With the promise of a fine day after a week of rainy days, Monday, July the 19th. was first earmarked for the Wank and Laber mountains. Both of these 6 point mountains have cabin lifts that take you to the absolute top – in the case of Laber or most of the way, in the case of Wank. Unfortunately on Saturday night, the river next to the main road running into Garmisch Partenkirchen, where the Wank mountain is located broke its banks with an excessive amount of rain coming down from the Alps and both the road that I would need to use and the railway was flooded, causing chaos in the area as access was cut-off for most of Sunday. While by Monday the road would most likely be open again, I thought it best not to increase what would already be congested traffic, just for my trip to a summit.
So on Sunday, I changed my plans to go to Laber followed by Hinteres Hornle and leave Wank for some other time – perhaps the “Yorkshire Day” S2S event on August 1st? We’ll see.
Hinteres Hornle has a rickety chair lift followed by a 30-40 minute mainly uphill walk and so for that summit at least, I would need to use my lighter weight pack. This is just the loaded vertical (HF-PRO2-PLUS-T) from Komunica and a small photo tripod, both of which fit inside the rucksack. I also included my new end-fed random wire “Bandspringer” from SOTABeams and my arborist’s throw bag, in case I needed a backup. I took the dipole antennas, the 6m mast and the screw-in base, but all of these stayed in the back of the car and never found their way to a summit on this occasion.
All prepared, the plan was to leave at 7:30 am Monday morning to arrive at the cabin lift in Oberammergau for the Laber mountain in good time, so the alarm was set and the bags stood by the door.
The Activation – Laber
The decision to arrive early at the lift was a good one. It doesn’t officially start until 9 am but I was in the car park by 8:40 am, paid my parking fee and in the office as the first person there. I was expecting a small family group behind me to have been put in the small cabin but that was not the case. One cabin, one group and if that group is one person – then so be it. There are only four cabins on this complete system so that they normally run about every 10 minutes between them. I was at the top of the mountain at about 8:55 am – before the lift should even have started. Had I been 20 minutes later, I would most likely have had to wait 30 minutes before getting on the lift. Indeed when I came back down, there was a long queue of groups of people waiting to go up.
I have activated Laber so many times, that I know exactly where I will go and what I can set up. In about 15 minutes, I had the station installed and wanted to check who else was out via the SOTA Spotter App but it didn’t seem to be updating, so I switched from the Vodafone to the Telekom network (I have a dual SIM phone) and at that point, I received an email from Ernie VK3DET telling me on which frequency Mike 2E0YYY/P was on – we usually try for contacts between Germany, England and Australia but it was quickly obvious that the conditions to get through to Australia had already closed. I would have needed to have been on the summit an hour earlier at least. As I had set up for 40 metres and Mike was already on 20m, I took a quick tune around and worked two very strong Italian stations and then tried to spot myself. I couldn’t as there was no Internet connectivity again – this was going to be the story of the day – but more of that later. I then changed the setting on the bottom of the HF-PRO-2 vertical for 20m and went to see if I could hear Mike. There was nothing on the frequency that Ernie had given me, so I put a quick call out for Mike. “BOOM” back he came with a fully quieting S9+ signal. The conditions within Europe at least were very good on 20m. Mike had worked a station in St Helena some minutes earlier who had commented that the band was not good.
Mike kindly left me the frequency as he had to pack up and also spotted me before he left – well that created a big pile-up for me of around 20 stations one after the other from all around Europe. The reports I was getting with the 20w G90 and the small antenna were very impressive. Mostly between 55 and 59, which for such a simple setup over still relatively long distances was good to have.
In fact, the radio gear was working well and time went by until I decided if I was to get to the next summit and activate it, with its long walk. I should get packed up and back down the lift. Just before I left a hang glider pilot set off and flew down into the valley. The start was so short that I only caught him as he was already starting into his first loop (see the picture below). The ride back down was uneventful, again with a cabin to myself – most people were coming up the mountain at this time around 10 am. This was obvious when I saw the queue when leaving the bottom station of the lift and heading back to my car.
The Activation – Hinteres Hoernle
The drive to Bad Kohlgrub (where the lift up to the Hoernles starts) was less than 30 minutes and when I arrived, the car park was fairly full but this lift is a seat lift with about 100 seats on it – so no problems here with waiting to get on the lift, it was moving at its normal pace, just interrupted when someone had difficulty getting on or off. This is also a very old lift but has a very novel system that when you arrive either at the top or bottom, you just stand up, the seat splits into two and goes around you. When you pay at the parking machine put the main part of the ticket in your car and take the “tab” with you because when you hand this over at the lift ticket office, they pay half of the parking charge and you get a reduction on the lift ticket price.
The ride up the mountain on the seat lift takes about 20 minutes. Time to check things on the phone (yes I had cell network coverage while on the lift) and in my case grab a little lunch from my pack-up. One needs to be careful not to drop anything though, as it’s a long walk to get to where you may have dropped something. there is a path back down the mountain, that winds back and forwards under the lift but watching people walking up the path, tells you how steep it is. Not recommended if you are carrying heavy radio gear.
Once at the top and safely off the lift, it’s time to prepare for the walk to the rear mountain – it’s signposted as needing 40 minutes, I usually take about 30 but when I arrive I need 10 minutes to catch my breath, while those taking it a little slower appear to manage it better but they are not carrying as much weight. My rucksack is still too heavy for these kinds of walks and my next change to what is in the rucksack will be to see how long I can run on a 4000maH LiHV battery instead of the two 5000maH hard cell 4S LIPOs that I currently carry.
The actual summit is often crowded as was the case this time, but there is a nice level patch about 10 metres below the summit across from a strange wooden structure that all ask what it is but no one knows. I believe it was there already in 2020 when I last activated this summit and was something to do with a festival. Unfortunately, the local cowherd knows of this area of grass and had marked it out quite well with cow patts, so caution was needed while setting up the station and especially when running out the radial wires.
It was at this point that I realised that again I had no Internet connectivity either on Telekom or Vodafone (the two choices I have in my dual-SIM phone). At the time, I thought it must be that the cell systems are overloaded with traffic related to the recent flooding around Garmisch Partenkirchen which could be using the same transmitter sites. It was only after getting home, that I realised the actual reason. The 3G data network from all three network providers in Germany was closed down on June 30th. Their intention is to re-use those frequencies and mast space to expand the new 5G network coverage. OK, my phone is a 4G-LTE phone, so how about the 4G network? Why wasn’t that working? In regional Germany, band-20 on 850MHz (the old CDMA band) is used for regional LTE coverage and the older 4G capable phones (like mine) only have the 4G 1800/2100MHz band enabled, not the 850MHz one! DOH!
So I had to manage without any way to spot or to see where other activators were and so I tuned around and found two portable stations chatting and managed to break in. These were Harry SM0VPO/P on his lunch break and Martin M7BIA/P on holiday in the Lake District. Martin had been activating SOTA summits the previous day but today was just out in a field. All three of us had a nice chat for 15 minutes, and I had two of the needed four contacts in my log but now it was time to go and see what other contacts I could make. After another 15 minutes a couple of unanswered calls and trying each cell network with no success, I happened on Lauri LB1RH/P on SOTA LA/OL-184 and worked him for an S2S contact. He was actually just packing up and said the frequency was free – so I thanked him and jumped in and took over the frequency hoping that chasers looking for a SOTA activator would settle for me instead of Lauri who was on his way to his next summit. It worked and I got another four contacts into the log in the next 5 minutes before packing up. Unfortunately without the Internet spotting and checking option, I missed several S2S possibilities and in fact, gave out the wrong SOTA reference to those last 4 stations (PMed in the meantime to correct their logs). I had given out the correct summit name but gave out 068 rather than 058 as I had that written on my paper log sheet. My alert from the previous day was correct and if I had been able to self-spot I would have seen my error straight away as SOTA Spotter display the summit name and details for the code entered.
The walk back to the lift and ride down to the car park were uneventful as was the drive home. All in all, it was an enjoyable day out that proved the small radio kit (while still too heavy) can perform well. The combination of the XIEGU G90 and the Komunica HF-PRO2-PLUS-T antenna seems to work surprisingly well.
Photos – Laber:
Photos – Hinteres Hoernle:
Equipment used (both summits):
- Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
- Xiegu G90.
- Komunica HF-PRO-2-PLUS-T and small photo tripod with radial wires.
- Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
- Painters thick plastic sheet.
- Lightweight headphones.
- SOTABeams 10-60m bandspringer antenna (not used).
- Arborist’s throw bag (not used).
Log – Laber:
Log – Hinteres Hoernle:
- I was amazed at the performance of the loaded vertical antenna on both summits. The fact that the luxury of self-spotting was taken away from me, meant I had to make “normal” QSOs with non-SOTA chases/activators (at least in most cases).
- I have to buy a new smartphone – the removal of 3G coverage by all three networks on June 30th in Germany brought me a problem I didn’t expect with my 4G phone.
- My rucksack is STILL too heavy for the summits with longer walks/climbs needed.
- The G90 continues to amaze me, especially with its receiver performance.
73 ’til the next summit.