We have another amazing tale from JASTA 11, this time on the hunt for an 8 year old cache in the swampy Fakahatchee Cypress Forest. Read on for the full incredible story:
With the first snow of the season falling here in New England, my thoughts travel back to warmer days, lush, green vegetation, and a TerraCache that had sat alone in a swamp for almost eight years…
The Fakahatchee Strand: the world’s largest strand swamp, the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent, a subtropical wilderness, the Amazon of North America. When one thinks of a jungle- thick vegetation, humid air, and the sounds of animal calls blasting from the trees are what comes to mind. The Fakahatchee is all that.
Back in 2010 I was planning a visit down to Naples, Florida. Of course that meant targeting some choice caches. I didn’t want numbers caches, I wanted to experience an environment that was very different than what we’re used to. I was looking for caches that were, to put it simply, ‘off the beaten path’. I had come across one of those, hidden fairly recently. Well, plans for that trip fell through and much time passed. Fast forward to 2017 and once again we were planning to vacation in southwest Florida – so, it was game on!
TCAAV – Fakahatchee Cypress Forest. Hidden in March 2010. Over a mile from the nearest ‘road’. Still unfound after seven years. Yes! So I contacted a Florida local and his ‘snow bird’ sidekick, they would come down and join in the trek through the strand. So I researched the swamp, checked the water levels almost daily, and created a packing list of items that I hoped would help meet the challenges of the swamp.
February 17, 2018: the big day was finally here. I was up early to get to the park near dawn. But I would be making the slog alone, my partners having bailed out on this adventure a couple days earlier. No matter. With less noise being made I’d have a better chance of seeing a Florida panther or a maybe a black bear, maybe even a skunk ape! So, with my jungle boots on I added gore-tex leg gaiters ‘cause I’d be more likely to come across a water moccasin or some other snake than any large mammals.
A short walk down a pathway (called a ‘tram’, they are left over from when the swamp was logged for its cypress in the 1940s and ‘50s) and it was time to dive into the jungle. Crossed a narrow drainage next to the tram and then stepped up a little into the swampland itself. January and February is the ‘dry’ season in south Florida, so it’s a great time to walk the swamp. The water level was usually from just above my ankle up to mid-calf. But there were plenty of spots where there was dry ground to step on. But those spots are heavily vegetated. Vegetated with things that will either poke you, trip you, or cut you. So, in picking my poison, I chose to keep mostly to the wetlands.
As you can imagine, traveling in a straight line is impossible. Creeping along, circumventing obstacles, it’s necessary to plan out your next couple moves ahead of time to keep from putting yourself in to a dead end of briars or other heavy vegetation.
All through the hours I was in there, birds were a constant companion overhead in the trees. Lots of chatter. I don’t know what kind any of them were, save for the hoots of an owl. Other times I would get startled by loud crashing in some nearby palmettos. But anyone who has ever walked through palmettos knows that they make a racket at the slightest motion. Sorry, no skunk ape.
No alligators either. With the drier conditions, gators spend most time wallowing in their holes. Aside from some small lizards and a frog, the only reptile I came close to was a solitary water moccasin…
At about .4 mi south of ground zero I encountered the largest water crossing yet, a canal about twenty feet across. I searched up and down a little, hoping to find a fallen tree across the canal with no luck. So, I threw some objects into the water to be sure I wasn’t going to surprise anything. Holding my machete in one hand I went on in to the black, mid-thigh deep water, and came out the other side uneventfully - into the cypress forest.
The terrain from here on in would largely be dry. Anticipation was rising as the distance to GZ kept dropping, but so did the anxiety. Would I find it? Was it even still able to be found? It had been almost eight years. Lots can happen out here in the ‘Amazon’. Would I be walking out of the swamp this evening empty-handed?
‘Beep-beep’, my Delorme signaled two hundred feet to target. Later a single beep let me know I was within forty feet. I was there at last…
I sat down for a snack and some much needed hydration and took in my surroundings. Nothing caught my eye. After all, it was a small, green decon container I was seeking, and surrounding me were stumps, live cypress, and many, many vines. It would be like the needle in the haystack. On top of that, the gps was having a bit of difficulty locking a signal under the thick canopy. Distances and directions drifted. I wandered about a little, checking the obvious places. As I looked around, I spotted a very interesting strangler fig climbing a thin cypress. With camera in hand I walked over to get a good picture. And there it was…
Euphoria is the only way to describe it. It was still there, after all this time, and I managed to find it.
Looking at the photo, you can see that I wasn’t the first to find. Deep teeth marks show that it had got the attention of something at some point in the last almost eight years. With holes in the container, the inside was a mess. We cleaned it out, taped up over the holes, and added a new log in a baggie.
This was probably the most extreme terrain I’ve traversed to search for a cache. All the things I hoped for in this cache were achieved. I came away from this hunt with great sense of satisfaction and some fantastic memories, all thanks to TerraCaching!
FOR LOVE OF THE HUNT!
For more on the hunt for this TerraCache, please check out our video: