by David Yee

This is the first year I was able to volunteer at the annual Fall Scout-O, and I had a very rewarding experience. I was assigned an 11:00 start time with a Boy Scout group.

My group was led by Lou, and the group had travelled a couple hours from New Hampshire to be there. There were 2 adults, Lou and Ron, and seven boys ranging in age from about 12 to 16. We were issued a packet with 10 maps, a bunch of boy scout badges, and a feedback form. Previously, Pete Beckwith had sent me some teaching guidelines.

Turns out the group had some orienteering experience – they had all been out on white and yellow courses before – and they were eager to learn more about the sport.

At the beginning, I assessed their orienteering knowledge. They all had compasses, they all knew how to orient their map to magnetic north, and they were generally familiar with the colored features on an orienteering map.

We did some exercises in which I had them orient their map, then asked them to turn left – or right – or 180 degrees, and then re-orient. After doing this for a few times, we talked about how it’s helpful to develop a habit of keeping the map oriented while turning your body around the map – I think they got it. We also talked about distance estimation – I gave them the concept verbally and planned to work with them on the concept during our first course.

So after some initial coaching, we walked over to the start, which was packed with what seemed like hundreds of scouts. We quickly figured out that there were 2 long lines – a line to get a start time and a line to get a punch card. We had the boys wait in the start line, while the adults went to get the punch card. While waiting for the punch card, I learned that the group was interested in trying out an orange course. Given the line and the fact that the group had some previous experience, we decided we would start off on the yellow course.

Once we got our punch card, it only took another 5 minutes or so before we were able to start. This was just enough time to have the group talk about and plan the route to the first control. The first control was on a boulder, about 50 meters down the left fork of a trail on the right hand side. I asked them to calculate how many meters it was to the fork (120) and then count the number of paces it took each of them to get there – we would wait at the fork. When I said go, they all took off diligently counting their paces. At the intersection, I asked each of them how many paces it took them to get there.

At the intersection, I saw an opportunity to talk about planning a route to the control off-trail. The land rose sharply between the fork, with a broad reentrant in the middle and two spurs on either side. We took the time to talk about reentrants and to match the terrain we were looking at with the features on the map. I pointed out that instead of taking the trail, we could go up the left spur. If we kept the reentrant on our right and the trail on our left, the spur would take us right to the boulder. After checking to make sure each member in the team understood the concept, we took off and converged at the control.

The second control gave us an opportunity to talk about route choice. I followed one group down the left fork of a path for 100 meters to a field. We then crossed the field, and looked for a “spring box” just past a small marsh on the northern end of the field. We executed the leg well, and found the control. The other group also found the control. They took the right leg, but had blown past the spring and had run another 150 meters down the trail until they stumbled on the control.

We talked about what went wrong, and two ways they could have avoided making this mistake. First, if they had estimated the distance to the control and kept track of their pace count, they would have known that they had gone too far. Second, after passing their “turn-off” to the spring, the trail made a sharp 90-degree bend. If they had been paying more attention to the features on the map, they would have known that they had passed their attack point.

The next control was easy, just off the trail. Since it was easy, I asked the fastest group of boys to memorize their route, put away their maps, and run the control by memory. The only decision was to take the right fork of an intersection about 150 meters down the trail. Then off we went. Every group took the wrong fork!!! I called them back, and we had a quick discussion about relocation and made a revised plan to the control.

As we moved approached the control, I stopped to help another pair of younger scouts who were bailing on the orange course and wanted to return back to the finish. I sent my group off and I helped these boys find their way home. We had just passed a place where the trail crossed a stream, so I used that to tell the lost boys where we were. I asked them to orient their maps. One boy consistently oriented the map upside down several times, and the other boy was too distracted by his walkie-talkie to focus on the map at all. From the stream crossing, we walked to a trail intersection and I put them on a trail that would (thankfully) take them right to the finish. Shaking my head, I went to find my group.

I expected to meet them at the next control, but no one was there. I thought “Oh no! They’re all lost!” After checking around for a few moments, I decided to go to the next control and found Lou and Ron. The group had gone ahead and the boys were confidently finishing the course on their own. We met at the finish. Everyone had a good time.