Rogaining is a sport of long distance navigation on foot for teams of two or more over a twenty four hour period. The object of the sport is to score points by finding checkpoints located within a specially mapped area within the allowed time period. As checkpoints / controls can be visited in any order, strategy and teamwork are important features of the sport as well as endurance, stamina and navigational skills, with night navigation a key element. The team members must stay together at all times.
It was the weekend of the annual 24 hour Irish Rogaine Champions. Every year, the event is held in the Wicklow Mountains, just south of Dublin City. Starting at 12pm on Saturday, the race runs through until Sunday midday.
During those 24 hours, Andrew and I planned to visit as many controls as possible scattered through the mountains. To do this, we were to stay awake and keep going until time finally ran out. Keeping awake and going through all those hours was one thing. But what we had not planned on tackling was the worst of weathers that Ireland could throw at us.
It was a summer’s day in June, the closest weekend to the solstice with 20 hours of daylight on offer. Summer or not, the winds were howling and the rain was already pouring down.
On the stroke of 12, we grabbed our control descriptions and started to mark up our maps. Within seconds, our maps were soaked and our pens were no longer working. Somehow, we found a bit of shelter and soon had circled the summits, crags, forest rides, and river junctions where the controls were to be found.
The rain refused to cease and the cold was already setting in. After less than 2 hours, we found ourselves in thick mist searching around for a rock at the bottom of Gravale hill. Despite the use of compasses and altimeters, that rock was lost forever in the fog, bog and heather.
Giving up on that control, we continued on with our route choice. The rain continued on too with its deluge. River after river were swollen with rainwater, making us detour over and over to find safe river crossings.
By 11pm, the sun had set. With darkness setting in, I stopped for 5 minutes to put on the last of my fleeces. But even with four layers on top and two on bottom, hypothermia was already setting in. I needed to speed up and keep going. Andrew however needed to slow down, his stomach feeling the worse for weather. It took a while for us find a compromised pace.
We made it through the night, the rain calming as we picked up controls dotted along the Wicklow Way. By 7am, we figured that the worst of the weather was over. Leaving the Dargle River, we followed a tributary of the Cloghoge River leading us back to the road and back towards controls dotted around the finish. Later, we found out that what we battled with for the next hour and a half was “the Gale of Naruporn”, gusting in exactly the opposite direction to our travel. The only way I could go forward was to lean into the wind and let myself fall. When we finally made it to the road, I was in shock, shaking, close to tears. All we wanted to do was get ourselves back to base. A swollen river meant another 3km detour via Sally Gap. We abandoned our plan to find checkpoints close to the finish, and made our way straight home.
Back at base, we heard similar weather-beaten tales from other competitors. Some had come back to the start, camped, and refused to go back out in the morning. Others had not been able to cross swollen waters. Many gave up in the middle of the night. However, unlike the 2008 OMM, the organisers refused to pull the plug on the event.
Thanks to Andrew’s incredible navigation and route-choice, our steady pace and all night racing, we still managed to retain our title. The prize-giving photos however show a bedraggled, rather than victorious pair. It took sometime before either of us could face the Wicklow Mountains again.