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Treasure hunting through the trees

-  Letterboxing offers an enhancement to Sandy area hiking


The Pacific Northwest is a great place to hike. With plenty of challenging terrain, beautiful scenery and temperatures that don’t usually get too warm, trekking through the woods is a great hobby to keep you in shape and experience the outdoors.

But if you’re looking for a little something extra to get you intrigued with hiking, why not try letterboxing?

Letterboxing is the artistic modern equivalent of treasure hunting.

Started in England in 1854, it caught on in the United States in 1998 after an article ran in Smithsonian Magazine.

The website, letterboxing.org, claims there are about 20,000 letterboxes hidden in North America alone. If you’re looking locally, there are boxes placed in Sandy, Welches, Rhododendron, Government Camp and Estacada.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - As close to home as you can get, Sandys Tickle Creek Trail is home to the Lost Ladybug.

Letterboxes, usually a weatherproof container storing a rubber stamp and logbook, are placed outdoors by nature lovers who then post clues to the box’s whereabouts online.

A local letterboxer

Lisa Martinez began letterboxing in 2003 when her daughter was young.

Although her family enjoyed hiking, it was tough to keep a toddler interested in walking for long periods of time.

Martinez read about letterboxing in a children’s magazine and decided to give it a shot.

She selected a letterboxing quest from the Internet and decided to put young Shelby in charge of the hunt.

She said that before she knew it, they had gone several miles and found all the boxes.

I love the creativity and talent it takes to carve the stamps in the boxes,” Martinez said. “Also it make hiking more fun. Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt?”by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Searching for the letterbox makes the hike go by quickly. You hardly even realize its exercise.

Martinez’s trail name is Hot Mama, and she uses a chili pepper stamp.

“My daughter’s stamp is a monkey called Funky Munky and my husband is Texas Toad,” she said. “Even my mom has a stamp, and hers is Suzy B ... it’s a bee.”

Martinez said her favorite trip is a series at Fort Stevens on the Oregon Coast because it weaves through some nice trails and ends at a ship wreck on the beach.

The search

To get started on your letterboxing trip, you’ll need a trail name (I went with “The Journalist,” which will probably evolve to include a canine sidekick in the future), a rubber stamp of your choice, an ink pad, a pen, a sketch or notebook, a compass (which is not used for all letterboxes, but handy to have just in case) and clues printed from letterboxing.org.

My first trip, which involved clues for six different boxes placed on the trail that rounds Trillium Lake, just east of Government Camp, did not go so well. Either the clues were way harder than I prepared for or a little outdated. The boxes were said to be placed in 2008.

When placing a box, it is the responsibility of the placer to check the boxes every couple of months.

“Some people are better than others at that,” Martinez said. She too has gone hunting and returned home empty handed.

Regardless, the hike around the lake was beautiful.

For my next try, I went with something easier and a little closer to home. I was seeking “Lost Ladybug,” a single box placed on Sandy’s Tickle Creek Trail.

The clues included a longer trek and a shorter trek, depending on which side of the trail you begin your journey.

Because of my earlier disappointment, I started out on the short trek, equipped with a backpack of essentials, hoping to find the box.

This time, my hunt was a success.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Finding a hidden box.

After counting bridges crossed and looking for landmarks along the trail, I spotted the box hidden beneath some sticks.

I did a little dance and pumped my fist in the air before remembering I was supposed to be discreet. I was so excited that someone wasn’t lying to me about the game. Plus, I didn’t think I could take another letterboxing failure.

I quickly opened the box, stamped my notebook and signed my trail name in the logbook before replacing the box, taking care to hide it just as well, if not better than, how I found it.

I continued on my hike with a spring in my step and a new hobby in mind.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Each box contains a stamp (sometimes with its own ink pad) and a logbook for treasure hunters to sign their trail names.

Beginning your own hunt

To join the hunt, visit www.letterboxing.org.

Once on the website, you can search for clues by region, state and city.

If eventually you feel you have mastered the art of deciphering letterbox clues, and your stamp collection has filled your notebook, you can use the website to create your own clues and place a letterbox of your very own.