Getting temporarily lost is a normal part of orienteering and nothing to be afraid of. 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.
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 feature on your right 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.
- 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?)
- 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 orientate the map so that north on the map is in the same direction as north on the ground.
- Form a hypothesis about where you might be.
- 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.
- 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, continue to proceed to the next control from that point. 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, forget your mistake for now, and concentrate on how you go forward from here.
If you get very lost, it is fine to not complete the course and just head to the finish. 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. This is so that the organisers can confirm that you’ve got back safely and don’t need to send out a search party!