EMPO Times Spring 1998

Scholastic Males Sweep at ESGs

This year the Empire State Games Ski-O event returned to its "home" venue, the Mt. Van Hoevenburg ski center in Lake Placid. The preceding ski season had been kind of up and down in terms of the conditions; but despite having the warmest winter in years, most scheduled events were held, and so a good number of folks were able to qualify to compete in the games. In fact, by the end of the season, enough races had been held to create some competition to achieve the top "seedings" for the Games. An attempt was made to maintain a continuously updated and published ESG Points list, in order to build ongoing interest in each local event as it came up. As this was the first season in several years that such a list has been maintained, it took awhile before people started noticing; but eventually it seemed to take hold. I look forward to even more interest right from the start next year.

The ESG weekend was a week earlier than usual, because there was an international XC ski race at Mt. Van Hoevenburg on the traditional dates. Because of the warm weather, there was some concern over what the skiing would be like in Lake Placid. But all fears proved unfounded. The conditions were excellent, especially up on the Porter Mountain Loops, and it was great to have this area to ourselves, as the XC races didn't go out that far. There was a well-established icy base with three or four inches of heavy wet stuff on top to keep skiing safe and controllable.

Each of the courses were designed to get out to the Porter Mountain areas without getting into trouble on the network of one way trails on the East Mountain loop. The real route choices were out in the Porter Mountain loops where the trail network is more dense. After some challenging route choices, each of the courses come back through the one way trails area by skiing a line O segment, which was the same for each course. This seemed like a great idea at the time I came up with it. However, in hindsight, it created too many protests, and a lot of aggravation for those officiating. Anytime a Meet Director has to be disqualified on a technicality there must be something wrong!

I was proud of the results obtained by our club members, and especially proud of the fact that the Scholastic Male medals were swept by those whom I have coached in the past. In fact, current and former EMPO members took the top six spots! What was really heart warming was hearing the chatter among all the scholastic competitors comparing route choices, and critiques of how they could have done better. This is exactly how the international competitors do it at the big meets!

In a feat almost as remarkable as the Male Scholastic sweep, EMPO also swept the medals in the Female Masters category. Combined with one more in Male Masters, EMPO-land folks took home 7 of the 16 medals awarded, easily the most of any Club.

We all owe a lot to Rick and Dayle Lavine of Rochester Orienteering Club, who directed the meet and pulled together all the volunteers. From our club these volunteers included Roger and Judy George, and Steve and Joanne Sweet, who did a super job on the finish line.

-Eric Hamilton

Name That Skier!

Challenging photographic conditions have made photos from the Empire State Games a bit harder to recognize. See how many you can name, then check the answers.






CNYO's Second Annual "Snowgaine"

This was the second year that CNYO has put on what they have called a "Snowgaine" on Presidents Weekend, and for the second year in a row I've been able to convince (or perhaps just "con") my spouse into coming along as my partner. You probably figured it out, but a "Snowgaine" is a "Rogaine" (you know we're not talking about the hair goo, right?) over the snow. Thus the map is larger scale than an orienteering map, you work as a team, and the event goes on over a longer time period. Unfortunately, this year the title proved a bit misleading. Open fields were almost completely snow-free. There was white stuff in the woods, but you could hardly call it snow: it was a 3-4 inch thick crust which had been thawed and re-frozen many times, ending up with a consistency close to that of a salt flat.

One of the interesting facets of the event is that you have your choice of transportation mode. All human powered non-vehicular modes of travel are OK. Thus, figuring we'd make our final equipment choices each morning of the two day event, the back of our trusty Mitsubishi was piled with various pairs of skis, snowshoes, and boots, not to mention clothing, daypacks, waterpacks, rations, and goodies. Sleds are always mentioned in the event announcement as being allowed, but the prospect of tobogganing down Virgil Mountain has yet to appeal to me, and I like the idea of hauling one UP the mountain even less, so we left that at home.

Saturday dawned very cold, and by the time we got to the event center the temperature was still only in the teens. On arrival I tested out the "snow" surface as best I could, to determine how we would try to move. I never even considered skis, which was how we done the race last year. I knew there was no possible way to actually ski up or down the mountain, and the crust made it unlikely that the grip of any ski wax I possessed would make skiing around the undulating plateau up behind the mountain much faster than walking. Thus the first real choice was whether or not to bother with snowshoes. I decided the crust was permeable enough that we didn't need the teeth of our snowshoe bindings to get some grip for climbing. Then I figured my studded O-shoes would be both light and gripping enough to get me around the mountain with the least effort. And I think I was right. On Sunday, those who had used snowshoes on Saturday left them behind.

Would that all our decisions had been so well made. The Virgil Mountain and environs map is logically split into two halves, North and South, by Route 392. Virgil Mountain and the Greek Peak downhill ski area (yes, I know Virgil was a Roman, but what can you expect from alpine skiers?) are on the South side, and an almost equally elevated and even more undulating series of ridges and valleys rises on the North side. Because we had had such a horrendous time trying to scale the mountain the year before, we both felt strongly we should do that side on Day 1, and save the somewhat less arduous climb for Day 2. As it turned out, we were alone in this decision among all the teams. And it was a bad one, mainly because we only slowly realized we were going much FASTER than we anticipated.

It wasn't only us, but everyone was able to move much faster, even carrying the snowshoes they didn't need. The snow kept you up above the low vegetation that normally slows you down in the warmer months; but the snow was too crusty to sink into and slow you down either. So everyone could move pretty free and fast. Except us. We managed to get into a couple of water traps.

While it was cold enough for the snow to be frozen, the running water was still quite free. Attempting to cross our first major stream, a couple of hours into Saturday, I made it with a good leap, but Sue missed and got one boot soaked. In warmer weather you shrug this off, accept a blister maybe, and forge on. In winter, you have to be concerned and watchful. Crunching through the snow after that dunking, her foot got very cold, and we decided we needed to try to come up with some means of warming it up. Ultimately, the best thing we could come up with was to take my hat and use it for a sock. With it, she barely fit in her boot, but said it felt much better, and I figured I'd sacrifice the hat if it only made her feel more like carrying on, let alone actually improving conditions for her foot. I guess it worked, because from there on she had no more problems. Only I did.

Near the end of the day's travels, we had finished all we could get on the South side, given our late understanding of what might have been, and our halt for foot warming. Since we still had time left, it seemed the logical thing to do was to cross over and bag a couple of controls on the North side as we went West back to the start/finish. Unfortunately, it turned out there was a major creek in our way. This was not something even Ralph Boston could longjump over, let alone me; but amazingly enough we discovered a barrel raft tied up in the stream. Apparently locals also felt it was a major pain to have to go the very long way around this obvious (and formerly bridged) crossing.

Well, maybe we would have been better off without the raft. I managed to get myself out into the stream, and it started to sink, lurch, collapse and take me down. I was able to grab a hold of tree roots beckoning on the other side, but each one I grabbed broke as I put any weight on it. Eventually I did extract myself from the almost "raging" creek water, but I was soaked 3/4 of the way up.

After her prior creek experience, Sue was in no mood to even attempt to improve upon my crossing. We both worked parallel upstream for a ways, and then I figured we might as well not bother staying completely within sight, but stay within "shouting" distance, and meet further up ahead. I guessed I could bag the control we had been going to together before she got back to me, and I did. I admit this was contrary to the spirit of the rules, but I also guessed it was likely to be immaterial, and I was right about that too. Plus it warmed me up again, which was at least as important!

After a very long trot in along the highway, we all gathered and compared notes. We were in 3rd after that day, but it was hard to say how it would work out since we had approached things so differently from the rest. And our fate wasn't really in our hands, since the other teams had gotten all the controls on the North side, while we had gotten several less than all on the South. And when we reversed courses the next day, while we could replicate what others had done, they were able to outdo us where we had been. No one else managed to get as wet as we did, somehow, and in the end we were pushed down to 4th. At least it was some fellow EMPO folks (the Reeds) who knocked us out of the money. We did have one major miss, costing us 30-45 minutes; but we still got everything. So it was our Day 1 pace which ended up beating us.

They'll be doing it again next year, those CNYO folks. They are hoping to do it up in Winona (Tug Hill), where again they have a pretty good map. If you're looking for something unusual to do outdoors next Winter, try to save Presidents weekend. You don't have to be an ace skier to be quite competitive. But carry an extra pair of dry socks. It can make a big difference.

-Phil Hawkes-Teeter

Meet Roundup

A Day At Day

With 6 inches of snow and some rain on top, January 4 turned out to be a good ski day. It was cloudy and more wet weather threatened, but, at least at the Saratoga Biathlon Center in Day, it held off until after most of the Ski-O competitors were done. Due to the warm, wet weather, the crews were unable to groom that morning. Some participants said that those who went out later had an advantage, because the trails became more packed with the additional traffic, but it was never fast. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to have a good time.

I was especially proud of the new colored map. The OCAD computer program sure does a great job at presenting a top quality map with a limited amount of effort. The feedback from some of New York's top ski orienteers was also most encouraging. From my perspective the overall turnout was great, especially considering the "iffy" weather. That kind of participation makes it all worthwhile!

Many thanks to Mark Hopper for helping at the start/finish; to Steve Sweet (Sr.) for helping at the map swap; to Jim Schriener for all the work on the trails and driveway; to Betty Schriener for all the good things at the concession stand; to Gary and Zachary Metzler for their work on the snow grooming; and finally to Sandy Stripp and Scott Pleban for encouraging a third of the field (all those juniors from Old Forge) to try ski orienteering.

-Eric Hamilton

Kinns Road Park

For the first time in "living memory", EMPO actually got both of the Club's scheduled Empire State Games Ski-O Qualifiers in. Not that it was perfect, beautiful snow for either one, but it was good enough for us to go forward. At Kinns Road on February 1st, the problem was that the snow had gotten pretty old and crusty by that time. Since it stayed fairly cold, we could be sure of cover, but the conditions were going to make it hard for many competitors to handle some of the trickier parts of the course. In fact, concern over some of the younger entrants' ability to take on icy downhills caused a re-designation of which groups used which courses.

There were some spills taken, of course, but when all was over, no one seems to have taken a very nasty tumble, and everyone looked like they enjoyed themselves, even the more hopelessly lost. What makes Kinns Road an excellent place for a Ski-O is that there are lots of trails, crisscrossing and running parallel, throughout the Park. From many vantage points it is possible to see over to the parallel trails, so that a series of controls might be visible at once, but you need to be precise in your navigation to get to the correct one. Most folks handled it well, and US Ski-O Champ Scott Pleban, who attended both of EMPO's local meets this winter, thought it was one of the most fun events he's done here this year, with the maze of trails being much like at a Ski-O in Europe.

A number of newcomers attended the event, and several expressed a desire to join us again this coming season for orienteering without snow. We certainly look forward to seeing them again.

Orienteering Basics

Collecting and Catching Features

There are two more types of helpers to look for when planning your route to a control. We've already discussed handrails, which are linear features leading you in the direction you want to go. But the features we're talking about here are generally perpendicular to the way you want to go. A collecting feature lies between you and the control, and serves as an easy and obvious place to be sure you're on track. They are further from the control than a good attack point would be, and are less points than lines. A good example would be a large pond/small lake, about 2/3 of the way to the control. You probably can't really pinpoint your position along it well enough to make it an attack point by itself; but you can go top speed in its general direction, circle it once you get there, and look for some other point feature around it to get precisely located as you close in on the flag.

A catching feature is more or less the same sort of feature, except that it is beyond the control. The idea here is that you are looking for something that will save you if you should miss the control and go past it. If there is a good catching feature you can afford to take a somewhat riskier approach to the flag (by going faster and/or trying to "spike" the control without much of an attack point), because if you miss you can recover more easily. Here in the Northeastern US, most of our orienteering territory has a reasonable trail network, and very frequently trails or even roads end up being good catching features. Course setters will try to avoid having trails lead you to the control (on the more advanced courses), but there will often be trails perpendicular to you route, which can serve as collecting or catching features. In fact, one of the differences between intermediate (Orange) and advanced (Green, Red) courses tends to be the distance from a collecting or catching feature to the control.

Spring Lineup

This Spring's events take us to some old favorite locations. It's been a year and a half since we last ventured to Tawasentha Park in Guilderland. Unfortunately the more difficult sections of that map have either changed or been made unavailable to us, but the main part of the park is still a great place for White, Yellow and Orange courses, which should provide everyone with a nice opener. Remember: if it's too easy, you're not running fast enough!

Next up is Blueberry Hill, in the Albany Pinebush area. This ecologically unique land is simply fun to wander around in, and even more fun to explore in the context of orienteering. Take advantage of what remains of a local treasure, and this year we'll try to avoid holding our meet too close to one of the periodic "burns." Charred controls are tough to find.

Finally we make another attempt at Peebles Island. We've been a bit unlucky there in terms of the weather, but with our resolute first time Meet Directors Bob & Rita Reed, our luck is due to change. At least we shouldn't get snow in June, like we did last April, when we had to cancel.

Beyond June, the local schedule is not quite as solid, but we present what are our present plans. The Mt. Bike-O date is essentially undetermined at this time. If it's held before the next EMPO TIMES is issued, we'll send notes to everyone. (Sending your e-mail address to the Club will help.) Also note that October is crammed full of "A" Meets within a few hours drive, and we're scheduling EMPO's events around them. Normally we've avoided Columbus Day weekend, as many of us go away then, but we plan to try something new: hold the event on the Monday holiday itself. Hope you can join us!

20th Annual Billygoat, April 26

Its promoters bill the annual "Billygoat" event as "the world's most important orienteering event." This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it's still a pretty cool race. A few years ago it was run on our very own Grafton Lakes map, but the race was directed and the course set by some of our neighbors from Western Massachusetts (where the Billygoat originated). We did set recreational courses, and a number of EMPO folks who didn't feel up to the 'Goat came and enjoyed it as if it were a local EMPO meet with a special chance to see some of the country's better orienteers wear themselves out.

This year the situation is kind of reversed. EMPO's Bill Jameson is directing the meet and setting the courses, and other club members are doing registration, vetting, etc., but the site is NEOC's map of Mt. Norwottuck near Amherst, Mass. There will be White/Yellow/Orange courses available for those who want to come along without taking on the featured course; but the Billygoat is unique, and you really ought to think about giving it a try. Yes, it's a long haul, but you can have company (following and working together are allowed), and if you don't make it through the course in the 3 1/2 hours required to win a coveted Billygoat T-shirt, you won't be alone. And if you do make it? Ah, the glory!

So send your application in to our registrar, get yourself properly hydrated, and start your pursuit of those who can (so far) boast of having more Billygoat T-shirts than you do. This year is the 20th race, so you're a little behind a few folks. EMPO's leader is, not surprisingly, our leader: President and above-mentioned Meet Director Bill. He has 13 so far. But once you've done it, you're on the list, and on your way!