After a rainy and windy Friday, the weather was expected to improve a bit the next day. The temperature was still forecasted with around 0 °C / 32 °F, but no rain was expected. So, my friend Jochen (DG1PSI) and I thought we could operate outside. We have chosen a summit called Bernhardus. The summit is next to “Kaltes Feld” on the opposite side of the valley, where I was a some days before. With an 1.2 km / 0.75 mi trail and an ascent of 124 m / 440 ft, it is not the hardest summit around.
We had an appointment for 10 o’clock. The parking lot was still empty at the time, but the weather seemed a bit more difficult than expected. We have asked some other members of our local ham radio club if they want to join us. But surprisingly, no one wanted to get up early on a Saturday morning, hike and operate a radio in freezing temperatures.
As mentioned, the summit was near “Kaltes Feld”, on the opposite side of the valley. You can see the SOTA activation zone of “Kaltes Feld” on the left, the glider airfield in the middle and some miles in the background another SOTA summit called “Stuifen”.
The peak was easy to reach and invites enjoying the beautiful view.
Many thanks to Bob (K7ZB) who shares the following guest post:
The ATS-20 in HF CW Transceiver Mode
by Bob Houf (K7ZB)
I picked up an ATS-20 last summer and played with it on SWBC and the ham bands but found the telescoping whip antenna to be marginal.
The unit I purchased from Amazon turned out to be solid: no problems have surfaced after 9 months of intermittent listening. By default, I have enjoyed it primarily listening to FM in my office.
When I used my long wire antenna, the performance on shortwave greatly improved – easy copy of DX and the value of the receiver began to impress me.
Recently I came across a Swedish ham who co-developed a line of radios covering a broad range of WSPR and associated designs built to a very high standard.
Already having a WSPR setup I was intrigued by a very low power CW transmitter that Zach co-developed with KB9RLW which puts out 300mW on 40, 30 and 20 meters at a price point that is less than the ATS-20, and – most interestingly – the design of the radio allows it to work in transceive mode with the receiver by providing a T/R switch when used with the proper SMA-BNC cable arrangement.
I wasn’t sure if I should write a report about this activation. It was “average” at best. But I thought it might be worth to share that not all activations are perfect, with stunning views in an enjoyable environment.
I am a relatively new ham and completed my first exam in mid-2019. It took me a while to get my head around all the things that the new hobby is offering. My first successful portable activation was in May 2021 on the SOTA summit Michelsberg (DM/BW-855) – here is a picture of my most recent activation some weeks ago:
This first activation was in the middle of the Corona pandemic. The good thing during the Corona time was certainly the possibility to work from home. Before Corona, I did commute roughly 65 km / 40 mi (oneway), which took me in total 2–3 hours daily. During the first two years, I was in the office two times. In the third year, I was there more often, maybe once every two months.
Two weeks ago, my employer announced a “return-to-office” policy, so the “sweet life” was coming to an end.
After the first disappointment, I thought that this may offer me the chance to work portable at new locations. The next SOTA summit is around 20 km / 12 mi away, but a POTA park begins 2 km / 1.2 mi from the office at the pin in the map below. The park is basically all the green wood in the center of the map.
That comes in very handy, as POTA, with the possibility to operate next to my car, does make it easier than hiking in suit and tie to a SOTA summit.
The Nature Park Schönbuch, POTA DA-0008, located southwest of Stuttgart, is a wooded area of 156 km² / 38,000 acres. In 1972 in became the first nature park of the federal State of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The park is an important recreational area for the region.
Right at the beginning of the park, when coming from my office, there is a parking place and next to it a clearing with a fireplace. I thought that this would be a perfect spot for my activities. Weather was cold and windy on my first “return to office” day, I did not expect too many people to be there.
After working and reading the article about the 2023 QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo, I decided to leave the office early at around 4pm and started my activation.
The parking place at the park was pretty empty, just one old car with four lads in it and doing whatever lads are doing in the woods. I have a 16-year-old son and have given up trying to understand what boys at that age are doing.
The spot was OK, but not as perfect as I had thought. It was in a trough surrounded by large trees. In addition, it was wet, cold and windy.
Due to the wind, I have decided against the 10 meter / 33 ft pole and used the PAC-12 again.
The actual activation did not go as smoothly as my previous one. It might have been due to the time, and afternoon during the week, or the topographical conditions. With a small foldable seat and a tiny desk made of a trunk and a brick, I operated for 40 minutes.
In total, I made 16 QSOs; 10 on the 30-meter band and 6 QSOs on 20 meters.
Although I made a successful activation of the Nature Park Schoenbuch, DA-0008, I think I need to change my plans. Being in the office and therefore close to this park more often in the future, I will be more picky in terms of weather and location. The park has way more to offer than a wet and cold meadow in the middle of the woods. I will look for better weather and locations, such as the following – I just need to find those places.
A completely under-prepped SOTA & WWFF activation which turned out to be perfect
In preparation for a tough conversation a good friend once told me: “You know what, just walk into the fire. If you have bad news to deliver, don’t sugar coat it and do it right away. You’ll be fine.”
“Just walk into the fire.” I believe this can be applied to many other situations in life. While I would consider myself to be well-prepared on most trips, hikes and activations and getting a lot of joy out of optimizing my kits I try to stay open-minded. Imagine the things you would miss out on if you wouldn’t be spontaneous or only do things while fully prepared and 100% safe – even if it means taking risks.
Last Wednesday, I kind of walked into the fire. Not fire as in fire-fire but fire as in Latvian winter storm. In general this wouldn’t be such a big deal had I brought the right clothes, gear and shoes to my short business trip to Riga.
Due to very strict luggage restrictions I could only bring one small backpack for three days. Inside I had enough room for a laptop, washbag, spare clothes and the compact QCX-Mini Kit I built for exactly these occasions. I was wearing sneakers and jeans. At this point I had not planned a specific activation but I wanted at least to be able to operate YL/ & /p maybe 30 minutes from a nearby park – not a problem if you can jump right back into the warm hotel afterwards.
During our stay, my schedule for Wednesday morning freed up so I decided to try activating one out of only three SOTA summits in Latvia: YL/YL-003. It turns out this summit is also located within WWFF territory YLFF-0007 about a 1,5h drive from Riga. Big Thanks to Val (YL2SW), Latvia’s WWFF manager, for assisting me with local rules and processing my log. A quick look at the weather forecast showed freezing temperatures, 90% chance of snow, heavy winds and overcast. Many of you will understand why a SOTA&WWFF combo in a rare country could be a small reason not to use the hotel’s sauna on a day like that. Sometimes things just need to get done.
I got up early the next morning and was very happy to be able to grab a Bolt rental car from the street and get going quickly. The drive went by without issues up to a point just about 3km away from the mountain (well, 1-pointer hill I should say). The roads were completely covered in snow so I could barely see where I was driving. Latvia is a rather flat country but here it started to get a bit hilly and the tires were certainly not cut out for that. Continue reading CQ From Latvia with Love→
POTA and I had a very one-side relationship so far.
Roughly a year ago I tried to activate a park, but although I spotted myself, I had not been able to make a single QSO. In April last year, I tried it again, with the same result. Luckily, I was on a SOTA summit and spotting me on SOTA brought me enough QSOs to make it a successful activation for both, POTA and SOTA. So I decided to disregard POTA and my only POTA activity was watching Thomas (K4SWL) nice videos on YouTube.
My bad experience with POTA was probably due to two factors:
I only had an intermediate license previously, which limited me on HF to the 10, 15 and 80 meter bands and
POTA was no as popular in Europe and Germany in particular as it was and is in the US. While SOTA and the Flora & Fauna program already had a very active community in Europe for years, POTA had a hen and egg problem.
However, with the increasing popularity of portable operations, POTA has also gained some traction in Europe. I have the feeling that every time I take a look at the spots on the POTA website, I see more European stations.
Things here in Germany have changed for the better, too. POTA got a German website (parksontheair.de) and a community called “Draussenfunker.de” (“Outdoor ham”) with website + Discord that became very active with those pursuing outdoor activities in general and POTA in particular. Lately, local POTA coordinators have been named, who started to add new parks to the program.
I thought suggesting a recreation area close to my home would be a good idea. A few days later I had the brand new POTA park DA-0410 30 minutes away. The park has a size of 6.3 km² / 1,567 acres and a peak elevation of 780 m / 2559 ft, which is also the SOTA summit Kaltes Feld (DM/BW-659).
My plan was to operate from the clearing on the top plateau, where there is also a mountain hut with restaurant. The 2 km / 1.25 mi trail was not very difficult with an incline of just 105 m / 344ft as the parking area is already at an elevated level.
Although the park extends to the proximity of the parking area at the Hornberg gliding airfield, I wanted to be in the SOTA activation zone due to my bad experiences with POTA activations. The gliding site was founded nearly 100 years ago. After the First World War, the Allies largely banned motor flight sports in Germany, so gliding airfields, such as this one, popped up across Germany. Continue reading Guest Field Report: Germany has a new POTA activator!→
Many thanks to Thomas (DM1TBE) for the following field report:
Shivering with 18 WPM on the ruins of the medieval Hohenstaufen Castle
by Thomas (DM1TBE)
It had been two weeks since my last field activation and my bad conscience grew, so a friend and I scheduled an activation, even with expected temperatures at -2 °C / 28 °F. The choice fell on the summit Hohenstaufen (DM/BW-102).
The Hohenstaufen is one of the two SOTA summits that I can see from home in Southern Germany and one of the so-called group Drei Kaiserberge – the middle one does not qualify for SOTA, unfortunately.
A Little Bit of History
On top of the summit are still ruins from the medieval Hohenstaufen Castle. The castle was built around 1050 and used until 1525, when it was looted and burned down during the German Peasants’ War. The summit has been populated since at least the 8th century.
The castle (picture from 1470 above), was the seat of the Hohenstaufen dynasty to whom belonged several Kings and three Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, which, at its greatest extent, included the area of Germany, Switzerland and parts of France, Austria, Italy, Czech, Belgium, Netherlands, Slovakia – or easier: almost all of Central Europe.
There is not much left of the castle nowadays, but you can still spot parts of the foundations and walls.
Due to the positive experiences during the last two activations, I decided to go with an end-fed half-wave antenna for the 30 meter band along with my Elecraft KX3, a 4Ah LiFePo4 battery, a 10 m / 33 ft fibreglass pole and the BaMaKeY TP-III (a 70 g / 2.5 oz light magnetic paddle). The paddle is too light for me to use, so I usually attach the magnetic base of the paddle to a metallic clamp on a clipboard. Although I studied computer science, I prefer pen and paper for logging. Part of the fun is the guessing of the logged call signs after an activation.
How two Scottish SOTA activations encouraged me to upgrade my German license
by Thomas (DM1TBE / M0KEU)
I just wanted to tell someone this story. Not sure if you want to hear it, but I will tell you anyway
During June last year, my boss asked me if I could step in for an ill colleague and visit a business partner in Frankfurt and Edinburgh. As a SOTA activator, I first checked the map and have happily spotted a summit within walking distance of the hotel in Edinburgh.
Unfortunately, there were three issues to solve:
The UK does not accept my German “Klasse E” (CEPT novice/intermediate) license;
operating a radio on the summit requires written permission and
as the duration of the trip was planned with just 2 overnight stays, only hand luggage was possible.
At the Ham Radio in Friedrichshafen, I asked an RSGB representative if it is possible to get a British license as a German. Mark, M1MPA, explained to me how the process worked, so I started the online course provided by GM6DX. It was not too difficult, and I soon passed every mock exam. Roughly, two weeks before the trip, I passed the RSGB operated online exam and got my UK foundation license, so I could operate in Scotland as MM7TBE.
Regarding the issue with the permission to operate on the summit, I first chose to ignore and pretend being a stupid foreign tourist until I was told that it is really enforced, and my activation could be deleted. So, I asked the Ranger Service at Historic Environment Scotland for permission less than two weeks before my activation and received it just one day later with a comment that it is usually expected to ask one month in advance. Many thanks to the Ranger Service, next time I will come earlier – I promise!
The last issue was the size of the equipment.
There is no tree on top of the summit Arthur’s Seat GM/SS-272, and I had very little space left. So I went with a KX3 with an AX1 antenna and a FT2D for 2m FM.
Now the journey could begin.
On the first day, I was at a very high place in Frankfurt but unfortunately, it did not qualify for SOTA. That evening I arrived in Edinburgh.
The next day, late afternoon, the fun could start.
Many thanks to Skip (K4EAK) who shares the following guest post:
The QRPguys DS-1 Portable Antenna Kit
by Skip (K4EAK)
There have been several videos and extended comments lately about the Elecraft AX1 and AX2 antennas, both of which function remarkably well for a small, highly compromised antenna.
For those interested in other, similar designs, especially those hams who find that building the equipment is half the fun, another option to consider is the QRPguys DS-1 antenna.
The DS-1 is similar in concept and design to the AX2. It consists of a base-loading coil, a 46.5-inch collapsible whip, and a plate to attach the antenna to a small tripod. One can also purchase an add-on 40-meter coil. The can be deployed in just a couple minutes and, when collapsed, the longest portion is only 6.5” long, easily fitting in the palm of one’s hand. QRPguys recommends a 16.5′ counterpoise; I use two such wires, usually spread out at a 180-degree angle. I’ve also used it with a clamp-on mount and a car window mount.
Building the antenna is simple and took me less than an hour. After installing a BNC connector into a brass plug and inserting the plug onto a length of PEX tubing, one simply runs the supplied 22AWG wire from inside the tubing, out and around making 22 turns, and then sealing it with a length of heat shrink tubing.
There are really only two aspects of assembly that are slightly more difficult. The first is that it’s necessary to drill and tap two holes for 4-40 screws, which obviously means that (1) one needs a 4-40 tap and (2) one needs to be careful tapping the threads to assure a clean cut. The second is that the heat shrink tubing, at least as supplied in my kit, was grossly oversized, which required some finesse in getting a final product that was at least reasonably aesthetic, to say nothing of accomplishing that without dry roasting my fingertips.
Field testing of the DS-1 shows that it works surprisingly well. The SWR is well below 2.0 across almost all of the 20-meter band and where it is higher than that (the upper end of the voice portion), the KX2 internal tuner can tune it easily. As one would expect, on 40 meters the antenna has a somewhat narrower range, although the KX2 tuner has handled it on all of the frequencies I’ve tested so far (all CW). And it appears to be efficient enough.
I have used it on numerous activations and consistently get to the requisite 10 contacts within 20 minutes or so after getting spotted. After that, the number of contacts depends on the time available, but for those occasions when I have only a 30-minute window for an activation, the antenna is a convenient and practical alternative.
I keep the antenna, the tabletop tripod, and the counterpoise wires in the water bottle pocket of my pack, ready for use whenever I have a few moments for a quick activation.
AX1 Test using American Radio Supply AM-801 Window Mount: POTA Activation at Stuart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge, K-0228
February 19, 2023
By: Conrad Trautmann (N2YCH)
If you’ve been reading the posts here on QRPer.com lately, you probably already know that the Elecraft AX1 has proven to be an excellent antenna for POTA activations for CW, SSB and Digital modes.
Personally, I used it for a New York City POTA rove I did at the end of 2022 and was able to activate four parks in one day all over Manhattan.
Recently, Alan, W2AEW contributed a story to QRPer.com detailing how he used a window bracket he constructed with an AX1 to do a CW park activation from his car. I’ve actually done a few digital activations from the car using the AX1, however, I used the tripod with the Elecraft tripod adapter and ran coax to it out the window and draped the counterpoise down the hood or trunk. This has worked well except for windy days where it would blow over. I was intrigued by the possibility of using the window mount and a number of the commenters to Alan’s post suggested sources for these types of mounts. I ended up ordering an AM-801 from American Radio Supply.
Since the AX1 depends on a counterpoise wire to operate properly, the first thing I did after receiving the AM-801 mount was to drill a hole in the base for a screw and a wing nut. The base is painted black, so I got my continuity meter out to double check that the screw was making a good ground, which it was. I had to bend the mount up slightly for the antenna to be vertical, since my Jeep windows don’t have much of an angle to them. I’m sure it would be just right for most cars.
Many thanks to Brian (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:
Building and Testing the VK160 Antenna
by Brian (K3ES)
The ability to set and achieve long- and short-term goals keeps me interested and active in the Parks on the Air (POTA) program. Often these goals are associated with POTA awards. Currently, I am working slowly to complete the activator version of the James F. LaPorta N1CC award, which requires an activator to make QSOs on 10 amateur bands from 10 different parks. With my operating style, I have found it achievable to make QSOs on the 9 available HF bands (80m, 60m, 40m, 30m, 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m, and 10m), and this has become easier with the rising solar cycle. I have completed QSOs on non-HF bands using 2m and 70cm simplex. The other options to pick up 10th band QSOs include the 6m band and the 160m band.
I have found it difficult to make unscheduled POTA contacts on 2m and 70cm, and scheduled contacts can be difficult to arrange in parks that are remote from population centers. I have built a 6m antenna, but contacts are seasonal (and for me very elusive). So I started looking for a way to add 160m capability to my portable station. Ultimately that resulted in homebrewing a new antenna that I now call the VK160, and here is its story.
I needed a field-deployable 160m antenna. My operating style requires that the antenna system be both light and compact. QRP power levels are sufficient for my purposes. I am very comfortable deploying wire antennas in the Pennsylvania woods, and QRP wire antennas can be both light and compact. I have found that end-fed antennas are simpler to deploy in the field, because they can be configured as an inverted V or as a sloper, using only one point of support.
An end-fed half wave (EFHW) antenna would be naturally resonant, but would need to be over 250 ft (76m) long. A wire antenna of that length would be challenging to deploy, even in more open areas. So, I decided to pursue a 9:1 unun-based end-fed “random wire” (EFRW) antenna. In fact, I have two commercial EFRW antennas available, but have never been successful in tuning them for 160m using the ZM-2 tuner in my field kit. So, I concluded (probably incorrectly, but more on that later) that I needed to build a 9:1 random wire antenna with a longer radiating element than the 71 ft wire built into my largest existing EFRW. I also wanted to build this antenna myself, using available components, so that it would be both inexpensive and customized to my needs.
I broke the task into four parts:
First, I needed to build a 9:1 unun suitable for use at QRP power levels. The 9:1 unun is an autotransformer that reduces antenna feedpoint impedance by a factor of 9, hopefully a level that a wide-range tuner can match to the 50 ohm transceiver impedance.
Second, I had to design and build mechanical elements of the antenna system, incorporating the electrical components needed for the feedpoint.
Third, I needed to select a suitable non-resonant wire length for the radiator.
Finally, I needed to deploy and test the finished antenna on the air. If successful, testing would culminate in completing an on-air QSO with the antenna being driven at 5 watts or less.
Building the 9:1 Unun
While I have built successful 49:1 ununs as the basis for EFHW antennas, I had no experience building 9:1 ununs. Accordingly, I started with the ARRL Antenna Book, then a web search. VK6YSF’s excellent web page provided very detailed instructions for 9:1 unun construction. His 9:1 Unun design was based on a FT140-43 toroid wrapped with heavy gauge magnet wire, with design power rating around 100 watts. My application was focused on 10 watts maximum, and I wanted a lighter-weight solution to the unun design.
Looking at the components I had available, I found FT50-43 toroids and 24 AWG magnet wire in my inventory. I had used those during construction of successful 49:1 EFHW antennas. The VK6YSF design, built with the smaller toroids and lighter magnet wire, seemed to be a good (and cheap) starting point.
The next problem that presented itself was a problem with translating the winding technique to smaller wire and a smaller toroid. Put simply, my fingers do not have the dexterity to wrap three parallel 24 AWG wires around a ½ inch OD toroid without getting them crossed, twisted, or worse. So, why not twist the three conductors from the start, and wrap the toroid with “trifilar” windings? It would be simple enough to identify the mating wire ends after wrapping, just with a set of continuity tests. That would facilitate proper connection of the wires to yield the final auto-transformer configuration.