In hindsight our error is so obvious, but out in the woods we weren’t sure WHAT we had done! Where exactly were we?
Rebecca and I (team Define Lost) were recently back in action at the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid in the Copeland Forest in the Barrie, Ontario area.
In the days leading up to the race, we – like everyone else – were watching the weather closely to see whether there would be enough snow for snowshoes, or whether we would be using spikes on our running shoes instead. On race morning we set out prepared for both eventualities – it wasn’t until we had a look at the race map that we opted for spikes instead of snowshoes, figuring that the trails would be hard packed and would be easier to run than bushwhacking on snowshoes through the forest.
For this race, teams had 3 hours to find as many controls (checkpoints) as possible. Go over the 3 hour limit and you lose 20 points per minute. Some controls were close to trails, while others were not. Some were in flatter terrain, while others were on the top of steep hills. This forest has some significant hills! Point values for the controls depend on how far away they are and how easy they are to find (for this race, they were as follows: green 25, blue 50, black 75, double black 100, extreme 150).
It had been quite a while since Rebecca and I had done an orienteering race, so we planned a conservative route with a few decisions points along the way – if we were making slower progress than expected we would cut certain sections of the course out. After planning our route, we decided that we might actually be better off spending more time on the south part of map #1 (more points available), rather than the north part, so we had our original route (orange highlighter) and new route (yellow highlighter – the paths diverged at control 70) mapped out. We opted for yellow. We didn’t even plan to visit map #2, knowing we couldn’t cover that much distance in the 3 hours.
After a short school bus ride to the start line, the race began! With the majority of people heading for the same control first, there wasn’t much running at the start for us – we were in a line of people walking. After control #24, we headed for the road, and easily found #28, which was not far off the road. We got back onto the road and yelled to a team ahead of us that they couldn’t go the way they were heading, which was a driveway identified as “private land” on the map. They noted that they were just following others, but we explained the map to them and they followed us instead. After finding #20, we headed for #55, which is where the fun began.
We found #55, then set our compass bearing to take us to a trail, which would lead us by trail most of the way to the next control, #54. In winter orienteering the temptation is high to follow the tracks of other teams. You would think we had learned our lesson by now. Sometimes you end up following people who had no idea where they were going. We veered off our bearing, changing our route on the fly to follow tracks, and ended up at a trail. We thought we knew which trail we had found, and headed south, but somehow we ended up going way too far, passing the right hand turn we were supposed to maket. We started wondering why there were no snowshoe tracks ahead of us… where had everyone else gone? We decided to backtrack, and eventually got ourselves heading in the right direction. However we were both confused when we spotted the control, as we thought it was going to be on an uphill, but we were approaching it on a downhill. It turns out we were reading the contour lines wrong, and were approaching a valley not a ridge. Unfortunately, when we reached the control the number on the SI unit didn’t match the one on the map, but we quickly realized that it didn’t match any of the controls on the map, so we assumed we had found the right one and we were where we thought we were.
Normally, the number on the control in the forest matches the number of the control on the map – this is so you know exactly where you are. If the numbers don’t match, there is usually a legend on the map (e.g. map control #1 = SI unit 40).
Once we were back on track, our goal was to not get turned around again! We easily found the next few controls, including #70, #73, #23, and #71 (at the top of a steep hill). From here we knew that we should head for the finish, skipping #52 on our planned route. We feared it would put us overtime and we would lose our hard-earned points.
When we left the trail to find #58, we were seemingly cheered on by a woodpecker, likely a Pileated woodpecker (it was so loud). It must have known we needed some help. We had a little trouble finding it – the vegetation was thick and we walked right past it, but did realize we had gone too far when we hit a trail, and backtracked. From there it was a fairly easy route to the finish.
We ended up crossing the finish line in 2:35:36, having earned 475 points for 2nd place in the Masters Women category (combined aged 90+). We were beaten by our arch nemesis Tree Huggers, who were way ahead with 735 points.
We had fun running/walking 11 1/2 km through the woods spending time outside on such a glorious winter day! We didn’t regret our choice in footwear. Overall our navigation was pretty good, though a little rusty. And it was so great to see so many friends and familiar faces pre-race, in the forest, and post-race!!
Thank you Define Lost for another great race.
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3 thoughts on “Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid 2023”
How do they get the cones in place without leaving tracks? Are any of them ever missing? This seems like a fun thing to do. Winter+ snowshoes + outside + friends = happy times.
There may be footprints obvious to the first people approaching the control, but after that, people could approach from all directions, and may be near the control but not quite go the right way. It can be very confusing to follow footprints! Sometimes controls go missing (not often!) – or sometimes they may be knocked to the ground.
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Sounds like a serious challenge! Imagine a huge dump of snow 2 hours before!