Advanced Orienteering Skills

Lesson 14: Navigating in Complex Granite Terrain

By Anthony Scott, 2020

In Australia, granite terrain provides some of the most complex orienteering challenges and are often used for championship events. At first glance, these maps look like an overwhelming array of small black dots that are difficult to distinguish from one another, making accurate navigation virtually impossible. However, there are some basic techniques that help simplify the detail and allow the navigator to safely and accurately keep contact with the map. These are summarized below.

1. Contours – the best navigational aid, and the most reliable.

Always think contours, even on complex rock maps. As you navigate to each control, observe the major landforms (hills, ridges, gullies) around you, and check that they match the contours on the map. Check if you should be climbing, dropping or contouring. Also cross-check smaller contour features (shallow gullies, small knolls and small spurs), along with any major point features (large boulders, cliffs and rock surfaces) that might help confirm your location.

2. Always have a plan!

At each control, orientate your map, turn towards the next control and make a plan. Take lots of care to get the correct exit direction.

3. Simplification.

If possible, especially on long legs, look for a route choice that uses simple linear features (fences, tracks, watercourses) or clearings that take you around any complex rock detail. It might be a less direct route but can provide much faster running and easier navigation. Re-enter the rock at the last minute, and preferably use a large attack point.

4. Traffic light orienteering.

Changing speed to suit the navigational difficulty is a vital tactic for granite terrain. Faster running is possible when following linear features, running across clearings or approaching very large catching features. However, it essential to slow down and possibly even walk when re-entering complex rock areas or approaching controls. This is particularly so if the attack point is vague or the control is sited in the middle of detailed rock or low visibility forest.

5. Reading the rock detail

In complex rock, it would be difficult (and slow) to read every boulder. Try to identify more obvious features that will stand out from the hundreds of smaller rocks. This will include large boulders and cliffs, which are easy to see, or rock surfaces that are mapped with a unique shape. Large rock surfaces also have the advantage of making good running. In some instances, it might also be possible to follow a distinct line of rocks.

6. Placing the rock in the terrain

The safest navigation uses a combination of contours and rock detail. Check where the rock is located in relation to the terrain. Is it near the top of a hill, next to a shallow gully or on a steep slope facing a particular direction? Is it in or near thick vegetation or on the edge of a clearing? Thumb the map very carefully, and maintain close contact by cross-checking the rock detail, the contours and any other mapped detail. Take your time and walk if necessary.

7. Attack point

Use a big attack point that will help guide you through the complex rock towards the control circle. The attack point should be large and easy to distinguish from the smaller rock detail. Examples might be a large knoll, a saddle, watercourse junction, a LARGE boulder or cliff, or a prominent rock surface.

8. Approaching the control

Once you reach your attack point, you should stop and read the detail within the control circle. Then take your time, walking if necessary, and carefully cross-check the map. Keep scanning left and right as you approach the control.

9. Control description

Always check the control description before entering the control circle so you know what feature the control is on. Also note the height of the feature, and whether it is at the foot, on top, or on a particular side. If possible, approach the control from the side that the control is on, as you will see the flag much more easily.

10. Short legs in complex rock

If the leg is short and passes through complex rock detail, carefully check your exit direction and maintain very close contact with the map. Walk if necessary. 10 seconds can save 10 minutes!

11. Check the control code!