Mike Hotchkis Reports ...
It was a bit damp. I blame the rugby world cup, in particular that sudden influx of English visitors who seemed to bring their weather with them. The 22-23rd November was like English autumn weather, 'season of mists, etc.', to quote that other well-known rogainer John Keats. But now, we are again adjusted to Aussie summer sun, tennis and cricket and Australia on the winning side (at the time of writing).
Rollie Burford was keen to get back to Belanglo, a place he knows well from earlier days orienteering there, and set a rogaine. I talked to Rollie a few times, looked over maps with him - he had many control sites selected, from map and memory. Then, just before he could get out there and start setting, Rollie suffered an injury at work which put him out of action for several weeks. So I stepped in to take on the job, and used what I could of his pre-planning. Actually, on advice of the vetters, I cut back the course size a bit - there's plenty of room out there for a 12 hour course!
Taking over as course-setter, I felt that irresistible urge to try something different. Vetter quote: "why are you doing this Mike, you'll just get competitors very annoyed!" Well, I thought I'd just take that risk... Participants found themselves with a map showing 26 checkpoints and a checkpoint description list showing 37. There were 11 'mystery' checkpoints, which they could only find out about by first visiting a 'clue' checkpoint. It was all explained in the course-setters notes.
The idea here was to give people some extra strategic and navigational challenges. Clearly, teams would have to be prepared to modify their course plan on the run, depending on whether they reckoned a particular 'mystery' checkpoint was worth visiting or not.
Long ago, in the golden age of rogaining (before my time), competitors had to plot all the checkpoints on to their map at the start, from a list of grid references, so I have heard. Being afraid that plotting grid references might be becoming a lost art, I used grid references for several of the clues for mystery checkpoints.
Two of the clues required teams to follow a bearing for a fixed distance into an area with limited visibility, to find an unmapped feature. Just checking that you guys know how to use a compass! I think rogainers try to get by without really using their compasses - just using a series of 'left turn here, look for gully, turn right there' etc. This technique would explain 90% of errors made on rogaines. Careful use of the compass saves a lot of geographic embarrassment.
Checkpoint 73 is a case in point: looking at the map, it appears quite easy, on the edge of a large cliff formation - yet several teams, and the vetters, had trouble with it, ending up on the wrong side of the gully to the north. Use your compass!
In spite of the weather, we had a good turn-out with over 80 teams on the day. From the feedback I heard, a good day out was had by all. What did people make of the mystery checkpoints? In general, people enjoyed the novelty and the extra challenge. The course was large for a 6 hour. Only a few teams ventured to the western checkpoints, where the bigger hills were, and fewer still reached the farthest north. While the small area of pine forest is not so interesting, there is plenty of really nice bushland around Belanglo, and the course was designed to take full advantage of it.
The name Belanglo is imprinted on the minds of many as the scene of a series of horrific murders in the early 90s. The forest has not been used much for orienteering or rogaining since that time. Checkpoint 50 took participants to the memorial for the victims, many of whom were young backpackers visiting Australia. It seemed appropriate to include this spot on the course. More than ten years on, I hope that we can again associate the name Belanglo with the attractive bushland that it is.