Posted by: geonarcissa | October 28, 2010

Absolute power trails corrupt absolutely.

I was going to call this post “Geocaching in the age of cholera power trails,” but I can’t put tags in the title.

Yesterday Taoiseach hid a new puzzle cache. He’s been talking about it, planning, marking coordinates, and doing other research for a few weeks now. It was published this morning, and almost immediately he received a private email from another geocacher complaining that it’s too hard, and *gasp* hardly anybody’s going to be able to find it.

The cache is rated difficulty 5, and this is not the first time this particular geocacher has emailed another geocacher to scold them for hiding another puzzle in this area. And this is the second time in recent memory that Taoiseach has had a complaint about the difficulty of his geocaches.

It’s got me thinking about where this game came from, and where it’s headed.

The Ottawa geocaching scene has been very puzzle-centric since the early days of geocaching. Even before the mystery/unknown geocache type was created, geocachers in this area were taking the concept of a multi-cache to extremes. In the years since, many other local geocachers have let their own imaginations run wild, and Ottawa is one of the richest and most diverse places to go geocaching in the world. Without leaving sight of the Parliament Buildings, a visiting geocacher can find a webcam cache, a virtual, an Earthcache, a Wherigo, several letterbox hybrids, and numerous puzzles, multis, and even a few traditionals (and if you’re here on November 15, you can round that out with an event).

Ottawa Geocaching Map

The geocaching map in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. Note the variety of geocache types.

A geocacher’s dream? I’d certainly think so, if I visited a place with so much variety. But in this age of power trails, smart phones, and lamppost skirt lifters, this diversity and creativity in geocaches is decried as being too difficult, unwelcoming even.

Don’t get me wrong – in many ways, I’m thrilled to see this game gaining popularity and legitimacy in the mainstream. It’s great to see new names in the logbooks and new faces at events. New blood often brings with it new ideas, and I can never complain that there aren’t enough caches to find around here. Growth is good.

I’m not here to rant about the inaccuracy of GPS in smart phones (for the record, I think they’re generally good enough for geocaching and accuracy snobs are annoying), or n00bs putting out bad hides (they often do, but we were all n00bs at one point), or the proliferation of nanos (that trend is SOOOOO 2008).

I am worried, though, that the dark side to this growth is a trend towards mediocre homogeneity and a shift away from variety. On geocaching forums, I often see people discussing a new geocache “series.” I’ll ask why they didn’t put out a multi-cache instead of a bunch of traditionals, especially when the goal of the series is to give people a tour of a relatively small area. The answer is usually “Oh, but not as many people will look for it”. Or, worse, “But then the finders only get one smiley.”

More and more, our geocache maps are starting to become bland, uniformly green strings of micro-sized traditional caches. While power trails have their charms, it’s disturbing that geocaching variety is declining, and in some cases creativity is outright discouraged.

Pontiac Power Trail

A power trail near Ottawa, in Quebec's Pontiac region.

I don’t want to be too hard on power-trail owners and lovers. I think there’s room for all of us in this game, and I believe that almost any geocache can be fun under the right circumstances. I’ve had some great times racing from lamppost to lamppost with friends, going to ridiculous lengths to find the cache while staying in the car. Some challenging multi-caches have, honestly, brought me to tears. It all depends on the situation.

Folks, this is why we have terrain and difficulty ratings. If a difficulty 5 puzzle makes your eyes cross and your nose bleed, find another cache. Try it again later. Put it on your ignore list. But writing to the cache owner chiding him/her for having the audacity to create such a difficult cache? That’s unacceptably rude.

I could just say “Not all caches are for all people” and leave it at that, but there’s more to it. If you’re new to geocaching now, but you plan to stick with it, trust me… you’ll eventually start craving a challenge, a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps that desire for challenge will be met by a 100 mile bike ride with a micro cache every 0.10 miles. Perhaps you’ll need a 20 waypoint multi-cache to feel fulfilled. Maybe you’ll be overjoyed to nab your first FTF. Or maybe you just need to crack that nuisance, closest-to-home puzzle that’s been nagging at you since day one.

Whatever the case may be, it’s my hope that this game continues to grow in many directions, so we can all get what we want out of it. There’s a little platitude I keep seeing on bathroom walls and Facebook and inspirational posters: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Are you bored or annoyed by your local geocaching environment? Don’t attack your fellow cachers with criticisms over their hides – hide the kind of caches that you would like to find. With time, others will follow suit. We all have our preferences – sometimes they disagree, sometimes they overlap – but the best geocaching map is one that can accommodate a variety of tastes.

And we’d all do well to remember that the ultimate goal of geocaching is to have FUN.

Oregon's Happy Face Geocache Map

Don't worry, be happy.



  1. Nice post. I too hate when I hear people complain… I don’t like this, or I don’t like that…. but you pretty much hit the nail on the head… do caches that you DO like (and can do) and stop b!tch!ing about it… there is a cache type/rating out there for everyone!

    As for power trails… not my thing… but then again I’m not saying I wouldn’t ever do one! 😛

    As for puzzles – I pretty much SUCK at most and know it. I’d never write an owner to complain… beg for a hint, maybe.

  2. I agree that we are not supposed to find all caches and that one puzzle could seem easy for one and felt to be impossible by another. I would be hard pressed to try and solve complicated math type puzzles but give me a brain teaser and I’m all over it. I’m sorry that some CO’s go through the effort of creating these awesome puzzles and then get grief because “it’s to hard…” My husband can’t, for the life of him figure out how Suduko puzzles can be solve but I love them: easy for me, impossible for him. So does that mean too hard? hardly. It’s been my experience that CO’s are always willing to give hints, nudges, winks… especially if you explain your work, thus far….

    So, PLEASE… keep creating those wonderful, imaginative puzzles and to the whinny, whimps be damned.

  3. […] out, but as others have mentioned, Garmin has deep pockets. Groundspeak has committed a lot of buffoonery over the last year, so I’m cautiously optimistic that this new site will become a reasonable […]


%d bloggers like this: