Muggle No More: To Cache or Not to Cache?

Recently I hiked Mount Margaret in the Red Feather Lakes area northwest of Fort Collins, Colorado. This region of forests, meadows, and castellated rocks will be in the upcoming book, Base Camp Denver: 101 Hikes Along Colorado’s Front Range. On the way home I passed a trailhead not on my list. Pulling a U-turn, I decided it was time for a “collateral” hike and set off on Granite Ridge Trail.

Three exquisite miles later, it was getting to be time to turn around. But first I wanted to bushwhack up the ridge for views of the Mummy Range. Some say these peaks, when seen from the southeast, resemble a giant gauze-wrapped cadaver. I was north of them but that didn’t matter. “I’ll climb to THAT rock,” I decided, and scrambled toward a prominent boulder. Famous last words! Laughing through heaving breaths, I continued from one false summit to the next. The Mummies looked magnificent, and being so far off-trail, I felt like I was the first human to view them from this perspective.

My illusion was promptly shattered. On top of the highest rock was a pile of stones – a cairn. Nestled in the cairn was a plastic bottle. I’d arrived at an official summit! I prepared to sign the log.

hiker and dog
Hiker and his best friend on the Granite Ridge Trail
Photo by Pete “KJ” Jarvis
Author of Base Camp Denver: 101 Hikes Along Colorado’s Front Range
(Imbrifex Books, April 2019)

Then I realized what I’d stumbled upon: a geocache. My knowledge of this hobby/sport was vague, but I knew it had a community with an established etiquette. As an uninitiate, I replaced the contents without signing. I was heartened that the most recent visit had been over a year ago – indeed I was off the beaten path.

The first documented geocache was placed in Oregon in 2000, days after President Clinton signed an order to turn off “Selective Ability.” This system intentionally put errors in the Global Positioning System to make users never sure where they were within 50 meters. After turning it off, the pastime of geocaching blossomed. Millions of caches now dot the landscape in over 200 countries.

A traditional cache contains a logbook, a pencil, and a trinket. The owner posts its coordinates and other details online, and folks are invited to find it, sign the log, and record their exploits on the internet. They may take the trinket and leave something similar if they wish. If a geocache is vandalized or stolen it is said to be “muggled.” This is in reference to the Harry Potter books, which grew in popularity alongside geocaching (people not familiar with the sport are called “muggles”).

I came down from the ridge, glad I had not disturbed the cache, not knowing that would have been muggling. After I got home I decided to investigate. I signed up for free on Geocaching.com and received a surprise. When I entered the coordinates of my cache, the site returned 183 results! Twelve other caches were listed within a mile!

This had been going on all around me: an invisible, parallel world. No longer in the dark, my mind began to race. Should I embrace geocaching, make it a part of the book? Create 101 new caches along the Front Range? Make it a game to play, part of the hikes? The sport tied in so well with what I was doing.

I decided to leave it alone. Geocaching is something readers can overlay if they wish. My personal choice, when hiking, is to be unplugged. I’ve never been big on gear, or on making hiking complicated in any way. The trail is enough of a device for me. I feel sad when I am out there soaking it all in, and somebody walks by staring into their device.

In truth, geocaching can be considered littering, a violation of “leave-no-trace.” And it encourages going off-trail. But it’s all in good fun, and when done right promotes awareness and care of the environment. Part of geocaching’s ethic is CITO – “Cache In, Trash Out.” Participants are encouraged to leave places better than they found them. It’s a superb means to get outside and go somewhere new, and the hide-and-seek element appeals to the child in everyone. What a great way to spice up a hike for kids: “Let’s go find the cache!”

“What about myself?” I wondered. “To cache or not to cache?”

Everything in moderation! I’m going hiking tomorrow. I’ll pick up some trinkets at the dollar store, and visit a cache or two, and come home and make my entries online. And be a muggle no more!

Pete KJ

Pete KJ

Pete KJ began explorations at age three in the wooded ravine that was his backyard in Seattle. He also began a lifelong writing habit. Backyard expanded as Pete stomped all over the Cascades and Olympics as a youth, and headed onward to the Pyrenees, Alps, Himalayas, and Andes. Peace Corps service in Africa cemented his deep desire to always be out in the world, and when he finally sat in a cubicle as a chemical engineer, it was in places like Puerto Rico and India. Long absent from cubicle, he moved on to raise kids, travel the world with them, and write about it (and also write three novels). Career brought Pete to Colorado in the 1990s, its gravity and beauty pulled him back. Pete's "Base Camp Denver: 101 Hikes in Colorado's Front Range" will be published in April, 2019 by Imbrifex Books.

8 thoughts to “Muggle No More: To Cache or Not to Cache?”

  1. I’ve never really gotten into geocaching, but several of our writers over at RoadTripAmerica.com have been enthusiasts for several years. I’ve assisted in finding a couple of caches in my neighborhood in Las Vegas, it is a amazing how skillfully hidden they can be — even in urban settings.

  2. I certainly learned about geocaches from this writing! Knew very little before. Would like to add that the area of Mt. Margaret really is a special place. Peaceful and magnificent in the fall listening to the rustling of the Aspen leaves. I am living in VN now, missing the smells of the mountains and view of the Mummy Range. Thanks for reminding me Pete!

    .

  3. I not only learned about an unfamiliar trail from this entry, but was also intrigued by the intersection of two passions of Coloradans: hiking and geocaching. I know many people who do one or the other, but none before now who have combined them. Those who tell me about their geocaching fixation seem most respectful of the environment, and so I applaud their forays into the outdoors. I’ve never tried geocaching, but maybe I’ll try it as yet another enticement to get away from the computer screen and into the mountains that so thrill me when I make the effort! Thanks Pete! See you out there!

    1. Thanks Susan! Might I am that I am officially a muggle no more. I found a cache the next day I went hiking and it was FUN; I found myself giggling and receiving a jolt of energy. I suggest you try it some time. All the best! Pete

  4. Cher and Susan, Thanks for your comments and we’d love to hear about your caching adventures! But what we’d really like to hear would be your tips and insider information about exploring the front range!

    Mark

  5. Hah! An invisible parallel universe, a plastic separate reality? Don Juan used to use a gourd to carry stuff in as I recall. The times they are a changing. That sounds like it was a fun hike, Pete. I’m looking forward to your newest book and getting to see how your intriguing writing style and innovative way of looking at things and thinking about them carries us into the mountains of Colorado.

  6. When I hike, which admittedly has not been for a while, I lose myself in the smells, sounds and colors of the experience. Rarely notice other hikers. Your informative article gave me pause. Perhaps involving myself with other humans in a give and take situation would expand and possibly enhance my own evolution.

  7. Fun and interesting entry on discovering geocaching. Even well-traveled and adventured people like Pete KJ still find something new on the trail. I’ve heard of geocaching and I thought, “What a great thing to do with kids,” as you said. You raised an important point, though: it does encourage people to go off trail and that is not an insignificant thing in today’s world where nature’s diversity is disappearing. Looking forward to reading more!

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