Sunday, 22 June 2014

2014 EU Tour Day One - A visit to Botley Hill G/SE-005

Our short walk up Botley Hill
Two of us that's me, Phil G4OBK (Navigator & Co-Driver) and Nick G4OOE (Driver), were heading for the Dover to Dunkirk Ferry on a road trip down to Austria, with a plan to activate SOTA summits in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany...  ....
After leaving North Yorkshire early morning we allowed enough time to reach the parking area for Botley Hill G/SE-005 and activate it on HF.  The TomTom was set to Oxted and took us around the west side of London on the M25.

A short walk with a small ascent from the car park up the Vanguard Way long distance path, brought us to an unusual water tower and a commercial radio mast on the summit. We both set up our individual stations in a field on the top and operated for around 30 minutes - time was short as we had a boat to catch from Dover. 

Nick leaves the designated car park close to Botley Hill - a path goes through some bushes adjacent to the road and comes out at the crossroads where you walk up The Pilgrim Way
The writer at the water tower and mast on Botley Hill G/SE-005
Whilst we were there a couple arrived. It turned out they were members of the RHB Group (Relative Hills of Britain Group) and after surveying the exact location of the highest point they came over for a chat. They seemed impressed that we we were aware we were on a Marilyn summit and that we knew about the 150m prominence that all Marilyns have... We told them a bit about SOTA and what we do before they departed. 

RHB Members surveying the summit of Botley Hill
With 38 contacts completed between us on 20m, 30m and 40m in CW/SSB we packed up and made off to Dover for the boat. By 7.30pm (EU time - one hour later than BST) we were motoring through Belgium on our way to a Bed & Breakfast place called Gastenkamers Offermans in Bierbeek near Leuven - the other side of Brussels. 

Unpacking at our Bed & Breakfast in Bierbeek - recommended
A walk into the village brought us to a fast food Friterie - the Belgian equivalent of a fish and chip shop. We'd had a meal on the DFDS Ferry, however the temptation was too great to resist and we had a "small portion" of chips which turned out to be very large... A short walk then took us into a local pub, serving small beers. Pints were not available, so we had a small one before heading back to the B&B. By this time it was around 11.00 pm so time for bed.
Next day we had planned to activate three Belgian summits, meet up with two Belgian SOTA friends for lunch, and then travel to the highest point in Luxembourg to activate there. 

Link to Day 2 - Belgium & Luxembourg

Saturday, 21 June 2014

2014 EU Tour Day Two - Belgium & Luxembourg

The Gastenkamers village B&B at Bierbeek was superb and we left there at around 7.30am after a lovely breakfast. Our plan for the day was first to activate two Belgian summits and join the SOTA Belgium Association Manager Peter ON4UP with Franz ON9CBQ on the "summit" of ON-010 Baraque Fraiture. We were to activate that summit together after lunch and then motor on down to Luxembourg to LX-001 near Wiltz, where we were booked into a hotel for the night. 

As we left Bierbeek we stopped to view this ornate water tower, before we joined the E40 motorway to Sur Clair Fa ON/ON-011:

Amazing artwork on the Bierbeek Water Tower - Bierbeek is near to Leuven
ON/ON-011 Sur Clair Fa

Most of the Belgian and Luxembourg summits are in the wooded Ardennes region. The walk from the car to the summit on ON-011 took less than 15 minutes after we found a parking place up a woodland track. We both shared my station, after setting up in the woods at a footpath - bridleway crossroads. Our parking place and GPX track can be downloaded from the Sota Mapping Project website. 

A sunny day - Nick operating on ON-011 Sur Clair Fa

We completed 64 contacts on 30m and 40m and then made off to our next summit:

ON/ON-013 Bois de Hodinfosse

My GPS shows where Nick G4OOE parked for ON-013 - again this was up a woodland track, which I located using Open Street Map. Here you see Nick setting up on the "summit":

I operated my own station about 200m away from Nick and we suffered no problem with breakthrough with each of us running 30 watts from Yaesu FT-857 transceivers. With the lions share of contacts being made on the 40m band we decided that for the remaining summits on the tour that Nick would concentrate on the 40m operations and I would fill in gaps in propagation by looking for longer distance contacts on the 30m and 20m bands. The plan worked well.  After less than an hours operation we packed up.  We were meeting out friends Peter ON4UP and Franz ON9CBQ for lunch at an Auberge on the summit of ON/ON-010 Baraque Fraiture and didn't want to be late...

ON/ON-010 Baraque Fraiture

A minor navigational error took us down a country lane on our way to ON-010 but by that time we were close to the summit and being talked in on a 2m handheld by ON4UP, and here we are on the summit (!):

Left to right: Peter ON4UP - Franz ON9CBQ - Phil (Writer) ON/G4OBK - Nick ON/G4OOE

The Auberge is located on a crossroads well within the activation drop zone of 25 metres. After drinks and a Croque Monsieur Peter took us into the woodland on the summit to locate the trig point. Our mission was successful:

We then made our way to our operating positions on a large car park on the opposite side of the main road. This car park gets full in the winter when snow is lying as it serves a ski area. Today we were the only people using it. Between us we activated on the 4m, 2m, 30m and 40m bands before bidding our farewells to our Belgian friends and making for the highest point in Luxembourg, Steekammchen LX/LX-001 which is near to the town of Wiltz where we were staying overnight in a hotel.  

LX/LX-001 Steekammchen

Once again a woodland track (tarmac) took us near to the summit. We drove beyond the highest point and then walked back and across some rough land to an area used for harvesting wood. It was after the end of the working day so there was no one around. I set up by some log piles, and Nick set up about 300m away to avoid interaction between the two stations. 

Operating position among log piles on LX/G4OBK/P on LX-001

Nick sets up his dipole antenna for LX/G4OOE/P on LX-001

We operated for just 30 minutes and we both found conditions disappointing, with 40 contacts between us. We had a slight problem in that Nick had left his Morse key in his car. Whilst monitoring the Rucksack Radio Tool app I noticed a spot from Roy G4SSH saying "Morse key forgotten" against Nicks SSB spot. That was a cue for me once I completed my CW activity to stroll over to Nick's position and loan him my Palm Key...  I finished off five SSB contacts with GM4YMM, EA2CKX, G4ZRP, OE3GGS and DG9WD before going QRT. NIck went on to complete 11 CW QSOs with my Morse key including S2S contacts with HB9BAB/P and DL4FDM/P. 

We then returned to the town of Wiltz and our hotel which was a former Tannery:

After a stroll around town we noticed it was a public holiday and the only place to eat was at our hotel. We returned there for our evening meal after a great day on the road and activating four summits. 

Next day we planned to activate LX/LX-003 before the long drive into the Baden Wuerttemberg (DM/BW) region of Germany - Link to Day 3

All my GPX tracks can be obtained from the SOTA Mapping Project provided by Rob DM1CM.

Friday, 20 June 2014

2014 EU Tour Day Three - Luxembourg & Germany

A drive of less than an hour from our hotel in Wiltz took us to another high woodland in Luxembourg. Now we were near to the German border. We parked inside the activation zone on Kiirchbesch LX/LX-003 and walked along a track into a beech wood.  The two stations were set up alongside the track:

Nick LX/G4OOE/P operating in the wood on the summit of LX-003 Kiirchbesch

Conditions were very good on all three bands (40m, 30m & 20m) with 92 contacts completed between us in less than an hour.

Returning to the car we were soon crossing the German Border and looking for somewhere to eat. We found a garage and transport cafe within a few hours driving time and stopped off for lunch, having the special of the day as seen on this advertising board:

We weren't sure what we were getting, but as we both like Schnitzel we ordered the €8 dish anyway. The meal turned out to be Schnitzel cooked in a pepper sauce and it came with a pile of chips. We were well pleased! 

Moving on we came across several road closures. These Umleitung (German for diversion) signs became a familiar sight. In the UK when road closure diversion signs are erected you can often get through. Not so in Germany - if the sign says Umleitung, it means Umleitung, take the diversion. Towards the end of our day we were travelling through a housing area in Deilingen within 2 Km of our final summit of two on the day, Rainen DM/BW-042. After several failed attempts to get through with lots of arm waving from construction workers we took the long way round.  A track into woodland led us into the activation zone and our stations were set up 100m each side on Nicks car. 

Summit top marker on DM/BW-042 Rainen
We made 57 contacts between us before heading to our accommodation for two nights at the Gasthof Adler in the nearby town of Obernheim. The hotel was cheap and cheerful and mine host was most welcoming. The tariff being €65 per night in a twin room. 

Our plans for the next two days was to activate as many ten point summits in the DM/BW area as we could on our way to Tettnang near the Austrian border.  Nearby Friedrichshafen has a large exhibition centre similar to our Birmingham NEC and hosts the biggest annual ham radio convention in Europe every year over three days in late June. You can liken it to The Motor Show, but this was event is for radio hams, not petrol heads! 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

2014 EU Tour Day Four - DM-BW Baden Wuerttemburg Region

It was the Wednesday before the Friedrichshafen Ham Radio Convention. Our hotel in Obernheim started breakfast at 6.30 am and we were on our way to Lemberg DM/BW-038 just after 7.00 am. 

DM/BW-038 Lemberg 10 points

Track both ways shown in SMP - thanks to DM1CM  for his invaluable SOTA Mapping Project
This was another wooded summit just north of Gosheim with a large tower and picnic area. We parked under some trees and it took just 12 minutes to reach a clearing on the 10 point summit. The clearing was impressive, especially the tower, wooden building providing shelter, and benches and picnic tables. 

Nick DL/G4OOE/P- operating on Lemberg DM/BW-038 Dipole (30m) left Vertical right (20m)
Nick set up his station initially on a bench and after a period of operation using his dipole he moved position and set up on a picnic table with his loaded vertical antenna on a tripod. I set up about 50m away from Nick on a bench using my 6m long "Life's a Breeze" pole and link dipole. Once again we had no problem with interaction which was quite surprising, as we were both running 30 watts output on 20m, 30m and 40m. 
There was an information board and weather station in the porch of the large wooden building on Lemberg
With five more summits planned in the day we completed just over 50 contacts between us before heading off back down the hill. 

DM/BW-228 Hummelsberg 10 points

My maps showed an airfield on the top of a 1002m high hill which had been activated on over 80 occasions. This was one of local ham Klaus's (DF2GN) favourite summits.  We were fortunate to meet Klaus later in the day when he came out looking for us. The airfield turned out to be owned by a glider club, but there was no flying whilst we were there midweek. A good track took us by car right on to the summit which had a fantastic shear drop take off for 180 degrees from SSW round to NNE.  We tossed a coin and I got the bench, whilst Nick set up around 200m away from me. 

DL/G4OBK/P operating position on Hummelsberg BW-228
After 77 QSOs between us we packed up and moved off to the next place. As we neared the bottom of the hill in the car we noticed a big gun DXers QTH, whoever lives there has got some very nice HF antennas and a  SOTA summit right on his doorstep:

DM/BW-195 Zundelberg 10 points

Yet another wooded summit and I was satisfied we found the top contour at the end of a maze of tracks by using Open Street Map. 

A wooden watchtower was situated here 100m from where Nick parked his car. In the picture below you can just see Nick setting up at the side of the track. The photo was taken from the base of the watchtower where I set my station up. 

We were on our own in the forest for the hour and completed 69 contacts. Next stop was Hohenkarpfen DM/BW-074, which is another of Klaus's favourite summits. 

DM/BW-074 Hohenkarpfen 10 points

Hohenkarpfen DM/BW-074 - 912m high
This summit proved to be one of the most prominent and beautiful places we visited on our tour. The parking area is just before a restaurant and a footpath climbs to the summit - the time to reach the 912m high ten point summit was less than 15 minutes...there aren't many one point summits as easy in the UK I have to say and for this easy walk we got another 10 points, I'm not complaining - SOTA was never meant to be a level playing field once it became international.

The was once a large castle on Hohenkarpfen, and you can see that the ground has been worked. Now there is a painting mounted on a tree on the summit itself to remind us how it looked. The name plate also shows the height of the summit:

We set our stations up around 100m apart with Nick covering the 40m band and me on 30m and 20m. Our combined total was 66 QSOs. The strongest station which we both worked was Klaus DF2GN/M and we had seen him, unknowingly as we drove past, in a lay-by about one mile from Hohenkarpfen car park. This was a chap setting up a vertical antenna on a tripod on the roof of his car - and this had been Klaus... 

The activation completed we walked back down to the car to be greeted by the man himself - Klaus DF2GN who had purposely driven to the car park after his contacts with us from close range. It's not the first time this has happened to me. I was once met by Geoff G6MZX on G/NP-028 Rombald's Moor. The same thing happened last year in the car park for Moel Famau GW/NW-044 when Karen 2E0XYL turned up.

After a lengthy chat to Klaus about LiFEPo batteries we set off for our fourth summit of the day - this was "Klaus's shack" and the main summit from which he had conducted many of his antenna experiments - Lupfen DM/BW-057. 

DM/BW-057 Lupfen 10 points

Commemorative stone at the parking area for Lupfen DM/BW-057
After following Klaus DF2GN to the car park below Lupfen (near to the town of Talheim) we set out for the summit, a walk which took just 12 minutes. I had seen a picture of the large wooden clad structure on the top before.

Klaus DF2GN says "Welcome to my shack"
The structure on Lupfen is in fact a tall tower with enclosed sides and a door. Inside there was a table and benches, so it would be possible to activate the summit in any kind of weather, and this is what Klaus has done several times in the past in the depths of winter.  With some people sat in the prime operating spot on the summit we were a little pushed to seperate our two stations, however Klaus approached them and they said they did not object to me setting up my gear close to where they were sitting. Nick moved around to the back of the tower and set up his station there. 

Klaus DF2GN with guest operators Nick G4OOE and Phil G4OBK holding a summit meeting inside the tower on BW-057 Lupfen
Thinking back I regret not climbing to the top of the tower, but then there were other things on this trip that I regretted not doing... Activating summits was the priority over everything else and that came first, and we had another summit to do some distance away before we returned to Obernheim, so as we got into the late afternoon time was short. All three of us operated on HF before heading back down the hill.

After some very useful advice from Klaus we opted to make DM/BW-156 Lindenberg - our 6th and final summit of the day. We bid our farewells and were really pleased that Klaus was able to accompany us up Lupfen as he was recovering from a recent sports injury.

DM/BW-156 Lindenberg 10 points

This summit was on a plateau and we drove into the activation zone again on forestry tracks north of Ippingen. Our operation took place inside the top contour between a wood and a field which had been recently cut for sileage...there lies a tale. Nick set up his station with the antenna running alongside the wood, I set up my dipole antenna with one leg into the cut sileage field and the other into the wood.

A communications tower across the fields on DM/BW-156 Lindenberg
Nick was well away from my chosen position and making lots of contacts on 40m. I was on 30m but conditions weren't so good. Suddenly I heard the sound of a tractor and realised that the tractor man was about to drive into one side of my dipole antenna as he turned over his silage crop... in a panic I whipped the fishing pole down and tore at one side of my dipole, breaking it yes, but more importantly, removing it from the path of the tractor. I then had the time to snap a quick photograph.
When tractor man arrived my pole was fixed to the wooden post before I quickly took it down snapping my dipole in two
The driver waved and smiled and continued on his way turning his crop! 

I repaired my antenna and managed another four contacts on 20m (one with N7UN which pleased me) before packing up. Between us we managed to complete 62 contacts. 

With an absence of shops and garages on our route all day we had survived on a couple of energy bars and apples. On our way back to Obernheim we came across the Rose Pizzeria by a railway crossing in a town of which I cannot recall the name, and enjoyed an excellent Italian meal there on our way back. Sixty points in the bag - a lot of driving and not so much walking. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

2014 EU Tour Day Five - DM-BW Baden Wuerttemburg Region

DM/BW-845 Hummelskopf QRV 0719z - 0755z

After another 6.30am breakfast at Gasthof Adler in Obernheim we set out for Tettnang, a working town near to where the the Ham Radio Show at Friedrichshafen is held. 

On the way there we were to activate five summits in the DM/BW region and earn another 48 points...

Nick G4OOE prepares to start the walk up BW-845
Hummelskopf BW-845 was our first target and after some hesitance in finding a suitable start point, as well as the need for the use of a lavatory in the nearby town of Tuttlingen, we drove up a forestry road to park. The summit was on a wooded plateau about 2 Km from our parking place, so this was one of the longer walks of our tour - that is the nature of the terrain in the Baden Wuerttemburg Region, where a 10 point summit can be much easier than many 1 point summits in the UK. The DM Association adopted a 100m prominence rule when they formed, which seems out of step with the terrain. However, we made the best of it by making 100s of points on our trip...

The forester working close to where we parked
We could have got nearer to the top by driving into the forest, but felt this was not wise as the roads used were not well mapped. As we were parking near to a huge pile of logs the forester arrived in his tractor to start work for the day. We overcame the language barrier and agreed a suitable parking place.

The walk to the summit of Hummelskopf DM/BW-845 (Open Street Map in Garmin Base Camp)
Using Open Street Map we located the highest point in woodland, with Nick setting up near some fallen trees and I about 300m away, next to a brew wagon for the foresters, who were their a day off. I fastened my fishing pole to the tow bar on the wagon and commenced the operation on CW. 

I went QRT after 35 minutes using the 30m, 20m and 17m bands.

DM/BW-159 Blatthalde QRV 0957z - 1027z

Have you ever set up your station on a see-saw on a children's playground on the top of a forested summit? Well this is what I did on BW-159 Blatthalde...

Seesaw mounted Yaesu FT-857 30 watts - Palm Morse Key - Rite in the Rain logbook - RRT for spotting - 6m pole & link dipole

Once again this was a walk of reasonable distance from the public road -  2.5 Km up and 1.5 Km down - we found a shorter route back. The summit is in a forest clearing with a large hut, camping ground, seats and a children's playground.

There was no one there except us, sunshine and an extremely pleasant activation ensued. Our shorter return track and parking place can be found in the SOTA Mapping Project run by Rob DM1CM. 

32 QSOs were completed on 30m CW and 20m CW/SSB in half an hour before we moved off. 

DM/BW-161 Wartenberg QRV 1148z - 1158z

We weren't aware of it but when we reached the top of Wartenberg (8 point summit), we found we were on a metalled road, next to a small rural factory unit. As we unpacked our gear another car drew up containing two moustachioed gentlemen. Nick whispered to me "Have you seen the registration"? I looked over and noticed the Yaesu logo above the actual car number. Introductions were therefore called for and we met Rene ON6VI and Frank ON6UU, two keen Belgian SOTA Activators who were also on their way to the Friedrichshafen Rally, getting some SOTA points en-route.  My photo shows Rene and Frank using their most comfortable set up on the summit of Wartenberg, note the spade, used as an antenna support:

Frank DL/ON6UU/P and Rene DL/ON6VI/P operating on 40m SSB from BW-161
With Frank and Rene setting up for SSB we concentrated on CW, and decided to assemble just one shared station 100m down the road. This was therefore a short activation which saved us valuable time. We needed the time as we still had two further summits to visit and a restaurant, for our evening meal, prior to the final drive to our hotel in Tettnang.

DM/BW-193 Schacher QRV 1244z - 1316z

This was another drive on activation and we were to meet yet more visitors - German Hams on their way down to the Ham Radio Rally at Lake Constance. These included Tom DL1DVE who I worked mobile on 20m CW just prior to his arrival!

I sighted my station underneath a large wind turbine and used the signage for it as a support.

Another visitor to my station on Scacher who was not going to Friedrichshafen!
Below is a communication tower on the summit plateau that is Schacher:

With 72 contacts logged between us on HF we motored of to our next and final summit of the day, DM/BW-570 Neuhewen. 

DM/BW-570 Neuhewen *a ruined castle* QRV 1529z - 1605z

We needed a good meal inside us after our final activation of the day. Food outlets, shops and cafe's were scarce in the rural area we were travelling through and lunch has been missed in favour of energy bars and apples... We later found out that we could have parked a lot nearer to the summit of BW-570, however it seemed appropriate to park at the restaurant we were later dining at and walk from there, so we booked ourselves in before heading off into the woods to the ruin of Newhewen. The restaurant is called Hegaublick which also serves as a biker and motorists cafe. Here is Nick heading off after an ice cream to our last summit of the day:

I recall the walk starting from Hegaublick took around 30 minutes before we reached the ruined castle. We were able to reach the wall in one place. The masonry looked dangerous and dilapidated so the authorities had fenced most of the place off to prevent intruders like us getting in....

We set up our stations on a woodland path about 100m apart and well within the 25m activation drop zone. With 68 contacts logged on the 10 point summit we made our way back to Hegaublick for our meal, which was delicious:

Well fed we made our way south to the working town of Tettnang, where we stayed at the Hotel Baren. The next day was spent at the Ham Radio Convention at Friedrichshafen, with an afternoon excursion into Austria, to activate Pfander OE/VB-512 and enjoy yet another gourmet meal in the fellowship of some friendly radio hams who we had never before that day...

2014 EU Tour Day Six - Ham Radio Friedrichshafen and OE/VB-512 Pfander

The previous night we arrived at the Hotel Baren in Tettnang with 18 summits activated so far on our trip...

Our Hotel in Tettnang were we stayed for three nights
By shortening our day today at Ham Radio, the biggest radio convention in Europe, we would be able to drive into Austria to activate an easy to reach summit in Vorarlberg near Bregenz called Pfander - but first we visited the rally, meeting up at lunchtime with many of our SOTA friends from all around Europe. Here are a few pictures of our day...
The writer going into the exhibition
SOTA Activators - every one of them!
Martin DF3MC - Juerg HB9BAB - Nick G4OOE

Japanese Lusso Tower ladies looking lovely

The Friedrichshafen Ham Radio event is a great place to meet like minded amateurs who specialise in your specific branch of the hobby. Since Summits On The Air became popular over ten years ago, enthusiasts have met up at lunchtime informally in the exhibition centre. This year Emil DL8JJ and Martin DF3MC were doing a presentation entitled "Extreme SOTA". 

After meeting up with fellow enthusiasts, including Milos S57D who I met the last time I was there in 2009, Nick and I left the show in mid - afternoon and drove into Austria above Bregenz to the summit of Pfander OE-VB-512. A cable car goes up to the summit from the town, but there is a car park and restaurants on the summit, making this one of the easiest activations you could do. We were able to walk around 300m from the car to set up our stations on some benches around 100m apart. As soon as I turned the radio on I became aware of a loud pumping sound on the 20m band - this was Peter OK1CZ on CW and who was also on the summit close to me and who was making SOTA contacts. Ed was there also - DD1LP, (See link) alongside him (he later went on to SSB) and then Herbert OE9HRV turned up and we shook hands, and another SOTA friendship was created. Meanwhile, Nick OE/G4OOE/P was bashing away on Morse on 40 metres a short distance away. 

Station set up of OE/G4OBK/P on OE/VB-512 Pfander overlooking Lake Constance (Bodensee)
The summit was awash with radio hams, but Herbert (who lives in nearby Bregenz) had left this radio gear in the car, a wise move with four stations active as there may not have been enough chaser contacts or sufficient free spectrum to go round....

Later in a restaurant on Pfander: L-R Phil G4OBK, Herbert OE9HRV, Peter OK1CZ, Ed DD5LP (Nick G4OOE took the photo)
After our activations Herbert phoned a local restaurant on the side of the hill and we made our way there to enjoy beers and an excellent meal. We met up again with Ed DD5LP the next day, after the show, when we activated another summit together in the German Low Mountain region - see my next blog... (Link to BW-349 Aacheck & BW-350 Rinkenberg)