N.S. Backwoods Offer ‘Intense’ Challenge


OI’s very own, Heather, Loves the way she Works!

Article written by: Lucie Edwardson
Article Published by: The Chronicle Herarld

Heather Balch

Pam James says Nova Scotia terrain is some of the hardest she has ever had to navigate. Coming from a former orienteering world champion, this is saying something.

The Halifax woman, who won the world championship in 1998, is one of about 400 people participating in the 13th annual Eco-Endurance Challenge, a navigational competition through the backwoods of Nova Scotia on May 3 and 4.

Participants team up in groups of two or three and have the option of an eight-hour challenge or taking on the gruelling 24-hour challenge. They can do the challenge for fun or compete in a race for time and points.

“Other navigational events are usually a lot shorter,” said James.

“It is hard to keep going for 24 hours. When you are tired at 10 hours in and you realize, ‘Oh man, we still have 14 hours to go,’ … then sleep deprivation starts to kick in and it really challenges you mentally and physically.”

Challengers are given a map a few hours before the start of the event. Once they take off, map and compass in hand, they are on the hunt for flags and markers hidden and scattered throughout the woods.

There are 60 markers worth anywhere from 50 to 500 points, depending on the difficulty of navigation and the terrain, said meet director Mannie Lewis.

In the 13 years of the event, a team has made it to every marker successfully only two times.

The challenge was originally developed for search and rescue training, said Lewis, but now draws hundreds of people from across Canada and the United States interested in hiking and orienteering.

Heather Balch, a search and rescue volunteer in Halifax, has taken part in the 24-hour emergency responders and search and rescue competitive challenge six times. After taking a one-year hiatus to help run the event, Balch was itching to get back in the woods.

“When I was watching all of the competitors leave, I was thinking, ‘I need to get back out there and do it again. I enjoy it so much,’” said Balch.

This year, her three-woman team, the Swamp Donkeys, will once again compete in the 24-hour race.

But even for veteran competitors, the challenge is no easy feat.

“The woods in Nova Scotia can be pretty intense,” said Balch.

“You might have to fight your way through a lot of that scrub and downed trees.”

Course designer Jim Blanchard and his team start planning the course in September and work until just hours before the event begins. This year, the action is taking place at a new site just past Dollar Lake that made designing the course slightly more difficult, said Blanchard.

“We spent a great deal of time tramping through the woods to find new sites for the map, and all but three of the sites are new this year.”

Sherrianne Russell of Kentville will be doing the eight-hour recreational challenge for the second time this year. Russell, who is an avid snowshoer, kayaker and runner, said the event is different from any other challenge.

And for other 50-something women looking for an outside-the-box activity to push themselves, it is just the thing.

“I’ve done half-marathons and other races, but this is just a whole different beast,” said Russell.

“It’s not just the physical activity. There is a skill that is attached to it. It challenges you to push yourself mentally and physically.”

All proceeds collected go toward the volunteer Halifax Regional Search and Rescue organization.

For more information, visit ecoendurancechallenge.ca.

Article Credit: This article has been taken from The Chronicle Herald.
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