Thursday, June 11, 2015

Geocaching the North Woods

Well, maybe not THE north woods but at least the woods on the north side of the Clearwater River.  The Clearwater River runs east to west through a deep valley rising steeply 2,000 above the river on each side.  On the south side after rising through the timber the terrain opens to the Camas Prairie’s rolling hills.  On the north side there is just more timber for the most part.  Farming on the south side, logging on the north side.  The north side is interspersed with numerous logging roads and trails. 

The Lewiston-Clarkston Valley where we winter seems to have been saturated with geocaches because there haven’t been any new ones in many months.  As I have found about all of the ones there that I can, I have been anxious for the opportunity to find some new ones.  Happily I found that there are many in the Orofino and Clearwater County area that I haven’t found, virtually all on unpaved roads.

Most of my motorcycling friends began their riding as kids on dirt bikes.  I don’t have that advantage as I didn’t begin riding until I was 58 years old and then it was on a street bike.  My dad rode motorcycles as a youngster and told me as a teen in no uncertain terms, “Son, don’t even think about asking for a motorcycle”.  As my need for speed was then satisfied with cars and boats it was no sacrifice.  I hardly think motorcycling could have dealt me more injuries and damage than boating did, but that’s another story.

At any rate, Tuesday morning, June 9th, I set out to find a number of these caches on my motorbike.  There were 22 that I had in my sights.  After descending the Gilbert Grade to Orofino from our farm I stopped to top off my gas tank.  It was then that I discovered that one of the two set screws holding my windshield in place was gone.  They tighten on two vertical rods that pass through a sleeve held secure by the set screws.  So now the windshield is resting on the cowl instead of being suspended ½ inch above.  On hindsight I should have gone to a hardware store and got another bolt.  I guess no harm was done because it survived the trip with just a few scuffs on the cowl.

Triple tree
And there it is.
The first caches I had targeted were on dirt roads off of the paved Grangemont road that intersects Highway 11 between Pierce and Headquarters.  I rely on my Garmin maps that are loaded on chips in my GPS as well as the hard copies I can print from my computer.  I had no trouble finding the locations for the first four caches although I could actually find only two of them.  I took a picture of the first one whose hint was “Triple tree”.  These are quite a ways back in the woods and had not been found in over two years so I would like to think they are actually missing rather than I was just not able to find them.  The fifth cache on my list presents a good example of the fallibility of these maps.  They kept leading me to roads or trails that were blocked.  No matter how hard I tried I could not get any closer to the cache than 3.11 miles – too far to hike given my time constraints.  The next cache was back on a main road and the only one on pavement.  It had not been found in a year and a half and I couldn’t find it either.

Approaching the mine site.
Opening the cache.
The next cache was far back in the woods on Cow Creek Road and I had to travel a long way to get there.  It had not been found in three years so I wasn’t overly optimistic especially given my luck so far.  It was at an old mine site where they crushed rocks. I discovered that the cache was found by some hunters (not geocachers, so it wasn’t logged) in Sept of 2013 and they left some rather unconventional items in it such as a crushed beer can, piece of bone and some Powerbar Blasts along with a nice note. And the container was just lying out in the open. I removed the Powerbar Blasts and rehid the container. It was a real nice spot, so much so that I had my lunch break there.

Inside pump house
The next cache was just off Highway 11 at the site of the old Jaype plywood mill that was closed and dismantled about 15 years ago.  It was at the old pump house which still had all the original pumps and engines inside.

Mill pond.
My next goal was a series of 14 caches on Upper Ford’s Creek Road accessed near Weippe on Highway 11.  The next map fiasco occurred when I took a recommended road that turned off the highway and went behind the school.  It was a washed out dried mud road that after about a mile and a half terminated, at least for me, at a locked gate.  So I backtracked and took another road further down the highway that eventually got me to Upper Ford’s Creek.

Upper Ford's Creek Rd
Now the fellow that placed these caches is undoubtedly a good and well meaning sort but I have had a lot of trouble finding his caches in the past.  Some of the coordinates are accurate but many are not.  Most of these caches were placed along the road only about 1/10 of a mile apart so there was a lot of jumping on and off my bike.  One of the fourteen I didn’t even attempt because some better finders than I am had been unsuccessful.  Of the other thirteen I found only eight

A road less traveled.
Now the fun began.  At the last cache there was an intersecting road that would take me back to Highway 11 according to the map.  The further I traveled on it the worse the road got until I got to a three way intersection with a gate across the one I was supposed to take.  However, the sign said vehicles less than 50” wide could use it and there was room enough for me to go around.  Here’s where my better judgment should have prevailed in which case I would have backtracked and gone back the way I got there.  But not old Mickey, he’s up for adventure.  GPS not withstanding I traveled many miles getting more and more lost.  Little roads/trails were everywhere twisting up and down hills with the ones the map advised either nonexistent or blocked.  I did get some good practice on my off road riding however.  Finally I came across a road with good gravel that I reasoned must lead to civilization.  And indeed it did – saved again.

There was just one more cache on my list which was east of Weippe.  It was at a bird viewing stand overlooking a beautiful meadow.  After some searching I was able to find it.
Now to get home.  I got back to the highway and made my way down the Greer Grade which was about the most fun of the whole trip.  It’s a great motorcycle road with about 8 miles of twists and switchbacks descending about 2,000 feet down to the Clearwater River.  Now, I wanted to take a short cut and go up the old dirt Greer Grade on the other side of Highway 12 that would take me to Russell Ridge Road not too far from the farm.  However, this grade is a bit obscure from the highway and I took the wrong one.  It kept getting steeper and more washed out until it finally exceeded my skill.  I did a 180 degree spin out and got dumped off the right side of my bike getting a two inch gash on my left shin in the process.  I picked myself and the bike up, turned around and proceeded up the hill soon coming to a sawmill which told me I was on the wrong road.  So with tail between my legs I eased back down to the highway and rode into Orofino ascending the Gilbert Grade the way I had come.  I got home a little before 6:00 pm having traveled 165 miles. This outing resulted in the highest percentage of DNF's (did not find) than any I've done.

The next morning upon getting out of bed I had many sore and stiff parts but after taking the dogs on a mile hike about 6:15 I wasn’t any worse than usual.  M/W


Kathy said...

Kinda scary stuff -- but what's a mother to do?

Chris said...

Guys. Dan would come home from the woods with all kinds of gashes and scrapes. I'd ask him how he got them and he always said he didn't know, just got them crashing through the woods. I think they're badges of honor.