While the rest of Australia was focussed on a football final of one code or another last weekend, I was hosing off the Abercrombie dust from our vehicle (a rainy day in Katoomba helped) and mentally composing my wrap-up of our NSW champs experience. I very much enjoy reading other teams’ reports but so often they are the top teams and it occurs to me that some people may relate more to the experience of a middle-of-the-pack team. On the off-chance, and at the risk of exposing the enormity of our rogaining ineptitude, here goes.
Having missed so many good rogaines this year for reasons beyond my control, I was determined to make the NSW champs despite the known intimidating topographic relief. As to course planning, we were completely non-plussed to be unable to construct an efficient route comprising 2 loops with a break of up to 6 hours at HH in between, and without long track hikes in and out. (Yes, I see from the results that some teams managed it). Limited easy pickings around HH and/or just off the tracks. What to do?! The SE looked like it could easily swallow us in an unfriendly watercourse system so we eventually settled on a single anti-clockwise loop of 24 controls across the N half of the map that avoided the ‘problematic’ river crossing around 27 and 28, made the most of the cluster NE of HH, finishing…? whenever…? The big unknown was vegetation density, which proved mercifully light!
We decided to save 65 to the end, so started off with the crowd to 16 and 63, but while they mostly headed N from there we cunningly doubled back to 48 (delightful shallow spur), 76 (the first of many killer climbs) and 38 (making good use of the track).
More trackwork to the pleasant spur to 47, no navigational problems to 56 and the non-flashing 15. Decision time – whether to take the straight-up-the-spur route to 72, or include 35 and face a steeper climb to 72. I favoured the latter and we duly set off but I drifted too close to the river and as usual it was Colin who saved us by realising that we were one watercourse junction too far down. Easy river crossing and a zig-zag climb up to the spur line saw us safely to 72, where we faced a particularly daunting descent to the track and across to 23.
Could not have managed this descent in one piece without my trusty trekking pole, as we angled down hoping to locate ourselves on the track for an accurate attack to the potentially tricky 23. Colin correctly identified which saddle we were on on the track and we took great care following a spur/watercourse sequence to the right gully. We were acutely aware of the climb penalty for errors. I was later astonished to see in the control visits that we were one of only 2 teams overall who visited 23, the other team being in the 8-hour event.
On with the story. 5:30 pm now, time to be aware of fading daylight. We were on schedule to get across the vast interior to 61 before dark, and had a satisfactory average of 2 controls per hour. The plan was to follow the high ridge SE then NE to 37, but we were too optimistic about how far we had come across the ridge and I insisted that we were at the right attack spur when in fact we hadn’t even made the SE/NE turn! So it was that we descended on a parallel spur several hundred metres too soon and hit a major watercourse in a huge washed-out sweeping bend that didn’t fit expectations, to say the least. Dark now, headlights out, look around, try to relocate. By matching watercourse bends with the map, we theorised as to our position, and tested the theory by following the watercourse SE. Fortunately the watercourse was broad and easy to walk along and – dare I say – a pleasant, if unintentional, route choice. Our confidence grew as we ticked off each matching tributary and bend. By the time we had made the NE turn and come to a flattish spur we had no doubt we would find 37 there, as indeed we did!
But a greater, inexcusable mistake was yet to come, as in our elation over 37 we overshot 29 by staying too high on the spur and looking in parallel watercourses too far to the E. In fact, so far to the E that in re-climbing the spur to relocate we stumbled across the track! The decision not to go back for 29 proved most regrettable because our final score fell just 10 points under the magic 1,000.
61 was a rare gift, followed by a long track climb to 10 – nice to meet a few teams on this stretch – and then around to 74 just after midnight. We had options for 69, 68, 53, 26 or 36 (most of which weren’t on our original plan though), but were deterred from attempting any of them because we feared becoming drained by the energy-sapping climbs. 54 was doable though, then a lovely moonlit track trek around to 67, by which time we had formulated the plan to rest up till daybreak, to be sure of not erring on the subtle-looking 73.
Spent 10 minutes teasing apart our space blankets to wrap around us for a chilly and uncomfortable hour and a half ‘rest’ – oh for an all-night café – before welcoming the lightening sky at 5:30 am and bagging 45 with sunlight-boosted energy and enthusiasm.
The closing sequence 73-44-58-13-64-14 was navigationally straightforward (despite some confusion over the track position N of 73), and we had plenty of time in hand. I was dreading the descent from 58 and the climb to 64 and both seemed never-ending; I was certainly struggling to get to 14.
Made it at last, on easy street to HH, and with enough time to race down to 65, but absolutely no energy to even contemplate it.
Overall, a worthy area and a worthy course for a championship. Much as the climbs were strenuous, the openness of the vegetation was a huge bonus.