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The problem with lamp post caches (LPCs)

January 01, 2008 @ 14:00 By: gordon Category: Geocaching

Sonny looking for an LPCIf you’re a geocacher then the chances that you’ve found a lamp post cache (LPC).  For the uninitiated, LPCs are geocaches where the container is hidden in the base of a lamp post, typically under the liftable skirt on the base of the post.  It’s actually a clever place to hide something — until you’ve found a couple of dozen at which point they become rather repetitive.

But, the problem isn’t that they’re repetitive (although Sonny of the PodCacher Podcast might disagree on that point!).  The problem is that lamp posts with liftable skirts tend to be found in shopping mall parking lots and shopping mall parking lots are, technically, private property.  Increasingly, shopping malls are installing video surveillance systems to watch over their property.  So, if you go into a shopping mall’s parking lot for the sole purpose of finding a geocache, you are probably being observed.

And you’re probably trespassing, too.

Even if none of this is a deterrent, you might want to look at it from the security guards’ points of view.  Some guy (you) walks up to a lamp post, fiddles with the base of it, probably removes something and then puts it back.  At best, that will be treated as curious behaviour.  At worst, you could be accused of vandalizing the lamp post or even planting a bomb.

There was a series of geocaches placed for a Go And Get ‘Em event in Ottawa sometime in the last year or two that included a few caches placed on shopping mall property.  Go And Get ‘Ems (GAGs) and similar events see numerous geocachers head out to find as many geocaches placed for the event as they can in a short period of time.  Naturally, this means that easy-to-find caches, like LPCs, will see a huge amount of traffic while the event is taking place.  In the case of one such geocache placed in a shopping mall parking lot for a local event, this annoyed the landowner and the geocache “disappeared” shortly after the event started and geocachers were asked to leave if they were spotted.

So, one solution might be to only try such caches at night when the mall’s closed, right?  Wrong.

Think about it: Now, not only are you probably trespassing, you’re also doing this at night, under the bright glare of the lights at the top of the pole you’re trying to be stealthy around, and you’re being recorded doing this.  How inconspicuous can you be in the middle of acres of pavement with nothing around but your car?

Maybe a good New Year’s resolution for geocachers is to refrain from placing LPCs in shopping mall parking lots.  There are lots of other places in the urban environment where you can hide a geocache.

Update: See what I did about an LPC (ex-GCQXR7) I had.

17 Responses to “The problem with lamp post caches (LPCs)”


  1. Squid says:

    Another thing about lamppost caches. They are as dangerous as, perhaps moreso, a cache stuck on an electrical transformer or other power-grid device. Underneath those skirts there is often access to wiring… wiring that is typically running 240 or 600 V. Touch something you’re not supposed to under one of those skirts and you could end up injured or dead. I find it quite lucky that nobody has been injured or killed on these kinds of caches so far.

    It amazes me that, in a hobby that bans a 1″ pen-knife as inappropriate and not-family-friendly, any participant would even consider lifting the skirt on a lamp post.

    I will not knowingly seek lamp post caches.

  2. gordon says:

    Most of the skirt-lifter geocaches I’ve found have consisted of a small container sitting on the flange at the base next to the bolts, well away from the wiring running up the centre of the pole. But, you’re right… some of these LPCs are a little too close to high voltage wires that can injure or kill if you poke at them and the insulation happens to be damaged or there’s a loose connection somewhere.

    In fact, I am guilty of placing a geocache that you have to reach up into the pole from the base and there are wires running up the centre of the pole to the lights at the top.

    I’ll be archiving that geocache shortly and pulling the container later this week.

  3. NotTheBeanieGuy says:

    Directed to this via Podcacer – good piece! I’ll tell you another danger with these: I lifted a skirt once to find a whole hornets’ nest inside, complete with hornets…and there I was with my face right there, peering in and ready for the grab. I dropped the skirt and got out of there, but unlike being able to observe something like that in a tree and stay clear, you don’t know you’ve disturbed them until you’ve already disturbed them – yikes!

    So your article has inspired me to write this little ditty:

    As you cache the seven seas,
    Stay away from LPCs:
    Voltage shocks, surveillance jitters,
    Screeching noise and nasty critters –
    Lifting skirts is never funny,
    So listen to your old pal Sonny!

  4. Cottage Man says:

    Yes, this can be a problem. Recently I was visiting Cabazon California and came across two such caches, one was on the upper level of a parking area and the other was in the parking lot. Found the first one no problem and went for the second and who should come a long just as I was looking under the orange cone that was where the light should have been, yes the security truck from the casino. We were luckly, we left before they came to our car, that was close.

    Cottage Man, Nova Scotia Canada

  5. FireRef says:

    I happen to enjoy LPC’s. Permission issues aside (because, as we all know, geocache hiders must state that they had permission to hide the cache… not that they always get it, but I’m going to take it for granted that they did since they agreed they did and have no evidence to the contrary), I don’t see why they are such a problem. I would think that a mall/shopping plaza/store, etc would like the idea of extra people coming into their parking lot for other reasons, because they would be likely to use the store (I know I have, even if only for the bathroom or to buy a snack).

    As for high voltage – everyone seems to be worried about these things. I would have to say that if the wires were that exposed, they would be placing the general public in danger, just like the large transformer boxes that caches are sometimes hidden on. There is one next to an elementary school a block from my house (no geocaches…), and it is between the school and its playground. No fence. If this object was so dangerous to poke around, they would need to protect it a little better, since we all know little kids poke, prod, and stick their hands and objects into anything they can. They also climb on this once in a while. I don’t see any of them getting fried. I’m not saying there’s not problems with wiring once in a while, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting electricuted by playing with those skirts or the transformer boxes. Now, if they were putting caches 50 feet in the air on telephone and utility poles, that’s another story. These objects are no more dangerous than an outlet in your home. Poke around it, you’re safe. Stick objects into the little holes, you’re not. Unscrew it and take it apart, you’re not. But being around the outside of it is relatively safe, or otherwise we wouldn’t have them all over our homes.

  6. gordon says:

    I would think that a mall/shopping plaza/store, etc would like the idea of extra people coming into their parking lot for other reasons, because they would be likely to use the store (I know I have, even if only for the bathroom or to buy a snack).

    I’m sure that almost any mall would like to have more people visiting them, but only if those people are creating revenue for the tenants. If you go into a store to use its bathroom, you’re not generating revenue for them. Many establishments with bathrooms have signs clearly indicating they’re only for the use of customers.

    With respect to high voltage issues, the public isn’t being put at unreasonable risk because the owners of the light poles take reasonable efforts to protect the public by putting skirts on the bases to prevent accidental access to the wires and access panels that are closed. If someone comes along and lifts the skirt or opens the access panel, the owner of the pole can’t reasonably be held responsible if they were properly installed.

    The green transformer boxes are always properly signed with standard pictograms and signs warning of the danger. Children are (or should be) taught to leave them alone. The same applies to adults.

    Of course, if you poke at electrical outlets in your house you run the risk of electrocution. Ditto if you take it apart while it’s still energized. But they’re safe under normal conditions because they’re designed to be safe.

    I encourage you to check out the Groundspeak forums for a excellent thread by Johnnygeo, a safety coordinator for an electrical utility. It’s at http://forums.groundspeak.com/GC/index.php?s=f31d06c167b18b7dc13f8c5e98b50617&showtopic=129586&st=0

    I’ve also added a link to his blog in the sidebar.

  7. FireRef says:

    I read that blog, and disagree. While electricity is dangerous, those specific circumstances (large green metal boxes, and lamp posts with electrical wires), as they are placed, covers or not (and there are a number where the covers are not intact, and the poles are no more dangerous than when they are intact) are no more dangerous than things people do in every day life.

    I honestly can’t remember seeing any kind of pictograms on that transformer, and even with them there, that never dissuaded any children I know (including myself and friends when we used to play there) from playing on or around the object. And none of us got hurt.

    Here’s probably the best evidence to support my position – how many geocachers have been injured while searching in, on, or around those electrical boxes or LPC’s? As far as I know, none. (And saying someone knows someone who knows someone who got shocked isn’t evicence… it’s heresay.) If someone has actually been injured while geocaching without doing something completely stupid, such as opening normal access panels on the transformer or poking at or pulling out the wires from a lamp post, then I might change my position. … Might…

  8. Johnnygeo says:

    Great points from all…
    Hello everyone. First off, I’m a geocacher… love to cache on all levels of terrain… on hills, mountains and cliffs (with the proper safety equipment) I cache by motorcycle as well.

    Second, I’ve been in the electrical safety business for a number of years and keep my eyes open on what’s happening out there across north america.
    This is MY personal opinion. (we all have our own opinions on what is safe and what is not safe) Everyone makes their own decision. This is mine.
    I see that electrical equipment (lamp-posts, transformer boxs(green boxes)) is failing all over because of old age, vandalism(copper theft), and the odd hit-and-run by drivers.
    When it comes to playing around electrical equipment and getting killed… I haven’t heard much on anyone geocaching and getting killed by electricity BUT I have heard a lot about children playing other types of games and getting killed by electricity. (not even having to open up panels)

    http://media.www.thelantern.com/media/storage/paper333/news/2003/06/26/Campus/Uninsulated.Wire.Caused.Boys.Death-440891.shtml?norewrite200608311137&sourcedomain=www.thelantern.com

    … there are many other examples out there as well…

    When it comes to rules… I personally don’t like seeing rules come up after the fact, i.e. “we banned all caches on electrical equipment because a child(or adult) got killled caching on electrical equipment’ I like the proactive side/approach of thinking and doing something about it NOT to make it happen.

    Again, in my own opinion (based on being a Electrical Safety Codes Officer, Master Electrician and in a current role as a Safety Coorinator for a large power utility that has to respond to fatalities) I’d say to find other spots to hide geocaches other than electical equipment.

    Have fun and “cache-on”

    Thank you,

    Johnnygeo

  9. gordon says:

    The geocache I placed in the base of a lamp post, which I archived recently, had a tie-down strap added to it at some point. One time I visited it for routine maintenance, I found it had been tied to the electrical wires themselves. I undid it and tied it to a bolt instead. If an animal had been gnawing on the wires, for example, the chance that I or another geocacher would have been hurt or killed would have been non-trivial. Squirrels blow themselves up all the time when they gnaw on wires on poles and pierce the insulation.

    I’m glad I haven’t heard of any geocachers being hurt or killed searching around green boxes or LPCs. I do know of at least one LPC in Ottawa (where I live) being pulled by the landowner. People didn’t always find it on their first try when lifting the skirt and more than one opened the access panel in the side of the pole and poked around inside the opening looking for it.

  10. bitbrain says:

    Bravo! Thanks for a clear and concise presentation of the facts regarding LPCs.

  11. Jack says:

    Problem with LPC is simple:
    As with ALL caches, you MUST have property owner’s permission BEFORE you hide the cache!
    If you don’t have permission, cache shouldn’t be there!

  12. gordon says:

    That’s a big part of it, Jack.

    I recently looked for an LPC that isn’t a skirt-lifter. It ended up being in an apartment building’s parking lot. On the way in, I encountered clearly posted “private property” signs, so I approached from a park that backs on the property in the hopes that it was actually in the park at the edge of the parking lot, rather than in the lot. Unfortunately it wasn’t. I should have picked up on this from the cache description because it said to beware of a certain type of vehicle, which in retrospect must be the security patrols. (Fortunately, I didn’t encounter them.)

    I did not, in the end, attempt to retrieve the cache, nor did I log it as a DNF.

    If the cache owner has permission from the property owner, they should clearly indicate that in the description of the cache.

    Of course, this doesn’t address the safety issues that often exist.

  13. chephy says:

    There is an even bigger problem with these caches. Why the hell would you want to be in an environment so drab and boring as a parking lot mall. In geocaching, getting there and enjoying the area is, in my opinion, more than half the fun, and going to a mall parking lot… gee, what a destination!

    • gordon says:

      The lack of creativity is a problem, but I still maintain that the safety and trespassing issues are more important. There have been geocaches placed for events in Ottawa that were in shopping mall parking lots that resulted in people being told to leave the property by the landowner.

  14. Im Very Lost says:

    The only problem I have with lamp pole caches are the nails on chalkboard sound they make when you lift them up.

    • gordon says:

      LOL! They often do make that noise, don’t they?

      But the safety and trespassing issues are problematic. I only occasionally do them when I know the landowner is likely to have consented. Otherwise, I walk away.


Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. gordon.dewis.ca | Why I archived GCQXR7 (January 02, 2008 @ 02:21)
  2. gordon.dewis.ca | Lamp post cache causes bomb-scare in Plano, Texas (January 16, 2008 @ 12:56)
  3. gordon.dewis.ca | Lamp post caches revisited (November 04, 2010 @ 12:06)

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