“I found it! Here it is!” yelled Dan as he waved the small wooden stake in his hand. The team rushed to reassemble around him. “It was under this clump of rabbit brush,” he excitedly explained. “It only took us four minutes to find this one; we still have a chance to win. Let’s get moving.” With that Dan stationed himself on the exact location where he’d found the stake that was now securely lodged in his back pocket. He and the others examined their map and began looking for stake number four.
As they headed off in the correct direction, Nancy, one of several girls on this team, explained what they were doing. “We’re orienteering. The object is to follow a pre-set trail that has several checkpoints. We use a map and our compasses to find each checkpoint. We pick up the marker left at each point and try to make the best time possible on the whole course. We’ve got to beat four other teams to take first place … Hey! Watch out for that rabbit hole! You almost stepped in it. That’s part of the fun of this—we all have to stay alert because you never know what’s going to happen next.”
And when you’re involved in the sport of orienteering, what happens next could be almost anything from crossing a mud hole to fording a stream to avoiding rabbit holes. Orienteering, which originally tested the map/compass skills and physical fitness of members of the military, has been recently discovered by many who find it can be challenging and fun for anyone who masters the necessary skills.
You begin by charting a course for another team to follow. You should have enough Boy Scout compasses, paper, and pencils for each team member; you will also need enough stakes or flags for each checkpoint.
Working in teams is the easiest way when you’re just learning. First, map out your trail on paper. (It’s often a good idea to make this almost circular so no one has to walk too far.) You have to decide how many checkpoints to have in your course, the number of paces it will take to reach each of them, and the degree reading of each point.
To figure the degree, you must read the compass, which is not difficult. The compass is composed of two basic parts: the flat plastic with the direction arrow, and the compass itself, which is housed in a casing marked with 360 degrees. Turn the casing so the N is lined up with the needle pointing north. Move the flat, bottom part of the compass so the direction arrow points where you want to go. Keep the needle and N of the compass together as you move the direction arrow. Once you have the direction arrow pointing exactly where you want to walk, write down the degree reading where the compass case and direction arrow intersect. Now you have to decide how many paces you want the team following your directions to walk to get to the checkpoint.
Once you have determined your complete compass course on paper, you are ready to place your markers or flags at each checkpoint.
Mark your beginning point well so you can find it again. Station one person at this beginning point while two or more of your team members pace off the correct number of steps in the right direction. If there is some outstanding landmark in the proper direction, heading toward it helps those walking keep on course; it aids the person at the beginning point too, since it is his job to be sure those counting the paces are headed in as straight a line as possible.
If the distance between your beginning point and the first marker is great, space team members at intervals between the two points while the individual at the beginning point holds his compass at eye level and looks to see if the others are standing in a straight line. The use of landmarks, as just mentioned, is particularly useful in this kind of circumstance.
Streambeds or other natural hazards often dot rougher terrain. These create problems when you try to count paces accurately. The best solution once you reach one of these barriers is to have one person hold a pencil at arm’s length while a second individual counts off a certain number of paces on flat ground. The person with the pencil holds it so the top is even with the pacer’s head. He then places his thumb at the point on the pencil which is even with the pacer’s feet once the pacer has counted the prescribed steps. The pacer crosses the natural barrier while the individual with the pencil stays where he is, again holding the pencil at arm’s length. When the pacer measures the same length on the pencil as he did previously, you know how many paces it is across the deep streambed or other geographic barrier.
Once you’ve laid your course, your team, like Nancy and Dan’s, will be ready to try out orienteering skills.
Remember that each person’s length of stride is different, and brush, rocks, or other bits of nature make great hiding places, so finding checkpoint markers often requires a bit of looking.
But whether you have to search awhile or you discover the flag easily, whether you come in first or last, whether you find your way or get terribly lost, you’ll discover that rabbit holes, rocks, mud, and even a few bugs are part of the excitement you’ll feel when you can join Dan in an excited shout, “I found it!”