Navigating with ‘stepping stones’

Everyday we have situations where we use a process to get things done. From tying our shoes laces to driving a car, we all follow step by step processes to complete a task. Sport is no different – be it a tennis serve, kicking a rugby conversion or finding a control while orienteering – we need processes to help complete these tasks successfully. A key part of this is breaking up a relatively complex task into smaller pieces. In orienteering, or an adventure race, one way of doing this is through the use of stepping stones.

Getting from one control to the next can be complicated and have multiple steps. Approaching a leg with stepping stones in mind means that you divide the leg into logical small portions, each broken up by a significant feature, or stepping stone. These should be obvious or distinctive features that you can navigate between accurately and quickly. This takes away risk by minimising the size of potential errors – in other words, shorten the distance between points and you reduce the distance that you can go wrong. The use of stepping stones also focusses your attention on key details you need now and allow you to filter out a whole lot of unnecessary detail on the map.

Take the example below:

stepping stones

The leg from 8 -9 looks complicated at first glance. A whole load of buildings, a ton of vegetation and even some contours for good measure. Trying to take this all in one go is a recipe for confusion and an error. Instead, break it down into pieces, use stepping stones to ‘hop’ your way from 8 to 9.

stepping stones

The red circles show an example of stepping stones. Building corner, to building corner, down stairs to next building corner, up the road to track junction. Breaking up the leg minimises risk of an error. It also faster speed as there is no need to concentrate on every little detail on the map.

The approach also works in an adventure racing context, on topo maps with less detail. Take this example from Godzone 2015 in Wanaka. This is a leg between two controls in the Garvie Mountains trek.

godzone map

This leg has multiple route choice options – head northwest out of control back up the ridge, south west along the ridgeline and descend into control. Another possibility is to go south east down to the Blue Lake Hut then approach the control from below (we did this in the race). Finally a straight route through the cliffs and saddles was also possible. Which ever the route, breaking it down into stepping stones is important. (for a better map jump across to and head into the Garvie Mountains to the East of Lake Whaktipu – some awesome terrain to check out)

2godzone map.jpg

The first stepping stone is the saddle south of control 23, then the end of the lake, followed by another saddle and finally the narrow gap between lakes north of control 24. The use of these short little leaps between stepping stones makes the whole route much less daunting.

Try it next time you’re navigating. Break the route down into small leaps between stepping stones. This is a key piece in the navigation process. Keep an eye out for a follow up article about simplification – this is another piece of the navigation puzzle that helps minimise information overload.

Heading across the Hector Mountains towards the Garvies in Godzone 2015.

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