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 …
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.
- 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.
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!