Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tackling Tough Terrain: 5 Stars

We've seen what constitutes a Terrain Rating of "1". So, what constitutes a Terrain Rating of "5"? And, who the heck am I to think I know what I'm talking about? After all, I live in Northeastern Indiana - Flat, flat, flat, flat, and oh yeah, FLAT.

I've actually done 2 caches with a Terrain rating of 5, but one was a Liar's cache that probably had a "real" rating of about 2. The other one was a walk of about 1/4 mile or so from the parking lot to the boat dock, then a canoe ride to the boat dock by the cache, then another short walk to the cache itself. Without the canoe ride it would've been probably a Terrain 3. I've seen many, many discussions in the Geocaching Forums regarding Terrain Ratings - especially T5 - and I'm going to distill some of that here for you, and give you my perspective for the reasons behind the rating. says that any cache requiring "special equipment" (and no, a GPSr is not considered "special equipment" - it's standard equipment for any cache find) should be rated a T5. This is regardless of the rest of the terrain around the cache - if any part of the cache hunt requires special equipment, such as a boat, SCUBA gear, mountain climbing equipment, Sherpas, Yaks, oxygen masks, insert-your-own-equipment-requirements-here, that cache automatically gets a T5 rating.
A lot of people have taken issue with this mindset. "The rest of the cache hunt is a T1.5, at most! How stupid is this that I have to upgrade it to a T5 just because there's 500 feet of boat ride involved! This is the world's easiest boat ride, too! Just hop in, row-row-row-row, hop out!"
In one sense, they're right. That cache, were it completely accessible by land, would probably get a much lower rating. They feel their cache will be overlooked by many people who automatically filter (or PQ) for "caches with lower Terrain ratings", and they're completely correct. However, let's look at the Terrain rating from the finder's perspective, for a minute, and I think it will make the automatic T5 rating clear.
Ratings are provided as an aid to the cacher. How difficult is this find going to be - and how difficult will it be to get to the cache? If you're out running errands and want to find a cache or two while you're out, you're likely going to disregard the T5 caches, because most people don't take a Kayak with them while going out for milk. The T5 rating is there for much the same reason the "Unknown / Puzzle" Cache Type is - to let us know that we need to check the cache page for more information as to how to find this cache. What advance preparation do we need? Generally, a T1-3.5 don't require advance preparation; you can park the car, walk / wheel / bike / etc. to the cache, sign the log, and make your way back to the car. However, with a T4 and up, we know it'll require advance preparation or more than just walking to the cache. We'll need at least a hiking stick, and in the case of a T5, our "special Equipment", whatever that might be.

It is the responsibility of the Cache owner to specify in the cache listing what that Special Equipment might be. As with all caches, relying just on the star ratings isn't enough - for either the finder or the hider. A good hider / cache owner will provide a good description in the cache page of the obstacles the finder can expect. This way, the hider knows how the Terrain Rating was arrived at - is it because it's 400 feet up a sheer cliff? Across a shark-infested lake? At the end of a 3-day hike into the wilderness? Or possibly at the end of a SCUBA dive in the Black Lagoon?

In any case, if your cache requires Special Equipment to reach it, be it SCUBA gear or HAZ-MAT gear, a boat or Rapelling gear, your cache should be rated a T5, to let everyone know that they'll need to take special care in preparing for your cache, gather their special equipment needed to get to and find the cache, and that they should check the cache page for further information.

Good luck, and have fun placing your next T5: Tough Terrain Cache.

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