Sunday, January 24, 2016

The North Ridge Trail Geocache Demon

There are demons out here in these woods. I haven't seen them, but they are there... Almost a year ago, I placed a geocache on the North Ridge Greenway. A geocache that you might call somewhat involved, with 9 stages spread out over almost 8 miles of trail. It was going to be awesome... But it was never found by geocachers, because it got pilfered. Well, geocachers like to say it got muggled. I wrote a long, sob-story post about it then, and made a mental note not to hide caches on this greenway. If there is someone who frequents that trail that takes geocaches, well, I'll jsut steer clear of it. And I've warned other local cachers about this trail as well. I'd hate for someone else to go through a bunch of grief of stolen geocaches.

But despite my warnings, some friends of mine Lullabye4U and Kaput360 began placing caches out on the trail. They are building a really cool Alice in Wonderland series of caches, with placements in Kingston and Oak ridge areas so far. They have wonderful Alice in Wonderland swag, really creative and fun containers, great cache write-ups. The series is going to be fantastic.

The kids and I went after 4 of these caches a few weeks ago, braving the cold. We found the caches just a day after the FTF, and only a few days after publication. This past week a few more AiW caches dropped and as luck would have it, we got snow and snow days. So I took the kids on a snowy hike and we nabbed a few FTFs on the series. The snow stopped us from getting all the new caches though, since the kids got a bit wet and cold after hiking a half mile.

We had an opportunity to go back this weekend and look for the one we missed. We hiked down to GZ and began looking in all these rabbit holes for an ammo ca, but cam up empty. I did note that there were some bootprints already at the site where the cache should ahve been, and at first had thought that a geocacher had beaten us to the find. But after finding nothing, I began to suspect something more sinister. A Geocache Demon!

On our hike out we passed by the spot where the Flamingo cache was and on a hunch I thought I'd check it out to see if it was still there. Sadly, it was not. The Geocacher Demon had nabbed these two geocaches in the last few days. I checked on one other cache in the series near the trailhead and it was still in play, but it may have survived since it is listed as a Mystery cache and is not at the posted coordinates. I hope the others in the series haven't gone missing as well, but I fear the worst. I was able to get in touch with Lullabye4u shortly after our hike and confirmed my suspicions about the cache we couldn't find. it should have been an easy ammo can right where we were looking. The Demon is here, and he wants our caches....

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How dare you!?!

Last week I got this log on one of my caches, Hiking through History: The Indian Rock Loop Trail.
It's been a year since this cache was last found or maintained. I searched for a bit since I noticed not many cachers come up here judging by other logs on other caches. A multi cache would have been nice on a day like today. 
I'd like to say I remained calm and unfazed. But I didn't. And here's why. Why would anyone request a cache be archived just because it hasn't been found in a year and that the last few seekers left DNFs? Does that in any way mean the cache isn't there? And what does this guy mean that it has been a year since it has been maintained?

Not surprisingly, I got very indignant about this post, but at least looked into this cache's history a bit before sending him an email. It is true, that the cache was only found once, by two cachers seeking the FTF way back in January of 2015. Two other cachers posted DNFs in March. The first one had mentioned being confused by the additional waypoints I added at trail junctions and I suspect that this cacher didn't actually look for stage one in the correct location. I reached out to that cacher at the time, but never heard back from them. The second cacher to leave a DNF admitted to only searching for a few minutes. And after these two DNFs I simply did not feel it necessary to go out on a maintenance check. Perhaps I should have. The cache has gone unfound since then and I can imagine that some cachers that might have been interested in it have skipped it because if its find record.

But even after reflecting on all this, I felt a bit offended that someone would post a Needs Archived (NA) log on this cache. Why not just post a DNF and Needs Maintenance (NM) log? That way you've expressed your belief that the cache isn't there and needs a check. But going a step further and requesting that the cache be wiped from the game? That seemed overly presumptuous to me. So I wrote to this cacher, to let him know that I am very interested in maintaining my caches and up until their log, had no reason to believe that there was an issue. I even went so far as to ask him to delete the NA and post a NM instead, which he went ahead and did. And I made plans to do a maintenance run on this cache.

Next came my period of gross suspicion. Who is this cacher anyways? Looking up his profile, he is a cacher from Canada that has never cached in Tennessee before. Would this cacher happen to be down here and just happen to after my cache in a remote State Park, and no other caches? Now I was getting really suspicious. This cacher went through the bother of posting a NA on my multi cache, and presumably hiking out there, but then didn't log any of the other caches in Big Ridge State Park? Now I was thinking that maybe this was an armchair log, and was getting really infuriated. My internal fury calmed a little when I saw this cacher log my cache, Sharp's Station and also replied to my messages. I had invited him to come out with me the next day to check on the cache, but he declined. He did mention another nearby cache in Big Ridge that needed maintenance though, so his story was beginning to seem more plausible. Still, the nagging thought in the back of my head is why in the world would someone be down here from Canada and only find a few caches in this one out-of-the-way State Park that even local Tennessee cachers mostly ignore? My suspicion creeps back in.

The next day I puled into the park early in the morning, the first car in the lot. A cold weather was pushing through and it was windy and cold. Actually, it wasn't too cold, but it got colder as the day went on. But never too cold for trail running. As I clogged up the ridges, the one thought in my mind was whether that first stage would be there or not. I crested onto Big Ridge and went right to the hiding spot, and there was the cache, looking pretty much undisturbed. I opened it up, contents were in good shape. Then I checked my GPSr, and saw it was pointing me something like 50 ft away. Hmmm... that could account for people not finding it. I walked over to where the GPSr was telling me to go, and ended up in a spot in the woods, surrounded by some stumps and fallen logs... perfect cache hiding spot. Now I was seeing why people were having trouble finding the stage. I didn't re-take coords just then though, opting for checking this one again on my way back out. It is a loop trail after-all.

I jogged over to the final next and found it easily as well. But once again, the coords I had were way way way off. Like over 100ft. It is on the side of a steep ridge-line, so satellite coverage can't be that good, but still, 100ft is terrible. I took new coords and headed off to stage 5.

Stage 5 was closer to being on coords, only 49ft off according to my GPSr that morning, but still too far for my liking. I wasn't very confident in my GPSr accuracy this morning though. One reason is that it took an abnormally long time for the unit to lock onto the satellite signals. In fact, it failed to get a lock on the first try, which is pretty unusual when I'm outside. It made me think twice about my readings, but what could I do? I was out there to perform maintenance and the GPSr was telling me the coords were off. Should I believe it, or trust the original coords? I hemmed and hawed about this for a bit and decided I would add an update strip inside the stage with new coordinates for the Final, but also leave the old coordinates in the stage. I then added a small note saying check whichever coords are closest to the trail first, and that the cache was less than 10' off the trail. Hopefully, that will be enough for the next seeker. But it also might be just plain confusing. In a game that depends on having good GPS accuracy, questioning your GPSr reliability isn't good.

Stage 4 was in good shape, and also the coords seemed pretty close, only ~30' off. This is on the margin of what is considered acceptable, since on any given set of coords, a 15' error can be expected, and since the person taking the coords can be 15' off, and the person going to the coords can be 15' off in the other direction, 30' error is feasible. With the hint, this stage shouldn't be too hard to locate. I added a strip of paper to this stage with new Stage 5 coords, then took a detour off to Sharp's Station. If it was windy elsewhere on the trails, Sharp's station was a maelstrom. The wind was really whipping across the reservoir. My initial thought of eating a snack at my cache there was scuttled. I did check on the cache though since I was keenly interested in whether the cache was indeed found open the previous day by the Canadian cacher. Sure enough, his name was in the logbook. I silently chided myself for being so skeptical of his logs earlier.

Getting to stage 3 took some huffing and puffing. Also, I didn't run for much of this leg, the trial is just too steep. But upon reaching Stage 3, the coords were once again pretty far off, 46'. And it was also a bit more difficult to remember where this cache was hidden, so it took me slightly longer to find the stage, but I find it I did, and it was in good shape. I averaged some new coords for this stage, left an updated clue and continued on up the trail.

Stage 2 was the only stage I found to be somewhat compromised. It was also the only stage that had coords which took me right to it. It is hidden in the hollow portion of a small tree, and tethered using some spider-line. A critter, probably a chipmunk or squirrel, had chewed through the tether and I had to reach way into the hollow to find the stage, which also had been chewed on. The cap was about 1/3 chewed off. The contents were perfectly safe though, and I had the foresight to bring extra caps with me, so it was easily repaired. I also had some extra spider-line, so I re-tied the tether, added an update note with coords for Stage 3 and was off to complete the loop.

Upon returning to stage 1, my GPSr took me right to the stage. Where it had been over 50' off only an hour earlier, it was now 15' off, perfectly accurate for geocaching. I had wanted to add some updated coords to this stage, but now I didn't have much to update. Still, I took a new set of coords. My maintenance run complete, I ran back to the parking area, passing the one and only hiker I saw all morning on the way. It was great to be back out in this park. Maybe I should place some more caches out here?

The drive home offered some needed time for reflection. Why am I so darn suspicious of cachers? Sure, posting a NA was not entirely appropriate, but harboring doubts about everything this cacher said afterwards left me feeling petty. I doubted his claims because I wanted to, because I was incredulous that he would dare to tell me my cache needed archiving without contacting me first. And this is wrong of me, or at least it feels wrong. In the end, only good came from his log, I took the opportunity to check on a lonely cache of mine that rarely gets searched for, verified it was still in pretty good shape, fixed up a few things that needed fixing and hopefully improved the cache as a whole. And I had an excuse to spend the morning out trail running. Definitely a lesson I'll have to remember next time someone informs me my cache needs to be archived.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Years Day Hike to Coyote Point

I was invited on a New Years Day hike by a local geocacher from Morgan County, TN, 9thLife. 9thLife and I have been corresponding sporadically about placing caches in Morgan County for their annual Laurel Mountain Walks Festival. I think it would be awesome to team up with the county's Tourism Board and make a mini Geo-Tour of the areas many hikes. There is the Obed River, Big South Fork (Rugby area), Frozen Head State Park and Lone Mountain State Forest, all wonderful natural areas with many trails. I've offerred to help 9thLife with this project, but so far she has not asked for much help from me, other than bouncing a few ideas off me. Regardless, when I got an invite from her to go on a hike, I was immediately interested. One of the hikes I've wanted to is in Lone Mountain State Forest out to Coyote Point, and when I mentioned this to 9thLife, she accepted it as our destination. I knew she was probably wanting to place a geocache out there, and decided I'd bring along the ammo can I retrieved from an archived cache I found a few months back. It was well labeled and had a bunch of swag already in it, all it needed was a fresh logbook.

We met at 9:30 at the trailhead. 9thLife had also invited a few other friends, so our group was 4-strong heading up the mountain. The hike was on a wide trail, wide enough to pass as a road, which I bet it once was, either a logging road or ATV one. 9thLife and her friends were very talkative, relating many of their adventures. They had been hiking together for around 20 years and have had quite a few crazy trips, like kayaking down white water rivers without having white water experience, and doing a grueling 26 mile backpacking trip in the Smokies over just two days. They laughed and joked and the time flew by as we marched up the trail.

The hiking distance to Coyote point is about 4 miles with 1000' elevation gain. The incline kept us warm, it was a cold day. The view from Coyote point was indeed fine. We snapped pictures, we hid the ammo can. We ate lunch. Then we were off back down the trail. On the way back, I expressed an interest in tagging the high point, lone Mtn itself, which was oh so close, just a 1/2 mile out of the way. no one else was too interested, but they were fine if I split off, so split off I did. The summit of Lone Mountain, also called Brass Knob by the locals, was not much to see. It's a tree covered mountain after all, but even with the leaves off the trees there wasn't much of a view. The extra elevation though was enough to put me above some magic frost line, as the plants and trees at the summit were suddenly and starkly coated in fine ice crystals. That alone made the diversion worth it.

Coming down off the summit, the trail trends west and if I had stayed on it, would have added a couple miles or more to my day. But I shortcutted down and across the steep mountain side which put me back on the Smokey Bear trail we had come up. Looking back at the track log, I doubt I added more than 3/4 of a mile to the overall hike. The rest of the way down was a quiet cruise, and I was somewhat, but not entirely surprised to see that I made it back to the parking area before 9thLife.