Upside Down Rogaine

Map marking by Andrew Gills
Map marking, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

Team Whoops Witch Way hasn’t ever done a rogaine before. We’ve completed an adventure race and did quite well, but rogaining proved to be a whole other ball game. To make matters more challenging, we selected an 8 hour night navigation event as our introduction to the sport.

We collect our maps from the Hash House at 9pm. The sky is clear and the weather is warm. Other teams have fantastic set-ups: tents, tables, chairs and camp lanterns. By contrast, we have a small low table that you can use while sitting on the ground, a blanket and our head torches. But it works for us.

We are overly ambitious as we mark up the map. We select controls on the western side of the course, which will see us traveling through steep forested country that is criss-crossed by creek networks full of lantana. We could have selected an easier route through the open farm country to the east. A lesson for our next event.

At 11pm we join the 50 other teams racing off onto the course. 90% of the field travels the same way as we do and we find ourselves following the crowd. Fortunately, the crowd takes us quickly to CP23 and then on to CP64. We score an easy 80 points but have spent a lot of energy climbing some steep slopes.

From CP64 we follow a course to a set of powerlines, taking us directly to CP53 and on to CP81. Powerlines are double-edged swords. They are easy-to-follow handrails that generally travel in straight lines but they also seem to include steep hills with creeks in between each; so the travel is slow.

As we climb to CP81, we watch the fireflies (other racers’ torches) winding their way across the hills. It’s a beautiful sight. We are both surprised to see the many approaches different teams are taking to approach the same locations.

From CP81 we take a bearing to the road that separates it from CP92. The ‘road’ turns out to be a foot track. At first we are confused but then we trust our map-to-ground skills and quickly identify a course of action. We follow the road to a junction where we turn off, rather than traveling steeply down the steep mountainside. It’s a good decision but we are still soon caught in a pocket of lantana that threatens to block our progress. Teams bunch up as we all try to fight our way through the prickly wall of vines.

From CP92 we travel up a spur to a ridge that takes us directly to CP80. We’re in a firefly train but are still paying attention to our own nav.

Then disaster strikes. We take an easterly bearing to drop down the mountain from CP80 to 52. It should be easy nav: travel east to down a steep slope to a creek then climb a knoll. But it’s 1am and we’re both feeling the sleep monster’s attack. Before we know it we’ve turned 180′ and are traveling in a westerly direction. We walk in circles for half an hour forcing our way through some lantana to find a large wide creek.

I admit I felt panicked because I just couldn’t place us on the map. Nothing looked right. Then we saw another set of headlights and follow them to see whether that team know where we are. We decided that it’s better to be safe than proud. The other team confirm that we are actually where we thought we were (we had a good idea despite our circular motion). We join them in a fight through more lantana to the top of the knoll and find CP52.

The other team are experienced rogainers, having participated in the spot for 20 years and having been orienteers since the mid-1970s. They are heading for CP83, which we also hope to find. We have to follow a ridge to a spur. There’s a track and it takes us part-way there but in the darkness, team Whoops Witch way can’t find the spur (the other men did but we had left them behind a bit because we didn’t want them to think we were bludging off them).

Somehow we find CP91. It’s pure luck that other teams are fighting their way up a steep hill so we head down too. We earned each of the 90 points by sliding down a steep re-entrant before crawling back up on hands and feet for about 200m.

It’s 2am and our confidence is totally shattered. But we decide to give CP72 a try. It’s up the trail and then off on a spur. The spur should be easy to find because the rest of the ridge is narrow. But again, we struggle to find it so give up and walk the 1.5km back to CP91 where we know we can take an easterly bearing out of the mountains and into the more open farm land.

As we drop down the bearing, we bump into a three-person mixed team who also got lost down between CP80 and CP92. They also found themselves inexplicably traveling west. We start talking to them. The two men are army and the woman is airforce. The men are carrying 25km packs; using the race as a training exercise for their military obligations. The leader of that team (team 52) is an experienced navigator who exudes confidence and skill.

We follow team 52 to CP45, listening to the leader’s tactics and chatting socially with the team. From CP45 we travel to CP25 with them. CP25 is a water station and sits out in the open. It’s now 4:30am and it’s the first time we stop for a break; albeit a short one.

I ask team 52 whether they mind if we join them for a few CPs. I explain that it’s our first rogaine and that we’re finding the night navigation challenging. I ask whether they might teach us some of their skills as we travel together. Team 52 agree to help us out; a decision for which I will probably always be grateful because it’s the first time anyone’s taught me any nav skills (I am completely self-taught).

On the way to CP65, I learn how to measure the distance we travel by pace-counting and how to decide which route to take to the CP (pure point-to-point bearings aren’t always the most efficient route). We find CP65 and cut down to CP93. Along thew way, I work to practice my pacing as the other team call out their 100m sections.

Team 52’s leader shows great patience as he takes the time to explain the navigation decisions he is making. He is measuring the distance between CPs, calculating the time it is likely to take to travel them and the distance remaining to the Hash House (we have a 7am cut-off). Despite my fatigue, I focus on soaking up his lessons.

The sun starts to rise after CP32. As the land opens up in front of us, I find myself able to help with the nav. I identify the best route to take from the top of a ridge down to CP26 and am pleased to find that my map-to-ground skills are still working. After a challenging night, I was starting to worry my nav skills at Adventure Race Australia last year were pure luck. But the real issue is that we just didn’t know how to navigate at night. Now that the sun is up, I confidently help the two teams find CPs 26 and 46. That’s not to say I found them, but at least I was able to contribute to the navigation.

From CP46 we return to the hash house. My feet are soaking wet from walking through creeks and dew-covered grass. My body is tired and my mind suddenly turns to mush. But I am happy. Not just at finishing the event but with the effort our team put into it. For a first rogaine, the Upside Down certainly didn’t pull any punches.

We scored 740 points, which was nowhere near the leaders. But we weren’t there to win. We learned that we can keep moving for 8 hours and we improved our skills base. Most importantly, the event was a load of fun.

Total: 20km walked and 740 points scored.

12 responses to “Upside Down Rogaine

  1. Sounds like fun. Good to see you rocking that head torch with pride!

    • It was fantastic fun. The Black Diamond Storm is my secondary head torch. I also have an Ayup light, which is my primary due to it’s 1,000 lumen output. The Ayup seems to be the headtorch of choice here in Brisbane for running, road and mountain biking, rogainning and adventure racing. 60%-70% of the field at events use them. Pretty impressive given their cost ($$$) and that they are made by a small local company that only sells through their own website

  2. That seems really cool but I have a question, what is a CP? (Sorry, I’m not a biker) 🙂

    • A CP is a checkpoint In rogainning these are white and orange flags hidden in the bush with electronic timers on them. You press the timer against your wrist band, which has an electronic time recorder in it, to show you attended the CP.

      This was a foot rogaine so we walked the course. Sometimes rogaines are done on bike too. They are called cyclogaines here in Australia.

  3. Here in the US Rogaine is the name of a cream used to fight baldness. Any connection to the “rogaine” you speak of? 🙂

    • Hahaha . We have rogaine hair drug here too and while I am losing my hair at a rate of knots, the only rogaine I enjoy is the sporting type. LOL.

      Rogainning is like orienteering

  4. How generous of the other team to let you tag along and give you lessons!
    8 hours of night nav … very tiring! Well done 🙂

    • It was very generous. While ordinarily I would have gutted it out and kept persisting on our own, we realised by that stage of the event that neither of our teams were competitive anymore. They were carrying 25kg packs and our team were definitely out of our depth (we’re both self-taught natural navigators, relying largely on map-to-ground recognition).

      It was certainly the most rewarding experience of my racing ‘career’ to date because we made a huge leap forward in our skills.

      The event was extremely tiring. I hope to have caught back up on sleep by tomorrow morning 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Sykose.

  6. Great write up Andrew! Stoked you enjoyed the course, especially as a first-time rogainer.

  7. Pingback: Rest day reflections | Transventure

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