If you’ve been reading my blog for the past year or more, you may remember that Richard and I are avid geocachers. Geocaching is a high-tech adult treasure hunting game in which participants use GPS devices to search for geocaches, or containers, that have been hidden by other players. Every find is logged on the official caching website at www.geocaching.com. There are presently more than 2 million geocaches and 5 million geocachers worldwide and these numbers are growing all the time.
Between April and November of last year, Richard and I located 221 caches spread across Canada’s four western provinces. When we decided to come to China, I checked the website and discovered that there were only a handful of caches in the Dalian area. Most had been placed here by foreign tourists and I got the impression that they weren’t being maintained so we decided to leave our GPS unit at home.
A couple of days ago, just for a lark, I decided to take another look at the website. Now that we’ve been here for several months and know our way around the city, I wondered where the caches were located. When I read about the one called Dalian 360, I immediately wished that we’d brought the GPS with us. "A beautiful panoramic view awaits," read the description. "A nice but steep hike, paved steps, along the ridge of a hill at Fuguo Park." A quick check using Google Maps told me that Fuguo Park was an easy bus ride from here in an area we were familiar with. When I discovered that the last person to visit the cache had dropped not just one, but two trackables into it, I wondered if there was any chance that we could find it without the GPS!
A trackable is geocaching game piece that is stamped with a unique tracking code. Some of them have travelled thousands of miles thanks to geocachers who move them from cache to cache and record their movements on the website. This is an aspect of the game that we really enjoy. In addition to helping 15 trackables along their way, we’ve launched two of our own by placing one in each of the two caches that we hid near our home in Alberta, Canada. One of them is now in a cache in Colorado and the other is in the Netherlands.
I knew that finding a geocache without using its GPS coordinates was a long shot but I’ve been wanting to hike some of the hills in and around Dalian anyway and I knew that we’d enjoy the outing even if we didn’t find the cache. Immediately after lunch today, I looked up the webpage again and jotted down a few notes:
- on hill above trail following ridge line
- views of Dalian skyline and Xinghai Bay
- under rock near 9 trunked "octopus tree"
I also drew a rough map and made a couple of quick sketches based on photos that had been posted by previous finders. Without those, finding the cache without a GPS would have been virtually impossible.
After exiting the bus, we had no trouble finding the street that took us up a very steep hill to the park’s east entrance. From there, we continued to follow a narrow road and then well maintained trails higher and higher. Each time we came to a V, we took the path that looked like it would take us up to the ridge. Once there, we hadn’t walked very far when I recognized the views I’d seen in the photos online. Glancing to my left, there it was; the very distinctive octopus tree! We were in the right place but could we find the cache? I climbed to the left of the tree while Richard scrambled around to its right and within moments, he made the find!
Before we’d even had a chance to open the container, three muggles (non cachers) arrived on the scene and started picking berries! We moved a short distance away and surreptitiously removed the trackables, replaced them with a keychain for someone else to find and signed the logbook. But how could we put the container back in place with three people watching us? Instead, we took it with us and continued our hike along the ridge to the next peak. By the time we returned, the berry pickers had moved on and we were able to put it back in place for the next cacher to find!
The trackables will go back to Canada with us next month to be placed in geocaches there. One of them started its journey in Finland in October of 2011 while the other was released in Okinawa, Japan in January of this year.