Saturday, October 26, 2013

Running About In The Woods

Orienteers don't get lost. They just lose map contact. Unknown.

Today Doug and I did our first orienteering event. We have a couple of friends in Canada who are very accomplished orienteerers and they would always tell us how much we would enjoy the sport because we love reading maps. At the time, I was too busy busting up and down mountains to think of trying an event, but after trying out rogaining a few weeks ago and having a blast, Doug and I signed up for today's “sprint orienteering” event, although, at my advanced age, there was no sprinting.

It took me 68 minutes to finish the 2.8 km course – obviously no sprinting there. I definitely could have finished much earlier if you could pass the checkpoints in any order, but of course, orienteering doesn't work that way – you have to get the checkpoints in order. Some checkpoints I was lucky enough to pass multiple times!

I maybe a slow learner, but I did learn some things. A compass is helpful. At first I tried to follow trails to get to the checkpoints but this was slow as I ended up travelling a longer distance to the next checkpoint than I would have if I just went straight there. It also seemed to take me more time to work out where I was on a trail than it did just to take a bearing to the next checkpoint from the last and go straight there. This strategy wouldn't work in thicker bush or more difficult terrain but on this easy course it worked well.

You also have to really pay attention to the contour interval and map scale which was much larger than I expected. The map we were given had a 2 metre contour interval and a scale of 1:4,000. That's a lot of detail. I blew past a couple of checkpoints because I expected them to be further away than they were. When I was wandering around looking for checkpoint 7 I finally clued in to the scale on the map and realised I had gone way beyond the checkpoint.

Although the event is timed, the more you rush, the more mistakes you make. Round about checkpoint 6 – which took me a long time to find – I gave up trying to get a good time and focused instead on accuracy and saved myself time in the end as I wasn't rushing about not sure where I was going. Orienting the map with the compass when you have “lost map contact” is also really helpful.

A great way to improve map reading and navigation skills. All the idiots wandering about with GPS units tracking their every move should try it. But, then again, they'd likely still be out there.

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