With an 80 cm base of snow in the Blue Mountain area a few days before the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid was set to be held, it looked like we were in store for perfect snowshoeing conditions! And then, just two days before the race a serious thaw had many of us wondering whether there would be any snow left at all! The night before the race, an email from the race organizers clarified things: snowshoes recommended! Phew.
On race morning, we awoke to a temperature of -24C with the windchill. I didn’t want to be cold (in particular at higher, exposed elevations), but didn’t want to be overdressed either (in lower forested areas). I settled on 3 layers on the bottom (plus gaiters), 4 on the top, a balaclava, a toque, gloves and shells. I debated wearing ski goggles! I also carried an extra pair of socks, extra pair of gloves, a fleece sweater, and toe warmers, just in case!
I arrived at Blue Mountain with my friend and teammate Rebecca (team “Define Lost”), to find another friend (Kim) very happy to see me. Her teammate and son was sick and unable to race, and since you can’t race alone in the Snowshoe Raid, she asked to join our team. With the blessing of the race organizers, we became a team of 3.
We were to be bussed to the start line at Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, and then would have 3 hours to find as many of the controls as possible. There were no mandatory controls, but if you went into the “matrix” and found controls in this part of the map, you had to go to the aid station to prove that you found them (by showing the holes punched on your map – there were manual hole punches at these controls). The controls were scored as follows: 25 points for green, 50 for blue, 75 for black, 100 for double black, and 150 for you’re crazy and no way am I going there!
We used highlighters to mark our intended route, and decided that at checkpoint 50 we would do a time check and see what we still had time to do. After the pre-race briefing and a last pitstop, we headed to the busses, dropping a bag off so that it would be waiting for us at the race finish (warm layers, if needed).
The bus ride lasted around 20 minutes. It was very shortly after we arrived (I was debating whether I would pee on the side of the road as many of the guys were doing!) when there was an announcement: the race would be starting in 4 minutes! I didn’t even have my snowshoes on. I quickly got myself organized, and the race began!
At first it was a snowshoe walk, as we all had to follow the same trail for a while. Eventually, people spread out and we could run.
Our plan was to go for controls 52, 53, 54, 55, 44, 50, 42, 40 (if it looked like we could cross the creek, which we were warned pre-race was a flowing creek because of the thaw), and then if we had time, we would enter the matrix, doing 33, 32, the aid station, 39 and then the finish.
We weren’t sure how much we would be able to run, and how much walking we would do. At times, the snow didn’t hold our weight and we sunk down a foot or more. In these sections I ran less, worried that I would hurt myself. On packed down trails it was easy to run.
We found 52 (green) quite easily, but struggled to find 53 (double black) and ended up overshooting it. Our bearing must have been off. When we hadn’t found it where we expected to, we kept going (maybe over the next hill!), but we really were’t sure whether we had gone too far left of it, or too far right. When we reached a snowmobile trail, we realized what we had done (we had gone too far right), and instead went for 54 (blue). Knowing exactly where we were then, and planning to head back toward 53 anyway en route to 55, we tried again, and found it (just before we got there, we were heading up a hill when down the hill comes Barb, who very often wins her age category – “that’s a good sign!” we said, and we were right!). There is such satisfaction in finding something that you have struggled to find! I hate giving up on controls.
One thing that’s interesting about snowshoe orienteering is that you can see which way other people went… but they may have been just as lost as you, or walking randomly in hopes of finding something that matches the map. And the trails… oh, the trails… what would be easy to find in the summer may be impossible to spot in the winter! If no one has walked on a trail recently, you may have no idea where it is. At Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, the snowmobile trail was easy to spot, but the tiny trails? Not so much.
Since we couldn’t rely on the trails being visible, we used pace counting to figure out how far we had gone.
Next up was control 55 (blue), which we found easily. At 44 (black diamond), the sun was peeking through the forest making it very pretty!
It was when I started ascending the hill to 50 (blue) that I realized I had a problem! I was walking on two big mounds of ice built up under the metal grips of my snowshoes (the toe crampons). I couldn’t grip the ground, and was just sliding down the hill. It was a very steep climb. I whacked my snowshoe against a tree many times before I dislodged the ice, but had trouble with the second. Eventually, I got it. Given the temperature (cold!) I wasn’t expecting ice build-up.
We descended the hill, and checking the time, knew that we wouldn’t have time to do the controls in the matrix. 39 (green) wasn’t in the matrix, but from the road, it would involve a significant climb – it was “green” only if you were in the matrix and following a trail – so we skipped it. We headed for 42 (blue), which was easy to find because all we had to do was run along the road looking for a creek – since it was flowing, it was quite obvious! We followed the creek uphill until we found the control.
We were doubtful that we had time to go for control 40, but I figured we should try it. Rebecca had in her head that we still had 3k to run to the finish, when in fact it was 1.5. When she realized her error, she agreed that we had time to go for it. Kim decided to head to the finish, so Rebecca and I headed into the woods. We got about 10 metres in when we found the wide (6 feet?) flowing creek, and knew there was no way we were crossing it. We didn’t have time to run up and down the creek looking for a safe crossing spot (a guy there said they had tried to find a spot), so instead we headed for the finish!
We crossed the finish line in 2:52:11, with a total of 400 points. Had we been over the allotted 3 hours, we would have lost 30 points per minute.
After grabbing some hot chocolate and ginger cookies, and grabbing my backpack with extra clothes (which I didn’t need at that point), I made my way to the busses for the ride back to Blue Mountain, where a hot lunch was waiting for us.
I was relieved that my clothing choices worked out well – I had chilly fingers at the very start, but otherwise I was comfy!
I had fun racing with Rebecca and Kim. With the exception of control 53, we didn’t have trouble finding anything.
The race was super well organized. I highly recommend it!
- Time: 2:52:11
- Points: 400
- Placing out of all teams: 58/101
- Placing out of female teams: 11/19
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