Friday, January 5, 2018

2017 LCP NM Back-Country Champion... maybe

How did that happen? To be fair, every year I've geocached in New Mexico I have chased this leaderboard, and in 2013 I was actually quite close. I was in the top spot that year but Wolf11469 had some late-year finds that bumped him ahead of me. The next year we moved out of state, so LCP was not something I could partake in, but we came back in 2016 and I jumped right back into the game (see this blog post). That year I was only able to climb to 6th in the NM back-country leaderboard, but considering I was only in the state for half the year, this wasn't a bad showing. I hit some pretty high point caches, some really lonely ones that had gone unfound for quite some time.

This year, aside from January where I was near the top due to a fun geocache outing on new Year's day where I found a handful of fairly lonely caches, I was mostly in the 3rd to 5th rank position. The geocachers that were always ahead of me were Sandpig, sywy, budabeli and occasionally others were ahead as well. I had pretty much resigned myself to this ranking, but when I checked just the other day, some recent point activity between the eladers had cause d them to drop, and me to rise, and 'lo and behold, I was in the top spot!

2017 is over now, but the final point tally isn't final until January 15th, so I will need to wait until then to see if I retain this position. I know I didn't have any lonely finds in late December that are still waiting to be added to my score. I just have to hope that the other contenders do not have any. You can be sure, on January 15th, i will be checking back at to see if I made it as the Top Back Country Geocacher in NM in 2017!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Winter caching in upsate New york

We were in upstate New York for the holidays this year. The last time we were here was in 2014, and I was anxious to check on my two geocache hides. Theoretically, I can ask family to check on these for me, but I stupidly hid both of them with high terrain ratings (3.5 and greater) and with my in-laws getting up there in years, neither location is really one I would be comfortable having them check for me anymore. But they know where they are now, and have contacts and I suppose if there was an issue, I could rope them into finding someone to help me out. But so far there hasn't been much need for this. Both caches, GC4348N and GC43EVW are pretty rural, off any main highway, and somewhat tricky puzzle caches. So the amount of traffic they get is extremely low. The two caches have a combined find count of 11 over 5 years, so if either of them gets a find in any given year, I'm pretty happy. And given this low find rate, maintenance needs are low. So I was surprised when I checked on GC4348N and found it missing. Would someone really have climbed down under this unassuming bridge and taken this little plastic container? I think it more likely that flood waters carried the cache away, my in-laws reported that the bridge was closed due to flooding last summer, and this very likely would account for the missing cache. Lucky for me, no one had searched for the cache since this flood, so I was able to get a new container in place. Hopefully, it can go another 5 years without any problem.
GC43EVW in good shape

Somewhat of a spoiler pic...

In general, I haven't had to worry about winter geocaching woes. Here in New Mexico, where we live now, we only get snow up in the high mountains, so you can simply find caches at the lower elevations that are free from snow. Not so in upstate New York. When I arrived, it was sleeting and there was already a foot of snow covering the ground. The sleet turned into a hard layer of ice, and then got covered by another foot of snow. This makes finding any geocache placed on the ground extremely difficult, if not impossible. Digging in the snow, even in the exact location where the cache is, may still be fruitless. Winter is definitely not the best time to find geocaches up here. But that doesn't mean it can't be done, it just means it requires all that much more effort.

I decided to test my winter caching abilities while out performing maintenance on my two geocaches. The first cache I went after,GC4QV91 , had a hint indicating it was at the base of a tree. At GZ there were several trees that it could have been and I dug around three of them before finding the frozen plastic container. It was actually not too difficult, but very very cold. unfortunately, the log had previously been a wet mushy pulp of peper, and was now a solid frozen block of un-signable ice. I guess that's another reason caching in winter is tough. Any wet log is bound to be un-usable.
How does one sign this?

My next two caches I stopped to find on my way back to the in-laws' I also found, although one of them was a nice dry magnetic key holder under a town bell. Definitely a winter friendly hide, although I had to post-hole through 20" of snow to reach the bell. Maybe winter caching isn't as hard as I thought it would be.

Rather than simply go after the random local hides that were around, I wanted to do something a bit more my style. A hike up a mountain with a rewarding viewt. An area that particularly caught by eye was Old Forge, a touristy Adirondack town nestled among lakes and mountain ridges. There are a number of short day hikes up to rocky ridge-tops most having a geocache on them. And it is only an hour's drive from our home-base. The only thing that gave me some pause was the intense cold-snap that hit right after Christmas. The window thermometer was down in the -20F to -30F range every morning and daily highs didn't even reach 0F. This is not what most people would consider reasonable hiking weather, and indeed my in-laws (and wife) thought I was crazy to even consider it. But I strongly believe, there is not bad weather for going outside, only bad clothing. As long as I was prepared, I could handle the cold. I had a good layering system, and warm winter jacket. I bought some chemical hand and toe warmers to keep the extremities from freezing and headed off early one morning to hike up Bald Mountain, one of the most popular day hikes in the Old Forge area.

I left fairly early in the morning, with temps showing -25F outside. I stopped in Old Forge to find the Webcam cache there, GC3C3A. This proved to be more challenging than I thought it would be since the posted coordinates for the webcam are actually about a mile from where the webcam is. Simply going to the coordinates (as I did) gets you no-where, you need to look up the name of the Hotel where the webcam is located and navigate there. I was a bit miffed about this, seems the CO should be able to correct this fairly easily, but no matter. I finally got to the right place and waited around for the webcam to refresh, taking this "charming picture".

Temps were only -11F at this point, the day sure was warming up! Webcam found (only my second one ever!) I made my way over to the Bald Mountain trailhead to start my hike. I was a little worried that parking would be a problem. Earlier in the week, I had dragged the family over to Pixley falls but we couldn't actually go in to see the waterfalls because the run-off and parking area were not plowed, and there wasn't enough shoulder on the side of the highway to park. I was hoping this wouldn't be the case at Bald Mountain, since it might mean having to park further away somewhere and hike a bunch of extra distance along the side of a road. Luckily, the parking area was nicely plowed, and I was the first person to show up to hike the peak this morning.

I had brought with me two pairs of snow-shoes, one large and one small. My thinking was that if the trail was covered in deep snow, the large pair would be handy. But as I got to the trail register, I found that the trail was already very well packed. So well in fact, that snowshoes were hardly necessary at all. I strapped on the smaller pair anyways, because I knew that near the summit I would be going off trail to find the geocaches there, and then the snow-shoes would be useful.
Good info to have while hiking in extreme weather (cold)

Well packed trail

Starting out at the trailhead

The hike up was beautiful, and predictably cold. My nose and cheeks stung from the bitter cold, but the rest of me stayed nice and toasty. In less than an hour I was at the summit enjoying amazing views of the frozen lakes and snow covered peaks.
Near the summit

There are two geocaches up on the summit and I intended to find them both. The first, an earthcache called Bald Mountain Balancing Rock, was pretty easy to get to, but harder to answer all the geology questions due to the snow cover. Some of the questions asked you to compare the balanced rock to the surrounding rock, but everything was covered in snow. I did the best I could, and the questions I couldn't immediately answer in the location I ended up doing a bit of online research to get answers.
Bald Mountain balanced Rock

The other geocache was an older ammo can cache. This one worried me in that I would have to dig through deep snow to find it. The fresh snow on the summit was about 16-20" deep, and it could have been really difficult to search the ground. Luckily, given the hint, and the hide location, I was able to find the cache quickly and easily. I left a set of chemical hand and foot warmers, and grabbed a pathtag.
GC4PA7D in good shape

Finally, I spent a bit of time at the Fire Tower on the summit, taking in the amazing views all around. I had the whole place to myself and reveled in the glory of being out on a frozen mountaintop all by myself. Took me back to my college days, when I would go winter hiking/climbing in the North East. It felt good to know I could still enjoy such activities.
Rondaxe Fire Tower

Panorama from within tower
Panorama of 3rd Lake

Since I had taken off my snow-shoes to climb the tower, I left them off for the descent hike. They really weren't needed at all for the packed trail. I passed a few other hikers starting up the trail as I got close to the trailhead, proving that I was not the only crazy person to be out hiking in sub-zero temperatures. But then, the well packed trail told me that as well. I do believe that hiking Bald Mountain in winter may be preferable to summer/fall, judging from the stories I've heard about hundreds/thousands of people hiking up every day. Having the mountain all to yourself is worth the chill.

After my nice hike, I met up with the rest of the family in Old Forge for lunch and to peruse the "Adirondack's Most General Store". I couldn't resist but order the "Mountain maniac" sandwhich from the restaurant. I would have loved to do more hiking in the area, and more geocaching, but I'll have to save that for another trip. I know we'll be back visiting family again, and now I can strike off to this relatively close area for adventurous hiking.

 I barely cached at all the rest of our trip except for finding a cache on 12/31/17 and one on 1/1/18 so that I could earn the souvenirs given out on these days. I dragged my father in-law with me to find a cache on 12/31 and we got pretty lucky to find, GC4M19Q, one of the closest geocaches around our area. The cache listing indicated it should be winter friendly, but it also indicated that it could be buried by snow banks since it was in a guard rail. Turns out it was the latter, but I dug into the snow bank at just the right spot to find the geocache right away. On the first of the New Year, we left the in-laws to head back home, driving to Syracuse to catch our flight early the next morning. I had solved a puzzle cache near the Syracuse airport for just this evening, and after checking into the airport hotel, but before returning our rental car, I made a quick trip out to look for GC2F628. I was hoping this would be an easy LPC cache, given the location of the hide in a strip-mall area, but it turned out to be in a small wooded section adjacent to a tire shop. Luckily, in Syracuse there was only a few inches of snow on the ground and after a bit of brushing away snow, I found the cache. A nice geocaching end to a wonderful trip in new York. And a promising geocaching start to the new year.
First cache of 2018!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Frustrated by Gates in the Jemez

Not for the first time, I've found myself on a geocache inspired drive through rugged and remote back-country. This latest trip was in the Jemez mountains, taking back-roads between Espanola, the Cladarea, and Abiquiu. One of Santa Fe's local cachers recently placed a bunch of new caches on a back road out there, leading up to the high point of the Jemez mountains, Chicoma. These caches, and the few peaks along the route were my main goal, but there was one very lonely cache on dirt road connecting the road near Chicoma to Abiquiu that I also was interested in getting, mainly for the Lonely Cache Points. Why not right? I'll tell you why not, that road was a rocky, rutted mess. Twice I used the maps I had both in the car, and on my GPSr to find ways to get off that road and to other parts of the mountain range, but both times I failed. The first time the road ended up at the edge of a plateau. My map showed a zig-zag path down this steep slope, but there was no passable road to be found. The second time I ran into a locked gate. I bet that road would have eventually gotten me off of the Polvedera plateau, but what can i do about a locked gate? Not much.
So what I originally thought was going to ba a half-day trip driving up into the mountains, turned into a full-day rough trail ride. Luckily, i had the presence of mind to fill up my gas tank in Espanola before tackling the mountain roads.

This part of the Jemez is pretty inaccessible. Sure there are some roads that can get you back out there, but they are slow going. There is also a lot of exploring that can be done out here though. Not hiking trails, just old logging roads, mining camps, remote volcanic peaks... I'll have to come back out some time to see what i can find.
Clara Peak Lookout GC7AYAE

Near the top of Chicoma Mountain GC7DZ1Z

Great views at GC3RGCK

The Carnales Memorial, GC3QKXX

Herd of elk on the way to Abiquiu

My dusty TB

A very lonely cache deep in the Jemez on the Polvedera Mesa, GC3RGEB

Friday, November 17, 2017

Late season hike into the Sangre de Christo Mtns: Trampas lakes and beyond

Right after moving to Santa Fe, I took the family on a camping trip on the Trampas river. We took a long round-about way to reach a nice back-road campsite, and settled in for a weekend of hanging out in the mountains. On our last day, we hiked up the Trampas Trail for a about a mile and a half, picking wild strawberries and cooling our feet in the icy mountain stream.  This trail continued way into the Pecos wilderness and I knew then that I wanted to hike the rest of it some day.

Fast forward to November 17th, 2017. I had an off Friday from work, the kids were in school, and I could tackle any number of geocaching adventures for the day. I had been eying the Sangre De Christos all week, wondering if there would be too much snow up there to pursue some of the higher elevation caches. while there was some snow, it didn't seem like much so i decided to reutrn to Trampas for an adventurous day-hike.

My overall plan was to hike up to the end of the trail at Trampas lakes and search for all the caches along the way. One cache in particular,  GC64JX9, still had the FTF up for grabs and I was hoping to score that and add to my Lonely Cache Points for the year. Another cache, GC6PG39, was my stretch goal. This was also an unfound cache, but getting to it would mean an arduous trek over the ridge-top... and back again. The snow and ice could be a problem for this, as well as my time deadline. I had to complete my hike and be back at the car by 3:00 pm in order to drive back to Santa Fe to pick up my kids from their after-care program. Deadlines, deadlines... always make for some added fun.
Trampas Lake
I left Santa Fe at 0500h and drove up to the trailhead in the dark, making it there at 0630h. Surprise, surprise, no other cars at the trailhead! I quickly hit the trail and was soon motoring my way up to Trampas lakes. The trail started out clear of snow, but around 10,000' there was light blanket of snow on the ground. Fortunately, the trail was already packed from previous hikers. I made a few stops at geocaches along the route, GC4DX01, GC5BKW7 and GC4DWZD. These were all micros placed just off the trail and fortunately none of them took long to find. It was pretty darn cold and soon as I stopped hiking I would get chilly fast. I do enjoy hiking in cold weather though. As long as you keep moving at a brisk pace, there is no need for lots of layers of clothing to stay warm. The trick is finding the right balance between your pace, and the heat transfer coming off your body. Once you get this right you can hike all day without having to worry about getting cold or hot.

I stopped a bit longer at GC64JX9 which I happily found and traded items. The only other person to attempt this cache was WOLF11469, and he got stymied by both spotty coords and deep snow. The CO had since posted spoiler pics, extra coords, hints... I had a much easier time than him in finding the cache. Kind of unfair of him to lose out on the FTF, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I reached the lakes in good time, right around 9am. In fact, my time was good enough for me to entertain crossing over the high alpine ridge to go after the new cache at Quemado falls. I picked a chute on the ridge above and made my way up it. The going was very slow. Not only is it a steep ascent, but there was a layer of snow covering the terrain making it more difficult to get footing. The snow wasn't deep enough where I could kick steps up it (or make an avalanche danger), but not shallow enough to completely disregard. So it was a slow slog. I did see tracks from what i presume was bighorn sheep, taking the same route up over the ridge.
My route was up the right-hand chute
Looking down the chute at Trampas lakes

Once on the other side of the ridge, the South facing slope was much easier. No snow at all, an an open woodland slope to traverse down. At the top of the ridge, I was actually quite close to a geocache I had found in the summer of 2016 when i hiked the Truchas Peaks for the first time. I considered stopping by to check on that cache, but decided that I had to save my time for the descent and return trip. I did have a deadline after-all. I made quick time down to Quemado falls and enjoyed an early lunch at the frozen waterfall.

Quemado Falls

A long time ago, I would have been super keen on ice climbing this fall. In fact, standing beneath it, i felt that itch again. What would it take to break out my tools and give this ice a climb? Well... first I'd need to hook up with a climbing partner... then I'd have to make sure my gear is still in usable shape... then I'd need to actually figure out how to get to the Rio Quemado trailhead. This was my second time at the falls, but I have yet to hike to it by the actual trailhead that gets here. Maybe another day...

Despite being pretty tired, I made good time back up and over the ridge to Trampas lakes. I made one more slight detour on my return hike, taking a side trail to hidden lake in order to grab the last geocache in the area, GC5DDBY. The trail to hidden lake had no footprints in the snow, meaning I was the first person to visit it in the last few weeks since the snows hit. Kind of cool. i wonder how many people come up here for winter hiking? I bet this trail makes a fine snowshoeing destination. And I know that alpine skiers come up here from seeing trip reports online. Hidden lake was nice, but not as nice as Trampas lakes in my opinion. If I were to come back up to this area in the summer and backpack, i would shoot for one of the gorgeous campsites around the Trampas Lakes. maybe next summer with the family?

The rest of the hike down was quick and easy, and I was back to the car by 1400h. Plenty of time to drive back to Santa Fe and get the kids. Not a bad day's hike for a little late season high altitude geocaching.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

New caching project: Juggling?

Worked on some items for a new geocache i am planning to hide soon. it will be a puzzle cache of course.... can you guess the theme?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Deer trap Mesa with my Mom

 I work up in Los Alamos, but have not actually done very many hikes in the area. There a re a ton of nice trails though, so when my mom and her husband asked about doing a short dayhike, i knew just where to go... Deer Trap Mesa.

My mom's husband, Milo, dabbles in geocaching. It is not something he really is excited about (like me), but whenever we are visiting, or they are visiting, he helps me look for geocaches along our hikes. Deer Trap Mesa had a couple nice old geocaches to hunt.

 One cache in particular, GC2538, was pretty far out on the mesa, beyond where the trail ended. We scrambled our way over to it and found this good old cache. Inside was a note about another few caches, and the note included coordinates. After entering these in, we saw that it was only another 1/4 mile away. But it involved some rock scrambling and possibly also a ladder. Of course I was game for that!
 I made my way over to the "One tree Mesa" but did not find the ladder. instead, i used a rock pile to assist my climb up onto a small rock tableau, maybe 50' long and 20' wide, and protruding 20' or so up from the surrounding ridge-top. There was a scraggly old tree up there festooned with Christmas lights. There were also a few spots where a geocache could have been placed, but I couldn't find any old container. It was a pretty cool discovery though and gave our whole trip a sense of adventure that otherwise it might not have had.


These finger mesas are very cool. When I got home I did some reasearch and found the original listing for One tree Mesa geocache, GC19E5X. It was archived when the land it was on was transferred to the San Idelfonso pueblo back in 2014. The more I dug, the more I found a bunch of cool old archived caches that are now on the Pueblo lands, and no longer accessible. Cool hikes and scrambles up many of the neat rocky mesas out here. Of course, there are still lots of neat places that you are allowed to go out here, and I fully intend to do so. Lot's more exploring to do around Los Alamos.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not one of my better ideas

 The weekend comes and there aren't any set plans or agendas for the family. So I suggest, why not a geocaching adventure hight up into the mountains to see some nice fall colors? The family agrees, we pack up a nice picnic lunch and head out for what should be a nice little drive. My target is Glorieta Peak (GC6MVDF), one of the accessible mountains near Santa Fe. I should put "accessible" in quotes though. While the Santa Fe Ski basin and Tesuque peak you can drive right up to on nice paved roads, Glorietta peak requires driving out to Pecos first, then taking old forest and logging roads for a good 12 miles. The going is SLOW. And to make matters worse, I miss a turn off on our way up, wasting even more time.

By the time we reach Glorietta peak, it is well past lunchtime and the kids are famished. We get out of the car and it is freeeeeeezing cold. Much colder than it was in town. A cold front must have been moving in as we drove up, and along with the cold temperatures, we are also socked in by clouds, unable to even get a nice view. Our outside picnic is a flop, everyone is too cold to enjoy the food. My plan to do a little hike down the ridge to Mt. Taylor and GC6MVDF, is quickly abandoned. no one is in the mood for this. Why did Dad drag us all up here again? Next time we stay home and watch movies and eat popcorn.... sigh...

One cold kid

Lovely views eh?