Every second Wednesday throughout the summer, you can find a full cross-section of Whitehorse’s population—children, seniors, families, teens, young professionals, even excited dogs—out in the woods, maps and compasses at the ready.

The Yukon Orienteering Association brings them together for bi-weekly orienteering meets that cater to the full gamut of abilities, from absolute beginners to seasoned veterans.

Orienteering is a sport that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to find your way from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain.

Participants are given a detailed topographical map of the area covered by the course they are exploring which they use to find a series of control points. They carry special keys that allow them to log the time they reach each individual control point.

“The Yukon Orienteering Association promotes orienteering in the territory for both sport and recreation,” explains association president Afan Jones.

“Those individuals who go in for the sports side are racing against the clock, trying to hit all of their control points as quickly as possible. The Yukon has our fair share of these athletes, including a set of our junior team who regularly travels to compete at the world junior championships.”

However, a wider portion of the participants who gather in locations around Whitehorse on Wednesday evenings are there for the recreational side of the sport.

“They are there to challenge themselves against the map and the terrain,” says Jones.

“Many people do it simply for the challenge, the chance to explore the local wilderness, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to improve their navigation skills.”

Each of the association’s bi-weekly meets involves designing a range of courses.

“Usually we set up four or more courses,” explains Jones. “They cover a range of abilities, from novice to advanced, and we try to vary the distances between sprint courses, mid-distances and long courses.”

Sprint courses take from 15-20 minutes of hard running to complete, Jones says. Mid-distance courses take about 30-35 minutes, while long courses take 60-90 minutes and require a slower, more even pace to complete.

If you could be a fly on the wall at one of these regular meets, (or perhaps, more appropriately, a squirrel in a tree), you would see as diverse a group of participants making their way throughout the terrain as the courses that have been designed for them.

Advanced competitors would speed past you looking for the straightest (and most navigable) routes, cutting throughout the trees in search of the most open terrain to travel across.

On the other end of the spectrum you would watch groups of young children with parents in tow route-finding on the trails that the beginner courses tend to parallel. You would see groups of senior citizens with walking sticks and big grins chatting as they make their way at a more leisurely pace throughout the terrain.

And you would probably hear the exclamation, “We’ve already been here before!Are you sure you’re reading that map right?” at least once or twice.

Part of what keeps the local orienteering community so engaged is the quality of the terrain they have available at their fingertips.

“The Yukon has really been put on the map by the quality of our terrain and the detail of the topographic maps we have prepared. People come from around the world to compete here,” says Jones.

“In 2011 we hosted both the Western Canadian Championships and the Canadian Championships. We had 260 people compete and they travelled from across the globe to join us, not just from across Canada.”

The Yukon Orienteering Association currently boasts a membership of 170, ranging in age from six to 80, and is always happy to welcome new members to the fold.

You can learn more, including the schedule of events, at www.yukonorienteering.ca.

If you’re completely new to the sport one of the organizers at their Wednesday meets will be happy to get you off and running.

Why not give it a try? It’s a great way to see our local wilderness through new eyes.

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at sports@whatsupyukon.com.