Recent conversations with others about getting lost while rogaining brought back memories of our ‘mind numbing’ experience at last year’s Australian Championship at Angorichina in the Flinders Ranges. Set by a very experienced team, led by Rob Tucker and Peter Milnes, there was plenty of scope for various route choices. It also punished those, especially at night, whose concentration to map reading lapsed at any time.

After a slow and painstaking journey from C92 (where we also had a ‘being in the wrong place, but not knowing why’ problem that lost us about two hours) to C66, our course planning had us turning west to go to C55. This leg of just under 2km (as the crow flies) was an interesting one and needed a reasonable level of concentration. However, given that we arrived at C66 just before midnight, after almost 12 hours of solid toil, meant that we didn’t have a great reserve of brain power left.

Shown below is a partial map of the leg with our intended route highlighted. We managed to follow this route until X, where we stopped for a scheduled midnight break. It was shortly after this that the wheels fell off. Note the three hills (with heights shown) on three almost parallel spur lines.

Stopping for a break seemed like a good idea, we were confident where we were, the weather was particularly mild for this time of year (we had expected zero degrees and for it to be really cold) and we were perched on a high point with great views all around. While eating a good meal I almost fell asleep, but Evelyn, not wanting to waste any more time, got us up and moving. So loaded up with back packs on, we moved off in a SW direction as planned on a slight decline with me in lead. Evelyn was determined to follow in my footsteps due to the possibility of Golden Orb spiders and webs hanging between trees. We had travelled only about 100m (see below Pos A) when my mind went completely blank and I had absolutely no idea of where to go next. I could point to where we were on the map, but could not relate the terrain to the map or think of what to do next. It was quite a bizarre moment and upon telling Evelyn that I was “lost” and needed her to lead, she didn’t understand the mental dilemma that I was in. As we had just had a twenty to thirty minute break she was recharged and expected that I would be too. Also, she had been following my lead for the last couple of hours and while knowing roughly where we were all the time, had not been paying as much attention to the terrain details as I had and was a bit reluctant to suddenly be thrust into leading (plus those spiders have eight legs and are huge).

So, after dithering for a while, I plunged into what seemed like “no man’s land” with little sense of direction and instead of veering to the NW we stayed on a SW heading and came to hill 666 (devil’s number) which we erroneously thought was close to the control (parallel error, thinking we were near hill 671). After going almost all the way around the south side of this hill we decided this was wrong and re-traced our steps. We then moved around the hill on the north side and came to what looked like, in the dark, a huge ravine (position C). Shown below is some of the meandering we did around the Devil’s hillock.

We then moved in a northerly direction thinking (or more likely hoping) that we were on the correct spur to position D which was a very scrubby hillock which we thoroughly checked for a control, alas to no avail. By now, Evelyn had taken over, finally agreeing that hopeless Hubby had lost the plot and we hadn’t seen a spider since we started the rogaine. Re-tracing our steps back to where we thought we knew where we were, hill 666 (which we thought was possibly hill 671), we moved down to position E, a small knoll where the control (we thought) should have been – alas no control. Sitting down to regroup and not waste any more time (hours not minutes were being consumed by this control) we poured over the map to work out where we were. In the clear night we could see other teams moving along the correct spur to the NW. A compass bearing to the east to hill 661 locked in our position and we headed back to position D where all we had to do was cross a saddle to get to the correct spur. However, looking across to the other ridge line from D, the saddle could not been seen in the dark and looked like a deep ravine to us. At night both Evelyn and I have a lot of trouble with depth perception and have been caught numerous times thinking a shallow creek line as impassable at night which we wouldn’t give a second thought to traversing during the day (and when we are tired we forget to remember those other similar times).

Eventually we forged our way across to the right ridge line and, not knowing our exact location, turned south away from the control probably wasting another 20 minutes or so.

All in all it was a depressing saga on a leg which probably would have taken us around 60 to 70 minutes to do, with a break in the middle, took us almost 4 hours (and after looking at the results, one team doing the same leg took even longer). There are numerous articles (from Rogaining and Orienteering) on how to re-group when you find yourself lost on the course, but probably the most important point is to have a confident, logical, working brain (and if you had one of those functioning all the time you wouldn’t get lost in the first place).

In our case, after stopping for a short while, I think that I just mentally shut down and I didn’t really switch on again until daylight came. Evelyn (apart from the spider issue – we orienteer in the Flinders Ranges a lot and sometimes there are plague numbers of Golden Orb spiders) was also physically and mentally tired and not confident to be suddenly thrust into assuming the lead position, so we floundered around. We possibly could have done a lot better if I had gone to sleep on the ground where we stopped for 30 minutes or so, but as we had lost time earlier, the pressure was on to try and stick to our original time schedule and route choice. Sadly things happen in threes and another route choice disaster happened to us shortly before day break after visiting C93.

Perhaps we should have a “Rogaining for Dummies” book with a footnote saying when all else fails, head to the Hash House for spiritual guidance.

Strangely, at our next 24hr rogaine (at Wirrabara in the Southern Flinders Ranges) we had a perfect night, spiking all our night time controls. It’s a weird and wonderful sport.