January 17, 2013

Winter Geocaching

This week, a good friend came up from Texas to visit me. He had never been in a “real” winter and Nebraska decided to fix that for him. We had a near blizzard set in the second day he was here with temperatures dropping nearly 30 degrees in a day and the sky dumped nearly 6 inches of snow on us.

The next day, even in icy, snow covered, white out conditions we set out on our sightseeing adventure. We visited Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, drove all over Rapid City, SD, and even braved REALLY bad and scary roads to see Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

We didn’t geocache, I’ll be honest, although it was on the list of things to try to get to. But, the experience got me thinking about what kinds of caches would be best for winter, and what precautions one should take.

If you live in the South, you can probably get away with just adding layers of warm clothes to your regular hiking gear. Most southern states do not get much snow or ice, or if you do it doesn’t last long.

In the North, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West and Pacific Northwest, however, snow and ice are a big part of winter. The weather and the temperatures need to be taken into consideration when you set out to geocache in the winter up here. Checking the forecast, paying attention to road conditions, and keeping a “just in case” winter emergency kit in your car become necessary.

I think that the winter should change the type of caches you go after as well. Micro and small caches become much harder to find, and caches with a high terrain or difficulty rating do as well. Unless you are an experienced winter hiker, backcountry caches are not such a good idea. Most Earthcaches, as well, become much more difficult as most geologic features are in out of the way, inaccessible places.

Let me give you an example. One of the places that my friend and I visited was Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming. To reach the monument, we traveled 28 miles of snowy, icy mountain passes with switchbacks and at least two places with a seven percent downgrade slope. At the monument itself, the parking lots were packed in snow and ice, the temperatures were in the negative numbers in the shade, the wind was blowing and the hiking trails were steep and slick. To log the Earth cache (Devil’s Tower) you have to have a picture of yourself with the biggest column and count the sides, which requires hiking those trails. Unless you are really winter savvy, and ready for the temperature drops, this is not a smart cache to go after at this time of year.

Having a caching buddy along is also a good idea, for companionship and for safety. Here are some other tips to make geocaching in the winter more fun and safe. Take extra batteries for your GPS. The cold sucks the life out of batteries fairly fast. Take a pencil instead of a pen, sometimes the ink freezes. Pack a few extra chemical handwarmers to use in thawing out metal geocache containers if they are frozen shut. Try not to leave a trail through the snow straight to the cache, muddy the waters a little so that you don’t create a spoiler or attract muggles.

Winter shouldn’t mean the end of geocaching, and you shouldn’t wait for the spring thaw to get out there.. just be smart when you are outside in the winter, Mother Nature doesn’t favor the ill prepared.

Image Credit: Roberto Caucino / Shutterstock

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