Mountains, snow and a radio station
12 to 27 January 2013
The area in which I grew up and where I still live, is almost flat and is situated only 40 m about the sea level. Hillocks, which extend only a few meters above these level, are already called mountains. The Alps are the closest area from my hometown, to see real mountains. And Liechtenstein is located in the middle of the Alps. I've looked at this small county during my first journey across Liechtenstein almost exactly a half year ago. But it tempted me to explore the mountains in the Principality of Liechtenstein, seen first in the summer, even with snow covered in winter too. So, I traveled yet once thither.
Travel, accommodation and transportation
Since I had had good experiences with this kind of travel, I used again the sleeper of the city night line (CNL) from Berlin to Zurich. Rested and supplied with a small breakfast I went again in a comfortable Intercity train to Sargans city, which is located close on the Rhine river. From there it was only a short way with a bus by LIEmobil over the Liechtenstein border via Vaduz city to the final destination.
As base camp I chose this time a point as high as possible and far outside of a town. I decided for the mountain guest-house Sücka (in German: Berggasthaus Sücka) at 1402 m (47°6′58,6″N, 9°33′54″O). It is located in the so called Liechtenstein upper land not far away from the ski resorts of Malbun and Steg. Due to its relatively central location the mountain guest-house is ideal as a starting point for tours in the mountains, as well as for sporting activities on the various ski slopes and cross-country ski trails, as well as for excursions to the capital Vaduz. Liechtenstein Tourism allow you to locate also apartments, pensions and hotels.
The stop "Steg/Tunnel" (1276 m) of the bus line 21 is the nearest point to the mountain guest-house, accessible on four wheels. From there it goes up either just walking on the hiking trail in the forrest or on the sledge way. Of course, the house is provided by car on the narrow road (the sledge way) to the old tunnel and a second route from the lake in the valley. However, parking is available in the winter only near the bus stop. But the leaseholder of the mountain guest-house offer a shuttle service, so you must not overcome the 126 meters with heavy suitcases. The path is only 1200 m long and to overcome with a light backpack without any problems. Once at the top double rooms and rooms for groups are available − and of course a restaurant.
Also in the country, I was again on the road with the green buses of LIEmobil and walking on my feets. The bus network of Liechtenstein is so large that driving with a own car is inefficient. Even skis and snowboards can be transported with withour problems with the buses. The ticket for one month is available for 54 Swiss francs (CHF) in each bus of LIEmobil and profitable in just two weeks, if you often use the buses.
Mountains and snow as far as you can tell
Hiking in Liechtenstein in the winter should remain confined for safety reasons to the valleys and the low mountains. As normal hiker it is not easily to reach the summits of the higher mountains. The very high summits, which valid for the SOTA program are then inaccessible. Because, it does not matter whether you to use snowshoes or touring skis.
While daredevils also find there way up but the shallows (holes, creeks etc.) hidden by the snow and the covered road markings (on stones or piles) they should reflect and move reverse. On the many unforested slopes also avalanches threaten relatively often. An exception to this rule is the Sareis mountain (2003 m), which not counting for the SOTA program.
However, the restriction on the lower areas not implies that you can see now no mountains. There are a lot of beautiful views to the mountains of Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria, at easily accessible places.
I borrowed snowshoes in the municipality of Malbun for the holidays and did instruct me on how to use it. Then I walked immediate to the church on the outskirts of Malbun, where one of the winter hiking trails starts. This trail can be extended at its reversal point to a long and reasonably flat tour if necessary, which I had undertaken during the summer. The way of the winter hiking trail up to a point named Sassfürkle (1746 m) was quickly laid back, because this way is always in good condition, so even hikers without special equipment and only fitted with their hiking boots can walk on the firm mashed snow. Snowshoes or touring skis are not necessary there.
Sill full of vim and vigor I began the way around the Schönberg mountain. But there was only a few traces in the snow, which show, that theses ways are striked out rarely. And the signpost are often deeply immersed in the snow. So it is not surprising that the path previously committed by other hikers proved to be an aberration. Although from there the Schönberg mountain and some snowboarders on the summit was good to see, but the way resulted in a steep valley. For quite a while and various climbs up in the deep snow of the mountain later had I found the path drawn on the map using the existing cabins. So I could continue the planned path the Valorsch valley down.
Walking in deep snow is great fun, but also exhausting. One sinks also with snowshoes at each step 20 to 30 cm in the snow with each new step. It is like most going forward up stairs. But to run alone in an almost infinite white glory and heard only the "Gmpf Gmpf, Gmpf" of the own steps, one can everything else can be almost forgot.
But woe, woe. Although I consider myself as a reasonably sporty, I feel stiff and aching in the feets at the next morning. Walking with snowshoes claimed seemingly completely different muscles than the normal hiking shoes. So, I walked at the next day only a short and easy way a bit up of the Valüna valley. The route starts directly in front of the mountain guest-house. Down in the Valüna valley are running cross-country ski trails and skating trails on both along both sides of the Valüna creek. A winter hiking trail there is marked with purple wooden poles and signs. But it bothers nobody if one moving (e.g. with snowshoes) on the groomed ski ways, as long as one not trampled the small cross-country skiers trails. And this should be feasible, especially since the ways are several meters wide.
If the trails in the valley ends, you can move with snowshoes through even a good route through the always lights growing forest. However, if you arrive at a large free area, you should stop your walk. In front of you the now towering, almost unforested slopes are almost always in the shade and are always thick covered with snow. To hike on this way to the Pfälzerhütte (hut) in this direction is just for firebrands. I do prefer there a rest and hike back to the Gängle lake at the entrance to the Valley.
In opposite direction to the Valüna valley another hiking trail starts, easy to walk on it. This time, there is no winter hiking trail. But because many people go this way, already the trail is trampled and you must not walk through deep snow. Snowshoes and also the not forgotten poles proved here as well, especially if you are early in the morning and fresh snow has fallen in the night. The trail leads north towards either on the side of the mountain at the Samina creek or at the Rhine river via Silum to Gaflei.
You can continue your way back from Gaflei on the windings of the road passing (or not passing) the mountain restaurant Matu to Masescha. There the philosopher's trail turns on, on which you first reach the old tunnel further up Rizlina and than finally the mountain guest-house Sücka.
The mountain restaurant Sareis is accessible with the chair lift, as well as via the winter trail, which begins at the church. Although the trail stops at some point halfway, but from there you can cross the ski slopes at Sareis and later walk at the driveway. The view from the top of the summit is overwhelming on a clear day. And even if the mist hangs in the valley, it can be sunny up there. A look at the webcam at the mountain station of the chair lift provides the proper overview and clarity about whether the way up is worthwhile. But remember that the weather quite once can change quickly in the mountains in the one or the other direction.
The adjacent "hiking map of the Principality of Liechtenstein" available almost everywhere in the country. It shows in the scale 1:25000 all marked hiking trails. Electronic versions are disposable as GEO data from Liechtenstein and GPS-supported suggestions for hikes at the Country administration and the Liechtenstein tourism. But all three sources point out only the routes, you can walk on it in the summer. The ways are still even there in winter of course, but then you should estimate very accurately (!), if the target path is accessible and whether the own ability is equal to it. Even more than in the summer you should familiarize also no matter with the directions, whether if you using the paper version or a GPS device. The markers placed on stones are guaranteed not to see and the piles with signs can be snowed in. It is therefore important to orient themselves on the peaks, valleys and other distinctive even in winter recognizable points. Had I ever followed this brazen principle, I would have gone on the first day not to mislead.
At Liechtenstein tourism also a map as PDF file is avaiable, which shows also the existing, well groomed winter hiking trails together with the slopes and cross-country skiing trails around the municipalities Malbun and Steg. All winter hiking trail are marked with purple wooden poles and signs.
Who would like to explore Liechtenstein with higher speed than a hiker, for those the ski resorts Malbun and Steg are the ideal places. In the municipality Malbun, there are 3 ski-lifts powered by mountain railway (Bergbahnen Malbun), transport the snowboarders and skiers with chair lifts alike on the starting points named Hochegg, Täli and at the Sareis mountain. There are slopes available with a total length of 23 km.
Also there are for small ski fans the Malbi-Park and for the larger ones the Schneeflucht. These two "slopes" are equipped also with ski lifts.
And in the municipality Steg starts the cross-country skiing trails and skating trails in the Valüna valley located on both sides of the Valüna creek. The Club Valünaloop maintains the overall 15 km trails. And who wants to be on the way in skis even in the evening, who can skies there on a 3 km long, lighted circular trail.
To be sporty and having a lot of fun at the same time you can start also directly at the mountain guest-house Sücka. There begins the 1000 m long natural sledge way in the form of the unused road to the old tunnel. This road is suitable due to their sharp turns and high gradient very well. But don't worry: The curves are secured with wooden boards. Even a curve is also fitted on the lower end.
It is dark in the winter after about 6 P.M., but this fact is not an excuse for the sledging fun. The sledge way is lit up far into the night. And the path back/up through the forest is equipped with lanterns. Someone who has no own sledge, who can get one at the mountain guest-house − once rent and sledging all day. That inspires not only the little ones. Also the large ones will want to whiz down over and over again. In between, you can warm up in the mountain guest-house, drink hot tea or coffee, or beef up with dainty bite.
If you may think now, that to slede is just for kids, you be wrong. On this way the Sledge Club Triesenberg organized on the last weekend in January even the race to the Swiss Championship in natural sledging.
Who calmly wanders through the forrest, who discovers also the one or other animal inhabitants of the country. The Chamois at the picture right was to discover near by the frequented winter hiking trail above the lively Malbun (weekend). The one at the picture left stopped about 5 m from me and the path quite awhile away peacefully at the foot of the Plattaspitz mountain. At some point I was apparently too scary and it get to safety and out of sight with a few skillful jumps.
In the vicinity of the mountain guest-house also a deer had spotted. There also especially in the evening shown up rabbits, usually faster than I could whip out the camera. The Alpine chough like at the picture are considerably tame. Especially at the mountain restaurant Sareis, they lurk on it to pick up a bite of the plate when the guests sit on the sun terrace and eat. However, the Alpine chough can be seen also everywhere where hikers are and thus food is expected.
In a completely secluded place, even a wildcat shooed in the forest. But I was not so fast with the camera. Traces of wildcats were, however, to be found in many places. Therefore It's worth it to make no noise when hiking and to look for the four-legged inhabitants of the country.
The cat at the left picture is definitely not a wildcat. This is one of the three pussy cats live in the mountain guest-house. I was under the impression that the main occupation of all three cats was to silently sneak in the restaurant and may grab a tasty bite or to catch a share of kindness and affection. On sunny days, one or the other took a dip in the snow, purr the visitors out there around the legs, or tried to catch the crows.
Amateur radio license and setting up of the radio station
A radio station was located in the luggage also during this holiday again. Since Liechtenstein signed the CEPT agreement, I had not to apply any special license and could become active without problems as HB0/DK3RED/P. As the station equipment, I used my CW transceiver Elecraft K1 with 5 W output power, a self-made multi band antenna, a Palm Portable Key and miscellaneous accessories. As power supply served two packages with each 10 NiMH accumulators and a suitable charger.
Radio operation was planed in any case only from the guest-house, because to operate out there in the snow is not my favored stil. I do something like this in the summer, but not in the winter. Just at the first day I asked so the landlady of the mountain guest-house, whether I could hook an antenna between the trees around the house. Because she had already some radio amateurs as a guest in the house, she agrees without further questions.
The mountain guest-house lies on the slope above the hill farms Sücka. I inhabited a room at the corner of the house on the third floor, 7 m above the ground. The thin two-wire line I passed through the window and jammed in its wooden frame to take out. I tensed one branch of the antenna using a long solid cord to the foot of a tree up on the slope. For the second fastening point I errected a 6 m long telescopic mast, fortified with thick rubber bands on a stake of the time display of the sledge way. The second branch of the antenna mechanically I extended also with solid cord, so it was reasonably horizontally. Altogether, I formed an antenna system, which one could call as a doublet or dipole. The radio station itself stood near the window on a small table − ideal conditions without the writing pad on my knees, burning sun on the head, wind or other weather events around me.
The first test of matching the antenna I syspended until the next day and not finished just in the evening, where I errected the antenna. The reason was the smoke detectors, which are installed everywhere in largely wooden house. Since I was not sure not to trigger a false alarm due the radio station and stray RF, I moved the test on the hours of the day. Then, an alarm would have not led to a big mess and it would have quickly turned off. But with 5 W output power, everything remained quiet.
Quickly, the antenna was tested on all bands. On the 17, 20 and 30 m band the antenna was well matched. However, the 20 m band was very noisy. That remained during the next two weeks. An operation on this band was possible, but was however not a joy. On the 40 m band I could reach in the first few days only a standing wave ratio of 6.8. During the test at home the built-in antenna tuner matched the antenna properly. At the end of my vacation this changed without having made changes to the antenna. Then the SWR fell on 3.3, so I could log at this band also some QSO's. The reason for the bad SWR was not the temporarily iced two-wire line, because the SWR remained high even after the removal of the ice on it. For these reasons, I was active during the two weeks mainly on the 30 m and the 17 m band. This restriction however proved to benefit, because no contests are held on these two bands and only moderate output power are allowed.
Radio, QSL cards and expression of thanks
On altogether 10 days I could reach in about 31 hours on 40, 30, 20 and 17 m total 315 QSO's. As expected there were in the 40 reached DXCC entities many stations from Europe, but with Kenya, the Asian part of Russia, Kazakhstan, Canada and the United States also some DX stations. On the 30 m band even a station from New Zealand called me over a distance of 18670 km, so even I became restless. More so I was glad about the successful contact and the honest report (RST 339). The reached stations were located on 5 continents and in 9 CQ zones. Per day I registered between 2 and 69 QSO's in the logbook. For me, this result is by far more than I had expected, especially when I come to consider the few hours spent at the radio station and the low output power.
Every day I called CQ first around the QRP frequencies usually starting on the top of the bands with the K1. Only if there no one answered, I moved with my CQ call on lower frequencies or bands. Amazedly was the relatively large number of QRP stations, who called me far from the QRP frequencies. So, it is worth to look even with less power for "rare" stations.
In a few days I noticed the time, as someone reported my frequence in the DX cluster. After that, the frequency used by me was noticeably busier so the QSO's were shorter. The one day, on what I could handle 43 QSO's per hour, was the peak. I came hardly to logging in, especially since I used old fashioned, but trouble-free, a sheet of paper and a pen. Fortunately a thick pile up, like great DXpeditions at exotic islands generate, was not to deal with. But when three or four stations call densely crowded and at the same time, you must already quite tiring ears to decode them.
Fortunately, such "busy times" were exceptional. But, with a short break, I must say that it was also instructive to have made such an experience. Usually it was much quieter. Then, I wanted to know at least even the name in addition to the rapport of each caller. Often, I find out on this way also information about the location and the used station of my interlocutor. All the radio amateurs from the neighboring Switzerland wanted to still my precise location information although it appears rather secondary for a such a small country. After I told them this, they wished me always fun by skiing − they probably knew all ones this area exactly.
QSL cards for all QSO's are in preparation from the QSL shop. The cards are shipped of course after the completion via the QSL bureau of the German Amateur Radio Club (DARC e.V.), without having to wait for incoming QSL cards. Nevertheless I would be happy about receiving QSL cards, because I'm a QSL card collector. A direct confirmation was even in the mailbox, when I came back to Germany. A second one arrived shortly thereafter.
Addendum on 28th February 2013: All QSL cards was sent today directly or via the QSL bureau.
A very big thank you goes in this way to the family Schädler as operator of the mountain guest-house Sücka. Very soon I felt in her cozy house at home. And I thank you again for the opportunity to be able to be active with a radio station there. This is at the present time not everywhere so. If there should have been interference from my radio station, they were tolerated without a rejoinder.
Also I would like to thank all, who were able to hear my weak signals. It has been very much fun to me. I hope to have helped one or the other to reach a new DXCC entity or at least a further point on the way to one or another award.
By e-mail, a amateur radio operator from the United States asked, on which time and on which band I will be active again, because he reached not once yet HB0 even after 33 years. Unfortunately, I was offline during my vacation, otherwise I would have gladly helped him to a "new one". Instead he must look for now continue for a QSO with one of the few amateurs in the Amateur Radio Club Liechtenstein (AFVL) or the the amateur radio operators from foreign countries who are from time to time active in Liechtenstein.
P.S.: As you can see, the demand for a QSO with an amateur radio operator in Liechtenstein is high, although this DXCC entity should probably not be listed in any "most-wanted" list. Would this fact an incentive for you, even to be activ as amateur radio operator from there? I can assure you, that one can spend the times between the openings of the band very well, in summer or in winter.