How not to Navigate

If there was anyone who thought I knew something about navigating (me included) you need to reassess your opinion. This is a story eating a big chunk of dry crumbly humble pie and having to swallow it without water.

Most will know that I like Rogaines, have planned a few and have been moderately successful/competitive on the local scene and Robert Jarvis and I did pretty well at a couple of World Championships. Not content with that, I wanted to get better at the navigation side of things so that we could do even better. So I joined the Dunedin Club and jumped in at the deep end running Red courses when available. I make mistakes, some maps/terrain suit better than others, but generally I can get around the course and not be too far behind some quite skilled individuals.

This past weekend was the Canterbury Orienteering Champs. We skipped the middle distance on Friday and opted for the Sprint in amongst the boulders at  Castle Hill/Kura Tawhiti and then the Long course at Acheron/Mt Barker Forest near Lake Coleridge.

Sprint – Fun, exceptionally technical and a great day. I got lost a few times, missed punched in the morning and ran OK in the afternoon. I think I was last (in M40) most of the time. But this isn’t a story about the Sprint course.


As far as I’m concerned, the best way to learn something is to jump in the deep and hope like hell you can at least doggy paddle back to the side. So for a couple of reasons, I opted not to tun the shorter M40 course. I wanted to see what it was like a against the best navigators, knowing full well I wouldn’t have any chance of matching them for skill or speed. I did however have what I thought were realistic goals of getting around the course, not making too many mistakes and finishing before the 2 hour 30 minute cut off. Why would I think that????? Mostly because I had a terrible run at the Otago Champs on my 3rd long red, I was now a veteran of 5 Long reds. Spur/Gully forest I thought suited me better than flat land and rocks where I had done OK (time wise) against Nick Hann who would eventually come 2nd to Chris Forne.

Start to Control #1

Start to #1

Start to #1

I’d had a quick chat with one of the organiser prior to the start, she had pointed out the bare ground features and said they might be difficult. The map had a scale of 1:10,000, the piece of bare ground I was aiming for was about 15x5m. I took a good line directly towards it, across the open ground that had trees, and then onto the broken ground that had a lot more trees. I didn’t recognize any bare patches so moved slowly forwards, I think I went through the small gap or just to the left. Part way to the taller thicker trees, I turned and retraced my steps. noticed a one of the better navigators coming out and took a line to where they came from. Found my control, already lost 6 minutes. Ooops, I only missed it by about 20 meters the on both passes.

I ran hard towards #2
route1_2I made a small error by not going along the main track to the lake, instead I opted for the water tank as it would along me to go down the spur which i was comfortable with. I didn’t quite get it right so headed straight back up to the hill top/lake, I could have just put myself in the gully, but wanted to make sure. Matt Scott came past as I was heading down. I’d just rolled my ankle and had no interest in following anyone. I wan’t to do this myself. I found it easily this time, again having missed the control by a small margin on my 1st pass. The ankle now meant going even slower. I navigated slowly but well to 3-4-5-6. Reading the features and hitting the points I wanted.

Controls 6 to 7
route6_76 to 7 was long (for me) with no obvious route, my 1st goal was to hit the major track and reassess from there. But I was clumsy in that plan and didn’t pay much attention to where I went. I wasted several minutes by getting pushed very low when originally I’d thought I’d go past the pond. Onto the track, I quickly got the Corner/Rock, read the patch of Gorse/Broom, hit the knoll with a control on it as planned, read the next patch of Broom/Gorse and hit control #12 perfectly and that all lead me nicely to 7. Slowly, but I was pleased I managed no major errors on what was a potentially difficult leg for me.

Controls 7-8-9-10-11
I again got knocked of course not paying attention as my basic plan was hit the stream and go from there. I was too far East, but ran upstream and read the two boulders (I thought), but then didn’t run far enough upstream. Nor did I read the direction of the stream, oh well. I was confident in my read of the clearing I found myself in, and ran quickly to 8 then 9, 10 was off line but I read the scrubby clearing well so 10 and 11 were simple.

Controls 11-12
I’m not really sure what went wrong, note the going from 6-7 I had already accurately navigated to this control. The best I can do is show (Blue Circles/Line) the places that I know I was at. The dashed circles/line are the places I think I was at. The circle in the stream was my first attempt to relocate, there was a control here, and I had been here on the way to control 8 previously. I hindsight I may have been wrong as I couldn’t get to 12 from there. On 3 occasions between 12 and 13 I passed someone’s clue sheet, I picked it up after I had eventually been to 12. I found 13 at one stage, it was a relief as for the 1st time in a long time I was 100% sure about where I was. We had a drinks and a map change here. I debated quitting, I looked at the 2nd map and knew I couldn’t finish the course. So at this point I was determined to at least finish the 1st map. So knowing exactly where I was I should have been OK, but I still couldn’t make the straight line to 12. A discussion later suggested a good route from 13 for me would have been the stream/gully to the west as a good handrail directly towards the sharp re-entrant and down the spur to 12. I agree, but I was quite flustered and backed my skill to follow a bearing. I can actually do it.

Eventually I came across two others going to the opposite direction, also looking for the control. They were unsure of their exact location. A few minutes later we also found another who thought they knew where they were but as soon as they described what they were seeing I knew I was on the saddle immediately North of #7. For the 2nd time in 60 minutes, I knew where I was and ran straight to #12 and then #13. I wandered/jogged back across to the main track, snuck up the stream to the final control, #30, punched it and jogged to the finish in 2 hours 55 minutes. Very Deflated, it was a quiet drive home.

What did I learn?
Chris Forne is actually a freak, but that when he first started “Fornicator was pretty fucking useless”.
Technically I am quite poor at navigating. The very best spend a lot of time, practising, thinking about it, talking about it, playing it and doing it.
I have run 6 or 7 Red courses, what should have I expected on what it turns out is one of the more difficult maps.
Jumping in the deep end and barely being able to doggy paddle to the edge, while sad, is still quite satisfying and has left me with an even greater desire to succeed (get better is probably more apt) on that map and at that level.

Thanks to those I asked, spoke to,  or offered advice.

Here is the full map, I’ve added the controls from the 2nd map to show their location.


Click on M21E – I wasn’t last.

We had a great weekend

One final word – I forgot to bloody punch #13

edit: Fornicator won in 81 minutes. At this years Heights of Winter Marty and I were just in front of the team of Forne/Scott/Hamilton at around the halfway mark. If only I could have managed that, I might have finished this. 

One response

  1. You made the mistake of trying to use your legs and brain simultaneously. That’s asking way too much of you.

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