Get Into Gear Part 6 – Shedding Light on Headtorches and Night Navigation

by Tristan White

I am grateful that I’ve had the chance to go on several night rogaines with seasoned competitors in earlier years. In addition to allowing me to do night rogaines comfortably on my own accord, it has given me the confidence to do night-time hiking, trail running, orienteering and cycling; something that many of my friends think I’m crazy doing, but is second nature to me. I really love rogaines that have a mix of day and night in them, as it feels like two separate events. And needless to say, it forces one to be very careful with navigation as being lost in the pitch black can be a very “dark” experience!

The main addition to the kit list for a night rogaine is, of course, a good headtorch, and with several night rogaines coming up, I thought it would be a bright idea to get a handful of seasoned rogainers to share their own experience on which one(s) they use, how they use it and why. Long-time rogainers Martin Dearnley, Graham Field, Mike Hotchkis, Marg Cook and John Havranek helped me out. Let’s start with Martin:

Martin Dearnley: I have used the same Ay Up LED head torch for over ten years.  Made in QLD, it has a 400 lumen setting for general use and an 800 lumen setting for spotting controls.  I still use the original batteries.  One is 6-hour and the other is 12-hour and both are taken in a 24-hour rogaine.

The Ay Up torch shines twin beams so that one can be set further ahead of the other.  The twin beams also seem to make it easier to see trip hazards while walking on rough ground.   The original cost of around $350 is much the same today.   The current Ay Up head torch advertised today looks very similar to mine from 2009.

While the Ay Up torch has been reliable, I take a small Petzel Tikkina head torch as a spare.

Marg Cook: Back when we started rogaining in 2008, we had normal AA-battery camping head-torches, which allowed you so see about 10 metres in front of you! Not very effective, but we didn’t know any better. At a rogaine around 2010 we were amazed how far some people could see. We discovered Ay-Up then, and have never looked back. They give a fantastic light.

The new batteries have three settings: low, medium and high power. The lower power settings are good for travelling along tracks or through reasonable bush. We use the high-power setting when navigation is challenging and when casting around for the control flag. It picks up the reflectors on the flag, and also the orange and white glows in their light. Always a welcome sight.

The current price for a “Run” system is around $235. We still have the original lights and have recently purchased our first replacement set of rechargeable batteries – which are quite expensive at $121 each. We considered changing to a different head-light system, but decided that what we were using was so good, it was worth the outlay.

The Run system has both the light and the battery on a head-harness, isn’t too heavy and is reasonably balanced. I often wear a beanie with the head-light over the top.

Graham Field: I have a Spikelight which I purchased in 2012 when I started doing night rogaines. It’s a V2 Spikelight and I think that they have now have got up to V5. It was expensive (>$300), but well worth it for several reasons:

•        It had a fantastic beam, both focussed and spread.

•        It was being built by a small, Australian start-up company in WA and looked like a well-engineered product. The founder is a rogainer, he knows the requirements for night events, and he was responsive and happy to talk to me about the product.

It’s still working as well as when I bought it – it’s had a new set of batteries (commonly available) and a new headband, provided free by the manufacturer after about four years!

It is programmable, but not overly complex – it has a single button that you click in various sequences to get different functions, like beam type, intensity, locking etc.  I deliberately keep it simple so that it’s easy to flick between narrow beam and five intensities of spread.

I also have a couple of Petzls, one of which I carry as a backup, but rarely use.

Graham’s Spikelight V2

John Havranek: My main running and rogaining torch over the past year is a Fenix HL60R 950 lumen rechargeable LED headlamp which was $120. It has five settings from dim to super bright and is rechargeable via USB.

I also have a Petal Tikka xp2 that I now take along as a spare – it runs on AAAs.

Mike Hotchkis: I’ve been using a Petzl NAO for the past five years, bought on the recommendation of rogaine partner Neil Hawthorne.  Not cheap then, and only got pricier.  Current price about $370, plus $150 for a spare battery. It has ‘reactive’ lighting – so you don’t get blinded when you look down at the map – which works well.

Tristan White: I too have had the NAO since 2013 and it’s still going strong. In the following picture you’ll see the batteries are numbered – that’s because I’ve dropped them both too many times to count when I’m trying to change them!

A big selling feature for the Petzl Nao for me is the ability to affix to my handlebars or helmet using reusable cable ties and a camera case, avoiding the need for another specialist cycling light

TristanW: How do you find navigating in the dark different to during the day and how do you use the different settings on your torch for different parts of the course?

MartinD: Navigation at night is quite different from during the day. Most mistakes have been made in the first two hours after sunset, usually because we have still been moving at daylight speeds and terrain features have become much less visible. Night navigation relies on compass bearings and step counting and these must be done carefully because it is much harder to get back on track after getting lost at night than during the day.

GrahamF: 95% of the time I use the spread on the 3/5 or 4/5 setting; the lower settings give better battery life. I generally use 3 for just following the map on good terrain, 4 for more difficult terrain and 5 if I really need to watch where I’m going. When within range of a control, I’ll flick on the spot for an intense, narrow beam that will pick things out for up to 300m – pretty much as far away as you can see. It does chew the battery in this mode though, so selective use is the key. It’s also not great for just walking with, which is a good way to remember to use the spread mode. I’ve learnt that the better your nav, the more battery life that you get!

Night navigation is a whole new game – and topic for discussion. For me, the biggest difference is the need to slow things down a bit and take more care with everything – route selections need to be more conservative, catching features are essential, less reliance on topography and more on map metrics – accurate bearings, distances etc. along with accurate pacing and vigilance checking bearings across team members. Add this to the fact that you’re probably a bit tired (physically and mentally) from already doing 6 hours or so in the light and the possibility of a mistake is heightened.

Depending on the terrain, moonlight and vegetation cover, it’s sometimes advantageous to turn the light off or right down and look into the distance to re-establish your perception of the surrounding landform. You can often better pick out an indistinct track at night by looking at the tree cover on the immediate horizon.

The consequences of a mistake at night are amplified considerably, although in my experience few mistakes are directly attributed to the night or a head-light.  Heavy mist one evening made us totally lose position and orientation (in this circumstance, a bright light was a distinct disadvantage). I find that most mistakes at night are the result of fatigue and losing (mental) focus.

JohnH: I tend to mainly use the second lowest or middle setting while on tracks or navigating which is enough and will run for the night on a single charge. Occasionally I’ll go the higher levels but find it’s not really required too often – maybe when around a control that we can’t seem to find. There is also a low red-light option that I sometimes use when reading a map to avoid too much glare and impacting my night vision (or around the hash house to avoid blinding others).

John at the Catherine Hill Bay MapRun

MikeH: My Nao has multiple intensity settings. I use it on 25–50 % settings most of the time and only turn it up to full power if we don’t strike the flag on first approach.

When I first got it, I missed not having focus control, which I’d had on previous torches.  I see the latest Nao has this feature.  But these days, torches are so bright you hardly need it.

My advice for night nav – be conservative. No shortcuts. Aim off wider than in daylight, just to be sure. Go a little extra distance, find good attack points. Compass is always in my hand.

Mike Hotchkis (at left) with teammate Glenn Horrocks – 2019 NSW Champs – note Mike has Nao on head and compass on wrist

TristanW: For a day/night rogaine, do you specifically choose to attempt/avoid finding any particular controls at night?

MartinD: At night, we prefer controls that are accessible from tracks and ridgelines so we are less likely to get lost if we make a mistake.

GrahamF: It’s really just common sense, but in general, I opt for the straightforward controls at night – good attack points, good catching features, close to tracks etc. I avoid difficult terrain and long (>500m) traverses, especially where there is a route change along the way. Maybe this is why I’m just an average rogainer…

MargC: Night time is different. You lose the visual cues that help you know where you are. Our usual mistake is to overestimate how far we have travelled, then get misplaced by not going far enough. We learned that lesson so well that in one rogaine we walked right off the map trying to compensate for our coming up short. We also move more slowly at night, with less confidence. We check the map more often. Our aim is to not be lost at 11pm. Unfortunately, we don’t always achieve this.

Rob & Marg Cook at Mt Werong, NSW Champs 2017

MikeH: For me, control selection is not a foremost consideration in route planning.  If the course is well set, and you navigate with care, you can find everything.

TristanW: How do you conserve your batteries and what spares do you take?

MartinD: I take a spare battery and I keep my light level low until I need to spot for a control.

MargC: Our batteries run for 12 hours on half power, so we expect to do the full rogaine on the one battery. We take a spare battery and also a spare head-torch between us. Another useful thing is to actually take the Ay-up with you. At one Rogaine, one of our Ay-Up’s was left safely sitting in the back of the car!

Our torches are also useful for bicycling, and actually show up the road ahead. We tend to fit them to the helmet. We also use them attached to the front of the kayak to light up the river banks during the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. The idea of running close to the river bank is to use the back eddy when paddling against the tide. It has gained us many minutes during the race, and given us that rosy glow as we pass people who are paddling further out in the incoming current.

GrahamF: As mentioned previously, limiting the use of the spot and flicking to a lower spread mode works best for preserving battery life. The Spikelight uses 2x 18650 Lithium cells – under normal operation, these give me about 8-10 hours of operation. I carry two spare batteries generally, four for a big event where I’m anticipating needing the spot for a longer time.

I also carry a spare headlight that will allow me to continue for several hours with adequate light. Sometimes I take two! Without tempting fate, the Spikelight hasn’t let me down since I’ve had it.

JohnH: I take a second headlamp as spare – rather than a battery – in case my (or my partner’s) main one is lost or damaged in some way.

MikeH: Petzl Nao battery lasts about 7-8 hours the way I use it.  Need a spare to get through the night.  It would last longer if used for longer on lower settings, but I don’t need to, so I don’t.

Martin Dearnley (left) and Graham Field

TristanW: Aside from rogaining, how else do you use your headtorch?

MartinD: My Ay Up head torch is occasionally used for spotting wildlife at night.

GrahamF: It’s my main light for any night activity… night orienteering events, helping out with multi-day or early morning trail running events, doing anything around the house at night (like looking for possums in the roof) and as an emergency light when the power goes off.  Despite having several other cheaper headlights, I always pick up the Spikelight as it has such a powerful beam. Why use something with less light?

Unfortunately, you can’t buy them anymore, but if you have a look at the Spikelight’s website, the door has been left open for a come-back.  Maybe they were engineered too well and never broke, maybe cheaper imported lights made the business uneconomic – either way, I reckon it’s a great Aussie product designed specifically for our sport.

JohnH: Trail running and mountain biking.  The high beam is great for mountain biking but only lasts about an hour at best.

MikeH: Camping – but Petzl Nao is overkill for that, I use something cheap instead to conserve the battery.

Final comment: torches are now so bright that night nav is losing its challenge, and most rogainers are guilty of causing light pollution. Perhaps we need a torchlight intensity limit.  Many sports limit technology, should we do the same? I’d like to see a special category for rogainers prepared to go out only with hurricane lamps. Could suit the ultra-vets, at least they might know what I’m talking about! You have to carry a supply of paraffin.

Get Into Gear Part 5 – How Cool is Rogaining? (Warm Clothing & Dealing with the Cold)

by Tristan White

Perhaps it’s because I’m a reasonably warm-blooded creature myself, but I’m convinced that Sydney-siders are a bunch of cold-weather whingers. As soon as the temperature drops below 18°C, it’s inevitable that I’ll be hearing groans from others about how freezing it is outside as people walk exactly fifty metres between their air conditioned car and their air conditioned building in a warm jacket and scarf.

If they have done any rogaining event (or overnight hike or early morning bike ride!) in winter, most rogainers will have a different perspective on what real cold is. I will never forget last year’s Navshield, which was -5°C and it snowed, and vividly recall walking past odd-looking puddles on the track, realising that they were frozen. Also, deep-seated in my memory is a night rogaine in the hills south of Canberra where, although it was probably a few degrees above zero, the howling wind made it one of the coldest events I’ve ever done.

As we continue our series on rogaining gear, I again recruit mixed veteran guns Antoniya Bachvarova and Andrew Smith, who completed six 24-hour rogaines last year, about what they wear and their experience dealing with the cold weather that many of these events have inevitably been in.

Alex Allchin, Andrew Smith, Toni Bachvarova and Vivien de Remy de Courcelles at the conclusion of Navshield 2019

Tristan White: Give us a rundown of what you would wear in a rogaine where very cold weather is forecast.

Toni Bachvarova: For cold weather I’ve worn any combination of the following:

  • Head: Bandana, merino or polypro beanie or fleece hood
  • Top: 100% Merino top (mine are Kathmandu), thinner fleece (Kathmandu) or thicker fleece (again Kathmandu but they don’t sell it anymore), Kathmandu XT Exmoor jacket (a synthetic down-replacement insulation), lightweight rain jacket (Arcteryx Beta, Patagonia Torrentshell)
  • Legs: Polypro leggings – cut to just below the knees, orienteering pants, knee-length rain pants – custom design – easy to put on without taking your shoes off and protect upper legs while allowing freedom of movement.
  • Lower legs, feet: Shin gaiters – Moxie gear, ankle gaiters – Rab scree gaiter (very tough and durable), midweight merino socks (see last month’s “Rogaining Fashion Parade” article for more detail)

TW: Tell us about some of the coldest rogaines you’ve done, and how you managed (or didn’t manage) to get through.

TB: Navshield last year was the lowest temperature I’ve experienced in a rogaine. The temperature never got above 5°C on Saturday, then dropped to -4°C overnight, until it started snowing in the early morning on Sunday when it warmed up to around -2°C. Basically, after the sun set on Saturday I wore all clothes I had with me, four layers on top and three on the bottom. The best piece of equipment for this event were the cut-off rain pants. We came up with them after the NZ Rogaining Championships in Dunedin the year before.

The event in Dunedin was the coldest rogaine I’ve done! Even if the temperatures didn’t get below 4°C, the persistent rain throughout meant that we were wet from the very beginning and never managed to warm up. On top of that, the ground was super slippery which made faster movement impossible. The fact that some of the controls were located in the middle of freezing knee-deep marshes didn’t help either. That was an event where we couldn’t afford stopping. Any accident out on the course could have been life threatening since there was no way to keep warm. It was also the only event I was happy to finish with an hour to spare despite losing the category victory because of that.

Another year in Navshield the temperature dropped to -7°C overnight. After a couple of creek crossings in the middle of the night, my feet went numb and we had to stop and change into dry socks and warm them up before we could continue.

Andrew Smith: The coldest for me was the NZ Champs in 2018 near Dunedin. The weather in the hills was bitterly cold, windy and wet. We were wading thigh deep through freshwater marshes searching for controls. It’s the first time I’ve been really worried about hypothermia. We had everything on but couldn’t get warm. All we could do was keep moving. We improved our cold weather rogaining kit after that experience.

TW: What issues have you had or seen from rogainers who have suffered because they are too cold?

TB: I get cold quite easily and that’s why I am usually conscious of managing the risk of hypothermia. First signs of hypothermia are shivering, my extremities get numb beyond pain, I can get clumsy, can’t think as fast as usual.

The risks with hypothermia are with the inability to think clearly and make decisions, also you lose focus and are more prone to tripping or falling over.

AS: I haven’t experienced or seen any particularly serious incidents from the cold. The worst is finishing early because the cold has knocked all motivation out of you (which is pretty serious for your average hard core rogainer).

TW: Can you give me a run-down of what warm gear that you carry with you in a typical rogaine dipping to the low single digits. What else will get added the temperature dips even lower?

TB: In dry weather with temperatures in the lower single digits and not much wind, an extra merino top or a fleece is usually enough. If the wind picks up, a rain jacket or other wind shell can help.

AS: I take an extra polypro top, polypro gloves (the best thing that we’ve added to our cold weather kit after Dunedin) and a pair of cut off nylon over pants. Cutting them off below the knee means they’re lighter and you can pull them on and off without taking your shoes off. I find them an excellent complement to your rain shell for reducing heat loss in cold windy and/or wet conditions. On the move, it’s usually wind and/or rain cooling me down so it’s usually the shell that goes on first. If that’s not enough then it’s the polypro base layer next which means stripping off but it needs to be done.

TW: Do you generally carry more warm gear than you actually expect to use?

TB: Usually I’d like to know I’ve got an extra layer in case it gets colder than expected. In reality in the coldest or wettest events I’d end up wearing all clothes I carry.

AS: Usually I carry one more layer (like a polypro top) than is needed. However there’s been a few where everything has been on and it’s still uncontrollable shaking after a water stop.

TW: Aside from putting on warm clothing, can you suggest any other ways to regulate your body temperature in cold conditions?

TB: Changing into dry clothes helps warm up a lot, if you can afford it. Moving faster helps too 🙂

AS: Keep moving. When we’re falling asleep on our feet we sometimes stop for a short nap somewhere sheltered knowing that 20 minutes later we’ll be too cold and have to get moving again. It’s an excellent alarm clock.

TW: Most people tend to be okay with the cold, provided that they can keep moving and stay dry. However, there is an inherent risk to rogaining that an incident will occur that prevents you from moving. What should one carry to be prepared for such an event, and how do they use it?

TB: Emergency blanket is an essential piece of equipment that can help keeping warm if you can’t move. In coldest conditions I have managed to squeeze an hour of sleep in an emergency blanket.

If the conditions are extreme, be wise to use the biggest advantages of Rogaining – the fact that you are part of a team. Other body’s warmth can make a huge difference in freezing conditions.

AS: A good space blanket. It makes a huge difference to your heat loss. We take an emergency bivvy bag that is basically a space blanket sewn into a bag for 2. The bag combined with my partner’s warmth, while still being uncomfortable, will get us through the night. We used it for the first time in last year’s NavShield (one of the coldest but they’re all the coldest really) and we were able to sleep for 1.5 hours surprisingly comfortably with only occasional shivering.

TW: An issue with a lot of warm clothing is it is very bulky and hard to fit in a pack. What are items that are small and light, but have a big impact on warming someone up?

TB: Pair of dry socks (providing they can stay dry). If it’s dry and cold wind shell – they can be pretty light, bandana for the head. Second layer of lightweight top instead of a heavier fleece too.

AS: Polypro! It’s a wonder material!

TW: I have found that often my body temperature fluctuates at night when I’m going up and down steep hills, meaning that I’ll take a jacket (or something else) off, and when I put it back on again it’s sweaty. Do you have any suggestions for preventing having to put back on a damp, sweaty jacket?

TB: I get quite annoyed having to put layers on and take them off many times, too! I generally find my XT Surna fleece perfect for chilly conditions. Even when it gets sweaty it keeps me warm, so I don’t have to take it off. I don’t tend to sweat too much when it’s cold though…

AS: I just get used to being wet. Wicking materials like polypro make it more comfortable. But I just end up being more wet at the top of the hill and a little less wet at the bottom of the next. On colder rogaines I quite often end up leaving my shell on and just opening and closing the zips as the temperature changes.

TW: As discussed in the heat article, your partner may not be as adaptive to the cold as you. What are the warning signs that your teammate is struggling and what should you do if they get chilled?

TB: They start slowing down even if it’s cold. Shivering and slurred speech are signs too. Check if they have enough warm clothes and offer some of your gear if they need it. Don’t hesitate to stop and seek a sheltered place where they can warm up – avoiding hypothermia early can save trouble later.

AS: I know from first aid courses to look out for stumbling, jumbled speech, etc. but I’ve never witnessed or experienced it. If it did happen it would be a judgement call between keeping warm by keeping moving or to stop and put every scrap of clothing on, get in the bivvy bag and use my body heat to try and keep my partner warm. It’s serious stuff and we have cut it a bit fine on some occasions.

Thank you, once again, Toni & Smiffy for sharing your experiences.

And I’d greatly appreciate comments from our readership about their choice of clothing, both good and bad experiences.

Navigation in Low-Relief Terrain

by Michael Watts

Sections of Gundabooka National Park are flat so I thought it timely, prior to this year’s NSW Championships, to prepare some thoughts about navigation in such country.

The map we’re using is a custom prepared map at 1:25,000 scale with 5m contour intervals. (The base map is 1:100,000, 20m contours.) It is not unusual in sections of the map for this course for there to be a kilometre between contour lines.  Bear in mind too, that the ground does not necessarily uniformly slope between contours and it is very difficult to tell whether you are generally ascending or descending. In 100 metres, going over even 0.3m rise and dip makes it difficult to tell whether one is 100mm lower or higher than where one started.

Terrain features are very indistinct in places and are quite difficult to identify. Watercourses are typically marked as thin blue lines on a map, but on the ground may well be swathes more than 100 metres in width. Unless the watercourse is an erosion trench, following one up or downstream can be futile. Even finding quite large point features such as tanks (dams) is often not a matter of taking a quick bearing and walking straight to it.

So, how do you navigate in such terrain?

The first step is to precisely know your starting point and to give yourself a time budget in which to find the control. If (when?) the time budget runs out, then one needs to navigate the team to a highly identifiable feature and then either:

  • start again – not forgetting to reset your time budget, or
  • quit this one and try another control, hopefully a better identifiable one

In any case, it’s vital that you relocate to a known starting point.

Essential skills are being able to take and travel along accurate bearings, and to keep a good account of the distance you’re travelling along that bearing.

Visibility in mulga scrub is often not good (20-50m). But there are taller trees that are often visible above the scrub and these can be sighted to maintain a pretty good course. At night you can hopefully use stars or moon. The mulga scrub also means walking in a straight line is often impossible, so accounting for the distance one has travelled must consider the inevitable detours.

The most practical method we have in rogaining to measure distance is our steps. It’s important to know your own pace – to count the number of steps you take to travel a certain distance. You ought to know how many steps you take to travel 100m or 1km in open terrain. You’ll have to modify your count to allow for thicker bush and up/downhill interference.

For me, I count double paces – each left foot striking the ground. On open relatively flat ground 100m takes me 65 double paces. In light scrub I allow 70 paces per 100m and in denser scrub 75. There can also be corrections to be made for “map flat” distances when travelling up and down slopes but this is not going to be an issue on this map.

It is important to keep track of step counts or distances. I use two methods – one is to fold down a finger on my left hand for each 100m; 500m intervals I track in my head. The other method I use, when I know I’m going to have to do this a lot, is to carry a length of string with a knot in it every cm or so. For every 100m, move fingers to hold the next knot. Methods that I’ve heard another method is to pick up a stick or leaf for each 100m or 100 steps, or a green twig and make a partial break in it every 100m or 100 steps.

Measuring time can be a useful tool, especially if you have good visibility, but it’s not as accurate as pace counting.

While direction and distance are the primary navigation tools, map reading is also important. Wiggles in adjacent contours can help one determine the size of any undulations present and whether you should be walking up or down. Water always runs down, so keep track of mini erosion arcs (small horseshoe shapes from water erosion) which will always point to the local downhill. Integrating these visually across an area can give a good general indication of the direction of “downhill”. Leaf litter dams are another way of telling down and leaf litter flow-lines can also indicate the edges of very broad, shallow watercourses.

It is crucial to understand what one’s likely cumulative errors are. Over a kilometre I can normally maintain my course within 5° of the set bearing – or about 80m either side of my intended track. For 2km I can be 200m either side of my intended track. For distance, I can normally maintain about 5% accuracy, or ± 50m per km.

For example, let’s say I’m at a control going for another one that’s 1km away. I know my start point within a few metres. When I set the bearing to the next control, I know it is 1km, so I set the bearing and intend to walk to be approximately 100m either left or right of the control. This is called “aiming off” and the idea is that when I’ve walked my kilometre, I am (almost) certain which side of me is the direction to the control, but it may still be ahead of me or behind me by around 50m.

At this stage, I turn the appropriate direction and at exactly 90° to my original bearing, walk that line for 300m (the 200m max I might be out, plus 100m to be damn sure). With any luck I spot the control on this traverse. If not, then I walk 100m back on my original bearing, turn 90° towards my original track and then walk around 20m (depending on visibility). Another 90° turn (so now parallel to my original bearing) and walk 200m on that bearing. Turn, walk the offset, turn again, and again walk parallel to the original bearing, this time back towards the start.

For me, finding a point by this method works well up to about 1.5km and I can manage it up to around 2 to 2.5km. Past that, my errors are too large to stay reasonably oriented in what has become a rather large search area and grid. Your distance may vary.

Remember that every time one changes bearing and walks distances, errors are accumulating. This is mostly why, at the end of the grid search, one needs to re-establish a known accurate position, rather than try to re-search the initial grid area. There are techniques to make these kinds of searches more accurate – for example, placing a recognisable marker at the first location one walks to. Then, one can place additional markers at the start and end of each grid traverse. One can then sight the grid markers at each the conclusion of each grid traverse, and hopefully also come across the initial position marker. The disadvantages are that this is time consuming and then having to clean up one’s markers afterwards.

I recommend going out to a relatively flat area and practise walking a bearing and keeping track of distance travelled to work out your own error margins which will be different to mine. The time spent looking for a control is highly dependent on the size of the initial “uncertain box” and the larger “it really should be in here” box.

Taking a GPS while doing this testing can be handy. Way mark your start point, then walk your bearing and distance using compass and step count. After, say 300-500m, use the GPS to find distance and direction from your current location back to your start point. This will tell you your direction and distance errors. Done a few times, this will give you an indication of your error range. Repeat for a couple of different locations, directions, slopes and scrub thicknesses. Don’t be surprised to find you have a “set” left or right, or uphill or downhill. Write down these numbers!

For Gundabooka, most of the map is relatively high relief – at least three contours per km, which is enough to give one a definite sense of up and down (and with some bigger hills up to 250m to keep the climbers like Mike Hotchkis content.) There are several low-relief controls to provide some skill testing and entertainment value, not a large percentage of the total number of controls but hopefully they’ll encourage you to have a go.

All these techniques obviously become more difficult and more important at night but the skills are applicable every time you need to find a flag in the bush.

A University Degree in Rogaining?

by Tristan White

A 24-hour rogaine looks a lot like a semester of university. The pace at the beginning is fast, but it doesn’t take long for motivation to drop off and slogging away becomes a test of willpower. And just like the final hours of an assignment, or final minutes of an exam, the adrenaline kicks in and a rogainer will fight tooth and nail to collect whatever points they can before the deadline, which is inevitably reached in a panic with minutes to spare, if at all. Both cases also include having to push through all-nighters and having to deal with the highs and lows of team dynamics with frank exchanges between individuals who may have very different philosophies on how to solve the problem.

Despite these parallels, I was amazed at how few university students in NSW were into rogaining during my own days at uni between 2012 and 2016. In multiple years I contacted various outdoors-related clubs trying to get some poor sucker into the Invervarsity Champs with me, to no avail (they told me it was “too serious” for their members).

Let us fast forward to 2020, and I introduce Salomé Hussein, who in recent months has hit up the University of Technology Sydney Outdoor Adventure Club and gotten many of them into rogaining in a big way. She takes this chance to share some of her experiences in the club and share her insights on the sport.

Tristan White: Where have you previously lived and what do you do with your life when not rogaining?

Salomé Hussein: I was born in Eugene, Oregon (USA), then moved to Tijeras, New Mexico and Palm Beach, Florida, before settling in Eagle River, Alaska for 8 years. At age 21, I moved to Auckland to get my PhD in physics, designing spray systems for agricultural robotics. I moved to Sydney in late 2018 for a job modelling natural catastrophes with Risk Frontiers as a data scientist. I use languages like Python and R to process climate data. (We don’t model pandemics, yet, at least!)

I also play flute in North Shore Wind Symphony, rock-climb and dabble in most other long-distance sports including cycling and swimming. That tends to not leave me with much free time, but enough to go to an adoptive family’s art studio and pretend I can draw, and I hack apart hobbyist electronics when the urge hits me.

TW: Tell us your story about getting into rogaining and the UTS Outdoor Adventure Club, given you’re not even a UTS student.

SH: I joined UTS OAC for rock-climbing partners I could trust as I hadn’t been having great luck. A former UTS OAC president was the Australian School of Mountaineering instructor that first taught me how to climb outdoors, and he suggested I join his old club. The then webmaster posted about a rogaine – the 2019 Springwood Metrogaine. I had just agreed to take on the webmaster role and saw the event as a chance to have a good chat to him without even properly understanding what the sport was about!

“The Spring Balance” Metrogaine Trip Leaders (from left) Marta Khomyn, Angelo Rossi, and soon-to-be trip leader Salomé

When we were first handed the map, I was immediately overwhelmed and confused. Although the notes had a suggested novice route, just trying to locate the control circles on the map felt like information overload. I  felt like a sheep and wandered to the first few controls with the starting swarm. Once we’d gotten a few controls, I started to really enjoy myself, particularly the rapid decision-making we had to make towards the end as to whether we’d go for extra controls or make it back without penalty. I even enjoyed that we had to spontaneously break into a trail run despite still ending up with a late deduction.

I loved that the attendees ranged from young families, to ultra-marathoners to old retired couples, to awkward young women like me. The activity has a little something for everyone; it can be just a fun family outing or the pinnacle of an entire season’s training after many years of practice. I also enjoy that the courses themselves take me places I wouldn’t have normally gone.

TW: What is the UTS OAC and what does it do?

SH: The club is entirely volunteer based, and has about 400-450 members of which a small proportion are extremely engaged and ultimately become trip leaders and/or committee members. The leadership is older than an average uni club, so there’s far more emphasis on safety. Trip leaders go through a documented vetting process and get one-on-one mentoring by more experienced trip leaders. We have a database of which students have taken certain skills courses, so that leaders only accept people with a knowledge base they’re comfortable being responsible for.

Every Monday, a group of members climbs at The Ledge, the climbing gym at the USyd fitness centre, which functions as our club house, as it does for the other university outdoor/climbing clubs as well. Being without family and moving to a new country, I’ve benefitted tremendously from dropping in and finding a group of caring, welcoming people that have been keen to teach me and trust me. I’ve quickly felt right at home in Australia with my family of explorers.

Rogaining has always in the periphery of the club. However, Nicole Mealing still champions the activity with us and in recent times we have seen an increased interest and participation from our members.

TW: What is your role in UTS OAC?

SH: I have a couple of roles. I’m their webmaster, and I’m also one of their trip leaders, which fundamentally means I’m willing to post and organise trips for other members, and I take some responsibility for their safety, education, and enjoyment. I’m one of the main faces posting navigation related trips at the moment, but my team-mates have stepped up to the plate and are relieving me on that front. I also teach basic rope-skills, like abseiling and introduction to outdoor climbing.

James Carr, Adam Black, Salomé and Susan So at Navshield 2019

Many of the people you get on those introductory outings are either international students or students who don’t actually self-identify as “outdoorsy.” Indeed, that moniker is a product of environment, upbringing, and socio-economic status. Something I personally factor into my leadership is to stay conscious of an opportunity to show people what they’re capable of and change how they see themselves. I’ve been in dark places mentally, and certain people made a world of difference to me and my mindset. I try to do the same for others.

TW: How did the OAC get into rogaines in the first instance, and what rogaines have they gotten teams together for in the past few years?

SH: The OAC’s first rogaine is probably lost to history, but I suspect the founders would’ve been drawn to it. One I’ve met recently is a fellow geeky athlete; the classic rogaining type.

Since I’ve joined in 2019, we’ve done the Springwood Metrogaine, Navshield, Nyctophobia Buster, NSW Champs, Oz Champs in Tasmania, and this year’s Narrabeen Minigaine. Some members did the Sydney Summer Series, though I only managed three before injury took me out. On this year’s Queen’s Birthday weekend, we tested out the MapRunF Nyctophobia course.

Climbfit’s Claire Ayling (dressed as a cupcake for her 30th birthday) and Salomé at the 2019 Nyctophobia Buster

TW: What sort of experiences have OAC members had at rogaines during your time and what have you learned?

SH: My major high has been the crew I got together for Navshield. I talked a few ClimbFit buddies into it. I was the only one in the team who’d done a past rogaine. I reassured them it was a newbie friendly sport and they really didn’t need much experience. Then club president, Susan, also joined up, partly for moral support. I named us the Godwits because they migrate from Alaska to New Zealand, like I did – longest known non-stop journey by any bird.

These folks were and are still the best team-mates I could ask for in terms of learning, attitude, and cooperation. They took everything that event threw at us in stride, including the frigid conditions. I surprised teammate Adam with a birthday cake by the fire, and we had fun cooking absurd meals in the firepit itself. The next morning was -5°C and the first time I’d seen snow since leaving Alaska and I almost wept.

The next highlight I recall was turning off our headlamps and strolling by moonlight back to the HH at the Oz champs in Tasmania.

Eirik Hidle, Guillaume Laudou, Susan So, Carlos Vega Vallejo, Salomé Hussein, and Adam Black: 2019 Aus Champs at St Helens, Tasmania

But it’s not been all that straightforward. I recruited a whopping four teams to the NSW Champs in Yengo. While one novice team won in their category, another leader and I took a different team of younger novices. One member coaxed the others into choosing the harder of suggested routes. The other three were chatty and inattentive, and blazed by obvious turnoff points. They ended up being the sort who needed guidance on how to behave in the outdoors. They didn’t have enough water, know what sort of shoes are appropriate, and would drop fruit peels on the ground. Nonetheless, they still had a good time, which was a key goal for the trip.

A UTSOAC team were disqualified at the Oz champs for separating. That was a clash of personalities I just didn’t anticipate. Two members were fitter and more determined but didn’t heed the needs of the other two and ultimately abandoned their slower teammates! The slower pair flagged down a patrol for a lift back to camp!

TW: You’ve taking some OAC students out on course from previous rogaines for training exercises. Tell us about that.

SH: I wanted people to get a feel for things before they were out on course at Tasmania. We’re normally dealing with international students, so an interstate trip like that is a big deal financially. I knew they’d have a better experience if they knew each other better and had more of an idea what to expect, so we went out on the 2018 Berowra Socialgaine course, the Lane Cove/Marsfield (River Rumble?) course, and the permanent orienteering courses at Centennial and Olympic Parks.

Jarvis Mumford-Day, Jessica Sanders, Lou Ayling, and James Millern the “Berowra Bewilderness” course for a “Mockgaine” navigation workshop

I intend to do those again, especially at the start of semesters. I think people who aren’t accustomed to being in a “competition” for the fun of it get put off a bit by the notion of entering a race or game, and still others aren’t necessarily keen to put down money for something they assume they’re bad at. It feels safer and less committing or embarrassing to just turn up to one of my trips with a few other people and talk over a map for a few hours.

My approach with them varies wildly depending on the expertise of who comes. I’m good at adjusting on the fly though. Some people are experienced outdoorsmen and independent personalities. I explain basics, offer pointers, then let them plan a route themselves. If anything, I only intervene at that point if somebody has gone quiet to make sure that person is staying engaged. I’m also still learning, so once we’re out and searching for control locations I try to behave more like they’re my team-mates, which usually encourages more independence from them.

Novice team and leader team ( Salomé and Marta) at “Step Up” NSW Champs, Yengo NP

TW: Tell us about the workshops that you’re running for the students, and how have they been received so far? What other topics are to come?

SH: Normally, our skills courses have defined curriculum and progression, including rockclimbing, abseiling and hiking.

Over the lockdown period, I prepared a series of four navigation skills workshops. The first two pieces were foundational, reading maps, and compass work. In terms of delivery of material, I enjoyed getting creative and using images and maps from all over the world. I ended up showing maps onto my computer monitor, then using a tablet on the same Zoom call, to video me using the compass on the monitor. The attendees said that worked fine!

Claire Ayling and Salomé at Paddlegaine, 2019

The last two workshops discussed the differences between the different types of competitive navigation, and the final one was a more nuanced look into rogaining – or more generally, longer duration adventure events.

TW: I enjoyed helping you with that too. Do you have any tips for uni students who are struggling to get a similar program off the ground at their campus?

SH: Having started clubs on my own, for different things, I found it’s both more rewarding and practical to build your initial group of members first, before you worry about the bureaucratic nonsense. If you have 3-5 keen, reliable people, a couple more drifters, and you build up your collective experience and psyche, it’s impossible for the relevant bodies at your school to shrug you off. Institutions tend to provide more barriers, in terms of formalities (i.e. paperwork/restrictions), rather than support you, at least initially. Later on, as you start to need official means to manage it, then their support and protection becomes useful.

TW: Thanks Sam for your story, advice and exuberance.