Trip to Europe Part 2 (we activate in Liechtenstein)

Part 1 of our trip to Europe can be found here: Part 1

Part 2

Friday evening found us in the campsite on the out skirts of Munich, it was basic and the “site” was more like a car park, nothing like the places we are used to in the UK with 5 metre spacing between. We were so close to the toilet block it was nearly en-suite too. Caravans, campers, motor-homes and tents from all over the continent were wedged into any available space. The nice thing about being so close to your neighbours was that we all got on and it quickly dawned that many were geocachers. Another minor issue we had was the free internet range was only in the vicinity of the bar, so we had to go there regularly; such a hardship.

The Saturday was spent partly at the geocaching giga-event in the centre of the Olympic stadium and also exploring the surrounding, well-kept Olympic Park. We bumped into many friends from various parts of Europe who had previously visited the UK for caching events. We enjoyed the afternoon with two caching friends, who had been on a coach trip from the UK, caching and taking in the views from the top of the park’s transmitter/observation tower. The highlight of the day for us was a guided tour of the unique roof over the stands of the main stadium culminating with a 40 metre abseil back to the ground.

Helen by the Gigaevent sign and the Olympic tower

View of the stadium, fair and lake from the top of the Olympic tower

The walk along the edge of the Olympic stadium roof and Helen and Carolyn hanging around (pictures kindly provided by our friend David, geocaching name walktall)

Sunday we travelled to just outside Lindau where we had booked a campsite called Gitzenweiler Hof for 5 nights, chosen because it provided a perfect base to explore the border areas of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It was another very busy site where almost all available space was used and where you had to be extremely careful when manoeuvring a vehicle around the site avoiding children of all sizes running around and playing on bikes.

Monday was a “get to know the area” day, done mostly by caching. While driving through Lindau we found accidentally an artisan bakery which had the most wonderful sandwiches and cakes; we went there every day of our stay. We also had to get a vignette (Austrian motorway toll sticker) before crossing a section of Austria to get to Liechtenstein.

There were a few specific caches we wanted to find. One was a newly published cache in Austria (there is kudos in being the first to sign a blank logbook) and then it was on to Liechtenstein’s First (old caches, in this case 2003, are often in the most interesting places) in the mountains above the capital Vaduz. High up on the side of this mountain we came across what is possibly a club station with a cobweb antenna and two large dipoles on a tower. We quickly discovered that as soon as you leave the valley that runs between Liechtenstein and Switzerland all the roads are engine straining and brake baking steep even with the twists and turns and switchbacks.

We visited Malbun (the the only ski resort in Liechtenstein) in the south east of the country at the end of the day to look at SOTA possibilities. The town sits at 1600 metres within a valley surrounded on three sides by mountains of over 2000 metres. Helen had already planned some potential walks in the mountains which could take in a number of summits but also offered some different possibilities depending on the weather and how we felt. Helen managed to convince me using the route map in the town that, even though I was clearing a bad cold I picked up while back at home, we could walk the ridge from the top of the ski lift to the nearest summit, Augstenberg (HB0/LI-004) without too much effort. While we were studying the area there were stunning blue skies except for the tops of the mountains which had cloudy shrouds obscuring their summits. A decision had to be made on which day we could return (as by this point it was late afternoon) but the weather would probably dominate our planning.

Now back to what you really want to read about, our SOTA activations. The weather across central Europe had been unsettled for the past week and there appeared to be no change on the horizon but we checked every morning for the latest forecast. Tuesday was going to be in the “unsure what it’s going to do” range so we decided to just visit the nearest summits to the campsite with the aim of activating in two new associations for us. The first was Auf dem Hochstraess (DL/AL-277). This hill is on the border between Germany and Austria and was a former smuggler’s route. The parking and access we used were to the west of the hill. From this point there were well signed trails across the fields and woods. To ensure that we were on the German side of the hill, we found the border-markers in a field near to the summit co-ordinates on the northern side of the wooded ridge. As we were so far away from the UK it was now time to switch primary bands from 40 metres to 20 in an attempt to maximise contacts back home. As it was 20 metres did out perform 40. 40 metres was still being suppressed with high noise from the storms across Europe and 17 metres was still in the doldrums. Contacts made were 40 on 20 metres, 11 on 40 metres and again only 5 on 17 metres.

Operating from the field on Auf dem Hochstraess (DL/AL-277) just on the German side of the border (the boundary stone is to the right of Carolyn) and the view into Austria through the trees

The next nearest summit to the campsite was to the east (and one I had chased), Eichenberger Hochberg (OE/VB-511). This summit is situated in the hilly area overlooking the east side of Lake Constance. The roads to the summit wind their way through superb scenery with occasional views over the whole of the lake where we imagined seeing Zeppelins floating above. We parked tucked off the road to the south-west of the summit and walked up a lane passed farm buildings then along a track to the pastures on the top of the hill. The highest point on the summit is marked with a Catholic cross and bench. All was quiet apart from the bells ringing on the nearby cows (and us of course) until a dog walker came over. Helen explained what we were up to; he had wondered if we were military from a distance as apparently they do demonstrations of radio occasionally in the area. After admiring the views some more we headed back to the campsite to plan the next few days. On this summit only 20 and 17 Metres were used with 32 and 5 contacts, respectively. 20 metres was reasonable but 17 was still very poor.

The small church just off the summit and Carolyn during the activation of Eichenberger Hochberg (OE/VB-511)

Wednesday was looking as if it might be the best day of the week but more importantly the weather prediction was that it would be settled with light winds on the mountain tops in Liechtenstein.

So Wednesday was to be the day we made the drive back up to Malbun early in the morning with Augstenberg (HB0/LI-004) our main target. We again had to drive through Austria although this time we used our sat-nav which, rather than taking us through the main checkpoint just south of Feldkirch (with guards checking commercial vehicles causing a queue), took us into the mountains and through an unmanned border crossing. It did not take any longer and was a nice change from the drive though the urban areas that join the two countries. Soon we were climbing the winding road up to Malbun. We parked in the free car-park as close as possible and walked the few hundred metres to the lift.

The open chair lift quickly gained altitude and we disembarked near a restaurant. From here the sign-posted ridge progressively climbed to the first of the many false summits along the way. Very occasionally we had brief views down into the valleys on either side of the ridge. One part of the trail in particular was across a very steep sided slope, which for those of you with a fear of heights would not have liked; the claustrophobic effect of the mist meant that at one point it felt like if you fell off you would never hit the bottom. A few caches were found on the way but there were not too many detours as we wanted to get to the summit.

At the start of the walk to Augstenberg (HB0/LI-004) from the top of the chairlift looking along the cloud covered circular ridge

The walk continues with a view from one of the crosses on the ridge and the track by some steep drops; our target is hidden in the clouds

Eventually the final semi-scramble climb was reached and just over two hours from starting the walk we arrived at the cross marking the top to find a group of people having an early lunch. Another cache was found by Helen just below this before we wandered a little further to find a place to set up away from the busy summit. The walk had been relatively easy when compared to a mountain like Pillar but I was struggling a little with the altitude having to stop a couple of times with coughing fits.

After walking up to Augstenberg, most hikers continue down to the col between the mountains arriving at a mountain retreat called the Pfälzerhütte then back to Malbun via a path into the next valley. We had a couple of options, do the circular walk with a very short activation (possibly with another summit if I felt up to it) or stay a little longer and return back the way we came up. Even though we set up only 30 metres from the summit cross most of the time it was obscured by the cloud (captured by the mountain) that enveloped us.

For this activation we took my small travel antenna (1/4 wave ground plane with a 5 metre pole) which covers 17 and 20 metres and split the radio equipment, food, water and full wet/winter weather kit between us (you can never trust mountain weather) as we knew the summit temperatures were going to be around one or two degrees centigrade during the day and snow was forecast for overnight. We were not planning on staying that long but in the end we were still there for over two hours, long enough to start to get chilled.

The cloud cleared just long enough for Helen to run round and get some pictures while Carolyn activated Augstenberg (HB0/LI-004)

The activation started quite slowly and then the pile-ups started. For most of the time there was a wall of 9+ noise and I was only able to pick out the odd couple of letters; it was often voices I recognised before full call signs. In just under two hours I made contact with 99 stations on 20 metres and then after reconfiguring the antenna for 17 metres finished with an additional 32. Both bands performed really well, probably aided by the HB0 call and two YL’s with 17 metres providing the best DX.

We packed up and chatted about our options of getting off the mountain. We decided that we would walk back the way we had come up because there were three good reasons for doing so: one cache on a rocky summit along the ridge which has a weather station on the top that we had left on the way up; we had bought a return ticket on the chair lift just in case; and, more importantly, there was hot chocolate in the restaurant.

We got back to the cache we had ignored on the way in where I decided I would have the sandwich we brought in the morning and sent Helen up to find it. It looked like it was going to be quite a scramble all the way to the top but she got there quickly as she found a trail. The cache was an easy find as it is in plain sight so she was soon back and we could continue on the pleasant down hill walk. One last cache was found at the rear of the restaurant after enjoying their hot chocolate and then soon we were swinging back down on the chairlift to the village.

A view with Helen from the ridge walking back from Augstenberg (HB0/LI-004) looking down to Malbun and Helen returning after finding a cache at the weather station that sits on the rocky outcrop of Spitz further along the ridge towards the chairlift

The “no high heels” sign on the ridge and the view of Malbun as we descended on the chairlift

Marbun is an area we will have to return to one day as the mountains really are beautiful and spectacular. If I had felt better (and had time) we could have walked to quiet a few summits following the various ridges. For a tiny country, Liechtenstein has plenty to offer in the way of stunning scenery.

So another three summits claimed over two days and three new regions (DL, OE and HB0) activated for us. We were at the furthest south of our journey, 850 miles away from home. Our little “home from home” was performing flawlessly and coping well with all the various roads we were travelling on. There would be one more day in Germany and then we would be off to Luxembourg.

See more pictures on my flickr pages

Carolyn (DL/G6WRW/P; OE/G6WRW/P; HB0/G6WRW/P)

Carolyn, thank you for the reports, both parts engaging and interesting. I love the “no high heels” sign :o)