Making Rogaining Professional – A History of the Navlight Scoring System

By Tristan White 29-Nov-2019

Those who partook in their first rogaine within the past decade will most likely only know the electronic scoring system known as “Navlight,” used at all NSW (and most other Australian) rogaines. In addition to simplicity of registering or “punching” a tag at the checkpoint and bringing up the results within minutes of the finish, it has done much to add an element of professionalism to the sport. Thanks to this system participants and organisers can click on any team and check out their routes, and the number of teams visiting each control, exponentially enhancing the post-event analysis.

An urban control with a locked Navlight – now the standard scene at a control site

But just like almost any piece of technology, there was a time that it did not exist, and people knew a world where rogaine scoring was done manually with many problems until such a mind came along to develop a system that could automate the process.

At the recent Australasian Champs in Tasmania I had the privilege to meet this great mind, Peter Squires, the Kiwi who invented the system in the early 2000s, and hear a bit about how it came about. He kindly offered me his time to share this in a bit more depth over a series of emails so I could share this story with the rogaining community and also get a feel for what old-style rogaining was like!

Peter and his daughter Anna at the 2019 World Rogaining Champs in Spain

Tristan White: Where do you live and what did you do as a career?

Peter Squires: For the last 45 years I have lived on a sort of farm, 40km south of Christchurch. I still live in the country but we have a lovely holiday home in Takamatua (near Akaroa) where we spend at least half of our time nowadays.

I have two engineering degrees, one in Mechanical and one in Electrical. After working as a robot on an electronics production line, I started my professional career working as an engineer with the Dunedin City Electricity Corporation, then the North Canterbury Electric Power board.

I obtained a position as a lecturer at Canterbury University in 1973, with the Electrical Engineering Department and spent most of my working life there.

TW: When did you do your first rogaine, and what has made you keep coming back? How many rogaines do you think you’ve done in total?

PS: My first “real” 24-hour rogaine was the first World Championship in 1993, but I have been participating in the 24-hour “TWALK” organised annually by the University Tramping Club since 1967. That means at least 46 TWALKS, and I have lost count of how many 24-hour rogaines I’ve done, but it’s something approaching 30, including about 10 of which I’ve organised.

It’s that feeling of anticipation when you start a course, and that feeling of relief when you finish it, and all the challenges in between that keeps bringing me back. It’s like the pleasure of tramping without the boring bits, and you are always thinking. It’s also the social side. Rogainers are an amazing group of people.

The Navlight punch and tag

TW: Many people have only ever used the electronic scoring system. When you were doing rogaines in the earlier years, what were the methods used for scoring at events and what were some of the problems you observed in them?

PS: Rogaining in NZ started with the orienteering Control cards and clip-punches. These were always a problem; whereas an orienteering event seldom needed more than 15 squares, a rogaine could have over 70 controls, so the squares in the card were much smaller. Trying to get the central squares into the throat of a clipper was always difficult, and “wrong’ squares were often punched, especially at night. Then you’d come to another control and had already punched the square for that one, so you needed to punch somewhere else.

There was also the problem of the card not being able to withstand the wet or mud, and in the cold our wet fingers weren’t strong enough to actually penetrate the card!

The manual punch, now used as a backup in case the Navlight fails, used to be the primary means of scoring in both orienteering and rogaining

Other means of scoring in earlier events included:

  • Q&A-type scoring in urban events. A multiple choice question was asked at the CP location instead of the flag (such as “how many fence panels at the lookout’),
  • a code written on each flag to be copied down, and
  • in the very earliest events I was told a story of a different type of washer or nut left at the control at which teams would take one with them to show at the end, progressively adding another kg to their load!

A common problem for all manual means of scoring was the inability to police cheating, as all of them allowed one team member to run up a hill to the control whilst others could have a rest, something that would dampen the integrity of the sport.

TW: What gave you the idea to create an electronic scoring system for rogaines? A marriage of your career and hobby?

PS: Not really. The idea was born from the desperate need to get something better than punch cards. Competitors and organisers alike needed something simpler and more automated, particularly for the post-event scoring.

I had enough of an understanding of electronic hardware and embedded software to believe that something was possible, and I spent a year or two experimenting in the skunkworks at home. The biggest challenge was to transfer enough energy to power a tag, without a heavy battery drain from the punch, and in a small physical format. The next significant challenge was to superimpose bidirectional signalling onto the energy transfer.

I still have a collection of partially-built circuit boards, and paper tubes with wire wound around them, as a reminder of the development stage.

Early prototypes

TW: When was the Navlight first used in an event and how long did it take to develop the system?

PS: Navlight was first used in the NZ Champs in Otago in 2005, and again later that year in the Australian Champs near Brisbane. Since then, the tags have not really changed, but the punches have been through several iterations, and the software has grown from 200KB to nearly 3MB, and it is still evolving.

The original development took about two years of spare time to get a practical working circuit with embedded software, followed by about 10 months to get the mechanical housing designed and made. I employed a professional engineer to create the punch and tag components in Solidworks, and then get tooling made for injection moulding of the three parts. This was by far the biggest capital outlay.

Forging the AA battery holders from flat brass sheet

TW: Could you briefly explain the process for how the Navlight works? How long does the battery last, and how long is a unit expected to last before it must be replaced?

PS: Each punch and each tag has a unique binary number assigned to it. This is represented to the user as the 3 or 4 character ID code, for example AXCY. Punches also have a crude clock. The clock doesn’t tell the actual time; it simply counts the elapsed seconds since it was programmed.

The text file showing No. of teams visiting each control in the 2019 NSW Champs

PS: When a tag is connected to a punch, they swap ID codes. The Tag records the Punch ID code, and the elapsed seconds from the punch counter. No other information is used.

The score value of the punch is obtained from a text file on the computer (PunchNums.txt) which relates the ID code to its score value, and also whether the punch is a FINISH, BRIEF, or other “Status” punch. Similarly, the Tag code is used to look up who is using it, and their team number and course, from another text file, (Tagnums.txt). Likewise, course information (start time, finish time, penalty rates etc.) is also held in a text file.

A snapshot of the data taken from the Navlight following an event, in this case for NSW Socialgaine winners Brooner and Richard. It makes it infinitely easier for the setter to find out where everyone went, rather than asking individual teams!

PS: The original punches used an AA battery, which would last for at least one year. Their problem was that the electrical contact between a battery and any terminal is very flaky at low voltage and very low power levels.

The ONLY metal which does not form an oxide film is gold. But you can’t get AA batteries with gold ends on them. So I made the switch to soldered-in batteries, which meant that they had to be re-chargeable, in situ. The need for a charging circuit in the base of the punch made the battery space smaller, so an AAA battery had to be used instead. Being smaller, and also a secondary cell, meant reduced battery capacity, so now the expected life between charges is about 2 months.

There are three main wear mechanisms:

  1. The NiMH batteries may have a life of ten years. Certainly, there are some which have been in service for 7 years already. The new PINK punches have been built in a way that allows easy battery replacement.
  2. Stress cracks in the plastic have caused water ingress in the original AA punch nozzles. The polycarbonate plastic used develops these cracks after about three years if exposed to continuous stress. Hopefully, the AAA punches should not be subjected to these stresses if properly maintained.
  3. Water damage. Water is a very small molecule, and water eats electronics through electrolytic corrosion. This has been the main source of damage in the past. The latest PINK punches have an additional “O” ring seal which will hopefully mitigate this problem.

Otherwise the life should be indefinite – apart from the 24LC64 memory chip which is only guaranteed for 1 million read/write cycles. (This means > 1 million Tag registrations – at 100 punches per event, say 8 events per year – that’s 10,000 years!) Currently, the attrition rate is 3-5% per year, which is of concern. Losses occur from water or battery damage, punches being eaten by animals, burnt, blown up, or simply falling out of packs.

Sealing nozzles with hot-glue on a 15-minute carousel

TW: How do the lights and tags get manufactured?

PS: The bare circuit boards are manufactured in Auckland, and then populated with the soldered-on components. I hand-soldered the first several hundred punches and tags, but after that I had them populated by an assembly company in Christchurch. The plastic bodies and nozzles are pressure injection moulded in Christchurch, but both need subsequent machining which I do myself.

The grey buttons in the middle of the tags also need machining, and then each one has seven turns of copper wire wound into the machined groove. I have hand-wound every tag. I assemble the button into the green tag body with a highly polished jig which I made. The “O’ ring slides against the polished cone as it is pressed into the green body, and a very thin sliver of brass projecting from the cone allows the compressed air to escape.

TW: What equipment do you have?

PS: I still have and use the Myford lathe. It is an essential part of Navlight production, for finishing the nozzles and boring the orange and pink casings. I also use it as a press and drill. It has been essential for making the many jigs I need.

I also own three welding plants, five oscilloscopes, two drill presses, a number of signal generators and power supplies, several soldering irons, and I have two ovens in my workshop, so you can see that I am a nut case!

TW: In NSW, the Q&A type controls were still used up until 2012* in urban events, due to the risk of the Navlights being nicked by the public. Were you the one who also designed the locked metal “cages” that are now used at urban events?

PS: No, I didn’t design the locked cages. They’re good, aren’t they? This was created by NSWRA icon Graeme Cooper. Other associations have followed suit, including ACT, which has created several holes around the flashing light to avoid having to squint to check if it’s registered.

A metal cage around the light, used for NSWRA urban events, has a metal cable locking it to its hanging location, deterring passers-by (or rebel rogainers!) from stealing it.

(*) Many may remember the 2012 incident, where one question concerned the colour of a mailbox. After learning that his front yard was the subject of a sporting event, the resident took his mailbox inside! As if we needed any more incentive to upgrade!

TW: The orienteering community has been using the SportIdent (SI) system (I think) for longer than Navlight has been around. Why can’t the SI system be used for 24-hour rogaines?

PS: In 2004, SportIdent was used for the first time in a 24-hour event, near Auckland. It worked, but there were many problems. Firstly, there was no supporting software; secondly, the punches were large and heavy, and had a very short battery life, but most critically, at that time the SI cards could only store 32 controls. Later SI cards can store 64 controls, and the rest of the world uses SI cards for rogaining championships because that is the system that they already have. Someone has written some software to read the cards in a Rogaining application rather than orienteering, but there are still some potential issues with SI.

One is the weight and size, and battery life, of the punches. I have set courses where I had to traverse some high country, carrying up to 20 punches, with flags, anchoring tape, and string to protect the flags and punches from gale-force winds. This may need to be done up to 3 weeks before an event so battery life is as critical as weight and size.

Another issue that has occurred with SI is the incompatibility of different cards with different systems. This was manifested in the 2014 WRC in South Dakota, USA, where the SI cards came from at least three sources; privately owned, hired from the organisers, and rented from a website. Many were incompatible and the results were not known for three weeks after the event, after all the punches had been collected, read, and translated.

Thirdly, some argue that the SI cards are physically more awkward to register in a punch than the Navlight system – but that may be a matter of opinion.

Pushing the grey button into a Tag.

TW: How many rogaining associations now use the Navlight scoring system and how do they “sign up” to it (for want of a better phrase) – do they buy a set of punches and tags from you, and then I think a small portion of the entry fee goes towards this? Are there rogaining assocations that use scoring other than Navlight (or SI) and is there much difference with the operation of these systems?

PS: I have made 2,250 punches in all, about half of the AA variety and half the re-chargeable variety. I have also made 5,100 tags. The sets are distributed amongst NZRA, QRA, ACTRA, NSWRA, VRA, SARA, and ARA, and until recently there was a set in Hong Kong. There has been a significant amount of cross-sharing of equipment to handle big events, so it is getting hard to say exactly who has what – but it doesn’t matter as long as there is enough to go around.

Most of the equipment is “on hire” – there is a rental fee per competitor or per team, by agreement with the particular organisation. Both QRA and ACTRA purchased their sets in the early days, and this gave me the capital I needed to recover some of the development debt and to produce bigger quantities, and to pay people to do the PCB assembly. I prefer the rental system because it justifies the on-going maintenance and replacement cost and effort, whereas purchased electronics of any type usually has only a two-year guarantee, which is void if you hang it outside in the rain! The income also allows me to justify having a registered company in NZ (Navlight Systems Ltd) where I can get corporate travel insurance, in spite of my age.

WARA has developed their own electronic system but I know very little about it. Some smaller semi-commercial private organisations in NZ use an SFR Russian e-punching system, which is cheaper. The cards are like a key tag, which you place against a punch and then press a button. The punch uses a non-rechargeable Lithium Thionyl Chloride (ER) battery. See http://sfr-system.com/

TW:  I thought the system of being able to view the live progress of teams at this year’s World Champs was really cool for “spectators” and would also be a great safety feature for organisers to immediately know the whereabouts of teams. As someone with an acumen for technology, do you see this or other technological advancements becoming mainstream?

PS: For many years people have been suggesting that it would be good to have a communication from a punch to event HQ. And it would. The trouble is that radio waves, like light, travel in straight lines and get absorbed by trees and rain. Your mobile phone relies on multiple reflections of radio waves to reach you. It also needs a close cell tower. The further from a cell tower, the more power you need, and the shorter your battery life. Has anyone taken a phone (not in flight mode) on a 24-hour event and still had a working battery at the end?

Most controls are surrounded by bush and/or in hilly terrain, far from a cell site. The best chance of getting a radio signal out is to go upwards to the sky – a satellite. This was probably the method used at WRC this year, but the transmissions were not from a control site, but from the competitors themselves who were moving around, and thus often in open ground where transmission was possible.

An alternative is to use a High Frequency transmitter, operating around the 3 MHz frequency, which bounces off the ionosphere. This requires a wire antenna some 40 metres long which is getting impractical when you have to install a number of controls on one trip. The antenna is also likely to strangle people in the dark, and would require several antenna poles if in open ground.

There have been suggestions about networking the controls, so each punch has only to reach another punch. This is probably the most likely way forward, but there is still the problem of bad radio paths, high power requirements, large physical size, and battery life – not to mention cost.

TW: Thanks Peter for your service to the sport! All the best with your future projects!

Paddlegaine 2019, Coordinators Report from Geoff Peel

THE GENESIS

While researching the 2017 world orienteering day, Margaret stumbled across a South African based paddle orienteering event and thought – “we can do that”. The seed was planted but it needed a lot of effort to finally germinate.

THE EVOLUTION

Initially slated as a Newcastle Orienteering event for 20 people or so, we eventually decided to go a little bigger. A Facebook page was created and we threw around options before eventually settling on an event title. We then smugly congratulated ourselves on our fab choice – “Paddle Hunter”. This seemed perfect to us as it described everything about the event in an economical two words. You paddle, you hunt (checkpoints) and it was based in the Hunter region.

The fact that we didn’t have an Aquatic Event License (AEL) was brought to our attention by Andrew Haigh. This nearly sunk the project. After quite a few phone calls and emails it became apparent that Orienteering Australia currently had no public liability insurance for on-water activities and were unlikely to change that situation. You can orienteer on foot, riding a mountain bike, on ski’s and even in a wheelchair but not in any sort of boat. At that point we seemed dead in the water.

Dejected but not defeated we spent the next 18 months seeking other groups that might host our pet project. Local bush-walking and paddling clubs were approached but each time there was a stumbling block. It looked bleak and our enthusiasm was almost depleted when Margaret saw a Queensland paddle event. A rogaine! A paddlegaine! Why had we not thought of a paddlegaine before this? We had competed in many rogaines over the years and had even competed in a local rogaine that year. A quick call to Trevor Gollan revealed that NSW Rogaining were looking for a November “Surprise Event” and this was a perfect match. Finally our event had a home.

THE NAME CHANGE

Why did you change the snappy and descriptive “Paddle Hunter” for the much longer and unwieldy “Lake Macquarie Paddle and Promenade Rogaine”? The simple answer is money. We successfully applied for a generous grant from Lake Macquarie City and wanted to give them naming rights as recognition for their support – thanks LMC! We also thought the area covered by our AEL was a tad small and that unless there was a foot section some of the stronger competitors might finish too early – thus “Promenade” was added to this now six word title which would prove challenging in graphic design considerations.

THE PRACTICALITIES

It didn’t take too long for us to realise that we didn’t really have any idea how to set a water based event. Margaret owned a kayak but was only an occasional recreational paddler while I didn’t paddle at all and while we have decades of orienteering and rogaining experience, including setting and organising major events, all our activities to date had been land based. This was a different kettle of fish – were we in over our heads? How fast do paddlers go? Do we need safety boats? How do we go about applying for an AEL and getting over all the regulatory high jumps? Should it be a paddle event only or do we have land based checkpoints? Will the navigation be too easy for regular rogainers? What number of competitors should we expect and what will be their expectations of this event? Can we place checkpoint in the middle of the lake and if so how do we do so?

We did have one big similarity to bush events in that safety is paramount. We quickly reached the conclusion that Margaret and I cruising about in a little rented tinny pretending to be a safety boat wasn’t going to look too flash on our license application. We immediately contacted the Lake Macquarie section of the SES that had taken on safety boat roles at the Lion’s Club Paddlefest for a number of years. Our contact, Tom Mackel, was enthusiastic about our event and was very familiar with water based sports. This would give his team a fantastic opportunity to keep up their skill levels … they were on-board. We are sure their presence helped us get over the line in eventually acquiring our AEL and Tom offered a few free tips in regards to safety and aquatic issues.

For the Queensland events double kayaks are provided (limited to 52) and the rental included in your entry fee. This seemed a good idea in that all participants are on an equal standing as far as their vessels are concerned. It became obvious that there were few companies with the capacity to provide enough kayaks and the one that did was already booked that day so we reverted back to BYO boat. We knew a few rogainers would like to participate but not actually own a paddle-craft so we contacted Lake Macquarie Kayak and Bike Hire and they were happy to be involved. We must thank Jennifer for taking this task off our hands and completely organising all the bookings – seems you had very happy customers.

THE PADDLE ADVISERS

Still worried by our lack of paddling credentials we asked around and were told that fellow local rogainers Rob and Marg Cook were extremely experienced and very successful paddle sports enthusiasts. I approached the pair and asked if they’d like to be our paddle advisers for this event. I might add that this conversation was while we were all purposely making our way to our initial checkpoint at this years 2019 Lake Macquarie Rogaine at Mulbring. They agreed, but on hindsight, a few checkpoints later, it occurred to me that possibly they’d only done so just to shut me up so that they could concentrate on the job and compass at hand. Not so, these guys were brilliant, constructive, professional (if you can be if not actually being paid) friendly and always willing to help. They pre-paddled our course to finally give us an idea of paddling times and were very encouraging about our course design and gave a glowing assessment of how much fun it was.

THE PROMENADE

We were given free rein as to how to present this event so long as paddling was a major component to fulfill our Surprise Event promise. We looked at a few different options. Paddle only? Paddle & Foot? Concurrent separate Paddle and Foot events. As mentioned above we ended up with a promenade section simply because we knew the fast competitors would complete the course too early without it. It also allowed regular rogainers that perhaps were not great paddlers to rest their arms for a while. Concurrent separate events would have seen a bigger entry list but this seemed a bit complex and we wanted to test the waters to see how a predominantly paddle event might fair (a week out we were concerned that the answer to that question was NOT GOOD). The addition of a promenade section added its own problems many of which were solved by utilising our transition checkpoints.

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THE COURSE AND CHECKPOINTS

We were clever enough to select an area that offered easy road access to many places that might offer good checkpoint locations. There was of course some areas of the shoreline that were private property and unavailable. A quick ask around of a small group of fellow orienteers and rogainers at a social lunch provided access to the private jetty at CP 62 and to our event administrator Anita’s parents and sister place along L.T creek at CP 90. It’s amazing how there are hidden resources and contacts all around us just waiting to be discovered. Ideally for a paddle event you’d like to be able to paddle right up to a checkpoint, punch it and paddle off toward the next. How could we achieve this? Overhanging branches? We soon discovered that overhanging branches don’t grow on trees. Well yes, of course they do, but there were only a limited number that were of any practical use. We also realised that navigation itself would be too easy if you sighted the checkpoint out in the water as soon as you rounded the bend or could see it from across the bay. Some checkpoints would need to be land based – just a little way from the shoreline. Could we place checkpoints on water? How would we do that? One council throw-out day we drove around collecting boogie boards then over a few weeks designed, constructed and tested a prototype of a “floating checkpoint”. The “mast” needed to be easily detachable to allow them to be carried in a car. Our original idea of a brick to anchor them failed miserably – we needed real anchors. A google search revealed that new anchors were well over our budget but luckily Facebook Marketplace provided the answer providing 3 at around $10 each. We may have used more of these but our AEL only allowed us to use buoys provided they were placed after sunrise on the day of the event (and removed before sunset). There was no way we’d be able to place many of these and carry out other tasks on the morning of the event. Three was as many as we figured was possible. This task was delegated to Marg and Rob our paddle advisers. We also decided we could use star-picket posts driven into the lake bottom a few metres out but were worried their steel construction and narrow edges may damage vessels if you accidentally rammed it or moved up and down along side it due to the any wave action. Voilà– pool noodles. We had many other ideas some good, some bad, we were even going to hang CP 20 from the Fennell Bay bridge at one point in time. Eventually we settled for what we thought to be the best compromise as to what might be ideal and what was physically and logistically practical.

The Map can be found here

THE ENTRIES

Entries as usual began very slowly and continued to stay worryingly low even a few days out. “Everybody enters on the last day” we were told, but would they. Other events have historical data going back a number of years and can base their numbers on that. Paddy Pallin 400+, LMR 300+ etc. We had zero history to guide us. In the end after encouraging, cajoling and bullying as many people as we could, we ended up with very decent entry numbers of just below the 100 mark. We thank you all for supporting our event as it wouldn’t happen without participants. Unfortunately when trying to enter you were faced with an entry system that didn’t quite reflect the nature of this event. As rogaines are usually team based event, the page is geared up for teams entry. New rules now allow individual entries for events of 3 hour duration. We decided to have no teams but instead base it on the paddle-craft you were in. Either ”singles” or “doubles”. This was a bit of a square peg in a round hole situation and we apologise for the confusion. Purely our fault as this was difficult to convey to a group that has been trained to think of team configurations of 2-5 persons.

Green flag starts the race

THE EVENT DAY

We were well organised and prepared and had wonderfully capable people supporting us but still had sleepless nights in the week leading up to this day. The realisation that our event with its two year gestation period was about to arrive and be presented to the rogaining world had us a little worried. Would it float or would it sink? Would the expected bad weather hold off until after we’d finished and packed up? Would lightning appear and force us to cancel the whole damn thing? Fortunately we woke up to a nice day and although the wind did increase at times during the 3 hours it was insignificant compared to the previous weekend which may have seen a postponement. The rain did eventually arrive but not until I was collecting the last checkpoint, CP 22. It was a water-based picket and I stopped for a while to watch the raindrops hitting the smooth water, creating a beautiful series of rings. As I stood there a flash of lightning reminded me I was standing knee deep in water with a 2.4 m metal rod conductor. Oops, time to leave.

THE TIME AND TIDE

Event dates tend to set themselves due to having to fit in with many competing elements. Sunday 3rd of November it was. The only tidal information available is at Swansea near the mouth of the Lake. By our observations is seemed to be two hours ahead of this northern section our event was to take place in. Many locals suggested that recent rain, air pressure, wind and weather conditions have a great affect on the water levels this far north. We’d visited the area on numerous occasions, many of these on a low tide. Tidal charts plus the estimated 2 hours suggested that we’d be around about low tide at the start of our event with an inflow during the event. Quite recently we had noted a very low tide, so low that it caused us to change our thinking considerably as to where we might place some checkpoints. Placing checkpoints on Saturday which had a low tide listed as 0.28 m (at Swansea) we observed it was nowhere near as low as the one we’d experienced a few weeks prior and our event low tide would actually be higher at 0.33 m. Phew, what a relief! Imagine then our horror turning up on the morning of the event to find the tide extremely low and still out-flowing. Half way through the event I saw a mud island that had appeared in Fennell Bay. Where had that come from? Checkpoints that on a normal high tide may be 2 metres from the water were now a staggering 50 metres walk. Wow – this must be a super low tide, our event is ruined. I took photos back from my drive around the course to show Margaret how bad it was. She was disappointed and dumbfounded. How can this be, given the tide charts and our previous observations, weren’t sea levels supposed to be rising? We’ll have to grin and bear it as there’s naught we can do about it.

At the Finish

THE STATS

  • 96 participants
  • 18 doubles
  • 58 singles
  • 76 different paddle craft
  • 20 volunteers
  • 15 SES personnel + 4 boats

THE WINNERS

2 singles and 3 doubles cleared the course within the 3 hour limit most with less than 10 minutes to spare. Rob Bennett and Lachlan Bakewell completed the course in their double with a staggering 34 minutes to spare but were shattered to learn they had failed to properly register at CP 101. In a great show of sportsmanship (is there a gender neutral equivalent) doubles winners John and Mardi Barnes presented Rob and Lachlan with one of their matching doubles trophies (they also still had the energy to remain behind and assist with the pack-up … amazing). Steven Todkill was first back of the singles to clear the course and was also outright winner.

Full results can be found here.

The top three Singles: Greigor Scott, Douglas Peres & outright winner Steven Todkill
The top three Mixed Doubles: Mardi & John Barnes, Shaun Anderson & Jane Holden, Nicole & Andrew Haigh

THE GRINNERS

While we were aghast at the low tide it seemed you participants took it in your stride … or should that be stroke. Feedback has been very positive to date especially from many of the first-timers. It’s pleasing to hear such positive responses since the day was really quite a blur for us and difficult to gauge. Smiling faces at the end gave us some indication that you had a good time and that most of you didn’t really mind getting a bit muddy. We’d love to hear your stories and anecdotes. I heard one girl lost a shoe while another person may have lost or broken their paddle. Feedback would be appreciated even critical if it is constructive and helps to prepare another even better Paddlegaine in the future. Will there be one? If there is would you recommend it to others? What would you do to improve it? Would you like to set the course or organise it? Do you know an area that would suit this style of event? I’m sure that the Rogaining committee will be interested in your thoughts about this event and will take them into consideration as to if or when another may be scheduled. It’s up to you really, if you want it, ask for it.

THE TEAM

We are very lucky to have the luxury of a wealth of navigational sports wisdom in our area. Our social environment is populated by many people who have planned and organised many major rogaines and orienteering events and we have sought ideas and assistance from many of these people. They were all generous with their time and we thank them for this. We are also lucky in that half the time we house the Newcastle Orienteering Club gear van at our home residence. Having this at hand saved us many hours of organising and sourcing equipment.

  • Margaret Peel – Event Organiser – Course Planner – Checkpoint Placement & Collection
  • Geoff Peel- Event Organiser – Course Planner – Checkpoint Placement & Collection
  • Anita Bickle -Admin – Paddle Adviser – NavLight programming
  • Carolyn Rigby – Admin
  • Marg Cook – Paddle Adviser – Course Vetting – Checkpoint Placement & Collection
  • Rob Cook – Paddle Adviser – Course Vetting – Checkpoint Placement & Collection
  • Bob Gilbert – Transition – Presentations
  • Denis Lyons – Transition Official – Checkpoint Collection
  • Viola O’Connor – Transition
  • Carolyn Chalmers – Transition
  • Adrian Plaskitt – Car Parking – Catering
  • Glenn Downey – Car Parking – Catering
  • Bert Van Netten – Catering – Checkpoint Placement
  • Maria Orr – Catering
  • Peter Orr – Catering
  • Neil Chappel – Car Parking – Catering – Checkpoint Collection
  • Baxter Peel – Anchor testing – Soft Drink Spruiking
  • Jack Hart – Checkpoint Collection
  • Ann Montgomery – Checkpoint Collection
  • Sam Howe – Checkpoint Collection
  • Nicole Haigh – Council liaison
  • Thomas Mackel – SES

Thanks to Lake Macquarie City for generously supporting this event.

(This report including many more photos is taken from the Paddlegaine Facebook page)

My Wrap of the 2019 Paddlegaine and being on the right side of the Ledger

I was really looking forward to the Paddlegaine and I am very happy I competed and I will remember the event for the rest of my life.

I am a semi regular kayaker and have access to a number of different kayaks. Unfortunately, none of the kayaks are racing kayaks, but I had a choice of:

  • 4m flat water fibreglass sit-in (I have two of these)
  • 5.1m sea capable fibreglass touring kayak sit-in
  • 2.5m plastic kayak sit-on

The immediate temptation was to go for the longest kayak available since speed on the water, all other things being equal, is a product of water line length. We had already been told that there would be some controls that require you to get out of the kayak and there is nothing quick or easy about getting out of a sit in kayak. Also, the longer the kayak the less capable they will be in tight manoeuvres. In the end I decided to go for the 4m flat water fibreglass sit-in since this should have yielded the best combination of water line speed versus manoeuvrability. The other consideration was that I had bought it 2nd hand for $80 so I was no too worried if it got banged about jumping in and out.

As it turned out this was probably the wrong choice. The wind and waves were quite strong at several stages of the event and it was a real fight to keep the rudderless flat water kayak above the water and on course against a maelstrom of wind, chop and tide. Having looked at my GPS track I was quite pleased with how straight my lines were given this challenge.

Me in my chosen kayak for the event. On this occasion I had my own navigator on board.

My other pre-event consideration was do I lend my spare kayak to my usual team mate Julian Ledger. Julian is only 2 points behind me in the 2019 Series Point Score I would never forgive myself if he beat me in the series point score using my own kayak (we are teaming up for the Socialgaine). In any case, in a moment of weakness or insanity, I decided to loan Julian my 2nd, 4m flat water kayak for the event. The race was on.

When I arrived at the event the first thing to notice was the range of kayaks on offer. I was looking very jealously at some of the sit on and sit in racing kayaks knowing that my only chance of beating them would be if some very tight turning was required. I also looked across to the hire kayaks which were very functional and practical but short plastic kayaks and slow and there was no way that I should be beaten by one of these.

Another consideration was the promenade rogaine. I had assumed that this would be a 5-10 minute frolic along some grassy foreshores. Instead it turned out to be, for me anyway, over an hour of slogging it out through bush and hills. In fact having picked up my map the promenade rogaine looked very like a Sydney Summer Series orienteering event.

The event started and Julian I had both decided to avoid any possible traffic at the early controls and go straight across the bay to do the promenade rogaine. Paddling across the bay was quite slow and difficult in the wind, chop and tide. I arrived at the other side about 10 seconds ahead of Julian and took off for my promenade rogaine. I went anti-clockwise around the course while Julian went clockwise so my next indication about how I was travelling was going to be at the half-way point of the run. On the way I missed control number 12. I saw a sign but no control and I was not going to waste time over a 10 pointer. As it turned out the control was just a little bit further up the hill. I also made a really stupid mistake leaving control 73. I went up the hill to the north and got to the top before I realised I should have been heading west (Doh). Julian and I passed each other at control 10, which I figured was pretty much half way, but I knew that Julian would not miss control 12 so even if we arrived back at the kayaks at the same time he would be 10 points ahead of me. My next indication of progress was going to be when I got back to my kayak. Would Julian’s kayak still be there?

When I eventually got back to my kayak I was a bit panicked to find that Julian’s kayak was no longer there. As I grabbed my kayak and headed back to the water I quickly scanned the horizon and I could not see him. Bugger! He was now at least 10 points and several minutes ahead of me. I jumped in my kayak and started paddling furiously towards control 101. By the time I was about 1/3 of the way there I realised I could see Julian’s (my) kayak in the distance and I figured that he was now 10 points and possibly 4-6 minutes ahead of me.

There is nothing quite as motivating as trying to beat a good mate, so I paddled as hard as I could and I realised that I was slowly gaining on Julian. To be fair I have done much more kayaking than Julian in recent years and I had gone to the effort to have a few training runs before the event. By the time we got to 101 Julian was only 76 seconds ahead of me. I passed Julian on the traverse from 101 to 62 and that was the last time I saw him for an hour. It is very hard to look directly behind you on a kayak without dropping pace so I just focussed on doing my own thing and paddling as fast as I could.

After 62, I went and did 20, 64 and 22. I then decided to do 36 and 90. Pre-event I had decided that the out and back from 36 to 90 was not going to be worthwhile, but having experienced the swell, chop and wind in the middle of the bay, I realised that this would be quick, flat water kayaking which was ideally suited to me and my kayak. As it turned out this leg was probably the difference between Julian’s and my course. Julian picked up 61 but in a similar time I had picked up 36 and 90.

After 90 and 36 I went to 74, 28 and 52. At 52 I had a very difficult decision to make. I had 28 minutes left and I felt like I could get to the hash house in that time, but did I have time to get 41, 27 or 40 on the way back? Having been late back on a number of rogaines I know it is not much fun, so I headed straight back to the hash house. By this stage I could see Julian and he could see me and I was confident that if I turned for the hash house he would do so as well.

As it turned out the run back to the hash house was much quicker then expected and I arrived there 15 minutes early, kicking myself that I had made a bad decision and forgone at least 40 points.

After the event finished and the points were tallied I found my self 50 points ahead of my friend and rival Julian and I finished a creditable 17th place out of the 58 competitors in the singles event.

The other thing to note about the Paddlegaine is that the basemap was credited to Russell Rigby who passed away recently. Russell was a fine map maker and orienteer and was of great assistance to me when I was trying to configure RouteGadget. Russell’s widow, Carolyn, was at the event helping out on the weekend. Thanks Russell and condolences to Carolyn from the Rogaining community.

Many thanks to Geoff and Margaret Peel for putting on a great event. The event was very well organised and the course well set. There were lots of volunteers on hand for every task and I had a great time. I feel a bit sorry for everyone who did not come along as they missed out on a really memorable occasion.

2019 NSW Championships in Review – The Step Up Rogaine

Thoughts and reports on the NSW Champs, 20-21 September 2019

Yengo National Park is a large (150,000 hectare) tract of land in the north-eastern section of the world-heritage Greater Blue Mountains Area. It doesn’t get many visitors, much of it is declared wilderness, and it’s only 100km from the Sydney CBD.

It’s classic Sydney-sandstone country; flat on the top, cliffs on the sides, and broad valleys in between. Mount Yengo (660m) is the exceptional feature. Like the other basalt-topped peaks in the northern Wollemi, such as Coriaday and Corricudgy, it looms over the surrounding dissected plateau. It is perhaps more dramatic in that it stands alone, and it holds special meaning to indigenous people as the stepping off point for Baiame after he had created this landscape.

Late afternoon, looking west from Finchley Trig, with Mt Yengo dominant above Yengo NP

So why haven’t we run a rogaine there before?

In big part, because of the access; there’s 32km of narrow, dirt trail from The Great North Road to the Big Yango camping area. It’s OK for most road vehicles but it does require time and care. Despite the organiser’s warnings many competitors were surprised by, as Chris Stevenson cited, that “tedious dirt road.

Gill Fowler organised delivery trucks to provide marquees and portaloos. At 8 o’clock Friday morning she had to meet them at Laguna, then escort them into the Hash House site. Organiser’s also had to tow the large catering trailer, and other heavy loads including a tonne of water. After the 3rd or 4th trip the road became familiar and less daunting, but it still took over an hour to drive those 32kms. There also lurked the unlikely risk of heavy rain which would have closed the road and forced a cancellation of the event.

Another reason we haven’t rogained in Yengo is to do with the history of the Park. The Big Yango property was only morphed into the National Park in 2000. Soon after, in 2009, two-thirds of the Park were designated as wilderness, thus becoming inaccessible to our sport.

Move to 2015, when Vivien de Remy de Courcelles created a NavShield event, mid-winter, based in the Big Yango frost hollow. This year, after our exploration of a site on the Southern Highlands was abandoned due to cliff-lines and landowner access, it was a simple solution for Vivien to re-use Yengo with it’s sole land manager. Unfortunately the Big Yango Hash House site was booked on the weekend for which the NSW Champs were scheduled, so we had to move to the following weekend. (This meant however that the flag-hanging team got to enjoy the full moon.)

THE COURSE

There was near unanimous agreement that the map was excellent, that the course layout made route planning a true puzzle, and that there were good options to return to the Hash House.

Gill Fowler was coordinator for the event and also explored much of the area while vetting and hanging flags. She “found the event area very special, rich in vegetation diversity and aboriginal heritage, something I don’t get to appreciate as greatly when competing at the pointy end of a rogaine. It’s also an area that has limited cars and no evidence of trail or mountain bike tracks, an added bonus.

More from Gill, “I was excited that it was primarily feature navigation, little need for my compass, and some of the terrain was steep, but these were in short rather than long climbs. I found the area reasonably open, with some scrub, so I was surprised that some rogainers considered it very scrubby. (But then, perhaps I would too if out there for 24 hours.)

The accessible hash house put pressure on the caterers, perhaps due to many 24-hour competitors returning about the same time as the 8-hour event finished.

NAVSHIELD 2015

Vivien recalls that the course for NavShield was very different to this year. In 2015 the same Hash House site was at the edge of the map and the course extended to the west. “At NavShield”, says Vivien, “we had controls in the wilderness area but did not go as far south-west, east or even north” as the recent Champs. “Traditionally NavShield has only about 40 controls, and we use the topographic map of the area to replicate what happens when emergency services are called for a search, as if grabbing a map off the shelf … and yes, we know that things are different now with online maps and GPS. Anyway the topo maps for Big Yango have 20m contours, do not show any cliffs, and are missing some very clear trails. I did add one trail for safety in 2015. Map reading was very different compared to the accurate map we had for the NSW Champs (e.g. if those 20m contours are very close there must be a cliff). When setting NavShield I tried to avoid trails, whilst I try to create routes using trails for the Champs.

Many who did the 2015 event recall the cold weather. Tristan White commented that it was easy to rest and be lazy this year, whereas “one advantage of an event as bloody cold as the Navshield was that we never wanted to stop for long!

David Williams and Ronnie Taib won in 2015 with 2400 points clearly ahead of the Sydney University Bushwalking team’s 2080 points. When using the word “win”, we should consider that standard Navshield teams are handicapped by their larger team and the obligation to carry camping and safety equipment. One wonders if this previous experience helped Ronnie and Dave this year.

THE MAP

Phil Whitten is a map freak who delights in preparing an accurate, navigational tool as well as an art piece. You can access the map here.

The map was unusual in having four callouts – sections from the map expanded to 1:5,000 scale – where Vivien had taped passes around or through clifflines. This meant three controls were squares rather than circles.

Julie Quinn was very positive of the map, saying “Phil did an awesome job. I love the new LIDAR dataset with the contours that are so accurate. He also performed some magic with the algorithm getting all of the cliff lines and watercourses on the map. We did get confused near 47 where the track on the ground crossing the gully didn’t really exist. That’s what you get sometimes in the dark.

Chris Stevenson concurred. “I loved the map, a superb piece of cartography. One change perhaps – the hatching of the OOB areas obscured the contours.

Tristan White would have liked the map to show the thicker vegetation. Gill Fowler appreciated the addition of the cliffs in the map.

Let’s give Ronnie Taib the final say. “It was my sort of map, much more to my taste than the WRC map. I don’t recall we spotted any error, and the marked cliffs were usually useful. Well done, Phil!

THE COMPETITION

Congratulations to David Williams and Ronnie Taib, the 2019 NSW Rogaining Champions. Dave & Ronnie are showing strong consistency, defending their title win at Abercrombie last year (and in 2017 they were only 10 points below the winners at Mt Werong.)

David Williams & Ronnie Taib, weary winners

Julie Quinn and David Baldwin were a mere 20 points behind. One presumes both teams have done their post-event analysis to consider how they might have changed the final result.

Full results are available on the event website. This year’s top ten are:

  1. David Williams & Ronnie Taib .. 3,060 points
  2. Julie Quinn & David Baldwin .. 3,040
  3. Jackson Bursill & Thomas Banks .. 2,740
  4. Mathew Collin & Ivan Koudashev .. 2,480
  5. John & Mardi Barnes .. 2,450
  6. Fergus Macleod & Max Messenger .. 2,440
  7. Tristan White & Aurelian Penneman .. 2,410
  8. Andrew Renwick & Peter Marshman .. 1,850
  9. Glenn Disalvia, Ryan Puklowski & Ginaya Dunn .. 1,820
  10. Graham Field & Martin Dearnley .. 1,690

In the associated 8-hour event, elite veterans Mike Hotchkis and Glenn Horrocks scored 1,450 points, 200 ahead of Andrew & Nicole Haigh.

HOW GOOD ARE THE TOP TEAMS?

Here’s a graph showing progress of the top two teams. Ronnie referred to the low patch they had, due to dehydration, which shows as that flat section about 10-11pm. But by 10am Sunday both teams had the same score, 2770 points, and finished at the same, strong rate. Perhaps Julie and David benefited from their brief visit to the Hash House about 7:45pm; they certainly were more consistent during the night.

CREDITS

  • Coordination & Liaison: Gill Fowler
  • Course Setting & Flag Hanging: Vivien & Justine de Remy De Courcelles, Emmanuelle Convert
  • Map: Phil Whitten
  • Vetting & Flag Hanging: Gill Fowler, Phil Whitten, Belinda & Andrew Pope, Tom Brennan, Rachel Grindlay, Richard Patterson, Mel Thomas
  • Administration: Anita Bickle
  • Catering: The Pope family (Andrew, Belinda, Sean & Nick), Trevor Gollan
  • General Help: Amanda Mackie, Graeme McLeod, Ann Newman, Michael Watts, Clinton Bradley, Bert van Netten, Phil Whitten, Pawel Wagner, Monica Wong, Peter Watterson, Sam Hussein, Lisa x
  • Photography: Bruce Sutton
  • Safety: Lesley Clarke with SES-Bush Search and Rescue
  • Flag Collection: John & Mardi Barnes, Phil Harding, Sandra Thomas, Pam, Bob & Ann Montgomery
  • Catering Trailer: Andrew & Belinda Pope; Admin Trailer: Trevor Gollan
  • Landowners: NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, Simone Smith & the Laguna Community (for water supply)
  • Website: Chris Stevenson
  • Equipment: Mark von Huben
SES-BSAR reviewing safety procedures with Gill Fowler (at right)

QUOTES

  • I’d have happily cried but couldn’t waste any water (Ronnie Taib)
  • It was really fantastic to see the big number of novice 24-hour teams (Gill Fowler)
  • We’re not as quick these days – but we’re still optimistic of our capabilities! (John Biddiscombe)
  • I hoped to learn enough about Hash House Food Prep to be more help in the future – but – came away intimidated and with deeper respect for what the Pope’s pulled off (Phil Witten)
  • I’d give the Rogaine a 10/10. There wasn’t one disappointment with the experience (Allan Bourke)
  • Setting navigation courses, similarly to leading walks for my bushwalking club SBW, is a way to show others some nice areas that you might not find easily (Vivien de Remy de Courcelles)

I asked a bunch of people for their Observations and Cogitations

David Baldwin and Julie Quinn are the top Mixed team in Australia, as evidenced at the recent World Champs in Spain where they won the Mixed Veterans category and were 2nd in the Open Mixed. They also placed 2nd Outright at the last Australasian Champs, at Manumbar in S-E Queensland.

Julie writes… Many thanks to the NSWRA for putting on a super event for the NSW Champs. I would describe it as a true bush rogaine, with very little of our time spent on tracks or in open country. Couldn’t be much more of a contrast to the World Rogaine Champs at La Molina, which was open high country and pine forest with trails everywhere.

I had to look up where Yengo NP was, and after putting a pin on the map I was pretty excited to explore the country. The only downside was the distance from Canberra. A huge thanks to Toni and Smiffy who put us up on Friday evening and then again, after the event, welcomed us back to their house for a sleep and feed on our way home.

Yengo has a real feel of history with the various Aboriginal artefacts around the place. I spent quite a bit of time pondering where and how the people lived in this country, although it must have been quite different without the European farming influence and the few animals. We missed seeing the stencils near 47 although we did look around a bit in the dark for them.

We decided fairly quickly that climbing up and down over the ridges was pretty slow, especially through the lines of rock. However, the open valleys had the cobblers pegs/farmers friend (Bidens pilosa) weed which was so awful when you stumbled into a clump of it, it had David cursing. Some of the other gullies where they were a bit more rainforest-like were a joy on Saturday afternoon. Just a bit cooler and damp providing some relief from the much-warmer-than-Canberra temperatures.

The positioning of the water drops provided us with a challenge to carry enough water and we were pretty thirsty when we came through the Hash House about 7:30 pm. But we had been warned and it was obvious that there was a constraint of access around the course.

Definitely a great event, and an area that NSW should use again one day. It’s a pity the surrounding area is wilderness as I am sure there is so much more to explore.

Thanks Julie & David for making the trek from Canberra and bringing your classy competition.


Chris Stevenson and John Clancy scored 870 points placing them 6th overall in the 8-hour competition. Chris (below, at left) is our Webmaster and a regular commentator on NSW rogaining activities.

Asked to summarise his experience, Chris wrote… it was a good event in a difficult location. I was aware of the area but missed the NavShield and had also planned to mountain bike ride from Putty Road to Laguna, not done yet due to logistical complexities.

Highlights? I enjoyed the country. It is unusual to have the long open valleys that are not fight-scrub. (This will change over time with the cows having been removed.) We saw a red bellied black snake, managed some brilliant night navigation, lots of kangaroos or wallabies (they weren’t wearing signs), and some grinding marks which are uninteresting.

It was just great to explore somewhere new.

Lowlights? The flies, heat and dirt road were tedious, and I would have preferred to do the 24-hour.

What can we do to improve? Why not also run a four hour event so it would be 4/8/24. This would probably help the event pay for itself. I suspect that the 4-hour event would be well attended, despite the drive, and it would be a marginal cost and effort for NSW Rogaining.


Brett Davis (below, at right) and Mike Ward won the Men’s Ultravet category with 1,350 points. Brett was 2nd in his class at Abercrombie 2018, and writes of this year’s event… I thought pretty much everything about the event was excellent – location, organisation, map, food, admin.

I hadn’t been to Yengo before. Given the good weather we experienced leading up to the event, and despite the reasonably heavy rain a week before, the road into the HH was in pretty good condition (for a national park track.) It was quite a long way to the HH from the bitumen on a dirt road that might have deteriorated rapidly if it had rained. But it was ideal rogaining country – plenty of hills but not too high, a bit of thickish scrub but generally pretty open, the creeks were dry and easily followed most of the time, and the clifflines were negotiable in the main.

The map felt flimsy when I first picked it up, but I had no problems with it at all and my initial feeling was misplaced.”

Did you keep going for the full 24 hours? We tried, but Mike had basically insisted on two loops with a short stop at the HH for food and water in between. There are two obvious gaps in our splits. The first occurred when both Mike and I ran out of water at the north of the course just on dusk. We picked up one control in the dark, and tried for another, but gave up the search very early on to walk about 4k back to the HH for a meal and water. The break was reasonably leisurely, and then we walked a few kilometres south to get to some higher value controls – so the gap stretched to about 3½ hours.

The second big gap in our splits happened when we didn’t find 74. I’m still kicking myself over that one! The description was “rock platform” and I had a middle-of-the-night mindset that a rock platform was either a large, flat section of open rock on top of the ridge, or a raised rock platform also on top of the ridge. And we found the latter, but alas – no flag. If I had been thinking straight, and had actually looked at the map a little more closely, I would have seen the cliffline clearly marked in the centre of the circle and reasoned that a rock platform might actually be the edge of the cliff, but as it was around 3am I was a little bit brain-dead. After abandoning the search, our next target was back along the ridge we had just walked and then further north – quite a distance. The scrub on this ridge turned out to be reasonably thick too, so the going was slow – and Mike doesn’t like the “off track” stuff very much. We picked up our next control just before dawn after another gap of 3½ hours.

Highlights and lowlights? The weather was a highlight, almost perfect. It was a bit too warm during both days, but the night was beautiful, with virtually no breeze and mild enough to get by in a cotton shirt without the need for gloves, beanies, or thermals. The lowlight was missing 74!

What animals or unusual features did you encounter? We encountered kangaroos, wallabies and one lone wombat, but the birds were amazing! The calls of White-throated Gerygones were a constant around the HH, and there were plenty of calls from Rufous Whistlers, Golden Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrushes, Eastern Yellow Robins and Wonga Pigeons on the course. My highlight was flushing a pair of White-throated Nightjars on an open ridge very close to 83. As you can probably tell, I’m a birdwatcher.

On the “other” rock platform near 74 – which was a solid, raised block of rock, we found lots of grinding grooves near a couple of rock holes filled with water.

Any suggestions? My only gripe, and it is reasonably minor, was with the locations of the water drops – they just didn’t seem to be really user-friendly. And I’m not complaining because I ran out of water, as that was my fault. I had two litres in pockets on the side of my backpack, and thought I had packed another 700ml inside – but hadn’t. Stupid error!


Tristan White is highly visible in NSW Rogaining due to his role as publicity officer, most notably as the editor of our newsletters, and for his energy. He is also very active as a competitor, organiser and mountain biker.

Tristan and Aurelian Penneman placed 7th overall at Yengo, after coming 2nd at this years Paddy Pallin 6-hour. Tristan also took 2nd place last year at the NSW Champs, teamed with Mike Hotchkis. Here’s some extended comments about his Yengo experience.

It wasn’t our easiest event. A few hours in it was clear that we were not going to go home with a trophy. I could feel something of a headache and a stomach that didn’t feel great. Not sure if it was me having too much/little to eat or drink, still recovering from a nasty chest infection (that I exacerbated doing the ACT cyclegaine two weeks before) or just having an off day. I just didn’t have the energy and adrenaline that I usually do, even in 24-hour events. We stopped a LOT during the night, and would have to motivate each other to start moving again.

Consequentially, we decided to pull in a couple of hours early so Aurelien could get back home to his young daughter. It was to emerge that, had we gotten a mere 80 more points, our position would have been bumped up from 7th to 4th. At the time I had no problem spending a couple of extra hours resting but looking back on it I do regret doing an event that I haven’t squeezed in every possible CP! Doing a rogaine, particularly a 24-hour, relies on being there mentally, and I wasn’t.

The Course? I wish to compliment the organisation team for getting the HH in the centre of the course. Although we didn’t go back to it I know a lot of teams did, and with some better planning we certainly could have and lightened our load.

However, in terms of terrain, in all honesty, it wouldn’t have been my top pick for a course area. I found many of the watercourses really nice and open and they were some of my favourite sections, but many of the ridges were very slow and unpleasant. Although I knew it was the same location as the 2015 Navshield (which is traditionally thick and scrubby) I had read in the course notes that the scrub was minimal so I wore a T-shirt, no gaiters … and I suffered. The hills were also a lot more brutal than I imagined. Although the actual elevation difference was much less than the infamously hilly Abercrombie, the combination of their steepness, the number of loose rocks, cliffs to dodge and all the prickly crap just made it much slower than we expected.

I think I’d have been better prepared for the course if we’d understood how thick and slow the bush was. I’d have also worn long sleeves and gaiters in favour of long pants had I known. As the wisdom goes you only appreciate the difficulty when you’ve seen it first hand!

The map was excellent for the most part. I didn’t find any occasions that CPs were in the wrong place, or contour detail was wrong, and was amazed about the accuracy of the clifflines, something that is so subjective, but aside from 95 it seemed they were exactly where I expected them.

Highlights and Lowlights? The blunders at 36 and 95 were the obvious downturns; the first and final CPs attempted in the dark. We wasted almost an hour at 36 after shooting slightly above the CP, at which point the watercourse was almost indistinguishable. We went back to the track to have another crack at it, and still missed it. Looking at the GPS history later on it’s clear we were not far at all from the CP. But the vagueness of the feature, the adjustment to the dark, and the dense bush meant that it was harder than it otherwise would have been.

95 was a long slog. I don’t want to say how long we spent looking for it as it’d be humiliating. Basically we found what we thought was the cliffline to the east of the control and followed it to the corner, and there was no flag. We then made our way back along a different cliff, to find yet another corner, again no flag. After countless to’s and fro’s and consultations, we were about to give up when I looked behind to see a flash of white and orange. Needless to say the GPS-tracker looked positively embarrassing, but in all fairness there must have been some unmarked cliffs. It would have been around 4am, of course when we’re at the biggest risk of making goof-ups.

Did you laugh or cry? There was some laughter before and after the event, perhaps even a little during the event. There were no actual tears (yes, I have cried in other events) but I won’t share a transcript of the things I said when I couldn’t find CP 95!

Animals or unusual features? The main unusual feature was the number of other rogainers we saw over the course of the night. Last NSW Champs Mike and I saw three other teams between 3pm and 11am (including three sightings of our rivals David and Ronnie as we could see them obviously getting the leading edge over us!). This time, we must have seen several dozen, which doesn’t happen often in a 24-hour.

Ideas for improvement? The organisation was excellent. I think the kiddygaine was great and I’m glad to see the efforts were reflected in the turnout.

I do think that prickly areas such as many that were on this course are simply painful and don’t add much value to the sport. I find it really stunts my motivation to keep fighting my way through the night. My ideal rogaining country is what’s found west of the Blue Mountains or in the Southern Highlands – enough bush to shelter from the heat, wind or cold but not much low prickly crap.

Consider having a short novice/kids’ course before future events, incl. urban events – perhaps at a 1:2,500 scale with a few CPs near the HH, which doubles up as a sample of what CPs look like. Then kids that don’t do the main event can have a crack at it as well.


Belinda and Andrew Pope, with their teenage sons Sean & Nick volunteered to run the Hash House, a task that involves menu planning, shopping, transporting the basic foodstuffs, prepping, serving and cleaning up. They also spent the previous weekend hanging flags.

Andrew reported that… the overall experience was rather hectic and stressful. It was our first time running the hash house but, yes, we probably would do it again.

Highlights? I guess it was getting everyone fed and pulling it off. We flexed as required with the cooking and received positive feedback on the food.

I liked being told by a team that they could smell the food km’s away from the hash house.

The four goannas in, or hovering outside, the hash house were a pleasant amusement, distraction and concern. We had to be wary of them underfoot, not wanting to hurt them, and vice versa.

The par-boiled sausages from Tender Value meats were great (factor in around 1.2/participant.) Shepherds Bakery cakes were good… though a bit expensive, and Harris Farm in Pennant Hills were fantastic.

Maybe we have some sponsorship opportunities there. How about that great cauliflower soup?

The recipe for the soup was from the Web. Here’s the ingredients (just multiply by 40-50):
 1 onion diced
 3 garlic cloves (minced)
 ½ tsp dried sage
 ½ tsp paprika
 ½ tsp turmeric
 2 average sweet potatoes (peeled and chopped)
 1 average cauliflower (chopped into florets)
 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
 13.5 oz (400ml) light coconut milk
 salt & pepper (to taste)

Challenges? We needed more helpers at times, especially when we were preparing and serving dinner on Saturday night. We needed more pots (8 to 10) and/or a better way of keeping prepared food warm whilst more is cooked, and we’d prefer pans with heavy bases to avoid burning food so easily – that was frustrating.

Next time? We’d simplify the dinner menu (delete one meat dish), order less bacon (about half, 11 kgs, would have been right, and we’d skip the yoghurt. The soup and veggie stew quantity were excessive, and obviously we’d get less bread. We should have labelled the dishes and whether they contain gluten, dairy, etc.

Other improvements? I’d question the 8 hour + 24 hour, unless you have a big group to cater for that evening rush, and enough pots to keep the food coming along. 15 in 24 hour may have worked better.

I’d prefer 10L water containers, rather than 20-25L’s for volunteers to use round the kitchen. The big containers are too heavy to lift. We used our own.

Stirring the big pots gets dangerous due to the height. You need a way of bringing that down so an average height person can safely stir a pot. Smaller pots, different burners etc.

And finally, keep the catering trailer clean. We spent a while cleaning it up on Saturday morning.

How was your flag-hanging weekend? We loved our wander around the course, with the beautiful open creeks. The hills weren’t too big, the scrub was bearable, and we saw wombats, goannas, red-tailed black cockatoos and lots of kangaroos.

“The Trailers are Packed!” [L-R] Belinda Pope, Vivien de Remy de Courcelles, Gill Fowler, Justine de Remy de Courcelles, Andrew, Sean & Nick Pope

John Biddiscombe and his regular teammate, John Bishop, have a different approach to a 24-hour rogaine. This year they scored 260 points, 20 more than 2018 where they came last, and this year was quite different in that they collected more points but incurred a 250 penalty for being late to the Finish – and they didn’t come last.

Let John tell the story… I thought that Yengo was a very honest rogaine. After getting to the general area of each control, the setters were considerate on their placing of the targets.

As for John and I, we usually bite off more that we can chew. I’m probably the fitter in the team, Bish has lost a bit of fitness over the years which is to be expected – not as quick these days – but we’re still optimistic of our capabilities!

We always like to get out to the nice country away from the madding crowds. This inevitably gets us far away from the Hash House and often creates long marches along fire trails at the end of the event. On this occasion, we failed to heed the advice of the course setter and decided that we wouldn’t let a bit of scrub stop us coming down the ridge south of W1. Big mistake. It was awful and progress was very slow. Night fell and after a couple of hours thrashing about trying to make southerly progress, we decided to have a kip until dawn when we could fix our position on the ridge, which we did.

We are always prepared for a forced benighting as it has happened on previous rogaines. We don’t worry too much and are both reasonably comfortable and experienced in the bush.


Mel de Laat and Allan Bourke travelled from Brisbane to get some training prior to the Australasian Champs in Tasmania next month. In response to my query about having a southern holiday they responded, “No, just a long weekend.” Well they got that practice, collecting 1,540 points, placing 12th overall and 3rd in the Mixed Veterans category.

Here’s some thoughts from Mel… We thoroughly enjoyed the Yengo Rogaine. The location was beautiful, and the organisation was very smooth. It was my first 24-hour rogaine, and this was one of the reasons we made the effort to come down from Brisbane. We are heading to Tassie next month, and wanted to get some practice at a longer event having missed the Qld champs. We were happy with our rogaine, but did get some sleep in order to drive home safely. Maybe one day we will go all night!

The cliffs were challenging from an ‘up and down’ perspective, but never put us too far off course so were an interesting added feature. We saw roos, goannas, black cockatoos, a red bellied black snake and a small skink/lizard thing with a tail like a beaver in the middle of the night. The map was great, a good level of detail to help with setting bearings.

Overall, thanks for a great event. The hard work by the organisers was very evident.

And from Allan… There wasn’t one disappointment with the experience, and that’s saying something as I hate hills. The cliff faces were quite overwhelming at first glance but, like the course notes said, there was usually a way through.

The surroundings at Yengo NP were quite stunning, and it was simply the best rogaining country we have stepped foot on.

We found the people extremely friendly and welcoming, from the moment we met you up at the lookout to the time we left and chatted with a few other participants.

Whilst we appreciate next year may be a different course, our advice would be not to change anything else.


Jackson Bursill and Thomas Banks finished 3rd overall with 2,740 points

Jackson writes… The map and the course were great. I really enjoyed all the rock climbing and cliff scaling. It was my first time to Yengo NP and my first proper rogaine in over a year – good to get the cobwebs out as well. I particularly enjoyed exploring all the caves on the course and seeing the indigenous rock art and other artefacts. We executed our route mostly as planned but had to cut out many of the controls in the south-west corner which means we didn’t get to see the mountain up close. It was a great rogaine and a big thanks to all the course setters, vetters and organisers.


Now to hear from the winning team, Ronnie Taib and Dave Williams. Ronnie (below, at left) writes… It was a tough event. On first analysis we thought it was not as brutal in terms of climbs as some other past events. However, the terrain, heat and restricted water made it physically hard, making us sick and on the brink of giving up.

From the NavShield I remembered very beautiful green creek banks, followed by the most devilish scrub I’ve been through and extreme cold at night.

I’m happy to have been back, as this course was mostly open, with some awesome watercourses planted with majestic grey gums. We didn’t find the sort of breathtaking lookouts that the Blue Mountains may offer, but nice views on quiet valleys and on the ancient Yengo. I can totally understand Aboriginals seeing it as a significant location.

Highlights and Lowlights? We got strongly dehydrated, feeling rather sick and unable to eat, hence getting really low on energy. We had to stop twice for more than 30 minutes at water drops, taking a big toll on our morale, but it seems to have been a necessary evil as we became stronger again later.

The main highlight was walking cross country for most of a rogaine, with very little tracks or roads. As said above, some watercourses were memorable.

How can we improve? Rent a helicopter to drop water in more places. Apart from that nothing much. It looked like the course was friendly to people doing 8-hours only. The central Hash House is a great privilege if you intend to come back for food or sleep.

Did you laugh or cry? I’d have happily cried but couldn’t waste any water. The taped tracks were a bit comical as we didn’t seem to follow any until the end – to the flag.

It was very amusing that everyone pretended we had beaten Julie and David. Now that it’s all over, tell us frankly how far behind we really were 🙂

OK, they actually beat you by 230 points, but we penalised them 250 because they’re from Canberra.


Finally, here is Vivien de Remy de Courcelles’ perspective. As course setter for NavShield 2015 and this year’s Champs we can assume that few people know the area as well as he.

Tell us why you wanted this job? I volunteered to set the Champs after a conversation with Gill who told me there was no one to do it, and whilst she was happy to, it would mean that she would not enter a 24-hour rogaine in 2019. I could not possibly let this be … but then Gill took on the organiser’s role … and therefore did not enter the rogaine!

How much time setting the course? I spent only 8 days setting and Emmanuelle and Justine spent 6 days. It feels like not a lot of time because of our knowledge of the area after setting NavShield there in 2015.

We also spent a weekend hanging flags although we did less than others. I’d like to point out that unlike our previous experience hanging flags for the NSW Champs, it was the most social hanging weekend we have had thanks to a crew of 12 people, including ourselves, hanging flags all on the same weekend and camping together on Saturday. I encourage course setters and organisers to organise such a hanging weekend and rogainers to volunteer to hang flags. I will add that flag hanging and vetting is a great way to do the rogaine without the pressure of the clock and therefore is very suited to a family outing. Since Justine was born we have helped with vetting, hanging and retrieving flags at five rogaines and always enjoyed it.

Are you addicted to course-setting? We were asked to set NavShield for the first time in 2014. BWRS (now SES BSAR) needed a course setter and we were wondering what to do with our weekends looking at getting in the bush but mindful that it was more difficult with a 1-year-old in tow or rather in a backpack. Then once you have done one, you feel you need to do it another time to do it better. And why not trying a third time for your best shot. The fourth time it was more a case of “no one else wants to do it” and the fifth time, the original course setter had to attend to a family member early in the process. And then this year I had that conversation with Gill. So not quite a drug although considering I am setting the first event of Sydney Summer Series this year (again) and it is scheduled for 9 October, you might disagree.

I will add that setting navigation courses, similarly to leading walks for my bushwalking club SBW, is a way to show others some nice areas that you might not find easily.

What about the Kiddygaine? Phil and Gill had the idea of the kiddygaine. It was great fun to watch the kids running on the course and I loved that they all did the 8-hour event the day before or delayed their second loop of the 24-hour event or came back early to do the kiddygaine – two events in one weekend, these kids are tough.

Did you climb Big Yango? No, during my first visit to the area I read the info sign that asks not to climb Mt Yengo for cultural reasons. I was also told there is no point in doing so as there are no views at the top.

Highlights? I loved finding Aboriginal sharpening grooves and hand stencils. It was the first time I saw hand stencils apart from well known and usually protected sites. I also loved exploring deeper into some of the creek systems; the cliff lines and massive trees upstream were superb.

Feedback I received was positive. It’s hard to plan a course. I tend to divide my courses and give the same point value to each part.

It was great to have such a good team during the event. I particularly enjoyed our meal time with everyone around the table. There is always a great spirit at rogaines but it was particularly nice to be able to share the moment with all the volunteer helpers.

Any complaints? Scrub yes, although it was from someone who mentioned it in 2015 already and may have won both events! Being a fellow Frenchman I know that we have delicate skin! I think his idea of scrub and mine are quite different … his example was of a creek bed covered with bracken, which does not qualify as scrub in my book, although I did agree with him that this particular section of creek was slow going. He joked that he would call DOCS on us after I told him that Justine did walk that creek bed. Anyway he keeps coming back so he must like it! Besides having soft skin, we French people must be a bit masochistic, or it is a drug as you suggested.

One last thing: I was wondering if those who mentioned dehydration did carry 3L of water as advised in the final instructions. If not perhaps we should work on a way to make some critical info more visible or send a reminder on Facebook: when hanging flags I went through 2L of water in about 6 hours on both days. I did not drink that much on either of my previous visits.

Thankyou Vivien for your efforts, leadership and positivity.


Mike Hotchkis Reaches Checkpoint 200

Posted on 27/09/2019 by Tristan White

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.

21-Sep-19. With teammate Glenn Horrocks, Mike (at left) celebrates his 200th rogaine and an overall win in the 8-hour event at Yengo.

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 first place?

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 was hooked!

TW: Tell us about the first rogaine you did.

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 teammate?

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.

Mike’s “Pride and Joy”, the 2006 World Champs in the Warrumbungles which he set

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!

Mike at the Australasian Champs in NZ, 2017

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.

Mike’s greatest triumph – winning the 2005 Australian Rogaining Championships with David Rowlands

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!

Mike planning at the last Bungonia rogaine,“Karst Irony”, in 2017

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!

TW: What has made you keep coming back?

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.

TW: Thanks Mike! All the best with your next 200!

Ian and Trev reminisce – 40 years of rogaining

(from Trevor Gollan, 23 Aug 2019)

For 40 years Ian Dempsey has been a regular rogainer and in the 80’s and 90’s had a vital role in organising and promoting the sport in NSW.

I first met Ian in 1988 but this year was the first time we’ve teamed together to compete, at the 2019 Paddy Pallin, Upper Colo.  We did OK too if you ignore the 20-25 minute late-penalty.

Trevor Gollan & Ian Dempsey (at right) at the start of the 2019 Paddy Pallin Rogaine (Photo: Geoff Peel)

Perhaps we can blame that lateness because we talked almost all the way.  Here follows some of the conversation from our 6-hour walk.  It includes the reminiscences of a some old-time rogainers, some memory loss, and some provocative thoughts about the future of the sport.

Of course I asked Ian about how he started in the sport…

Ian: In 1980 Bert Van Netten persuaded me to enter a 24-hour bushwalking event at Armidale, along with another Novocastrian, Robin Dean. This was a few years before a NSW Rogaining Association existed, when NSW intervarsity bushwalking events were held occasionally and they were open to members of the public. Publicity for these events (beyond the university network) was very low-key and usually involved passing on event details to key people in like-minded organisations like bushwalking and orienteering clubs.

Bert had competed in a Victorian rogaine, was brimming with confidence, and at least had some experience in this kind of event. Robin and I came from an orienteering background. We had trouble finding the first checkpoint and had to jettison our plan to drop into the Georges River valley and climb to the plateau beyond. As I recall, we visited no more than a few checkpoints before dark and returned to the Hash House for a sleep, before getting a few more checkpoints the next morning.

The organisers had arranged a bus to transport us to the event site from Armidale. On the way back, I remember sitting behind Rob Vincent (orienteering icon and occasional rogainer) and his rogaining partner Ray Dawes. They won the event.  Rob was in a talkative state and as we drove by some open farmland with scattered massive granite boulders he enthused to Ray how great this area would be for a night orienteering event with its complex feature detail without the undergrowth. I couldn’t get over how energetic this guy was after 36 hours without sleep and a solid 24 hours of walking. But the overall weekend experience for me was positive, I think because of the camaraderie of fellow competitors and the intense enjoyment of navigating through forest to successfully locate a checkpoint.

Until the establishment of NSWRA in 1983, the only way to get a regular rogaining fix was to travel to Victoria where the sport had been successfully running maybe four events a year. Small groups of NSW bushwalkers and orienteers made the trip in the early 80’s and were impressed with the quality of the event organisation. I’ve got a copy of the map specially produced for the 1983 Australian Rogaining Championships in Victoria. You’ll note that checkpoint locations still needed to be plotted using supplied grid references (like we still do at NavShield) and the 1:50,000 scale allowed only larger landform features to be used for checkpoints. Nevertheless, it is a highly legible map (produced via hand-drawn drafting film layers for each colour and an offset printer) that compares very well with the quality of the CAD-produced rogaining maps we rely on today.

Aus Champs map from 1983

Trev: I recall meeting you when setting the Winter 12-hour at Yetholme [see Newsletter 17b, Aug-1988].  One of my favourite memories was camping on a Saturday night with you, Warwick and Maurice Ripley … after my first-ever day course-setting;  a mild, clear night, a campfire by a fire-trail on the big ridge south of the village, >1200m altitude … yes, that’s a good memory!  You were the event organiser.  That on top of you organising the Paddy Pallin only two months before – the year you extended it from 3½ to 6 hours.  You were pretty essential to NSW rogaining in those days.

Ian: I have a vague recollection of that camp experience. I also have a vague recollection of one of you explaining that someone intended to complete the event with their girlfriend/partner and to take chicken and a bottle of champagne for an evening meal at a spot with great views. At the time I thought this was a bit strange; why would anyone enter a rogaine without wanting to be competitive?

Trev: The chicken & champers picnicker was Peter Watterson.  He also wore a coat and bow-tie, out to impress.

Ian: The other memory I have of that time is meeting you at a service station on the highway near Yetholme for a chat before we separated to visit and tape checkpoint sites. You were new to rogaining but were kindly getting involved with event planning and organisation. After several years of struggling to find new event organisers, Bert and I were grateful to see you, Warwick, Julian and others pick up the baton. Indeed, NSWRA flourished in the late 80s and early 90s because of the injection of many new course setters and organisers.

Trev: Peter Watterson refers to you as “a machine” at the 1990 Copeton Dam NSW Champs, both physical and navigational.  What’s your memory of that event?  I’ve rogained with Watto many times and know he can be extreme, so I’m interested in your perspective.

Ian: The truth is that Watto had the physical edge on me at the NSW Champs in 1990 and the 1991 Paddy Pallin events, both of which we won. He impressed me with his use of high-tech string to measure and compare the distance between different routes.  I soon after bought a measuring wheel.

I have several memories of Copeton. First, we’d been warned about the Tiger Pear cactus. Yes, some penetrated my runners and yes, I removed them with my fingers and got spines in my fingers because we hadn’t brought pliers with us. Second, in the hour before dusk we had a navigationally challenging forest leg of about 3km across several watercourse systems to a saddle on a ridge. I wasn’t confident about this leg, but Watto was more confident than me and we hit it straight on in fading light with good compass work.

Third, we walked down a track to the river soon after daybreak on day 2 through some trees with what seemed like 100+ cockatoos. Their screeching was so intense it became painful. Finally, soon after we had an unavoidable leg of about 500m through a gorge littered with large boulders. I was knackered getting through this.

Peter Watterson accepts the winners trophy at 1990 NSW Champs, Copeton Dam. No-one knows why Ian wasn’t available for the preso.

(I later, separately, checked the story with Watto, who responded: Memories that emerge from the mists of time include a half hour kip just before dawn by some haystack and that quixotic battle against giant boulders along the river bed. The compass leg would stand out in Demps’ memory, because he generally never bothered with such high tech devices (not even string). Certainly on the Paddy Pallin, I don’t think the compass ever left his back pocket whereas I consult mine probably every minute. I’ve just found my old Copeton Dam map and will look at the notes I texta’d on the map after the event:- at our first checkpoint, “tiger pears!”; 54 -> 61 “Ian’s smart route”; on the Gwydir River 57->52 “I saw platypus!”, then “sword grass”, then “boulders”. What a pleasure to reminisce on fitter days!)

Back to Ian: It’s around this time that there was an influx of fit and competitive NSW rogainers that soon overtook Watto and me. My brush with fame was winning an ACT Championships in the early 90’s with Mike Hotchkis. I teamed up with him later in the same year in a NSW Socialgaine but really slowed him down. Regardless, one of the great attractions of rogaining is that it’s a team sport and so it allows a shared experience – lacking in our closest comparable sport, orienteering.

Trev: Have you done many rogaines outside NSW?  I’m reminded that you, Bert and Arthur Kingsland competed in the 1988 Aus Champs at Honeysuckle Creek in the Victorian Strathbogies. (And looking further I see that you were disqualified – I’d forgotten that – what happened?  Ahem – we came 5th btw!)

Ian: Can’t remember this one. If we did something illegal at the event, then I’ve erased it from my memory.

Trev: I haven’t noticed you at NSW Champs much lately. Perhaps the last time was when you were an organiser – at Garland Valley back in 2013.  Are you, like many NSW rogainers, averse to 24-hour events too?  Or is it the distance from Newcastle?  The last three years have been beyond Oberon, which is great rogaining country but a fair way to travel.

Ian: Haven’t competed in the longer events for some time because I can tend to be more competitive than I should, and being competitive in the longer events is extremely physical and psychologically tiring. It takes me a week or more to recover. Also, I don’t enjoy camping much. At age 65, the 6-hour events are just the right length for me. I can go hard if my partner and I want, but these days I’m just as happy to walk more slowly and solve world problems in conversation with rogaining partners.

In recent years, I’ve been enjoying my orienteering more, perhaps because of the shorter events. Since retirement, I’ve got more active with producing orienteering maps. Our orienteering club has recently purchased a computer tablet that I’m using in the field for mapping and it’s greatly improved my mapping efficiency. I quite like mapping – the combination of discovering stuff, being in the great outdoors, and the challenge of interpreting features in the field into a 2-dimensional format that can be meaningful to others.

Trev: I’m interested in your views about the sport – how we’re going and future directions.  We pulled together a Strategic Plan last year, with significant feedback from our members.  At the moment we are moving towards more, shorter events … which perhaps means they don’t deserve the moniker “event” anymore, and we’re moving closer towards orienteering.  The lack of people at NSW Champs worries me, then again the Europeans can easily get 1,000 to the World Champs.

Ian: Like you, I worry about the ongoing viability of the 24-hour NSW Champs. On the one hand, there is limited demand for this event. On the other hand, many would say we have at least an historical obligation to continue the event. However, as past organisers, we both know how discouraging it can be to put in all the additional work for a long-distance event to find under 200 people showing up on the day and the event running at a financial loss.

Trev: We receive regular requests to have individual entry, and committee decided last year that solo rogaining won’t be available if an event is longer than 3-hours.  Which does mean solo entry is OK in the 3-hour Minigaine, not much different to a long-O score event, on a less accurate map and with some nibblies at the end.

Ian: It’s generally acknowledged that the word “rogaine” is an amalgam of the initial letters of the three Victorians who were responsible for formalising the sport in the late 70’s … Rod, Gail & Neil Phillips. Perhaps they did this oblivious to or, more likely, prior to the naming of the US hair restoration product. Regardless, it’s understandable that this core Victorian group had a close interest in how rogaining developed in other states. I recall some pushback from them when we adopted the Paddy Pallin 3½-hour in 1985, and called it a rogaine, because previous events had always been 12 or 24 hours involving night navigation.

Fast forward to 2019 and many things have changed. We now understand the benefits of high-intensity short-duration training in producing health outcomes comparable to longer-duration exercise. Why bother with a long workout when a short one will do? People are “time-poor”.  We now run a preponderance of shorter rogaining events (i.e. Metrogaine, Minigaine, Socialgaine) on the NSWRA calendar. Which leads me to ask the following questions:

  • When does a rogaine become an orienteering event?
  • Given the time and usual financial loss involved in running the 24-hour state rogaining championships, and the relatively low participation at these events, why should we continue running long duration events?
  • Should we change the NSW Rogaining Championships from a 24 hour to a shorter event because most NSW rogainers participate in the shorter events?

Trev: That’s sacrilege, Ian, but I wonder what our members think?

World Rogaining Champs 2019 Wrap-up

(from Tristan White, 18 Aug 2019)

Last month we had six NSW teams proudly represent us at the World Rogaining Championships in La Molina, Spain on the 2728th July. We congratulate all teams for making this great journey across the world and completing the event, with NSW (and honorary NSW teams) teams listed below (full results can be found here):

Julie Quinn & David Baldwin (Quinn Baldwin ACTRA) 349pts*, 1st XV, 2nd XO, 17th OA

Mike Hotchkis & Jonathan Worswick (Ossifrages) 286pts, 1st MSV, 12th MV, 25th MO, 53rd OA

Ronnie Taib & David Williams (Turtles) 275pts, 42nd MO, 65th OA

Antoniya Bachvarova & Andrew “Smiffy” Smith (Lost Control) 243pts, 13th XV, 29th XO, 101st OA

Nicole Mealing & Andrew “Brooner” Brown (A Brootal Mountain Adventure) 236pts, 34th XO, 115th OA

Graham Field & Neil Hawthorne (Terrainium) 178pts, 20th MSV, 63rd MV, 127th MO, 226th OA

Richard Sage, Nihal Danis & Dom Pitot (RichardNihalDom) 147 pts, 19th XSV, 96th XO 279th OA

Colleen & Colin Mock (Run Amock, ACTRA) 133pts, 7th XUV, 26th XSV, 66th XV, 113th XO, 309th OA

*Note that scoring in this event essentially scaled down all CPs by a factor of 10. i.e., 20-29 were worth 2 points, 91-99 were 9 points.

Honorary NSWRA members David and Julie on the podium for the Mixed Veterans. A stunning (but unsurprising) result.
Mike (in shade) & Jonathan (in orange) finished on top of the Men’s Super Veterans podium. The 3rd-placed team included legendary Victorian rogainer David Rowlands (in black)

For all the things we love about rogaining, it is arguably the worst sport in the world to watch live, even worse than the Tour de France. But this event had the GPS of each team live-streamed so one could check on team routes and cumulative scores during the event, and even write messages for them to see at the event’s conclusion! You can view the map and each team’s route here.

Of course, a series of scores and rankings don’t do justice to the actual experiences had on that unforgettable weekend, so to help get a feel for what the WRC was, I have asked our entrants to share their experiences, with their words weaved into the portrait below.

Track-the-Race’s interface showing David and Julie’s impressive route.

The Venue

Toni remembers there were a “variety of options for accommodation around La Molina. Some people camped on the grasslands around the event centre. There were a few hotels in La Molina itself, and more villas around the mountains and in the valley towards Puigcerda. A group of us – 15 rogainers from Sydney and Canberra – booked two apartments in a hotel just 700m from the event centre. It was a great opportunity to spend some downtime with fellow rogainers. Also in the same hotel there were a few other familiar faces – it seemed a popular choice amongst Aussie and Kiwi rogainers.”

The Hash House before the start.

The event was set in a ski resort village, and the topography of the map certainly reflected that! Nicole described it as having alpine sections, “which meant big climbs but also open tops (little to no scrub!), forest sections, farm areas and small towns. The challenge was avoiding contours, and linking from the top to the bottom of the map since there was a major road and train line that could only be crossed in a few places.”

The view from David & Ronnie’s balcony
A shot from one of the peaks, taken by Richard pre-event

The Course Area

The course elevation had a range of 1,300m to 2,536m (makes last year’s Abercrombie rogaine seem flat!) so completely avoiding contours was of course not an option, and all teams should be congratulated if they did fewer vertical kms than horizontal ones. In addition to the physical challenge, the altitude added the challenge of thinner air, something Australians are not used to. Jonathan, Nicole and Ronnie all estimated that their respective teams did almost 4km of climbing in about 70-80km.

Steep country means the features are well defined. Ronnie noted that the navigation was “generally easier than say, an ACT course set by the masters Jean and Ron” and there were “pretty extensive track networks making it a running heaven. This was certainly a challenge for us walkers, as we found very few opportunities to save time through cross-country travel, as tracks were usually much faster.”

MOOOve out of the way!

As with many other European states, Spanish rogaining and orienteering operate under the same banner and, as such, Ronnie noted that “the map and features were orienteering-styled, for example ‘the edge of the scrub’ was an acceptable feature. It was an adjustment to have flags hanging 1m or less from the ground, often hidden in trees, and with such unique features as ‘the ruin’ removing the usual risk of picking the wrong gully or spur in subtle terrain.

Julie added that she and David did “grumble a bit about a few controls where they had clearly mapped these features in order to place the control but had not mapped the other boulders/ditches/cliffs etc. nearby.”

Julie & David at the start

Nicole noted that it really was a course that rewarded experienced orienteers. Fortunately for her, her teammate Brooner was one of them!

Nicole just behind a rock overhang – demonstrates the orienteering influence

The Map

Julie remembered that “the map used orienteering colours and the runnability was determined by Lidar. In practice we couldn’t really distinguish in many places what was supposed to be fast and slow going with many white and yellow areas having low juniper and broom impeding progress. Did we mention the hills? If you looked very closely at the map there were, in many places, small contouring tracks that allowed us to minimise the ups and downs.”

The CP descriptions used the official Orienteering symbols and, though there was an English description, it often lacked all these details

Ronnie also noted that this created additional challenges to distinguish features. “The map was so colourful and drowned the contour lines, making it difficult to make out ridges,” he explains. “Some crucial map details required the use of the magnifier on my compass, first time I ever had to use it.”

Similarly Toni and Smiffy told me how they struggled to differentiate the contour lines with the tracks as they had a very similar consistency, and in a couple of cases only found out that they had gone cross-country to a CP where there was in fact a track just below.

The Weather

The weather was crap to start with. Richard remembers: “heavy rain and thunderstorms passing through. It cleared after a couple of hours but we had wet feet, and then strong cold winds on the tops during the night. We had only the minimum clothing for those conditions though the valleys were noticeably milder.”

The nice clear shot of Nihal a few days before the event depicted a very different scene to the wet event itself

Nicole said that it was the “most miserable to start to a rogaining event – there was thunder, lightning and proper downpours during map planning. Thankfully it was only light rain as we went through gear check and into the start pen, where one had to be 20 minutes before the official start. Lightning preceded the starting gun! There were periods of rain and one of hail during the event, and there were strong, chilly winds overnight that got stronger in the morning. So it was tough to stay warm overnight and keep up the team morale. When the sun came up we were still pretty chilly even after climbing a huge hill!”

The Start scene

Jonathan remembers being“quite shocked when Mike had to put on a beanie and gloves at 5am in the morning, because he doesn’t feel the cold.” (I can testify.)

Julie and David recall going to the highest part of the course in the final hours of the event. “It was very windy and cold. We ended up tucking our maps down our jackets so they weren’t blown to southern Spain!” Jonathan and Mike also faced additional challenges from the rain: “There were sections made hazardous due to slippery wet rock and mud. I came a cropper”, said Jonathan, “going down a valley when the side of the stream gave way under me.”

Nicole remembers “stepping into a shelter to put on more clothes at about 1am as we were freezing and having a volunteer ask if we wanted a hot soup. Unexpected but SO GOOD!” Though it wasn’t just the event volunteers that were helping out competitors; Julie remembers a similar highlight when they were “offered pizza from a local in a field near a town about 10 pm. He was very enthusiastic encouraging all the teams coming through.”

Scoring

In this event, the SportIdent system was used, where competitors’ SI sticks were clamped around their wrists (also proving the sport’s close ties with orienteering) using “unremovable” wristbands. Jonathan said that they were a challenge as “the SI card could be hard to locate under cold weather clothing and got twisted around its wrist band.

The SportIdent Scoring System

As Nicole found out, this descriptor was as accurate as depicting the Titanic as “unsinkable.” Brooner recalls the increased excitement and tension:

“When we got to control 29, about 4 hours and 20 minutes into the rogaine, Nicole looked down at her wrist in horror at the realisation that her SI Air wasn’t there anymore. We had to decide what to do as we were now disqualified. Should we hunt for a needle in a haystack (the last leg had all been off track)? Or continue on and pretend it hadn’t happened? Nicole couldn’t narrow down any sections where she knew it was definitely still on her wrist, other than punching the last control (#63). We agreed we’d loop back and re-do the leg from 63 to 29 in the hope that we’d find it. We also agreed to only spend an hour looking.

Nicole continues:“Sadly, we didn’t find it so carried on regardless having lost 50 minutes, which definitely affected our headspace thereafter. Before the next control Brooner had a great idea – why don’t we take a photo of Nicole at every control to prove she’d gone there. He was carrying a camera as our phone was inside a tamper-proof bag. It was cool looking through them all after we finished.”

Nicole & Andrew prove they visited this control

The Organisation

Each region has its own customs and styles, and this certainly was shown in this event. Ronnie described it as “just by scale [no pun intended!] nothing comparable to our local events as it obviously was a large event with sponsors, huge tents and stuff all around… There were a few hiccups but overall I think the organisers did a great job.”

Toni remembered the long list of mandatory gear to be carried:

  • Whistle,
  • Hat or cap which covers the head,
  • Thermal top with long sleeves,
  • Jacket for mountain weather conditions,
  • GPS tracking device provided by organisation (one per team),
  • Emergency blanket (one per team).

Richard noted that “the lunch after the event was a disappointment. Beer and wine were appreciated but the food disappointed,” to which Jonathan added, “I made sure I rehydrated well!”  Perhaps we have it too good here in NSW/ACT?

Ronnie & David at the start

Memories

Nicole says that it was their, “first world champs (in fact the first rogaine outside of NSW or ACT) and it was Brooner’s first 24-hour event, so we were there for the adventure and not to compete. Our challenge was to still be talking to one another after 24 hours.” (Which they succeeded in – well done!)

Ronnie remembered that despite spraining his back just before the start, “we eventually achieved most of what we had planned. A little triumph was keeping up with Julie Quinn and David Baldwin (and others) for as much as ~5min at their frenetic pace, about 23 hours into the event, but then they disappeared ahead!

Julie and David were “pleased that we were able to keep moving strongly through the whole event. We had a low point just on dark when we made a major error and dropped into the wrong gully. It took about 30 minutes to work that one out.” However, despite “some little administrative things that could have been done better”, they thought that “in terms of rogaining it was a good area and a well set course providing lots of route planning challenges.” This is obvious from the vast disparity in the route options as anyone tragic enough to scroll through them will have noticed.

Toni said that she and Smiffy were proud to have completed the 24 hours despite nursing an injury sustained a week and a half before the event during a hike in the Pyrenees. Said Toni, “I couldn’t give it a proper rest or recovery treatment since we were in the middle of our walk. For several days we weren’t sure if I’d be able to do the event since we didn’t know exactly what the injury was. At the end, we decided to make a conservative plan, pick a route that didn’t involve too many steep descents and minimise ups and downs [ha ha].”

Richard notes that “For us, getting everything we went for felt like an achievement. We managed a route that had a good mix of open tops, valleys and spur-gully and not much dense or prickly bushland. I won’t forget the very large Spanish cows sitting, watching and giving us tacit approval to cross their land in the middle of the night as we went past and then back from a control. That, and looking down on the bright lights of French towns during the night. It was a great event and confirms my faith in the sport that non-competitive teams like ours can not only enter, but feel included and enjoy it. I would recommend a WRC to all Rogainers. I’ve been to great places I would never have otherwise seen.”

NSW/ACT teams enjoy a meal together following the event

Speaking of which, the next World Rogaining Championships will be in Sierra Nevada, California, on 1st-2nd August 2020. We would love some teams to represent our fair state there. Check out details here!

Still can’t get enough about the WRC? Check out Kiwi Tane Cambridge’s (one half of the 2nd placed team with a whopping 409 points) blog here!