After analysis of the activation of Peissenberg the previous week, I decided that part of the reason for no VK/ZL contacts was that from my operating position, for the signals to travel on the long path, they would need to pass though the church building – I needed to give this another try from a better summit.
The Church at Auerberg and the land around it, which is the actual summit have been closed for some months hence I needed to find out if it was now accessible again before travelling there to find that I couldn’t set up. This summit is of interest as my location at the back of the church building is at the top of a steep slope dropping off roughly in a NNW direction, which is exactly the direction needed for long path into VK/ZL when a dipole is run along the top of the ridge.
I contacted the local government through their website and was forwarded onto the church group, who told me that the church would only be open after the re-blessing ceremony, following all the renovation work, in April. I sent another note asking if the area around the church is once again open to the public and the reply was positive but with a warning that there was still a lot of snow up there. I’ve activated Auerberg in winter before, so I knew what to expect.
Unfortunately the space at Auerberg is not enough to deploy the new VP2E antenna for a test and as 40m was more likely to deliver a contact, one of my dipoles (either the linked SOTABeams “bandhopper: or Aerial-51 UL-404 off centre fed dipole) would be better suited to be used for 40m & 20m.
These two dipole antennas are always at the bottom of the small rucksack and so they stayed there, while the two VP2E antennas were removed. I also decided to give the troublesome DX-Wire 10 metre mini-mast another chance as the dipoles work better for DX the more height they have. (I’d also take the 6m Lambdahalbe mast as backup). As for supporting the mast, since the surveyors tripod had done such a good job in the snow on Weichberg about 10 days before, I decided, despite its size and weight, it would go along as well to Auerberg. As it turned out this was a good decision as the fence posts that I used to use were partly bent over by the weight of snow on them.
Again Mike 2E0YYY was going to head out to a summit in the UK and he decided to take a vertical antenna for 20 metres and a dipole for 40m. We informed the usual hams in Australia who promised to try for a contact with one or both of us if the conditions allowed.
Unfortunately our timing was bad with the largest amount of Plasma from a Coronal Hole on the Sun, hitting the Ionosphere on the evening before the activation but after making all the arrangements, I decided to go anyway “you never know”…
So as this would be an even earlier start than last time (needing to be operational on the summit by 0700 UTC) all the gear was packed into the car the night before and the alarm set for an early start ….
As with the Peissenberg activation the previous week I didn’t need to set the alarm as I was wide awake an hour earlier than I needed to be. I didn’t want to leave early as I would end up sitting around in the snow waiting for the long path window to open, so I actually left home at about my planned time. The trip down was uneventful and although I did have the GPS navi on, I didn’t need it having driven the route a few times previously.
As I approached Auerberg, the snow at the side of the road started to get higher and higher and I wondered what would be facing me when I arrived at the car park (the kind lady from the Church group had told me that the road up to the car park had been cleared, which was indeed the case. Looking up to the church from the car park, I was relieved to see that someone had cleared the complete set of steps from the restaurant up to the church and when I got up there. A track around the church had also been cleared. I headed to my normal spot so that I could put the radios and masts down on the bench seats …. I couldn’t as they’re no longer there. The area at the back of the church was part gravel, part mud and also part snow. So the old reliable painters plastic sheet came out of the rucksack and everything was put on there while I took a look to see how I would put the antenna up. I had already decided to use the Aerial-51 OCF antenna for this activation to avoid the need to lower and raise the antenna when I wanted to change between 20m & 40m. Given that I had decided to use the DX-Wire 10 metre mast – lowering and extending that mast multiple times, with its habit of collapsing into itself, was to be avoided if possible. Before the mast and antenna could go up though the first action was to put up the surveyors tripod. This had to go again into the snowy part of the area and the spiked legs again did a good job. After the tripod was up, the mast was fed through my wooden plate that is permanently fitted to the tripod and then the antenna slid down onto the mast sections. Before extending the mast up, I ran the ends of the antenna out in the two required directions and the coax back to the painters sheet, where the radio would be connected up. Much of the fencing had been damaged by being pushed over by the weight of snow that had been present. It was still over one metre deep in places which made getting the antenna wire out where I wanted it, a little difficult at times.
Up went the mast, I had just about guessed the positioning of the cords on the ends of the elements to two of the remaining upright fence posts so only a little adjustment was needed there.
It was now time to prepare the operating position, so out came the Xiegu X-108G, its microphone, the battery box, my log book and pen and the smart phone and USB cable. I expected to have to use the smart phone to see the settings on the rig and change them when needed, but for most of the two hours that I was on the summit, the display on the X108 was just readable.
After checking for any spots from other activators (the last shown were from hours earlier) I decided to set-up and start on 20 metres. 20 metres during this activation was a flop – I only managed one contact on 20m with Sergei RV9DC at a much lower strength than he normally is. 40 metres was the band to be on, although during the activation I went back to 20m a few times to see if there was any DX to work – there wasn’t. Only European nets it seemed.
Even 40m didn’t deliver the hoped for DX, despite some close calls. At one point I could hear Ernie VK3DET but he couldn’t hear me. Then later he heard me but could break in, in between the European chasers, despite the fact that I specifically listened for VK/ZL stations on several occasions. The conditions were simply not good enough. I mentioned earlier that Mike 2E0YYY and I had planned this together and indeed I worked Mike for an S2S and for a couple of short chats. We ran one frequency between us at one point (for about 30 minutes) which caused some confusion with the chasers calling me Mike on a few occasions and I had to explain who they were actually working. I suspect Mike’s self spot on the frequency was after mine and hence was seen more easily.
Towards the end of the activation, I had a visit from a couple from Garmish Partenkirchen who had come out for a walk and the views. He knew something of what I was doing as he had been a TV repair man before he retired.
At the end of the activation I ended up with 29 contacts all from around Europe and as my location was shaded from the sun, I also ended up very cold until I got back down to the car, which was sat in the sunshine reporting +9C. I believe at my operating location it would rarely have got over the freezing point.
For this activation, I had only planned to try the long path. To have waited for the short path would have been another 2-3 hours after I packed up because of the cold and I would have had to again transmit through the church building, this time for the short path direction.
Aerial-51 UL-404 OCF dipole.
10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass “Mini-Mast”.
Thick plastic painters sheet.
Smartphone PocketRxTx App and USB cable.
The propagation seemed to be one-way at times and with the Plasma hitting the Ionosphere still at the time of the activation, it would have been surprising to make any contacts into VK or ZL.
It was strange to hear absolutely nothing from New Zealand.
I was surprised by the DX-Wire mast. For once it held up through the complete activation and the surveyors tripod was certainly worth the extra effort of taking it as it made the setting up of the antenna very straight forward indeed.
Although Mike was running 50 watts to my 20 watts and is at least one “skip-hop” closer to VK/ZL than I via the long path, he also managed no contacts “down under” so it simply wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Although the display was (just) readable on the X108G I did use the Smart Phone to set or change parameters as the small rubberised buttons on the X108G itself are difficult to use – especially in the deep cold. After changing cables and adding more ferrites, since the last outing, the USB link between the rig and phone worked fine on 40 metres but when I changed to 20 metres the link failed often and many times left the rig on Tx after I released the PTT switch. Some noise still comes from the phone into the X108G’s receiver. More work needs to be done on both of these problems.
73 ’til the next Summit!