Saturday, March 11, 2017

Orienteering Report: MSF Orienteering 2017 - Lamma Island

MSF (Medicins Sans Frontieres, French for Doctors Without Borders) organizes orienteering events annually in Hong Kong, which probably attracts the most people to participate in such event. There were around 4,000 to 5,000 people to participate. Also as a fundraising event for this meaningful organization, each team needs to get sponsored to a minimum amount of money before the participation.

More information can be found at this link:

From the orienteering perspective, this is a score-O event. In the MSF Orienteering, each team was given 2.5 hours to search for as many checkpoints (controls) as possible. Each checkpoint has a point value that is based usually on the difficulty to reach. The number and distribution of checkpoints are designed so that getting all checkpoints within 2.5 hours would be very difficult.

I was not a participant but a volunteer. I found on FB that the orienteering group in HK needed volunteers to set the checkpoints. As a person who has organized some orienteering events, I signed up immediately. Thus, I became part of this technical team to make sure the checkpoints were placed correctly. I did not even care that I had to be at the pier by 6:20 am.

To the event center

On Mar 5 at 6:20am, the sky was still dark, but there were already about 100 people waiting for the special schedule of ferry. All of these were volunteers. Some of these stayed at the event center. Others were in the competition area that do various tasks, such as guiding people to the start, guarding the water station, or providing first aid. All of the volunteers did not need to pay for the ferry.

It took about 30 minutes to get to Lamma Island. Time ran very fast because I met some people that I had not seen for a long time. These people were also very friendly. When getting to the island, I saw the iconic three stacks for the power plant that supplies electricity for HK Island.

Signs were pretty clear to get to the event center:

This was where the event center is. It was ~7 am, an hour before the actual event start time. Thus, the place was pretty empty.

Setting checkpoints

Once we got to the event center, items for the checkpoints were checked and grouped. The entire competition area was divided into 11 regions. Each region contains 6 to 7 checkpoints that were placed by a volunteer.

There were 68 checkpoints in the entire competition area. At each checkpoint, there was a SI e-punch with different checkpoint numbers. Before sending them out, they needed to be checked if they functioned properly.

Here were the items that I got for my region. There were orange-and-white orienteering marker bags, SI e-punches, backup mechanical punches (in case if the SI e-punches malfunctioned), and wooden fixtures that help connecting the e-punch to a stick.

Here is the map, with my GPS watch data on it. Sometimes I use the GPS data to see how accurate the map was drawn. I was responsible for the checkpoints in Region 5. These checkpoints were closest to the event center. Many of these points, in the maze-like village area, could be easy to be placed wrong if I did not read the map carefully. After placing all the checkpoints in Region 5, I needed to go to Region 6 to check if the person responsible for the Region 6 placed the checkpoints correctly.

The volunteers who placed checkpoints were then dispatched immediately. The first wave of participants would start at 9:30 am, and I had slightly more than 2 hours to set up and check the checkpoints. First, I set checkpoint #126: path junction:

 Along the way, I took a picture of the village from above.

Then, I put checkpoint #125: path junction. Going from #126 to #125 could have many ways to go wrong.

This is checkpoint #212: north outside corner of a building. At this point, I wondered if I should get some metal stick to fix the checkpoints on the ground, rather than tying them up. The wooden fixtures were meant to use with sticks.

Checkpoint #127: north outside corner of a fence. Some people were preparing to do physical training.

I began to leave the village. Here is checkpoint #213: top of a cliff. I used the stone surface to place the e-punch horizontally, rather than letting it hang vertically.

My last check point to place - checkpoint #208: path junction. I found a stick already inserted on the ground, so I made use of it.

Checking checkpoints

Setting the checkpoints took me almost an hour. After informing the course setting volunteers that my region is ready in Whatsapp (first time to find it so useful!), I went to check the checkpoints in Region 6. These checkpoints were more in the wilderness. For example, checkpoint #129 (open land, south edge) was almost at the top of a hill, where the Lamma Power Station could be seen.

Within 100 m, one could find this full view of a wind turbine.

At the bottom, there were exhibits showing information about this wind turbine. It boasted HK's attempt to generate renewable energy. I laughed at it. In the US, you could see thousands of this to form a wind farm, but in this island, this is the only one. The amount of power generated by this one turbine is too small. Thus, I feel that this wind turbine is more like a tourist attraction.

I also did some geocaching when checking the checkpoints in Region 6. In orienteering, checkpoints are found by reading a map. In geocaching, hidden containers are found by using a GPS. There are more than 1000 geocaches in HK, and millions around the world. Near the wind turbine, I used the GPS in my phone to find this cache container.

This is checkpoint #130: terrace. Another view of the wind turbine.

When I finished checking the checkpoints in Region 6, I could hear the horn far away. It was 9:30 am.

Event center

I was instructed to return to the event center to get some refreshments after checking the checkpoints. Along the way, participants were walking to the start.

Here was a volunteer holding a sign for direction.

At the event center, I found this huge finish line.

Beside the finish, there was result download.

So many people were in the event center now. They probably were waiting to start. There were many things they could do.

For example, you could get food. Each participant could have bananas, biscuits, and hard boiled eggs.

There were locations for group pictures.

Baggage storage. With thousands of people participating, the service was like running a marathon.

Water station

I was then told to go to the north water station to help. Participants were already forming lines to punch the checkpoints. This is a picture at checkpoint #211: west corner of a building.

Another picture of punching a checkpoint at checkpoint #137: south side of a boulder.

I finally arrived at the water station. As an orienteering event, the size of the water station was huge. There were three taps for people to refill, plus a mobile tap held by a person.

Participants came to the water station in waves, since the starts were in many waves.

 People could feel free to fill the water by themselves,...

...or we helped them.

These water users ranged from elite runners, when quick preparation for their water is needed, to kids, when their parents guided them to pour the water in their bottles.

I stayed there for the rest of the event until 2 pm, when the last wave of participants passed. At noon, there was free lunch delivery for volunteers. 

End of the event

Before leaving, I found that the volunteers also had a free return ferry ticket. Thus, I returned to the event center first. On the way back, I saw a pair got married in this event, since both of them were wearing running shoes. The guy looked so familiar. I almost wanted to say hi, but I had a doubt if I identified the wrong person. Later in the evening, I found out from FB that I was not wrong. That guy is really "4,0000".

Besides free ferry ticket, each volunteer received a certificate for volunteering this event, something that I did not expect, since I signed up for helping only a week ago. I was also asked from the food area, giving me 7-8 hard boiled eggs.

Due to thousands of people rushing into this island, there were several hundred meters of queue for the ferry. The organizers did increase the frequency of the ferry, so getting into the ferry was quicker than I thought.


I finally experienced one of the largest orienteering event in HK. I also found that volunteering for an orienteering event had as much fun as participating one. I wish I can help again.

I was tired when I got back home. I probably also cursed myself why I agreed to attend two separate dance events right after this orienteering event. I felt drained and did not want to dance at all, although I could still watch people dancing.

In the next few weeks, I will be in several orienteering events as a participant. I hope they will be fun.

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