Winter caching can be a lot of fun, or a complete disaster. It is hard for a “Neo-Geo” (what I call new geo-cachers) to get their heads around all the new technology, geo-caching lingo, maps, and all that darn paper. If you Neo-Geos are as anxious to get out there finding caches as I am (yes I am a Neo-Geo too) you may start out unprepared. All the techno stuff you have questions about, you can get answers for in our most excellent forums. What I am trying to do here is give a few tips on how to prepare for a winter caching excursion.
What do those “Snow friendly” icons mean? This is hard to answer. It may mean you can get to the cache site without skis or snowshoes. It may mean the cache it’s self is above snow level. Placing this icon is up to the person who placed the cache. The person might have used a snowmobile to place a cache five miles in the woods and put a snowflake icon on the listing!
Look for listings of caches that have been recently found. You know these must be accessible and they probably have tracks leading to the cache. Some cachers will go out of their way to mess up their tracks and create other tracks to throw you off. A pocket query can keep you posted on recently found caches. If the snow is not too high you can go for the guardrail caches. Many film canister sized caches are hidden in guardrails. Remember that in the winter, some caches only accessible by boat , become accessible when the lakes freeze.
So you have figured out how to use your GPS, you have your Cache print-outs and Maps; and you’re ready to go. You put on your insulated undies, snow pants, parka, gloves and knit cap and head out. Did you check the weather? Nothing can turn you around faster then a white-out. You can’t see. You walk in circles, your GPS can’t pick up signals and your lost! BAD CACHING DAY! Even in the summer but especially in the winter you should always check the weather before you head out.
I prefer snowshoes to skis because skis get in the way when bushwhacking is called for. If you are on snowshoes, stay off the ski trails. Snowshoes put holes in the ski trails. Wear warm clothes in layers. Use your GPS to waypoint your vehicle. Tell someone where you are going or better yet, take someone with you. Take a cell phone with you. Wear sunglasses. On a sunny day you can go blind out in a snow field. Bring a child’s sand shovel or some other utensil for snow digging. A ski pole is indispensable for poking around the bases of trees for that “Tupperware thud”. Bring water to drink. You still sweat and dehydrate so you must have water to drink.
Pace yourself. Snowshoeing is more strenuous than walking. You don’t want to get to the cache location, only to be too tuckered out to hunt for the cache. Once there, look for other tracks. Try to think like the person hiding the cache. Ask yourself “Where would I hide a cache in this area?” Look behind big rocks or in between split rocks. Look (and poke) around trees. Look in the middle of clumps of trees. Some caches hang on tree limbs. Some are camouflaged to look like logs, or rocks. Look for sticks laying in a un-natural manner. Look for spots that look like they have been re-covered in snow. And most of all poke, poke, poke with that ski pole. Be persistent. I have found a couple of caches after I had changed my mind about quitting, and decided to look “just a little longer.” And last but not least ask for help. Your fellow Geo-cachers are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.