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Orienteers converge at Tahoe

Divided by age and skill level, more than 450 orienteers tested their physical endurance and map-reading skills at the United States Orienteering Championship held Saturday and Sunday at the Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park.

Vying for the national championship title, the competitors combed a 10 kilometer area near Spooner Lake in a race to find checkpoints scattered across the desolate wilderness.

Using a map and compass, they navigated the fastest route to the checkpoint, called a control bag, punched their race cards with a specially designed paper punch to prove they found the marker and continued on. The toughest courses of the weekend called for a visit to 29 control points in a three hour time limit.



Course setter Bob Cooley said the sport can seem like a casual treasure hunt or a tedious task of finding a needle in a hay stack.

“We try to make it technically as difficult as possible but also make it fair,” Cooley said. “We want to make it so a highly skilled person can navigate to a point quickly and one who is not so skilled may never find it at all.”




Besides being technically challenging, Tahoe’s high-altitude course presented some physical difficulties.

“It has really challenging terrain with a lot of rock features and sandy, loose footing,” said event coordinator Evan Custer, of the Bay Area Orienteering Club. “And the high altitude makes people get dehydrated quicker too.”

Focusing on accuracy, Mikell Platt, of Laramie, Wyo., won the men’s title with about a five-minute lead. He said Tahoe’s course kept him thinking.

“There are a lot of big hills here and you build up lactic acid and that screws up your thinking,” he said. “But I was able to spike the controls.”

In the women’s division, Angelica Riley, of Oakland, Calif., took first place but was unavailable for comment.

Custer also said Tahoe’s landscape has some inviting features such as good visibility and gentle shrubbery, unlike the poison oak and thorned bushes competitors in the bay area are used to facing.

Still, the event drew in a few minor injuries that are naturally inherent to the bushwhacking nature of the sport.

Scott Jacobson, of New York, suffered several cuts to his legs when he ran into a barbed wire fence as he made a beeline for a particular terrain feature in the intermediate competition.

“I learned you have to watch where you are going at all times,” Jacobson said as a medic treated his wounds at the first aid station. “It’s real easy to lose concentration when you get tired. This sport takes a lot of patience, concentration, speed and endurance.”

But Alan Glendinning, the results crew chief, said it’s only what the competitors make out of it.

“There are different levels of difficulty and some people run the whole way and others tend to just walk the course and go at their own speed,” he said.

To make it more user friendly, Glendinning said beginning courses usually stick close to the trail, intermediate level courses venture off the trail on occasion and advanced courses are mostly off trail and require the competitor to travel more than 10 kilometers.


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