Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Humble Fishe Goes Treasure Hunting

Wanting to try my hand at the Narrative, I present my fellow Geocachers with this small anecdote of a cache find, from start to finish.

--Firefishe and the Burr Oak Cache--

Part One
"A Chanceful Hike, Rotted Out Boots, and a Photographer"

I originally intended to just take a short walk for an hour or so in Grindstone Park, but decided to see if there were any caches nearby.

Having already logged one other cache in this park, I decided to do so; seeing as my cache finds only number 103, I figured this would be a fairly easy, though reasonably challenging regular style cache to find.

So, off I go, following the trail, going *across the bridge* and pausing just slightly after the silo on the right hand side where the trail makes a gradual right turn and goes off to where people and their dogs run.

That's when I decided to look at the gps. A bit on my trusty gps tool (and probably a shameless plug, as well ;0): My Garmin GPSmap 76CSx has been the best of everything to me in the handheld gps world. The SiRF Chipset receives signals my eTrex Vista Cx might otherwise not (although the Vista Cx is a bit more handy when it comes to 'stealth' activity), and really makes Garmin's '76' series of handhelds with the built-in compass--which works only when the handheld is held level--shine!

My old GPSmap 76S doesn't even come close, when the unit was held level, the signal reception suffered greatly, as the '76' series' antennas are all vertically polarized and work best when held nearly straight up and down! And I really needed the compass in this densely wooded area!

Getting back to where I was before: I stopped at the junction just past the silo, took a look at the gps, then looked at the trails around me.

The indicator was showing I needed to go left, instead of right as I had originally planned. Well, I figure the 'gps don't lie' (it usually doesn't, so long as I have the 'map' for the area in my head, first) so I started moving in the direction of my bearing line on the gps's displayed map--then currently set to the routable roads map set. I quickly switched to topo mode (I have a 1gb card in this thing with just about all of the Eastern United States in it!) so I'd have a few more notable land features, such as the local river and rivulets--including one labled "Intermittent Stream" (which I'll get to later).

Well, I followed the only available trail, keeping track of where I was walking in my head as well as what was happening on the gps screen. I walked through a narrow part of the trail where the woods came close to each side, then came to an open area--complete with a strangely curved, cast iron pipe coming out of the ground. I also came to a place where I figured I might have some difficulty, and so I did! The trail ended at the water's edge, or just a bit up on a sort of mini bluff where the trail ended, forming the bank up from the river.

I was at a loss, so I looked at the gps again. The bearing line to the cache was indicating somewhere off to the right, so I followed it...straight along another trail that I thought might lead to a decent river crossing. When I arrived at a point nearly opposite the cache (on the other side of the river, and up and over a rocky bluff), and indicating something like 435 feet or so, I looked around for a way to cross.

I went up the trail a bit, then back to where I had originally been standing, as I could find nothing that looked workable without swimming. Not having swimwear on helped in this decision making process ;o). Coming back, I looked down to an area that looked like it might be workable, then looked across the bank and noticed something I had not noticed when walking from the other direction: a person with a 35mm camera doing a close-up shot of a flower on the other bank!

Well, not wanting to disturb said person, I quietly meandered my way down a small wash, to the river's edge, then proceeded to take closer inventory of my choices. The overall condition of the crossover area in question might've been fairly workable to a person with hiking boots that did not have a hole where the upper had recently come apart from the outsole, and I didn't really care to get the inside of my Merrel's soaked, thus ruining an otherwise worthy cache attempt--as well as a pair of fairly costly hiking boots!

The person across the way was standing up from their flower photo session, and I was able to strike up a conversation. Apparently, they had crossed in this very same location, probably having come from the same parking lot where I was parked. Their hiking boots were apparently in better shape than mine, so, after inquiring as to whether there was a more workable crossing up or downstream, I was pollitely referred to a 'possible bridge,' then decided to persue my quarry from the other side of the main walkway bridge near the parking lot. I waved goodbye, wished the photographer well, and began the second leg of my journey.

Part Two
"A Different Trail, Working the GPS Electronic Compass, and an Intermittent Stream"

Having crossed the bridge back to the other side of the river, I began looking for a trail that would take me along the proper side of the river and then to the cache.

The Grindstone Park parking lot is really a small, self contained park area in and of itself. It has a nice paved section of trail that winds along a short distance to the bridge (the trail turns to dirt on the other side of the river), a covered picnic pavilion, and a large, plastic 'privy' for when-you-just-have-to-go *snicker* ;o). Apparently, there is also another trail head of sorts, as well.

This trail is another path that has been worn into the side of the bank on the park side of the river, and apprently sees heavy use. Seeing as I really had no other choice in the matter, I decided, wisely, to follow this trail's course. The trail took me up onto the bluff, and causes one to pass directly underneath a condo or apartment complex of some kind, although not really so near it due to the rocks and outgrowth from the side of the bluff face, itself. The trail is narrow, rocky, and it is not recommended that small children be allowed on it without a tremendous amount of adult supervision, if not outright hand holding and rope tying (to the parent, presumably, and not the family dog!)

Having passed this narrow piece of [i]Sod du Mort[/i] I was faced with a small stream, or rivulet, crossing. This was easily accomplished thanks to a relatively small opposite bank with a lot of hand holds, primarily consisting of young saplings and other plant matter. Having availed myself of 'Nature's Bannisters', I found that I was a bit in a pickle about where my course should be. Enter the electronic compass!

The Garmin GPSmap 76CSx has a very accurate electronic compass that, so long as it is calibrated prior to each trip (which is standard for this type of system regardless of manufacturer, at least to date that I am aware), is as highly functional as its manual counterparts. I usually keep the compass function turned off to conserve battery power, so I turned the function on by holding down the Page button for a few seconds until the 'Compass Turned On' display popped up on the bottom of the screen.

Then the fun began! :o) It's nice to not have to carry multiple instruments when desired. (Although it's wise to *always* carry more than one when you're out in rougher and more remote country, actually, it's a requirement and would in all probability save one's life in a jam!) Having the entire navigational system in one complete package makes more sense to me as the years progress.

Before I turned on the compass feature, the Bearing Pointer arrow was pointing this way and that, waiting for me to move the gps to get the compass indicator to move, which is my usual method. With the compass on, all I had to do was wait for the fluctuations to stop, then look in the general direction of where the Bearing Line on the map was indicating I should go.

A word about Bearing Lines vs Course Lines. Course lines are great when you need to know and keep tabs on the route from where you initially started, then use something called the Course Pointer to keep you properly in the center of the course line. This is fine for boats on open water, but I find it rather useless in heavy forest cover, such has Grindstone Park. To me, the Bearing Line, which moves with you as you move, is a bit more helpful, as it gives a visual reference to your destination--in this case Burr Oak Cache--directly from where you happen to be. So long as you make a Waypoint at where your car is parked, not using a Course Line isn't a liability, so as finding your original starting point is concerned.

So I let the compass point the way, then looked around for visual references. As I'm behind some trees, and can't really see anything toward the larger river which this stream runs in to, I decide to let the compass and gps have their way; I didn't regret this decision. I did end up having to go up a fairly steep and rocky ridge, then down a decent hill, but this didn't deter me. I had to move a bit more slowly than usual up the slope, and selected my footing--and my young tree hand holds ;o)--somewhat more carefully than usual, as the slope was wet and slippery from recent rains.

Compressing this up a bit, I made my way down hill to a well-marked trail, with a well-marked and worn (looked like it was burned!) trail sign indicating Burr Oak. The Burr Oak was defniitely there, huge and round and decently old, so far as trees go. I was a bit confuddled about location, and I didn't want to really poke around too heavily as the area was fairly open. However, there wasn't anyone around save for that photographer I met, and I didn't see anyone else at all. Still, it's nice to read about your cache, so I popped out my equally trusty Palm Tungsten T3 PDA and CacheMate, a PalmOS geocaching application.

The Description section was similar to the note on my Garmin's waypoint note, so far as the Author was concerned. The Hints section gave me what I needed to be quick and decent about logging the cache. I use the Hints often and regularly, especially in urban locations where stealth and brevity in 'presence before the cache' are necessities if you don't want to find it plundered later by uncouth geomuggles. I may keep off the Hints section on days in which I really desire to 'test my mettle,' but I'm in this sport/pasttime/addiction ;o) *snicker* for a reasonable treasure hunt, not as a difficulty and/or speed maven; in short, I just like to have fun, and not get too competitive with it, least of all with myself.

Well, I found it in the place indicated, and I have to say that, for an open area, the hiders did a bangup job of keeping the thing hidden. I didn't even see it at first until going past it, down to a small creek, than back up again. It was coming back that I found it.

Took: kcmose carabiner signature item
Left: Loose change from pocket

I went back trying out the TrakBack feature of the GPSmap 76CSx, but found it to be too cumbersome. Unless you're going to be going in relatively straight lines with well-defined turns at well-defined corners, I don't advocate the use of TrakBack or other similar features on other gps units when you walk ten feet, turn around, go back twenty feet, turn around again, then walk five feet, go right for 100 yards, then turn left for 50 get the picture!

After logging the cache and rehiding the container in a more or less similiar fashion in which I found it (just where did that camoflage piece of *forest material go, was it on top, or on the side? ;-?), I took another look at the gps map. I was still in topo mode, and I needed to plot my way back, as I had gotten needlessly turned around whilst cache logging. I took a look at where my CAR waypoint was, and panned my cursor arrow on the gps display toward that general location. During the act of panning, my arrow stopped momentarily over a small water course, and the words "Intermittent Stream" popped up.

This was right along my original breadcrumb trail I had been logging since starting out from the parking lot, and made a perfect proximity waypoint to indicate where I needed to turn to go back along the bluff.

I made it back to my car without incident, and relished in the logging of a way-overdue geocache, #104 for me! A long way to go to 1000, my next goal!

I hope everyone enjoyed this narrative.

Warmest regards from,

Caching In On The Journey

Note: Firefishe is my Geocaching Handle or Nickname. Look for me at Let's Go Geocaching!