Eli and I enjoyed Sunday afternoon running around the woods with a map and compass searching for flags and trying not to get lost. The day was perfect for one of my favorite activities, Orienteering.
Orienteering is a family of sports that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain. Participants are given a map, usually a specially prepared orienteering map, which they use to find control points. Originally a training exercise in land navigation for military officers, orienteering has developed many variations. Among these, the oldest and the most popular is foot orienteering. For the purposes of this article, foot orienteering serves as a point of departure for discussion of all other variations, but basically any sport that involves racing against a clock and requires navigation using a map is a type of orienteering.
I took a class at the local YMCA a few years ago (Al Newman taught it) and I have been hooked ever since. Most orienteering events are organized by local clubs. The Southern Michigan Orienteering Club puts on 4-6 events each Spring and Fall. Each event has several levels of difficulty (White, Yellow, Orange, Green and Red) so everyone can enjoy the day.
This weekend’s event was at Pontiac Lake. This is my first time at this venue and it is an excellent spot. There is plenty of interesting terrain, loads of hills, and the map is outstanding. (We still managed to get confused in one spot though). Eli and I did one event last year and went with the White course. We breezed through that event and I thought we could handle Yellow course this time.
When you first get to the event, there is a check in table where you pick your course, pay the modest fee ($5 bucks if you are a member), and get your map. There are usually people there to help out if you are a newbie and need some instruction.
Orienteering maps are extremely detailed. The trick is to understand what each symbol means and to pay close attention to where you are and what features are around you. Sometimes it is a simple as “run along this trail until I get to an intersection” or ” run along this stream until I get to the bottom of the hill” and other times, it is using your compass to “take a bearing and run 25 strides”.
Each flag or control is represented by a circle on the map and you need to find all of the controls in order. (There are other variants of orienteering that have different rules, but the basics are the same) At each control is an orange and white flag with a punch. You punch your sheet to prove that you found each control.
The other key ingredient to a good day in the woods is to bring high energy snacks. We raided Eli’s Halloween stash and that did the trick.
Can’t wait to get back out there.