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Activation of HB/VS-006 Matterhorn on September 9

Dear all:

On Tuesday, I was able to successfully activate the Matterhorn, HB/VS-006 and complete a total of eight QSOs.

Below, please find a few images from the activation.

Route
We took the Hörnli Ridge, the ‘easiest’ of the several ascents to the summit. Good descriptions are e.g. available from

The pure climbing difficulty is often rated as UIAA III to III+, but the real challenge is not in the technical climbing per se, but the fact that

  • the ascent is >1200 m in vertical distance,
  • the orientation is very difficult, in particular in the first third of the route, while missing the optimal route leads into loose rock and or areas exposed to stonefall from the main route,
    and
  • the descent is as difficult as the ascent, i.e. you must climb fully focused for the entire tour of 7 - 9 hours, about half of the time in altitudes 4000m+ above sea level.

Hence, even experienced climbers usually go with a local mountain guide who knows the path along the maze of rocks even in darkness. I was glad to be guided by Emanuel Julen, a very experienced local mountain guide from Zermatt. Still, you have to climb for yourself :-).

The Matterhorn has actually two summits, the a few meters lower “Italian” summit with a summit cross, and the main Swiss summit. Both are divided by a ridge with a dip / saddle in between. I think that the Italian summit is still in the activation zone, but did not check that.

We started at 4:50 local time (2:50 UTC) at the Hörnlihütte (3260m asl) and arrived at the main summit (4478m asl) around 8:20 a.m. local time after 3 hours and 30 minutes of relatively fast climbing without any major stops.

After a short break on the main Swiss summit, we traversed a few meters back to somewhat protected small place, where I started my activation.

Activation
As it was clear that the available time on the summit would be very short, I designed a special vertical SOTA antenna for this activation. I will post more details later; in short, it is an up-and-outer (vertical with 1-2 radials) attached to a 5m carbon-fiber mast and designed to be used with an Elecraft T1 auto-tuner.

I had trained and optimized the fast deployment on the Breithorn plateau and the Oberrothorn HB/VS-125 the days before (e.g. attaching a small potato to the end of the radial for easy yet decomposable way of deploying it).

At 6:30Z I arrived at the operating position, and at 6:35Z I was QRV. Chris @F4WBN was the first to answer my call, then followed @EA2DT , @ON4VT , @ON7ZM , @HB9BAB /P, DL7UKD , @OK2PDT and @9A9AA . @HB9BAP was likely an S2S and I sent my REF, but could not get his REF.

By 6:48Z I had bagged eight QSOs, packed up, and the long and challenging descent began.

Descent
As expected, the descent was as challenging as the ascent, and by the time you already have a 3 - 5 climb in thin air in your bones. We started the descent by 6:55Z (8:55 local time) and arrived back at the Hörnlihut roughly 3 hours and 20 minutes later.

A big thanks goes to

  • all chasers,
  • to Emanuel for the excellent guiding and mountain companionship,
    and to
  • to Manuel @HB9DQM and Matt @HB9FVF, who were the first to activate the Matterhorn and encouraged me to make my latent plan a reality when we jointly activated the Dammastock HB/UR-001 in 2019.

73 de Martin, DK3IT

Overview picture:

(Picture taken by Andreas Jentsch, see www.bergsteigen.com )










40 Likes

Here is a first picture of my “fast activation antenna system” approach. The basic idea is

  • focus on fast deployment and handling and see whether it is “sufficiently effective” for a SOTA activation with a small window of time on the summit,
  • use a radiator as long as feasible (ca. 4.2m in my case and hence a lot longer than all ATX-1080 and similar),
  • make a T1 tuner core part of the design for fast matching of unavoidable variance wrt feedpoint impedance due to differences in soil and radial placement,
  • add a high-Q loading coil at the base (likely a lot lesser losses than the ones from the autotuner - currently ca. 10.5 uH at 0.05 Ohms).

It works very well so far! The performance varies - at 12:00Z with the radials deployed on snow RBN spots reported 26…31 dB SNR. On a muddy summit at (HB/GR-292) at 15:00Z, I had to fight to get an RNB spot and only got a 6…8 dB SNR report when I elevated one of the two radials.

I still have to investigate whether the main factor of influence are the ground losses (could be that the large area of snow on the glacier was in fact a very effective ground) or the relatively flat angle of radiation and the directionality of the antenna determined by the position of the radials (which is often given by the topology of the summit).

73 de Martin, DK3IT


18 Likes

Congratulations !!
Nice photo !

Ivica 9a6cw

Congratulations, Martin! You are now the first and so far only OM who has managed to activate Matterhorn and obtain points for it :+1: :grin:

Nice job – we all know it’s one thing reaching a summit like this one in the first place (and getting back safely), and another having the time and conditions to do an activation, especially on HF.

Alas, I couldn’t hear anything from you on 40m at home, so I’ll keep waiting for my chance to complete… :wink:

Congratulations to Jürg @HB9BAB, who has now managed to do a Matterhorn S2S from his beloved Altberg HB/ZH-015 for the second time!

73, Manuel HB9DQM

4 Likes

Congratulations !!
Woow

Well done Martin, congratulations on the simple and functional antenna.

With regard to the different SNR values at different locations and different times of the day, I would really not let myself be unsettled: The reception conditions at the location of the skimmers change not only with the time of day, but also with the sometimes strongly and rapidly fluctuating propagation conditions.

Furthermore, the influence of the soil properties on antennas with radiator lengths of </<< Lambda/4 is possibly often somewhat overestimated

That said, before investing a lot of time and effort into this matter, it would be worth doing SNR comparisons with the same antenna at the same times of day in the same location on consecutive days.
Very different SNR values occurring in these comparisons would definitely be guaranteed and not an indication of an antenna in need of improvement.
Or in short, leave everything as it is now.

73 gl, Heinz

4 Likes

It was really my pleasure to log you! One of the highlights in my SOTA contzcts. Will QSL via BURO !
73 Danny ON4VT
handtekening

1 Like

Hello Martin @DK3IT.

Thank you for the exciting report and the captivating pictures. The picture IMG_7306 and IMG_7434 are my favourites :+1: :goat:

Congratulations on this successful activation and that you have returned safely.

73 Marcel DM3FAM

2 Likes

Congrats on the successful activation, Martin, and thanks for the detailed report and the great pictures!
It really takes some dedication to design an antenna especially for this single event! Well done :mountain: :goat:

73, Roman

2 Likes

Hello Martin. All I can say is…Wow. Great photos and congratulations. Well done.
:grinning: :beers:

73 de Geoff vk3sq

1 Like

Congratulations Martin,

Well prepared and well done mountaineering on such an iconic summit. :+1:
Thanks for the scenic views.

I guess you were using the mountaintopper as radio?
Is this combo (MTR + T1) lighter than a KX2 with integrated tuner? Just wondering

Looking forward to the next top of the alps report.

73 Joe

2 Likes

Congratulation Martin,

excelent Job.

73 and take Care.

Michael

2 Likes

My TinySOTA box is ca 330 g, the T1 including battery 156 g. The Elecraft KX2 including ATU and battery 570 g (according to the specs). So there should not be a big difference. As I operate CW-only (because 1. of the relatively high chance of success for quick alpine activations without violating my personal no-self-spotting ethics :wink: and 2. the beauty of it), a KX2 would not add any benefit for me.

Also note that the TinySOTA box is already contained in a water-proof and robust Peli 1010 micro-case, while the bare KX2 might not do well in a backpack with crampons and climbing gear. Plus, mine includes a Micro-USB charger for the internal Lipo, so you can recharge it on the hut without a bulky charger.

But I agree the KX2 is a beautiful radio.

Btw: I am considering to build a variant of the new antenna that includes a complete CL-match (by adding a variable capacitor and maybe taps to the coil. This would make the T1 obsolete, and likely still cover the variance in the feedpoint impedance.

The big advantage of the T1-centric system is the speed of deployment - I can throw out the radials, tap “tune” and am QRV in less than 5 minutes. The price is a single point of failure - if the T1 fails, so does the activation. But on a summit like the Matterhorn you have only a single shot anyway - any backup gear would be too time-consuming to deploy.

I am also considering to buy a new Peli 1010 case and mount the inserts rotated by 180 degrees. The paddle would then point to the hinges and the empty cover. In that I could mount a write-in-the-rain log so that everything would be in one place for operating in a free-standing position.

My main lesson learned from activating alpine summits in Summer and Winter over a period of almost five years is that you need to apply a “systems thinking” approach to your SOTA station for more challenging summits, i.e. a solution that takes into account weight and size, time to deploy, space to deploy, and reliability.

A few critical aspects are imho:

  1. Speed is key. In Summer, we have the risk of summer thunderstorms. In Winter, it gets cold so damn quickly. And there is always the descent.

  2. CW is most reliable because you will most likely reach someone with a sufficient SNR for a contact. The sea is larger, there is more fish out there, and more evenly distributed ;-).

  3. Antenna performance is overrated (my verticals are likely 6 dB less efficient than my @HB9BCB 3-band EFHW, but still reliably sufficient to get 339 - 559 reports and RBN spots from 5 W). But ATX1080-style antennas are too bad for 40m (and not as robust as my vertical). Time to deployment and the ability to set the antenna up directly from my backpack is key.

  4. Except for contest days, focussing on 40m plays out best. There are simply more chasers with good stations, and more RBN skimmers. Even on contest days, the lower end of 40m is often a good choice (7.002 ±).

  5. Don’t be worried by a chaotic pile-up. It is easier and faster to catch 5 QSOs from a crowded pile-up than earning them one by one on 30m or 20m. On the Matterhorn, I was unsure whether to set a full public alert or just a wildcard one (or just tell my top-chasers). But then I decided that it is more fair to all SOTA enthusiasts and more promising to set a full alert knowing that I would not be able to work the entire pile-up (sorry to anybody who tried in vain!).

  6. In case of QRM or other interferences, it is better to go on and not to QRG. You loose too much time until RBNhole and the chasers will have realized your new frequency. Sometimes moving by just 100 - 300 Hz will help - it’s close enough for chasers to find you from the old spot.

  7. For chasers: Being a reliable chaser with good operating habits and being frequently in an activator’s log pays out, simply because I as an activator will understand your callsign faster and from a wild pile-up, I will be able to memorize it without writing it down, I will be certain I got it right from the first transmission, and I will feel obliged to return your kindness of being on the air whenever I need you to earn my points.

Ok, this went a bit off-topic :wink:

73 de Martin, DK3IT

8 Likes

Amazing! Congratulations!

Martin,
You take my breath away. That is on a completely new level. I particularly like your second photograph, that shows who the boss is!!

Very well done congratulations on a superb achievement.

Kind regards
David
G0EVV

1 Like

Congratulations Martin for this extraordinary achievement!

And thank you very much for showing us your your equipment and explaining your thoughts that led to this system!

When seeing your very well thought through system and your excellent building skills, I think, as you already mentioned, the replacement of the T1 could be your next challenging project.

It could be a very simple but robust (water resistant and manual tuning, so no battery power needed) matching solution that is directly attached to the telescopic mast. Like that, your additional base high-Q loading coil would be already integrated, which would further improve the efficiency and reliability of the whole system.
Just my two cents.

73 Stephan

2 Likes

Excellent achievement Martin. Excellent report and some smashing photographs, especially the one above the cloud tops.

David

1 Like

Your example proves that any success should be well planned. Success is not a coincidence.
Congratulations again.

Jacek SQ9MDN

3 Likes

Martin,

Congratulations on your activation. Your achievement, and the photos, simply take my breath away.

73’s
David
G4ZAO

3 Likes

Amazing! Martin, fantastic activation.
Top class!
73
Vlad

1 Like