May 25, 2015

The Young, The Old and The Phantom

After having negotiated some potentially treacherous mud on FS Road 304 earlier in the week I harbored some anxiety about Saturday's event. As it turned out my fear that weather would make the event site inaccessible was unjustified. The God of Orienteering blessed most of our orienteers by holding back the rain almost until the course closed at 2:00 PM.

Brad & Dawn Lowe still dry.
Ole, who turned in a stellar performance on the Advanced Course, stalwart Norwegian that he is, volunteered to help me pick up controls. Even though suspicions linger that Ole just saw control pickup as a cheap shower, I was grateful no matter what the ulterior motive. Somewhat soggy myself, I returned to the start to find our intrepid Norwegian vigorously toweling his body in the dry confines of his car. At that point we had some rainfall, but nothing noteworthy.

But that doesn't end the story of control pickup.

Someone came up to me late in the meet and asked what Sergey's time was. Sergey's consistent presence and performance is such that he has become a standard by which many of us judge our own performances. I had to inform my questioner that Sergey was out of town on a business trip and wasn't scheduled to return until midday, making his arrival too late to participate. Sergey's spirit hovers over these meets even in his physical absence, so I wasn't surprised when after everyone had left I had a vision of Sergey's phantom in my rear view mirror. Actually, I was driving to a point to begin control pickup on the upper end of the course. There he was demanding a map after the course was closed. Who am I to deny a phantom's request? So, after Ole had picked up 1-8 and I had picked up 12-18 the phantom ran the course. He was last heard muttering, “Navigate to the feature, not the control”. A good thing since all but 3 of the 21 controls would be collected before he could reach them. Hence, the special category in the results. We know that Sergey navigated to at least three of the controls because he returned with 9, 10 and 11. Click on Sergey's map to get the control-by-control details.

Sergey's Route
Early Sunday there was a call from Sergey. He had completed the course in 1:25, two minutes behind Ben Brock. Ben, before we give you full credit for your victory we would like know whether you sat under a tree for 30 minutes waiting for the hail to abate. Unlike Sergey, the rest of us were lucky enough to have avoided some rather intense precipitation.
Zoe Peterson capturing 1st in Or-Yel
While Ole was putting in his superb performance as the oldest member of the advanced contingent our two youngest orienteers made some marks of their own. Kudos to Sarah Curtis for taking on the 4K Intermediate Course and returning both with a smile on her face and her father in tow. And, our admiration goes out to fifth-grader Katrina Wright, who had the spunk to take on the Yellow-Orange course on her own. Dad shadowed her, but Katrina navigated. And navigate she did, getting a second place against some much older competitors. (I won't estimate how many decades older some of them were.) I also should note that the Yellow-Orange map lacked two controls due to a printing error on my part.

I've met Robyn Olnes' helping with the meet direction at Riverstone. Saturday she and her husband, Andy, tried the Yellow-Orange Course. Robyn reported that Andy is totally hooked on the sport after his first experience. Her report reminded me of my very first real orienteering at Rabbit Creek five years ago. Orienteering doesn't grab everyone. It grabbed me. I hope Andy has as much fun with his orienteering adventure as I've had with mine.
Riverstone's growing presence at our meets is requiring us to move away from our simple Beginner-Intermediate-Advanced categories. We now have too many participants who want to advance their skills beyond beginner and are not quite ready for Intermediate. These are Yellow and Orange orienteers who are not yet ready for Brown.
Without Riverstone? Old folks stumbling through the woods.

So, what are Yellow-Orange and Brown? Orienteering USA has seven competitive categories. Unfortunately, they are identified by colors that bear no relationship to their difficulty. Arranged in ascending order of difficulty they are: White, Yellow, Orange, Brown, Green, Red and Blue. Brown through Blue have equal technical difficulty but vary in required endurance. The old dogs like Ole and me compete in Brown. Sergey, because he's in his 50's, is Red. White is pretty much navigating from one trail intersection to another. Yellow makes extensive use of trails and requires navigating to large/distinct features in the proximity of a trail. Orange is mostly off-trail navigation by linear features with well defined attack points, collecting features and catching features.

The most obvious question about the Bannock Creek meet was how participants would evaluate the LiDAR generated map. It was enhanced with no more than 12 hours of field work to locate some of the trails and a few of the many point features like boulders and root stocks. As expected there was a range of opinions. All of the conclusions were positive. Sergey dissented from my view that the contours are perfect, but he thought the area deserves further development and might even be suitable for an A-meet. He said he was pleased that we have “discovered this wonderful area and nice course of true red level”. (Our local meets are C-meets. Regional meets operate at higher standards and are classified as B-meets. And A-meets are major competitions drawing participants from around the US and often from foreign countries.) Bill Leahy enthusiastically endorsed the map and proposed that we put Bannock Creek on the 2016 schedule. My opinion is somewhat more subdued. I think Bannock Creek is a valuable contribution to our map inventory. It's always in need of variety to keep from becoming stale. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned competitor, we would like to have your opinion. Please let us know.

“Where's Bannock Creek? I drove up Pine Creek Road, not Bannock Creek.” Yeh, I know. “Bannock Creek” is really not a very good name for a map that has no creek and is some distance from Bannock Creek. The name comes from the LiDAR study sponsored by numerous federal and state agencies to facilitate “vegetation structural modeling, erosion modeling, fuels, transportation planning, timber system planning, wildlife habitat modeling, and stream quality”. Our map is a small subset of the LiDAR data covering more than 21 square kilometers.

I've explored some of the terrain east of our map and found it suitable for orienteering. There is much of the 21 square kilometers that is too steep and/or too densely vegetated. I urge any of you who are interested to explore further. I'll be happy to provide you with maps and consult of possible venues. And, I'd like to hear proposals for a more appropriate name for the map. Maybe a name without “Creek” in it.

I hope everyone is already aware of the A-meet we are hosting at the end of June. It's an opportunity to see and participate in an A-meet close to home. As of today there are 117 registered competitors. Only five are from CTOC. Click the link on the CTOC blog and get registered before the June 15 deadline.

Melanie Wright and I will be directing our next local meet at Bogus Basin on Saturday, July 18. Melanie is considering adding a mountain-biking course. Be sure to let us know if that option appeals to you. We hope to see you all there whether mounted or on foot.

Finally, I am reluctant to make an appeal for more help, but the time has come. If we put Bannock Creek on the 2016 schedule, I will not direct the meet. In the last few years I've added five maps to the CTOC inventory. I will continue to direct Hidden Springs meets because we receive permission to use the property through my son, David Murray. I will direct the Bogus Basin Meet next year because that will be the fifth and final year of my plan for expanding the map. And, I will direct at least one meet on an entirely new map. There is a promising area near Warm Lake and some possibilities in the Owyhees and Sawtooths. It's time for meet directors to step forward and adopt Dutch Lake, Trap Creek and Bannock Creek. And then there are the two new maps at Slack's Mountain and Glass Hill north of Silver City in September. If they prove valuable and repeat on the 2016 schedule, they will be up for adoption. I am pleased to develop these maps. I also want to orienteer on some of them.

If you choose to direct a meet, I promise lots of support for both the maps and the course design.

John Murray
Meet Director

May 14, 2015

Bannock Creek-- Saturday, May 23 – An Entirely New LiDAR Map

Join us for our second orienteering adventure on a LiDAR map. Last year Sergey treated us to a meet on a LiDAR map in the Sawtooths. It was so well received that we have since had the Dutch Lake venue professionally mapped using the LiDAR contours to begin a basemap. The Bannock Creek terrain is similar to Gold Rush above the hydro-mined area. Ponderosa Pines predominate in what is mostly a runnable forest.

We are offering three courses. For the advanced orienteer there is a 6K course covering enough vertical to ensure a good workout in addition to the runnable forest noted above. The intermediate orienteer will travel mostly in runnable forest punctuated by numerous spurs and re-entrants with some added climb in the last kilometer. Novice orienteers will venture a little off-trail along linear features or will search for large prominent features.For those who have run Gold Rush many times this is an opportunity to use the same skills in new and unfamiliar terrain. Due to the absence of trails there will be no truly beginner course. It will be necessary for participants on the novice course to identify features like boulders and re-entrants on the map. If you are a novice and unfamiliar with orienteering map symbols, the meet directors and experienced orienteers will gladly give you a brief explanation before you depart on your adventure.

All three courses (novice, intermediate, and advanced) begin and end about four miles up the Pine Creek Road (USFS Road 304).

Because cut branches on the ground often make the footing unstable in many places, you should bring sturdy shoes and good judgment about when to be cautious.

In the desire to minimize waste and save myself some printing expenses, please RSVP to me no later than Wednesday May 20 with your name and intended course choice (and if you want an extra map or two for a larger group.)  My email is jnm2870 AT cableone DOT net.  If you decide to show up impromptu, I expect to have a few blanks on hand and you will get to copy your course the old school way.
Who: Orienteers of all ages, novice to advanced.

When: Saturday May 23. Courses will be open for starts from 10am – 12. Courses close at 2 pm. You may arrive within this window to try a course, as participants start separately a few minutes apart.

Finish and Parking Location: Pine Creek Road between mile 3 and mile 4

Restrooms are not available. You should be responsible for your own water.
Format: Classic. 
Cost:  $10 per person/team, $5 for a single junior, free to CTOC members (more info here)
You may want to bring: a watch, a compass, a snack, a whistle and a cell phone. (Some compasses will be available to borrow)
Bannock LiDAR Sample
A word about LiDAR: Several government agencies have acquired high resolution mapping data for land management. In Idaho many of the LiDAR projects are undertaken for hydrology studies. The process involves a low altitude GPS guided laser scan resulting in a digital elevation model with accuracy sometimes in a range below ten centimeters. These data have been made available free to the public in many cases.

A Finnish orienteer developed free software to convert LiDAR data into contour maps with vegetation colors. Using his software we have found the contours to be extremely accurate. Sadly, we have not been able to optimize the vegetation mapping parameters to the point where there is usable detail. The vegetation mapping gives the orienteer little more than a general understanding of density in the area. Because so much of this map is runnable forest the low level of vegetation accuracy is not a serious drawback, especially on the intermediate map.

Director: John Murray

May 4, 2015

True Tales of Rabbits, Rattlesnakes, and Wild Horses

Wild horses on the courses!  Photo:  Bill Pilcher
In its 12th year Rabbit Creek greeted us generously with fine weather, spectacular wildlife, and rocky ups and downs.  Aside from the expected verticality in the terrain all around, that included a few inevitable learning experiences by both director and orienteer alike.  It is worth noting that this was quite probably a record attendance given the tremendous turnout from the Riverstone Orienteering team led by Ben Brock who arrived complete with their own custom shirts!  For most it was their first time at Rabbit Creek.
Riverstone Orienteering Team!
Four classic courses were offered this year.  On the White course, the difficulty level was juuuust right as seen from the smiling finishers.  Winslow Brock and Robyn eagerly took the circuit around the ranch and finished with a spectacular kick to take first place.  The Thomson family, newly minted CTOC members, took a more relaxed pace and spotted the very approachable fish hanging out in the pond.

Winslow and Robyn finish fast.
The Thomson family punch the first control.

As for the Yellow course...intended to be an advanced beginner course, included an extra challenge from a meet director blooper.  Despite my noble intentions of providing matching controls codes, and my codirector Dondi reminding the novices especially to check such codes, I goofed in correcting those codes on the smaller map format from the master.  This led to considerable confusion amidst many of the newcomers out there.

Nancy and David Emerson came back after the second control puzzled why the code did not match the sheet.  This was my red flag!  I quickly realized my mistake and hand copied the correct codes for their map and sent them back out again, after which they finished the course still with smiles on their faces.  They plan to be back but tackling courses independently for maximum learning next time!
Nancy and David Emerson among others around yellow control #2.
Riverstone students Alden, Avery, and Max steadfastly persisted through the course independently without any control corrections, sometimes finding other intermediate and advanced controls in their periphery to make up for it.  To their credit they made their best crack at finishing instead of bailing out early, even after encountering a rattlesnake lurking by the water hole on control 6!  Such persistence will undoubtedly serve to their advantage as they visit future maps, assuming I have not discouraged them too much.

Audrey Thomson (of the Thomson family above) finished the course with the benefit of the director catching up to her and scribbling the right codes on her map.  She did acquire a generous helping of cheatgrass in the socks as she searched for the tricky control 5 in the reentrant beyond the pond.  I think she will be back.
Audrey Thomson closes the Yellow loop.
Results for Yellow are shown in order of starts (instead of completed finishes) given the control confusion.  Congratulations to all for finishing and making the best of the day.

The Intermediate course proved to be plenty challenging.  (Next time on this map I may dial this difficulty back one notch as well.)  Kerry and Carrie took first place, even while admiring the plentiful diffusion of colorful and varied wildflowers on different slopes of the course out there.  Zach Curtis patiently and quietly took on the intermediate course with his family and finished cleanly.  Jerry Stewart, who we seem to have hooked since he renewed his membership before even starting, took advantage of his earlier starting time to completely finish the course even if a tad over 3 hours.
Jerry Stewart rounds a boulder cluster.  Photo:  Greg Davidson
A majority of the field did not quite finish the course for a variety of reasons but I think gleaned some good experience from their time out there.  Mikayla and Chris could not find control #7, an intentionally tricky control shared with advanced not visible from the trail, but called it a run and put on some miles for the return trek.  Ken Karcher and Natalie also struggled with #7; Ken ended up hitching a ride back on an ATV, which was perhaps the best insurance that he made it back before the clock ran out!  Ben and Agnes made a real go of it, even going back to punch the correct first control after returning to the ranch (this unfortunately is a DQ, but it turned out they also substituted a nearby white control near the end.)  Their enthusiasm was steadfast.
Ben and Agnes cruising downhill to the finish.
For the two Murray pairs, they just reached a point of fatigue (one I think almost all of us have experienced) and decided to call it at their respective corners of the course.  Katrina Wright felt the same way and came back after the halfway point, and Melanie went out to get as many others as she could.  Jeremy and Lori chose to take another way around the course with their dog and arguably made the course climb even more challenging while still collecting some of the harder controls!  Nevertheless they enjoyed the search.

If any of you readers are still with me on this ultra-long O report, the Advanced course proved to be remarkably competitive with Sergey getting a run for his money from the Riverstone crowd.  Sergey took first as expected, but with all the climb he worked for a living.  He had a few comments on my control placement for #7 (too high relative to the mapped cliff) and #17.  Admittedly I realized the night before #17 was going to be a little tough given the map detailing there, and there turned out to be a bit of luck involved in how easily it was found.  Hot on Sergey's heels was Levi Schmitt, who came in only four minutes behind and not looking nearly as fatigued.  Then came coach Ben Brock, pleased I think to be shown up by his student.  
The Riverstone shirt comes completely personalized.
Zach Clayton was next, followed closely by Greg Davidson (who took a few remarkable photos out there for me - see the last photo), and then Michael Bading who began with grand optimism for tracking Sergey as well as he did last month!  The long tough course took its toll.  Ole was only one minute after Michael, complaining with a big grin on his face about the lack of orienteering and brutal up/down to the far reaches of #11.  But I think he liked it.  Riverstone Regan Zhang came in next (his first foray on this map), followed by Bill Leahy who was just a little wet and boggled at the speeds displayed out there.  Jay Morgan strolled in after wondering if he could make the 3 hour cutoff, but with his Icebug shoes still looking new.  
Bill Pilcher wraps his fence and sign at the finish.
Bill Pilcher, who has provided us with the ranch hospitality and the self made map we all ran on, finally got to run a course and arrived with a smile on his face with Apple, who was ready for another go round.  Melanie Schuster arrived just as Greg was getting worried, but she too got them all.  Of special note is Jan Eichhorn, a Riverstone student who is so new at this he hasn't actually run a course with he never knew to punch!  While I take his (and Ben's) word for it he did find them all, next time I hope to check his results so I can include him in the ranking!  And I will remember to ping even the advanced runners to punch their map.  Brian Bohme also made it out and wanted badly to run all the hills, but was not feeling well shortly after starting so made the smart decision to wait until next time to run his race.

Watching for new arrivals on the course.  Photo:  Greg Davidson
More photos here on yahoogroups!

This was a big meet and a long race report.  Thank you as always to Bill Pilcher for loaning us his ranch for the day, creating the map, and feeding the masses afterward.  Special thanks goes to Bill Leahy who arrived with me the day before to assist with transport and making it a notch easier and safer for me to set up controls.  And for fine company while we admired the boulders and birds in the yard.  Bill (L.), Ole, Jerry, Greg, and Melanie (S.) were exceptionally generous in sticking around for another couple hours and made quick, efficient work of the nearly 30 controls scattered all over the map.  I thank you for saving my legs for more enjoyable running miles in the future which I hope to navigate well.  My wife Dondi served as my most able and calm co-director.  She not only gave a little tutorial to Nancy and David, started and finished all the orienteers while I tried to keep maps and corrections and cash straight, but even made gingersnaps which luckily for me stayed hidden inside and mostly came back home for me to savor.

Next up will be a special event on new LiDAR basemap in Idaho City on May 23.  I will leave the details to race director John Murray to present.  Stay healthy and I hope to see you at our Western State Champs meet in June!