DD5LP/P – July 10th. 2018 – DM/BM-345 Kalavarienberg.

Preparation:

From the 10th. through the 17th. of July, I was supporting the World Radiosport Team Championship in Wittenberg, about 6-7 hours drive north of this QTH. I had thought I might get out at some point to accivate a local SOTA summit but as the closest to Wittenberg is probably at least a 90 minute drive away, my idea changed, to doing one en-route, so breaking the driving up as well. I have found that the “Adventure Radio” maps that cover SOTA, GMA, Humps, IOTA and other portable operation programs has a rather nice feature, that the summit information shown on the map has a note as to whether it’s a “drive-up” summit. Which in this case I needed if I was not to lose too much time on the journey. I looked at several possible summits and DM/BM-345 Kalavarienberg was the one I chose. I had hoped to be able to take the magnetic loop antenna and spent a lot of time trying to get it to a reliable state but I wasn’t quite there, so before I took it and had a wasted journey, I decided to take the 6m mast and linked dipole along with the surveyors tripod, which is becoming my preferred support method for the mast. The rig would be the X108-G again.

The Location:

Kalavarienberg is about a 45 minute drive north of Nuremberg and about 10 Km off  the A-9 Autobahn that I would be using to head north on to Liepzig and then Wittenberg. The nearest village is Thurndorf.

The Activation:

I set off in dry sunny conditions but as I approached Nuremberg the rain started and got heavier and heavier as I got closer to the summit. When I arrived at the summit and parked in the chapel’s car park, the rain was coming in spurts. I wondered whether to wait and see whether it cleared but I was little tight on time, so I decided to put the antenna up and then see if the rain changed it didn’t. as I already had my winter waterproof jacket on, I decided to operate in the rain and probably just “bag” 4 contacts and then call it a day. Well the first three came slowly (this included one S2S) but then there was a flood of calls and that 4 target was well beaten with 23 in the log within 20 minutes. The use of the tripod paid off as it allowed me to locate the antenna close enough for the coax to run to a wooden table and benches near the chapel. Everything got wet but the new pens I have bought indeed kept working in the wet, didn’t smudge or rip the wet paper which I could have rung the water out of by the time I hd finished but rather I put the log page in a place to dry out slowly. I didn’t bother trying 20m after 40m as I wanted to head off on my long drive and dry out a little in the car. Just as I completed taking the station down and packing it in the car, the rain stopped and the sun came out! Typical! In dry weather this would be a nice summit for a family visit, the views without cloud and rain must be really nice and the propagation from there is certainly good.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X-108G.

SOTABeams linked dipole

Battery box.

Lambdahalbe 6m telescopic fibreglass mast.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Surveyors tripod.

Log:

Conclusions:

The ease of putting up the mast and antenna with the Surveyors tripod far outweighs the problem with its bulk.

The X108G now seems to be working well, although the sunshade was certainly not needed this time!

In the interim, I have found out that some of my problems with the Mag loop are down to a fault in the Rig Expert AA-30 Antenna Analyser that I use to tune the antenna. So perhaps now that I have the loop re-calibrated I’ll take it to a simple summit to try it out on again. It’s also now modified so that it can use the surveyors tripod as it’s base rather than needing a table.

73 ’til the next Summit!

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DD5LP/P – June 28th. 2018 – DL/AM-176 Rentschen to test Mag. Loop antenna.

Preparation:

Having set up and calibrated the magnetic loop antenna that I bought at Friedrichshafen (details to be added under equipment/antennas at some point). It was time to try it out for real on a summit rather than just on the antenna analyser or on the balcony. So equipped with a piece of equipment that hopefully later I wont need to take with me (a table). The now standard Xiegu X-108G, with its sunshade (not that it was needed), battery box and other accessories along with the disassembled “DL4KCJ Direct gamma match fed asymmetrical magnetic loop antenna” were packed for the outing. I planned to try to make contacts on 80m (which hasn’t been done from this summit before), 40m and 20m. It would be interesting to put up the normal dipole as well to compare the antennas but I decided just to concentrate on the loop.

The Location:

Rentschen is a one point, flat summit which lends itself well to antenna tests as there is a lot of space with no obstructions. It is about a 50 minutes drive from my home and therefore one of my “local” summits. The actual summit is marked by a trig-point stone which is about 100m away from the road, where I would park my car as usual. The summit is between Rottenbuch and Steingaden villages.

The Activation:

I have driven the route down many times so I did not need my GPS navi or maps. About 15 minutes into the drive a few spots of rain fell and then it stopped. Some rain was forecast but hopefully there would also be some dry intervals, so I kept on driving. Soon the rain was back and as time went on, it got heavier and heavier. It never got to storm level but by the time I arrived at the summit it was a constant soaking drizzle. In fact it continued this way for the rest of the day.

OK so after driving down, I wasn’t going to turn around without at least trying some tests. I didn’t need 4 contacts as I had already activated the summit in 2018, so I would get no points for it, but a few contacts would be nice.

I started on 80m with the antenna set as I had calibrated it at home, SWR looked good tuning around I could hear a couple of stations fairly well, so I chose a free frequency, spotted myself and started calling CQ. Nothing! I called for over 10 minutes without one response. OK I thought, there simply aren’t that many chasers on 80m, I will try the more usual band, 40m. After adjusting the antenna to my settings for 40m, I could see there was something wrong straight away as the SWR was so high that the rig refused to transmit. I played around with the antenna settings, the location of the gamma match and the setting of the variable capacitor, but could not make any improvement to the SWR. It had tested OK at home, so this was a strange problem. In any case, I didn’t want to spend more time in the rain than I must, so I switched to 20m, adjusted the antenna again and this time the SWR was under 2:1 so I spotted myself and called CQ SOTA with the reward of three contacts. 20m was strange though, with a high noise level plus very deep QSB, with the result that stations I would normally be able to work without trouble, I was having to really listen to hear their reports. Not ideal conditions to test an antenna in!

By this time I had, had enough of the rain. I had proved that the antenna works on 20m albeit not brilliantly, I think 80m is fine but 40m would need more investigation. Why do the settings work from home on the other bands but not 40m? I will definitely need to do some further portable tests with the antenna, perhaps not another SOTA summit until I understand better how to tune the antenna.

For now I was happy to get back into the car and drive home.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X-108G.

DL4KCJ Magnetic Loop antenna.

Battery box.

Fold-up table.

Thick plastic painters sheet

Mini-VSWR meter and coax cables.

Log:

Conclusions:

The loop needs to be checked on 40m again, first at home and then at some portable location. – Later tests showed that my Rig Expert AA-30 Antenna Analyser was no longer accurate. It was indicating the wrong frequency for the resonance of the antenna. Strangely – when used attached to a PC, the PC software shows the correct frequency, so I have now re-calibrated the loop using the PC program through the analyser. As yet Rig Expert have been unable to find the reason for this fault in their equipment when used stand-alone.

The mini-VSWR bridge I had with me was not good for some bands as in cal. it wouldn’t go all the way across. However the SWR scan feature in the rig – while rather wide on it’s frequency range does appear to be accurate.

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!

DD5LP/P – April 25th. 2018 – DL/AL-149 Blender.

Preparation:

As the conditions seemed to be improving with the SFI up to 75 and K down to 1, on Monday Mike 2E0YYY suggested an early morning activation on Wednesday, looking for some long path grey line contacts into VK/ZL on 40m or 20m. As no rain was forecast until Thursday, I said I’d get out as well. The target time was 0700 UTC as it was expected that at this time there may be some chance of contacts. Equipment would be the X-108G, the 10m mini-mast, the Aerial-51 dipole and the LambdaHalbe 20m j-pole vertical (hence the need for the 10m mast instead of the normal 6m one). I would take the 6m mast as well, just in case there were problems with the DX-Wire mast again. As the lightweight Decathlon base had broken on the last activation, I planned to take the old sun umbrella base again and put it ready.

The Location:

I have been to this summit twice before, so I knew where I was going to park. After that there would be a steep climb up to the seat bank that Thomas DK1TK found for us on the last activation. At least the field shouldn’t be as wet this time.

The Activation:

I picked up my two “SOTA bags” and set off from home at around 0500 UTC leaving the sun umbrella base as I went past it half asleep. Luckily I didn’t need it later as I could strap the mast to the side of the bench seat. What stuck me was that at 7am local, it was already light, no sign of dawn at all. Thinking about this later, 2 and 3 years ago when I was regularly getting long path contacts into VK/ZL, I would be on the summit setting up at dawn as the sun came up. I have the feeling we are going out too late for the grey line propagation these days, even though the times are similar. The drive down was supposed to take about an hour and ten minutes. It took 20 minutes longer due to morning rush hour traffic around Kempton. Unfortunately there’s no obvious way to avoid this town to get to Blender from my home location, without taking a far longer route.

Once I had parked and grabbed my bags (still not realising I had forgotten the mast base) I set off across the fields to my planned location. The fields were indeed dry, so no problems there and on arriving at the bench, there was no one around. In fact I only had two groups come by during the time I was there – both times with dogs. It was already sunny but still cold with a little breeze.

As soon as I put the antenna up and got the rig on, I could tell this was going to be a difficult activation. The noise level on 40m was sat at S9! and on 20m it was S7. Unfortunately overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday the SFI had dropped from 74 to 71 and the K index had gone up from 1 to 3.

The first antenna up was the off centre fed dipole as I would need that for 40 metres (but it works on 20m as well). I started calling and looking for contacts on 20 metres after about 15 minutes and no contacts on 20m, I switched to 40 metres and bagged 6 difficult contacts in 5 minutes. Then when the calls stopped I decided to take down the OCF and put up the 20m vertical (J-pole) to see if that allowed me to hear any of the spotted stations on 20m. I couldn’t and getting any more contacts took some effort. I got a very good report on the antenna from Luk YO8SSB in Rumania. As well as Luk, who responded to my CQ SOTA, I also worked two Italian stations who I simply found on the 20m band. During these contacts, even though the mast was only supporting the vertical, the winds had built up so much that the mast was leaning over dangerously. As all amateurs do, I found a simple solution, by using three guy pegs pushed in around the base of the mast, I was able to stop the bottom moving. Of course if I had remembered to bring the sun umbrella base I wouldn’t have had this issue!

With the UK, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Poland and Rumania in the log, I decided to call it a day and packed up and headed back home.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

20m J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe.

DX-Wire 10m mini-mast.

LambdaHalbe 6m mini-mast.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.

Log:

Conclusions:

A day earlier would have had better radio conditions however I don’t believe I would have made any VK/ZL contacts then either. Band conditions are as bad as they can be at the moment.

I was surprised that I didn’t manager an S2S contact with Mike 2E0YYY/P in the UK during this activation but as the chaser contacts that I did make into the UK were 4-6 S-points down on what I would normally expect, I suppose it’s not surprising!

I’m wondering whether being out at sun rise would produce better results. WSPR doesn’t appear to suggest this but I have the feeling we are going out too late for the grey line.

I still have the visibility problem with the X108G display and have heard NOTHING more back from Xiegu, so my only hope is that the tilt mounts and magnifiers that I have ordered will come and be the solution for me.

I will need to recheck the J-Pole antenna on my analyser for its resonant frequency as, while the SWR trace on the X108G showed a dip when in use on the summit, the scale was too small to see if that dip was where it should have been. – NOTE: completed test at home – 1.3:1 at 14.285 and under 2:1 across the band – so that’s fine.

73 ’til the next Summit !

DD5LP/P – April 21st. 2018 – DL/AL-179 Weichberg (For EU-NA S2S event).

Preparation:

A regular SOTA event as well as the EU-VK S2S events is the annual NA-EU S2S event and this one had been planned months in advance with no way of knowing what the climatic and Radio weather would be like. As it happened in Southern Bavaria we had come into an early summer after so long with ice and snow, we had sunshine and warmth. the days up to the event also looked a little better on the radio conditions side – that was until a CME on the sun though a lot of Solar winds at the earth on Friday. The result of this was a high noise level – up to a K index of 5 by late Friday afternoon. Luckily this reduced a little on saturday but despite the SFI raising above the 70 level that it had been under for several weeks, background noise on the bands was probably at least 3 S-points higher than normal. When Solar winds like these hit, it not only raises the noise floor but also reduces the maximum usable frequency (MUF). Often 15 or 17 metres can provide good contacts between EU and NA – this would not be happening and even 20m would find it difficult to delivery. Who knows perhaps 40 metres can come to the rescue?

I had originally planned to travel early to a 10 point summit in Baden Wurtemberg, to be on the air at around 1300 UTC and then be packed up and coming home by 1500UTC at the latest. it then turned out that many of the North American activators would only be getting to their summits after 1500 UTC. With a 2.5 hr drive in each direction, the lovely 10 point summit wasn’t going to be practical if I was to stay into early evening on the summit. So I decided to plan to activate a simple 1 point local summit that is about 40 minutes away from home and then expect to be on the air from about 1500 UTC. On hearing that I would be going to the local summit (Weichberg), my wife suggested we make a “family event” of it and she and our dog would come along as well. She would provide a picnic. Given the nice summer like weather this was decided upon as a good solution. Equipment would be the X108G despite its continued visibility problems, it’s LIPO battery box with regulator, the Aerial-51 OCF dipole and the Lambdahalbe 20m J-pole antenna. Given their small size I packed all three J-pole antennas for 15, 17 & 20m. I decided to give the DX-Wire 10m portable mast another chance as I would need that height for the 20m J-pole antenna. I would take one of my 6m masts as well as back-up. As a base (foot) for the mast, I have my new Decathlon one packed in the rucksack. what could go wrong ? ….

The Location:

Weichberg in Allgaeu is near the village of Rettenbach and has a large radio transmitting mast and a small chapel on top of it. It also has a nice wooden bench with banks behind the obligatory holy cross. Importantly there is an open space with enough room to run out the dipole in inverted-V configuration. There are no convenient posts to strap the mast to however, hence the need for the base foot.

There is a convenient car parking area under the summit and a track that leads up along the edge of the woodland to the small chapel area. There is also a longer, less steep access route around the rear of the hill past the radio tower and that is what my wife and dog would take as the direct route is full of tree roots and other trip hazards.

The Activation:

The drive down took just about 35 minutes. I have been to this summit so often that I needed no GPS/Navi or map to find my way. Once we were parked, Gabriele and Bonnie set off on their route and I took the more direct route, hoping to be set-up by the time they arrived.

As I approached the summit, I could see several people there and over the next hour it would be a constant coming and going of cyclists. What do these people think they’re doing on MY summit? It got even more interesting later when as well as a second dog, two Shetland ponies appeared on the summit and the 5 year old leading one of the ponies had to lead it over to where Bonnie, our dog was sat! Of course it shocked the dog – some children need to be kept on leads, not just animals. Nothing serious happened but it didn’t help operations.

Anyway back to the set up. I chose my spot in the middle of the grassed area and put in the decathlon mast base spike but when I then took the 10 metre mast to put in it, I realised it wouldn’t fit – the outside diameter of the mast was larger than the inside diameter of the cup on the top of the spike. I was just happy that I had brought the old reliable 6 metre mast as well. So that now went in the cup and I dropped the Spiderbeam aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole onto the top of the pole and ran out the elements / guys. I tied one end off to a fence post and put a peg in the ground for the other end. I raised the mast and while it was leaning a lot moved the ground peg and tried to tighten things up a little. While my back was turned the mast slowly tipped over and rather than stopping the mast from falling, the cup on the top of the spike on the Decathlon base smashed itself ripping the spike out of the bottom of the cup. This is NOT a well built unit! So I then unscrewed the bottom off the mast and dropped it over the top of the (still in the ground) metal spike. This served to hold this up for the whole of the activation.

Once I checked my Smart Phone, I could already see that there were some European activators operating on both 40m and 20m. I listened for them but could not hear any of them. 20m was particularly dead but 40m was active, so I tuned around and found a strong station calling CQ, GB2GM (this was the Pohldu ARC with their Marconi Day station) so I gave him a call to make sure I was getting out. Nothing, he just kept calling CQ. Then someone else called him – same reaction – he just kept calling CQ. Perhaps they were using a Crystal receiver? Whatever it was, it was deaf! Just at this point another spot came on my phone from Stavros SV2RUJ/P saying last calls before he packed up and headed to his next summit of the day. I found him, called him and we managed a contact. It was difficult because of the atmospheric noise and what was this booming station 1KHz away – Aha a contest station! This was going to be the story of this activation fighting QRN and QRM the whole time. I “searched and pounced” a little more on 40m making sure I got a few in the log (not that I needed to qualify the summit as I have already done so earlier in the year) before spotting and putting out CQs on both 40m and 20m. I made no contacts whatsoever on 20m and a total of nine on 40m, two of which were summit-to-summit contacts within Europe. I did not hear one North American station unfortunately and I packed up at 15:50 UTC so that we could eat our picnic and then head home.

Investigations/changes to equipment that previously had caused problems and new problems:

Rig Display: I’m not sure if the new large brimmed cap helped or not bit I found that tilting the radio at some angles made it easier to read the display. Not ideal but at least readable. On arriving home I looked to see what tiltable platforms I could find that might be usable and came across a simple wire system used to support laptops – I have ordered this and now have to await delivery from China which could take a few weeks.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole connector – The replaced connector worked without problems on this outing, so hopefully that’s one less problem in the future.

Shortcuts using keys on the microphone – I tried these out and especially the A/B switch option allowing me to switch quickly between 40m and 20m (and be on the correct sideband on the band chosen) worked particularly well.

Mast base foot – although the Decathlon base is small, light and had worked on a couple of previous activations, it’s now been thrown out. It was damaged past repair from the simple mast fall. I’ll be going back to the solid sun umbrella foot from now on. Both sized masts will fit this base as well.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

J-Pole antennas from LambdaHalbe (15, 17, 20m).

DX-Wire 10m mini-mast. LambdaHalbe 6m mini-mast.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.

Decathlon mast base spike.

Log:

Conclusions:

As confirmed by others that were out, band conditions were very noisy on both 20m and 40m. The additional problem of contest stations blocking most frequencies on 40m (as they were getting no where on 20m) made life very difficult.

It appears that had I stayed 2 hours longer, some S2S contacts were made between NA and EU but the majority of these were on CW.

The Decathlon spike was rubbish. It wasn’t that expensive but I’m surprised that it broke so easily. I will go back to the stronger Sun Umbrella base for summits where there are no fence posts.

When putting up the mast not strapped to a post in the future, I should add at least one if not two additional cords to act as guy wires in addition to the antenna elements.

I still need to find a way to make the rig’s display visible. Perhaps the tilt base will be the answer as Xiegu aren’t able to provide a solution to the non-working brightness setting.

73 ’til the next Summit !

DD5LP/P – April 14th. 2018 – DL/AL-170 Zwieselberg.

Preparation:

Ever hopeful of some long path contacts into VK/ZL, while John VK6NU/P in West Australia was to be out, I decided with a couple of other activators around Europe to go out. This was not an organised S2S event rather just another attempt at contacts despite the current horrible radio conditions. It also provided me with an opportunity to see if the changes I had made to my gear had brought any improvements.

The Location:

Zwieselberg is another Allgaeu summit not far from Auerberg and Weichberg. Access is through the viillage of Rosshaupten and overlooks Forggensee (Lake Forggen). One needs to drive into the unilaterally declared republic of Zwieselberg and in fact via the Berghof Eberle in Vorderzwieselberg village. The road is marked as use at your own risk, it is not restricted for access. So I drive carefully through the farm yard at Berghof Eberle and perhaps another 300 metres up the road to where it is no longer a tarmacced road. Given the steepness of the track and all the loose stones, only tractors are able to get past this point in any case. From my parking spot, just off the road near a farm out-building it’s an 89 metre vertical climb in about 300 metres distance, some of that over steep sections. This summit is definitely not disabled operator accessible, at least not from the Vorderzweiselberg side. Apparently cyclists get to the summit from the Hinterzweiselberg village up a much longer, but not as steep track.

The Activation:

The drive down took just about an hour and I had no problem finding the summit again. I did use my GPS Navi in the car (where I have SOTA summit locations programmed in) and it was fine until the last 500 metres or so where it wanted me to take a different route through the Berghof Eberle grounds. I decided to turn the car around, to save time on my return journey and parked the car off the side of the road where others had parked before. As the sun was shining, even though it was still only a couple of degrees above zero, I took a couple of photos looking across the valley.

It took a good 15 minutes to climb up the track with my two bags, the 10m pole and a 6m one “just in case”. Once I arrived at the summit I started to set everything up. The expectation was that “perhaps” a contact into VK or ZL might be possible on 40 metres as 20 meters had been so bad of late. I was about 30 minutes ahead of my expected start time and Mike 2E0YYY had spotted himself as on 40m and on Billinge Hill (G/SP-017). I put up the 10m DX-Wire mini-mast and strung out the Aerial-51 OCF antenna, which I hadn’t used for a while, roughly north/south to give a little directivity east/west. I noticed that the connection from the plug on the coax seemed a little intermittent but managed to get it stable and made a note to look at it when I got home. I managed to work Mike at 06:03 UTC (8:03 am local time). He gave me a better signal strength that I did him, however just a few minutes later, after we had finished our QSO, his signal came up – there was a lot of QSB on the band it seems. John VK6NU in West Australia had also spotted so I went to see if I could hear anything of him on 20 metres. Nothing! Tuning around 20m, I could hear a Russian and an Italian station, both relatively weak (S4 – S5), so band conditions were not looking good. I decided to go back to 40m, find a clear spot and start CQing. My first contact was probably the longest for the day with OH9XX in finland – but he seemed rather quiet and normally that station comes booming in. I turned around to see that the DX-Wire mast had done its usual trick and collapsed into itself so that the antenna was about 1.5m off the ground instead of 10m I asked OH9XX to wait and I raised the mast again and signals came up in both directions. With the Off Centre Fed dipole, I could switch easily between 40m and 20m. Well it should have been easy, but I had the problem with the display on the rig being unreadable even when a little sunlight got on it. The anti-glare plastic that I had added, had not helped, in fact it had made it worse and I took it off. Because of the inability of being able to read the display, I eneded up at one point calling CQ on 20m on lower sideband! It was only as I tuned around and couldn’t resolve a Russian station that I realised. After realising I was on the wrong sideband and changing, John in Australia had spotted again and I took another listen – nothing heard. Then I decided I would see if the rule that verticals are better than dipole for DX is true. I lowered the mast, removed the OCF dipole and put up the Lambdahalbe end-fed 20m vertical (J-pole) – I could still not hear anything on John’s frequency and tuning around I could still hear a Russian and an Italian station but I think a little quieter than on the dipole (but this could also have been conditions). Down came the J-Pole, back up went the OCF Dipole and back onto 40m to at least qualify the summit with the needed total of 4 contacts. In the next 7 minutes I worked 6 different stations. I kept trying for another hour before deciding to pack up and head home. The conditions were simply not there.

I did however have a few items to follow-up on when I got home…

Investigations/changes done after returning home:

Rig Display: This was again difficult on this activation with the sunshine it was a little better by shading it with my hand but this is not n acceptable or practical solution. I searched around and found another way to contact Xiegu, the manufacturer of the rig and they have confirmed that the contrast on the display cannot be adjusted but the brightness should be able to be – their website advertises how easy it is to read in sunlight! This is not the case with my rig. Although only a few months old, as I bought the rig from a private seller the conditions of Xiegu’s warranty does not cover me. I am hoping for some more technical details so that I can investigate and hopefully resolve the problem myself.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole connector – I had changed this to a BNC plug from the original PL-259 when I used the antenna with my FT-817. As this BNC plug was now having problems, I have cut it off and added a PL-259 plug back onto the lead which not only means I avoid the problem BNC plug but I also no longer need to use the BNC to PL259 adapter (as the socket on the X-108G is a SO-239).

Shortcuts using keys on the microphone – there are two programmable keys on the microphone, F1 and F2 that can be set to do special functions. Given the problems that I have had with seeing and changing the band and mode on the rig, I thought I might set these up to do that rather than switch menus on the (unreadable) screen however when I looked at the details of the other buttons on the microphone, there is already a button to change modes (e.g. LSB to USB) and one to switch between VFO A and VFO B which was how I was going to switch between 20m and 40m in any case, so F1 and F2 can stay as Pre-amp and Attenuator on/off switches.

Photos:

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe (20m).

DX-Wire 10m mini-mast.

Spiderbeam Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.

Log:

Conclusions:

As confirmed by others that were out, band conditions were very bad and 20m was probably above the MUF, hence nothing but ground wave contacts would be possible, if at all. The OLED display on the rig remains a major problem but at least the Portable PSU box now seems to be working reliably as the rig did not go off at any time during the activation and I was running full power the whole time.

I had forgotten how practical the OCF dipole is compared to the linked dipole when I want to quickly switch bands. In previous years I have tested the OCF against the linked dipole and there was no noticeable difference in performance. The OCF is twice the weight of the linked dipole because of its BALUN however.

With conditions they way they are, I’m wondering whether it makes any sense to go out next saturday for the EU/NA S2S event although the weather forecast is for a sunny day, so even without any DX contacts it could be enjoyable IF I can find a way to make the rig’s display visible.

73 ’til the next Summit !

DD5LP/P – April 7th. 2018 – DL/AL-171 Eisenberg.

Preparation:

Ever hopeful of some long path contacts into VK/ZL despite the solar conditions and following my last attempt at this summit being rained off a week earlier, I wanted to activate Eisenberg, while at the same time testing the QRP-GUYS tri-bander 20/30/40m loaded vertical which I had  rebuilt in its standard form after I had problems with it in my revised 20/40/60m version. During the week before this activation I adjusted and tested the QRP-GUYS antenna at home in the garden and while it still appeared to change resonance depending upon the length of the feeder coax, I went for a simple solution, soldering the coax directly to the antennas switch board, to ensure that the feed length stayed consistent and set up the length of the driven elements and the number of turns on the two toroids to ensure the antenna was resonant on 20m (1.2:1), 30m (2:1) and 40m (2:1).

As the most likely band to get long path contacts into VK/ZL is 20m, I would also take along the commercially built 20m end-fed (J-pole) antenna from Lambdahalbe. As I would only be taking my two 6 metre high poles with me, this antenna would be put up in an inverted-L configuration which I had physically tested in the garden some weeks earlier.

As I would hope for time to make some contacts on 40 metres and as a comparison for the two other antennas on 20m, I would also take my SOTABeams band hopper linked dipole.

I had hoped to have some anti-glare film fitted to the screen of the X108G but unfortunately this only arrived once I had left home and so would need to wait until the next activation for a test. I had however once again packed my SOTA Baseball cap and hoped that would help with shading my eyes so that I could read the display on the X108G in sunlight and with the weather forecast, it looked like I was going to get some sunlight, in fact it looked like being a really nice spring day.

The Location:

Eisenberg is just over an hours drive away from my home along roads that bring me to several SOTA summits and so a well-known route for me. No need to use the GPS Navi for this summit. In the valley there is a village called Eisenberg but I would need to drive through that to the next village call “Zell” and from there the “Berg Strasse” can be driven all the way up to the Schlossbergalm Zell. A wonderful friendly small restaurant with fantastic views and a very convenient car park from where to start the 10-15 minute climb up to the castle ruins on top of Eisenberg. There is actually a second castle ruin on the next hill – called Hohenfreyberg. Although not a SOTA summit (as Eisenberg is on the actual summit), if you have time to visit it, it’s only another 5-10 minutes walk and combining the two castles with lunch at the Schlossbergalm Zell would make a lovely morning out even without the SOTA component. The views are amazing. The restaurant opens at 10am and food is served from 11am every day apart from Monday (except if the Monday is a public holiday – when it is also open). In the winter the (single track) road can be closed but Spring through Autumn this is a lovely place to visit.

The Activation:

The drive down went without any problems. On arriving at the Schlossbergalm, I was not-surprisingly, the first car in the car park and one of the owners set off down the track to bring fresh produce up for the restaurant as I was unloading the car. I had thought that I may be able to get to the restaurant and sit outside in the sunshine with a nice cool beer on my way back. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do that this time. Next time I will as it is a great way to relax after the activation.

The track up to the castle is steep, one reason why I decided the week previously that climbing it would not be possible in the pouring rain. Good shoes are required to get up this path especially when carrying two packs as I was. there is a less steep route that goes to the back of the hill, which may be worth investigating but the gate to it was closed and the intention is that the public take the more direct, steep path. So up I slogged, stopping at about half way to enjoy the views. This is a summit I have activated before but I had forgotten how steep the path is. This is as much a problem coming down as going up as the surface is slippery so care is need not to twist an ankle.After about ten minutes I approached the entrance to the castle ruins, emptied my loose change into the collection box which looks like a converted bomb case and noted that the castle is also listed as a museum, making activation of it valid not only for Summits on the air and castles on the air but also for the annual Museums on the Air event.

After walking through the centre of the ruins, that have some accessible sheltered rooms, which while being very basic are welcome should the weather turn bad, you come to a large wooden platform that has been built onto the side of the castle ruins and this would be my base for the activation as it gives several mast supports and room to run out the linked dipole wires. There were a few other visitors while I was there but they all kept clear of the antennas and no one asked whet I was doing. When I left around 10am local there were more tourists arriving and the car park was full, so it looks like I chose the right times. in fact that saturday seemed to be the day, the local farmers had decided to repair all the fences and there were several tractors and workers under way as I descended the track back to the car park and the road back down into Zell.

But back to the activation itself. as I knew mike 2E0YYY was going to be out and a contact on 40m would be most likely, I put up the linked dipole first of all. Mike soon spotted but I could hear absolutely nothing from him. I put out a “blind call” (i.e. I called him on his frequency hoping he may just be listening and respond to me) – nothing. Conditions are bad!  I switched the links in the dipole and spotted myself and put out several CQ calls – no response and the band was really quiet. I tuned around and found Yuri RA3QVQ with his big station (500w and a 10 element beam on 20m!). Of course with that beam and an IC-7300 he came back to me with my 20 watts at a dipole He was 5-9+20dB and he kindly gave me a 5-9. We had a short chat and then moved on. It had been a 200km QSO without me realising it, he was so strong! I then saw Mike 2E0YYY spotted again – this time on 20m – I tuned there … nothing, blind-call … nothing. A QSO with Mike wasn’t going to happen today. After several more minutes of calling CQ on 20m and getting no contacts, I decided to try out the QRP-GUYS tri-bander on its fundamental frequency of 14 MHz and while it still seems to receive OK (perhaps 1 or 1.5 S-points down from the dipole), on transmit it was a disaster. Luckily the X-108 has a built-in SWR scan feature and that told me straight away, not to use that antenna any more. Even though it had been set up fine at home, on the summit it had lost resonance – the antenna is simply no good for portable operation while it can be affected by so many things. I also tried out the LambdaHalbe 20m end fed vertical (J-pole) only to find it had a high SWR as well apart from a narrow dip, which was out-of-band! (See notes further down in this article for what I found when I got home).

So that was then clear – the only workable antenna was the good old linked dipole which showed 1.5:1 or less on whichever band it was set up for.

Thankfully after a long period of no contacts, my spot on 40m brought back eight contacts around Europe, one after the other. Once they completed I tried 20 metres again and finished off with another Russian station and then the OH9XX club station. Both easy, strong contacts (again around 200 km away) but then that was it – no more stations on 20m, so I packed everything up and headed back down to the car park. It was 10am as I arrived back at the car park, so the restaurant was just opening but my plan was to get back home around 11am, so I would not have the pleasure of a nice cold wheat beer outside the “alm” in the sunshine this time! Maybe next time …

The journey home was uneventful and I arrived home just after 11am as planned.

Investigations/changes done after returning home:

As is often the case with activations with new or modified equipment, a review is valuable when you get home to see what had caused problems or what can be improved.

Rig Display: This was again difficult on this activation with the sunshine however when I arrived home, the anti-glare plastic for Smart phones had arrived and I added this to both my smart phone and the rig display – we’ll see on the next outing if this helps. i suspect the glare will be reduced but the brightness will still need to be increased and so I’ll be looking at the circuit diagram to see what I can do. Putting my SOTA baseball cap on did help visibility of the rig’s display a little and I have ordered a larger brim to try to see if more shade to my eyes will allow me to read the display easier.

Rig powering off: On a couple of occasions I caught the power lead and power dropped. Although I checked and re-soldered the cables prior to this activation, it appears still to be a problem. I also starting to suspect that the regulator may be generating RF Noise – so I will need to investigate this before the next activation. Upon investigation, I found the fault – the base of the regulator was able to touch the output socket, shorting the unit out. a liberal application of electricians tape will stop this from happening again (I hope). As for RF noise I did a direct comparison between powering from the battery box with the regulator and running the rig off the shack (linear) power supply – there was no difference. As it was easier to hear stations with my headphones on, I will now turn my attention to the speaker in the X108G which seems a bit lacking in clarity. Depending upon the size, I may be able to exchange it with a better speaker.

QRP-Guys Antenna and LambdaHalbe J-Pole tests: Both antennas showed a high VSWR reading on the summit. In the case of the J-pole, it suspected it could be that it doesn’t like being operated as an Inverted-L antenna. I tested the antenna at home on a 10m pole – the result was that in its normal vertical position it was resonant at something like 13.5MHz! I folded back roughly a metre of the vertical element on itself and the antenna is now sub 1.5:1 across the whole 20m band. The antenna is supposed to come cut to length and I believe the 15 & 17m versions of this antenna were correct when they were supplied to me (I’ll re-check them). Willi from Lambdahalbe will be getting an email from me, letting him know he forgot to trim this antenna!

The QRP-GUYS tri-bander was tested at home before the activation and had an acceptable VSWR (especially on 20m where it was around 1.2:1 across the band). On the summit it was 6:1 or worse. This antenna design is simply bad. The antennas resonance continues to be affected by external factors that it should not be. I cannot recommend this antenna for portable operation – lucky it was only $15 (plus $15 shipping), I might recover $15 worth of parts out of it.

Photos:

 

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Equipment:

Xiegu X108G HF 20w transceiver.

Battery box containing two (selectable) 4S (16v) 5Ah LIPO batteries and automatic voltage regulator.

J-Pole antenna from LambdaHalbe (20m).

LambdaHalbe 6m Mini-mast.

Standard QRP-GUYS tri-band loaded vertical (20, 30 and 40m).

SOTABeams Band hopper linked dipole (20,30,40m).

Log:

Conclusions:

This was the first activation this year where the weather was nice to me. Unfortunately the radio conditions were pretty bad. I did manage to qualify the summit and get the two points (no winter bonus now – it’s too late). I did get to test two antennas and the new rig and power supply and found there are still some actions to be completed before this set-up can provide the level of confidence that my old set-up did. I am in fact now carrying less weight however, so that is a move in the right direction.

73 ’til the next Summit !