VK3ARR's SOTA Blog

Ego loqui ad viros super montes

22 Oct 2016 – VK/EU S2S party

Andrew VK1AD and Mickey 2E0YYY’s plan to host a VK/EU S2S party rapidly turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and as such, it was important I participate! My original plan was to head up to Mt Donna Buang to get 8 points, which would take me across the 250 point mark. My Saturday rapidly ended up not being as timely as possible, so I changed to Mt St Leonard (6 points – to take me to 249), and eventually, I caved and went for VK3/VC-032 (4 points), as time was getting away from me.

After setting up in my usual spot, the day started well with John VK6NU in the log from VK6/SW-042 on SSB, which finalised the VK6 association for me for Mountain Hunter, followed by a S2S with Take JS1UEH on JA/IB-001 on CW. A normal CW chase from VK4BJS was followed by Greg VK8GM on SSB, who was booming in from VK8/AL-100 for the VK8 association in Mountain Hunter.

At this point, I tried settling on a CW frequency to work the EU hordes, and hordes was the operative word. I could pull no partials out of the mess, and in the end, just gave up and went on Search and Pounce mode. First up was JG3NGT/3 on JA/OS-012 on CW, Allen VK3ARH down the road on VK3/VC-018, before a difficult CW S2S with JJ1SWI on JA/KN-020. I could only give him 229 in response to his 419, and by this stage, the 20m path to Japan was almost closed.

Another sting on a CW frequency produced 9A7W, my first Croatian DX contact. I also pounced on Andrew VK3JBL who was on the appropriately named Andrew Hill, before jumping to 40m to work Andrew VK1AD on SSB, and Gerard VK2IO on CW.

I packed up at that point as the sun was almost down, and headed home, encountering the usual crazy wildlife the Australian bush throws at dusk drivers. An enjoyable event, even though the QSO count was down: Mountain Hunted VK6/VK8, JA S2S, and a new DXCC entity.

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Mountain Explorer Platinum award

My Platinum award for Mountain Explorer arrived in the mail on Friday. I think that’s the first one in VK – only 8 have been awarded judging from the serial number 🙂

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DM/BW-019 – Hornisgrinde

After leaving Kudertberg and heading along the A4, I arrived at Berghotel Mummelsee at around 9pm. This hotel is located on Mummelsee, which is right next to DM/BW-019 Hornisgrinde, which of course had NO impact whatsoever in my choice to stay there. It was an excellent hotel, even if the manager was most apologetic that just about everything was closing at 9pm – the kitchen, the sauna, etc, etc. I told him I didn’t mind, and placed the battery on charge, while heading off to sleep.

My plan was to climb Hornisgrinde prior to breakfast, taking advantage of the opportunities for LP greyline contacts back into VK. I awoke at the allotted time, grabbed all my equipment, and started up the access road to the summit. The road is not available for general traffic, but there is a bus that will shuttle people to the top (I assume the elderly are its intended audience).

Dawn light near the hotel

Dawn light near the hotel

The walk up, in soft pre-dawn light, was easy enough; the road is not too steep, and there are contours marked on it, so you know just how high you’ve managed to reach. After about fifteen minutes, I reached the Hornisgrindeturm (Hornisgrinde Tower) and started to look around the summit plateau. Over to one side was a wind turbine and the TV transmitter tower for the local area. I walked around, catching the sunrise to the east, before heading back to a point about midway between the turbine and the Turm, and set up. There would be plenty of room to stretch out a large antenna, but there are not so many trees to tie off against, so I kept myself limited to 20m and above.

Sunrise on Hornisgrinde

Sunrise on Hornisgrinde

Summit turbine and transmitter

Summit turbine and transmitter

I started on SSB first, getting Sergei RA3PCI and Vlad R4FCJ in the log before a long period calling CQ. After about ten minutes, I pulled out the key and switched to CW. Coverage on the summit was fairly spotty, so I wasn’t able to spot my frequency, but after a short period of calling, Gerard VK2IO came up on frequency, and I guessed that RBNHole had done its trick. Whoever wrote that piece of software deserves a medal. Shortly afterwards, I got F6HKA in the log to claim the 10 points on offer.

The travel pole.  Vertical is nice, but any way it gets in the air is OK

The travel pole. Vertical is nice, but any way it gets in the air is OK

France from the heights of the Black Forest

France from the heights of the Black Forest

Ron VK3AFW was next in the log, proving the path to VK was open, followed by LZ2RS for my first Bulgaria contact, and a scratchy QSO with Andrew VK2UH. Very tough copy, with lots of QSB, but we managed to complete it.

Hornisgrindeturm

Hornisgrindeturm

After a little while calling CQ again, and with the path to VK open, I decided I’d give SSB another go. I tuned around looking for a clear spot, and found a strong VK voice calling CQ, and discovered it was Paul VK5PAS, who got in the log. Hornisgrinde is also in DLFF-0111, so he was happy to get another reference from me. He alerted me to Peter VK3TKK in VKFF-0757 Enfield State Park, and Adam VK2YK. I could not hear Adam, but Peter popped out of the noise enough to complete the contact, 3/1 signals both ways.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie

Two SV2 stations, Ron again, and Allen VK3ARH got into the log, before wrapping up with Russia and the Ukraine. At this point, I’d been on the mountain for over an hour, and my stomach was getting rumbly. I headed down via the Westweg (West route) and think I took the right option in heading up via the road. Nice walk, but a lot steeper.

Down the Westweg

Down the Westweg

Memorial for crash of French Air Force transport

Memorial for crash of French Air Force transport

I had planned to do another DM summit, but after breakfast, I decided I’d head instead to the airport, and in the end I was grateful that I did, as with traffic on the autobahn, and a missing wing mirror reducing my ability to pass cars, I took a bit longer than anticipated to get there. After sorting out the hire car, I headed back to Heathrow, and from Heathrow, I headed back to Australia.

I can recommend the Berghotel Mummelsee as a nice place to stay – there are cheaper options in the surrounding towns, but none are as convenient to a 10 pointer as this one is.

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View from my window.

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Mummelsee and Hornisgrindeturm

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Mummelsee

F/VO-052 – Kudertberg

Again, I set the satnav up to take me to my next stop, F/VO-052 to the east of the town of Volmerange-les-Mines. It gave me a track that kind of matched what I’d expected from Google Maps, but kind of didn’t. In any case, what’s the worst that could happen? Last time I followed it I got stopped by the police. That sort of bad luck couldn’t happen again, right?

Of course, following a satnav is supposed to be easy, but when there’s an instruction to “bear left” and there’s a left turn lane, and then you try to get into it, right as the road narrows, a truck is in front of you in the right lane, and you’re suddenly squeezed for room and realising you’re actually not supposed to turn left, but to bear left further ahead. You can probably guess what happens next. A loud crunch, and the right wing mirror has clipped the back of the truck and, followed by a bunch of swearing from me, I pulled over into a side street and dealt with the very annoyed truck driver.

After reviewing his truck and noting no obvious damage (I basically hit the mudflap), I reviewed the damage to my car, which was the wing mirror being ripped right out, missing its plastic shell, and hanging on only via the wiring loom. Luckily I had a roll of duct tape available which enabled me to hold the mirror close to the door so it wasn’t going to flap around. I also read the hiring agreement, which said I had to report the damage immediately to the nearest Avis branch.

Oops

Oops

Satnav set again (do I trust it still?) and I headed off to the town of Bertrange to report. I arrived there and they basically said, “No, just report it when you hand it back.” That worked for me, as did the duct tape, although the sting to my pride was much worse. Once I realised the usual top-level cover I have as a regular hire car user wasn’t automatically applied in Europe, the sting to my wallet was worse (900 Euros worse). Once the car was returned, they also saw some scraping on the door handles and a dent where the mirror had hit the door, so plenty of damage there. I was grateful to only have to pay 900 Euros once it all was tallied up.

After Bertrange, I decided to head out to Kudertberg – I was going to go past it anyway, and I had a hotel booking in the Black Forest to get to. I had a brief panic as I took the turn off to Volmerange-les-Mines as there were more police pulling over random cars, and I now had a missing wing mirror to add to my problems. I managed to avoid that problem (they were on the other side of the road and gone by the time I went back). I also took a wrong turn (my fault, not the satnav), and ended up a one-way lane that took some effort to get back out of.

Finally, I hit the main road up to the top of Kudertberg, which is used as a launching place for hang gliders. The road is 4WD only, but I was able to take it all the way to the top. I passed a man walking to the top on the way. At the top there is a nice view east, as the peak has a pretty much solid drop off (perfect for hang gliding).

Panorama from top.  Quality is a bit poor

Panorama from top. Quality is a bit poor

View East.

View East. Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant in the distance

View North East

View North East

Once I parked and began to set up, the gentleman I’d passed reached the top and asked a few questions about what I was doing. He’d seen a few online documentaries, and had a reasonable grasp about the ionosphere (‘you bounce the signal off the clouds’) and how antennas worked (‘shorter is higher frequency’). He listened in, as I told him I expected to get into Germany, England and France with the signal.

By now it was almost 5pm, so most of Europe might have been at my beck and call on 40m, but I couldn’t find a clear frequency at all, so I switched to 20m (prompting the antenna conversation) and worked Portugal, Greece, Russia and then to my great surprise, N1GB with a strong 57 signal to my 55. Silva (as his name was) was amazed to think that an Australian had come all the way to France to climb a relatively small mountain to work someone in America using a bit of wire a few metres off the ground.

With four in the log and a long drive ahead of me, I packed up and bade farewell to my new friend. About three hours later, and a stop for linner (lunch/dinner), I arrived at my hotel in Germany, Berghotel Mummelsee, chosen specifically as it was about 100 vertical metres below a 10 point DM summit 😀

My friend poses.  He didn't transmit.

My friend poses. He didn’t transmit.

LX/LX-001 – Steekammchen

The high point in Luxembourg awaited me next, above the charming village of Erpeldange, near Wiltz. There are a couple of paths up to the top, but I followed Phil ON4TA’s advice, parked to the north of the summit, and headed up ‘An der Gewaan’, which leads, ultimately, to the summit plateau. The walk up is easy enough, about 10-15 minutes, and I reached the first summit clearing quickly. This is likely in the activation zone, but rather than risk it, I headed further up to a second summit clearing, which was clearly in the activation zone. Along the way, I disturbed a deer.

Erpeldange, I parked towards the left (the silver SUV)

Erpeldange, I parked towards the centre (the silver SUV)

Once again, I found a clear frequency and got 21 in the log fairly quickly, including a S2S with HB/HB9BIN/P (the second for the day). As it looked like it was about to rain, I packed up quickly and descended, heading for my next destination, in France.

Up the path

Up the path

The shack

The shack

The walk was the first real walk I had to do to get to a summit, and it was quite nice. I recommend this summit to any visitors.

ON/ON-010 – Baraque Fraiture

Upon leaving Vrouwenheide, I put the details back into the Satnav, and began to follow it. After a little while, I realised this didn’t quite gel with the instructions from Google Maps. My guess is this was to do with traffic around Maastricht, and instead I was sent back into Germany before I’d cut across into Belgium. As I crossed the border I was still trying to determine where exactly I was being taken – the possibility of a dodgy address had crossed my mind. Knowing I could fix any issues, I concentrated on the road, before a police car came up behind me. I was stuck behind a truck for a bit, overtook it, and the police car followed, moved in front of me, and flashed “Bitte Folgen” (please follow) on its lights.

I say this now with the benefit of hindsight, but I wasn’t entirely sure if ‘folgen’ meant follow, but when they took the exit and flashed their lights just as it seemed I wasn’t going to take the exit, I realised I was right, followed them, and we pulled over on the grass. A friendly enough ‘Guten Morgen’ was followed by my highly accented “Good Morning”, at which point he realised I wasn’t from around there. He asked for passport and hirecar details, which I happily provided, asked for my destination, asked to search my luggage, which I obliged, and then they sent me on my way. I suspect it was a random search, or perhaps I’d triggered something by going over the border and back into Germany relatively quickly, or maybe they’d seen me looking at the satnav earlier. Either way, they said nothing about why I was stopped, and I continued on my merry way, adrenaline pumping and pants moderately filled.

I quickly headed back over into Belgium, and followed the E25 expressway, which conveniently passes directly over the top of ON/ON-010 Baraque Fraiture. A turn off into the town of Fraiture, and I set up near the ski parking lot. I had a bit of trouble finding a clear frequency – my first one was clear for me, but not for a lot of chasers, but my second one worked well enough, and I got 36 in the log, including some S2S points. You won’t get a much easier 8 points than this one.

After spending too long and not taking photos, I packed up and headed off to my next destination, LX/LX-001 Steekamchen.

PA/PA-002 – Vrouwenheide

Work yet again had me travelling, this time to the UK, and I decided I’d take the opportunity to get a few new associations into the log. My first thought was to consider DM and maybe DL, with Grosser Feldberg and some of the simpler DL summits near Munich as possibilities. The deciding factor ultimately was flights out of London in the evening after my meetings in the UK, and that meant Frankfurt. A quick look at SOTA Maps, and an idea began forming for a 4 association tour – starting at Frankfurt, getting Grosser Feldberg in the log, up via the Netherlands, then a few Belgian summits and finally a French summit and a ferry back from Calais.

This plan started to develop traction in my mind, until I looked at the cost of a one-way car rental, which was more than twice the cost of the rental itself. Three times the price for a one way trip suggested I needed to head back to Frankfurt. This suggested I could get in Luxembourg instead of France, although I found an easy option just over the French border – a quick jaunt then back to Frankfurt? It’d be a very full day with a high risk of missing a return flight, but it’d be five Associations (DM, PA, ON, LX, F). Five! By chance, I had a German who sat behind me at work, who, on reviewing my plan, called them insane and got to work injecting sanity back into proceedings.

For starters, we looked at reversing the loop – not a bad option in actual fact, but didn’t quite line up with available hotels. Instead, I headed north west, and stopped at Heiligenroth, near Montabaur, about an hour north of Frankfurt. This cut an hour off my travel time the next day, and I suggested instead extending this further, but once again, Mark, my sane German, decided this was a dumb idea, and Heilegenroth it was. I’d never admit that he was right, but I’m not sure I’d have wanted to travel too much further than Heilegenroth that first night. The net result of this was postponing the DM summit to the next day, prior to my flight.

The hotel was cheap and cheerful, but morning came far too quickly, and a cheap breakfast eaten quickly meant I got on the road roughly at my planned time. I’d been given an SUV instead of the Volkswagen Golf sized option I’d paid for, so I was pleased by this (for now), set the satnav going, and headed off for Vrouwenheide, just over the Netherlands border. The drive up was fairly straightforward (Autobahns are fun!), and the satnav sent me via Koblenz in order to avoid traffic, which seemed to work out nicely.

When I’d put out my plans on SOTAwatch, I received an email from Phil ON4TA, who was keen to meet up for a joint activation. He told me where and when, and said there’d be a station set up ready to go. He wasn’t wrong. I arrived at Vrouwenheide about 10-15 minutes later than planned, but Phil said I made good time, which suggests he thought my original schedule was optimistic! In any case, he kept his promises, and there sat an 857 hooked up and ready to go, complete with clear frequency (of which there are not many in Europe on 40m).

Phil ON4TA demonstrating the use of the provided equipment.

Phil ON4TA demonstrating the use of the provided equipment.

The calls came in quick and fast, and it wasn’t long before I had 18 in the log, all on SSB. I had a quick chat with Phil afterwards, before he basically told me to get going if I was going to make my schedule. Ever the gentleman, I took my leave, and jumped back in the car, heading for my next target, ON/ON-010 Baraque Fraiture

Me working the hordes

Me working the hordes

Thank you, Phil, for the enjoyable activation of PA/PA-002, the conversation and the equipment. Much appreciated, and should you visit VK, the favour will be returned!

Vrouwenheide sign, near where we parked our cars

Vrouwenheide sign, near where we parked our cars

Looking back up at Vrouwenheide

Looking back up at Vrouwenheide. Head for the gap in the trees.

VK3/VS-051 and VK3/VS-050

A ‘quick’ trip down to Portland gave me an opportunity to try activating a few summits along the route – Mt Clay (VK3/VS-051), which I activated over lunch, and Mt Leura (VK3/VS-050), which I tried to grab on the drive back. This was partly to be a test of equipment to be used in my European sojourn in a few weeks time.

Mt Clay is at the end of a dirt road, with relatively easy access from Portland. There was a lot of water on the road on the way down to Portland, courtesy of the several inches of rain that’d fallen over the previous week, but this wasn’t a big issue at Mt Clay. I attached my dipole to a new travel pole and tried to get it up in the air.

Higher than I’d like SWR meant I wasn’t getting a great signal out, but I managed to get 8 contacts, 6 on CW and 2 on SSB. I packed up and continued home, stopping at Mt Leura on the way.

This was to be an opportunistic activation, 15 minutes, and again I was plagued by the high SWR, despite being able to get the antenna much higher and straighter this time. No contacts were made, and by now it was getting late, so I continued on. Some interest on Mt Leura in what I was doing, particularly by an older couple. The “Have you heard about mobile phones” ‘joke’ came out too. Any reports of a bearded man punching an elderly couple hard in the face in the Camperdown area are not to be regarded as true.

Later testing showed a DC resistance of several hundred ohms across the coax, so yet again something was wrong with the feedline – it’s RG-174 so you basically just have to look at it and it’s broken. Other examples of the same length were closer to 2-3 ohms DC resistance. I swapped out cables and had no troubles in Europe with SWR.

Mt Leura vista

Mt Leura vista

Antenna with new travel pole

Antenna with new travel pole

KU6J SOTASpotMonitor

For those who have been missing SOTASpotMonitor after the passing of Eric KU6J, I have reverse-engineered the last known version to work again.  This modification is done with little testing, but posting spots and monitoring spots should now work again.

Grab the file here: SOTASpotMonitor.exe

You will need to right-click, save the file and rename to SOTASpotMonitor.exe.  Replace the SOTASpotMonitor.exe file in your existing installation with the new one.  You should now be able to see spots.  I haven’t tested posting spots, but again, it should work.

VK3/VC-030 – Flinders Peak

Having built a 4 element yagi, I decided I needed to get out and test it, so I organised with Andrew VK1AD to try for a bit of Aircraft Enhancement with me on Flinders Peak. Unfortunately, Andrew was alerted to be on the wrong side of the Brindabella Ranges, but he agreed to give it a go.

I packed up the 4 element yagi, as well as a 7 element 70cm yagi I’d also knocked up, and took it and the only tripod now in my possession – a battered, old, heavy, surveyor’s tripod – up to the top of the You Yangs. The walk up was easier than in the past, perhaps a sign I’m improving my fitness finally. The only problem was breaking out onto the summit, I copped the full blast of the bitterly cold south-westerly that was blowing.

A 7 element 70cm yagi to go with the 2m one

A 7 element 70cm yagi to go with the 2m one

I set up, pointing north east, and worked Ron VK3AFW first for my first ever 2m SSB contact. After that, contacts dried up. Ron mentioned he was having a lot of difficulty making many contacts via AE that morning, and he surmised that we likely had an inversion that was preventing our signals from reaching the aircraft. A bit of coordination with Andrew via SMS led to a few more attempts, but we never made contact.

The yagi deployed.

The yagi deployed.

I made contact with VK3VKT in Werribee, who was testing out a new antenna as well, before closing it out with Ron and Tony VK3CAT on 2m FM. The wind was blowing very strongly, and I had to rescue my log book a few times before it disappeared down the mountain, but it was watching the wind get in under my phone and threaten to flip it over that made me decide it was time to descend. Four contacts made, but not much success to show.

The look of a man whose testicles have just reascended.

The look of a man whose testicles have just reascended.

I have since modified the yagis to use branded Belden coaxial cable for the quarter wave matching section – it appears that getting good quality cable means you’re much more likely to be close to the nominal Vf. Having replaced that, SWR for the 2m yagi is flat across 144-146.