Following a failed activation attempt at Eisenberg (DL/AL-171) the previous week, I needed to get out to make sure what I had found as the problem was now resolved.
This activation was planned to be Zwieselberg and then on to either Senklekopf or Eisenberg but as you will see, things did not go to plan!
Over the last couple of years, I have managed to put together a fairly reliable set of SOTA activation gear. I have even got it down from two rucksacks to one and for quick activations or those with limited space moved away from large fibreglass poles and large wire antennas to the Komunica Power HF-PRO2 adjustable loaded vertical and an ex-photo tripod that I modified. A real “grab and go” set-up.
The problem that I had on Eisenberg was that no one was hearing my calls, so the first thing to check was that the rig itself was putting out RF – thankfully, it was and when I reduced the power by switching to AM and running the rig through an external SWR bridge first into a dummy load and then into the station antenna, everything continued to work fine. The problem had to be elsewhere and the next thing I looked at was the loaded vertical on the modified photo tripod that I had been using for the last 6 months.
Testing this using the same radial wires and coax that I had been using, the antenna was no longer resonant at the same point on its adjustable shaft as I have on-record for setting the antenna on the summit (without having to take an antenna analyser along). Now, this could be the tripod, the coax, the radials or the antenna itself where something has happened. I checked the connectivity of the radials back to the antenna and outer of the coax – all OK. I checked at least at DC, the coax, all OK. Where is the problem?
I had modified a second photo tripod to mount the vertical on soon after the first as a backup. This one is an even smaller, even lighter tripod and not as mechanically stable but I have it and its calibration details, so I set that up with its radial wires and coax and checked the same Komunica antenna on the tripod in the garden. All settings were close to or exactly the same as when I had last recorded them, so I knew this combination was working. What is wrong with the slightly larger tripod that had served well for the last 18 months, I have no idea.
Just in-case this new configuration also gave issues on the summit, I packed my short (6-metre) fibreglass pole and the SOTABeams linked-dipole to take along.
The trip down to Zwieselberg seemed longer than I remembered, needing to take small country roads but after about an hour and a half, I was at the spot that I park in the “Independent Republic of Vorderzwieselberg” and I loaded myself up with the somewhat heavier than normal rucksack (due to the extra mast and antenna in it) At least I had managed to avoid having to carry two bags. The walk up the track starts off as a concreted path but soon changes to a soil track that has lots of large stones (almost small boulders) on it – these are not helpful to the walker but I think they are there so that the farmer can get his tractor up this very steep track.
The views from the track were amazing on this sunny, but still very cold, day. I had to stop to catch my breath a few times on the way up. Eventually, though, I got to where the summit cross and trig point stone are. This appears visibly to be the highest point, even though some maps show a point in the adjacent forest at another 10 metres higher – we’re in the AZ in any case.
Initially, I set up the Komunica HF-Pro2-PLUS-T on the tripod and ran the coax back to the bench under the holy cross. As soon as I turned the radio on, I could tell there was a problem – the radio was too quiet (especially considering the K index was up at 5 at the time!). I checked the SWR, the best I could (this rig – the Xiegu X108G is the one that the display is totally invisible in any level of sunshine, and I use an attached SmartPhone to read and change some of the values from the rig).
I started on 20m, spotted myself, put out calls – no answers. I found other activators were out and a couple were on 20m – I took a listen, nothing heard but that was not a surprise as they were most likely too close for 20m skip.
I kept calling, I tried different frequencies and eventually, Ricardo EA1DHB came back to me. But he was only S3 at best and normally he booms in. Something was not right!
After working two more Spanish stations, Jose EA7GV and Miguel EA5K, I thought I would try 40m in the hope of more contacts (I still did not have the needed four). The radio was louder here but the amount of QRM was unbelievable with multiple stations on at the same time but not on the same frequency – and here was the clue as to what had happened. When I switched the rig to AM during the SWR tests at home, it also switched to 6kHz bandwidth rather than the 2.3 kHz used for SSB. Out on the summit, I can’t see the display and I use my SmartPhone and PocketRxTx as a remote control. Here I can change the mode back to USB or LSB as needed BUT the CiV command set implemented by Xiegu doesn’t allow for the filter width to be changed and it also does not allow me to see what it is set to from my SmartPhone. This has happened to me once before and I was able to see just enough on the rig’s display to be able to correct it – this time, this simply wasn’t possible.
While on the summit, I thought this might be the problem but could only check when I got home and indeed that proved to be true. So as I needed whoever called me, to be as strong a signal as possible, I took down the loaded-vertical and put up the linked dipole and mast and managed thankfully two more contacts John CT2GSN in Portugal and Lucas ON3YB in Belgium. If you can imagine trying to listen to amateur stations using an old transistor, broadcast bands receiver, this is what I was effectively doing, so once I had the extra two contacts, it was time to head home. I did consider still activating a second summit but the problems had taken up my available time as had the installation and take-down of two antenna systems instead of one and I still wasn’t sure what the problem was, so I decided the best option was to head home and look at the problem there.
- Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
- Xiegu X108G.
- Komunica Power HF-Pro2-PLUS-T loaded vertical antenna.
- Modified mini photo tripod with clip-on radials
- Lamdahalbe 6m mini-mast.
- SotaBeams linked dipole.
- Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
- Painters thick plastic sheet (not used).
- Lightweight headphones.
- Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.
- The added problem of the filter width invalidated the test of the loaded vertical on the small tripod. I would like to go back to using the larger tripod in any case as it is more stable.
- I am now looking at possibly changing the OLED display out in the rig – it is absolutely crazy that I cannot see what ALL of the rig’s settings are.
- A later thought was that I could have used the “filter” key on the multi-function microphone that comes with the X-108G to solve my problem but of course, I didn’t think of that at the time – Doh!
73 ’til the next summit.