Friday, 16 November 2018

SOTA GM/SS-161 Larriston Fells Cycle / Walk

SOTA Cycling - is it worthwhile?

In this blog report I will try to analysis if SOTA Cycling is really worth it....

After leaving the track to Calkin Rig the nearest town to which is Langholm, I motored over to Newcastleton which is the nearest significant settlement to SOTA GM/SS-161 Larriston Fells. The plan was to park at the end of the track at NY 529921 near Dinlabyre and then cycle up the Scottish side on a forest track to within 1 Km of the summit trig point on Larriston Fells. From the radio mast I would then walk. 

When I reached Hermitage Bridge, 3 miles from Dinlabyre there was a road closure due to resurfacing work:


An approach to the road worker sat in his van stopping traffic worked, and I was allowed to drive as far as where the road was being resurfaced. I was able to get my car off the road there and ride the rest of the way on the bike to Dinlabyre and onto to the summit track.  Here is my route:



Parking place by the resurfaced B6357 road a miles from Dinlabyre
Progress riding the bike was slow once I left the main road, and on a significant part of the steeper uphill stretches I was forced to push. I'm apparently not so fit now as I was a year or two ago.... When I reached the radio mast and comms cabin where the track ended, I laid the bike down, locked it and proceeded to the trig point on foot. The mast is not within the activation zone. 


There was no trace of any path (a dotted line is shown on the map but was not apparent on the ground) and it was difficult making progress on the rough and boggy moor. Not a route I would recommend, I certainly would not return here again. The day was becoming damp with thick mist forming and I was uncomfortable after putting my leg in a hole full of water on the walk back from Calkin Rig in the morning. I knew when I reached the summit I did not want to stay longer than necessary..... the going on the tussocks was so difficult to be honest, I may have been better setting up at the fence around NY 564917 which was within the 25m drop zone, however when I got there I was thankful of the trig for shelter from the bitter wind and also the shelf beside it which was dry for sitting on and the right height for bending forward and sending the Morse.  There was good coverage at Larriston on the Vodafone network so I was able to spot myself using SOTA Spotter. I only operated on the 40m band on Larriston, cutting my operating time down to 20 minutes due to the failing light and the cold. I heard Don G0RQL in Devon give me a courtesy call at the end of my brief 40m SSB session, Don was 5 & 4 but the lack of power at my end - 10 watts from a KX2, meant there was no chance of a 2 way QSO unfortunately... the only UK station actually worked was the CW QRS operator David G0FVH:  


Relying on my GPS for direction, I headed back to the radio mast which had disappeared into the mist, relishing the thought of the quick ride back down the hill and the clean dry pair of socks waiting for me back at the car! As I made my way back I fell forward at one stage whilst negotiating a peat hag, no injury fortunately for me, just a moan and a groan as I continued on my way! If I had been using my normal walking poles I wouldn't have fallen like that. 

The summit - Larriston Fells GM/SS-161 - now activated 17 times - no view today - the Scottish Border lies less than 1 Km away to the south east of the summit 
I hardly peddled on my way down, reaching speeds of around 30 MPH on the rough track, It was a little foolhardy really as I wasn't wearing a helmet.  I reached the car just after 4.00 pm and the road had re-opened to traffic. It took me just 4 hours to drive home, which included a fast food refuelling stop at the KFC near the M6 roundabout at Penrith. 

Going back to my heading on this blog - was cycling to the summit worthwhile - in terms of the time saved? 

Ride and walk out = 4.6 miles 
Time taken = 96 minutes  (68 minutes ride/push & 28 minutes walk)

Walk and ride back = 4.7 miles 
Time taken = 47 minutes (21 minutes ride & 26 minutes walk) 

Before I rode back down the hill I had to ride around this concrete perimeter track:

https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/453337 and I am not the only one to wonder why this concrete circle was laid on a desolate near the Lothians & Borders Police radio mast - does anyone know? 

So what time did I save by riding and walking to this summit? At my normal walking pace on the track I estimate the total distance of 3.9 miles would have taken me 75 minutes walking time on the track and the same 28 minutes on the moor - so by using the bike I saved myself just 7 minutes on the upward journey. 

However, the return is different. On the downhill run at my normal walk pace I estimate it would have taken me 65 minutes walking time plus the same 26 minutes to negotiate the moor on foot.  So by using the bike on the return journey I saved myself another 45 minutes. 

So to sum up I reckon on this summit I saved myself around 1 hour by cycling Larriston Fell, however there are drawbacks - I needed to clean the bike the next day, as well as my rucksack which was mud splattered from the fast downward run. The other drawback is that when cycling on tracks, particularly at the easily reached speeds achieved (in excess of 25 mph) when riding downhill you are more at risk of an accident.  Other drawbacks are the fuel consumption on my car on what was a 320 mile journey with the bike on the carrier at the back causing drag. This means my diesel estate car only achieves around 45 mpg, when without the bike on the back I would likely get around 50 mpg.  I was unable to carry my walking poles on the bike - they would have been useful walking on the rough moor and would have likely prevented my falling into the murk - so another drawback there. The final drawback as I see it, is that when riding the bike it was not practical to wear my knee length walking gaiters - these are essential when walking on the type of rough wet moorland on border summits like Larriston Fell. Yes, I could have bagged the gaiters up and carried them in the rucksack and donned them before the moorland section, but I never the realised how rough and wet that moor would be....

So with hindsight, I have concluded for the purpose of saving just one hour in time I should have left the bike at home and walked the whole distance to the summit of Larriston Fell.  Walking the whole way would have meant I would have arrived back home at 9.00 pm rather than 8.00 pm. In terms of physical energy used, I have concluded there would not have been much difference in the effort expounded, whether walking the whole distance or cycling and walking the remaining distance across the moor. 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

SOTA GM/SS-196 Calkin Rig walk

I decided when I got parked to leave the bike locked on to the carrier and walk to the summit... so car and bike were left at NY 312884, part way along the access track to Calkin Rig GM/SS-196:


This is my Focus (Non-Electric) Hybrid "shopping bike" on the back of the car - the only bike I currently have. It is fine for riding on forest tracks if they are a reasonable grade. The frame is aluminium so it is reasonably lightweight. If I'm SOTA cycling I usually pack my KX2 transceiver and aerial bag in the saddlebag, and the pole and ancillary radio bits, food and drink (if needed), are carried in a day sized rucksack on my back. Carrying some items in the saddlebag takes some of the weight off my back. I don't think it is good for balance to have a big heavy rucksack on your back when cycling.  The bike is usually fitted with panniers for carrying shopping, but I remove these when I am riding on rough tracks. 

When I got to the Calkin Rig summit access track there were no restrictions and the gate was undone, so I drove up the track a half mile to the first closed gate at NY 312884, where I could park.  At that point I decided that I would walk to the summit rather than cycle. It took me 23 minutes to reach NY 294885, the point at which I left the track to go SSW. This is where I would have stashed my bike had I ridden it.  After climbing a steep bank I was on the boggy moor following the fence right to the summit of Calkin Rig, which took another 25 minutes. There was mobile coverage on the EE Network on the summit for spotting, but no coverage for Vodafone.  You will see from this map which way I went to the summit, and the way I came down, which was an improvement on the walk up with more level grass on which to walk and less rough moorland. There were still sheep grazing in this area despite the onset of winter:



My activation on 40m and 20m CW/SSB. One QSO on 2m FM was completed with G7THI in Hoff, near Appleby, Cumbria, with the remaining 36 contacts being on HF with all stations within Europe.   

HF CW Operation on Calkin Rig GM/SS-196
Operating a few metres down from the highest point on Calkin Rig
Walking down to Calkin to exit the moor on to the track at NY 301886 - note the drystane sheepfold centre of picture which I passed on the way down
The boarded up property Calkin and the gate on the left of the photo where I exited the moor
Coming down the moor back to the gate near Calkin was a better route than following the fence on the way up, however I did encounter an unseen water hole with my left foot, going down to the knee which left me with a boot full of water for the rest of the day. I was back at my car at 1145z having left it at 0910z.  When I re-programmed the Satnav it told me that my destination - the parking place for my 2nd summit, Larriston Fells GM/SS-161, was 19 miles away.  Blog report on that activation to follow...