After far too long not getting out to a summit, caused by bad weather and the COVID-19 lockdowns/restrictions and with the promise of imminent stronger lockdown restrictions, I wanted to get out to some simple (not dangerous) summits to get at least a few more activator points. The easy but reasonable scoring alpine summits in DL, that need chair or cabin lifts to access have those facilities stopped because of COVID-19 change requirements or simply for the annual maintenance period that happens from early November through to Christmas. So I had to look at summits in the DM association and while I wanted summits that I had activated before (so there should be no surprises getting to the summit) I found three summits still in Bavaria but near to the NW border to Baden Wurtemberg, which should be easy to activate in a day. Each comes with six activator points, so eighteen new points for my activator total. The first and the last summits are literal drive-up summits, while the middle one not only has a longish walk to it (but no climbing), it is also difficult to find unless you have been there before. As it turned out, this was going to be difficult to find, despite the fact that I have been there before. More of that later…
Although I had repaired my portable 70 watt HF amplifier, I decided that I would do these three summits “barefoot” which, with the Xiegu is 20 watts output in any case. The other decision regarding equipment was that I would only use my new Kommunica Power HF-PRO-2_PLUS-T HF/VHF loaded vertical antenna on my converted tripod. (See the article here for more information on this antenna). All of this equipment – Battery box, rig, smartphone (which acts as the rig’s display), the antenna and tripod would fit easily inside my medium-sized rucksack and leave more than enough space for food and water as well. This is my “rapid deployment” set-up which also does not take much space on a summit but still performs rather well.
For once the weather forecast was good with a cool but sunny and dry day predicted. So everything was packed into the car the night before, ready for an early start as the first summit is a good 1 hr & 45 minutes drive from home without any traffic jams.
This summit is a little special to me as I was the first to activate it when it was added to the SOTA association a few years ago. Unfortunately, I haven’t been back recently. It is an ideal summit for any disabled operator as the free public car park is directly on the summit and there are several easily accessed grassy areas where gear can be set-up.
Unfortunately, the ease of access to the fortress is reflected in graffiti sprayed on some of the walls.
In any case, my drive up to the site went without problems and as I set off at 7:20 am local time rather than the planned 8:15 am, I was on the summit and set up an hour earlier than I had alerted. I had hoped for a contact with Mike 2E0YYY in the UK and if I had known I was going to be on-site so early, I would have set up some skeds into VK. As it was there were actually two VK activators spotted as being out and active on 40 metres. I checked the first frequency and could hear nothing. I checked the second stations posted frequency and there was a local “natter-net” going on between two Italian stations, so if that VK2’s signal had been getting through, I would not have any chance of hearing him.
I decided to get busy and get 5 or 6 contacts into the log and then not to squander my extra time but rather set off to my next summit, which I realised may take longer to get to as there was a long walk. Well, once I spotted myself, I had a pile-up going and managed to work a total of fourteen chasers in seven minutes from around Europe, but no DX from outside of Europe. I probably should have given 20 metres a try as well but I was concerned to get the next two summits in, so at this point, I decided to pack up and leave. By limiting myself to my reduced kit, set-up and takedown times are greatly reduced and despite the limited antenna, it appears I was able to put a strong signal out across Europe. I doubt I would have been any better off if I had put up my usual dipole antenna.
The drive to Dürrenberg should have taken about 20 minutes, it took over 45. The problems started when in one village in the middle of nowhere (where my car’s navigation system had calculated would have been the shortest route) I came to barriers blocking the road and no diversion indicated. I guess the locals would know the way around the closed road but it seems any strangers are on their own! In any case, I knew roughly which direction west was and that was the general direction from Wülzburg to Dürrenberg was. I headed back to the larger road (I wouldn’t call it a “main” road and after ignoring several instructions that would have routed me back to the same blocked road, the system recalculated the route and we were on our way again. This new route took me down some single lane tracks which were no looking good but eventually I got back onto small and then slowly wider tarmacked roads and once I saw signs indicating distances to the town of Heidenheim, I was somewhat relieved! It should be noted however that there are at least two Heidenheim towns in the area, so I was lucky that I was heading for the correct one. What I found in Heidenheim was more delays as several main roads within the village were closed because they were dug up for the laying of new cables or pipes while other roads were blocked with the material being used to either renovate existing or build new, houses! This was not looking good! I knew I wasn’t that far away from Dürrenberg but it is not signposted (probably as it used to be an old army base and exercise area. Eventually, after parking up twice and referring to Google Maps on my phone, I found the way out of the village and onto the road to Degersheim, which has a track up from a corner where I would park – except a courier van was parked there while the driver was having his pack-up lunch. No matter, I managed to squeeze the car in just off the road and grabbed my rucksack out of the back of my car and headed up the track. This is actually a roadway but with a barrier across it about 20 metres up, so as to stop local hoons from using it as a car racing track or the like. The Google maps app was still in car-mode and told me I was only 3 minutes from the summit. With the incline of the road and the distance, walking up towards the highly visible radio mast on the summit, it took about 15 minutes to walk there. Thankfully the weather was still dry and sunny – probably about 8°C. What had changed here from my last visit was the installation of about a dozen wind power generators about a kilometre to the east. Thankfully, these don’t appear to make any RF Interference on our HF bands. On arriving at the summit, there is a small wood in front of the metal fence surrounding the ex-army installation. Previously I have set up in this wood, using some of the vents from the underground facility to support my antenna mast. This time I decided to set up on the grassland before the wood. The height is within a metre or two of the actual summit, so well within the activation zone and for my vertical antenna (which of course withing a wooded area would not work very well).
I had planned to just work a few stations. Enough to qualify this summit and then once again pack up and head-off to summit number three. This did not happen though as there were so many chasers calling that I ended up with two pages of contacts before I left. By the way, something else that I was testing out was using photographic glossy paper as my log sheets with write-in-the-wet-pens. While I did not (thankfully) have any rain, this was not a complete test however the paper and the pens worked fine together on these summits and did not smudge. If they work as well in the wet, I’ll be very happy.
In any case, I started with 20 metres on this summit, where I worked fifteen chasers in twelve minutes. The best DX may have been Serge UI7T in the Northern Russian Caucasus at just over 2,500 km away. The chaos that met me when I went to 40 metres was crazy I managed to give a total of eighteen chasers a contact in forty minutes. Forty metres in Europe has always been a busy band but when on a midweek activation it is strange that there are almost no free frequencies across the band. At the weekend with contests, we are used to the main bands being totally unusable by low powered portable stations, but now with lockdown even midweek there is a problem there.
The reason that my working rate on 40 metres was half of that on 20 metres, was, very sad to say caused by bad behaviour by chasers, talking over the top of others and of the activator – if you can’t hear the activator, why on earth are you calling him or her? There used to be a rule in SOTA that if one activator tries to call another, the home station chasers wait until that conversation is over. That was not the case either from Dürrenberg or Hesselberg, where my attempts to call other activators were ignored by stations that I know could hear me but their getting through to get the chaser points was obviously more important than the two activators working each other. Often, because of skip distance, it can be difficult for two activators to work each other.
I’m glad to report that the trip across to Hesselberg was uneventful, but when I arrived at the summit car park, it was very busy with people everywhere. This was “Buß- und Bettag” for the protestants but it is no longer a public holiday (except in Saxony). It is meant to be a day of calm consideration, praying and going and tidying up the graves of your family but it seems this year a trip out to nature, or in several cases, an excuse to go and fly their paragliders off the top of the mountain.
Luckily most of this activity was happening in a small wide raised piece of land away from the actual summit with its summit cross and TV transmitting station and as I approached the summit, I saw the only wooden table and benches, there was free and there were a couple of people signing the visitor’s book on the holy cross. So I set up on one end of the table but it wasn’t long before a family with a small bay arrived and took over the other end of the table, keeping their distance because of COVID. The baby who was probably only a few months old was then fed some mashed up carrot mixture and I was happy there was COVID spacing in place as I could see the chance was large that the baby might throw up all over my radio gear had they not seated far enough away. All was fine from these visitors and two later visiting couples expressed interest with what I was doing and were each give a pre-printer brochure. All of this takes time of course and is a distraction and the arrival of the family with the young baby is my excuse for a silly mistake, in that after setting up the tripod and setting and mounting the loaded vertical on top of it – I forgot to connect and run out the radial wires. My first three attempts at calling other activator stations on 20 metres had no response as did my CQ calls. Then, luckily I saw my error and corrected it and Lars SA4BLM was the first in the log. He told me he had heard something really down in the noise but not understandable but now I was a very clear 5-7 signal. After working 4 stations on 20 metres, I decided to switch to 40 metres as several activators were indicated as being there. I found the same bad behaviour from chasers from this summit as I had on the last (no surprise there I guess). I only managed 18 contacts in half an hour. To be honest though, in this location, I could not put the low number down just to bad chasers, there was also the local distractions and two brief lectures on ham radio to those who showed an interest.
- Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
- Xiegu X108G.
- HAMA Photo Tripod.
- Komunica Power HF-PRO2-PLUS-T loaded vertical.
- Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
- Painters thick plastic sheet.
- Lightweight headphones.
- Smartphone with PocketRxTx App and USB cable acting as an external display to the rig.
- For once the weather forecast was correct!
- There MUST be some enormous investment going on in Heidenheim with so much construction work and closed roads.
- The simplified “Rapid deployment kit” works very well (but only when I remember to connect the radial wires).
- The Komunica Power HF-PRO-2_PLUS-T antenna is fast becoming my favourite. A good portable antenna which gives a good balance between performance and ease of transport and assembly.
- As many inactive hams are starting to wake up that the HF bands are opening up, 40 metres is becoming un-bearable – this was a mid-week activation and there were literally NO free gaps on the band where there was no QRM. When a frequency was found, the behaviour of some of the chasers was less than impressive.
73 ’til the next summit.