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Community Ed, Shortt Supply get people oriented

Outdoor adventure students young and old plotted a course to Hood River Valley High School on May 10 for the second annual Trail Daze clinic.

Presented by Hood River Community Education and Shortt Supply, the all-day informational/hands-on clinic focused on the rapidly growing sport of orienteering, while welcoming one of the sport’s most notable Northwest names, Mal Harding.

Harding is the president of the Columbia River Orienteering Club (CROC), and when he’s not teaching people the merits of map-and-compass and course finding, he is usually out on the course himself.

“I don’t compete as much as I used to,” he said, “but every few months I’ll do one of the big competitions. And, if I’m lucky, I can still win a few as well.”

Harding and the 25 Trail Daze participants spent the first three hours of the morning getting acquainted with using a map and compass. Part of the time was spent in the classroom, and the rest of it was outdoors, with three separate courses plotted out.

“We like to start people off with a relatively easy course to help them build confidence,” said Shortt Supply owner Brian Shortt. “Then, we can turn them loose on a lot bigger course so they can test their new skills.”

Orienteering is a sport in which orienteers use an accurate, detailed map and a compass to find points in the landscape. It can be enjoyed as a walk in the woods or as a competitive sport.

A standard orienteering course consists of a start, a series of control sites that are marked by circles, connected by lines and numbered in the order they are to be visited, and a finish.

The control site circles are centered around the feature that is to be found; this feature is also defined by control descriptions (sometimes called clues). On the ground, a control flag marks the location that the orienteer must visit.

“This information is very useful since we do a lot of backpacking,” said Heather McCloud of The Dalles. “I’m always playing around with maps and compasses, so this has helped me make more sense out of it. I can see why this sport is gaining popularity,” she said.

Harding said that most competitions are “just for fun.” But if a person chooses to compete at an elite level, there are many opportunities for them to explore.

“Most of the people who I get out in the field with are just doing it for fun,” he said. “But the whole sport changes when you know there’s someone trying to beat you. To me, that’s when it gets really interesting.”

CROC has a series of events planned for the summer and fall, with expeditions scheduled for locations such as Hoyt Arboretum in Portland (today), Willamette Park in Corvallis (May 31), and Big Muddy Ranch near Antelope, Ore. (June 7).

There is also a Pacific Northwest Orienteering Festival planned for June 21-29, which will take participants from Cle Elum, Wash., in the Central Cascades, to McCall, Idaho.

“I think it would be great if we could devise a course once a month in Hood River,” said Shortt, who has steadily been gaining interest in orienteering over the past two years. “If it takes off, we could form our own organization, and invite other clubs from Bend and Portland.”

Shortt said that Saturday’s Trail Daze finale was a huge success, with all the participants taking to the streets of downtown Hood River to test their orienteering skills. Meanwhile, plans are already in the works for Trail Daze 2004.

For more information about the Columbia River Orienteering Club, visit their Web site at: www.croc.org.

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