Australian Rogaining Championship
Copeton Water Reserve NSW - August 15/16 2008.
Daenam and Dug Floyd.
Rogaining is the sport of long distance navigation over a set period of time. In this case 24 hours, noon Friday to noon Saturday. It is held in this way so people get home on Sunday and are less likely to compete and then try and drive home without adequate rest. This course had 59 controls (or checkpoints) marked by an orange and white cubic flag (see photo at start of paragraph), spread though about 80 – 90 square kilometres of bush. I heard that it is 80+ km in a straight line if they are all connected together in the most efficient way. Competitors are free to follow any rout they like to complete the course and to rest or not as is their want.
Some competitors go straight through for 24 hours, others come back to the hash house to sleep for however long they like. The hash house provides food for competitors continually, you can come in at any time. There are also “water drops”, locations on the course where competitors can fill up with water. One of these is manned as the “all night cafe” where competitors a long way from the hash house can get hot food or drink.
The land form around here is varied from: cleared relatively flat areas in the dam inundation area, to open grassed areas (some grazing land), through lightly forested to heavily forested. The western side of the course generally becomes much hillier, quite steep and rugged in places. Much of the rock in this area is of volcanic origine and one of its features are the spherical shaped balancing rocks that you come across often as you walk between controls. In fact some look as if giants marbles had just dropped there as part of a continuing game. There are numerous cliffs, rocky outcrops and scree slopes of jumbled rocks.
The Gwydir River and Copeton Lake form the eastern, northern and western limits of the course. The Copeton Dam Road splits the course, east west. There are a number of service roads and walking tracks, mostly in the eastern half, very few in the western half.
I plan to only go out for 15 hours, so expect to return to camp at around 2100 hours and then start again in the morning at 0600 hours. My other aim is to go to the “more interesting” parts of the course within my range. I know I’ll be the limiting factor because Daenam moves through the bush well, and my ankle is still preventing me walking as I would like, in addition I haven’t been able to get my fitness level back up yet.
On Thursday afternoon I had to attend a Trailwalker stakeholder meeting in Sydney, at the Blue Gum Hotel Hornsby from 2pm to 4pm, so we didn’t expect to start driving to Armidale before 6pm. (I am one of the Safety coordinators for the event so cannot get out of the meeting.) Everything went well, we manage to finish early and I got home about 5pm so we left straight away. We arrived at Janien and Warren’s place by around 10pm, earlier than expected. It was close to full moon and the drive up was delightful through the forests past Gloucester and over the undulating grassy table land. A cold night so I slept inside by the fire.
Friday morning, we left about 8am and arrived at Copeton Dam by 9:10. A pleasant drive on a cool but sunny day. We registered, collected our: maps, electronic punch and control sheets; make a quick plan of our direction, then set up tents ready for camp tonight. The visitor centre where we are camping is mostly open and relatively flat. Daenam and I chose to pitch our tents in close between the trees, because we have found that it tends to be slightly warmer in these places and we are expecting very cold overnight temperatures. Last night was -5°C and recently they have had temperatures down to -12°C. Pleasant enough sunny days, although the breeze was noticeably cold.
This area has been set up well for visitors and campers, with showers and shelter sheds distributed around the park. There are also bunk houses and cabins, facilities which some of the competitors have taken advantage of.
The area is clear with only shade trees and a gentle slope to the dam water to our north and east. The water level is half way with about a km or so of barren ground around the edges, marking the full level. The park literature has us believe that we can catch: murrey cod, bass, yellow belly red fin, in the dam, trout in the rivers, or we can fossick for sapphires, zircon, topaz, jellybeans, crystals and tourmaline. There are several boats fishing on the lake. This is called Copeton Dam because the town of Copeton was drowned with the filling of the lake.
The dam retaining wall to our north west cannot be seen from here but the higher ground can. To the west is a more wooded area with low hills, which look a bit more rugged but still ok.
We are already for the 11:45 briefing, all seems as we expect but there is dire warning about the “tiger pear”, no bigger than my thumb but often smaller. A tiny looking version of the much bigger prickly pear but with much longer barbed spikes. We are advised to pull these out with pliers. [We do get “attacked” by these rotters, they just jump up and spear into the back of your legs unexpectedly. But I have no problem pulling them out with my fingers, mostly, a couple of times they manage to spear a finger as well, damn it. One somehow manages to penetrate the leather of my boot to spike the side of my heal, damn it.]
Then the count down to the start and BLAAAAaaaaa right on 12:00 and we are away. 200 competitors collected in the court yard formed by the big white marquee on one side and the hash house and admin tent on the other and around the fire pit, move off purposely, as one. Soon everyone strings out in lines of groups moving in definite directions – the bearing for their first check point or jump off place. Mixture of all ages from ancients to teenagers’ one thing in common all look slim. Many in armoured lycra, some in shorts and some of these even had protective gaiters.
[At the end of the event the shorts only brigade still had shorts but now they were covered in blood, grazes, spikes, cuts, abrasions and lots of smeared blood.]
The start of the event is marked by the triangle symbol just to the right of the two parallel roads shown in the, top right 1/4, of the map above. Our direction 279°M towards cp20 “the watercourse junction”. You can see the checkpoints marked clearly. Our walk takes us across the open parks visitors’ area, over an unmarked bridge crossing an unmarked water course, past the visitor centre building, over the park road and then the Copeton Dam Road and into the forested area. Open light scrub and open forest. We pass along the cliff top lip of the deep quarry. Black volcanic rock, used to construct the dam wall and other infrastructure. Then on to “the watercourse junction”, no difficulty here.
The next target cp57 “a saddle” again we choose to walk a compass bearing 286°M. Initially along the watercourse to the next junction, then sidling the slight slope to find the small spur and saddle. A rather pressed looking kangaroo runs into view, sees us and quickly takes off for places unknown. Again open forest, a bit steeper, groups of people still in view dotted through the landscape. Pleasant listening to the bird calls, including a rather agitated lyre bird. Daenam has no problems finding this one.
For cp73 “the gully” we elect to sidle the slope west, along to the north-south ridge, to minimise hight loss and gain. Rather than in the direct line, which would take us down hill and then up hill. In beautiful open forest, Daenam easily locates the knoll on the required ridge and we set course 349°M. Down the slope cross the old track up and over the hill Daenam easily finds “the gully”. Good scenery to the north including the tall, black concrete spillway and the dam wall, with other infrastructure.
CP38 “the spur” requires us to backtrack along the same north - south ridge, map reading to locate a second knoll and hence “the spur” again Daenam finds this with ease. On this route we pass a number of rocky outcrops and some of the devils marbles boulders. From the check point we have great views along the Gwydir River. Steep cliffy banks 150m high, long black pools separated by rocky rapids, or flat black rocky outcrops, quite a flow of white water, cascades swirling along over the rapids. Picturesque in its own way.
Over land on a bearing of 147°M to locate “the knoll” cp30. Steep scree slope at first then relatively pleasant walking across the creek and two tracks and up hill to ‘the knoll”. Daenam points out an interesting huge rock slab glistening in the sun south west of us; I guess this could be in the vicinity of cp64. It does look rough over that way.
We choose to drop down to the track to our north and follow this to locate “a knoll” for cp40. Daen finds this “too easy”, navigating in his first ever rogain.
Again cross county on a bearing due south to locate cp41 on “the watercourse junction”. This rout is scrubbier and rockier than anything so far but no difficulty to map read the rout. Fewer competitors to be seen now as we are all getting well spread out, although we do tend to see the same faces each time we locate a control.
To cp64 again we choose to map read cross country bearing 223°M and count pace from the creek. This leg does look more difficult because the map suggests the ground is steep and uneven for the last 400m, and so it proves, with numerous boulders and unmarked spurs and gullies. We find and walk over the huge rock slab mentioned before, it proves to be somewhat steep for my comfort. After a little casting about, we find the gully suggested on the map and then the longer spur, and eventually the flag. The views of the Gwydir River all along this rout are lovely. Well we didn’t walk straight to this one but we haven’t wasted all that much time either. A few other participants emerge while we are punching, they are coming from all over the shop showing that we are not the only ones to "cast about".
From here we walk up hill SE to find the 628 high spot. Then take a 250°M bearing to locate “the saddle” cp48, passing huge ‘tors” or “devils marbles” on the way.
We then follow the ridge system to locate cp68 “a knoll”. We pass more huge “devils marbles”. We climb an unmarked fence into an open also unmarked paddock, in the gathering gloom of dusk, before climbing over another unmarked fence back to the scrub. Much thicker scrub in the gully and on the spur. This cp proves more difficult than it looks at first glance, but Daenam finds it without loosing too much time.
We walk just south of east to pick up the track and are greeted by a number of choices, as my friend Ian says “the most dangerous thing in the Australian Bush is A TRACK” (because people tend to follow one through scrub even when it’s going in the wrong direction!). I suppose it wasn’t all that difficult really and we soon found the main track and followed it past the 647 high spot just off the track and then onto the bend. It is now night but we have a near full moon low on the horizon and so do have enough light to walk, even under the tree cover. We only use the head torches to inspect the map when needed. We follow a bearing of 298°M looking for “the knoll” cp72. We find what we believe is the correct ridge and follow it up come to a fence line with the clear grassed area beyond. After a little indecision and stumbling about in the moon light we devise a plan. Find the corner post of the fence and take a bearing from here. No problems there it is. Our indecisions here tell us that we are getting tired and are starting to make simple mistakes, which is slowing us down.
Our course then is east northeast to the track junction, our intention to follow the tracks to where the creek crosses the road. We will then wander down the watercourse, to “the top of the cascades” cp61, no problems. We do notice it is much cooler in this creek as the cold night air, uses the valleys to flow down hill. Out of the creek I am pleasantly surprised that it is nowhere near as cold as we expected.
Since it is now after 8pm we decide to return to the hash house via the tracks and Copeton Dam Road. We arrive at 9:40pm, sign in and then partake of a most welcome meals and hot drinks, provided by the volunteers, thank you volunteers. A delightful clear star filled night, with the moon much higher overhead now, views down to the now mysterious black lake. Sitting around the pit fire to relax for a short while, listening to the chatter of two Uni Challenge teams, also relaxing and warming up. As I mentioned before, it is cold and the fire is welcome, but not as cold as I expected. After dinner we both retire to our sleeping bags. I do tend to cramp up in the legs but manage to relieve that and get a good nights sleep.
Awake with the hint of dawn light and the delightful chatter of the birds, ease into action, stroll over to the hash house for breakfast, to find Daen has been up all night sitting by the fire. When he lay down to sleep he doubled up with leg and stomach cramps and they wouldn’t go away while lying down.
After signing back out, our task for today relatively easy really, because we will have points deducted if we finish after 12 noon, so we ain't going far. A bearing of 224°M should take us to the water course and 100m further to “a saddle” cp55. The bush is open forest walking around here, quite pleasant.
Then west down the spur to where the track crosses the creek and 150m further on to cp39, “the watercourse junction”. Daenam sticks to his guns and is right on target. It is all falling into place today for him.
To capture cp74 “the watercourse junction” we take 176°M up over the ridge past the knoll, down into the main creek at the junction. Somehow I manage to arrive 300m downstream west of the intended spot and Daenam has us walk upstream to find the correct junction.
From here we walk south west across the creek and up the spur to the ridge to find cp35, “the saddle”. Pleasant interesting walking, only light scrub, numerous rocky outcrops, with small cliffs here and there to find our way round or through. We pass more of the “marbles” perched seemingly ready to role but holding firm for the present. The birds, wildlife and flowers always changing always interesting. Here a flock of parrots wing past at head hight, with a whirr and a chatter, a wallaby bounds across our path or a lyre bird flounces away giving its distinctive alarm call.
For cp49 “a saddle”, we stroll nor nor east, down hill across the creek then up hill to the ridge. All very straight forward.
CP32 “a knoll” is to the east over the main road, again very straight forward. This country is quite rocky and tends to be loose underfoot.
We debate here on the wisdom of going for cp62 or cp21. Since the time is against us we opt for cp21 “the dam – north end”. Just walk north along the track under the unmarked power/phone line. Easy peasy.
A bearing of 066°M should take us to “the watercourse junction” cp47 past the tennis courts. Which it does of course. Open flat country with only light tree cover.
From here we headed west to pick up the tracks for a quick walk to the finish by 11:40, (we probably could have done 62 instead of 21, but what the heck, we enjoyed ourselves).
A quick shower and change of clothes, ready for lunch from the hash house, before the presentations.
David Baldwin, Julie Quinn, Phil Whitten have cleaned up the course with 3120 points in 22.2 hours, two other teams have also cleaned up the course but in slower times. Daenam and I have 880 points for 68th place overall and 37th in veterans, not too bad for a novice and a ultra veteran. [click here to see the full map].
It seemed a good idea to try the great fishing that the notices about the place lauded, so Daen and I drove over to the edge of the lake, at what Daenam thought was the most auspicious (for fishing) place nearby. His fist cast produced a massive bite that snapped his light line. That was it, nothing more, I spent most of the time reading but did try a little spinning to no avail either
I always enjoy the bush walk for rogains you get to parts of a map you wouldn’t normally go to, some of these are real gems. You also get to see the real Australian bush and its inhabitants, birds, animals, plants, trees and flowers. Thank you Daenam for your help and support, well done. Thank you Warren, Janien and Freyja (Eowyn is kicking footballs in Germany) for allowing us to stop over in Armidale. Till next time. © Dug Floyd August 2008.