As conditions have improved greatly as Solar Cycle 25 “ramps up” several SOTA activators on the SOTA Reflector decided to go out to try for EU to VK contacts (ideally S2S). This was an independent effort, not the “semi-official” VK-EU S2S event, just one or two activators in VK and ZL heading for summits late in their afternoon to try for contacts with activators in Europe and the UK who would be out early in their morning. Contacts were mainly planned to be on 20m as it was expected to be open the whole week (18-22nd of April).
I had time on Wednesday of this week to try from my side and decided to keep things simple by heading to the Peissenberg summit. It has the advantage of not needing a cable car to access the summit. Some Cable cars are stopped for maintenance and while we still have astronomic numbers of new Covid-19 infections at the moment, being couped up inside a cabin with people I do not know, was a risk I decided to avoid.
I looked at the site and decided that I would attempt to put up the linked dipole in a North-South direction so that its side lobes went East-West. Due west is the direction I needed for long path propagation to Australia.
As this is a drive-up summit, I decided to take my surveyors’ tripod and my 10 metre mast. Apart from that the rest of the equipment would remain “standard” with the Xiegu G90 and the SOTABeams linked dipole and a couple of battery packs. All was packed into the car on Tuesday evening for an early 6:30 am (0430 UTC) start on Wednesday morning.
The trip down was uneventful, a route that I know without the need for maps or GPS as I have been there so many times. What I wasn’t sure I would find, however, was how full the car park would be. This is a favourite spot for camper van owners to drive to and stay overnight, to watch sunset and sunrise over the valley. I was glad to see when I arrived, that the car park was empty. I bought my 3 hour, €2 parking ticket and headed to the opposite end of the car park. I would normally aim for somewhere in the middle where there used to be two benches (now only one) so that I could set up the antenna long-ways along the grass field next to the car park and have my station on a bench. That puts the dipole in an east to west direction however and any directivity on 20m would then be north or south – 90° away from what I need for the long path to Australia. For that reason, I had intended to set up at the far end of the car park with the antenna running north to south. When I got there, however, the farmer had fenced off the area of grass that I had planned to use and so I went down into the normal field instead with my large tripod and 10m mast.
It took about 15 minutes to lay out my groundsheet, unpack everything that was needed from the rucksack and set up the linked dipole on the 10m “travel mast”. As I was adjusting the inverted-V antenna to get the mast more vertical, it did what it has done on several other occasions and collapsed into itself bringing the feed point crashing down and breaking off one of its mounts.
This was of course a setback and I wondered whether to try again with the long mast but as I was already feeling the cold by this point, the chance of going through raising the mast again only to have it collapse again was too much of a risk, so I took the 10m mast out of the tripod support, laid it to the side and put in my backup 6-metre mast instead. While this would not have the antenna so high, it would stay up! Luckily I was about 20 minutes ahead of my plan and so the lost time with the mast collapse did not create timing problems.
Tuning around 20 metres the band seemed quite quiet as the MUF was still below 14MHz but it didn’t take long until I could check the DX Cluster and then tune and hear the ZL and VK stations. Being portable, away from metro noise, is a real treat. My home location is rural and I can’t think of how bad it must be trying to operate from within a large city but being out portable (even on a cold morning like this one) remains a pleasure with the clarity and strength of incoming signals even with the simplest of antennas.
After trying to call some of the Oceania stations and being hammered by QRO stations with big beams, I decided to find a free frequency (while there still were some), spotted myself on the SOTAWatch cluster site and started calling CQ. What a surprise – the first caller was Andy ZL1TM from Auckland, New Zealand. I guess my signal was getting out OK on the lower mast then! I also posted my frequency to our “Comms testers” Signal group and Ernie VK3DET was the next in the log. After chatting with Ernie for a few minutes, my next call was an S2S contact with Andrew VK1AD/P on VK1/AC-039 “Yellow Rabbit Hill”. Andy ZL1TM had told me that Andrew VK1AD was on the air and I had told him that unfortunately, I had a large carrier signal from somewhere in Europe exactly on Andrew VK1AD’s frequency and so hadn’t called him. After our QSO Andy went off called Andrew and asked him to come down to my frequency and so we managed the S2S. Thank you, Andy. Thank you, Andrew.
That wasn’t the end of the DX though, two more contacts (which were a little more difficult as the band was deteriorating) followed with Ian, VK5CZ and Gerard, VK2IO, both of whom I haven’t spoken to in years.
It was interesting that I was not getting any calls from SOTA chasers in European countries. My thought is that as the skip was long, the DX contacts were working well but other stations in Europe were simply not in range of my antenna. After Gerard, Jack OH3GZ from Finland did call me with a true 5-9 signal but after Jack, the band seemed to be really dead.
Peissenberg is only a one-point summit however I know that SOTA chasers just love to get as many activators in their logs as possible, so I decided to switch from 20 metres to 40 metres and the world was a different place! I worked 37 chasers in 20 minutes.
During all of this time the temperatures had not been rising, rather the cold breeze was getting stronger and the mist over the valley had only lifted a little (as you will see in the photos below), so it was time to pack up and head home. At least the trip back to the car was only a couple of minutes rather than the 20-30 minutes that is more usual on the summits around here.
- Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
- Xiegu G90.
- Surveyors Tripod and 10 metre DX-Wire fibreglass “travel-mast”.
- Lambdahalbe 6m mini-mast.
- SotaBeams linked dipole.
- 4000 maH LiHV battery (not used)
- Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
- Painters thick plastic sheet.
- Lightweight headphones.
- The DX-Wire mast continues to disappoint even though it has behaved for a few activations. The fact that it is designed to be short and relatively light when packed means that it has many short sections with thin walls and that does not make a good strong mast.
- Even when the temperature is forecast to be a “warm” 4-5°C never underestimate how a small arctic breeze can take that temperature down very quickly.
- Overall the activation was a big success with an S2S into Australia and contacts into Australia and New Zealand as if they were local. It won’t be long before we get back to 2014 standards and we can bag half a dozen S2S contacts between Europe and Oceania in an activation with just a few watts of SSB and a dipole!
73 ’til the next summit.