable car not running. The website now said that the lift was scheduled to run from 10am and the weather forecast did not indicate high winds, so in the end, I decided to head off and hope for the best. Leaving 30 minutes later than planned at 09:15 local time, I arrived at the car park for the lower lift station at 10:30am and was glad to see the car park was not nearly as full as I have seen it before. They still get you for the fee though. The car park costs €5 for a day and €5 is the minimum fee. The lift cost a further €22.50 so this was to be an expensive outing if I didn’t manage my needed four contacts from the summit.

After getting my ticket and heading into the lift station, I was surprised to see no queues and empty carriages, so I took the next one in the queue and had it all to myself, all the way up. The lift to the top has two stages and the cabins move from one system to another at the middle station, where at some times of year people can join the lift to go back up however as the ski-runs down from the top are not yet open because of lack of snow, the middle station is also closed to passengers getting on or off.

As I went up the lift, the temperature probably dropped about 10 degrees. At the bottom no snow was to be seen, at the top, there was lots of snow. So as soon as I got out of the lift station, it was on with the spikes on my hiking boots before setting off for the summit which is around 30 vertical metres higher up a winding track, which while compacted snow was still slippery. With the heavy rucksack and the whip antenna in its transport tube, I was glad of the extra traction that the spikes gave me. Those in just boots, or worse still, running shoes! were having more issues getting up the track.

I found my way to the very summit, behind the cross where several other radio installations are located (thankfully none causing any interference as far as I could tell) and set my station up on my piece of painters sheet on top of the snow. The small tripod and HF-Pro2 antenna went up easily and I ran out the counterpoise wires in all directions. I decided to start on 40m so I set the antenna to 15 which is the position I have calibrated it with my antenna analyser at home, for 7.100 MHz. I think connected up rig, battery box and Smartphone acting as an external control panel for the rig as the X108G’s OLED display was totally unreadable in the sunlight.

As I tuned 40 metres on this Thursday morning, something suddenly became clear. The band was full with contest stations (it turned out later, that the DARC – the national society in Germany had decided to pollute a weekday with their contest rather than sticking to weekends – which is the usual situation). Having good contest operators who follow the “DX code of conduct”, it would just have been an inconvenience finding a free frequency but with the “wanna-be”, un-skilled contesters in this contest, my patience was going to be tried. During my activation, I had to change frequency five times. I ALWAYS check whether a frequency is clear before starting to call CQ – it seems this is not the case for DARC contest operators – they just chose a frequency and call, whether or not there’s a station there. Worst of all is that these same twats start calling CQ in the middle of me having a QSO – now I could perhaps excuse the crocodile station for not hearing me, but I am SURE they heard the chaser station!

In 50 minutes, I managed 7 contacts around Europe, so the station was certainly getting out but all of the chasers commented about difficulties in hearing me due to over modulated contest stations splattering all over the band. After about an hour on the summit, I was getting a little cold and more and more tourists were finding their way up to the summit area, so I decided it was time to pack-up and head home. At least I had some good mountain air, some great views and even some sunshine – as you can see from the photos below.

For once all equipment worked as expected.

The trip home was uneventful and I had another 9 points towards my activator totals.

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Komunica HF-PRO2 HF bands vertical whip.
  • Converted Photo tripod and counterpoise wires.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTA Beams linked dipole (not used).
  • 6-metre Lambdahalbe fibreglass portable mast (not used).
  • Plastic painters sheet.
  • 2 Smartphones one running PocketRxTx App and USB cable as an external display for X108G and one used for spotting and taking pictures.

Log:

Conclusions:

Contests bloody CONTESTS! I should have guessed being a public holiday, the contest virus would have spread to spoil this day also for “normal” radio operators. This appears to have been an 80m & 40m only contest, so I could have tried getting enough contacts on 20 metres instead of going onto 40 metres. I was more concerned as to whether the summit was going to be accessible at all, than worry about the incompetent contest operators.

Overall the outing was worth it and I got my points and some time out in the countryside.

I also proved that the lightweight, small configuration of just the photo tripod and HF mobile whip plus the 20w X108G does work well enough to get the contacts (in this case despite the DQRM).

73 ’til the next summit!

DD5LP/P – December 18th 2019 – DL/MF-082 Schwarzerberg – Winter Bonus points activation.

Preparation:

As the weather forecasts said that this activation would be a nice sunny one with being scheduled to start late morning and run over noon, what could be better?

Tests being carried out by Mike 2E0YYY, Ernie VK3DET and I seem to prove there is a short path window from UK/EU to VK around 1100 UTC (noon with me here in Germany).

To increase my chance of a contact into VK using this window, I would take along my portable 50/70 watt amplifier and my new dynamic speech compressor – normally I would also include the directional VP2E antenna in the equation as well however as I was already including two “unknowns” I decided that I’d stick with the known linked dipole. As for a summit for the tests, most of my local summits I have already activated several times this year and those that I know and I haven’t yet activated this year need a cable car or seat lift to access them and all of those lifts are stopped for maintenance before the ski season starts just before Christmas. Schwarzenberg however, is a drive-up summit and although I had activated it only six weeks ago, that was before the start of the winter bonus points for activators, so by re-activating this summit, I would gain 3 activator points for what is normally only a 1 point summit. If I activate it again in the new year before the winter bonus stops, it’ll be worth 4 points then. I for normal activation plus three winter bonus points. This summit is also close to another amateurs QTH who I wanted to invite along but unfortunately, as it turned out, he wasn’t well enough.

As usual, all gear was prepared the day before and put ready to take near the main house door.

The Activation:

I set off from home at 9:30am local time expecting to arrive at the parking spot at 11 am local, as it turned out the 90-minute trip didn’t take that long and I was there by 10:45 local.

I carried all the gear up to the same spot as I used last time and was set up within 30 minutes. As I was setting up I got an email from Ernie in Australia to say he had already worked Mike with 4-4 reports both ways.

As soon as I was set-up I took a listen for Mike 2E0YYY/P on a HEMA summit – “Mow Cop” – I could hear him strong enough to work him but call as I did several times he just kept calling CQ, so as he confirmed later he wasn’t hearing me. As we were both running 50 watts to inverted-V dipoles, this would perhaps point to the X-108G receiver being more sensitive than Mikes FT-857D but, more likely, his local noise level could have been higher than mine. I emailed Ernie back to say I couldn’t get Mikes attention but that I would call him down 10 kHz on 14.310MHz. Ernie didn’t hear me but I could hear something in the noise on the frequency, which I believe was Ernie calling me. But he was too weak to work, even if he could have heard me. Ernie was running 400 watts into a 3 element beam I believe.

When I went back to Mike on 14.320MHz he had sunk into the noise – I could tell he was there but not make out what he was saying. Twenty metres had taken a dive and it stayed that way until 1100 UTC when it opened up as if someone had turned the light switch on! By that time, unfortunately, both Mike and Ernie were gone.

In any case, I now had another problem. My cell phone signal was never great on this summit on either of the two main networks but I was receiving and sending emails, so it was at least working giving an Internet connection. The problem was that the SOTA spots that I sent whether via data or via SMS were not appearing on SOTAWatch so I couldn’t attract the chasers attention to work me on 40 metres, where I had now switched to. I tried calling non-SOTA stations on 40m with no success for a good 20 minutes. This was crazy – I must get 4 in the log or I wouldn’t get the winter points. Luckily then, Jon, EA5INS/P had spotted his activation and I could hear him and we managed a summit-to-summit contact.

After this though … nothing. As we were approaching noon local time (1100 UTC) when I was hoping for the short path window to VK to open I re-set the linked antenna for 20 metres again and switched back. As I was still unable to spot myself, I was lucky that Lars SA4BLM heard my CQ calls and came back to me. He was an armchair copy and not only became my third contact in the log but also helped me with testing the amplifier and speech compressor. He then spotted me. Upon completing my QSO with Lars, I had a run of VERY strong chaser calls on 20m (the band had opened up but just around Europe, it seems).

To finish off the activation, I saw that Rudi OE7RDI had spotted he was on 40 metres on a DL summit so I once again switched back to 40m and we had a nice S2S contact to close out my activation before packing up. Unfortunately during pack-up, I managed to stand on the antenna wire and it broke at one of the links.

Without being able to self-spot it’s difficult to work anyone and hence continuing on would have been difficult. I also needed 30 minutes to pack up and get back to the car and then a possible 90 minutes or more drive home (actually it was another good run only needing 75 minutes). In any case, once I got home I looked into why my spots were not getting through and it appears it was a password issue in my SOTA Spotter App configuration. I reset the password and re-tested and everything worked fine (at least from home).

Photos:

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Equipment:

  • Xiegu X108G.
  • Leson amplified microphone & FA DYC-817 Dynamic Speech compressor.
  • Portable 50/70W HF amplifier and cables.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hardcase LIPOs).
  • SOTA Beams linked Dipole at 8 metres AGL.
  • Surveyors tripod.
  • 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass portable mast.
  • Plastic tablecloth as ground cover.
  • 2 Smartphones one running PocketRxTx App and USB cable as an external display for X108G and one used for spotting (or trying to) and taking pictures.

Log:

Conclusions:

I managed enough contacts to grab the 3 winter bonus points that would otherwise have gone to waste but it would have been a LOT easier had I been able to self-spot. Hopefully, that problem is now fixed.

The broken antenna wire is already soldered up and ready for the next activation.

I am still not convinced that the portable amplifier is giving me the boost that it should do.

Lars’ comments around the audio punch seemed to infer that I might be getting RF into the audio path or that some audio stage is being overdriven – I will need to investigate this further.

73 ’til the next summit!