Orienteering combines hiking, navigation and running – Greeley Tribune

Graham Baird of Greeley hates road racing, although he used to run road races.

When the associate professor of geology discovered orienteering, he was hooked.

Orienteering combines hiking, trail and navigation, all mixed with the competitiveness of road racing.

Participants are given a detailed map marked with checkpoints called controls. Racers use the map and a compass to locate a series of controls, which are marked with orange and white flags.

The goal is to find all the checkpoints in the shortest possible time, which rewards both speed and skill in choosing the most efficient one. Riders must therefore both pass and overtake their opponents.

Beginners and people looking to hone their skills can try out some of the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club’s permanent courses.

There’s one at Bear Creek Lake Park in the Lakewood entertainment venue and at Baldwin Gulch in Parker.

On a permanent course, people can download the course map and run the track without the added pressure of going for a certain amount of time or trying to beat someone.

Just trying it out is a great way to learn, Baird said.

“It teaches you how to convert the symbols on the map into the landscape in front of you,” Baird said.

Learning to read the map is one of the most important parts of the sport, Baird said. He can trace most of his mistakes back to not paying enough attention or misinterpreting a symbol.

Baird enjoys competition and runs regularly. It is also one of the best in the region. He’s a fast runner, even by road racing standards, but orienteering forces him to slow down and think.

“When you’re on the clock, your instinct is to rush,” Baird said. “But if you don’t slow down, you miss the details.”

Sport is also cheap.

The cost of a one-day race is usually around $11, a pittance compared to road races, and for members of the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club it’s free, said Brian Coleman, coordinator of the mapping from the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club.

The races also have family rates.

What do you need

» Orienteering map: Orienteering maps are much more detailed than ordinary maps. Bike paths, dirt roads, large and small paths, indistinct paths, fences, stony ground, depressions, pits, erosion ravines, dry ditches, isolated trees, impassable vegetation and more are shown on the map.

“Anything a meter tall is usually mapped,” Baird said.

» Compass: A good compass will help you make sure you are heading in the right direction and therefore save you time. In most cases, you’ll know if you’re heading in the wrong direction if the symbols on the map don’t match what you see in the landscape.

“When I started, my cards were twisted,” Baird said.

He could run fast, but it didn’t help if he was heading in the wrong direction.

» Shoes: Hiking boots or trail running shoes will do, depending on how fast you want to go. Special orienteering shoes exist. They’re built much like cleats and are designed to handle a variety of terrains, but you don’t need them to participate.

” E-punch: If you are competing, you will use an e-punch. It also goes by finger stick. The device records your time as you find markers on the course. You can buy one or rent one during the event.

» Clothing: Baird advises you to wear pants. The more difficult and isolated the courses become, the more you will need long pants that will protect you from scrapes, cuts and allergic reactions. Otherwise, dress in layers.

“Water and snacks: Bring water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized.


Orienteering is a sport practiced all year round. The idea can be applied to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in addition to running.

“It’s a great way to explore a park and see places you wouldn’t often see,” Coleman said. “It makes the park more interesting.”

The Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club holds 15 to 20 orienteering competitions per year. This includes beginner meetups, ski orientation meetups, overnight meetups, and practice clinics. Each meetup typically includes beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes. Classes usually last about an hour or less.

If you are new to the sport, Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club events offer special training prior to events. Experienced guidance counselors will work with people who have never done it before, Coleman said.

“There are all kinds of ways for people who haven’t done it before to get into it,” Coleman said.

Meetings take place in Nederland, Frisco, Denver, Granby, Littleton, Aurora, Lakewood, Woodland Park, Golden and more.

The club also plans to start mountain biking orienteering, Coleman said. This summer they will give it a try. Maps will be different because people will travel at different speeds.

Closer to home

Baird is working on creating his own course for Josephine Jones Park, but it’s taking a long time.

Mappers start with a high quality topographic map and incorporate aerial photos. After mapping to the best of their ability, they should compare it to reality.

“It takes hours of work,” Baird said.

So far, there is only one outdated orientation map for the northern Colorado region. The old map shows what Lory State Park looked like in 1978.

The neighborhood has changed a lot since then. Coleman said the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club hopes to get new maps for the area soon.

— Kelly Ragan covers features and health for The Greeley Tribune. Do you have any advice? Want to share your adventure? Call (970) 392-4424 or email [email protected]

Dino J. Dotson