I felt motivated to write to let everyone know that the 2014
Socialgaine held last Sunday represents 20 years of rogaining for me. I still
remember the day a friend described this sport with a funny name that was, in
essence, competitive bushwalking. From that moment on I was hooked.
Not being one to tread lightly, my first event was the
24-hour, Australian Championships held at Bethungra, near Cootamundra in 1994.
I have three very strong memories from this event.
1. It was getting dark and my team and I were having a rest
near the top of some nameless hill in the sweltering heat when “Chippy” Le
Carpentier, with sweat pouring off him in torrents, ran up the hill and past
us. I remember commenting to my wife afterwards that there were some really
tough people out on the course.
2. We were doing quite well until about 11pm when we missed
a control and suddenly I had no idea where we were. We stumbled around in the
dark for another couple of hours getting even more lost until eventually we
slept on the ground until dawn, worked out where we were and then wandered back
to the Hash house with our tail between our legs.
3. My friend who accompanied me has never been on another
rogaine. He was the fittest of the three of us, but he still reminds me,
regularly, of the day of pain I put him through. Some people just don’t do
What I love about rogaining:
The challenge, there is nothing quite like silently grabbing a difficult control in total darkness and then quietly melting into the bush in search of the next one as other competitors walk in circles nearby.
There is also nothing quite like the pursuit of perfection. For a couple of days post event I am thinking about sub optimal route choices, poor navigation and what could have been, if only I was just a bit fitter or had the ticker to run the last few kilometres.
I also love the fact that it doesn’t matter what sort of car you drive, what you wear, or what sort of job you do. The social structure of rogaining is solely based on how many points you can get.
I love the beauty of the bush. You get into some very obscure, but beautiful, places when rogaining and I have very fond memories about some of the beautiful valleys, spectacular pagodas, and nameless mountains I have wandered over during the years.
Conquering demons. I am pretty sure it is not just me, at some time during a 24 -hour event you have to meet and conquer your demons to keep going. In modern life you can almost always avoid doing something that is difficult. Rogainers know and conquer difficult.
Lastly, as I get older, I love the fact that Super Veterans are still competitive. There are not too many sports where people over 55 can eyeball the 20 year olds, as an equal, on the sporting field.
What about me. I am part of the also-rans. I am very happy
if I finish in the top 10% and cranky if I finish outside of the top third of
competitors. In reality my results have not changed much in the last twenty
years. Experience has made my navigation and route choice sharper and this has
compensated for a marginal loss of speed and power. I am looking forward to
becoming a super veteran and also looking forward to once again plunging down
some unnamed valley with a mate looking for a stupid orange flag on a tree.
Yesterday, while participating in the Dharug
Dreamtime 6 hour Autumn Rogaine, I slipped and banged my head against a rock.
Team 58 were nearby and rushed to my assistance. I would like to thank Tom,
Floret and Jeff Meredith for the amazing help they gave in looking after me,
cleaning the wound and patching me up. I believe it was not a pretty sight, so
thanks for not fainting on me.
The Meredith’s refused to continue until they could
see that I was able to make my way back to the Hash House, which was a couple
of kilometres away. I had to pass the “Who are you”, “How many fingers”,
“Follow the finger” and many other tests before they helped me to my feet.
Despite being in a race and with their points in jeopardy, they spent a long
time with me ensuring my safety, and for that I thank them. My team then
shepherded me back to the Hash House, across raging rivers and waterfalls. What
I would also like to thank the crew at the Hash
House, for all their concern and assistance. I was taken to Hornsby Ku-ring-gai
Hospital for a CAT scan, where they discovered a tiny fracture and a giant
leech. Six stitches later, I was on my way home. I look a bit of a mess,
slightly worse then normal, but all is well.
(a) The only
navigational aids that may be carried on the course are magnetic compasses,
watches and copies of the competition map.
(b) The possession
of other navigational aids, including pedometers, altimeters and GPS receivers
on the course is prohibited except when event organisers provide a means by
which information on the devices cannot be accessed whilst on the course.
Despite this rule, many people, the author included, carry navigational aids which, these days, come in many forms. I normally wear a GPS watch and a foot pod. I also carry a smart phone with GPS (I am sure when the rules were written GPS watches were not so prevalent.) The other thing to note is that a smart phone including a GPS is a really good safety measure. If a team, either lost or injured, can relay its GPS coordinates to the Hash House then search and rescues would be simple.
One view, may be that I should simply not carry such devices during an event, but the reality is that I really enjoy a post-event review of my track which highlights speed and small (hopefully) errors. In many respects having a GPS during an event is of little benefit, but in one respect there is a real risk of cheating. GPS can be used to track distance and there is a significant risk that people who carry a GPS will use it for distance reckoning rather than relying on the imprecise science of pace counting.
I think we understand the problem, but what should
we do about it? My view is that using a GPS device in any form during an
event is rightly banned and should be viewed as cheating, but given that so
many rogainers currently wear GPS I am not sure that a strict enforcement of
the current rule is the right solution. Possibly the best solution is to modify
the rules to say that GPS devices may be carried but must not be worn and teams
consulting these devices outside of an emergency situation will be disqualified
I would be interested in the thoughts of others.
5 Responses to Cheating?
Julian Ledger on 19/08/2015 at 8:29 pm says:
This is a timely post as devices with navigation
aids built in are becoming ubiquitous. Next generation – why would anyone need
to be able to read a map when your phone, watch or built in car system gets you
The rule needs review and I think that except for
championship events that some flexibility is needed. The devices are very cool
and I have certainly got enjoyment from downloading my Garmin Fenix 3 back home
to have a better look at the route. Agree with Chris that measuring distance is
the main potential benefit and should be explicitly noted as outside the rules.
Pierre in 31/08/2015 at 1:01 pm says:
I wear a watch in the only intention to overlap my gpx with the map and do my post race analysis. I agree that the downside of it if people uses it to track a distance. Maybe we could ask the rogainers to put their watch in their backpack rather than on their wrist (and use another simpler watch if needed). I have never been to major championship but I presume you can be disqualified on the spot with a GPS watch on your wrist …
Andrew on 19/09/2015 at 4:15 pm says:
I don’t think it is the rules that fall short. The
rules state competitors can only carry such devices if they are not accessible
during an event and organisers can verify this.
It’s just at most non-championship events, organisers don’t enforce the rules. That is, carrying all devices in sealed tamper-proof plastic bags is not enforced. I have attended a number of championship events and organisers have enforced these rules at all of them.
Personally I don’t have a problem with the lack of
enforcement at non-championship events. Firstly, because of the benefits
outlined in other posts; secondly, because these devices are good training aids
and a number of competitive teams use non-championship events for training
purposes; and lastly but importantly, it’s nice to be part of a sport where
participants and organisers compete and are involved for the love and enjoyment
of the sport itself.
I’ve participated in every rogaine event in NSW
(bar one) for the past 5 years, as well as a number of ACT events and never
have I seen nor heard of cheating by any competitive team.
If newbies to the sport get comfort from these
sorts of devices then go for it, particularly if it encourages them to join our
sport and experience the wild outdoors!
Matthew on 25/09/2015 at 9:26 am says:
The suggested solution is a good one, I think.
(i.e. OK to carry, not OK to consult.) As with most rogaine rules, enforcement
by honour system should be sufficient (except maybe for championship events).
It’s possible to purchase so-called ‘GPS loggers’,
which will record your track and any waypoints you mark, but offer no form of
navigational assistance (no interface other than a few buttons and status
LEDs). I use one. They have the added benefit of being light-weight and able to
record for the full duration of a 24-hour event.
I do think this issue should be addressed. For anyone who’s serious about improving their rogaining, a post-event GPS track is invaluable for learning purposes! My weaknesses became very apparent once I started recording tracks. (Their commonalities were remarkable.) I’ve definitely improved as a result.
Martin Dearnley on 2/10/2015 at 8:43 am says:
Tamper proof plastic bags (for any GPS devices on
the course) are the simplest solution. We just need to remember to explain them
in notes prior to the event, provide them at registration, and remind
competitors at the briefing.
My wife, Dianne, and I competed in the Lane Cover river 6 hour event in 1995 and yesterday I fronted up for another go. What has changed?
My wife, now with 2 children and dodgy knees, is not really up for a 6 hr rogaine, so I had a change of partners and this time I was competing as a Men’s Veteran, with Chris Cunningham, rather than an open mixed team.
In 1995 my team beat 82% of teams, yesterday my team beat 78% of teams
In 1995 my team beat every women’s team and were the 7th mixed team. Yesterday our score was bettered by 3 women’s team and 7 mixed teams.
In 1995 the event was held in April and the max temperature was 21.4 yesterday the max temperature was 26.7.
I am probably about as fit (not very) and as heavy as I was 21 years ago as well (although the weight may have moved around a bit :<) .
Yesterday the map was drawn on computer and we had electronic scoring, 21 years ago the map was drawn by hand and we used punch cards.
Yesterday’s course was smaller than 21 years ago and it was nice feeling yesterday to get to more than 2/3 of all controls available.
My wife and I covered approx 32 klms 21 years ago in 6 hours, yesterday we covered 30 but had a course that took in more bush and less road
It seemed to me that there were more teams running the event
yesterday. It might be my imagination, but I think I see many more women
competitors running than I did 21 years ago. Also I must call out Mike Hotchkis
who finished 8th overall in 1995 and finished 5th overall yesterday, now
competing as a super veteran. I strongly suspect that Mike will near the top of
the leaderboard if this event is held again in 2037.
The Lane Cove river valley and much of the course has not
changed much over the last 21 years. There has been a lot of development in and
around Macquarie Park station, but other than that the course looks pretty
Well done to Ted Woodley and all the volunteers for putting on
the event yesterday. It was a great event. I am looking forward to 2037.
The Autumngaine at Tarlo river found me partnerless, so I tried our partner finding service. I first tried hooking up with Mal. Mal subsequently jilted me, preferring instead to recover from the flu, which he contracted after agreeing to partner, so I went back to the partner finding services for another go.
The second attempt yielded Danny. Danny was rated himself as an 8 /10, which is pretty much how I would rate myself. (Anyone who knows me will know for certain that the 8/10 is for rogaining ability, not looks.)
Danny and I agreed to spend Friday night together, on a property close to the event to which he has access, and then drive home together after the event.
Having agreed logistics with Danny, it occurred to me that I had just agreed to spend a bit over 24 hours with a person I have never met, in a very out of the way location. If Danny was an axe murderer as well as a rogainer (not that there’s a frequent correlation between the two) I was in deep trouble.
As it turned out Danny was not an axe murderer, he was worse than that. Rather than the pain associated with a quick death inflicted by an axe, he tortured me over 6 hours. You see, it turns out that Danny is significantly fitter than me. Danny is used to rogaining with his, now 11 year old son, and was keen to see how he would go with someone of similar ability (which I wasn’t).
Things started out okay, we more of less jogged the first couple of controls (31, 32) and then headed downhill towards 54, 55 and 61, 70 and 100. By this stage it was clear that Danny was significantly quicker than me up hill and quicker downhill as well.
From 100 we went to 50 and then climbed up the hill from 50 to the fire trail. This hill was 130+ metres and by this stage I was fully focused on survival. That is, climbing the hill as quickly as I could without doing so much damage that I could not continue for the next 3+ hours. To his credit, Danny was very patient. It was clear to me that these hills presented little challenge to him, at least not at my pace. We kept going and relatively quickly got 80, 51, 71, 72, 62 and then climbed to 63 and over the ridge to 48 and 47. My next physical challenge was the climb from 47 to the fire trail near 56.
By this stage I was having significant cramping in both quads, which I attribute to having spent the last few hours traversing across scree slopes. I confess that 2/3 the way up the hill from 47, I had to sit down for a couple of minutes to try and work the lactic acid from the legs. This rest was refreshing and I managed to get to the top of the hill and then down again to 56 and 45. From 45 we began the long 180m climb towards the finish via 33 and 20. Because the event was nearing its end we were joined on this tortuous climb by a number of other teams heading back and I was pleased to see a number of other teams moving as slowly as I was. Once at the top we could see the Hash House and even jogged a bit to make sure we would arrive back within time.
The net result of my torture was 2nd in the men’s veterans and 9th overall, which made all the pain seem worthwhile and my torturer Danny now a trusted companion, even if he is more like a 9/10.
After a bit of arm twisting by some ACT rogainers the NSW Ski-orienteering event at Perisher on 7th August will include a 2 hour “Snogaine”, mass start at noon. More details at: http://www.bigfootorienteers.com/drupal_2/skio2016
I have been rogaining more than 20 years, but I have never tried a NavShield until now. Julian, my regular rogaining partner suggested we “have a go” at this year’s event.
For those of you who are not familiar with the NavShield its purpose is to train emergency services personnel in the art of bush navigation so they can be of assistance in a bush rescue.
The NavShield includes a division for rogainiers to join in, using rogaining rules. This is key, because all of the other divisions have to take enough gear to be self-sufficient over night, including a sleeping bag. This year’s event was held at Wombeyan Caves and the very last thing I wanted to do was carry a pack full of camping gear up and down the mountains surrounding Wombeyan Caves. The other key difference with the Navshield is that you have to mark your own controls on the map. You are given a map and a set of co-ordinates which you use to mark controls on the map yourself.
I confess that I wasn’t really looking forward to
marking my own controls on the map. It just sounded like hard work, but
actually it was worse than that. It was about 8 degrees and windy and maps were
not available for collection until 6pm. Having collected our maps, Julian and I
spent well over an hour marking controls on our maps out in the open, in the
cold. It was definitely glove weather but marking maps with gloves on is too
difficult so it was better to risk hypothermia for the sake of mapping
accuracy. Bear in mind that every millimetre mistake in marking a control would
be 25 metres of mountainous thick bush on the ground, so a 1 cm mistake could
cost a lot of time.
The other thing to note about the map, was that it was not a very good print. It was very hard to see the creeks on the map. The blue lines were very thin and very faint and very hard to read. These thin and hard to read lines represented huge chasms in real life, so not being able to see them properly was less than ideal. In fact a couple of times during the event Julian and I had navigational disagreements because he could see a faint blue line on the map that I couldn’t.
Also on the subject of maps, because the intention of the NavShield is to train rescue services in bush navigation they use an unaltered base map. So if the base map is wrong, bad luck. Julian and I found this out the hard way. At the end of the event we left ourselves 40 minutes to get a 50 pointer near the hash house, which relied on us using a trail clearly marked on the map, but did not exist in real life. The net result was that we got within metres of the control but due to time pressure we had to turn around and sprint home empty handed.
There were two events on offer, the 10 hrs 45 min event (8:45am to 7:30pm ) or 29 hrs 15 mins event (8:45am Sat to 2:00pm Sun). Julian and I decided to do the 29 hours event. If we had to drive all the way to and from Wombeyan Caves and camp, we may as well make a full weekend of it. Julian and I had planned to take the gentleman’s approach to the 29hr event by going out for 12 hours and coming back to the hash house to have a good night’s sleep in a tent and then get up early and do some more on Sunday morning. The problem with this gentlemanly approach to the event was that this meant that we needed enough points near the hash house so we did not walk to and from the hash house empty handed. So we were a bit disappointed to find that the hash house was on the SE corner of the map and we would do a lot of walking to and from the hash house with few controls.
The first 12 hours went well with no real navigational mistakes. In fact, Julian and I were about to make a serious navigational error when along came Ted Woodley and his team and it was clear from the direction they came from that we were about to start looking in the wrong spot (thanks Ted). We even picked up a couple of difficult controls in the dark with no time wasted. The rogaining gods got their revenge on us the next day when we missed two 50 pointers in the last couple of hours of the event and ended up with a slightly disappointing 950 points.
The other thing to note is the organisation. The NavShield was well organised but the Rogaining Association sets a high standard. Some of the key differences were:
Electronic scoring vs manual scoring
Corrected maps vs uncorrected maps
All night hash house vs closing at 8:30 pm
Little or no queues for maps vs a bit of a queue in
the dark and cold
Full results, generally within 30 minutes vs
partial results 1 hr after the event
I didn’t attend the 2012 NSW Champs that were held at Wombeyan Caves so the country was new to me but it was clear from the map there was a lot of hard work ahead of us. Even with our gentlemanly approach, we did 2.5 vertical km ascent. Hats off to the rogaine divison winners, Ronnie Taib and David Williams with 2170 points. Their vertical kms must have been Everest like. The other thing to note about the area was the fern bushes. All of the south facing slopes on the south of the course seemed to be covered with waist high ferns. This was quite pretty, but waist high ferns can cover all sorts of obstacles under foot and tripping over and falling in holes was all part of the adventure.
Wombeyan Caves is pretty marginal country, but I did see an eagle, some gang gangs, a dead pig and lots of kangaroos. The other benefit of going to the NavShield this year is that we missed out on the election.
Also I need to acknowledge Vivien de Remy de Courcelles. Vivien is one our rogaining administrators, a fine rogainer and was also the course setter for the 2016 Navshield.
Overall Julian and I had a great weekend. Thanks to everyone involved for making the event a success and for inviting rogainers to attend.
One Response to NavShield 2016 – Crappy Maps and Big Country
Trevor Gollan on 26/07/2016 at 5:30 pm says:
Thanks for the great report, Chris
I agree that NavShield is a weekend excursion. When there’s a 29¼ hour event on offer, why bother with a miserable six or twelve hour stroll. Fit your activity to the scope, and I would’ve been there with you Friday night marking the map with shivering fingers except for a family commitment. Ian Almond & I drove up Saturday morning, breakfast in Trappers, Goulburn, then we marked up our map on the car bonnet in the morning sunshine before setting off just a few hours after you
Yes, the map had problems with both contours and
watercourses pale and somewhat indiscernible, especially at night. I noted a
Bushranger map (with extra tracks marked) seemed to be well printed and clearly
defined, so we mere participants seemed to get a lemon on that one. My previous
NavShield experience used a standard LPI 1:25000 off-the-shelf map but this
year’s event spanned four maps and they obviously lost some reproductive
quality at the printery
Yes, it was tough countryside – either steep and
rocky, else covered with waist-high bracken and fallen trees. The views around Jocks
Creek valley were special on Sunday morning, and I wish we’d seen the quoll in
the tree, salivating for that dead pig near #68
You didn’t mention the Radio checkpoints – that
teams need to visit at least one checkpoint (Alpha, Bravo or Charlie) each day.
Here’s another difference from rogaining, because those controls tend to have
20-50 people camped by a big fire, with a bunch of high-viz 4WD vehicles and
tents deep in the bush – you can see and/or hear them from 1-2 kilometres,
though they’re usually only worth 20-30 points
The NavShield is not a rogaine. Yeah, it’s got a
“rogaine” category but that’s just to expand entrant numbers, maintain
friendship between BWRS & NSWRA, and allow David and Ronnie to get all the
controls. (BTW I heard they slept in Saturday morning and didn’t bother
starting with the main pack. Maybe they are starting to get the right attitude)
The NavShield is a bushwalk with a few navigational and many physical challenges. With that mission statement the main priority is firstly to select your campsite on the course. We picked Jocks Creek as the most likely water supply, and our entire day was designed to get us there at, or just after, dark. That does mean a larger backpack with tent, and sleeping gear for mid-winter, and you need to carry nourishment. For dinner I chose a Coopers Green, cheese and crackers, tom yum soup, spaghetti bolognaise and a fresh fruit compote. The apple crumble remained untouched and excessive because we’d eaten so well, however the Bundy rum was a welcome nightcap as we settled into our cosy beds for the night. It was easy to forget the 200m climb waiting at first light, though that effort was compensated at the top of the ridge by a hearty cup of tea with a bacon and cheese roll
NavShield – a good excuse to explore new (wild)
countryside and spend time in the bush
Recent committee meetings have included discussion about ways to reward repeat offenders at rogaines, perhaps a token such as a headband after they go to their 5th rogaine.
But what about those that just keep coming back until they reach their 200th event? This is something we have also had to consider as long-time enthusiast Mike Hotchkis has done just that with the completion of the Step-Up Rogaine. Not only is he a regular attendee but, despite turning 60 in a couple of months, he is still regularly in the top few teams at most of our events, and is renowned for his love of steep hills which has also seen him excel at “Mountain Running” and, more recently, the Sydney Tower stair challenge (which he ran up 8 times in a day!)
Failing to think of something better to mark this occasion, I decided to ask him a few questions about his experiences over the years, and what has kept bringing him back.
Tristan White: Where do you come from originally, Mike, and what do you do for a career?
Mike Hotchkis: I grew up in St Andrews in Scotland, a place well known as the home of golf. Golf is like orienteering in that you visit ‘checkpoints’ in a set order. My aim was never good enough for golf. I’m a physicist. Why is it that 95% of rogainers are scientists or engineers?
TW: What got you into doing rogaines in the
MH: I suppose it started originally with my father’s love of the Scottish hills, something that I definitely inherited. Visibility isn’t always so good in those hills so it helps to be handy with map and compass! Then orienteering & mountaineering clubs at Edinburgh University, a memorable 1979 Fellsman Hike (60 miles – it took me 25-hours) in North Yorkshire, and Inward Bound at ANU in the early 80s.
When I started work at ANSTO in Sydney in 1990 I
joined their running group – a group that included several rogainers at that
time – Ron Hutchings, George Collins and Maurice Ripley; and soon I met former
ANSTO workers Trevor Gollan and Peter Watterson. It took just one event and I
TW: Tell us about the first rogaine you
MH: For my first rogaine, in 1991, George lined me up with Ron, who had lost his partner due to the re-scheduling of the event (it was postponed due to snow!) It was a 24-hour at Jaunter, near Oberon, organised by Trev. By 10pm we’d reached the furthest extremity of the course and suddenly Ron said he didn’t feel too good… probably we’d gone out too hard! We spent the rest of the night trudging back to the Hash House. After a brief sleep, and in true rogaining tradition, Ron woke me up, said he felt fine and let’s get out again!
TW: In how many countries have you rogained?
MH: I went to the first few World Rogaining Champs: 1992 (Vic), 1996 (WA), then overseas… to Canada (1998), NZ (2000), Czech Republic (2002), NZ again (2010). More recently I attended WRCs in USA (South Dakota, 2014), Finland (2015) and Spain (2019). All of them made great holiday destinations!
TW: How many different teammates do you
think you’ve had over the years? What have you learned from having entered with
so many different people and what difference have you seen in having a suitable
MH: Over 60 teammates. This means either (i) I’m very popular, (ii) I’m very unpopular (people don’t want to repeat their mistake), (iii) I ditch any partner who can’t climb a 100m hill in less than 5 minutes, or (iv) I’ll rogaine with anyone, I just don’t want to miss an event! I’ll let others judge which is correct…
I have learned that rogaining is really a very sociable sport, however, if you chat too much, you’ll get lost!
Mike and me at the end of the 2018 NSW Champs in which we placed 2nd. Our respective expressions sum up perfectly who had driven the pace for the final three delirious hours, climbing almost more vertical than horizontal metres!
TW: Your count of 200 not only includes rogaines in which you’ve been a competitor, but also ones at which you’ve volunteered. In which ways have you volunteered in rogaining, including on the committee? How has volunteering in the sport helped improve the value you get when you compete?
MH: I joined the committee in the late 1990s, was president for four years in mid-2000s, and have been treasurer for about ten years. I’ve set and/or organised quite a few events, mostly in the Southern Highlands like Tarlo River, Wingello, Belanglo and Bungonia. And of course the Warrumbungles for the WRC in 2006.
Volunteering is much more than about putting back into the sport – it is rewarding in itself. It’s very satisfying to be part of a team that puts a rogaining event together, and rogainers always seem to be a very appreciative bunch. Volunteering provides the opportunity to get to know other rogainers better. I’ve made a lot of friends through rogaining, and learnt a lot from them about the sport, about running rogaines, and about life generally. And I say to anyone willing to listen, if you want to sharpen your nav skills, set a rogaine!
TW: What are some of the biggest triumphs
and blunders you’ve had in your time rogaining?
MH: David Rowlands and I won the 2005 Australian Champs, the “Over the Border” rogaine near Warwick in Queensland. He and I are the same age and I’m convinced 45 is the age for peak performance in rogaining. Tristan, you’ve got a way to go, and you’re on the way up!
After 200 rogaines, that makes for a lot of forgettable mistakes. Not forgotten is three hours spent in my second rogaine (Wuuluman, 1992), looking for a 20-pointer in the middle of the night. Pointless… literally. Know when to give up. Actually we went back in daylight to find it, we were that stubborn.
TW: Do you have a particular favourite type
of rogaine – terrain, duration, course setting?
MH: The next event on the calendar; the ACT 12-hour at Inverary/Bungonia. Open bush, few tracks, hills, plenty of contour detail. Wouldn’t miss it!
TW: What changes have you seen come about during your many years in the sport?
MH: What I think is really remarkable is how things haven’t changed: great courses, interesting locations, great food, friendly atmosphere, mix of people. Once you’re out there in the bush, you and your teammate(s), with your map and compass in hand, it makes no difference if it’s 1991 or 2019!
MH: I have no choice. This sport was made for me, or vice versa. The hunter-gatherer instinct; couple that with physical endurance, which is the natural advantage humans have over all other animals. This sport is written into our genes.
World Rogaining Championships, July 23-24, 2016, East McDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs, NT
Team 211 (Male Youth): Tristan White & Mitchell
Result: 3rd in MY, 47/299 overall
Few people would have guessed
that when my adventurous neighbour (Martin Dearnley) brought up the concept of
us entering this event called a “rogaine” for “a bit of fun” when I was only
12, it was going to lead to me winning an event outright, a category win in the
national championships and last but not least, a podium in the world champs. I
didn’t even know there were state, national and world championships when I was
12, or anything about rogaining for that matter. Times have certainly changed,
but nonetheless, it has all still remained “a bit of fun” (okay, okay, not at
4am when I’ve messed up my fourth consecutive checkpoint but you get the
My quest to find an U23 to compete with me in the WRC was completed when Mitch sent me a message in late 2015 in regards to the same quest. Having never competed together but observed each other’s comparable results, there was no question that he was the optimum teammate for me, so I promptly signed us up, and we resolved that we would compete together in every event we could in the months leading up to it. This ended up being the Lane Cove River Metrogaine in February, Tarlo 12-hr in May and the Paddy Pallin near Lake Mac in June, in which we came to know each other’s strengths, weaknesses and styles.
In addition, we did four self-organized hikes, firstly, the 35km steep and rocky Mt Solitary hike starting at 4pm and finishing at 5am the next morning at a fairly casual pace though getting us accustomed to sleep deprivation, then a 7-hour hike through the Grose Valley from Blackheath to Mt Victoria, also at night. The final one, just over a week beforehand, was a more civilized (mostly) day walk based around the Benowie Track in Hornsby, though adding in any excuses to take some cross-country shortcuts in the end totalled almost 50km.
The most notable practice hike, however, was the third, made on the Queen’s “Birthday” weekend, and one could argue that it was harder than the WRC itself. The Katoomba to Kanangra hike (K2K) is a staple hike, allegedly 45km, so Mitch entertained thoughts of doing it there and back – the K2K2K – in 24h. After all, 90km is at least what we’d be likely to cover in the WRC which is mostly off-track and constant navigation; could it really be that hard?
Starting out at 3:50am in very
cold conditions, Mitch and I, along with rival Rochelle Duerden stepped out of
his Katoomba home through the spectacular scenery from Narrow Neck, down to the
Cox’s River and along the ridge towards Kanangra Walls. It was only late that
day that we realised that 45km had been hiked and there were still 15 to
After a very long night on the
return leg with many breaks, we made it back at 5pm, 37.5 hours after starting
out. 120km was a “bit” longer than anticipated, but ultimately this was an
unforgettable experience nonetheless that pushed us all physically and mentally
– an essential element of rogaine preparation. If we could do this, we can do
any 24h rogaine!
Flying up on the Thursday, we
made it to the Ross River Resort in the late afternoon in the chartered bus and
set up camp with other NSWRA teams – Marg and Rob Cook, Andrew and Rochelle
with George, saving a spot for Martin and Graham who were due the next day.
After a dinner around the campfire, Mitch and I were fortunate to hitch a lift
with another team to the model course and had a chance to casually venture to
several controls that evening. Having almost no judgment of any features other
than ridgetops was a reminder of the importance of pacing and careful compass
work as following the wrong spur or gully would be super easy to do.
We hit the model course again the next morning, this time when it was almost 30 degrees, making us hope that the forecast of 21 degrees for the subsequent 2 days was correct. I made sure that I packed everything I could the afternoon before, as well as put all my intended clothing in a bag so I didn’t have to fish around for it in the morning, and went to bed at 8:30pm. You can’t get too much sleep the night before a 24-hour rogaine!
With such a massive course, it was impossible to tell if there were any obvious routes, but after a few minutes planning and colour-coding controls, sections of route started to show – a myriad of high scoring CPs across the southern end of the course, a potential loop to the western end of the HH and a good helping of low hanging fruit reasonably close to the main road from east to west. Measuring distance of these sections, plus a possible extension in the far west, we conceded that it would be unlikely that we could cover it all, but there were numerous exit points that would get us back home in time. Ultimately the flight plan put in the western loop to do before dark, with the southern section mostly on ridgetops to be travelled from east to, and getting whatever we had time in the western corner before grabbing all the ones in easy reach near the road in final few hours.
We made good progress in the first few hours, moving along briskly and getting almost everything dead on, going from 36, to 81, 62, 41, 110, 96 and 42 through following the features closely, hardly needing the compass. The first glitch was needing to make a 1km detour to refill at W3 after getting 30 and 31 – I knew that if I became dehydrated 4 hours in, it’d be very hard to rehydrate myself! We got 70 and 40 by a fair bit of clambering up the side of ridges, and 100 and 60 were collected by following the wide river bed, and then to 34 after crossing the Ross River (actually with a bit of water flowing in it!), before arriving at W7 at 6:30pm just on dark, where we took the chance to completely refill and get out our lights.
The night leg started off well
enough with us following up the watercourse to 74. Though dense with Spinifex,
it seemed like a theoretically easy traverse, however in its density, we
struggled to see the branching gully where the control was meant to be, and
ended up going too far. Fortunately I was able to distinguish a nearby knoll
from which I took a bearing, finding the control with minimal time loss. If
only our subsequent mistakes were as quickly resolved.
We followed the road, then took a bearing off the river towards the foot of the main spur containing 85, and to avoid climbing any more we made the decision to handrail around the contour rather than drop in from above, but despite following the bearing carefully we managed to miss it so wasted 15 minutes or so trying to determine where we were, but by taking a back bearing we managed to find it, through the aid of lights from another team. Ditching 65, we took the long stretch to 92, which apart from a bit of confusion to the location of the bail off spur, we managed to find without incident. Oh, if only the subsequent three controls had been the same!
Seeing as hand-railing the
contour on a bearing had worked a treat at 85, we nonetheless chose to do this
again, with similar results. We ended up on a flat section which we perceived
to be the region around 113 but the control was nowhere in sight. After 20
minutes searching the area, we were about to head to the top to take a bearing
down when a team passed us showing it was much further below, where fortunately
we found it.
Our hopes to make up for this
goof up were not satisfied at 77. The plan had been to take an easy bearing
down from the knoll, however, we couldn’t determine the knoll resulting in us
taking the spur to the east. In the day, we’d have been able to tell this
instantly, but being night it was difficult to tell if the right spur was
across the gully and had to physically go over and find out. Fortunately it was
right, but still soaked up another 20 precious minutes.
Our hopes for a better run to 103 were vanquished, theoretically a fairly simple descent on the spur at the end of the ridge, when somehow we managed to drop off the wrong one unknowingly. We ended up in the gully, of course, but unsure of which one, and missing the watercourse which we originally dismissed, at which point, almost 3am, I almost broke down emotionally until thankfully Mitch held it together to locate it just over the spur.
Our slow but careful trips to 114
and 93 were rewarded with us hitting them both dead on, as was our long trek
across the field to 37 (though very steep climb down the rocky watercourse.)
What would have been an easy trip to 106, by now approaching dawn, was made
harder when I followed up to the saddle to the east and I became completely
disorientated, though fortunately Mitch kept his bearings and successfully
navigated us to it, just before 6:30am as the sun began to appear over the
Now we had 5½ hours to go and had some decisions to make. We were at the almost maximum distance from the Hash House so there was very little that could added in, however we hoped that if we got a good clip going, we could get the majority of the low hanging fruit near the road and still have some possible detours. Starting out with 78, there was a rapid change in the pace now that it was light and we were on a track. Our route then proceeded to collect 38, 107, 57, 94, checking in W8/ANC at 9am, too late to get any hot food, but was an opportunity to refill, and shove whatever “drugs” I had in my bag into my front pockets to chow down in the final hours. 76 was found easily, though we branched out too early at 35 and found ourselves wandering around the side of the wrong knoll for several minutes until it dawned on us.
It was just after 10am when we
bagged 64, so we needed to make a unanimous decision of where to go from there.
The options included running out to 54 and back via 44 (90 points), or to rush
to 63, 52 and 73 (180 points). We chickened out of the latter unsure of the
time available, though in retrospect we’ll we wishing we didn’t (more of that
54 was a long way, but was
collected without incident, as was 44, just after 11am, where we happened to
observe one of our rivals – the NZ M23 team – leaving. Knowing that there was a
(tiny) chance that if we somehow accumulated the same score, but arrived back
earlier we would beat them, we agreed to expend any energy we had left to run
the remaining 2km on the road.
Putting it mildly, it hurt. An
all-out assault on a 2km track hurts in any form, but when it’s done after 23
hours of all types of pain, it is beyond comprehension, particularly as the NZ
team got the same idea, and in fact managed to overtake us. I would have loved
to give chase, but when it was between that and getting back without passing
out, I had to keep it a moderate jog. Finally, finally, the HH was nigh, and
Mitch and I punched off at 11:20 – 40 minutes early, but realistically unable
to collect anything else.
To our surprise though, our
rivals had other ideas – we watched them drop their bags, attach their race
numbers to their shirts and run off to 80, a 4km out and back, the same one we
had all but ruled out, though of course now leaves us scratching our heads
after seeing what it led to.
After posing with our map for a
post-battleground photo, Mitch and I settled down in the shade; the legs that
had done so much over the past 23+ hours could do no more and we settled down
briefly in the shade with a good portion of other tired faces, to be given a
printout totalling 2420 points – less than half the final allotment but not
surprising considering the course’s size. Having a shower immediately (albeit a
cold one as the hot water had run out) was a luxury that had very rarely been
offered, and it was a great feeling to put on clean clothes as I severed my
links with the ones that were now covered in crystalized sweat.
After briefly catching up with
other NSW teams and trying to eat a bit of lunch (not easy with my stomach
still feeling like a blender), it was time for the formal presentations. To our
benefit, the U23 teams were called out first, with our names called out as
being… 3rd place, with the comment that it was
very close with 2nd, though ~500 points behind first
(another AU team I hadn’t heard of).
The NZ team beat us by 10 points. By making that all out sprint to 80 points. 10 points. Of course we will forever be wishing we could have collected something else, which would have been easily possible. On the other hand, I’m sure they were elated that they made the trip, and (dare I say it) they really earned their placing over us. That’s rogaining though – hindsight is the best course planning aid, and the only way to achieve a top place is to treat every control as having the potential to decide between first and second, or second and third!
Nonetheless, it is a 3rd in a world
championship event, so can’t be too disappointed! It was nice to be
given a medal each, as well as a picture frame as a memento.
We also came 47th in the general
classification (out of almost 300 teams), putting us in the top sixth, though
the overall winners are in a league of their own, with a score of 4400, almost
double ours and over 500 ahead of 2nd place!
Gear and Food
I managed to get my hands on a
Camelbak Ultra 10 (constructed for Ultramarathons) late last year which I’ve
spent the past few months tweaking to fit properly and holding maximum gear. I
was able to increase its capacity by using re-useable cable ties to attach my
jacket and arm warmers on the outside, and it worked a treat in this event,
managing to (just) hold everything in.
After some debate, I resolved to
wear a short sleeved shirt (as I’d rather a few scratches), short pants above
the Spinifex-proof (allegedly) gaiters. My Salomon trail runners, which had its
gore-tex coated in a layer of silicon, had their tread completely destroyed due
to the sharp rocks, but held up for the journey. The night didn’t get that
cold, so managed to get by with a pair of arm warmers and a headband, having
carried a raincoat as a backup.
Knowing what type of food to take on such an event is always a challenge as it needs to be substantial to keep me full, but easy to digest. Ultimately, I ended up eating:
5 Golden Circle fruit squeezes (I’d introduced them to Mitch at the metrogaine and he now swears by them!)
2 apples (these were great at 10pm)
1 mandarin (carried 2 more but didn’t feel up to eating them)
6 fruit bars
3 muesli seed bars
About 8 gels. These came to taste putrid near the end, but I would cram down whatever it took to get over the line!
Block of Old Gold Cadbury dark chocolate, to help me through the night
2 small bottles of a liquid, best described as “Red Bull on Steroids” to shove down at dawn. These things are amazing,
Bag of Snakes for the final few hours.
Needless to say, it’s not exactly
what would satisfy the recommended “food triangle,” but in terms of getting us
through the event, it couldn’t have been better.
What’s different about a World Championship Event?
Having now done all forms of NSWRA events, state champs, national (Australasian) champs and now a world championship event, I can now observe what makes this event special. In essence, it’s the same thing: you’re smashing yourself physically and mentally for 24 hours over tough, unfamiliar terrain. But there were some interesting differences.
The control values were between 30 and 110 points. No little crumbs of 10 and 20 pointers next to the road. I had thought that there was some standard that controls were a maximum of 100 points as that’s all I’ve ever experienced (other than the last-minute 200 pointers at the Tarlo event) but this seems to be convention – the ARC 2007 in the same region went up to 120.
The size of the course was much bigger than any event I’ve done, being on an A1 sheet of paper. At 1:25,000, this covered about 20x12km2. This was in keeping with rule C2 “The course shall be designed so that the winning team is likely to visit most but not all checkpoints.”
The controls were essentially all at least 1.5km apart.
As opposed with state level events, the rules were much more heavily enforced to crack down against cheating: the electronic punches were made out of cloth, and attached with an official crimping a ring around it so that the only way it could be taken off was by cutting it. GPS’s were put in a tamper-proof bag by an official and needed to be returned within an hour after the event or risked disqualification.
There was a practice course (this has occurred for the ARC on some occasions)
Unlike the state 24hr events where most competitors arrive Friday evening at the earliest and leave straight after the event, it felt much more of a community pre and post event, where almost everyone arrived by Friday evening (with many getting there on Thursday). It gave us a chance to really enjoy the event rather than rush there and back.
There was a physical podium for the presentations, an opening and closing ceremony by the President of the IRF and medals given to every placegetter at the presentations.
Teams were required to be either made of 2 or 3 members.
The ABC wrote an article about the event!
A bigger picture of rogaining
Having spent 5 days completely focussed on rogaining with people from all parts of the world, I was reminded of how this bizarre sport has taken off. From an unnamed activity invented by some university students in the 1960s, it has now spread into a sport with at least one formal organizing committee in each state and territory, a national Australian Rogaining Association with annual Australasian Champs, and an International Rogaining Federation that has its own 9-page document of official rules and has hosted world championships annually for the past 10 years all over the globe. The fact that it is a volunteer run sport all the way to the IRF is really awesome and shows the passion for people of all different nationalities to keep this activity going.
I once was chastened by a mate
when I showed little interest in cricket, with him lecturing me how cricket was
such an Australian sport and I needed to follow it. But if there is any
Australian sport, surely it has to be rogaining; that was actively founded in
Australia, and has taken its way all the way around the globe and meeting
representatives from other nationalities helped remind me of this!
3 Replies to “Elevated to a new level of competition, but with a degree of indirection…”
Carolyn Rigby on 1/08/2016 at 6:39 pm says:
Great read Tristan. Really impressed that you took your preparation so seriously and completed well-planned practice “runs”. I have followed your progress over the past year of so and you should be very proud of your involvement and achievements. Finding a partner who can balance you is a real treasure. I’m sure you have done your share of supporting during the events. Congratulations to you both on your bronze!
2. Chris Stevenson on 2/08/2016 at 8:35 am says:
Tristan and team, I am very impressed by the training walk from Katoomba to Kanangra and return. That is a hell of a training walk.
3. Richard Robinson on 15/08/2016 at 8:39 am says:
Tristan, really enjoyed your story and reflections and glad you enjoyed
the event. The knoll attack point for 77 was actually very easy to find, even
in the dark, it had a bloody great radio tower on it which we only identified
the Sunday before the event!