DD5LP/P – April 28th 2022 – HEMA – DL/HAM-015 & SOTA DL/AM-156 Schneidberg.

Preparation:

As conditions between EU and VK are so good at the moment, I decided to head out early to another summit and try out 17m as well as 20 & 40m (possibly even 15m).

As explained last time HEMA strictly adheres to its rule of including only summits with a prominence greater than 100 metres and less than 150 metres. For historical reasons, SOTA summits are not always over the SOTA rule of a minimum of 150m prominence.  Schneidberg is another such summit with a prominence of 103m.

With the long path window to VK, starting earlier and earlier, this would be an early start, getting up at 5:30 am to be on the summit by 8:30 am.  

The plan was to activate the summit as a HEMA summit for 30 minutes and then switch to SOTA. Alongside this, as this would be a Thursday morning we would try to get the “Comms Testers” net together. This consists of Mike 2E0YYY in the UK and Ernie VK3DET and Ian VK3YFD (both in Victoria, Australia) and myself in Germany. Mike also said he would go out portable to add to the fun.

I would again stick with the now tried and true configuration of my Xiegu G90 radio and linked dipole antenna on the 6m mast with everything fitting into or onto the medium-sized (40L) rucksack.

The Activation

The weather warnings were for frost however a bigger problem was fog which slowed the drive and caused me to miss a turn near the end of the trip, causing me to lose time. Despite that and the long walk from where I park the car, up to the summit, I did manage to be there, with all equipment set up by 08:15 am local time (06:15 UTC).

The activation did not start well. It’s not just the continental operators who need to go back to radio school one Welsh station forced his way onto a 20m frequency I had been on for 10 minutes and was in a QSO with Ernie VK3DET on. He could hear me telling him the frequency was in use and deliberately kept calling CQ over the top of Ernie and me. This is unacceptable behaviour and had the attitude of I have a 1KW amplifier and a big beam so you can go away and find a different frequency. What was really silly was after two contacts, he decided to go for his breakfast at which time Ernie was already on a different frequency. 

Putting that behind us, on the new frequency, I managed contacts with Ernie, VK3DET, Ian VK3YFD and Mike 2E0YYY/P – so we had the net complete and I had three of the four contacts that I needed to qualify the HEMA summit. Duncan MM5AJN/M on Aberdeen Beach then joined us and I had my needed four contacts. Rather than just continuing on 20m however, we decided to try 17m, so the mast came down and the links came out for 17m and up went the antenna again. Contacts with Ernie and Ian were again reasonably straightforward as they were both putting strong signals into Germany. Try as I may though, I could not get Mike into the log on 17m. Mike was hearing and able to work the guys in VK though, so I left them and went off to find another frequency, spotted myself on the SOTA cluster and see if I could qualify the SOTA summit just with contacts on 17m.

First was Jack from Finland OH3GZ and then with much stronger signals came Ron VK2AFW and Colin VK3GTV, both of whom I have probably not worked for over 5 years – that was a nice surprise.

As no more calls came I went back to the group to find that they were now moving up to try 15m. While I don’t have a “true” 15m link in my dipole I do have some 1 micro-henry plug-in links that should make it possible to use the linked dipole on 15m while it is set to 40m, by substituting both links at the 20m stages with these extra inductances. When I set up my antenna this way, although I could hear some stations on the band, I could hear nothing from Bernie or Ian. I put this down to conditions (apparently the Kp Index had gone up to 4 which can easily suppress the MUF). I was wrong, while setting up to go back to 20m, I realised that I had not closed one of the 17m links, so it’s no wonder it didn’t work! I couldn’t ask the guys to go back to 15m again so I left it for another day and we had a short QSO back on 20m again.  

At this point, Mike texted me that a lot of SOTA chasers in the UK were waiting for me on 40m, so I agreed to move to 40m and hope to find a free frequency (something that as it was getting close to 10 am would not be easy). 

My first contact on 40m was an S2S call from special event station TM2IF/P on F/CR-216. I only found out later that this was a special event station in memory of a recently lost to Cancer and much loved Spanish SOTA activator, Guru EA2IF. I wish I had realised it at the time. Congratulations to Alain F5ODQ for organising the special call sign and I hope that through its use we will all be reminded about all the good things that Guru did for the hobby before he was taken, far too young, from us. 

I then continued to work three more stations on 40m but although I could hear Mike 2E0YYY/P, he could not hear me. The reason became apparent when I was packing up the station. I had managed this time to leave one of the 20m links open when moving to 40m, so the antenna was one half 40m quarter-wave and one half eighth wave, no wonder it was not working well! The ATU in the G90 matches just about anything, so I didn’t notice a horrible SWR which would have been apparent if I had been using a radio without an inbuilt ATU. 

At 10:10 am local time, I packed up and headed back down to the car as with the winds increasing, the temperature had been dropping with the wind-chill factor taking the temperature back down towards zero centigrade.

 Photos:

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Equipment used:

  • Mountaintop travelling 40-litre rucksack.
  • Xiegu G90.
  • Komunica Power HF-Pro2-PLUS-T loaded vertical antenna. (not used)
  • Modified mini photo tripod with clip-on radials (not used)
  • Lamdahalbe 6m mini-mast.
  • Screw-in sun umbrella support.
  • SotaBeams linked dipole.
  • Battery box (2 x 5000maH hard-case 4S LIPOs).
  • 4000maH LiHV battery (not used).
  • Painters thick plastic sheet.
  • Lightweight headphones.
  • Smartphone to spot and back-channel comms. 

Logs:

HEMA 

SOTA 

Conclusions:

  • The weather got colder as time went on, due to the cold winds increasing.
  • The main purpose of the activation – was to try out 17m and indeed that went well, even though 20 & 40m were fraught with QRM and idiots. 17m does seem to be a better band to use for DX communications when open.
  • I had two times when I accidentally left one of the links in the dipole open when it should have been closed. I need to find some way to be able to see this from the ground as the radio matches into anything when asked and hence the usual “bad VSWR” that would tip me off to a problem is hidden.

73 ’til the next summit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DD5LP/P – October 20th 2021 – DL/AM-156 Schneidberg.

Preparation:

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.

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.

 Photos:

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Equipment used:

  • 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.

Log:

Conclusions:

  • 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.