Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sword of Damocles... will it last?

I was jogging on one of the Santa Fe bike paths when inspiration struck for a new geocache. Specifically I was going under the new pedestrian tunnel under St. Francis near the intersection with Cerillos.



































Looking down the new pedestrian tunnel, lit up in the early morning

The making of the Sword of Damocles geocache,  GC7RZ0Y

Construction has been going on here for the last year, and was completed a little while ago, but I hadn't been through the tunnel until just recently. I must say, the designers did a nice job, it is a cool tunnel and landscaped well on either side. One of the coolest features is right in the middle of the tunnel, where there is an opening in the median of St. Francis and you can look up at a grating to the open air above. Hanging from this grating are steel stalactites attached to hinges allowing them to sway slightly from the road vibrations.

The first thought that came to my mind though was the Sword of Damocles, as the metal pipes have sharpened ends and hover ominously over your head as you walk under. On one side of the tunnel, the side of the tunnel is sloped up with these little concrete ridges in such a way that you can scramble up to and grab the stalactites closest to the wall. Which is what I did, and then swung out over the open space below. FUN! But also it got me thikning about a cool urban hide that could be done here. What if I could hide a sword-like geocache container inside one of these pipes? Wouldn't that be cool? I thought so, and over the next few weeks I started working on a host container for a geocache.

My sword container took shape over a couple weekends. First I found a scrap piece of wood that I thought might fit inside one of the pipes. I cut it roughly in a sword shape and then went out to the tunnel to check that it would fit. Turns out it was a bit too large, so i had to pare it down with a table saw. That done, I cut out a slotted hole in the wood to fit a small silver bison tube. That would be the log container and would kind of match the color/look of the sword. I had to be careful about doing this to not split the wood I was using, and I went through a few scrap pieces before finally ending up with a usable result. Next I used a knife to whittle down the wood into a more sword like shape. I'm not expert whittler, but I think I at least got the general shape. I fitted a handle to one end, and thought about doing a pommel-guard of some sort, but decided that the inside diameter of the pipes were just too small to allow this.

My next task was to figure out how to keep the sword inside one of the pipes, and my first thought was magnets. Another quick trip out to the site verified that the pipes were magnetic (not stainless steel apparently) and I figured out a way to recess three small-but-strong craft magnets into the sword edge. The sword could now be slid up into one of the pipes and would stay there. The handle, a 1/4" bolt, could be pinched by nimble fingers (or a magnet retrieval tool) to pull the sword out. The finishing touches were to paint the whole thing silver and to properly label the thing as a geocache and voila... cache container complete!

Hiding the geocache turned out to be a bit of a challenge and required patience. I wanted to make sure that when I hid the cache, no one would see me climbing up to the pipes and putting my sword in place.  This was difficult because the bike path is pretty popular and well used, but also because people tend to hang out at benches located outside of the tunnel, but with a clear view into it. I went out to hide the geocache on 4 different occasions and each time returned without making the hide because I could not wait out people who could clearly see me in the tunnel. But this morning at 5:45 AM, I finally managed to hide the geocache without being seen.

How long will it last? Was this a terrible idea?

This brings up an obvious concern and problem with this hide. How will geocachers find it without calling attention to the hide? This will be very difficult indeed, made even more so by the fact that it is not easily reachable. Some of the local geocachers who are a bit older probably will not want to climb up the ridged wall and instead would need a step-ladder. This would look very conspicuous indeed. Maybe they would use an extendable retrieval tool, but it would be very difficult to put the cache back in place using one of these. So I consider it pretty likely that geocachers who find, retrieve, and replace the geocache will call some attention to it, and if attention is brought to the cache, how long will it really last? My gut feeling is that it will not last very long. Which begs the question... why go through all this effort on a creative cache hide which will probably be muggled after the first few finders? Maybe I am just being foolishly optimistic that it will survive for longer than my gut tells me it will. But deep down, I just wanted to do it. The idea struck and became lodged in my head. And I enjoyed the creative process. No one can take that away from me. And if even just a few local geocachers find and enjoy it, than I think it will be totally worth while.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Bulls Eye Challenges: Don't Get Sucked In!

While I was out on my Flash mob Event, a little while ago, I was talking with one of the geocachers, Budabelli about his Bulls Eye Challenges. These are also called Black out challenges and they are based upon the premise of finding all the geocaches within a certain radius. budabelli is the CO on a couple of these down in the Sandias (example GC4TWDZ), and after our discussion I decided to look into how much effort it would take for me to qualify.
Somewhere in Eldorado, NM

The first things to do was to search for how many geocaches are in my radius. A 10 mile radius from my home location shows that there are 420 geocaches to be found. By excluding ones I've already found, caches I own and disabled caches, that number drops to 194. Still a lot of geocaches. in the two years I've lived here, I've only found just over half of the geocaches in my local vicinity. As I looked at the map of these though, is tarted thinking, maybe finding all these wouldn't be that hard? Almost none of them require any significant hike, most of them you can drive right up to. It would just be a matter of visiting all these spots.

It was with that thought in my head that I contrived to drive out to Eldorado, the community just East of Santa Fe, and try to "cache out" this area. There were around 40 geocaches to go after, a manageable number for me driving around. Plus, my usual destinations for a short day adventure were closed to due Santa Fe national Forest being closed for fire dangers. So it seemed like a good time to give this thing a go. If I could find all the cache sin this area in just a part of a day, maybe I could complete this challenge after all.

What I wasn't really thinking about before I started off was what my success rate for finding caches would be. Usually when I go out caching, I am going on hikes and to more remote areas and my find rate is fairly high. The geocaches in these areas tend to have pretty good longevity and not have as many cache maintenance issues that urban hides are plagued with. As I was driving out to and around Eldorado, I started getting DNFs. And a lot of these seemed like maintenance issues, caches that had a string of DNFs over the last year or two and that were suspected as being missing, but no action from the Co to check on or confirm. A few caches I found were obvious throw-downs, some areas were simply completely different than when the hide was placed. There were a couple that hadn't been found in a while and now have new homes constructed right next to them (one appears to be in the property lines for the new home even). Another cache was placed at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of the neighborhood, but since the cache placement, the road has been extended further and there is no longer a fence at GZ. My DNF count started climbing, and it became pretty apparent that I would not "clear out" this area on my trip.
One of the more interesting spots for a cache

The Flyin' Lion

Great View from the Gallisteo basin Trails

Sculpture near Gallisteo basin

My final totals for the day were 24 caches found and 12 DNFs. Of those 12 DNFs, I posted 9 Needs Maintenance logs and suspect the caches are no longer there based on the recent history from other cachers. And herein lies one of the biggest challenges of the Bulls Eye challenge. Somehow, I either need to get the COs for these caches to check on their hides and verify they are there (or replace them) or I need to get them archived so that they no longer are in the radius. And this can be a lengthy process, especially if the COs are not responsive. How long do I let the NM log stand before posting a NA? How long after that will it take for a volunteer reviewer to archive these. Did I actually just miss some of these hides? Will I piss of the CO or other local cachers by these actions? Ultimately, clearing out the radius will require lots of follow up, possible multiple trips, and for what benefit? Showing I have completed a crazy challenge? Yeah... I guess there is some bragging rights in that. But I can also see how this kind of challenge tempts folks to leave throw-downs, simply leave a disposable container at the GZ, mark the cache as found and move on, leaving the problem for someone else. I guess this also "maintains" the cache so that others can actually find something there, but even that is only a band-aid and as the person leaving the throw-down, you are not going to do any future maintenance of the geocache, so it will most likely have more problems. There are loads of Forum discussions on this kind of thing.

The other possible benefit is helping to clear out "problem" caches in the area and improve the overall cache quality for what remains. One of the biggest bummers of a caching trip is to get stymied by missing caches and if a lot of these unfound caches are missing and with inactive COs, getting them removed from the site will keep other cachers from this frustration. Kind of a timely thought considering the Geocaching HQ is right now trying to figure out ways to improve overall geocache quality.

So what's my take-away from all of this? Attempting a Bull's Eye challenge is a lot of work. It requires persistence, and commitment of a lot of free time driving in random neighborhoods. As far as fun adventures go, it can be ok. Of the 36 locations I visited, 4-5 of them were really nice spots, and a couple had fun or interesting hides. Most though were completely un-noteworthy. The service to the overall geocaching community can be good though, helping to clear out the map from hides that are missing/problematic. And only someone really devoted to completing this challenge will be motivated to really follow up on all of those DNFs/NMs. normally, I wouldn't bother revisting any of these locations, there simply isn't anything there worth revisiting. Will I be doing more caching of this type? I don't know.... probably not. After expending a bunch of effort I only knocked down my 10 mile radius remaining caches from 194 to 170. Not much of a dent... And it wasn't all that fun. But I might continue to pursue this anyways... just because I am hooked on geocaching. Drats! Looks like I am getting sucked in...

Saturday, June 9, 2018

WWFMXV: Flashing the Frog!

I decided to host a flash-mob event this year to coincide with the World Wide Flash Mob (WWFM) that Podcacher organizes every year. This year is the 15th year of the WWFM, so WWFMXV. Usually people organize these in a way to get the most participants possible, because the more the merrier right? And I could have done that. But there was a location in the Sandia mountains that I was just itching to visit, and the WWFMXV flash mob gave me just the pretense to do so. The Sandia mountains have all sorts of granite towers and ridges and visiting these has been on my to-do list for quite some time. Since this was a geocaching event though, I selected one specific formation called The Frog. Because... well Signal The Frog.... right? It's a geocaching thing.

With my location selected, I published the flash mob per the directions from the WWFM website.  GC7PBM4: Flashing the Frog. For our timezone, the event needed to occur at 11am. I then sat back and waited for the "Will Attend" logs to fly in... OK, so I didn't really expect many "Will Attend" logs, but a few geocachers did post their intentions so I knew I had at least some interest.

As the day of the event drew near I made some plans for how to actually get a group of people on top of the frog. I had never been there before, so I brought all sorts of climbing gear to make sure we'd be able to get up whatever obstacles were in our path. I also posted a few announcements to the event page to coordinate our approach. It is roughly an hour hike to reach the base of the frog (more if you come up from the valley as opposed to dropping down from the crest parking).

June 9th arrived and I got a very early start to reach the parking area by 7am. I was expecting just two other geocachers who were going to meet me there, budabeli and Sandpig, both Albuquerque locals. A third geocacher showed up though, wolf11469, a very welcome addition as he had actually been on top of the frog before. I made sure we were properly attired, and then we were off down the trail.
Proper attire to Flash the Frog
While it should only take an hour to reach the base of the frog, it took us two, and this is mostly my fault. I wanted to stop and find all the geocaches on our route down the trail. This was my first time in this area and I wasn't going to pass all these up. The other three, being Albuquerque locals, had already found most of the caches on the route, but they humored me. We passed several hikers coming up the trail, and I got some funny comments for my frog-attire. I guess it is not every day you see someone with a frog plushy strapped to their head. By 9am, we were at the base of the Frog and had to break off from the trail and up a brushy gully. The brushy gully isn't the only way to reach the summit of the frog, there is an option to climb directly up the rock faces. I briefly considered this (I did have the gear), but the lack of climbing experience from the rest of my party ruled this out as being feasible. So a bushwhack it was. An hour later we were at the final summit block and it was time to set up some ropes for a safe ascent. The last 30 ft of the summit block are class 5 climbing, meaning it is technical with bad fall potential. This is the kind of stuff people generally rope up for, although this climb is probably only rated 5.1, so most "climbers" probably wouldn't bother. But I had all the gear with me, and we were going to do it right-safe. Also, I wanted to set up a picture of us on the top, and having the gear would be needed for that too.
Summit of the Frog

I solo-climbed to the top, and then set up a top-top anchor for the rest of the party. I really wanted to get us all on the summit at the same time, but the summit was actually quite small, maybe a 5ft wide boulder. Having everyone up here safely and comfortably didn't seem like a very good option. So instead we took turns climbing up to the top with the safety of the rope. At 11:00 we set-up for our WWFMXV picture.
Flashing the Frog! Upper left: wolf11469, Lower left: Sandpig, Right: Fugads, photographer: budabelli
Mission accomplished! We took great satisfaction knowing that geocachers all around the world were at that moment also doing crazy flash mob events. The rest of the day was spent hiking back up to the crest via a different route, to find more geocaches of course, and enjoy the fantastic weather. Here are a few more pictures from the day:
The Thumb, a rocky peak adjacent to the frog

Ducktales promotional TB, on the Frog

On top of the Frog. The Thumb in the background

The Frog viewed from below The treed gully on the right was our ascent route.

Early morning in the Sandias

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Serpent Lake hiking with the kids

After a long day of driving around Mora County with my kids, I decided our next adventure would involve more hiking. There is a hike in the northern part of the Pecos Wilderness that I've been wanting to do for a while, Serpent lake. Actually, the hiking guide books refer to this hike as Jicarita Peak, which is the mountain overlooking the lake. If I were hiking on my own, I would certianly have been aiming for that lofty goal, and maybe even would hide a geocache up there. But with my kids, I decided on a shorter hike that would be challenging for them but hopefully still well within their abilities. The hike up to Serpent lake would involve about 1000' elevation gain, and 8 miles round trip hiking. This is more than they've ever done before, but given enough time and the right incentives, I felt that they would be able to succeed here.

We had a leisurely start, leaving Santa Fe around 8am and getting to the trailhead a little before 10am. There is a very lonely cache near the trailhead that we stopped to find at the start of our hike, Langdon's Hollow. I'm not really sure why, but in 5 years since it was published it has only been found twice. It is not difficult, and does not involve much hiking, being a tenth of a mile from the trailhead, a trailhead which should be reachable by most cars. But for some reason, it is not on people's radar when caching in this remote part of the state. I can understand that at least. The kids both delighted in trading items in the cache, and then we were off up the trail towards Serpent Lake.

I had two "tricks" up my sleeve for getting the kids to keep hiking. The first was Jellybeans. Every 0.3 miles I would loudly announce "Jellybean!" and they would each get one from my stash. This was jsut about the right distance to keep them forging ahead to the next reward, but not so much that it made them feel like they wouldn't get there. The other fun thing about this is that we bagan measuring our distance in "jellybeans". They would ask how much further to the lake and I would reply, "oh... looks like 5 more jellybeans".
Ready for Jellybeans
My second trick was walkie-talkies. Not sure why, but kids love playing with these.  Once the two of them had walkie-talkies in there hands, they would run up ahead to "be far apart" and then talk all sorts of nonsense into the radios. If there had been other hikers around, I might not have been ok with this as all their incessant chatter on the radios might have been annoying to some. A lot of their talk on the radios was to make "static" noises, and other silly nonsense. But we had the trails almost entirely to ourselves, so I let the childish noises run with abandon. And the children kept on hiking.
Yes... radios help stay in touch even at close range
We reached the lake a bit after noon, and found a nice spot for a picnic. It is a really beautiful setting, high up in the mountains with a mirror like lake reflecting the peaks above. After a good picnic, we found another lonely cache placed up here, then because clouds were starting to roll in, we started our trek back down the trail.

Ada ate this whole can of smoked trout!

The hike down was just as easy, although the mileage was starting to wear on the kids, especially Ada ho is only 6. She started whining a bit more about tired legs, and I didn't blame her. We hiked over 8 miles and did it all in under 6 hours! Definitely a worthy accomplishment for a little girl. I'm proud of them both and look forward to taking them on more hikes up here in these wonderful mountains.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mora County Challenge

I can't recall exactly how this idea got in my head, but somehow I felt the urge to try to find every active geocache in Mora County NM. Mora county isn't exactly my home county, it's a few hours away, but I think I got the idea while looking for archived caches in project-gc.com. You used to be able to do searches in that site to reveal the locations of every archived cache in a specific county, and I like to do this in remote areas I would be visiting, partially to get the coords and look for the old caches, but also partly to see where interesting spots used to ahve geocaches but are no longer listed. You can't do this anymore (at least that I know) but while doing this some time in the past I noticed that there are a few counties in NM with not that many geocaches in them. ONe in particular, Mora County, only had around 40 active caches and this was a low enough number where I thought you could make a play to find each and every one. My home county, Santa Fe, has well over a thousand, and I very much doubt I will ever find every single one. But this Mora county challenge intrigued me.

When you look at the list of geocaches in Mora County a bit closer, you realize that finding all of them in a day is probably impossible. Despite there only being 44 or so, a handful of these are deep in the Pecos Wilderness and require all day or even multi day outings to reach. But I had already found these caches in my hikes in the Pecos, so most of what was left was along various rural highways. It looked doable but it would be a lot of driving. And what better driving companions could I ask for than my two kids and the dog! We got a fairly early start this morning (7:30) and were off on the challenge!
Wagon Mound Cache
Our first geocaching stop was Watrous, NM, where we picked up 4 pretty easy caches. Next we made a quick find at an I-25 rest-stop (a multi cache, but still quick) before getting off the interstate at a funny little town called Wagon Mound, where we picked upa  couple more caches before heading east, to the far reaches of Mora county, and for our most difficult terrain rated cache. Getting all the way out to the eastern boundary of Mora county was a much longer drive than I had anticipated. This part of the state is prairie, and we ended up in the Kiowa national grassland and the Canadian river canyon. We spent some time looking for a cache just outside Mora county that looked interesting, but that ultimately we couldn't find, GC1RWW4. We then descended down to the canyon bottom. The Canadian river canyon is really pretty, and very remote. Moderate sandstone bluffs surround the canyon. We passed a few cars coming out from the campgrounds, but didn't actually see any people around where we looked. The kids took one look up at the Butte that we would have to climb to reach this cache and decided they would wait in the car and watch me climb it. Which I did with relish... The ascent took a little bit of route-finding and scrambling to reach the summit, but I was rewarded with a great cache, one hidden by my friend Birddroppings. By the time I got back down to the car and the kids, it was well past lunchtime and we were not even half way through our challenge. I was beginning to have my doubts as to our success.
On the Canadian River Butte
The drive back to I-25 took a long time, but we got back to it and proceeded a short ways north to grab one cache up in the northern border of the county, before making an about face and heading back south down I-25 towards Watrous. This time, we stopped to pick up caches on the southbound side of the interstate, of which there were a couple. We exited the interstate at Watrous and went north to Fort Union. This historic site made for a cool stop on our tour of Mora county. There are still a fair amount of standing walls remaining from the old Civil War era fort. The visitor center staff were very friendly, getting us the geocache from behind a closet and giving us some recommendations for seeing the fort. We only did a short walking tour though. The kids didn't want to walk too much, and we also still had a lot of miles and caches to go. We were past the half-way mark, but it was already 3pm.
Fort Union
From Fort Union, we had to back-track south a ways before picking up a small country highway that would take us west and towards the mountains. The landscape slowly changed from prairie, to juniper, to high meadows and pines. We were actually getting close to the town of Mora itself, but we also encountered our first DNFs. Actually a string of them on highway 442 between La Cueva and Ojo Feliz. The first two had some history of DNFs, but the last one was supposed to be an easy find in a juniper tree by a cemetery, but we just couldn't find it. It was also getting later in the afternoon and the kids were showing some signs of road fatigue. Still we kept on north grabbing a cool geocache along a forest road on the northern edge of the county, and also grabbing two caches just outside of the county in extremely picturesque valley called Black lake.
Jaws (GC2K5FD)
More rock art 
After these though, the kids were about done, and I was getting worried that we wouldn't make it back home until well past their bed-time, so we passed by two geocaches near Coyote Creek State Park, and booked it south to the town of Mora. We did stop for one last easy cache there, but there were 3 more caches west of Mora that we opted not to visit due to time. Instead we headed home, only stopping in Las Vegas for some on-the-rd-dinner.

So was it a success? Not entirely. We had started off the day needing to find 30 caches in Mora county. We were able to find 22. Of the eight we missed, three were DNFs and 5 were ones we just didn't have time to get to, not without staying up way past the kids bed-time. Maybe if had been jsut me, and I was really motivated I could ahve at least visited all 30 locations. But with those 3 DNFs, there was no way I could have completed the whole county on this trip. Time to harass some COs to see about maintenance or archival on some of those... ;) As for miles driven... I'm not really sure but we definitely went through a whole tank of gas, so probably around 350 miles. It was a lot of driving but the scenery was well worth it, from the antelope filled prairies, the historic monuments, the alpine lakes and meadows... Mora county had a lot to offer us. We'll be back some day for those last caches!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Whiskey Ridge

Whiskey Ridge, the Thumb and Higher peaks
The biggest untapped geocaching/hiking/scrambling playground near to our home is the Sandia Mountains eat of Albuquerque. I would guess there are readily more than 1000 geocaches in this range, there are 20 or so good hiking trails and plenty off-trail hiking explorations, and the rocky mountains off really adventurous ridge walks and 5th class climbing. All this only an hour or so away and yet I have rarely visited the range, usually opting to explore further to the North of Santa Fe. I have no good reason for this. Maybe the proximity to the big city and the potential for large crowds, or the overwhelming # of geocaches making it difficult to focus on just one place to go? I don't know. But one unfound cache on Whiskey Ridge finally lured me down to the range.

The geocache, GC7FNN5, placed by DesertRomantic who I've hiked with before, is located on a pretty cool looking Rocky ridge that stretches from the 2nd tower of the Sandia Tram, back up to Whiskey peak about a mile into the mountains. At places it looks to be as narrow as 10' across with steep 100+ ft drop-offs on either side. A month or so ago, I was able to get a good look at it when the family rode the tram, and I decided then that it would be an awesome adventure. Most of it looked scramblable, but the cache listing mentions that 5th class climbing is required and that technical climbing gear is also advised. There are geocaches located on either side of GC7FNN5 called "SUCCESS .. sort of" and "FAILURE" along the ridge, placed by a  geocacher who was trying to traverse the ridge on his own but couldn't due to some of the 5th class obstacles along the way. One geocacher had made an attempt on GC7FNN5 since it was published last December, RockyMtnRidgeRunner, and he had turned around due to lack of time.

With unknown amounts of 5th class climbing involved, I figured this cache should not be attempted solo, so I contacted RockyMtnRidgeRunner, to see if he would up for another attempt of it. I have never hiked or climbed with him before, but have had several email exchanges with him about various lonely caches throughout the state, and he is one of my favorite geocache hiders in New Mexico. His hides almost always involve long hikes into the wilderness, and are placed at prominent features along those hikes such as mountain summits or deep canyons. Despite not ever meeting the guy, I felt pretty sure that we would make a good team for going after Whiskey Ridge. Plus, he is intimately familiar with the Sandias and teaming up with him would mean having a expert guide for route-finding and approaches/descents. I was psyched to hear back from him that he wanted to go for it and we spent a week making plans and figuring out logistics for our trip.
Early morning view from La Luztrail
I left Santa Fe early Friday morning to met up with RMRR at 7am at the Sandia Tram parking lot. Our plan was to leave one vehicle there, and drive over to the La Luz trailhead to start our ascent. The La Luz trail is one of the few trails in the range I had heard of and read about, I think it is one of the more popular and well traveled trails in the range. The morning was cool and the skies were mostly clear, perfect hiking weather. We started off immediately at a pretty good clip. There are a bunch of geocaches along or just off the La Luz trail and normally, I'd stop to look for each one, significant;y slowing progress up the trail. We did stop at a few, but also skipped by a bunch. Not only has RMRR already found all of these, but we also needed to make good time up to Whiskey Peak so that we would have enough daylight to complete our route. RMRR showed me several of the shortcuts that one can take going up the La Luz trail, that shave off miles of hiking. In a few hours we were at the base of the granite monoliths, deep in a lush (by NM standards) canyon populated by aspen and fir trees. It's a really pretty hike and I can see why it is popular. At the base of the rock formation known as The Thumb we split up to allow me to tag two additional lonely caches in the area, The Thumb GC1ECPW and Whiskey on My Mind GC32NHG. We had discussed this on the way up, these two geocaches would be close enough to our route that I thought I could push hard and find them both and still meet up with RMRR on top of Whiskey peak. RMRR of course had already found them, but was ok with splitting up so I could go after them. Plus we had 2-way radios so we could stay in touch.
Upper La Cueva Canyon with the rock formation known as The Frog in the middle
Getting up to the geocache on the Thumb was steep hiking, and I was definitely feeling the weight of my pack, laden with a rope and climbing gear and lots of water. It was slower going than I had thought it would be, but then I didn't realize quite how much elevation I would be gaining over a short distance. Oof! I made it up to the spot where my GPSr was getting close to zero, and began searching, only to come up empty. There is a pretty decent hint for this geocache, but it still leaves loads of possible areas to search, and I just wasn't finding anything. My problem turned out to be that I was too low. While my GPSr said I was close, I was also at the base of a cliff and it turns out the cache was more on the top of the cliff. After a ton of searching, I finally read one of the previous finder's logs about climbing out an exposed ridge and it was only then that I finally figured out where I was supposed to be and climbed up the descent route of the Thumb and got to where the cache was located. An easy find then! But I had wasted probably 30 minutes looking for this cache. Even at the cache location, the coords seemed pretty far off from GZ, but that's part of the difficulty of caches like this one, perched on high narrow rocky ledges, and placed against steep rock walls. Coords can be off a little and send you pretty far away due to the vertical drops. I was glad to finally make the find, but I was also pretty sure that RMRR would be close to the summit of Whiskey Peak already.
On the flank of the Thumb
I had radio communication with RMRR, who was almost at the top of Whiskey Peak already. I had a ways to go to catch up! I quickly decended down a gully on the south side of the Thumb and then booked it over to a geocache called Whiskey on My Mind. The cool thing about this cache is it gives you a great viewpoint of the entire Whiskey Ridge, where er would be spending the rest of our afternoon. This cache I found quickly, snapped a few pictures and then raced off to Whiskey peak. Getting over to Whiskey peak was a bit of a slog, some real steep gully climbs and also a bit of dense bush-whacking, but tired and exhausted, I made it up to Whiskey Peak where a well-rested RMRR was waiting for me. He allowed me a quick breather to hydrate and wolf down and a sandwich and then we were off down Whiskey Ridge and the adventure was begun!
RMRR getting ready to head down Whiskey Ridge
The first bit of Whiskey Ridge is a piece of cake, jsut easy hiking down a rocky ridge. There is some good exposure on either side, but it is never that narrow or that exposed. The difficulties begin just past a cache called Failure, , which was placed by Wolf11469 and named for his failure to get all the way down the ridge. The difficulties lie in first a 20' vertical down climb to a notch, followed by a 50ft climb up a chossy, lichen filled face. The lichen face actually had a fixed rope on it, with butterfly knots tied in it every 5 ft or so. I tackled the down-climb and was checking out the fixed rope when RMRR got stuck. The down-climb wasn't too hard, but it was a little awkward and some of the rock was suspect, and there was a huge drop off on either side. Sure the notch below offerred a 10' wide perch where you could land, but tumble either side from that and you'd be a goner. Perhaps I should have been as cautious as RMRR, but I was down already. I took out my rope and rack and climbed almost all the way up to RMRR, then placed three pieces of protection on the descent. After handing him the rope, this allowed him to be belayed on the down-climb and not have to risk a death fall. Since we already had the rope and rack out, I volunteered to elad up the chossy lichen climb as well. The climbing was easy but the loose rock made it kind of scary. Also, the loose rock made finding a good placement for nuts/cams really difficult. Nearly every little fissure where I could place something seemed to be bordered by a rock that would simply blow-out if pressure was applied to it... say in a fall. Luckily, the fixed line was a stout 11mm rope, and I just clipped caribiners into it for protection on. I'm glad it was there.
Approaching the first difficulty.. the tree on the ridge ahead has a fixed rope with loops in it going down to the notch below.

After this climb there was a small ridge-top of easy walking before another downclimb was encountered, but we both descended that without problem and reach another notch in the ridge with a small perch and steep cliffs on either side. It almost looked like there would be a scrambling route down the south face, but it alos looked a lot more fun to stay on the knife edge ridge and climb a short 100ft pitch up to a larger broader part of the ridge. Once again, I volunteered to lead. This time the climbing was superb, the rock was good quality, there were excellent placements for gear and the exposure and position, high on a rocky spine with immense drop-offs on both sides... it was great! But I wouldn't want to do it without a rope.
RMRR approaches the climbing pitch. The line we took is directly above his helmet in the picture

RMRR negotiates a move to reach the belay stance at the base of the climbing pitch

This section proved to be the last real climbing we would need to do. After a nice easy section of walking there was one small 10ft downclimb, which I lowered RMRR down, and then down-climbed myself and then we were at the geocache that was the reason for our adventure, GC7FNN5, FTF for both of us! We celebrated by taking off our packs and eating lunch.

From the cache, we were surprised that there weren't any 5th class obstacles until just before the next cache on the ridge, where RMRR had ended up last December with his son. The webbing he used for a rappel was still in place and in good shape, so we rigged it for our own rappel. Instead of rappelling down and staying on the ridge, we did a 25m rappel off the north side a straight show down and an easy pull. This spot left us with a little ledge scramble to get over to the main ridge, and final and the cache Success...sort of. And then it was 3rd class scrambling all the way down to tower 2. Not to say the scrambling was without its merits, parts of it were across narrow bands of rock with huge drops on either side, par for the course when doing Whiskey Ridge as we now know.
"Easy" sections of Whiskey Ridge below our FTF cache

50m rappel just before GC3GRH6

Looking back up the ridge a short ways west of the rappel.

At tower 2, I found the older cache there, and we snapped shots of the trams passing close over head. Then I let RMRR lead me back down to the tram parking. This consisted mainly of bouldery ridges, thick desert scrub and inscrutable sun. Luckily it was all down hill. I polished off the last of my water on the descent and was thankful that we didn't have far to go to get back to the car. RMRR then shuttled me back to the La Luz trailhead where we parted ways. All in all, a good day out, covering lots of new ground, and exercising my very atrophied rock climbing skills. It felt good to tie back into a rope and place gear, even if we only did so for some very short pitches. Makes me want to come back and try out some of the longer routes here in the Sandias. Maybe someday soon.
Near Tower 2

A little down-climbing below Tower 2


Some stats:

  • Miles traveled: 
  • Hours out: <10 
  • Geocaches found: 10
  • DNFs: 1
  • Geocaches close by but skipped:9
  • 5th class pitches lead: 2
  • FTFs scored: 1