Schneidberg (the SOTA one, not the HEMA Schnaidberg one) is a summit that is not too far away from home but I haven’t activated it for some time. The last time I went there it required fighting through the forest as the direct track had a gate on it and there were bulls in the field! This also requires a long walk from the nearest car parking spot, so a lot of time can be consumed for just 2 points. The days before this activation the bands had been great with openings to Australia, New Zealand and the Americas every morning. I wasn’t to know it but the conditions were about to take a dive, just as I could get out to a summit! In any case, based on what I thought would be good conditions, the radio kit was to include the good old linked dipole (albeit modified to cover 17 metres in place of 30 metres) which would also require at least the 6-metre LambdaHalbe Mast and a support – the screw-in sun umbrella base. The backpack was going to be heavy, so I looked at what I might possibly remove and the battery box, which contains two 5000 mAh 4S LIPO batteries and the electronics to reduce their 16.5v down to 13v came to mind as I now have my 4000 mAh LiHV 3S battery which is smaller, lighter and needs no voltage reduction circuit electronics. I had used this on my last activation, so now it was time to rely on it on its own. I also removed my SOTABeams end-fed wire, which while not very heavy did take up some space. Then I considered removing the HF-PRO-2-PLUS-T and its mini-tripod, all of which fits inside the rucksack and I decided not to as, without it, I would have no backup should anything happen to the linked dipole. A good decision as it turned out …
The removed items were put in a second rucksack which would travel in the car but not be taken to the summit unless something unforeseen were to happen. As I wished to hopefully take advantage of the morning grey-line propagation for some contacts into ZL, I would need an early rise and early start, so the car was loaded the night before, with just pack-up and water to be added to the rucksack on the day of the activation.
I was awake before the alarm went off and on the road by 6:45 am local time (0445 UTC). On getting to the spot that I wanted to park at about an hour later, I double-checked that all that I intended taking was in my rucksack and the long walk started.
On walking up to where the gate had been closed a couple of years ago, I found it had gone, gateposts and everything. The reason appears to be that the small hut at the higher end of this field is being renovated – most likely to make a summer rental property. It looks like they have just put a new metal roof on it, but with all the wooden scaffolding still around it, the work looks like it’s far from finished.
Going up the track to the small house and then past it, I found the highest area before the forest where there is a plateau of sorts. This area is definitely within the activation zone and walking another km to increase my height by 15 vertical metres and be in the middle of the forest was not an attractive option. At this point, I found that the forestry commission has put in a new track through the forest just behind the flat grassy area – this is not marked on any maps yet as far as I can see, so it is very new.
Anyway, time to set up and see what I can hear…
As I was hoping for ZL/VK and Ian VK3YFD had kindly offered to listen for me, I decided the best chance would be with the linked-dipole on the 6-metre mast, so up it went and as it was still possible that contacts via Greyline could be possible I started on 40m. I even head Ron ZL4RMF, not as strong as usual but there at least. I tried a call – no response (not a surprise with the other mega kW stations calling him at the same time, but sometimes he picks me out of the pile). Ian told me that he couldn’t hear me on 40m, no surprise there, 20m is usually better with the gain of his beam and the long-path propagation. It was still a bit early though and the MUF was still under 14 MHz so I decided to spot myself on the SOTA cluster, put out a CQ and see what I could get in the log so that the summit would be qualified. The first station who came back to my call was Klaus DL6MST and while we made the contact, his report for me was not what I expected initially at 3-1 and then at best 5-2 where I was getting him 5-9. This was worrying. I checked for anything obvious on the coax connection to the rig (this had broken a couple of months ago, but that wasn’t the problem. I tried a few more calls and got no response – even with a bad 40m band, I normally get a small pile-up. Eventually, I made another contact, Eric F5LMH. By this time I had set up the backup antenna, the HF-PRO-2_PLUS-T on its little tripod and so could switch between the two antennas. Eric reported at least a 2 S-point better signal from the far lower loaded vertical to the inverted-V dipole. That is the opposite way round of what I would have expected. There is really something wrong with the linked dipole.
Time had marched on and so I decided to switch to 20 metres, initially with the loaded vertical and tried an arranged call with Ian VK3YFD. He could not hear me but I could hear him “Just”. I then had a thought, perhaps the problem on the dipole was only on 40 metres, so down came the mast to unlink both 20m links and …. one was ALREADY UNLINKED! No wonder the antenna wasn’t working as it normally does – it was set to 20m on one side and 40m on the other. This would have caused a bad SWR with my old X108G rig but as the G90 has an auto-ATU in it, it had matched the rig to the faulty antenna and hence I had a 1.3:1 VSWR showing – about normal.
I took out the remaining 20m link and put the mast back up to full height and asked Ian to call again. Now I could hear Ian on both antennas (but he could not hear me on either) – that was just bad radio conditions and it’s great that Ian stayed around to try. If anything he was a little stronger on the vertical than on the (operating correctly on 20m) linked dipole. This was a surprise but often it is said that a vertical is a better DX antenna because of its lower angle of radiation. I’ll have to compare the antennas again once I get out when the conditions are better.
I then completed four 20m QSOs in quick succession with 59 exchanges both ways. Although there was little on the band, I was getting out. The activation finished with a contact into Portugal with CT1DIZ 55 both ways and then it was time to pack up and head back down to the car as I was getting cold. The sun came out as I was halfway back to the car – typical!
Even when conditions are bad (as confirmed by several others on the day), you can learn from an activation. In this case, it’s perhaps to set up the radio without the ATU engaged first to check the antenna and only turn it on when needed. After all, an ATU in a rig connecting to an antenna via a length of coax will NEVER actually TUNE an antenna, it can only match the antenna. Directly connected antennas, like end-feds you can say the ATU in a radio tunes the antenna if it connects directly to the radio.
- Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
- Xiegu G90.
- Komunica HF-PRO2-PLUS-T loaded vertical, photo tripod and radials.
- SotaBeams linked dipole (modified for 17m).
- LambdaHalbe 6-metre travel pole.
- Sun umbrella screw-in base.
- 4000 mAh LiHV battery.
- Painters thick plastic sheet.
- Lightweight headphones.
- LG Smartphone for spotting.
- Happily, the problem on the dipole was a simple error in physical configuration however it still needs to be tried on 17 metres.
- The Komunica HF-PRO2-PLUS-T was great to have as a backup and got good reports. Once I have worked VK or ZL reliably using it I can remove the extra weight of the linked dipole and mast.
- The LiHV battery worked again without issues and while it is a lot lighter and smaller than the battery box except on long activations I will most likely rely on this battery from now on.
- You can never rely on good radio conditions staying long enough to get out and make DX contacts. You need to be lucky.
73 ’til the next summit.