Orienteerers close out season in Haines Junction, Ear Lake area

Orienteering has a lot in common with golf. Competitors must navigate from point A to point B while spending a lot of time looking in bushes and…

Orienteering has a lot in common with golf.

Competitors must navigate from point A to point B while spending a lot of time looking in bushes and around trees for things — controls or balls, depending on the sport.

Also, one single, solitary mistake can make the difference between victory and loss.

Just look at Philippa McNeil, who competed in the women’s 35-44 division of the Yukon Orienteering Championships held in Haines Junction and the Ear Lake area this weekend.

McNeil ran the most commonly used course at the middle-distance event at Ear Lake, a technical 2.5-kilometre jaunt used in seven divisions.

Reaching the final control in 42 minutes and 34 seconds, McNeil had the best time for the course, even beating four divisions of men.

How did she win?

“A lot of people made mistakes,” she said.

“There would be areas with lots of contour detail and there would be some controls on hillsides. So you had to make sure you weren’t too high or too low approaching those. Yeah, it kept me on my toes.”

In a sport that mixes cross-country running with compass and map navigation skills, where competitors are constantly changing direction while hunting for the next control, a flawless run is actually rather rare.

Even some winners made minor mistakes — minor enough to keep them in the running though.

“The course was kind of like loops upon loops,” said Forest Pearson, who finished first in men’s 21-34 middle distance event Sunday with a time of 36:56.

“So you’re always changing directions and things like that, which makes it challenging because you’re always getting turned around and you have to keep track of where you’re at.

“(There) was quite a few controls to find — it makes it a bit of a choppy race,” said Pearson. “It kind of adds to the challenge.”

Even though Pearson was the first over the finish line, he ran in to some trouble late in the race when he missed the finish line all together. Following streamers to the finish line, Pearson ran right past the final control and began looking for it close to the registration desk.

“I ran like hell to the organization/registration desk,” said Pearson. “‘Where’s the finish line?’ And they said, ‘Back there, at the end of the streamers’ So I had to run back.

“On runs like that a two minute mistake can cost you the race,” said Pearson.

Again, like with golf — and every other sport, for that matter — even world-class orienteerers can run into trouble.

Brent Langbakk, who has competed in numerous World Orienteering Championships, including one in July in the Czech Republic, even found himself backtracking at one point.

“It was a tricky course,” said Langbakk, who had difficulties on the 10th control, but still finished first in the men’s 21-34 short course Saturday in Haines Junction with a time of 15:40.

“I sort of lost my direction a little bit. I wasn’t careful enough with my compass leaving the control, and I went down the wrong path. It took me 20 seconds before I realized what I had done, and by the time I corrected I probably lost 45 seconds or something like that.”

Brand-new maps, made by the Yukon Orienteering Association, added to the event’s excitement.

“It was fun to run on a new map too,” said Langbakk. “That was the first event we’ve had on it, and it’s the first time the Yukon Championships were held outside of the Whitehorse area since 1990 or something like that. So it was really great to have a different location.”

The first installment of the Yukon Orienteering Championships, which featured the long-distance division, took place in May.