My geocaching compulsion to “collect ‘em all” is unavoidable. The hobby appeals directly to my addictive nature and it makes me want to find every single cache that I can, even if a cache is hidden somewhere that’s a bit sketchy or boring. In theory geocaches are supposed to be hidden at places of interest, somewhere with a pretty view, historical significance, or that best represents local flavor, but that’s not always the case. While geocaching has led me to some really cool places I’ve found plenty in shopping mall parking lots and I guarantee that there’s nothing but sadness to be found at the adjoining Applebees restaurant.
I had wanted to find my first 5/5 geocache for a long time (5 star difficulty/terrain) but they’re hard to come by. Typically they demand long-distance driving or require special equipment like scuba gear or rappelling rope. A couple years ago on a family trip to Key Largo, Florida, I, of course, looked up geocaches in the area. The resulting map on Geocaching.com revealed a cache in the deep ocean which requires special diving certification to reach. I stared longingly at that little blip on the map for a very long time. One day I’ll swim with you, geocache. One day.
The Spring season is always gorgeous in my area and as warm weather approached this year I was anxious to get outside and move around. I love hiking, it’s a pursuit well married to the hobby of geocaching—it’s always nice to have a mission while on a hike—and I began planning an expedition with a couple of my siblings. After some research I found a 5/5 cache on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland that, in theory, wouldn’t be too much of an investment to find, just some rock climbing where ropes weren’t necessarily needed. Called “Buker’s Large Nut” it was a two-part find with clues leading to a third and final geocache hidden on some cliff-side.
We started the first leg on a “stair-master” ascent up a steep climb, over large boulders and fallen trees, and I quickly regretted the extra bacon I had at breakfast. The GPS was pointing to a spot off trail so once we became parallel with the beacon we veered into the rocky woods. The route initially seemed like it was going to be a rough crossing but we were soon fortunate as we stumbled onto a deer-superhighway, a path clearly used by the woodland creatures to make their way along that rocky ridge. “Follow the deer poo!” I exclaimed to my brother and sister who didn’t find that to be quite so revelatory. Our passage guided, the cache was easily found in a pile of rotting logs. It was a long plastic test tube containing a note with the coordinates for the next step and a clue about how to determine the final location.
Our search for the second part of the cache was much more rocky, physically and metaphorically (I blame the lack of guiding poop). We descended ravines and climbed back up their opposite cliff-sides all the while I pointed my GPS into the air, insisting its bouncing signal had finally settled on a final location. It was a clear, sunny day but the mountain was playing havoc with the GPS’s accuracy.
After climbing in and out of a particularly deep ravine we finally arrived at the proper area. The clue implied (or so I thought) that there was a second cache to be found here, somewhere among the rocks of an overlook with a gorgeous view. The overlook was an intersection of a few of the park’s popular hiking trails so it was crowded with more people than we would have preferred.
Dear, older couple trying to have a romantic lunch at this scenic view: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that my brother, sister, and I lurked around you for such a long time and likely drove you off from your lovely meal. But it couldn’t be helped, the GPS beacon insisted that you were sitting on the cache site.
They finally left; we searched, and searched, and searched. We ate lunch and searched. Something was wrong and I took another look at the clue sheet from the first cache (thankfully having taken a picture of it).
Ugh. It was a lesson in reading comprehension. I had assumed we were looking for another cache but the clue didn’t actually say that. It stated we were looking for “something” at those coordinates and my brother had discovered that “something” the moment we had arrived: a metal survey disc placed in the rock of the overlook. Grumpily we solved the riddle using the indicated word on the disc and obtained the coordinates for the final geocache.
The third and final step of “Buker’s Large Nut” was thankfully not very far from the second step. Some more scampering across large boulders and the GPS led us down to the edge of a major cliff. In the cache description were stark warnings about not attempting this cache when the ground is wet and here I could see why. The lichen-covered rock pitched steeply downward with nothing but a small, forlorn tree to catch you at its lip—a 200 foot drop thereafter. In a way, however, all the dire warnings in the cache description served as a clue to where the cache might be located. We guessed that it had to be down at the edge, hidden among one of the small wiry bushes growing from ruts in the stone.
The cache was described as looking like a “large nut” and was secured by a line to keep it from being lost over the cliff if you accidentally dropped it. It was an odd description and I hoped that meant it would be obvious once sighted. We took a few passes at the lip of the cliff, carefully testing foot and hand-holds for security, poking into holes in the rock, and pushing away the thin brush in our search. After about 20 minutes of searching we came up empty. Some climbers on a nearby outcropping, thinking that we were trying to find our way down the cliff, shouted over that the “chimney” they were climbing was a better way to descend; we shouted thanks, we’d do just that…
I was convinced that the cache had to be near the lip, the most dangerous part of this area, so I once again scooted down the flat rock to the edge. I noticed a hole in the rock that I had, in my attentiveness to safety, previously overlooked. Peering into the eroded socket, I saw that it led to a ledge below where a small bush was growing, and there, hanging from the bush, was a weird gray plastic nut.
“Buker’s Large Nut” was a fun adventure of rock climbing and avoiding humongous skunks (that came later). Ultimately, however, we were a little disappointed. The entire search wasn’t THAT physically demanding and most of our rock climbing had come from GPS shenanigans. My siblings and I are experienced cachers and even with that background in mind we didn’t think this cache was particularly difficult. We even had time to find four more geocaches later on that mountain.
Statistically speaking, we’ve achieved our first 5/5 geocache but I can’t help feel like we’ve still not achieved the “spirit” of what that level of cache embodies. One day I will attempt to find a truly epic geocache and until then I’ll practice holding my breath. I’m coming for you, deep ocean geocache.