19 May 2008

Keeping an old geocache alive

Geocachers who know me will know that I have an affinity for older caches. I like to attribute it to a respect for the sport’s roots. One constant even since the sport began in 2000 is that some people will try it, and for them it just won’t catch on. They’ll find 10; hide two, then quit. Most of the time nowadays, the two they hide will be film cans.

In the early days, though, almost all of the caches were regular size, ammo cans, occasionally Tupperware, etc. One such cache is Memaloose Island View, in the Columbia River Gorge area of south central Washington State. It was hidden by someone who went by the name “DoubleB.” He (or she) joined in 2001 and has not logged onto the GC.com site since 2002. Amazingly, the cache has survived on autopilot for 7 years, until recently that is.

While cruising through the GC.com forums last month, I noticed that a Seattle area cacher that I knew had posted a note about this cache needing to be adopted. Unfortunately, GC.com must have had a bad experience with adopting out seemingly abandoned caches, because they now will NOT adopt a cache to anyone without written permission from the “owner.” I’ve tried to contact the owner, but to no avail. However, I don’t need permission to put the cache on my watchlist and do an occasional, unofficial maintenance check. I felt like this old cache, one of the first 900 listed and part of the Washington History Challenge, needed to be saved.

Last Saturday, I loaded up a new ammo can and set out from Salem about 7AM. I knew it was a pretty long trip, but it turned out to be even longer than I figured. But the area is one of the prettiest I’ve ever encountered! Heading up I-5, I stopped briefly at a scenic overlook to grab a cache that was just too easy not to grab. I’d stopped here several times before, but the area is usually crawling with watchful eyes. This morning, there was only one car, and he was nowhere near the cache, so I grabbed it, then hit the road again.I took the I-84 exit toward The Dalles. The highway winds its way along the river, with enormous mountains on the other side of the road. It was tough to keep my eyes on the road and not on the spectacular views! One of the best was when I rounded a corner and came face to face with Multnomah Falls! It’s literally right off to the side of the interstate!

I stopped briefly for a Pepsi and to hunt a TB hotel in Hood River. I made my way up a rocky hillside, only to reach the top and find a dirt road leading to the truck stop sign at the top of the hill! I spent about 30 minutes looking in the million crevices around boulders weighing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, but even with the hint I couldn’t find anything. The place was teeming with poison oak, though. Fortunately, I’m not allergic, but as I understand it, if I keep exposing myself to it, I will almost certainly develop an allergy.

So I finally give up and figure I’m just letting the sun get hotter and higher in the sky. I made my way back down the way I came (the easy way was too long of a walk), and jumped back in the truck for the remaining 10 miles of my trip. Crossing the Columbia at Hood River is done via a $.75 toll bridge. It’s one of those metal deck bridges that makes you feel like your tires are wandering from side to side. Personally, I think they should have made the toll $1 and made the bridge 3 feet wider!

I finally get to the parking lot .83 from the cache. There are two other caches nearby, but I figured I’d better accomplish the mission, then if I had time I could hunt the other two. I set out from the trailhead at 11:11, with my GPS reading 256 feet of elevation. I could see even from below that this “2.5*” terrain rating was likely to be on the low side. Seems to me that cachers used to rate things lower than we do now. The trail starts off in a wide open slope. You don’t even encounter trees for about the first few hundred feet. The terrain is mostly small rocks with a thin covering of scrub grass and a few trees, some Douglas fir and white oak. But the real star of the hike is the wildflowers, which were quite prevalent, although from reading the pervious logs on the cache, the abundant moisture that made them bloom so much may already be gone for the “dry season.” The grass was crunchy except in the shade of the few trees. Even the moss was dry and brown.

At about the 350 foot level, I encountered a couple that was taking pictures, complete with a tripod. They were curious about the box I had in my hands, thinking I was headed the wrong way to be fishing. I told them about geocaching and remarkably they had heard of it. I told them about the cache, figuring that no one would hike another 500 feet up the hill just to get a box full of toys. They said it was their first visit to the area and wanted to know how much higher it was. I guessed at 500 feet, and I was off by about 100.

By this time, I was huffin and puffin pretty good! I started stopping at each large tree, resting in the shade each time. The ammo can made a pretty good portable seat. At one stop, I checked my pulse, which was 133. According to the American Heart Association, my target heart rate for aerobic exercise is 90-153. “If you can talk and walk at the same time, you aren't working too hard. If you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you're probably not working hard enough. If you get out of breath quickly, you're probably working too hard — especially if you have to stop and catch your breath.” Since I was getting out of breath I decided to stop and rest to get my hr down a little. Had I been a little more comfortable on the ground, it would have been a perfect place for a nap! Mildly warm in the shade, the gentle breeze made it quite nice, and the filtered sunlight would have made it just warm enough to doze off quite easily. The clear, cloudless day yielded a spectacular view of Mount Hood to the southwest and the island to the southeast.
“Memaloose” is an Indian word for the dead, and supposedly, there are grave on the island, but I wasn’t going to swim out to find them. I was more concerned about making sure there wasn’t an impromptu grave up HERE! Oh, did I mention I did this on the second hottest day of the year? In a black t-shirt and jeans? And I forgot sunscreen?

As I reached the area of “ground zero,” my energy level increased in preparation for the search. Funny how that happens! In very short order I found a Ziploc bag which contained a printout of the cache page and all prior logs, which another cacher had left in the logical place for a container to be hidden in the area. It quickly became apparent that my GPS and DoubleB’s did not agree. MY ground zero was 60 feet east, and nowhere near anything taller than a blade of grass. After setting my GPS down to get a new reading, I made a thorough search of the surrounding area to make sure the old cache really was gone. I marked the new waypoint and placed the printouts in the new ammo can hiding it in something resembling the hint. At least, I hope that’s what that plant was. Not being allergic to poison oak, I tend to ignore it.

I glanced at my GPS to get an elevation reading before heading back down the mountain (979 feet). This was the first significant hike I’d taken without a knee brace since I blew my right knee out in September. As you’ll know if you hike steep terrain, going down is easier on the heart but harder on the legs. Going downhill is no problem. Going downhill and staying on your feet is a problem. My legs were quivering pretty good by the time I reached 400 feet or so. I stopped fewer times than on the trip up, but still stopped every now and then to catch some shade and a drink (note to self: take more water next time). The views going down were even better than going up, since on the way up I was pretty much looking right at my feet the whole way. The trail has some twists and turned to watch out for, though. The western edge has a nice 200-300 foot drop in places!

Never have I been so glad to see my truck again! Even the luke-warm Gatorade was a welcome sight! I was bushed and decided I just didn’t have another hunt in me that day. It was 1343 (1:43PM), and I still had a nice long drive back home. About this time I realized that I had not put a “geocache” label on the ammo can! D’oh!

I didn’t get an official smilie for the find, since I don’t believe you can find something that you hid yourself. But I got lots of smiles for the incredible views, the fresh air and exercise, and giving something back to Washington for the fun I’ve had hunting caches up there.

No comments: