Night O!

Night O is the deviant branch of standard orienteering. Tonight it involved navigating around Hampstead Heath in the dark and the pouring rain with nothing but a headtorch and a compass. Now, I’ve been orienteering since I was a teenager and I love it but until tonight I’d never done a night event. Navigation skills are really put to the test since you can’t see more than 5-20 metres away (depending on the power of your headgear … more on that later!). Techniques that normal orienteers use sparingly in daylight become essential in the dark – pacing, use of handrails and catching features for example.

We started at Parliament Hill en masse, about 20 of us. Despite the rain this was a better turn out that some summer events I’ve been to. When the clock starts at 7.15pm we turn over our maps (printed on waterproof paper thankfully) and take a first look at the course. This is a score course so the controls are spread out across the area and you can visit as many as you like in any order, picking up 10 points per control. However, there is a time limit of 60 minutes and for each 10 seconds overdue we are fined 2 points. The first 15-20 seconds are spent looking at the map and planning a rough course before heading off into the night to bag that first control. At first the runners are quite bunched but after 10 minutes or so I found myself totally alone save the odd flash of light on a distant hillside. I get the first few relatively easily, taking real care to keep my place on the map with my thumb as I run. At the control we use electronic ‘dibbers’ (aka SI-Cards) to register our visit.

Later on and the rain becomes so hard that the visibility is reduced even more. This coincides with a particularly tricky control hidden on a fence line behind a thicket of brambles and holly. Lose a few minutes trying to find it and then start to head for home to avoid penalties. One hazard I hadn’t planned on was other runners with massively powerful headlamps, they can blind you unless you close your eyes as they pass by! I was wearing 2 mini petzyls.

Planning your route for a score course is tricky, you need to have an idea of the distance you can cover and be able to predict how much extra time will be needed for searching. It’s also a good idea to keep a few controls in reserve close to the finish in case you end up with spare time. I got back to the finish 28 seconds over time so get docked 6 points but managed to pick up an extra 10 on the way back. The finish area is full of folk comparing stories and showing each other their routes. Then it’s off to the pub or in my case, back on a soggy bike to home.

London Orienteering Club (LOK)

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