Friday, January 2, 2015

Thompson River Blues

The Clark Fork River and Coeur d'Alene Mountains
Sanders County, Montana
December 31st, 2014

Wednesday, December 31st, was a beautiful day, clear and cold, and much too pretty to spend indoors.  Accordingly, having finished a few chores, I spent several minutes working to get the snow off my car and the ice off the windshield.  Once I could see out, I made sure I had my camera and GPS unit, and hit the road heading for Thompson Falls.  I love taking pictures of the scenery in this area, and when I saw a wide spot on the side of the road with a clear view of the river and mountains, I stopped the car and caught the scene above.  This is where I live, people.  Eat your hearts out.

Back in 2006, when I bought my first GPS unit, I managed to find 37 caches, mostly in Del Norte County California and Curry and Josephine Counties, Oregon.  My best year was 2007, when I took my GPS with me on my 6,000 Mile Sunday Drive and found 121 caches as far away as West Virginia and Tennessee.  Between May 2, 2010 and February 2, 2012, I put my GPS away and spent no time out looking for caches.  In Geocaching terms, this is called a "slump," and that period was my longest slump to date, 641 consecutive days.  At the beginning of 2014, I had found a total of 176 caches in seventeen states, but none outside the U.S.  All that changed in the year just ended.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
(Ovis canadensis)
Just beyond the Watch for Bighorn Sheep Ahead sign
Montana Highway 200, Sanders County
December 31st, 2014

When I pulled out my GPS on April 1, I went for a drive and found four caches hidden along MT Highway 28, all less than ten miles from home, as the crow flies.  I spent three more days during April searching for those Tupperware containers in the woods, found 27, and vowed that by the end of 2014, I would have found a total of 300 caches.  On a trip to Cranbrook, British Columbia, I got my first non-US caches, and I logged my 300th cache on December 18.  As I approached my goal, I decided that in 2015, I would find an additional 200, to bring my total life finds to 500.  With my Christmas present in hand, I set out to see what more I could find before the New Year, getting a start on my 2015 goal, as it were.

The Clark Fork Valley Geocachers, a group I really have to spend more time with, have been very active in this area.  They have hidden at least 54 caches alongside MT Highway 200 in a series they call Montana's Own Scenic Byway, or MOSBY, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  They have also hidden a series of caches along the Thompson River, by the side of the road the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM) built when they were logging in this area getting timbers for their mine shafts.  The ACM Road parallels the river for the most part on its east side, while the county road follows the river on the west side.  As a result, there are two roads running parallel to each other, roughly 100 yards apart, but separated by a river.  In Montana, this is highly unusual.  The two roads are roughly 40 miles in length, stretching from MT 200 in the south to US Highway 2 in the north.  And no, it's not a short cut to Libby as neither road is well maintained and under the best of conditions, you're going to be driving at 25-30 mph.

My Turn-Around Point
ACM Road by the Thompson River
December 31st, 2014

The cache chain on the ACM Road is called, appropriately enough the ACM Express, or ACME for short.  To date there are 372 ACME caches in place, roughly one every tenth of a mile.  If I were to spend all my geocaching time on the Thompson River, I would easily reach my 500 for 2015, and have a few left over.  Determined to get a head start on that goal, I loaded my GPS with some of the ACME caches, and set off to end the year with 325 finds.

I had already found a few of the ACME caches nearest the southern end, and roughly ten more in the middle where the cross road comes through the mountains from my home, so on this beautiful, if very cold day, I headed up the road about four miles before I turned around to work my way back.  I was wearing jeans, sneakers, a polo shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket.  I had a cap, but no gloves.  There was snow on the ground.  Am a I fool or what?  I've lived in Montana most of my life.  I know that when you go outside and the day's high is around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, you should have all extremities covered.  But I don't think I've worn winter gloves since we moved to Plains over two years ago--except for my abortive attempts at cross-country skiing around the property, and I'm not sure where my winter gloves are.  Mittens won't work when you're trying to press small buttons on a GPS unit and need to open pill bottles and write on rolled up pieces of paper.  (That's what you do to let the cache owner know that yes, you did find the thing.  You're not lying about it on line.)

They're Called The Rocky Mountains
Cabinet Mountain Range
December 31st, 2014

Most of the ACME caches are fairly easy to find.  Most of the ones I've found are hidden in something called "preforms" and are hanging from a branch on a tree.  This way they are usually above the snow line, and theoretically at least, can be found any time of the year.  The first cache I sought was ACME #24, and sure enough, there it was hanging from a branch hidden behind a tree just off the eastern edge of the road.  I found ACME #23 easily enough and began to feel that this would be a very successful day.

ACME #22 eluded me though, and after spending enough time looking that I was beginning to notice the cold, I said "Enough," and moved on down the road.  Number 21 was there, but try as I might, I couldn't find #20.  I was beginning to wonder if I would be finding every other cache, when #19 jumped out at me from the road.  I'm not used to being able to see the hanging "preform" without scrambling around a bit, so I was quite surprised to find this one perfectly visible.  All I had to do was wade through the snow and lift it off its branch.  I saw #18 from the roadbed as well, but for #17, I had to scramble a bit.  Actually I had to get down on my hands and knees and crawl up the bank to get behind the trees.  My hands were really hurting by now--or perhaps they were numb.  It was hard to uncap the container, and even harder to make my long entry legible.  I decided that if I were to not lose my hands to frostbite, I'd better call it a day.

I had set as my goal finding seven caches.  I was prepared to find more, if conditions warranted, but with fingers so numb I couldn't even attach my seat belt, I needed to quit.  There were a couple of easy grabs near Thompson Falls, so I drove back to the highway and headed west a few more miles.  At the turnoff for the High School, I turned right, then left and parked in the school's parking lot.  No one was around on New Year's Eve, except for a few families sledding down the hill on the east of the school.  I was headed for the fitness track on the west, looking for the fourth in a series of caches hidden to teach students how to use GPS units.  The hint for this cache was "Under a log," and I found it right away.  Unfortunately, the log and the associated bits of wood and bark hiding the cache were all frozen to the ground.  Even so, I was able to extract the cache, sign the log, and put the whole thing back together so that the only clue to its existence would be my tracks through the snow--easily hidden with the storm that is supposed to come in the next couple of days.

Ice on the Thompson River
December 31st, 2014

With that "Summer Fun" cache notched onto my belt, I finished 2014 with a total of 325 caches, and now have only 175 more to find for 2015.  Or do you think I might even do more?  By the way, with the addition of the caches I found with my new Garmin GPS unit in December, 2014 is now my best year so far, with 149 finds.  2015 will be even better, and I'll be keeping you informed.  Thanks for reading my posts, and Happy New Year!

No comments: