Orienteering race (Adventure Race) 7:39:47*** 32.54 km (14:08 / km) +1285m11:48 / km ahr:120 max:175 spiked:22/31c shoes: VJ Falcons 9
Crooked Compass Adventure Trek at Cunningham Falls SP near Thurmont, MD put on by Rootstock Racing. The terrain is very hilly, quite steep in places, very rocky (including some very large rock) and has significant areas of vegetation and/or deadfall to slow down travel through the woods. So, plenty of physical challenge to add to the navigation challenge.
Race was all on foot and involved navigating to five mandatory controls, in order, using a 1:24000 USGS map (with the park trails added). At each mandatory control we were given a map showing between 4 and 6 additional optional controls (labeled A-Z). These maps were blow-ups of the USGS map at 1:5000 or 1:7500 except for the fifth one which was at 1:24000. Being USGS maps, there was a lot less detail than on an orienteering map and many substantial terrain features were not shown on the map. Controls were placed at interesting locations, often on some of the unmapped substantial features and several of them would be appropriately described as "on top of a big pile of rocks".
To break up the field from the mass start, there was a short trail run and orienteering segment with five controls using a park map of the Catoctin Furnace historical area. At each control we picked up a piece of candy and then returned to the start where we exchanged the five different pieces of candy for our passport (punch card) and headed off on the course. No problems with this part since there were lots of people headed to each control. No need to push the pace either since there was still a lot of ground to cover. (The control count doesn't include these.)
Got off to the left and too far up the spur on the way to M1 since I was still adjusting to the scale and contour interval (20 ft) of the map. Corrected Ok and got to M1 with a horde of others. Looking at the optional controls map for A-D, it occurred to me that it looping back to get any skipped controls wouldn't make sense, so the strategy should be not to skip any until time started getting tight (cut-off time to M5 was 6 hours and overtime penalties for the course kicked in at 8 hours). Control order: B-D-C-A. Was looking for a smallish knoll in a saddle for D but the point was actually on top of a 10m+ high knoll. Good to C on compass and up a big reentrant and then a long, rocky climb to A with thickish woods. Was close to A and guided in by the several other people in the area at the time.
Easy navigation to M2 but a rather physical descent over rocky ground. It had rained overnight so the rocks were still wet and slippery, even with studded shoes. The optional controls from this point were up near Cat Rocks, with four of the six in big rock. Control order: E-H-J-I-F-G. Looked on the first spur for H but figured it out pretty quickly. I was the most difficult of this bunch as it was nestled in a rock alcove and was further up the spur from where the circle on the map was (and closer to F than the map indicated). Had the assistance of others to actually find the flag. F and G straightforward.
A trail hike/jog to M3. Then a long descent through more open and much less rocky woods to K, L and M. Made a stupid error on M when I missed it just to the left and didn't look to the right where I would've seen it (it was along a stream). In my defense, the mapping of the streams relative to the nearby roads in this area is a little funky. So was most of the way to N and had to double back about 200m to get M. N was straightforward (if you read the control description rather than just rely on the map).
Made a tactical error on the way to M4 by not immediately heading to the north of the lake. Got on the road, planning to cross at the dam. Tried to go below the dam but saw fencing and the spillway and concluded that I wouldn't be able to get across (wrong). Continued on the road and looped around the lake to the south. Probably only cost 10 or 15 minutes and I used the road hike (with an occasional jog) to eat some food. M4 was at the parking area for Cunningham Falls and by now it was about noon and the sun was out, so there were quite a few non-racers there to enjoy the Falls.
Since the area near M4 was a very public place, there were no standard orienteering control flags but just streamers and a punch, making the points more difficult to find. I struggled with points P, S and T, partly because they were described as boulder or cliff and the area has an abundance of rock features. Fortunately the optional controls map was at 1:5000 so there wasn't a great distance to cover. Finished up with control O which was at the Cunningham Falls overlook. Control order: T-S-R-Q-P-O. Gravel trail and road to M5, most of it reasonably flat. Jogged occasionally.
Got to M5 at just under 5 hours, so three hours left to get back up over the mountain to the finish. The optional controls map we got at M5 was at 1:24000, so more distance to cover to get those points than on the previous maps. Control order: Z-U-V-Y-W-X. Fortunately, the blue-blazed Catoctin Trail ran the whole way from M5 to the finish, so getting the optional controls would just be side trips from the trail. Note that at this point my GPS trace shows an excursion to the north from M5 which I certainly didn't do (looks like an extra 2.5km or so plus about 100m of climb). GPS seems to be back on track just before I started to descend towards Z since I followed the blue trail up the hill and it switches back a few times. Z was described as "end of rocky ridge, dividing reentrant" (one of those prominent features that doesn't show up on the map) and I spotted it as soon as I got to the reentrant. Unfortunately, there was no marker at the end of the rocky ridge I was looking at (the lower end). So I went a couple hundred meters downhill just to be sure and then came back up and spotted the flag up on top of the ridge about 70m to the right of where I had headed left. U was a slog through some thickish woods up one reentrant and down another but was no problem. Back up from U towards V which was on the top of Bob's Hill (another pile of rocks!) and found easily once I climbed to the top. Off towards Y but was off by 90 degrees on my bearing which led me through some pretty thick mountain laurel. When I saw the terrain go up when I expected to be hitting the trail I knew something was wrong. Went east to get out to the trail and backtracked to get Y. No real problems finding W and X (except for an extra rocky ridge between the trail and the ridge W was on) and two more climbs up through boulders to get to the control flag. Nice view at X to complement my now completed punch card.
At X had about an hour left to descend on the trail to the finish - about 3km and 360m of down. Lots of this trail would have been runnable, except that my feet were having no part of that, so it was a long, somewhat uncomfortable slog. Passed by several people who were moving faster, including kadley who flew by at a full run. Had to stop to let some leg cramps subside shortly before the finish but made it in with about 20 minutes to spare.
Consumed about 2.5 liters of water plus about a liter of Vitalyte solution. Ate one Gu, some raisins and a ham and cheese sandwich (plus a banana shortly before starting and a full breakfast at 6am). Some leg cramping off and on after about 3.5 hours but only had to stop to deal with them on the final descent.
Talking to others and seeing their write-ups, I think one of the keys for me in this race was using all of the information available, not just what the map shows. I found the control descriptions critical, as was the park trail map. The other useful "information" was from others on the course - the sound of voices and/or people converging on an area usually indicated that was where the flag was. I'm happy with my race, particularly with finding all of the available controls. Some sloppy navigation here and there but was able to recover with no major disasters.
Nice course set by Brent Freedland showing us lots of neat areas of the Park and presenting plenty of physical and navigational challenge. And excellent organization by the Rootstock Racing team. Thanks to all.