ON7DQ Winter SOTA Tour - 9-12 March 2017

I wanted to do a 4 day tour of the summits in March like last year, with two goals in mind :
- do all summits which are above 500m and grab some winter bonus points

do at least 10 summits to get the 10 YEARS SOTA in Belgium Award.

For weeks I was watching the weather forecasts, but all predictions said : rain, rain, rain , …
I think I’d rather have the snow of last year, but rain … means the forest tracks would all be muddy !
Nevertheless, I started preparing myself for some “wet” activations, and got the idea to make a special SOTA-UMBRELLA, which also would include a well covered operating table !
Find more details of this contraption here https://on7dq.blogspot.be/2017/03/my-sota-umbrella-table.html 

Now what happens if you prepare for a lot of rain ? It doesn’t rain !

All predictions proved wrong in the end, and I had four days of mostly sunshine and temperatures of up to 15 °C … speaking of easy winter bonus points, hi.

So the man made a plan … for one summit in PA, and 11 in ON.
These are the summits I visited :

09/Mar/2017 PA/PA-002 (Vrouwenheide)
09/Mar/2017 ON/ON-026 (Le Mont d'Henri-Chapelle)
09/Mar/2017 ON/ON-001 (Signal de Botrange)
10/Mar/2017 ON/ON-009 (Iverst)
11/Mar/2017 ON/ON-025 (Burteaumont)
11/Mar/2017 ON/ON-011 (Sur Clair Fa)
11/Mar/2017 ON/ON-013 (Bois de Hodinfosse)
11/Mar/2017 ON/ON-010 (Baraque Fraiture)
11/Mar/2017 ON/ON-018 (A la Plate)
12/Mar/2017 ON/ON-019 (Bois de Javingue)
12/Mar/2017 ON/ON-004 (Bois de Hazeille)
12/Mar/2017 ON/ON-006 (La Croix Scaille)

I made 211 qso’s on this trip, an average of  17.6 qso's / summit.
Total points earned : 82, which brings me to 397 activator points to date.


PA/PA-002 (Vrouwenheide)

On my way to Aachen, where I wanted to do some shopping, I stopped at this PA summit, because it will be taken off the list on July 1st.  I parked at 50.846248, 5.955114, and took the short walk to the grass field on the summit.

There was a very light drizzle, so I did set up my newly invented umbrella and table :

The umbrella was a gift from my Toyota dealership ... how nice of Toyota to make it in the SOTA colours !! hi

On the table, place for the KX3, battery and even the logbook !
Antenna was the link dipole on a 6m fishing pole, my favourite SOTA antenna.

Even the operator gets a nice "sota teint" from the umbrella ...

I started on 40m ssb, but had problems to get myself spotted, my cellphone din’t get a network connection. This problem would bother me several other times on this trip !
So after two ssb qso’s , I switched to CW and got easily spotted via RBN.
Still , the activators were not fully awake yet, I only made 6 more qso’s before leaving the summit.

After my “shopping extravaganza” in Aachen ... it was time to move on … to my first of a series of ON summits.

ON/ON-026 (Le Mont d'Henri-Chapelle)

Easy parking near the picknick table at 50.677059, 5.920479, in the "Rue du Moulin a Vent".
Although you could operate at this table, the view from the bench a bit further is much nicer, so I chose to operate there.

For a quick setup, I chose my endfed wire, length 9.15m + 9:1 UNUN. Mounting this wire on a 10m mast is very easy, and also has the advantage to work on any band from 80m-10m,
just hit the autotuner button and I’m ready.
Disadvantage : from my experience, it doesn’t work as well as a dedicated resonant dipole.
I was able to selfspot, so made all 10 qso’s in ssb there.
And to my surprise , when I quickly tuned to 17m , I worked a station from Guadeloupe, TO3Z. So the vertical works better than I thought !

Some other novelty was my battery : in the red box are 8 Li-Ion cells (from a Dell laptop battery).
4 times 2 cells in parallel gives just over 16V when fully charged. The KX3 only accepts 15V, so I found an "autoswitch voltage reducer" in a QST article ( April 2015, page 39, original idea by AD5X, article also found here : http://www.ad5x.com/images/Articles/AutoLiPoVoltageReducer.pdf ).

For most of the discharge cycle, the KX3 gets more than 13.8V , and so can operate at maximum power of 15W (80-20m). Nice !

ON/ON-001 (Signal de Botrange)

Last summit before I had to go my B&B address in Raeren, near the German border.
It was getting late, so I set up on the parking lot (pos50.501208, 6.093355) , again using the vertical.
If I don't have to walk very far, I carry a heavy galvanized steel ground anchor, which forms a firm base for the 10m mast. It has a screw form, one condition is of course that you're not on rocky ground.

My cellphone had problems again, but to my surprise .. there was free WiFi on ON/ON-001 !
So I had the chance to look up the spots on Sotawatch and work 4 S2S : ON4KCY/P , M3ZCB/P , M1MAJ/P and MM/SP9MA/P
Made 5 more regular qso’s, and called it a day.


ON/ON-009 (Iverst)

On the second day of my tour I had only planned one activation. The rest of the time I did a tour in the Eifel region and went swimming …
Many hams use the parking lot on the German side of the road, but you can park one car on the Belgian side too, at this position : 50.408333, 6.369756, near an information panel.
Not far from the car, a short walk into the woods, I set up on the Belgian side of the road, again using the vertical. WX was sunny and almost no wind ...

Being early morning, I wanted to try some 80m, to give the ON hams a chance to work this summit.
But that was no big success, apart from hearing Don, G0RQL only briefly, and not good enough for a qso, I had to give up 80m, and made 19 qso’s on 40m, mixing SSB and CW.

And then it happened … the 10m pole I’m using is the 10m GFK Mast "MINI" from http://www.dx-wire.de
I wanted to retract it and suddenly I couldn’t … two elements wouldn’t go back in … what was going wrong ?
As it turned out afterwards, two elements got cracked up and some pieces of fiberglass came loose and blocked the sliding action. After removing the loose pieces I could pack the pole, but couldn’t use it anymore on this tour. What a bummer …
For only 60 Euro, one can not expect exceptional quality , but this is still a disappointment, this pole turns out to be what it is … cheap.

[ added July 2017 : in the meantime I could repair this pole, the two broken pieces were replaced, cost 7€ ]


ON/ON-025 (Burteaumont)

Saturday March 11 was chosen as my busiest day, because it was also the VK/ZL <> EU S2S Event. I set up on this easy drive-up summit to be on the air early, and because not too many visitors were expected there. Parking is here :  50.400523, 5.979388, along the Route du Wavreumont. 
This is a farm/forest road in bad shape, but drive slowly and you'll get there. The actual summit is in private property, but the parking spot is in the AZ.

I did hear one VK station that I think was talking to 2E0YYY, but as I was about to call him and ask to qsy , he went qrt ! So far for VK/ZL … I didn’t hear any other, called cq several times, but no joy … ah, well, I still made 7 qso’s , mainly in CW. 

Here a nice view from the summit :

ON/ON-011 (Sur Clair Fa)

The forest tracks were in good shape, so I drove up a little further than last year, and until the road was blocked by a pile of stones, parking spot is here 50.319992, 5.972432.
To your right is a grass field, when you walk to the highest point of that field (where you see a lookout tower), you're in te AZ and can set up.
If you want to walk to the actual trig point, it's about 30 minutes one way, on a fairly flat summit.
I made 14 qso’s , including 2 S2S.

ON/ON-013 (Bois de Hodinfosse)

This summit involves a  fair bit of walking, so I had calculated some more time for it. I also had my lunch there .. and then started walking. 
(I parked here : 50.309002, 5.845732 , and walked up to here : 50.314285, 5.847994)

Other novelty .. in Aachen I got myself a selfie-stick, everyone has one , right ?

Later I found out that Dom, M0BLF/P must have been on the summit at the same time, but I didn’t see or hear him, also had no QRM on the frequencies I used (he mainly operates 30m CW, and must have been at another side of the slope …).
Found a nice place in the sun, with an impressive view … and what a difference with last year, when all of this was covered in snow !

Armchair copy on ON/ON-013 ... well, just joking, I didn't make any 2m qso's on this summit, but I thought it was a nice picture, hi.

One would forget that I was there for SOTA … I had some nice DX contacts : K4DY at the early time of 12:06 UTC , and was also happy to log Geert EA8/PA7ZEE !
After logging 17 QSO’s, it was time to move on to ...

ON/ON-010 (Baraque Fraiture)

Super easy summit … drive to the big parking lot (pos 50.253133, 5.731574), , and find yourself a spot in a corner and set up ...

Again good DX from NE4TN and K4MF, and again EA8/PA7ZEE. Made 16 QSO’s, all in CW because my phone gave up again ... sigh.

ON/ON-018 (A la Plate)

EDIT 2022:  This summit is no longer drive up, but still easy to activate with only a short walk.
New parking spot is here : 50.313556, 5.528613 (near the football field).
From there it is an easy 10 minute walk to the summit. The summit marker is hidden between the trees, but makes for a nice operating table if you can find it ;-)
Look out for this shield:

Go into the woods and a bit later you will find this:

If you don't find it, operate along the track, like I did.

Easy drive up, go via the village of Wéris, take the "Rue du Broux", and drive carefully to this position : 50.322808, 5.544940, where you can park. The road is in a very bad state, so take it easy.
You can operate near the car if you wish, the summit is a flat ridge. The trig point is some 650m southwest.

This was my last summit for the day, so was a bit in a hurry … but the chasers seemed to have woken up and have all the time, they kept on calling … so ended my day on this summit with 30 QSO’s !

At 15:15 UTC I left the summit, found a nice restaurant to have dinner, and drove to my next B&B in Nassogne, near the summit I had planned for the next morning.


This Sunday coincided with the UBA Spring contest on 2m. So I took an early breakfast, and went to my first summit as quickly as I could  :

ON/ON-019 (Bois de Javingue)

I followed a tip from Peter, ON4UP, to drive up the road Sur Baulet all the way to the end, but I was a bit too optimistic, and drove past the point where I should take a path to the summit. Anyway I found a nice parking spot at a house in the woods (pos 50.155342, 5.281790) , took all my stuff (backpack, chair and mini table), then had to descend a little and found the path without trouble.
My operating spot was about here : 50.157758, 5.290215, where I had not too many trees blocking my view ... and the VHF signals I hoped ...

This time I used my FT-857D which is mounted in a wooden frame in my backpack, toghether with a Z100 antenna tuner for HF use.
With a special set of batteries (2 Dell laptop batteries in a homebrew frame, putting the batteries in parallel via diodes, giving 14~16V at 9Ah), I can operate 20 to 30 Watts without problems. I even took two extra batteries to make sure I could operate the whole contest. 

Antenna for VHF was the 4-element logperiodic I used last year (see my report from last year elsewhere on this blog), mounted at 2/3 of a 6m fishing pole.

I don’t know if my setup was not working or if the interest in contesting was low … but I made a meager 11 qso’s in 2 hours, none of which was a call from a regular SOTA chaser.

Of course the FT-857D has HF too … so I gave up on the 2m contest and wanted to try some HF …. Oops !
Being in such a hurry … I forgot to pack any HF antenna …. stupid me !
I did qualify the summit, so no problem for me … but sorry to those that would have worked me on HF … better luck next time.

ON/ON-004 (Bois de Hazeille)

This is an easy drive-up summit, with a nice operating spot behind the radar tower.
Park here :50.031536, 5.427229, and operate anywhere along the forest road. DON'T go into the woods as it is forbidden to leave the tracks !
Since this was my 10th ON summit, this was the one that got me the 10 Years ON SOTA Award … mission accomplished !

This was also  the place to test a lightweight antenna, used by many SOTA activators in the USA, the most famous one being Steve the “goatman” WG0AT. It is also the antenna recommended by Wayne N6KR of Elecraft.
The antenna is nothing more than 58 feet of wire, with a counterpoise of 13 feet.
It is connected directly to the rig, on a BNC to binding post adapter, no coax needed !
(some people use a 9:1 unun, which probably gets better results in tuning the antenna)

For us Europeans those lengths are 17.7 m and 3.96m.
I put up the radiator over my fishing pole, midpoint around 5m, and tied the end to a wooden lookout tower. The counterpoise was laid on the ground, KX3 on a small table, 50cm above ground. 
See picture above, I drew a line on it to show you where the wire was.

The KX3 was tuning the antenna, but SWR did not go below 3 on 40m … so I’m not really sure it’s an improvement over my link dipole. Again, like with the random vertical, it’s only advantage would be the multi-band operation, and maybe a little weight saving (no coax).
On the air, I got good reports despite the bad SWR, but that can also have been propagation at that time of day …
17 qso’s were made on 40m, I called cq on 20m but got no replies. Then made one qso on 17m and went on to my last summit for this trip.

ON/ON-006 (La Croix Scaille)

This is again an easy drive-up summit, but also a very busy place in the weekends. Many come to visit the “Tour du Millenaire” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_du_Millénaire ), which is a new steel tower, replacing an earlier wooden construction. Acces to the tower is free, and gives you a wonderful panorama. Many families also come for a Sunday afternoon walk in the woods …

I set up on a parking lot a bit further in the woods, driving past the tower, then to the right to pos 49.954181, 4.844514. Don't go left at the end or you'll end up in France.
Although this spot is not so busy as the parking at the tower, I still got more attention than I needed.
Walkers, or people with cars even stopped to ask if “the Martians were coming” or “if I had spoken to E.T. yet” … very funny indeed , hi. Last year a lady saw my headphones and wanted to know if I was listening to the birds hahaha.

The activation went very well,  a nice pile-up netted 51 qso’s on 40m, both ssb and cw.
Now I had carried a Linx 7” tablet for doing some PSK, but nobody really requested that I should use this mode … this was the last chance to give it a try.

So as a last part of my activation, I connected the tablet to my KX3 with my homebrew interface (see https://on7dq.blogspot.be/2017/02/my-kx3-digimode-interface.html) and started calling cq on 14.071 in PSK31. Spotted myself … and then waited, and waited …. and called more cq … and more …

After calling cq for 5 minutes, I finally got called by SV2OXS , thank you Christos for saving my day!
So my system seemed to work, but more cq’s didn’t bring any more qso’s, I gave up and packed up for the last time at 16:30 UTC and took the road home to Ostend, where I arrived at 19:30 UTC.

So far for this trip … thanks to all chasers for the qso’s !
Hope to do it again next year !

73 de Luc – ON7DQ

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Luc for an enjoyable bedtime read on my tablet. You had a good tour for sure.....
    73 Phil


All reactions will be moderated. Publicity or links to other sites are not allowed.