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Rating a cache’s difficulty/terrain primer

Rating a cache’s difficulty/terrain primer
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

This is a difficult subject (get it?) because the degree of effort is based on our own personal experience.  A newbie will almost always rate their first caches too high. As an example, I’ve seen a light pole cache rated a 3/2 and the first time I found one, it was every bit of that.  I guess it took me 30 minutes to find it looking everywhere but there.

Groundspeak, the parent organization of has specific guidelines for rating a cache’s D/T difficulty located here:

Based on these guidelines about 90% of all caches located in the Houston area are over-rated… but, let’s take into consideration some other factors not listed to possibly justify our ratings.  First there are our high temperatures and soaking humidity.  A 3 difficulty here in July means a 2+ mile hike one way with moderate elevation changes and significant overgrowth.

Going after this lone cache may just be the only thing you do that day and I’m not exaggerating.  We are home to the Big Thicket of Texas and it makes the Georgia woods of the Walking Dead look like an expressway in some cases.  A pair of machetes working in tandem means you can tunnel through at about 2 feet per minute, as we experienced in August of 2014 five miles north of my house.

The terrain was mildly flat and by all appearances a 2 at best, but with the oppressive heat and the thorns, it bumped up both D/T ratings considerably.  The particular cache our intrepid group of 18 went after is “Baytown Bert’s a crying GC3B8ZZ” and 3 other caches.  The distance for all 4 wasn’t too extreme, but we all made the 5 mile round trip cut to pieces and exhausted.  We were done for the day. 

Now, if these 4 caches were located in most sections of wooded area, they could be 2.5/3 geocaches.  However, in this section of heavy thorns, each foot you go is by force and these 4 have very high D/T ratings you would have to experience to believe they are realistic.  The first one is 18 feet up a limbless tree in fact and there is a fake human skeleton lying at the base of the tree.

Another item to note is this is semi-swampy and here in East Texas this means feral hogs, coyotes, alligators, banana spiders, and venomous snakes and with our vanishing wooded areas, they are heavily populated.  In Anahuac, Texas I drove down a dirt road and stopped at a historic marker, as my Bride and I walked up to it, a huge alligator blasted off and into the trees and water behind it.  I can’t say which of was the most scared.

I marvel at the terrain ratings I see in the mountains and other places and have often thought about ours in comparison.  My geocaching friend Hans ter Beek (Dhaulaghiri) is from the Netherlands and has spent an extensive amount of time geocaching here and he can tell you how tough this area can be and he has the scars to prove it as do we all.  My friend Barbara Rush (barbara2015) all but poked her eye out the other night, geocaching near Wharton, Texas and she was in a city park!

In summary, what I usually do when I am looking at a geocache is see the experience of the hider.  If they are a veteran, I pretty much believe what I read.  When it comes to setting the D/T of a cache I am hiding, I use my personal knowledge of the area and how evil it is to set the ratings.

Now after mentioning an “evil hide” I have to define it.  A nano or bison in 17 acres of bamboo is not an evil hide.  It’s a mean hide and I hate them.  An evil hide is one that is in plain site, but other cachers do not recognize it.  That sentence pretty much sums it up nicely.  Remember that geocaching is a game and that the difficulty and terrain ratings especially should be taken seriously if you are physically challenged.

Each year we do a 11-14 mile hike through the Piney Woods of East Texas and inevitably people will post intent to do it, when wisdom should tell them it is a bad idea.  If you want to do a cache or attend an event that is physically exhausting, talk to people who have done it first, or start hitting the track and treadmill.


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