Tuesday, December 29, 2015

FTF in Wonderland


It's been a while since I've gone on a FTF hunt. Not sure why, there have been plenty of new caches popping up here and there. Most of them require a bit of a drive to get too, and perhaps I just don't have much competitive spirit these days. However, when I got a notification last night that a new cache by my friends Lullabye4U and Kaput360 was out I became intrigued. It looked like they had started putting out caches for their new Alice in Wonderland themed geocache series already, a series they had mentioned while we were out hiking Slickrock Creek. Digging a bit deeper, I found out they had already published a few oif this series, but they were just beyond where my radius is set for notifications. Not only was there this new cache, but another one, a puzzle also hadn't been found yet, and it had been out for a few days. With my son being out of school, I decided a little morning geocaching trip was in order, so I set about solving the puzzle and packing up for the next morning's adventure.
On our way to FTF gold
I was expecting it to be a windy rainy day, and packed accordingly, but it turned out to be sunny and warm, perfect weather to be out with the kids. We visited Roane County Park first, and got our first FTF within minutes. My son made the find, and both kids were happy to trade for toys. We ended up hiking to two more caches in the park including another of the Alice in Wonderland series, which was really cute.
Ada attempts to go down the rabbit hole
A short drive away we had a chance for another FTF, this time on a nature trail near Harriman. We flushed a couple of dear on our way down to the cache, which was found quickly. This one was great even though the kids were disappointed that it was only a micro.
"Drink Me"

Turns out, we beat out Ol' Fogies to this cache by a few hours. Guess I've still got a little competitive spirit left in me. We finished the morning by searching for a few more Harriman caches before heading home for a well deserved lunch. Looking forward to more Alice in Wonderland caches, they're fun!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Getting my Hike On

Viewing Tennessee from Hangover Ledge, GCVZ2W
December has been a pretty slow month for my geocaching, and unless I go on a spree in the next few days (which is always a possibility), it will be the month this year where I have found the fewest caches. It may even end up being my lowest month of caches of all time, which is currently a distinction held by May of 2012 when I only found 13 caches (followed closely by June 2012 with 16 caches). Of course, I ahve always maintained that the number of cache finds isn't really that important a statistic, at least I try to project that sentiment. It shouldn't matter if I haven't found many,a s long as the ones I did find were awesome adventures. Even so, the statistics help see a broader view, and this month has indeed been a slow one for geocaching. Between some violin engagements, birthdays, and family visiting from out of town, I just haven't had as many opportunities to go out caching. And the itch was definitely there, so I made plans to go on a nice long caching hike the day after dropping my in-laws off at the airport. The hike I had in mind was a ridge-top, starting at Beech Gap on the Cherahola Skyway, and ending at Hangover Ledge. I was hoping for wintry conditions, but would be happy just getting out.
 This is Tree eating wilderness country
I invited fellow cacher and caver, GISpuma and her boyfriend Mtippetts (that's his cacher name, he just got started with this geocaching nonsense) to come along. While I do enjoy a solo outing, having company is nice too, and I felt that I owed GISpuma a trip after she graciously led me on a trip to Blue Spring Cave. As the day of the hike drew near, it became apparent that we would have unseasonably warm weather, which was fine by me as well. We'd make better time if the ridge wasn't covered in snow and ice. I picked GISpuma and Mtippetts up at 6:30 am and we were off on our adventure. An earlier start might ahve been prudent, since the days are short this time of year, but I didn't want to leave too early since I wanted to eb able to see the scenic drive up the Cherahola Skyway. I'd never driven up it before and it was indeed pretty nice. We stopped at one of the overlooks, nominally to use the bathrooms, but also just to see the view and find a nearby cache. I made the mistake of letting my dog run loose. After finding the cache, the dog came bounding over to us, smelling something awful, and with an enormous grin on her face. If there is something smelly nearby for her to roll in, it will be found quickly. I can't say what it was she rolled in, but it was rank. Luckily, we only had a short drive left to our trailhead, and her stench wouldn't be too noticeable while out hiking. I secretly hoped that by the end of the day, it would be gone. Hey, one can dream.

Pre Hike Photo
The first section of the trail was along dirt road, and was pretty uninteresting. We chatted and made good time, and were soon on the southern flank of Bob's Bald, our first peak to climb. GISpuma had been up on Bob's Bald before for a meteor shower viewing party, so this was all familiar territory for her. She hadn't found the cache there though, so hopefully we would be remedying that. The top of Bob's Bald had a few nice meadows giving decent views to the east over North Carolina. It was also windy and cold, and we were bundled up in our layers. I was expecting 70 degree weather so I had on just about all my gear. If it got any colder I'd be in trouble. The cache, GC37QG5, was found pretty quickly with three sets of eyes.
Finding the Cache Happy!
The next four caches were part of a series called the Mile High Series, and were all around 5280' elevation. They were nicely spaced out around .5-1 mile apart, so we never had too far to go before getting to the next cool destination. The trail got better too, with interesting rock fins protruding from the ridge-top, and frequent views off to either side. Our next stop was Stratton Bald, which was not really a bald at all, being entirely tree covered. Maybe it used to be a bald? The weather got warmer the further we hiked. We also ran into a few backpacking groups near the next trail junction which was called Naked Ground. I was expecting Naked Ground to be a wide open meadow, but it was simply a saddle with a few open spots where people camp. There was a nice view off to the east. By the time we reached our next cache/destination, Haoe Bald, it was past lunchtime, and we were tempted to break at one of the many campsites. But the lure of a beautiful view at Hangover Ledge was too much, and we kept on trucking.
Searching for the cache near Haoe
Hangover Ledge was by far the gem of this hike. It was actually lower in elevation than Haoe Bald, but out on a ridge covered in short Rhododendrons. Several rocks were high enough that when you stood on them, you could see well out in every direction. And of course, the trail ended at a rocky outcrop with just stunning views. It was about 1:30pm by the time we arrived, but it was finally time for lunch. The sun had popped through the clouds, making it warm and pleasant. Hard to believe it was December high up in the mountains. But before taking it all in, something very important had to be done.... eat lunch! I was famished! The geocache, the views, they could both wait. I needed food. And I had a gourmet spread of flat bread, chicken, vegetables and greek yogurt sauce (tsaziki?). GISpuma and Mtippetts had energy bars, a whole mound of them. We all dug in sharing what we had and were soon sated. Even Sasha had some food and was soon taking a nap in a sunny spot.
One tired pup

Eating right after a long hike

Looking north from Hangover Ledge
We did finally get around to finding the cache here, which is a pretty old one, having been placed back in 2006. The logbook is one of those rare ones that is actually pretty full, although it looks like this is more because it is often found by backpackers rather than just geocachers. There were some really interesting log entries in the book, and we all took some time reading through it. A couple of geocachers got engaged at this spot, someone else left a hollow point bullet since they hadn't seen any bears on their hike and he could afford to leave it behind. And person after person exclaiming about the beauty of the place. The cache was pretty well loaded with goods as well. A lot of the items looked like stuff that backpackers would have on them, including a bunch of food packets (oatmeal and the like). There's no saying how old that stuff is, and I took them out thinking that I was doing a service by taking out food items. You aren't supposed to leave food items inside caches, so I consider it the right thing to do to take them out when I see them. The main reasons for this is that you don't want to attract animals to the cache, but also you don't want the inside of the cache to get covered in gross sticky food when it inevitably gets wet. The thing is, the food in this cache was all pretty well dry, and I suppose it could be used by backpackers. But I grabbed them anyways. Was I doing a dis-service? Only the caching gods will know.

The return hike was mostly uneventful, at least for me. GISpuma was having some joint pain though, so we took it easy pace wise. She got along much better after finding some suitable sticks to use as trekking poles. I wish I had brought mine. It threatened to rain on us a few times on our return, but the cloud would always blow over before any real rain started. The slight rain helped de-stinkify the dog though and by the time we got back to the car at 5:30pm, she was almost normal. Well, not that good, she still got a bath as soon as we got home, but the drive home wasn't atrocious. The hike ended up being over 12 miles, which was on the high end of what I had estimated. We could have shaved off some of that distance by starting at a different trailhead, but the ridge-top was pleasant enough to walk along. And it felt great to be outside and hiking again. I need to get out and do more of these hikes. Even if it means finding less caches per month.
Posing on Bob's Bald
End of Hike