Detailed Course Setting Advice

  NSW Rogaining Association

"Your Guide to Rogaining in NSW"

Detailed Course Setting Advice

Introduction

First time course setters should read this document in conjunction with the International Rogaining Federation manual on organising a rogaine. Experienced course setters may also benefit from reading through this guide.

Selection of an area

Your first task as a course setter will usually be selection of an area. You can either use an area that has been used before but has been rested for several years, or you can select a new area. There are a number of considerations in selecting an area:

  1. The type of terrain, how thick the vegetation is and the size of the area.
  2. Whether the terrain includes some open country to provide competitors choice for night time navigation.
  3. How far is the area from Sydney? Travel times in excess of 2 hours will reduce entries. However, a special event (e.g., a NSW or an Australian Championships) may justify going further afield.
  4. Is there safe and easy access for sufficient water drops, and for search and rescue teams on the course?
  5. Are there dangerous areas on the map (e.g., high cliffs)?
  6. The availability of a suitable Hash House site. Consideration here include:
     
    • Is there all weather access for conventional vehicles?
    • Are there sufficient suitable camping sites?
    • Is the Hash House fairly centrally located on the competition map?
  7. Availability of a usable map.
  8. Land owners’ permission.

After selecting a potential area, you need to become familiar with all parts by walking over it. Without a good understanding of the characteristics of the area, it will be difficult to set a fair and interesting course. An irregular outline, many out of bounds areas and extended physical features that restrict or bar progress all detract from the quality of a course. The best areas are ones where the controls can be reasonably evenly distributed with the spacing gradually increasing with distance from the Start/Finish.

The Map

Although our sport was developed when the use of off the shelf maps (e.g., standard topographic maps) were the only option, the use of such maps has serious limitations today. Problems with the use of such maps (or scanned copies of them) are that they are often inaccurate and require corrections, and those corrections cannot be easily made on original or scanned copies.

Fortunately there are a number of different systems that course setters can use to produce high quality digital maps that can be easily edited. One such system is OCAD and the section on Map Making has more information on this computer aided drawing program.

The default map scale for virtually all rogaining maps used in NSW is 1:25000. This scale typically allows for the use of A3 size maps for 6 and 12 hour events, and A2 size maps for 24 hour events. At the time of writing, maps can be printed on plain or glossy paper (at least 120 gsm weight of paper is needed), on laminated paper, or on plastic film.

It’s essential that the following safety-related information appears on the map:

  1. Emergency phone number(s)

  2. A safety bearing to assist competitors who get lost.

  3. The location of water drops. For a 24 hour event, at least 2 water drops (in addition to water at the Hash House) will be needed. Insufficient water drops will reduce route choice for competitors and may contribute to competitor dehydration. There needs to be sufficient supply at each water drop throughout the event for each competitor to fill up at least a 2 litre water container.


NSWRA has many large water containers for water drops. Plan a checking and refilling schedule for the event so the water drops never run dry.

The Setting Process

Having selected your area and made an initial survey, spread the map out and do an arm chair setting exercise that involves locating potential checkpoint sites. Try to distribute the space between the checkpoints fairly evenly, although spacing might vary depending on the distance from the Hash House and on the nature of the terrain. Make sure that there are plenty of checkpoints around the Hash House to meet the needs of novices and of teams who may come into the Hash House for a break, before going out again.

You also need to make an initial estimate of the size of the course where size is the shortest distance a team would have to travel to visit all the check points. This will always be greater than the straight line distance between checkpoints. Just how much more depends on the topography and vegetation. Ninety km is a typical size for a 24 hour NSW rogaine. You can use this estimated size in conjunction with checkpoint spacing to determine the area you need. For a 24 hour rogaine, 100 sq km is usually ample. These figures are lower than suggested in the IRF manual because the manual has a Victorian/West Australian bias. Courses in those states generally make much greater use of open farmland than in NSW.

When you visit the field to check potential checkpoint sites you’ll often find that half of them are unsuitable. The vegetation may be too thick, there may be nothing at the checkpoint site to hang the flag, or (more often) you’ll find a better checkpoint site nearby. Often the map will be inaccurate in the immediate area and so you’ll need to make map corrections if you continue to use that checkpoint site. If you’re satisfied that the checkpoint site is fair, mark its location in the field with tape to assist the flag and Navlight hanger. We strongly recommend that you take a GPS reading at the site so later vetting (checking) of the location of the site is unnecessary. You can either check the accuracy of the location of the checkpoint by matching the GPS grid reference to the topographic map, or you can load the GPS reading into a geo-referenced digitised map for checking.

We also strongly encourage you to select features that are shown on the map. Such features will appear on the checkpoint descriptions as, “The gully” or “The spur”. Avoid using features that do not appear on the map to prevent confusion about their location. An exception may be “A knoll” that falls within the contour interval for the map but is located on a clearly defined ridge line. Make sure that the checkpoint flag is visible for at least 20 metres from most directions. Remember that although the flag may be easily seen in the day, some competitors may visit the site at night.

The size of the course should be sufficient to not allow the winning team to visit all checkpoints. However, you don’t want to waste time making the course bigger than necessary. The NSWRA database has useful tool to check the size of a course - Paul Shield's Route Calculator. Enter your check point data into the NSWRA database and it will generate the input required by the router. Copy the result onto your map and then look for obvious 'bad' route choices. The better your layout the fewer there will be of these. Make any necessary alterations and add the extra distance to the route calculator's figure. To decide if the course is big enough it is then just a matter of estimating the likely average speed of the winning team. This will be a function of the vegetation and topography. Knowledge of the results of previous events on similar terrain helps here.

Checking and Vetting

The IRF manual states, “It is strongly recommended that each check point be critically and independently assessed three times”. The three stages are Setting, Checking and Vetting. It goes onto admit that most will find it difficult to find sufficient people to carry out all three stages and that the checking stage is likely to be deleted. The ARA Technical Standards only call for a two stage process. As explained in the last section, technology now provides the means to combine setting and checking because a GPS unit gives your position with an accuracy of 10m. If an independent person places the checkpoint flag and Navlight in the field, then the checkpoint location is effectively vetted.

While modern GPS units are reliable, their accuracy will be influenced by the extent of tree cover and in gorges. Triangulation using compass bearings from known locations can be used as a backup.

Allocation of Points

The last stage of course setting is the allocation of points to each checkpoint. There are tools in the NSWRA database to assist you in this work. Most rogaines allocate points to checkpoints as a function of their distance from the Hash House, the navigational skills required to locate the checkpoint, and the physical effort required to get to the checkpoint (e.g., a higher points value for checkpoints that require a major climb).

NSWRA has number tags that are attached to the string of the Navlight units. These tags range in number from 10s to 90s. So, checkpoint 15 will be worth 10 points, and checkpoint 47 will be worth 40 points.

Safety checklist

  1. Has each team been provided with a flight plan sheet and told to submit their intended route to event administration before the start? In the half hour before the start of the event, ask the event administrator to check for unsubmitted flight plans and make an announcement for those teams hand them in.

  2. Apart from the normal hazards of the bush, have you warned competitors of any relevant dangers (e.g., high cliffs, steep gorges)? You can highlight such dangers on the map, by mentioning them in the Course Setter’s notes, and by reminding competitors at the final briefing just before the start of the event.

  3. Is there sufficient safe drinking water on the course to reduce the risk of competitor dehydration?

  4. Have competitors been provided with an emergency phone number that appears both on the map and on the Course Setter’s notes?

  5. Is there a safety bearing on the map to assist teams who get lost?