Tonight was our wilderness search and rescue training with the City of Austin. It was, in a word, bad-ass. (Or is that two words?)
We spent a couple of hours getting classroom training on basic orienteering, map reading, compass use, that sort of thing, and then carpooled down to Bastrop State Park. The objective was for us to break into teams and do a basic orienteering exercise, navigating to three predetermined markers and reporting back on GPS radio as we found each one. We'd do it once in the daylight, and then anybody who wanted to do so could try a second exercise after dark.
Well, that was the plan, anyway.
When we got to the ICP (Incident Command Post), it was just about sundown and it was starting to rain, so the exercise instructors just gave us our instructions and our team assignments and said "go".
Oh, and since I had put down on the form that I had previous orienteering experience (which I did...once, in 1979, traipsing around Philmont with a bunch of Boy Scouts), the instructors put me down as a team captain.
It's drizzling, it's getting dark, and I am supposed to lead a bunch of total strangers out into the woods on a mission, and get them back safely, without getting lost, without getting hurt.
Did I mention that this was all off trail? Through ravines, through creekbeds, through brush thickets and poison ivy? At night?
We did great, though. We managed to find all of our objectives. We had no injuries, in fact we only had one person slide down a ravine a few feet but she was OK.
We were the last ones getting back to the ICP, around 11pm, and in fact most of the other teams had already got on the road back to Austin, which was a little embarrassing. Until we found out that most of the teams hadn't found all their markers, and one team had given up without finding any. I'm also pretty sure that of the teams which found all their markers, we found them all the fastest, we were just slow getting back home.
Yeah, we rocked.
A few pictures here, and more on the flickr blog.
This one is us at our first objective, marker 9:
This is the second objective, marker 34:
And this is us safely back at the ICP (the umbrella is kind of an in-joke...by then the stars were out):
Note how our shirts get progressively wetter as the night wore on. That's not rain any more, that's sweat. I kept having to wipe my compass with my sleeve when checking bearings because the sweat kept dripping onto it from my nose. And the picture lighting is really misleading...that's all from the camera flash, it was actually pitch black where we were, with nothing but flashlights.
I don't know about the other teams, but my team rocked. I'd get lost in the woods with these folks any time.