2014 World Rogaining Championships

A few weeks ago, my brother Trent and I competed in the 12th annual World Rogaining Championships – a 24 hour, long-distance, cross-country navigation race. Our team name was “The Donner Party”.

For those unfamiliar with the sport of rogaining, the object is to score points by tracking down “controls” with a map and compass (no GPS or electronic assistance). The World Championships were held in the Black Hills, South Dakota this year, and covered an area of approximately 84 square miles. There were 80 total controls to track down, worth anywhere from 2 to 10 points (based on location, difficulty to find, and scenic value) and generally spaced about 1-2 kilometers apart. The competition included 420 individuals from 22 countries.

Trent and I, pre-race

Trent and myself, pre-race

Mom (far left) and Trent's girlfriend Kelsey (far right)

Mom (far left) and Trent’s girlfriend Kelsey (far right) made the trip with us

Since this was only Trent’s first rogaine (and my second), we decided to break our trip up into three smaller loops – rather than trying to hit as many controls as possible in a single 24-hour trek. This would also allow us to carry less food/water, and take advantage of the hot food beings served all day at the Event Center.

Maps were distributed at 9:30 am on Saturday, Aug 16, which gave Trent and I a couple of hours to plan our route before the 12:00 pm start. (Our actual route ended up being a bit shorter than we’d planned…but we did start with a pretty ambitious plan.)

When noon finally arrived, the 400+ competitors took off running in all directions. Trent and I had decided on a 4-5 hour first loop that would take us in a southeastern direction. So we jogged down Rochford Road for a mile or so before veering off into the woods.

12:01 pm

Noon start (we’re on the right)

Selfie on Rochford Road

Selfie on Rochford Road

Since I was the only one of us with rogaining experience, I was in charge of the map & compass for the day. Trent’s job was to manage the Control Sheet (containing short clues for each control, such as “the spur,” “the reentrant,” “the saddle,” “the knoll,” etc.) and help with spotting the colored flags.

Competition map, marked with our route

Competition map

My navigation skills were a little rusty early on in the day. We had planned to hit control #20 first, but overshot it. After maybe five minutes of fruitless searching, we decided to move on to control #70. (Point values conveniently correspond to the first digit, so we figured it made more sense to go for the 7 points rather than killing more time on the 2).

We found #70 without any trouble – although I did manage to slice my knee open en route, crashing through some fallen trees.

We next decided to head due east to #105, a 10-point control reported to be located in a small clearing. Unfortunately, this took us through a very flat part of the course…so I wasn’t able to use elevation contours to help fine-tune our route. Probably the reason this control was worth so many points. Sure enough, my bearing was a few degrees off. We drifted slightly north of #105, hopping over numerous barbed wire fences in the process. Of course, we had little way of knowing whether we’d gone too far north or too far south, so we wasted a solid 30 minutes before I managed to locate the control. This was a bit of a depressing start to the race, and probably the second lowest point of our day.

One of 30-40 barbed wire fences we encountered

One of 30-40 barbed wire fences we encountered

By now, though, my navigation skills were coming back to me. After missing 2 of the first 3, I led us directly to the next 13 consecutive controls without any navigational mishaps. From #105, we trekked to the top of a small hill to bag #78. We met a couple of nice Russian guys when we arrived, but they only knew a little English (and we knew zero Russian) so the conversation didn’t last long.

Trent approaching #78

Trent approaching #78

We next headed southwest, following a gradual ridge to #42. We were making pretty good time, at this point.

From #42, we descended a couple of large slopes and returned to Rochford Road. We followed the road northwest for about a mile, turned west on a dirt road, picked our way up a thickly overgrown reentrant, and found #60 without any trouble.

We next doubled back to Rochford Road and followed it back to the Event Center. On the way, we made a second attempt at finding #20. No problems this time.

We arrived back at the Event Center at 4:34 pm, having found six controls and scored 36 points. The day was hot (high 70’s/low 80’s), so we took 55 minutes to eat a hearty meal, re-stock our packs, and grab some warmer clothes for the long, overnight second loop.

Our second loop lasted just under 13 hours (5:29 pm to 6:14 am), and encircled much of the western section of the course. From the Event Center, we followed a reentrant up the side of a large hill. We hit #25 en route to the top, and #30 on our way down the other side. Two low-value, easy-to-find controls for a quick confidence boost.

Between #25 and #30 (Event Center in background)

Between #25 and #30 (Event Center in background)

Our next target was control #90 – situated on a spur on the far side of large hill to our southwest. This took us past some thickly wooded sections (and a couple of grazing cattle), but wasn’t a huge challenge. It was at this time that we made a spur-of-the-moment alteration to our intended route. Rather than following our original plan, making a large loop through the southern part of the course, we decided instead to head west, then north. We made this decision based on our slightly slower than expected progress, as well as the relatively denser clustering of controls in the northern half of the course.

The route from #90 to #91 presented us with a couple of options: take a direct route over a hill, down a ridge scattered with deadfall, and directly up a second peak…or follow a dirt path to a logging road, and the logging road to the peak. We opted for the second route, preferring a quicker pace at the cost of an additional ~0.8 kilometers of total distance. Control #91 wasn’t difficult to find, but the climb was fairly strenuous (a few small cliff faces to scramble, etc.).

Approaching Control #91

Climbing toward control #91

Checking our location

Checking our location

From #91, we headed northwest until we rejoined the logging road, and followed that west for about a kilometer. It was getting dark at this point, so we stopped along the way to retrieve our headlamps and grab a quick snack. By the time we reached control #69, it was dark enough that we needed the lights.

Shortly after leaving #69, we were faced with another route-finding decision. Since we were both novices at night navigation, we’d already decided to spend the next 8-10 hours of darkness following logging roads, streams, ridgelines, and easily identifiable contours, rather than attempting to make direct lines from control to control. (In other words, sacrificing some speed and efficiency for the sake of not getting lost.) Now we were faced with two choices: follow our logging road to a stream, then follow the stream to controls #95, #58, and #102, or follow a powerline to a second logging road, and use that road to approach #95 from the south.

I favored the first option, since it was slightly shorter. Trent favored the second. We went with Trent’s choice, and it turned out to be the correct choice (more on that shortly).

We made really fast progress following the powerline and logging road, travelling twice as far as a bird would have, but at a much quicker pace than we’d have been able to manage plowing through the forest. I led us to #95 without incident, then followed the stream due north, where we ascended a reentrant and bagged #58 thirty minutes later. During the ascent, we saw a couple of headlamps coming up behind us. They caught us shortly after leaving #58, and it turned out to be a really fast-moving foreign couple. Out of curiosity, I later dug through the results file. It turns out they were from Estonia, and ended up finishing 3rd place overall.

We headed east from #58, descending another reentrant back down to our stream…and this turned out to be the most disheartening point of our entire race. After making the trip from #95 to #58 in 30 minutes, it took us a full 1 hour 28 minutes to travel only a slightly further distance from #58 to #102. We ended up in a steep ravine, completely choked with deadfall. It was less of a trek, and more of a climb/scramble through hundreds of fallen trees. I walked into a barbed wire fence at one point, and tore a hole in my pants (but miraculously avoided slicing my shin open). We encountered lots of flying insects and some pretty impressive cliffs along the way, and SOMEHOW, through blind luck, walked directly into #102. From the direction we were coming, it was impossible to see from more than 10-20 feet away, so we could have very easily walked right past it and never known. So we were glad to gain 10 points in exchange for our suffering, and eager to make our way out of the creek.

Trent at #102

Trent at #102

At this point, we once again had to make a small adjustment to our plans. Rather than hitting #62 and #53 en route to water station #6, we were forced to bypass #62. We were both running very low on water at this point, so decided it would be best to make the water station our first priority.

We made quick time from #102 to #53, following the highest point along a ridge in a northern direction. We found #53 without trouble on the far side of a towering hill, which we then descended onto a gravel road and water station #6.

Tagging #53

Tagging #53

We met a nice volunteer at the water station, as well as two guys from Britain who (somehow) looked even more tired than we were. We rested for 15 minutes or so, refilled our empty water containers, then headed east on the gravel road.

We followed the road for a mile or so, then ascended a large hill in search of #72. Our night navigation had been flawless up until this point, but here our luck ran out. We knew the control was somewhere along the ridgeline, but badly misjudged our location. We ended up doubling back and forth on the ridge for probably 30 minutes before realizing we were too far north. After traversing around a few small cliffs, we finally spotted #72. We next made our way for #34 in a reentrant to the southwest.

From #34, we headed south in search of #84 – a high value control we were hoping to grab on our way back to the Event Center. It was around 4:00 am at this time, still about an hour too early to benefit from pre-dawn light. Our route turned out to be very messy – taking us directly through a large, low-lying, swampy area. We spent 30-40 minutes sloshing through ponds and shallow streams, trying to identify the tiny reentrant marked on the map for #84…but with no luck. We bumped into another European team having the same trouble as us, but eventually made the call to move on. During the event, this turned out to be the only control we completely failed to find.

On our way back to the Event Center, just as the sun started to rise, we grabbed #21 on the crest of a small hill.

Back at the Event Center, we stopped for a little over an hour to grab breakfast, and allow Trent to take a short nap (I was way too loaded up on caffeine at this point to think about sleeping). We headed back out around 7:40 am to make one final loop.

We headed north along another dirt road, and quickly found #23 alongside a small stream, about a hundred yards into the forest. We doubled back to the road and continued following it in a northeast direction, but it soon became overgrown with weeds and died out altogether. I took a bearing with the compass and headed off into some tall grass – stopping at one point to take a picture of Trent following along behind:

Approaching #61

Approaching #61

We found #61 with no trouble, then followed another ridgeline to #79. Again, no trouble. The flag was easy to spot on a small spur. We sat down to regroup for a few minutes, and decided to attempt two more controls before returning to the Event Center. This would have us finishing about an hour and a half early, but considering the condition of Trent’s feet (he was wearing a pair of my old shoes, which didn’t fit very well), we figured that would be for the best.

Another team

Another team, somewhere between #79 and #82

We made really quick time from this point onward, alternating between trekking and jogging. Control #82 was found in a small clearing along a watercourse between two hills. We tagged it, doubled back to the ridgeline, and descended again further to the west – hitting #44 on the way. We hiked past a few grazing cows, hopped a couple barbed wire fences, met back up with a marked trail, and followed that back to the Event Center.

We ended up finishing 121st out of ~180 teams. So we definitely didn’t dominate the rankings…but considering the caliber of many of the more competitive foreign teams, and our own more relaxed emphasis on having fun, it was about where we expected to finish.

We arrived back in Milwaukee around 5:00 am – giving me a few hours to prepare my powerpoint before giving my radiology presentation at 10:00 am. A whirlwind weekend for sure, but we had a great time.

Time Sheet

#70 = 0:59:35
#105 = 2:05:07
#78 = 2:27:09
#42 = 2:51:40
#60 = 3:43:37
#20 = 4:07:48
Event Center In = 4:34:42
Event Center Out = 5:29:59
#25 = 5:43:07
#30 = 6:00:04
#90 = 6:41:30
#91 = 7:35:43
#69 = 8:18:09
#95 = 9:20:05
#58 = 9:50:10
#102 = 11:18:35
#53 = 12:53:19
Water Stop 6 = 13:31:06
#72 = 15:10:49
#34 = 15:47:04
#21 = 17:47:52
Event Center In = 18:14:53
Event Center Out = 19:38:36
#23 = 20:02:52
#61 = 20:43:58
#79 = 21:07:46
#82 = 21:35:55
#44 = 22:12:11
Finish = 22:42:05

Total points: 133

Link to Results Page

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Published in: on September 1, 2014 at 1:51 pm  Comments (3)  

Trail Running in Badlands National Park

Allison and I only have ten days carved out for our trip to Glacier National Park, so we’ve been trying to minimize our travel time. Still, we figured a 2-3 hour evening run in the Badlands would be a nice way to recover from our first full day of driving.

Navigating the rough terrain

Allison on the Castle Trail

Most of our running was along the Castle Trail, although we made a few detours to check out some of the more interesting formations.

Allison stopping for water (unaware of me holding the camera)

Hurdling over a narrow (but deep) crevice

Running alongside one of the larger ravines

We reached our turnaround point around mile 6. The sun was already pretty low on the horizon…and of course I hadn’t listened to Allison’s suggestion that I bring along my headlamp (“No worries. We’ll be back WAY before it gets dark”).

Approaching the turnaround. 

So we really had to book it to cover the final 5-6 miles before running out of daylight. And for some added encouragement, one of the hikers we met warned us that he’d already seen several rattlesnakes lurking in the grass alongside the trail.

Running…

…and running…

…and running.

We ended up making it back to the car just as visibility was becoming really poor (and about 20 minutes before a thunderstorm hit).

Allison on the home stretch

We drove another 90 minutes to Rapid City SD…but as luck would have it, there was a huge motorcycle rally going on. We weren’t about to fork out $200+ for one of the remaining rooms in the Motel 6, and also didn’t have much luck finding a decent place to pitch our tent in the National Forest.

We ended up just pulling into a Wal-Mart parking lot and sleeping in the trunk. Which was fine.

Cliffs are like clouds: if you stare long enough, you can almost imagine you see faces.

This morning, we made a quick stop at Mt. Rushmore before beginning the 12 hour drive to Glacier. We’re currently staying in a motel in Missoula, MT – with plans to drive the final 2.5 hours early tomorrow morning.

Published in: on August 11, 2012 at 10:33 pm  Comments (5)