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Why orienteering is different

Map and compass

The seven point plan

At a control

Between controls

At the Start

Compass bearings

Getting lost .... and found again

Punching at the wrong control

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Getting lost .... and found again

Getting temporarily lost is a normal part of orienteering.  Sometimes you're only a little bit lost.  You know where you are to within 100 meters, but you're not exactly sure where the control is.   Sometimes you can lose track of your position to the extent that it takes quarter of an hour or more to diagnose where you are.

An elite orienteer regards losing a minute as a pretty bad error.  As a beginner, if you can limit your lost time after an error to 3 or 4 minutes then that's a success!

The earlier that you can detect an error, the more chance you'll have of correcting it quickly.  That's one reason for steps 6 and 7 of the seven point plan for navigating between controls.

As soon as you realise that what you're seeing around you doesn't match where you think you should be on the map, stop and take stock of the situation.  Is there really a discrepancy or will a closer look at the map show that the ruined building is there on the map after all?

If there is a real discrepancy then you need to work out where you actually are.  This process is called relocation.  Successful relocation is usually the result of a combination of different techniques.

(1) Look at your planned route and see if you can see where you might have made an error.  For example, could you have run past a path junction without noticing it?  Could you have turned left instead of right at the last junction?  Could you have set off from the last control in the wrong direction?  (Did you check your direction as you left the control?)
(2) Look for significant features around you and try to match the pattern of features on the ground with patterns of features on the map.  Use your compass to orient the map so that north on the map is in the same direction as north on the ground.
(3) Form a hypothesis about where you might be.
(4) Test your hypothesis by heading for a recognisable - and distinctive - feature.  For example, a fence corner, a pond beside a track, a five-way track junction, etc.
(5) If necessary, head in the direction of a major feature like a forest track or the edge of a forest, and relocate from there.
Once you are pretty sure that you know where you are, re-start the seven point navigation plan at step 3 -- decide your strategy for getting to the next control.  Remember to form your strategy on the basis of where you actually are, rather than where you'd like to have been!   The past is past, and you'll orienteer better if you can leave your mistakes in the past and concentrate on how you go forward from here.

If you're having trouble relocating then it's quite okay to ask a passing orienteer for help.  Strictly speaking this is against the rules, but if you're still lost after you've spent a while trying to relocate then you're probably not going to be at the top of the results anyway.  If you're going to ask for help then try to pick someone who's not running very hard.  A less competitive orienteer will generally be less concerned about the loss of time involved in stopping to help you.

If get really lost and decide to retire then take a compass bearing and head in the general direction of a really major feature such as a road or the fields at the edge of the map.  Stay on paths and tracks, and keep trying to diagnose where you might be.  Keep an eye on your compass bearing to make sure that you keep heading in the same general direction and don't walk in circles.  Once you reach a place that you can recognise, walk back to the finish area.

Remember that you must report to the finish - and, in the case of electronic punching, the download station - even if you are retiring from your course.  If you don't report to the finish (or download) and the organisers can't confirm that you've got back safely then search parties will be sent out.

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