Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Temple of Doom

Geocaching buddy Tbbiker (a.k.a. Todd) has been clamoring for an expedition to the Uhwharries in Davidson County for some time because there's this multi-cache called Temple of Doom (GC50F7F) down there that has a high (potentially deadly) difficulty and terrain rating. And why would one not desire to risk life and limb to find a tough cache and claim another smiley? I can't think of one.

Tbbiker had been to the site on at least one previous occasion but had only found the first of the cache's four stages. Today, although the weather forecast warned of serious storms, several of us decided to take our chances, brave the possible rain, and take on the Temple of Doom challenge. Four of us formed up at the parking area for the forest area: Tbbiker his own self, as well as regular caching companions Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) and Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie). We came prepared with several tools of the trade, such as a 12.5-foot collapsing ladder, rope & tackle, flashlights, gloves, beef jerky, trail mix, and lots of water.
Diefenbaker just hanging about
Tbbiker making the ascent to stage two, which
turned out to be missing.

The "temple" is a group of ancient structures that were once part of an iron mining facility — how many years ago I do not know. In any event, we knew we would have to take on physically challenging tasks to claim the cache, and we really hoped the rain would hold off, as negotiating the terrain is tricky enough without it being extra slickery. We lucked out. While the sky occasionally leaked some superfluous water, no serious storms assailed us.

Stage one involved clambering over one of the structures at an appreciable elevation, so we set to work in earnest. This was the one stage Tbbiker had already found, but he sat back to watch in amusement while we hunted. At last, Diefenbaker made the find, which provided the coordinates for the next stage.

Stage two is one of the stages that require either a ladder or ropes (or both) to reach. In this case, a railroad spike hanging high up in a tree indicates the altitude one must search along the cliff. We mounted up, hunted, hunted, and hunted, all to no avail. Much of shale cliff had collapsed (some while Tbbiker was hunting on his last trip) and it became increasingly clear to us that the physical stage here must be gone.

It was.

However, one of our party had some vague intel from a previous finder about where to find the final stage. Vague enough that we couldn't be quite sure we would be at the right place. We did indeed find a likely spot: one of the stone structures whose roof was missing, with a tree growing out of it. The only way in was to scale the exterior and then either haul the ladder inside or use rope & tackle. We had the bad feeling the 12.5-foot ladder might not be tall enough for our purposes, so our resident ropes expert, Diefenbaker, set to work constructing a rope ladder and safety harness we could use as needed.

Since Tbbiker had been the motivating force behind our expedition, he volunteered to attempt the cache's retrieval — if it did actually lurk in that deep, foreboding chamber. He and Diefenbaker geared up, scaled the parapet, and positioned themselves above the opening. I hoisted the extension ladder up to them, and they lowered it into the chamber. And what do you know: the ladder was just tall enough to allow Tbbiker to both descend into the depths and climb all the way back out, which we had feared would not be the case. Down he went... and after a brief search, he came up with the cache in hand.


Sadly, even though the cache owner — Ranger Fox (a.k.a. Christopher) — had used a sturdy container and sealed the log book in a plastic bag, water had seeped inside and ruined the log's pages. I did have a spare log book on hand, so I replaced the ruined one but saved it, in case Christopher should like to keep it as a souvenir. But we had accomplished the all-important task: found the cache and signed the log book. Another nice smiley to reward each of us for risking of life and limb!

And so, with this one put to bed — and having already found the several other caches in the vicinity — Tbbiker opted to take his leave and return home to the wilds of Rockingham County. Diefenbaker, Ms. Fish, and I, having not found the four other traditional caches in the vicinity, opted to continue on. And, oh, what a choice. It was at this point we discovered the real terrain challenges this area of the Uhwharries provides.
Almost at the summit

Let it be said that I have ventured into the Uhwharries after caches numerous times, and every time, the Uhwharries have kicked my ass. They did it again today. Our next target was the Bald Mountain Challenge (GC15CC2), residing some 800 feet vertically above the low-lying area where we had begun our adventure. And steep? Why, yes. This is not a trivial slope. Up, up, up it goes, through woods and rocks, with nary a trail to be found. Yessir, all bushwhacking. Thus, this cache boasts a 5/5 rating, the most difficult on the geocaching scale. Now, it is an older cache (2007), and while the rating for the hide itself might be a bit much (I'd call it a 3), the 5 terrain rating was not a joke. Thankfully, we managed to locate the container without much trouble, and then we took a brief rest break.

From there, it was downhill to another cache, and then... holy horrors... another big uphill trek. As with a couple of other Uhwharrie hikes, I began to wonder if maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. But there he was, Diefenbaker, five years older than me, booking it on up that hill, putting this old man and the much younger Ms. Fish to utter shame. Some old fart! What a machine!

Happily, we finished our day claiming all the caches we had set out to find in the forest. On our way back to Greensboro, Ms. Fish and I grabbed a handful of nice, easy caches, and stopped for a pleasant Mexican dinner in Thomasville. I did reach (and pass) cache find #11,111, which is kind of a fun number. At the end of the day, my total cache count stands at 11,115.

Once back home, I discovered via the Temple of Doom cache page that its owner, Ranger Fox, had gone down to do maintenance on the cache today — apparently, right after we had completed it. He did confirm that stage 2 was missing, which we found gratifying in its way because it meant we were not simply a bunch of inept geocachers who couldn't find an iron spike if it were hanging right there in front of them.

A most satisfying day, despite having my ass whipped yet again by the Uhwharries. One of these days, Uhwharries....
A view of the distant Tuckertown Reservoir, taken from about halfway up our ascent
Some of the sheer cliffs we passed as we made our climb

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