To plan this trip, I had to find a lake with a good number of caches. After much searching, it seemed Lake Pawtuckaway up in Nottingham, NH fit the bill. Although it was two hours away, there were about 30 caches in the area, many of which had high terrain ratings.
I posted a note to the New England Geocachers online group to see if anyone was interested in accompanying me. I got a few responses, and we planned on making the hike on January 18.
It would probably be helpful if I started off describing the geocaching rating system. A geocache hide is rated by two factors, both with a scale of 1-5. First is the cache’s Difficulty. Caches hidden in a large Tupperware container or an ammo-can usually have a lower difficulty score (D1 or D2, depending on how obvious it is). Caches which blend into their surroundings, like using a fake hollow magnetic bolt on a lookout tower’s metal structure, have a higher difficulty to find.
The second rating parameter is Terrain. If someone in a wheelchair can get to a cache, it has a terrain rating of one (often called T1). If you need to climb up a ski slope, for example, the terrain is higher – maybe T3. If you need special equipment, like scuba gear or a repelling harness for a cliff wall, the terrain is rated 5.
The high terrain caches are tough for my family. We play is safer because we often have the kids with us, plus we don’t own a boat to go out on water, and we don’t try to climb cliff walls. But there is one way around this specialized-equipment requirement to get caches on lake shores and small lake islands… wait until the lake freezes. Some geocachers think this might be cheating a bit, but I figure if you’re willing to risk walking out on a lake in sub-freezing temperatures and a cold wind, you’ve earned finding those T5 caches.
To plan this trip, I had to find a lake with a good number of caches. After much searching, it seemed Lake Pawtuckaway up in Nottingham, NH fit the bill. Although it was two hours away, there were about 30 caches in the area, many of which had high terrain ratings. I post a note to the New England Geocachers online group to see if anyone was interested in accompanying me. I got a few responses, and we planned on making the hike on January 18.
Of course, the week before January 18 was exceptionally warm. Fearing weakened ice, we decided to wait an extra week, knowing that an Arctic blast was heading our way. On January 25, I got up early, met up with geocachers Tony and Karin in Boxborough, MA, and we carpooled up to Nottingham, where we met up with Tom. I’ve geocached with all of these people before, including a river-based cache series that my whole family canoed through with Tom and others in kayaks a couple years ago.
We started off great! There was a cache in the boat launch parking area that we found quickly, and then used a bridge to cross a feeder stream and started following a path counter-clockwise for three more quick finds. There was some concern because there was about 4” of snow on the ground, which can make finding ground-level caches difficult. The first four were all a few feet off the ground. While prying one of the first ice-encased caches out of its hiding spot, we did break a cache container. We’ve sent a note to the owner and will offer to mail him a replacement. Things like that do happen occasionally, and the geocaching community is understanding. After that cache, we were a little more precise with our cache-extricating procedures, and didn’t break any other containers. I had brought a giant flat-head screwdriver which was key in persuading some of the cache containers out of their frozen hidey-holes.
After finding several caches on the path, it was time to head onto Lake Pawtuckaway proper. It turns out they lower the lake for the winter, so we were able to hug the “coast” without being in too much danger. This worked well for the next five caches or so, until it was time to go out on the lake and get to some of the island caches. We could see flows of water (or dark ice at least), where the snow had been melted acting almost as a river from the inlet to the outlet of the lake. We figured we should avoid these, even if the lake wasn’t exceptionally deep. Tony had the handle off an old shovel that he would slam into the ice in front of us. We kept away from the rivulets and were able to stay on solid ice the whole time while crossing. We did a loop through the islands and made it to the opposite shore. As we approached the shore, we did break through the ice layer, but only fell about 6” onto the frozen lake bottom. It was a little nerve-wracking the first few times, but we got used to it.
Caching got a bit trickier on the other side – we think there were quite a few ground-level caches – and we had to post “Did Not Find” log entries to the geocache’s web page. These caches aren’t likely to be missing, they’re just tough to find in the snow. We were still able to find a few of the snow-covered caches! Definitely a bonus. As we finished the other lake shore, we picked up another path headed back to the parking lot. This was a bit more hilly and I, at least, was running out of energy. We ended up hiking through the snow for about six miles, which took us four and a half hours.
There were some great hiding spots: an old below-ground stone foundation in the middle of the woods; a tall chimney standing bare without its house; and small containers dangling from branches over what would be the lake in the summer. We met a family walking their dogs on the lake, and a random woman who asked us how the caching went as we returned to the parking lot. We really had a perfect day for it – overcast sun with temps in the low 30s. We’ll definitely have to look for another lake next winter.