Getting Lost is All the Fun: Orienteering Club Shows the Way | Local News

Sometimes finding your way around can be a fun way.

These were the discoveries of dozens of Missulians last week in the hills above Pattee Creek who traveled to Grizzly Orienteering’s third Map and Compass Workshop in 2020.

Hillary Johnson and Ruth Lammers had run Pattee Canyon at the request of Otter, their part-border collie/part-something else/all cute and very active dog. The red and white “Orienteering” sign in the Crazy Canyon parking lot gave them a new plan.

“We just decided to give it a try,” Lammers said as they gathered their maps for the beginners course. Johnson said she held orientation classes a long time ago, but didn’t remember much about her skills. They crossed the start line at 10:20 a.m., after checking in with course timer Bob Hunt.

“I’m trying to figure it out myself,” Hunt said while recording the attendees on his clipboard. “I do a lot of hunting and hiking. People have things like GPS and OnX ​​on their phones, but if they stop working, I like knowing I can still find my way.

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Last weekend provided nearly every orientation challenge except for a blizzard. An overcast sky blocked out the sun, which in November is so low it rarely shines in Pattee Canyon anyway. The landscape rolled up and down in deceptively benign folds of earth – perfect for a disorienting wrong turn that obliterates all sense of location. Dozens of walking trails and cross-country ski trails crisscrossed and diverged, confusing anyone hoping to follow their own footsteps back to base.

Keen-eyed participants could scan trail markers: small orange and white cloth buckets hung from saplings. But even these could be misleading. Each was randomly numbered, to serve as a waypoint for several routes of varying difficulty. Connecting the dots might lead deeper into the forest instead of back to the parking lot.

Unless you follow the instructions.

Grizzly Orienteering co-founders Allison Brown and Boris Granovskiy led each participating group to the edge of the parking lot and explained the challenge – how to hold the compass on the map, how to get a good bearing from the wobbling compass needle , what the different colors and shading on the map meant in terms of different terrain features. They used their outside voices to make themselves heard over the masks that all attendees wore for pandemic safety.

“The only real health issue is that start,” Brown said of the early bottleneck. Once through Pattee Canyon Drive and into the woods, orienteering is the epitome of social distancing. Approaching someone else on the course may mean being more off-road than you already are.

This wasn’t much of an issue in Pattee Canyon, where the choice was right or left at a checkpoint marker. In more competitive events, marker bags would contain timing devices that riders must trigger to record their progress from point to point. To avoid spreading the coronavirus, this step was skipped on Sunday. Attendees simply read the numbers on the orders and rush to their next destinations. Nevertheless, several players managed to turn around.

“It’s not going to end well,” Michele DeMaris said with a laugh as teammates Holly Crancer and Bruce Englund debated their next route decision. “I just realized you have to hold the compass flat – you can’t just have it hanging around your neck.”

Orienteering was also a great cure for cabin fever. Crancer met DeMaris (who lived in Seattle) through an outdoor women’s group in Kalispell where they both live now. They heard about Sunday’s Grizzly Orientation event through an online event site and decided to take the day trip south.

“I’m just revisiting Girl Scouts,” Crancer said. “I’m from Texas, where the biggest hill is a garden berm, and when you stand on top you can see 100 miles. We consider this an important skill to learn.

Brown met Granovskiy during an orienteering trip: he had been a route finder since he was 9 years old. She participated in her first course at 29 years old.

“Boris grew up orienteering in Russia,” Brown said. “It’s a much bigger sport in Europe. I grew up in Missoula, but we met in Sweden. The Scandinavian countries are where you go to get really good.

Orienteering has not yet been part of the Olympics, but it does have a place in World Games competition. Competitive players like Granovskiy use compasses with thumb loops they can read while running. Other models have mirrors and sighting grids to get accurate bearings. When traveling in a featureless desert or across a large lake, follow a heading of 80 degrees instead of 90 degrees for a few miles of open space and you may find yourself half a mile from your intended campsite.

The couple founded Grizzly Orienteering last summer and have helmed three releases this year. Each has attracted more participants than the last, to the point that they need to find more volunteers to handle registrations and map creation.

Sunday’s event drew 63 people, ranging in age from 3 to over 65. They ran on three difficulty levels, covering between a mile and a mile and a half of forest around Crazy Canyon. The easiest routes stayed on the trails, while the more intermediate challenges crashed through bushes and ravines to get from checkpoint to checkpoint only by compass.

“It’s a great way out,” Granovskiy said as the teams began to return to the Crazy Canyon parking lot. “It builds confidence and constantly makes you reflect and question your mind. For me, it’s a lifelong passion.

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Dino J. Dotson