Family Orienteering Fun

Guest post by Sandi van Everdingen

My husband CJ and I have always enjoyed hiking and love having a goal on our adventures. The goal is often to find some sort of landmark, like a waterfall; lately it has been the challenge landmarks for the WNY Hiking Challenge. We had a blast this past summer discovering new parks in the area and meeting fellow hikers along the way. In preparation for the Winter Hiking Challenge, we stopped at Gear for Adventure to purchase supplies. CJ discovered a rack of orienteering maps and suggested we purchase one and give it a try. We are both active in our sons’ scout troop and CJ led a mini orienteering course with them a few years ago. I was hesitant at first because I’m not great at reading maps and have what we call in the family an “excellent sense of non-direction” (as in, I know when I’m lost). I don’t go too many places without asking Google first.

I’m not great at reading maps and have what we call in the family an “excellent sense of non-direction”

Orienteering requires map reading and being able to orient yourself in space. When we started out I tried to rely on my phone, but without the specific landmarks and topography, it was basically useless. We also used a compass at first but found that we didn’t really need it. (Although it was helpful to brush up on our compass skills!) The course was at Knox Farm, the location where we kicked off the summer hiking challenge. CJ and I brought our two sons, ages 15 and 12, along for the adventure. We started in the main parking lot and struggled a bit to figure out exactly where to go and how to get there. The goal is to locate controls – small red and white markers with a number and set of letters. In addition to the map, you are given a short clue to help you locate the control, like “root stock” for example. We wandered the woods somewhat confused until oldest suggested we look for a fallen tree.

The course at Knox Farm has 15 controls. You don’t need to find them in order, but we did. Our first trip out took about two hours and we found 7 out of the 15. The boys were enthusiastic in the beginning, racing ahead and searching for the controls.

We went in early November and the trees were beautiful.

Our second trip was in late December. The boys didn’t want to return so CJ and I completed the course on our own. We parked in the lot near the soccer fields on Knox Road and entered the park from the southern edge. It was incredibly muddy, but the weather was mild, and we were excited to complete our mission. It took a little over an hour and a half to find the rest of the controls.

Eager to improve my map reading skills, I used the map symbols to aide in navigation. Once you figure out the general area, the symbols help narrow down the location of the control. There is some bushwalking involved, and we had to laugh when a group of birders asked what we were doing off trail. “Are you birders?” they asked as we emerged from the brush. “Did you find something?”
“Just a distinctive tree,” I replied. (It took me a while to figure out what that meant too.)

I definitely recommend orienteering to anyone who likes to hike with a purpose. Buffalo has an Orienteering club that hosts meetings and events, and there are local courses at Chestnut Ridge, Emery, Knox Farm, Hunter’s Creek, Sprague Brook, and Sardinia Forest. New maps are created every spring. We can’t wait to try our next course!

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