Should Our Caches Be Less Risky? Stopping To Think In The Wake Of A Geo-Tragedy

I’m sure geocachers all around the planet will be sympathetically pondering the fate of a 75-year-old Idaho geocacher who died just north of Creston, British Columbia on Wednesday when he lost his footing on a bank and fell 80 feet (25 metres). An unexpected accident like this is an unwelcome tragedy for any family and our hearts go out to the relatives of this man.

Some of you may also recall the plight of Zachary Underwood, a geocacher who was injured when a boulder hit him, resulting in 13 broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and a lacerated liver.

And, like me, I’m sure most of you have local stories of geocachers being injured or perhaps getting lost whilst in the hunt for a geocache. I’ll even admit to still having a large scar on my lower right leg from one of my earliest geocaching endeavours.

Of course, it’s common when these types of stories arise for some begin suggesting that our caches should involve less risk to avoid anything bad happening to geocachers seeking them. Of course, there are lots of reasons why people suggest this ,but I suspect the over-riding reason is a purely human desire to keep people safe. That we as a species have such a large desire to protect each other is something to acknowledge and treasure.

There are also some more logical and less emotion-based reasons for reducing the risk in finding our caches. The overall reputation of the ‘sport’ does not benefit when people are seriously injured, much like it is impacted every time there is another bomb scare. And each cache owner needs to consider their own personal culpability regarding risk when they place a cache.

Which all begs the question should our caches be less risky?

I know many would instantly shout YES! And I instantly refer back to my previous statement about the human desire to keep everyone safe. None of us want someone to be seriously injured or die whilst searching for one of our caches. So perhaps we should remove our riskier caches and just leave the ‘safe’ ones? Wouldn’t that be the ‘ethical’ thing to do?

Well, frankly, NO.

In my opinion, our ethical responsibilities lie in ensuring that we highlight any significant risk. That does not mean pointing out every little risk or possibility, but rather mentioning them in the cache listing. For example, it is worthwhile pointing out that care should be taken with other cars at a quick Park ‘n Grab on a busy highway. There is a significant and inherent risk there. But you wouldn’t add in a suggestion that cachers should check the weather forecast just in case the roads are wet. That risk is more general and surely the responsibility of the individual cacher.

Personally, I believe there is some level of risk in every cache we seek. And I like it. It’s part of what makes caching fun for me and I’m not sure I would be as interested in the game if it wasn’t there. I like the challenge of climbing a tree, scrambling up a bank, crawling through a tunnel or diving into the water.

And what makes geocaching any different from other activities where there may be risk? Do you hear people arguing that rock climbing should be made safer when there is an injury? People frequently die on K2 but authorities are yet to cordon off the mountain.

Ultimately, the risk is mine to take. When it comes to the general everyday risks that can be associated with caching we all have our own personal responsibility. We also have personal responsibility to read the cache listing and heed the warnings contained within. If we fail to so do that is our own fault.

But we shouldn’t forget that we have the responsibility to point out significant risks in our own caches and that is the one concern I have for anyone placing a cache. Failure to point out a significant risk could be disastrous and I suspect this is the area of risk responsibility that needs the most attention. I’d almost go so far to say that perhaps there should be a little tick box on the cache listing form that makes you verify that all significant risks have been acknowledged in the listing.

In the end, we all have to go at some stage, and whilst I’d prefer to minimise the trauma to my friends and family of a sudden loss ,I am somewhat captivated by the idea of passing on doing something I love. For the gentleman that died on Wednesday in Creston, I hope that was the case.


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  1. Rockin Roddy

    Geocachers must evaluate their own abilities and search out caches more geared to that ability! However, when placing a cache, a cacher MUST ask themselves if the cache placement is worth any injury that could come from it. If you think hiding a cache in an electrical outlet is great for camo and makes for a good hide, did you take into acct the kids who might not realize not all elec boxes are safe caches?

    I agree, we MUST list anything that could be dangerous, and we MUST properly rate our caches for terrain and diff…did the cache in question state no need to cross barrier or did the terrain reflect this? I know we are all responsible for our own actions, but imagine how the cache owner now likely feels about their hide and how this will likely affect their life…and I wonder if they feel they did enough to keep everyone relatively safe? I’m not judging here at all, I know not the answers and don’t care….but an accident like this affects MORE than just the victim and their family…it could ruin the cache hider’s life as well.

    So, be safe and think safe. Those hiding caches, think about what you’re doing and why….and cachers hunting, USE YOUR HEADS!!! If it seems unsafe for you, it may very well be, so don’t take RISKS! Just because someone else found it doesn’t mean it’s right for all, know your limitations and do the right thing…no cache is worth your life!

    1. CraigRat

      There is risk everywhere, WE must assess the risk and the potential outcomes.

      Never good to hear about fellow cachers getting injured, but given the number of players and the nature of … well… nature… injury and death is statistically inevitable.

      As others have said, no smiley is worth risking your life for.

      Stay safe!!

  2. Ian McGlynn

    We are now in an era of over-zealous safety standards and no accountability for one’s own actions. We CHOOSE to seek these things. No one is to blame if we, as seekers, fail to do an HONEST self assessment prior to searching. Be it 20′ in a tree, 500 ft in a tunnel, or on the guard rail of a bridge, if we do not posses the ability to make the grab we MUST be disciplined enough to simply walk away and go find something else(like the OTHER 1.3 MILLION caches out there). I love smileys just as much as the other guy but have walked away from many caches that simply worth the risk to me, or my family. Happy hunting!


  3. robnzh

    I think the standard health and safety rule of “eliminate, isolate, minimise” is a good guideline here.
    If a geocache is placed in such a manner that injury or death is likely, you need to place it somewhere else or not at all.
    It should NEVER be placed on any live electrical item, but might be able to be planted at a safe distance from it, there are numerous other ways that a cache can be isolated from a hazard or the risk minimised : warnings are useful but it must be remembered that not everybody will read or heed them!
    It must feel really terrible if someone gets seriously injured or dies at a cache you own, (if you could be shown to be careless in placement could there be a risk of a manslaughter charge?- I don’t know but I wouldn’t like to find out the hard way!): both the planter and the searcher have a responsibility to play it safe but it is best when planting to allow for the fact that people will do risky things no matter how hard you try to stop them so best to err well on the side of caution.

    1. chunkymunky06

      Groundspeak has the “magic bullet” in their term of use that puts all responsibility on the seeker. It also bears the responsibility through its “Reviewer” process that is supposed to help filter potentially deadly situations. Again my point of “if you cant, you cant, so dont” is on the seeker. Dont climb mountains without gear or training, dont mess with electrical boxes if they make you nervous, and stay above ground if tubes bother you. It seems like a no brainer to me but I guess good common sense is in shorter supply these days.

  4. psychoward

    Only 500 ft in CHUNKYMUNKY?

  1. Waypoints — July 24th, 2011 : GPS Enviro Rides

    […] A cacher dies and a blogger asks “Should Our Caches Be Less Risky?” […]

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