Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Orienteering Hartwood Acres 2011

Last weekend I got to participate in the Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club's 2011 Hartwood Acres event. I ran (trudged) the orange course, which was 4.5 km long with 175 meters of climb and 11 controls. Out of the nine teams and fourteen participants on that course I am proud to say that I turned in the fastest time by a good margin. If you don't believe me, the results of the meet are posted here. I was also relieved that the control I couldn't initially find turns out to have been misplaced. There was, of course, a much longer and harder course available, which I will have to try next year.

Here are my notes about the course. I also tried to sketch out and annotate the route in google maps. All point and lines are very approximate. Zigzagging lines are are meant to indicate that I was not strictly following the compass.

View Hartwood Acres 2011 in a larger map


I stumbled on WPOC's 2010 Racoongaine event while on an overnight backpacking trip. Map and compass navigation is a backpacking skill that, as a trail bound hiker, I hadn't had a chance to practice. I went to the 2010 Hartwood Acre event and did the second level of difficulty (yellow?), and had a good time, but didn't feel challenged by the mostly on-trail navigation.


My main goal in doing the orange course was to practice with the map and compass. I'm not in enough shape to make good time trail running, but I do have some experience with uphill trudging. Taking these factors into consideration I planned to take more or less direct routes from control to control, without too much concern for difficult intervening terrain.


Navigationally this was a big success. On leg four I was going at a walking pace up hill using the compass from tree to tree, and I kept right on course. The best validation was walking right up to (and then respectfully around) the gravesite directly on the leg four line. Other successful sections were the straight bits of legs nine and ten where I dashed off into the woods and ended up right where I expected to.

I experienced a big trade off between pace and navigation. At a jogging pace with quick bearing checks, but without going carefully from landmark to landmark, I still kept pretty well on track. But at a running pace or when going through (under, around) underbrush I was not able to keep on course and had to reorient myself. Also, on leg eleven, when it was easier running, I didn’t do a good job of spotting the faint paths that I was looking for.

Something that happened several times was that as I got close to the control and started recognizing landmarks I would head towards the landmark without regard for where the control was relative to it. That always got me pretty close but I sometimes ended up standing on a log looking around in every direction to find the control.

The biggest lesson learned about reading the map was about the precision of the “fight” designation. Compared to the sharp border between clear and woods, the border between woods and fight is very fuzzy. My impression now is that a fight marking on the map is a vague “here be dragons” kind of thing, which I should pretty much just keep away from. Another thing with the map is that I still have a hard time visualizing the orange areas as clear and the white areas as open woods.

There were two places where I definitely made the wrong decision about which route to take. On leg 8 I should have followed the trails on the contour instead of climbing over the hill and then struggling back down through thick forest. On leg 11 when I found the right of way I should have followed it south to the field and then followed the treeline west to the control instead of getting lost on the faint bike trails in the pine forest.

Overall it was a lot of fun, good practice navigating, good exercise, and I hope to make it to another event soon.

Springtime rebirth

This blog is supposed to be about me, but parenting, as it turns out, is not. I haven't posted in forever because (a) I've had more important things to do, (b) my computer time has been spent keeping family and friends up to date with baby photos on Picasa, and (c) I don't feel like sharing detailed parenting stories on the open internet.

We have been super lucky with our baby. I'm scared to even describe how easy it has been for fear of jinxing it. She is a great sleeper, has never been really sick, and is happy and fun almost all the time. That being said, it has been a long, cold, indoor winter. Now that spring is here, it's not freezing cold all the time, and the baby is sturdy enough to be taken outside without getting broken, we are starting to have some more Nick style fun and I may manage to put up a few posts in this space.