SOTA Activation – Bowning Hill to Honolulu and a Micro SD card

Bowning Hill VK2/ST-042 792 metres ASL on private property, Bowning NSW

Bowning Hill is one of those hills you drive past often and wonder if there is a track to the summit, what would it be like to climb, what on earth if anything is on top and what will the view from the peak reveal?   Well today I get to find out!  As is often the case in regional Australia, the peak hosting communication infrastructure is often crown land while the management track to the peak may cross private property.  Andrew VK1DA/2UH did the leg-work with the property owner to gain access for Sunday 9 March.  With permission granted, Andrew invited me to join him on a joint activation of Bowning Hill, a new unique activation for Andrew and I.  On earlier joint activations we have taken the opportunity to compared different antenna options using real world testing from a summit.  On this occasion Andrew will be using a 20m 1/4 wave vertical combined with a 3 wire elevated ground plane.  My  antenna choice is a 40/20m link dipole.  Antennas will be switched in and out using a Daiwa 2 position coax switch.  The coax feed line is RG58AU.

I met Andrew at his property near Yass for a guided tour of the VK2UH radio shack.   After a good demo of his gear, I transferred my SOTA gear to Andrew’s car for the 15 km drive to Bowning Hill north-west of Yass.  From the Hume Hwy turn left into Common Road and drive 800 metres to the property gate.  The land owners details and the mobile phone contact number are sign posted on the gate.

Andrew and I met the owner before starting the walk to the summit.  The management track starts near the land owners home, along the way there are two gates for livestock management.  You can judge by the contour lines Bowning Hill is very steep, there are four switchbacks to reduce the impact of the incline thereby making the walk easier.  However with each switchback the length of the walk increases, I’d prefer the switchbacks any day.  The ascent to the summit is 210 metres over 1.9 km, which averaged out to 10%.

Started the walk at 17:00, 40 minutes later Andrew and I were on the summit setting up two antennas and our respective radio gear.  During the walk I checked the GPS readings and noticed the Oz Topo contour lines were not displayed on the map screen.  I commented to Andrew the contour lines were not displaying we both thought that was odd.  While walking I checked the Config menu and found the default map had reset to the Garmin base map, checking further the Oz Topo map was not listed in the map menu.  On the summit I forgot to revisit the GPS setup menu.  It wasn’t until the next day I remembered to check.

Fig 1.

Bowning Hill GPS track

Fig 1: Bowning Hill GPS track

Fig 2.

Bowning Hill track profile

Fig 2: Bowning Hill track profile

Fig 3.

Bowning Hill ascent data

Fig 3: Bowning Hill ascent data

fire lookout tower and trig

fire lookout tower and concrete pillar trigonometric station


combined VK1DA and VK1NAM SOTA Shack

Andrew VK1DA on Bowning Hill

Andrew VK1DA on Bowning Hill operating CW on 20m

VK1DA - 20m 1/4 wave vertical

VK1DA – 20m 1/4 wave vertical

Andrew VK1NAM on Bowning Hill

Andrew VK1NAM on Bowning Hill operating voice on 20 USB.  Picture taken by Andrew VK2UH

Andrew VK1DA started the activation at 07:00 UTC on 20m CW for 10 minutes then a further 10 minutes on SSB.  During the CW and voice sessions we compared the reception of signals using the 20m 1/4 vertical and the 20m 1/2 wave dipole.  The vertical antenna produced a higher signal on receive, however it equally picked up more noise or QRM.  Reception on the 1/2 wave dipole was similar in signal strength, possibly slightly lower but with much less noise.  On transmit the omnidirectional vertical produced a stronger signal to Europe, 2 S points higher than the dipole.  A point to note the dipole was aligned to the east and west due to the wind loading.  John VK6NU reported a stronger signal from the dipole due to the lobe alignment.  Later I moved the dipole to align the broadside to the south-west or long path to Europe.  Signal reports from Europe were now favouring the dipole.

Overall both antennas performed well in a real world test.  The vertical has the advantage of ‘set and forget’ while the dipole may require alignment to the desired path.  The vertical did receive more noise, most likely radiating from nearby power lines.  Although the noise was present, it didn’t prevent the reception of signals from Europe.  Using either of the antennas on 20m, 1/4 wave vertical or the 1/2 wave dipole is a personal choice.  If I had a pet goat, I would take two squid poles and both antennas.  🙂

To the activation, I started on 20m SSB at 07:22 while Andrew played on CW.  The regular DX chasers checked in for a summit qualification with 4 DX chasers Colin G4UXH, Don G0RQL, Jose EA2IF and Massimo IK1GPG followed by fellow activator Ian VK1DI.   Seven more EU or UK chasers followed including big signal reports from Marko OH9XX, Mike G6TUH and Phil G4OBK.  A very good result!  30 minutes later at 07:55 UTC I logged my first Hawaiian SOTA chaser, Allen in Honolulu.  Great to have you in the log Allen.

With the sun now close to the horizon, I changed to 40m for local VK chasers.  Despite the presence of nearby thunderstorms, conditions on 40m were surprisingly good.  All VK chasers were 5-8 and higher making an easy time of it for me.  Dennis VK4OC and Rodger VK4YB were not regular SOTA chasers but did show interest in this activation.  Thanks Dennis and Rodger, hope to hear you again from a different summit soon.

One summit to summit with Matt VK1MA on Mt Ainslie VK1/AC-040 in Canberra.  Matt also worked Andrew on 12m using my 40m 1/2 wave dipole.  Transmitting on 5 watts the FT857D high SWR auto power roll back did the job nicely.

Thanks Andrew for inviting me along, a new summit for both of us and plenty of room for antenna experiments.  A good day out on the mountain top and equally great company.  🙂

SOTA log extract - 9 March 2014

SOTA log extract – 10 March 2014

long shadows near sunset

long shadows at sunset – strong wind from the south


View south-east along the Hume Hwy.  Thunderstorms on the horizon

view south-east along the Hume Hwy. Thunderstorms on the horizon.  Picture taken by Andrew VK2UH

sunset on Bowning Hill

sunset on Bowning Hill

So what happened to the Garmin GPS unit, why wasn’t the unit displaying the Oz Topo contours?   At home, I downloaded the track log from Bowning Hill then booted the GPS to check the configuration, again the Oz Topo maps wasn’t displayed.  Hmm what’s going on?  I removed the rear cover and found the Oz Topo Micro SD card was absent, AWOL from the cradle.  Oh crap where is it?   Sent a SMS message to Andrew letting him know the missing contour lines was actually a missing micro SD card.    We discussed where the card might be, could it be in Andrew’s car?   I remembered I had loaded fresh batteries in the GPS shortly after getting my backpack out of Andrew’s car (at the land owners drive way).  We concluded the micro SD card may have dislodged from its cradle when I changed the batteries.  Therefore it’s likely to be on the ground near where we parked the car, however a point note, when leaving the property we may have reversed the car over the tiny SD card.  Would it be there and is it now a permanent feature of the gravel drive?

Next Andrew called the property owner and mentioned the GPS Micro SD card might be on the ground near to where the car was parked?  Andrew being the true mate, volunteered to head back to Bowning Hill from his place at Yass.    When Andrew arrived he was met by the owner and to his surprise the owner had found the tiny card undamaged just where we thought it might be.   Seriously, who would expect to find a small SD card undamaged on a gravel drive, particularly when the driveway was in use.  Later that day Andrew dropped in at my place with the micro card sealed in a small zip bag, I couldn’t thank him enough, I was very surprised the card had survived.  🙂

So did the map software load correctly?   I gently placed the card in the cradle, switched on the GPS and sure enough the Oz Topo software loaded as the default map.  Phew..!   Thanks Andrew for going out of your way to drive to Bowning, recover the card, then later in the day drop the card off at my home.  Andrew, I can’t thank you enough for helping me out.  🙂


2 thoughts on “SOTA Activation – Bowning Hill to Honolulu and a Micro SD card

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