Team Stories – Hail To The Chimp

April 19, 2008

Hail to the Chimp (D.Eaton, B.Toms)
15300 points (1157 h)
1/39 teams in PC-24

Warning: this is a wordy, full description of our race (with control numbers and times) for the benefit of those interested.

Another Eco Endurance Challenge for team Hail to the Chimp and this year we were able to bring our full strength to the competition. Last year we had to walk non-stop for the duration of the race since I (Dave) had run the Boston Marathon two weeks earlier. This year we were able to plan for some lengthy running.

Prerace planning: During the lead up to the race I had checked the percentage of the total points received by winning teams. For Canyonero last year, they had taken 82%, far more than most winning teams in the past. We knew we would have to try to approach this total in order to have any chance of winning and oriented our strategy around this. The NE loop was an obvious route choice, although we sacrificed 124 which seemed to have no rapid approach. The NW was also an obvious choice, but 224, 222, 219, and 235 were all too awkwardly placed for us to consider getting with any speed. This left the south, where were ignored 189, 195 and 184, as well as 212, 214, and 262 for the sake of speed. This left us with a total of around 17,000 points before any bonuses and we felt this would be enough to win if we could complete it. The timing was tight; it required picking up controls about every half hour and this was a basic guide for our expected total time. Both the NE and NW loops looked like about 7 hour loops and the south loop like about 10 hours, so we knew it could be close.

SF-122 – This was a quick and easy control, 15 mins with a sharp climb and then a steep downhill bushwack through an old clearcut. A quick run with Canyonero.

122-121 – Another quick and easy control; an easy run down the road until it started turning sharply south and west. We crossed a clearcut just behind Canyonero, but both of us slightly overshot the control location. 27 mins.

121-127 – First real nav error for us. After an easy bushwack east to the road N of Daley Lake, we hoped to take advantage of the small trails to run to a point just south of 127. Instead those trails scarcely existed and it ended up being a draining half-hour of work before we reached the control. Canyonero dropped us here. 59 mins.

127-128 – An extremely easy control, the bushwack out of 127 was clear and we ran full tilt down the road trying to make up time. The road junction was an obvious attack point. 1h14.

128-129 – A lucky choice here helped us make up some time. After being unable to spot any useful trails along the road to the west we opted to run to the safety camp and then run in along the roads there. This proved much quicker and despite the hill we made good time. We reencountered Canyonero just before the control and succeeded in finding it quickly. This was the first real pay-off control and it was a big confidence boost to find. 1h36.

129-130 – This was a longer control but since we had already run in along the same roads the run out was no problem. We kept the pace low and eventually Canyonero moved off ahead of us. The approach to 130 was again fairly straightforward; we made sure to identify the curve eastwards in the rapidly dwindling trail which led to the control and used the contours to ensure we didn’t overshoot. Our micrositing was good and we found the control quickly; picked up a refill of water as well – we were using 1L containers instead of bladders to lighten our loads for the running. 2h04

130-131 – No problem getting back to the trail although the forest was dense and we were able to follow the trail almost all the way to the control. The location was above a huge fresh beaver dam and again the micrositing ideally suited our approach just south of the creek. 2h20

131-136 – Tough bushwack to get to the road to the northeast, but after that another straightforward control. The re-entrant feature was quite dramatic. 2h33

136-138 – We had real luck on this control. We managed to hit our attack point of the second eastward bend in the road dead on and followed an old unmarked trail almost straight to the peninsula where the control was located; the terrible young forest there was transacted by some sort of cut line marked by pink flagging tape; we had expected to spend a great deal of time reaching 138, instead it ended up taking only 15 mins. 2h48

138-139 – This was the first half of what we felt would be the crux of the NE loop. It involved a long bushwack out of 138 to the road, a short run, and then another long bushwack south to one of a series of hills. The first bushwack was a slog, flooded and densely forested which took a great deal of energy. When we reached the road we saw Jodi and Peter heading north and took a short break to get some food and water into us. The bushwack south the control was never easy but we were quite careful to avoid the similar features located to the east and west and eventually started the climb. We ended up summiting two lesser hills before reaching the obvious southern boundary of the summit, but no control was readily visible. We took a closer look at the control description and found it was the W end of a ridge. Using the contours below us we gathered were a bit too far to the west and headed east, Brad along the edge of the hill and myself a bit further into the forest. I ended up nearly stumbling over the control on a small rock ledge. Probably wasted about 10 mins on the search, but we figured most teams would lose a similar amount due to the difficult location. 3h42

139-163 – A potentially dangerous control but we used our vantage point on the other hill to scout out the terrain ahead. It appeared that there was a large rocky ridge which had to be climbed before reaching the main hill which was treetopped and clearly visible. This helped a great deal during the bushwack since there was not one but three small ridges to climb as well as two instead of one road to cross. Nonetheless we simply kept to our preset bearing and eventually reached the correct hill and bushwacked to the control; saw Andrew Lowry and ? here. 4h01

163-126 – Tough bushwack down to the roads, and then a long slog up a couple of hills before arriving at the ill-defined trail leading in to 126. We missed it by a hair but after bushwacking less than 50m found it and were able to follow it. We used the hill contours as a guide and managed to catch sight of the pond long before the control which was tucked down a steep slope. More time consuming than either of us expected and difficult work; both of us had started to tire by this point. Another water and food break at the end. 4h37

126-169 – Much quicker out to the road and extremely fast on the road. The control was set far back in the gravel pit but there were several teams here at the same time so the route was quite clear. 4h49

169-175 – Our first real nav error here. We expected there to be a fairly obvious creek attack point along the road but we ran right past it. The curves of the road alerted us to the problem before too much harm was done, but it still cost us 5-10 mins and a bit of confidence. There was a trail which lead close to the control but this was not in great shape. The control itself was situated on one of several small knolls; we climbed two before finally heading to the pond, taking a bearing, and finding the correct one. A slow and difficult control. 5h18

175-125 – A second bit of shaky nav. Although we tried to find the correct trail to take us to 125, it was hard to find along the road and it seemed that there were several all leading in different directions. Eventually I realized that the contours were not correct and a big hill was located directly to the north of us; Brad then figured out that we were actually north of the creek leading to Island Lake and we had to cross a marsh and then bushwack along the coast. A bit of blowdown and no easy metres, but at least we knew exactly where we were. 6h03

125-SF – Finished the loop with a much more pleasant bushwack to the trail running SW toward the stream leading to Bowsprit Lake. We didn’t end up running much of this but got back into it once we reached the main roads. Got back to the start at 6h23 but no one else from the 24hr race seemed to be around.

SF-243 – Had a long (sic), slow dinner of spaghetti and a bit of everything else. This lasted 15 mins before we got back to it. The first junction was easy to find, and we were able to find we were running about 6.30/km on the road. We then crossed the creek and headed up to the control. The break had definitely reduced our sharpness though and we walked right past the control expecting it to be closer to the water. It was deeply frustrating, and we had reached the north end of the cove before realizing our mistake. Annoying mistake, and it foretold more to come. 7h06

243-241 – Easy bushwack in good forests and along the dry coastline made this control quite pleasant. The bay was quite visible from the other side of the peninsula and this made the micrositing very good. 7h28

241-233 – Second min-crux of our day and we bombed it. A number of problems all combined to throw us off our game. Finding the road out was easy enough, as was the shortcut trail which bypassed a significant hill. On this trail Brad’s compass suffered reverse polarization and he had to switch them up. We made it to the other road and found a potential junction; we took this trail up the hill for probably a kilometre before it merged with a much larger road. This made positioning ourselves difficult and we didn’t ever really get to grips with the terrain. We tried to bushwack in to a “hill” visible from a dramatic westward turn in the trail but this didn’t work. After a couple tries scrambling around the top of the hill we found nothing and kept coming back to a clearing. To make matters worse it was just getting dark; this made it difficult to tell the relative elevation of the hilltop while not being so dark that we could use our headlamps. Faced with this we decided to bail on the control and head to 232. It was gutting because it was such an important control; this meant we had to give up on the hill series and also cost us 300 pts. In retrospect it appears we had crossed the hill too far west. Very frustrating moment. We gave up around 8h10.

233-232 – We headed down the hill towards a creek crossing on terrain which felt very much like the western spur visible on the map. After crossing the creek we bushwacked almost due east for safety (so we would know to head north when we reached the second creek) and immediately ran into a swamp. This confirmed our suspicions that we were further west and we started angling more north confident that we had some margin for error. We crossed a clearcut, hopped over the creek, and then found the control simply by walking slowly quite close to the creek. Everything was so flooded I doubt I could have spotted the junction, but the control was glowing brightly at night. We really gained some of our badly shattered confidence after going without a control for over an hour and a half. 9h02

232-230 – The problems returned for us almost immediately. On the bushwack out we crossed a clearcut and then reach a large road. Thinking we were in the clear we ran north briefly until the road was swallowed by forest. Realizing this could not be a patrolled road (which we were looking for) we headed out west again. After a tough slog through some blowdown we stumbled into the larger road, and immediately south there was a curve in the road and a large junction. Assuming this was the road we were looking for we followed the road to the northeast. We were completely wrong. The road ended after about a kilometre and we assumed we were on the small spur road located further north of the junction we were seeing. Once we returned to the road, however, the angles and topography in the distance made it clear this was impossible and that we had somehow stumbled on another major road not on the map. Frustrating, but once we sorted it out we were able to quickly get to the attack point for 230. Unfortunately however the creeks somehow did not work out (they must have clearcutted over the eastern one or something) and we ended up on the wrong side of the bay, the control and a campfire with a team glittering far on the other side. Eventually we got there along the coast and got the control, but I was beginning to wonder if we just couldn’t orienteer at night while running. Horribly complicated mess over what should have been a straightforward control, but looking at it we figured most teams would probably lose time here as well. Hard not to get down on ourselves though. 9h49

230-229 – Much better control, straightforward bushwack back out via clearcut trails and then a quick bearing north The forest was fairly open and Brad spotted the control from a long way off. 10h08

229-228 – Long slog but no complicated nav. The initial bushwack off the hill to the west was horrible though; lots of little birch trees had been cut and made it feel like we were walking on rollers. I remember at least one epic faceplant on my part. It was mercifully short, however, and once on the roads we quickly got our running legs back. Just followed the ATV tracks until they stopped, and then kept to the little trail. We feared the worst but it was quite large and easy to follow albeit pretty wet in parts. The control was pretty flooded out but still not too complicated to find. 10h59

228-227 – This involved a lot more slogging to the south. We decided the take a bushwack approach from the gravel pit instead of trust our fate to a dubious trail which didn’t appear to even connect with the main road on the map. In retrospect not our finest bit of decision-making. The attack point was easy enough to spot but the bushwack was essentially up a cliff covered by blow down. It sucked. We ended up emerging on a large, obviously well-connected road just south of the control. Both of us were pretty exhausted by this point. 11h50

227-226 – Horrible. In our exhaustion we mixed up the road heading southwest with the bearing we needed to take (SE). Ended up spending 20 mins bushwacking down another cliff completely covered with blowdown before arriving at a small creek and realizing our error. Just a moronic piece of work and the orienteering gods seemed intent on punishing us for it with blowdown everywhere around us. We headed east and by a stroke of fortune found the small road rejoining the road we wanted just south of 226. Took it got out of the bush at 12h38. Made a quick run up the road to get 226. Control was far back and surrounded by water, but it worked out alright. We stopped to take a bit of a breather and get our heads back on straight. By this point we had begun to give up on any prizes and instead were just trying to get this section over with. 12h57

226-225 – Quick and easy, but the control was set far back and took us awhile to spot. Not exactly the confidence boost we need, but still a lot better than either of our last two controls. 13h28

225-237 – Opted to cut 223 which we felt we probably couldn’t find anyways and decided to cut our losses in the NW. Ran down the road quickly but kept enough of an eye on the features to find the road heading south about 500m before the control. We paced it out at a walk from there, and although we overshot the control slightly, our heads were back in it. 14h07

237-240 – Confidence was a bit fragile but this road was not too difficult for us, even at night. Kept our position through the small roads (which were usually quite big) and ran quickly knowing that overshooting was all but impossible given the junction just past the gravel pit. The pit proved easily visible, took a trail in and then headed up to the control which was located high high up. 14h27

240-SF – Having regained a bit of momentum, we returned to the start for the second time. Again, not many teams around but we took advantage of the time we had to eat a big supper of cold spaghetti and icy cold coffee. I got cold pretty quickly sitting around, but we took a full 25 mins before heading off. We had decided earlier 3am was our cut off for trying our southern loop, and we decided to try it by cutting 200, 201, 203 and 202. This eliminated a substantial amount of distance but still left an awful lot for the 9 hrs we had left. New socks, food, water, and ibuprofen all made us a bit drowsy, but we dragged ourselves out for one last loop at 3h04.

SF-197 – Yet another slog. Saw Sara Vlug and Ugly Lips on the way down, both of us still feeling sluggish. The roads were familiar from other races here, however, and I was feeling more confident as we hit more controls in stride. This one was in a pit but fairly close to the road and quite bright in our headlamps. 15h20

197-211 – Another one we needed in stride, and we got it. Both of us got stronger here as the food and cheap pharmaceuticals took effect. Again visible from the end of the road, bit of a nasty little bushwack through low prickly forest to get it. 15h31

211-215 – Skipped 212 although we both took a glance that way with our headlamps’ narrowest beams. No luck. The attack point was easy thanks to the powerlines, but everything was wet around here. Despite the cold feet, we cut over the hill on the peninsula and got the control directly. 15h56

215-213 – Definitely in form now. Took a reverse bearing out, then followed a new road right to the next lake; the bushwack ended up being very easy; nice pleasant mossy forest. 16h25

213-204 – Long slog here but very necessary to get the payoff controls further south. Bushwacked due east to get to the ATV trail under the power lines, took a long break at the creek crossing at the S end of Two Mile Lake, got some water and then ran straight down to 204. Fortunately most of this was downhill and the roads were easy enough to follow; again familiar to me from the 2004 race. The bushwack to 204 from the road was a bit dense in places but by following the creek it was hard to miss. Light was beginning and this gave us a bit of a boost. 17h45

204-205 – Easy enough to take a reverse bearing out, ran to the first gravel pit, then bushwacked directly over towards the bay. The forest was young and frustrating but we hit it almost dead on; the control was located fairly far back from the lake and was blocked from our view by a large rock. Wasted a couple mins looking for it before reaching the boy scout camp and then heading back south. 18h20

205-208 – Here we bushwacked south along the lake until reaching the end – nice easy forest and left us at an easy crossing south of Bates Lake some teams had used in 2004. It was about a foot deep but very wide and freezing cold. Quickly headed out SW and took a good break once we reached a road in the subsequently clearcut located up the hill. Here we took a close look at the remaining controls and felt we could get them all only if everything worked out perfectly. Ran along the road across the top of Pogwa Lake to the approach to 208, then bushwacked on a close bearing through the young spruce forest. Ended up on bearing but searched a bit on the higher forested hill before spotting the control on the spur further north. Saw Canyonero again here; provided a bit of motivation since we knew they would be getting the 800 pointers as well. 19h30

208-207 – Mercifully simple. Easy hike along a skidder trail to the road, quick run, then an easy bushwack down to the creek to a point deliberately south of 207. We had gotten into a groove and both of us were physically holding together well. 19h55

207-209 – Hard running, not resting on minor hills anymore, trail got a bit confusing near the junction but we eventually busted through a swamp onto the main trail and then down to the lake. Brief ibuprofen break here. 20h15

209-210 – Very hard running, only walking the steepest hills and the 2×4 bridge across the lake. Nearly ran past the control point but a close look at the map revealed it was not at the end and on a peninsula. Lots of running now, quite a bit of panicking for both of us. This was our last obvious control to cut for times sake; by taking it we were fully committed. 20h45

210-218 – This would have been a slog if we hadn’t been running so hard. Fairly flat after we got back on the main road and we tried to open things up a bit. Got to 218 very quickly but broke in on the W side of the little pond located just before the control. Meant a bit of extra bushwacking at a furious pace, but we got the control and got out quickly since the lakeside was easy veg for moving quick. 21h25

218-221 – Fully committed now. I really liked this route since I felt it was both easier and quicker than the direct bushwack to 217, but it again required extra running. Saw the camp and then barrelled down the road to the control; fortunately it was mostly downhill. Control was extremely easy to spot. 21h50

221-217 – What we had to do for the last few controls was becoming clearer, and the land under the power lines did not look promising at first glance. This was a messy bushwack on massive piles of screef and up a couple dramatic slopes, but by sticking to bearing we figured out the location was through the small forest on the hill and on a small summit further south. Very quick. 22h05

217-216 – Our entire race depended on the sketchy looking ATV trail under the powerlines. We needed to move quick, and fortunately despite the lack of an obvious path the vegetation was extremely easy for quick walking. This gave our running muscles a bit of a break and we counted down the pylons on the way to 216. Walker Lake was quite visible and the creek crossing was not a problem; control was just above the small rapids at the base of a lake. We took a final break for food and water and planned ahead; reaching the roads before 11h15 meant going for the 600 points at 250 and 248, while anything after that meant just going for 262 along the faster route. Left 216 at 10h45.

216-250 – The bushwack to the roads was very easy; most of it was along a nice clearcut and the creek had been cut over for much of its length. Using the terrain we gradually climbed the spur and reached the road via a number of skidder trails. We hit the road running and kept careful time; I want to reach 250 before 11h30 and we just did, finding it up a substantial slope at 11h28.

250-248 – With little time to spare we ran the downslope to 248 (forest was fairly clear) and found the end of the pond easily enough using the cut lines as a guide. 11h36

248-SF – Wasted no time jumping the creek (both getting soaked in the process) and then scrambled up the spruce covered hill until reaching a large cliff. Unable to climb straight up but panicking we forced a way to the road a little north and then took off at full tilt towards the finish. We picked all the right roads and took a brief pause to do so since any wrong choice here would be fatal. The road ended up descending beside Moose Brook and was pretty flooded out, but we simply ran right through. Not stopping for uphills now, we ran all out towards the finish. Exhausting work and we ended up in a sprint to the finish. We flew past the cars expecting to be fractionally late but ended up under the deadline by a total of 4 mins. I headed off away from everyone because I thought that I was going to puke. Brad was definitely on the edge of bonking and his heart rate was 130 or so. With the help of the first-aid crew he got his temperature and heart rate down but on the drive out we pulled over and he let loose with the full on bonk, black vomit included. After that we slept at our table at the legion. I got the dinner but Brad couldn’t even look at it without thinking of vomiting because his stomach was so volatile. 23h56

To me the coolest thing about this race was the timing of our scoring. Usually I score most of my points during the first day or the early half of the night and then struggle to get anything after that. This race was completely different. We got about 6,000 pts in the first third, 4,000 pts in the second third, and 5,000 in the final third, a fairly even distribution. The final third was our fastest part of the race and we covered almost 45k during that time; this was made possible by a few lengthy training races around Halifax earlier in February and March. This late pace gave us access to the high value controls located further out, and we ended up only missing one 500 pt control out of all the 800, 700, 600 and 500 pt controls available. We had high hopes for the hilltop series but it appears it was beyond our abilities even during a perfect race. We made quite a few mistakes but they did not end up taking too much time although at 227 they took up a ridiculous amount of energy! By cutting our losses at 233 quickly and ignoring the low value but difficult controls at 212, 235, 223, 124 and 214 we were able to get the big points down at 208 and 207 which ended up really improving our overall score. We had set out hoping to earn 85% of the available points and our strategy was based entirely around this; although we came up a bit short it seemed to be a good approach.

Brad’s note: Almost a year later and I still have a hard time believing that we pulled this off. It took lots of mental and physical preperation and it was all worth it. Looking forward to E2C 2009!