Twice a year an attempt to make SOTA Summit-to-Summit contacts between Europe and North America is made during a specified day. This year the days are in April and November and this was my participation in the April one.
My originally chosen summit was Eisenberg but as that is a real tourist trap, this event is on a Saturday and this was the first dry and sunny day in three weeks, I decided that the number of people there would make it impossible for me to set up my antenna system without inconveniencing someone, so at the 11th hour I changed to Weichberg. that being said, this turned out not a “deserted location” with about 15-20 mountain E-Bike riders coming through in the 2.5 hours that I was there, but it was the right decision as I would have been overrun at Eisenberg and that SOTA/HEMA/GMA/COTA/WCA location can wait for a mid-week activation when there are fewer tourists.
I decided not to test any of my new antennas on this activation and the equipment list is fairly standard. As the grassy area at Weichberg is actually “fake” in that it is a thin layer of grass on top of rubble and stones, the screw-in mast support does not work well here, so I decided I would take my large Surveyor’s tripod and with it my 10-metre mast for this activation. As I had both the linked dipole and the 404-UL OCF dipole from Aerial-59 already in the large rucksack, they would be my choices of an antenna and indeed I went with the Aerial-59 one as I don’t need to lower it to change bands.
Given the wish to contact North America (most likely on 20m), this would be an afternoon activation and my plan was to set off at 12 noon local and be set up and operational by 2 pm local (1200 UTC). In fact, as I know this summit and the route to it so well, I was operational soon after 11 am local time (1300 UTC).
As I was approaching the car park, I could see up on the hill that the wooden table that I normally sit at was in use by several people, so I might need to sit on the ground or use the bench under the trees.
On getting to the car park, some people had just come down and were about to head off on their bikes – luckily, it seems, these were the people who had been at the table and I found it clear when I got to the top of the track, so I dropped my rucksack on the table, marking at least a little spec for my use during the next few hours. In fact, the table and benches alongside it seem to get used more as a mountain bike stand than for sitting down at!. In any case, no one complained about what I was doing and only a couple asked more out of politeness than having any interest I suspect.
As I said earlier set-up went quickly with only one small problem – I set up the tripod and 10m mast a little too far away from the table for the coax to reach comfortably and had to lower the mast and move it and the tripod closer. Once in position and with the mast raised again, I tied off the ends of the dipole to a fence post at one end and to a peg at the other. Luckily (the wire being black) everyone riding around on their bikes saw the wire and avoided it.
I started in “search and pounce” mode and checked SOTA Spotter to see where other SOTA activators were on 20m and my first 4 contacts in the log were S2S contacts (but only within Europe). It seems that a lot of the activators who had alerted for 1200 UTC were, like me, already set up and operational by 1100 UTC. I then found a free frequency, spotted myself and started calling CQ. It was long before I got a steady run of calls including GB2GM – the Marconi station at Poldhu in Cornwall. It turned out that this was Marconi Day as well and I actually had three of the Marconi Special Event stations call me during the time I was active.
Having put up the OCF antenna rather than the linked dipole had been a good idea as it meant that I could switch to 40m and 15m as I saw other activators spotted there.
Band conditions were not good with the Kp Index over 4 which also meant that the critical frequency was above 7 MHz and hence, when I moved to call CQ on 40m, it was Bedlam as so many stations were trying to fit into the band. We also had the “QRP to the Field” QRPTTF event going on and a YOTA contest, so things were busy. I worked several other activators in Germany via NVIS on 40m and a couple by groundwave on 20m. Rob DM1CM was out as well running a Delta loop antenna on 20m and using the same radio as I do – a Xiegu G90 was putting out a very strong signal with the antenna.
Unfortunately, there were to be no S2S contacts across the “pond” this time – the conditions were not good enough. I did hear one fixed US station early on but that was all. In fact, there were very few North American SOTA activators spotted until early evening European time by which point 20m has normally closed.
Was the activation worth the effort? Yes even though there were no US or Canadian contacts there were plenty of others from around Europe. I did learn something new from this activation and that is a LifePO4 battery with a built-in BMS (Battery Management System) is not always your friend as when the battery’s charge is going down and before the radio can warn you of it – as is the case with LIPO batteries, the BMS inside the LifePO4 package simply cuts power without warning – mid-QSO! When this happened to me, I scrambled to connect my LiHV (LIPO-high voltage) battery up to get back on the air. This was a surprise I could have done without!
- Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
- Xiegu G90 radio.
- Komunica Power HF-Pro2-PLUS-T loaded vertical antenna with a modified mini photo tripod with clip-on radials. (not used)
- 2 x Lamdahalbe 6m mini-mast. (not used)
- DX-Wire 10m mast and Surveyors tripod.
- Aerial-51 404-UL OCF dipole.
- SotaBeams linked dipole (not used).
- 4 Ah Eremit LifePO4 battery.
- 4 Ah LiHV battery.
- Painter’s thick plastic sheet (not used).
- Gardener’s kneeling pad.
- Lightweight headphones.
- Smartphone for SOTA spotting.
- This wasn’t the worst weekend activation that I have had – it actually went rather well. My call NOT to go to Eisenberg was the correct one.
- I need to keep a closer eye on the battery voltage when using the LifePO battery to avoid the sudden cut-off problem that I had here.
- The 10-metre mast and indeed the rest of the set-up worked well. It was probably worth having to carry the extra weight of the tripod and mast up through the fiorest track to the summit as with a lower mast, the antenna wires would have been more of a danger for the cyclists.
73 ’til the next summit(s).
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