Signal de Botrange ON/ON-001 and ONFF-001

On Wednesday 30th July, we headed back over the German/Belgium border, into Belgium and activated Summits on the Air (SOTA) peak Signal de Botrange ON/ON-001 and World Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) area Hautes Fagnes-Eifel ONFF-001.

It was about a 90 minute drive from Prum through the mountains back into Belgium.  The countryside was spectacular as we passed through a number of small villages.  It was hard to believe that this was summer, as the landscape was so green.

Signal de Botrange is the highest point in Belgium, climbing to 694 metres (2,277 feet).  It is worth a total of 8 SOTA points and is located at the top of a broad plateau, and a road crosses the summit, passing an adjacent cafe.

Screenshot 2014-09-09 13.41.34

Map courtesy of googlemaps.com

Screenshot 2014-09-09 13.44.26

Map courtesy of googlemaps.com

In 1923 a six metre high Baltia tower was built on the summit to allow visitors to reach an altitude of 700 metres.  The tower was named after Baron Herman Baltia, a Belgian military officer (1863-1938).  A stone tower was built in 1934 and this reaches 718 metres.

General_Baltia_Herman

Above: – Baron Herman Baltia.  Photo courtesy of wikipedia.

A meteorological station was located at the summit for many years, but in 1999, it was replaced by a nearby automatic station of the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium.  The summit experiences extreme temperatures and these are usually lower than at any other place in Belgium.  Fortunately on the day of our activation, the weather was overcast but fine.

IMGA0048_4

The summit is located within the Hautes Fagnes (High Fens) covers 12 municipalities of Belgium and was established in 1957.  It is the largest nature reserve in Belgium, with an area of 4,501.2 hectares (11,123 acres).  In winter, the area becomes Belgium’s premier cross country ski resorts.

IMGA0050_2

We operated from the edge of the carpark and attached Eddy’s end fed antenna to the 9 metre squid pole which in turn was attached to a nearby post.  Again for this activation we used the Kenwood TS-50.

IMGA0043_4

There was a nice large flat rock nearby which served well as an operating location.  As we were close by to the main carpark for the nature park, there was a lot of traffic.  I was surprised at how many visitors there were to the park, considering that it was a week day.  We certainly did attract some odd looks as people arrived and prepared to head off for a walk into the park.

IMGA0040_3

IMGA0047_4

Whilst I was operating my tolerant wife Marija went for a walk along the boardwalk at the rear of the cafe, and took some photos of the 700 m marker.  The actual trig point is a short distance from here.

IMG_0435 IMG_0437 IMG_0438

I commenced on 40 metres and remained there for the duration of the activation.  My first contact was with Luciano I5FLN, and this was followed by a steady flow of callers from Europe and the United Kingdom.

Again, it was a little too late for propagation to Australia on 20 m.  We had enjoyed a bit of a sleep in at the hotel and a nice breakfast, so we had just missed the window for long path propagation into Australia on 20 metres.

IMGA0042_4

I managed three WWFF park to park contacts during the activation:

  • OK1FHI, OKFF-010
  • DL1ASF, DLFF-127
  • DG6LAU, DLFF-040

Fortunately there were no equipment issues during this activation.  Everything went very smooth.  After an hour of operating I ended up with 51 contacts.  All on 40m SSB.  The following countries were worked:-

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Spain

Screenshot 2014-09-09 14.52.22

Another very enjoyable activation.  My second in Europe.  It was time to hit the road again, and journey north through Belgium back home to Ghent in northern Belgium.

I would like to thank Marnix and Eddy for their time and effort in allowing me to activate the 2 summit/WWFF areas in Germany and Belgium.  It was a hug he amount of fun.

Schwarzer Mann, DM/ RP-003 and DLFF-047

I have just returned from 7 very enjoyable weeks in Europe.  Whilst there I had the honour to stay for a week with Marnix OP7M, his wife Martine, and their 16 year old son Goan.  I have spoken with Marnix many times on the radio, and also on Skype, but this was the first time we had met in person.  My wife Marija and I had a very enjoyable time at Marnix and Martine’s home, with plenty of laughs, good food, lots of stories, and our fair share of Belgium beer.  Whilst staying with Marnix, we also met Eddy ON6ZV and his wife Carine and their son.

Marnix knew I was a keen SOTA & parks activator, so the day after arriving, on 29th July, Marnix, Eddy , myself and Marija headed over the border into Germany for a SOTA and WWFF activation.  It wasn’t a short drive to get there.  In fact it was about a 3 hour drive to our destination near Prüm.  However, Marnix had told me that this was a beautiful area, and was well worth the drive and an opportunity to see the Belgium countryside.  Indeed it was.  He and Eddy also had plans to activate another summit / WWFF area on the way home the following day, in Belgium.

The chosen summit in Germany was Schwarzer Mann, DM/ RP-003, which is 697 metres (2,286 feet) above sea level and is worth 6 SOTA points.  Its grid square locator is JO30eg.  The summit is located in the German (Low Mountains) Association in the Rhineland-Palatinate Region.  It is located in the western part of the Eifel mountain range, which is known as Schnee Eifel (Snowy Eifel) and  is about 14 km from the little village of Prüm.  Schwarzer Mann means ‘Black Man”.  It is the highest peak in the Schnee Eifel and the third highest in the Eifel.  The summit was first activated by DL/ON6DSL/p on 24th December 2007, and has been activated a total of 42 times since.

Screenshot 2014-06-26 17.54.53

Map courtesy of sota.org.uk

The summit is also located in World Wide Flora and Fauna area, DLFF-047, German-Belgian High Fens-Eifel Nature Park.  The area is known as Naturpark Hohes Venn-Eifel in German and is often called the North Eifel Nature Park (Naturpark Nord Eifel).  It is a cross border nature park with the German federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as the Belgian province of Liege.  The park comprises a total area of 2,485 km2.

Karte_Naturpark_Hohes_Venn-Eifel

Map courtesy of wikipedia.com

The areas surrounding Schwarzer Mann is a well developed hiking area and the largest skiing area in Rhineland-Palatinate.  The heavily wooded mountain side is covered mainly with spruce trees and is host to some rare wild animals including the wildcat, which sadly I didn’t see.  Or maybe that isn’t so bad!

Felis_silvestris_silvestris_Luc_Viatour

Image courtesy of wikipedia.com

We set up just north of the summit off the L20 road which passes through the park.

IMGA0095_3

The vegetation here was very different to home.  Despite it being summer time, he forest was lush and green and very thick.  A stark contrast to the parks in South Australia during summer.  And not a single gum tree or kangaroo in sight!

IMGA0005_4 IMGA0006_4 IMGA0011_5

Because of reciprocal licensing issues, I was not able to operate under my own call sign.  Germany did offer the option of a 3 month temporary licence, so prior to leaving for Europe I applied for a German temporary operating licence, which would have allowed me restricted operating rights.  However, I had left my run a bit too late, and did not receive the documentation from DARC until I had left Australia.  But there was another option.  As I am a police officer, and Eddy is a police officer, we used the call sign of ON4IPA, which belongs to the International Police Association (IPA).  In fact, Eddy is the caretaker of that special call sign and the Chairman of the IPA in Belgium.  As I am a Detective here in South Australia, this was a really neat call sign to use.

on4ipa

Our equipment was Eddy’s Kenwood TS50, and his ‘Hy End Fed’ half wave end fed antenna which we attached to the top of a 9 metre squid pole.  A very easy antenna to erect.  More information on this antenna can be found at…..

http://www.hyendcompany.nl/home

3b200pc

I initially started off on 20 metres on 14.244 and called CQ a number of times, with Eddy at my side doing the logging on the laptop.  But there were no takers.  I kept calling CQ for about 5 minutes, before being called by Vincenzo IZ5YHE and then Rudolf OM3CHR.  However their signals were extremely low and it was a struggle to make the contacts.  With a degree of frustration, we checked the antenna and it appeared ok.

I kept calling CQ for a few more minutes, but sadly there were no takers.  Now I was starting to get disappointed.  Perhaps band conditions on 20 m were not good?  So we QSY’d over to 40 metres where we tuned across the band and found the Commonwealth Games special event station, GA14CG.   Signals were still down despite being able to make the contact.  Something was clearly wrong.  Again we checked the antenna and it appeared all okay.

Again, I put out some CQ calls and no takers.  So this time we hooked up an LDG auto tuner, and found the VSWR to be very high.  After further checking we found an issue with one of the patch leads and replaced it. This solved the problem and we were back in business.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

IMGA0101_2

I then moved up the band a little to 7.144 and called CQ and this time I was greeted by a number of callers.  My first caller here was Keith G0TSH.  A steady flow of European and UK callers followed.  I worked a total of 43 stations before moving back to 20 m where I worked another 5 stations before handing the mic over to Eddy.

A number of the stations that I worked during the afternoon, recognised that I did not have a Belgian accent.  They must have been wondering why is an Aussie operating a Belgium call sign in Germany?  This included Manuel, EA2DT, who I have worked many times before whilst I’ve either been in a park or on a summit in Australia.  During the QSO Manual said; “One question.  Is you Paul, Victor Kilo 5 Papa Alpha Sierra.  Is you Paul, roger?'” Once I told Manuel that it was in fact me at the mic, he was very excited, as was I.

I ended up with a total of 51 contacts.  The majority of those being on 40 metres, and all from Europe and the United Kingdom.  The following countries were worked:-

  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Slovak Republic
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Wales

Sadly it was the wrong time of the day for good propagation to Australia.

Screenshot 2014-09-09 14.54.18

As a result of this activation, I found that World Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) is extremely popular in Europe.  Many of the stations I worked were very keen on the WWFF reference number.  Who knows, maybe WWFF will kick off and become popular in Australia too.  It hasn’t been for the lack of trying!

After the activation we retired to our accommodation, which was the Hotel Zum Goldenen Stern in Prüm.  That night we enjoyed a very nice meal and a few good German beers.IMGA0018_4IMGA0019_5

IMGA0024_5IMGA0022_5

References.

Wikipedia, 2014, ‘Schwarzer Mann’, accessed 9th September 2014, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwarzer_Mann&gt;

Wikipedia, 2014, “High Fens-Eifel Nature Park’, accessed 9th September 2014, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Fens_–_Eifel_Nature_Park&gt;