Thoughts on Orienteering

The following Blog Post was written by our Staff Trainer, Toby Joy Zelt.  Toby describes her experience teaching the Metayalot girls (grade 5/6) during their “orienteering” activity this afternoon.

Around my knuckles I drew concentric circles, representing the mountain tops, which appeared on our topographical map.  Through this demonstration, the chalutzot came to understand how the black and white map of curved lines, circles, and numbers related to the valleys and peaks of ROA’s surrounding wilderness.  It is a genius method, using the knuckles to teach about topography, utilized in previous years by Joel, who coordinates all of our Masaot.  With many years of backcountry experience, it was an exciting opportunity to teach some of the skills I find so rewarding and freeing; I know that these skills have allowed me a freedom to explore the beauty of this world that most people only dream about.  When you can understand the landscape and use orienteering skills to navigate off trail, the world becomes open for adventure and discovery, the road less traveled invites you, and no longer are you forced to step where others have before.  Many off trail, multi-day trips all over North America in spectacular scenery like Yosemite, Banff, Shenandoah, and Joshua Tree wouldn’t have had the same impact on me had I been restricted to paths.  These navigational tools strengthen one’s confidence, independence, and self-reliance.  When I was asked to teach this session to the girls, there was no question in my mind.

When the girls first took a look at the National Geographic map, zoomed into the smallest detail, they asked questions like, “How can you tell where you are on a topographical map?”  By the end of our session together, the metayalot had successfully planned a 3 day, 2 night trek from camp, up two mountains and around a lake.  “We can catch fish and eat them for dinner at this creek,” one noticed.  Another went back to check the mileage and make sure it wouldn’t be too much for one day considering they’d be climbing a mountain that morning.  They’d learned to consider vertical gain on a hiking route while planning mileage and difficulty, discovered the easiest routes for climbing a peak, and thoughtfully planned water resources and camping locations.  Not only did they plan it, they loved planning it.  All were enthusiastic, involved, and stimulated.  Three girls asked me to take a picture of them with their map at the end of our time together.  Even more impressive was the fact that she was using a disposable camera with only 24 shots.  Those limited clicks aren’t used unless it’s on something truly awesome.  Who knew that learning how to read maps could be so fun?Topo Map


Our session involved on-the-ground surveying of the landscape.  We went trekking, colored markers in hand, up the main road that brings visitors to camp, stopping at a small water drainage canal carved out in the sand by the rains.  The canal only spanned at it’s widest 4 or 5 inches, but as we laid the map on the damp ground next to it, the curved lines came to life.  From the road, we gazed out upon the climbs neighboring our property, hikes 1,500-2,500 feet in elevation gain, sometimes in just fractions of a mile in distance.  We oriented the map according to the main features- the creek that winds down camp from the mountains, the hills to the east and the towering rock faces to the west where our rock climbing facilitators take advanced groups.  The rain began to fall on the horse pasture in front of us, while we mysteriously remained dry, and we planned our own routes up the giants, using our fingers to point out the plan.  As our time together drew to a close, the girls walked back to the Hadar Ohel with me, noticing the storm clouds that passed us and the way they looked surreal against the setting sun.  The roundness of the globe was apparent because of the vastness of the sky and when the girls mentioned it, I smiled because it was clear that great things were learned today.

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