by Thomas (DM1TBE)
The last weekend was pretty nice and just like an invitation to operate outdoors. As I wrote in one of my previous posts, I often activate summits on the Swabian Alp, a high plateau, which falls with steep cliff-like edges and many SOTA summits to the northwest. If you approach it from the foothills where I live, the sharp edge is clearly visible.
On the way to the ascent, you came along old, picturesque villages. If you look closely, you can see the “Maibaum”.
The tradition of erecting a “Maibaum” (Maypole) is a long-standing custom in Germany, particularly in the southern regions. The Maibaum is a tall wooden pole that is decorated with colorful ribbons, wreaths, and symbols of the local community. It is usually erected on May Day or the night before and is a symbol of spring, fertility, and community spirit. In some regions, it is also accompanied by folk dances, music, and festivities.
It was my third activation of the summit Römerstein, and every time I used another transceiver.
My transceiver history
When I started with ham radio, I used an old Icom IC-706.
The lack of modern features such as DSP and filters, and the current consumption made it not the first choice for portable operators. I soon switched to an Icom IC-7300 at home and got used to a waterfall and spectrum display. After two activations with the 706 I bought a Xiegu G90.
During the time of my first activation of the Römerstein, I operated only in SSB. So, I was happy with the G90. The display was small, but way better than my old 706. I was satisfied and used the G90 until I started with CW. In CW, I prefer using headphones until today. The sound of the G90 was uncomfortable for me. The lowest volume was too loud, a lot of loud cracks annoyed me, and I was never happy with the filters.
I heard a lot of positive things about Elecraft’s KX transceiver line and luckily, I got a used KX3 for a fair price.
I was impressed by the exceptional performance and the pleasing audio quality of the KX3 transceiver, which swiftly became my preferred device for portable operations – and the second device I used for the activation of this specific summit. Also, the CW memories were something I learned to appreciate, as it made long activations much easier.
After a while, I sought to enhance my comfort level and operating efficiency, I decided to upgrade my home transceiver to the SunSDR2 DX, which offered several nice features such as local skimmer functionality, clickable callsigns in the waterfall, and the ability to expand the waterfall display to the extent of my 34” monitor or view it along with other programs. That’s the nerd in me coming out.
However, I realized after some time that I missed the waterfall or at least a spectrum during my outdoor activations.
While recognizing that most people do not require or want a spectrum/waterfall outdoors, I found it to be an important element in my enjoyment of the activity. I explored the option of the Elecraft PX3, but was deterred by the need to carry and wire an additional device, as well as its high cost of approximately 1200€ or $1310, which was nearly equivalent to the price of the Lab599 TX-500 transceiver in its entirety.
After much deliberation between the TX-500 and the IC-705, I ultimately decided on the latter due to its internal battery, advanced display, and “fancy-ness”. Although I had to accept the absence of an autotuner and the device’s clunkiness, I was content with my decision.
So, I took the Icom IC-705 for its first test with me to this mountain Römerstein (DM/BW-078). The summit is in the Swabian Alb Biosphere/Nature Reserve which can be activated for POTA (DA-0203) and the WWFF DLFF-0034. The hike is rather short with 0.5 km / 0.3 mi and only a slight inclining trail
The name “Römerstein” means “Roman rock,” and it was believed referring to a large boulder at the summit that has served as a boundary marker during Roman times, as there was a Roman settlement between 85 and 260 AD east of the mountain. However, it is assumed now that the name is not derived from the Romans, but a family called Rem, which settled in the region during the 14th century.
On my way up, I have seen a boundary stone with the symbol of Württemberg, a former kingdom and one of the two regions that form the federal state I am in. The boundary stone does not make much sense to me as it looked too new and the border of Württemberg is not in the area. Unfortunately, I forgot to check the other side, maybe there was something on it that could provide me a hint.
On the summit of the mountain is an observation tower.
The tower with a height of 28 m / 92 ft was constructed in 1912 by the local hiking club, the Swabian Albverein, which operates 29 of such observation towers. I have written a bit more about this hiking association in my activation report for the Wasserberg. The tower’s architecture is a timber boarded structure resting on a stone foundation. Its viewing platform provides an unobstructed view of the northern region. At the bottom of the tower is a small shop for beverages, so you can enjoy a cold beer when using the BBQ sites at the foot of the tower or after operating ;).
The IC-705 found its place on a small camera tripod with flexible legs, that I bend, so it has a much more secure stand and was easily readable.
You may notice the names and callsigns below my notebook. Those are my top chasers and other people I want to greet with name.
The antenna was a multi-band end-fed half-wave antenna for 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10-meter band. I have thrown one end over a nicely placed tree and tied the other end at a picnic table. The bright color of the cord came in very handy as the place became increasingly busy over the time of my activation.
I started with the 30-meter band, but since the antenna wasn’t resonant, I had to use an external ATU. On the 30-meter band, I made 29 QSOs in about a half hour. It is very convenient to have one QSO per minute. If I forget to note the time, what happens regularly, it is easy to interpolate.
During my activation in France in the previous week, I had numerous SSB contacts. So, I thought giving it a try again and switched to the 20-meter band. After I completed a sked with a member of our local ham radio club, I spotted myself and had a huge pile-up just seconds after sending the spot. I singled out a callsign or better the last 3 letters, but about 5 chasers did not stop but shouted their callsigns and other inaudible things again and again, so I couldn’t hear the station I wanted. After several attempts to bring order into the chaos, I became angry and stopped the activation in SSB without having completed a single SSB QSO and continued in CW. What a pity!
However, I can see two chaser QSOs for SSB and one FM (???) that were submitted to the SOTA website. After a brief discussion in our local SOTA group, I learned that those QSOs are called “phantom QSOs” and occur regularly. But I still don’t understand why someone wants to fake a system without having any benefit.
I completed another 30 QSOs in CW on the 20-meter band, so I ended the first test of the transceiver with 60 QSOs. Not too bad for the very first operation.
I am quite happy with the IC-705, except the things I already knew, i.e. the clunkiness and the external ATU. I will need to find an adequate transport casing for the transceiver, and Thomas (K4SWL) videos are a good source to get ideas for it. The only thing that bothers me -even after days-, is the abysmal operating discipline on SSB that I have experienced. I am very sorry for all the operators who tried to get the 10 points in an orderly way.