OLA: Orienteering Event 2021

On a cool crisp mid-November morning, close to 75 participants of all ages gathered at Greenhorn Gulch Trailhead for a full morning of healthy and family friendly competition courtesy of students from Sun Valley Community School’s Outdoor Leadership Academy’s Wilderness Navigation Class. Armed with a map, a compass, a rescue whistle, each team had 90 minutes to find 10 checkpoints marked with a flag. At each checkpoint, participants punched their card and moved on their journey to the finish line, canvassing terrain ranging from a “Long Course” or a “Short Course.” Welcome to the sport of orienteering. 

“Orienteering is essentially competitive navigation,” explains Outdoor Program Co-Director and OLA Advisor Travis Vandenburgh. “They use a timed system with checkpoints with assigned point values. It’s like a treasure hunt outside for adults and kids. The goal is to find all the checkpoints, but it also gives participants the chance to leave the trail and use terrain features as feedback for staying on the correct path.”

According to Travis, this year’s Long Course participants could travel upwards of 4 miles and 1,500 feet in their journey to the finish line whereas the Short Course was 2 miles and 700 feet. In preparation for this year’s event, OLA students worked with the Ketchum Ranger District’s Zach Poff and Kurt Nelson a few months in advance on the permitting process. Working on this process is just one of the skills students are required to demonstrate that they have learned in their Wilderness Navigation Class. Other skills include risk management, logistics, and map and compass work. The location varies year by year. Past locations include Fox Creek, Lake Creek, and Adams Gulch. The event is always open to the public and charges a minor fee for individuals and teams, but the proceeds always go to a good cause. This year, proceeds were donated to Pulaski Users Group, a nonprofit that provides training, tools, and leadership for volunteer-driven trail maintenance projects across central Idaho. 

Ah, yes, the winners. This year’s winners of the Long Course was Team Stumph, made up of Louise and Trent Stumph, parents of 2 OLA graduates and 1 current. Team Grande, made up of 6th graders Kobi Bilbro, Hoken Johnston, Townes Van Der Meulen, Hank Greener, and Grace Bloedorn, won the Short Course with parents John "Grande" Johnston and Rachel "The Librarian" Aanested '94. 

In this modern day of technology, one has to wonder why navigation skills using a good old paper map and compass are still important. “Orienteering incorporates off trail navigation skills that ask the user to pay attention to terrain features that help them find their way,” says Travis. “It forces one to pay attention to geology and terrain around them versus technology that may or may not work on a given day. It's a skill that will never expire.”

The OLA would like to thank Perry’s Restaurant and Backwoods Mountain Sports for their donations to the event.