With the new year, activation points for already activated summits are reset. After having to cancel two activation attempts in December 2018, I wanted to get out and activate ASAP in 2019 and chose Laber as my target summit. It is a simple summit to access, not too far to drive and worth 6 points (plus 3 winter bonus points).
The weather looked OK, so access, which is simply via a cable car and a 3 minutes walk to the summit should be fine.
The equipment would be the XIEGU X108G, battery box and headphones with the standard 6m mast and two wire dipoles as backup but the intention was to use my tripod and the Kommunica HF-PRO-2 antenna that had worked well at Hinteres Hornle in November. A new addition this time is a small USB cable and USB-C OTG (“on-the-go”) adapter as I intended using the PocketRxTx remote control software and my Smart Phone so that I could see the frequency and other settings on the phone which become invisible on the XIEGUs 2″ OLED screen when there is any sunlight. In addition to the small rucksack and a photo bag this time I would be carrying a plastic water pipe that I have converted into a holder for the HF-Pro-2 to avoid the antenna getting caught up on anything (or anyone) which was an issue at its last outing.
As my intention was to try for some short path contacts into VK around 10:00 UTC a departure from home at 10am local time (09:00 UTC) was planned.
Laber is the mountain located above Oberammergau, which is famous for its Passion Play every 10 years. It’s just under an hours drive from my home to the car park of the cable car (which is the oldest still running in Germany).
After the, about 15 minutes, ride up in the cable car, the summit is only 3 minutes walk from the “top station”. There is a convenient seating bank where I usually operate from.
Some activations just don’t go smoothly!
The journey down to Oberammergau went without incident and the ride up the Laber mountain in the cable car was enjoyable, chatting with some tourists from Dortmund. On arriving at the summit, it was in the clouds and my planned activation bench, was under several inches of snow. After cutting some steps into the snow to get safely to the bench, I set to with clearing the bench with an ice scraper that I had brought with me for just this purpose.
The HF-PRO2 antenna went up on the tripod with its legs about 50% down into the snow. The top was a little “wobbly” something that will need to be addressed. It was difficult to get the 8 radial wires out over the snow while balancing on what is a knife-edge ridge line, so I threw them out in two bunches of four in opposite directions and hoped that would be OK. Although this was less than perfect putting up the fibreglass mast and linked dipole antenna with the deep snow would have been very difficult. This is exactly one of the situations why I have the simpler vertical antenna / tripod set-up.
The next problem was that for some reason my self spots were not getting through to SOTAWatch, I switched phone networks (I have a dual SIM smart phone) but that didn’t seem to make any difference. During the whole activation I only got two contacts, one on 20m with Sweden at 5-3 and one on 40m at 5-5 into Holland, so although I was getting out it seems either people weren’t calling me or I wasn’t hearing them. So no activator points and after 45 minutes my fingers were frozen despite having some good quality gloves with me as I had to take them off every time I wanted to do anything.
I set the loading coil on the HF-Pro2 by my measurements that I had made at home as the SWR trace feature on the XIEGU rig was totally invisible on its built-in 2″ OLED display. OLED displays have a problem to be seen outside, why XIEGU ever changed from the TFT screen that had brightness and contrast controls I’ll never understand! So in any case the antenna probably wasn’t exactly on tune.
One of the things that did work (sort of) was using my smart phone (which has more than enough brightness in its display) as an external display – actually it runs the PocketRxTx remote control program so not only did I use it for displaying the frequency but also for tuning and switching bands and side-bands, oh and yes for adjusting the power and pre-amp / attenuator settings as well. Practically that was a success …. except the USB cable kept coming out of the bottom of the phone and RFI was transferred down the USB cable to the rig bringing up the noise level (which could be the reason I wasn’t hearing weaker stations calling me).
So I came away with more things to fix than contacts in the log. There’s still some work to do to get to the “perfect” solution.
In the end the elements were getting to me and I decided not to keep fighting to see if I could manage to get two more contacts and packed up after just 45 minutes.
Oh well I’ve now got a reason to go back to DL/AM-060 Laber once I have “fixed” the problems to try again to get the summit and winter bonus points.
Xiegu X108G and battery box.
Modified HAMA photographic tripod.
Kommunica Power HF-PRO-2 loaded vertical antenna.
Water pipe carrying tube for vertical antenna.
Thick plastic painters sheet.
USB OTC cable and PocketRxTX software on my smart phone.
Other items taken but not used:
SOTABeams Band-Hopper linked dipole.
6 metre fibreglass “Squid Pole”.
Aerial-51 UL-404 OCF dipole.
The Good: The use of the smart phone to display what the rig is doing works but needs some fine tuning, and additions such as enabling the SWR reading feature.
The Kommunica HF-PRO2 antenna, despite probably not being correctly tuned still managed to get a signal out and set-up and take down times are very good even in several feet of snow!
The Bad: The Smartphone is causing QRM across the bands and needs to be further away from the rig. The power supply no longer causes QRM since I changed to a diode matrix instead of the “buck converter”, so replacing QRM from one source with QRM from another is not a good idea.
The Ugly: Loose physical connections both on the USB cable into the phone and the PL-259 base on the tripod. I have ordered a new connector/OTC adapter for the phone and will glue the top of the tripod to be solid as the only adjustments needed can be made with the legs, photographic accuracy in level mounting of the base of the antenna is not needed.
73 ’til the next Summit!
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