Epic Pirate Treasure Hunt

Shark Tooth Vinney, was the last too see

That Peg-Leg Pete, had a skeleton key
The pair were searching, until they did sink
For that cursed diamond, we’ve all heard is pink
Now some have said, they had a watery clue
That was bound in hemp, deep under the blue
Twenty nine nights, the moon not to be seen
Pete dove into the black, whilst shimmering green
Caution to the wind, Pete got himself burned
Thus he entered the Black Forrest, but never returned.

The link to the Video version is at the bottom of this page….

Pirate Stuff
This is going to be FUN!

Over a years worth of hard work and planning between my two older brothers (Cam and Kevin) and myself went into the following treasure hunt. While enjoying Cultus lake during the summer of 2014, we decided that the family reunion camping trip of 2015 needed to have an epic fun event for all of our kids (age 3-17) to enjoy. The stage was set and we began looking for interesting things that could come into play next year when the whole family would join us at the same spot.

Several text clues were created in advance and carved into local items such as the dock and a couple camp sign posts. This way over the next year they would weather and look old, like they had been there all along. I also used my Garmin 910XT to map out the paths of the wooded park area to the north of the campground, so that we could make proper pirate map of the area. This map would end up consuming a huge chunk of my time in the spring of 2015.

The Time Capsule

The key item we made that year, was a time capsule, which we buried in the forest. Everyone wrote a note and placed a few small items in the time capsule so that we could open it in 2015 with the whole family there. The time capsule would become the catalyst to start the whole adventure. We would sneak a note into the time capsule at some point after we had dug it up, for the others to find. The note would point to the next clue along the whole epic treasure hunt we had created.

Planning The Adventure

Now, this treasure hunt was going to need some planning to pull it all off. We tried to make many of the clues and events easy to move around, in case weather or other unforeseen circumstances changed the course of events. We needed many of the clues to be transferable between days and stay fluid enough, as to not stop progress. So, the event was broken down into a list of things that needed to be accomplished each day, to move the kids towards the final prize. The following list of events is what actually happened in 2015, and I was happy that it came quite close to our original planning breakdown:

  1. Monday – Arrive at campground and hide picture frame in general store(with prior permission of course) / Beach evening
  2. Tuesday – Go dig up the time capsule, read the special message clue, go to the campgrounds general store to retrieve picture frame, obtain the map / Beach day
  3. Wednesday – Use the first map clues to find the hidden ammo can full of candy, Set-up the pirate boots in the lake, / Castle Fun Park
  4. Thursday – possibly find some keys / Spend the whole day boating on the lake
  5. Friday – Find the first corner of the map, Morse code clue, more keys / Othello train tunnels
  6. Saturday – Second corner of the map / Bridal falls water-park
  7. Sunday – New moon, map clue find the Sunken glowing orb of doom, get the doubloon / Hope Bike Park
  8. Monday – Third corner, find lock at Cultus Water park, get lock and more keys / Cultus water slides
  9. Tuesday – Camp ground map with math clues, dig up the boots, carved clues in dock / Beach day and mini golf
  10. Wednesday – Fourth corner of the map, finish the X on the map, find Goonies skull key, / Morning Boating on lake and evening at the amusement park
  11. Thursday – Final GPS points, use all the clues combined to find the final treasure location / Beach day
  12. Friday – Pack up and head home

The story begins…

Day 1

Behind the till
Picture frame goes into storage position.

My older brother Cam and I set off extra early (3:30 AM) and dead-headed the drive so that we could have extra time to setup camp, and try to place a few clue items before the rest of the family arrived at the campground. We made it to Chilliwack in time for a late lunch, and the key item to place was the large picture frame with the Pirate news. In trying to follow the Goonies story, we wanted the treasure map to be inside a picture frame, and we wanted the kids to find the picture frame. But we also needed to disguise the map so that no one else would really want it if they happened to find it. So, we created a fake newspaper article with a bunch of stories to put on top of the map so that it would draw less attention. The newspaper article also contained several clues and refereed to the map, which would all come into play latter.

I had called ahead and talked with the camp ground manager to secure the location. We placed the picture frame in the general store of the campground, in behind the till, and behind some boxes. Then we coordinated with the store clerk to pretend that the picture had been sitting there a long time because no one seemed to want it. He was very receptive to the idea and wanted to be filled in on the details of the treasure hunt as time progressed. Hopefully he will make it to this webpage to see how the whole ordeal unfolded, instead of just listening to the couple tid-bits that we did feed to him during our short time there.

Pirate News
Pirate News from 1632

Day 2

Diggin a hole
Digging for a year old time capsule with no luck.

After a great breakfast, we rallied the troops for a morning walk into the northern forest to find and dig up our time capsule. Everyone was happy and full of energy and ready for some vacation fun. Sadly, our time capsule was never found, even after an hour of digging around the planted location. There was a lot of wasted time and effort here. We were all really looking forward to reading the year old notes. My two brothers in particular had written some key questions about their own health and fitness, and both wanted to answer those questions. We are not sure if it was stolen, dug up by the police due to drug trafficking in the area, or we just missed the spot. But not finding the time capsule was a very depressing moment and put us on edge, thus we made sure to hide any remaining key clue items within a couple hours of their planned retrieval, as to not lose any more items. It also meant that we had to place the first treasure hunt clue in the mail.

Note small
Parlez Vous Francais?

What’s that, in the mail? To help coordinate many of the key moments, we placed clues in the mailbox that my brother Kevin brought along one year and attached to a tree. The mailbox has been a tradition for years now and we try to have mail in the box at least once a day. Some of the fake mail items were clues for the treasure hunt, like the first note. Others where clues for what we were going to do that day, such as a mail box full of golf balls to indicate mini golf. While others were just fun items, like some sinking torpedo toys for the kids to throw in the lake and dive to retrieve. Luckily the first clue was vague enough that it didn’t actually matter that it came in the mail instead of the time capsule. The effect was still the same, a fake random adventurer gave a clue to start the event.

I had some help from my in-laws translating the clue into french. This way it was a little more cryptic and required help from my family members who could actually read french. The English translation should roughly read:

Greetings adventurer;

I found your time capsule while I was digging for buried loot. I’ve heard that there is plenty of pirate gold hidden around the lake.

You should go to your general store and see if they have anything which might give you a clue to find some treasure yourself.

Happy Hunting, Sir Henry Morgan

The map peeking out

The older kids went up to the store right away to see what they could find. And with a little help and persuasion, they ended up with the picture frame. Of course none of them really read any of the stories initially. I guess you need to have a more adult mind to want to figure out and find the required information to carry on with this kind journey. But they were keen enough to see that the newspaper was NOT the intended item. Peeking out from under the newspaper was a corner of the map.

Since all the kids have seen the Goonies, their first idea was to smash the glass. Which would have been fun, but messy and a bit dangerous. So we had them open the frame up properly to expose the hidden map within.

Here’s a link to the PDF version of the Cultus_Cove_Pirates_News, see if you can figure out some of the hidden clues that will link up with the map.


Map Front
I spent way too much time making this. Notice the four corners are separated so that they can be found one at a time.

Day 3

Map back
Reverse side of the map

We wanted this day to be extra special. The loss of the time capsule had everyone down, and we needed a way to pick up their spirits since we would be heading back into the north forest again. This time we could not fail. At least we had a fancy pirate map to help show us the way. The key clue to this part of the adventure was a poem on the back of the map that would help point the way on the front of the map. Just follow the story towards the webs and you should end up with Peg-leg Petes left over rations…..

Look at all that candy!

SUGAR! I had filled a .50BMG ammo case to the top with about $80.00 worth of candy treats. This item needed to be found early in the adventure so that the kids had time enough to eat it all, at a reasonable rationed out pace of course. It also needed to be found quick, as an ammo can in the forest is a little suspicious. Well, no not really. If you do Geocaching on a regular basis, then you will realize that there are random ammo cans all over the word filled with fun treasure. All you need is a decent GPS or smart phone (if your have good cell coverage) and you will be able to go on random treasure hunts when ever you feel the need. Visit this site to get started today.

Enough of that, we had a sugar rush on the go and everyone was starting to see how epic this treasure hunt was going to be. The whole family now knew that we had put a ridiculous amount of effort into this, and we were only just getting started. Now, while the family was enjoying the fruits of their hunting treasure, my brothers and I went to lake to dig some new holes to fill. Cam had this great idea to bury his old work boots in the lake and have the kids dig them up.

Problem. The lake bed is mostly covered with fist sized rocks and not very easy to dig. We again spent a ton of energy digging a hole to drop a boot into for the kids to find later. Another problem we ran into was the  silt and dirt in the lake gets turned up and you have a really hard time seeing what you’re doing. This was not such a great plan in retrospect.

Fun on lake
Havin a splash with the boy

Day 4

We spent most of the day on the lake boating and wake boarding. These were the kind of days that were not really planned. We knew that weather would determine when we decided to do major fun events, thus there was minimal treasure hunting on days with big plans like this. Which is why we also had small items to send in the mail. One of the things we started doing is sending random keys in the mail. What the family would later learn when they dug it up, was that the final chest had a good 10 to 15 locks on it with interlocking chain. So one key was not enough to get into the pirate loot.

Othello Train Tunnel Walk, Hope BC

Day 5

Speaking of weather, it was pouring rain on this day which really dampened the mood. But the great thing about BC weather is that its still warm. So even though you are wet, its tolerable because you are still warm. We went to the Othello Train Tunnels as an outing to try and get a family group photo in the amazing canyon area. That is definitely an interesting and beautiful walk, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Hope area of BC. When we returned to the campground, I gave the kids the first corner piece to the map via the mail box. Each corner of the map had a clue written in Morse code that they would have to decipher. When they had all four corners together, they would have enough information to find the Peg-leg Pete.

Day 6

The rain persisted into Saturday as well. We decided this was a good day to go to the Bridal falls water park as the forecast said the weather would clear in the afternoon. I used this day to give a second corner of the map and I think there were also more random keys that showed up.

Day 7

The Glowing Orb is brought back to the dock

Since it was Sunday, and we were just planning to hang out on the beach, Cam and I took some of the older kids for some great biking at this awesome bike park we had seen in Hope BC. This place could probably host some Redbull or X games type events with the death inspiring jumps that they have there. A ton of fun that used up a good portion of the day. Now, the past three days did not really move the adventure along very much, but today was different. The big treasure hunt item of the day was a sunken clue I had created. The August new moon had happened on Saturday, thus tonight would be the night for my next clue to be found.  We used most of the afternoon playing on the beach, I was waiting for the right moment to place my next clue.

First sliver of the august moon,

Beware a glowing orb of doom.

I had bought a big glass jar and woven some jute cord around it to give it an old nautical look. Then I placed a bunch of rocks and sea shells into it. Lastly I put a coyote skull I had found earlier in the year on top. The rocks weighed the jar down just enough to sink. I then tied a long piece of paracord to the jar with a couple carabiners. I filled a clear pop bottle with glow sticks and attached it to the other end. The paracord was pre-measured previously that day so that I could have the floater sunk about 2 feet below the water surface, but still visible.

Orb of doom
Sunken Treasure…whats inside?

When it started to get dark that night, I swam out to one of the closer buoys, attached the carabiners to its anchoring rope, and let the jar sink. This clue worked amazingly well. The eerie green glow was visible from the beach and you could tell that it was coming from something glowing under the water. As I made it back onto the dock and walked towards the beach I noticed that people were already starting to gather further down the beach, wondering what the heck that green thing in the water was. I had to move quick. I told a couple of them to ward off anyone who may attempt to get it because it was part of a scavenger hunt for my relatives.

The doubloon gets weathered

When I made it back to the camp site, I was a little dismayed that no one was really interested. You could actually see the glow from all the way back here and no one wanted to go for an evening swim to see what it was?…even if the map had a clue pointing it out? UGH.

Well eventually the older ones decided to go down to the dock and have a closer look. Of course, no one brought their swim suits along. So we had to bribe one of them with double ice-cream just to go for an evening swim. After pulling the jar back up and disconnecting it from the Buoy, it was back to camp to see what was inside. My daughter especially liked the shells that were coming out of the jar, but the older kids were surprised by the real prize.

I had fabricated my own doubloon out of solid copper over the summer to mimic the Goonies version. The big thing for me was making it from solid metal so that it had good weight to it. The accelerated weathering had worked well, and it was fairly authentic considering my simple means of creating it.  The doubloon would be needed later to help solve the final location of the treasure hunt.

Puzzle locks before placement

Day 8

I started the day off with another mail man delivery of a corner to the map. Nothing like a constant supply of clues to keep the imagination alive. Today was Kevins’ turn at a fun little game of back and forth. He had locked a combination lock to the fence near our camp site on day 1. It had been hanging there in plain sight with a key on a ring attached the whole time, taunting the kids to find a way to open it, at one point they had actually just tried some random numbers with no luck. Today was the day to git er done, and the clue they needed to follow was on the main face of the map:

Westward Roll

Giant Bowl

Fence Pole

Orange Goal

We spent most of the day at the water park, and I needed the kids to be thinking about the treasure because we had hid the second part of the clue on the fence of the water park, so that it was accessible from both sides of the fence. The mission was to find the second lock while at the water park, which they did, and then come back to retrieve the lock later that night.

Map Closed
These number represent a circle

Lock 1 had the key for lock 2. Lock 2 had a clue to the combination for lock 1 and it also had another unknown key attached to it.

The engraved numbers on the orange lock were pre-planned well in advance. We didn’t want it to be a simple grab the numbers and open the combo lock, so we added a slight twist to this puzzle. The numbers on the lock where written as a time= 11:23:44, any idea where you may look for the answer?

Quick witts will point you back to the map. More specifically the front of the map where there are numbers all around the skull. Most people should be able to figure it out from here. The time 11:23:44 gives you the clock angles to use, which will point you to the real numbers needed for the combination lock. Figured it out? Too easy? Well then what else can you notice about those numbers, they should look familiar, even with the slight errors I put into the sequence. NERD ALERT!

So, opening the combo lock gave up the key to the orange lock. Now we had to make an evening trip back to the water park, on a stealth mission to access the lock from the outside of the park without alerting security. Opening that lock then gave the kids another unknown key.

Day 9

This was a busy day full of mini adventures. Time was ticking away and we had several things that needed to be accomplished in order to make the final goal on time.

First up was a map of the campground in the mail box with another clue:

ragged rope ends
Carved clues lead to cryptic numbers

Where the ruffled rope ends

55 planks

a cryptic clue carved

One of the docks on the campground map was circled which sent the kids looking for that specific dock, which also happened to be the boat launch. This was one of the games I had set up the year before. I had carved several clues around the campground and the kids would now have to follow the trail to collect another set of numbers. Once they made it to the dock, the above clue would point to the carving….T14

This was a campsite on the map, so we went looking for that site. Once there, I had to spur them to look around a bit. Luckily the camp site was empty so there was no real concern of disturbing other people. Eventually they looked at the camp post itself which had another carving of the number .9636

six fathoms
Under water rope leads to treasure

The next event was to dig up the boots of two boots billy. This was the secret plan of my oldest brother Cam. He had spent the morning burying the second boot while I had the kids distracted and was now ready for them to find the boots. This adventure was started in the Pirate news paper with a story about Two-boots Billy and his golden loon . On the top left side of the pirate map we had another poem to point the kids in the final direction of the boots.

Six straight fathoms, atop the deep,

Off starboard plank, to dig and keep.

Yar boot be buried, dig down a quarte,

Nine straight fathoms, the same from port.

Sunken Skull
Boot, Skull, and some Golden Loon

The key to this hunt was a six fathom length of rope Cam placed in the mailbox. Unfortunately we had to explain a little more than expected on how to use the rope. So it was off to the dock to figure out where the boots may be buried. Because the first boot was buried so early in the trip, I think the actual location was slightly lost and we never recovered it. It may still be there now, nine fathoms from the dock. The second boot however was quickly located and recovered, and inside was $20 in loonies hidden inside a skull piggy bank, which was inside the boot. Nothing like cold hard cash that is real money to call treasure.

With the kids hard on the trail for real treasure now, I mailed them my next clue, which was another message to follow the one earlier that morning:

Two boots billy, had a clue,

he carved in the deck, before he wore shoes.

Seven from the water, is where it will say,

You need to get wet, to have your pay day.

This clue worked off the same dock idea that my brother had started. Back in 2014, I had carved another number in the bottom plank of that dock, seven from the end. After finding the number T111, the kids knew to go looking for campsite T111. This time the campsite was occupied, but since the kids knew where to look, the number 72 was quickly found. Or so they thought. If you look closely at the picture you will see that its not really 72, but a math equation.

Day 10

I started the day with the fourth and final corner to the map. The kids were quick to decode and put all the clues together:

West of TC trail

East of Spring Board

Between the written trees

Four points make an X

Those clues were referenced by the first story which is written on the back of the map, which is where Peg-leg Pete wants to be. The X you create on the map would coincide with one of the GPS location that was already inside my GPS. The location we are looking for is called 3 rocks. Hard core Goonies fans will be able to figure out what is coming next…

Arrow of three rocks AKA triple stones.

This was actually one of my big fails of the event. I had a Halloween skeleton that I was going to dress up in rags with a peg leg for the kids to find in the forest. And a very special item would be waiting with the skeleton. But with all the other items required to pull off this event, and the rush of packing, the skeleton was the one item I forgot at home. So I had to change the plan slightly and just place the item under a very cool looking X made by some trees. The part that worked out well for this clue was a bunch of rocks on the side of the trail. The kids were looking for a rocky clue once they hit the GPS location, so I made an arrow out of stones on the ground to point straight to the X in the forest, just off the trail.

Copper Bone
Copper Bone prop replica from the Goonies

Under the X was a prop that I had picked up while in Astoria Oregon the previous year. It was a cast model of the Copper Bone used in the movie the Goonies. This was one of the favorite moments of the whole event because everyone knew what it was as soon as they picked it up. Its probably one of the most iconic items from the movie, and all the kids wanted a turn holding it.

The Copper Bone was the final big piece to the whole treasure hunt, all that was left was to give them the final math clue so that they could put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Day 11

Skull line up
Copper Bone Points the way…

To figure out the final treasure location, the kids would need to use the Copper Bone on the back of the map. There are five holes in the Copper Bone and a whole lot of marks that look like they will line up with those holes, but which ones will match perfectly. This was an amusing exercise to watch. I didn’t realize I had made this part so difficult. But there are actually three sets that will line up perfectly. When you trace out the outline of the Copper Bone, there is a little nub at the bottom which I had used as a pointer. Two of the positions lined up and point to the exact same location. The third position was offset about an inch.

Flashlight to transpose the points…

The fun thing here is that the locations on the back of the map are actually transposed through the map to the front side. The kids needed to use sunlight (or a flashlight since it was overcast) to create a shadow through the map so that they could see where the Copper Bone was pointing to and make the marks on the front side of the map. Once this was done, they realized that two of them aligned with the location of where we just found Peg-leg Pete.

align doubloon
The Doubloon offsets to reveal the actual position.

I had to prod the kids a bit here, and maybe I should have put the idea more into a message, but the point was to use the doubloon to offset Peg-leg Petes position. The first hole in the doubloon would represent where we found him. The second spot was a directional alignment hole which would allow you to use the third hole to pin point the final location on the map. Of course an X on a map is still pretty vague and general, and to get within a couple meters of the treasure they would need to use the GPS again.

GPS pverlay with names
Composite GPS overlay map with locations

So, the mail man delivered yet another message. The note sent the kids to campsite T117 and T126, which they found quickly and wrote down the following numbers .0697 and 112. Now it was time to put the numbers together, but how? Well I could let you sit and think about it, Or I could point you to the top right side of the map for a code key. Problem is, when I was drawing the map I couldn’t remember exactly what numbers I had placed where, because I didn’t document it well enough back in 2014. So the code I wrote into the map won’t actually work. But an adult with knowledge of latitude and longitude will recognize those numbers pretty quickly.

Another key to the puzzle is that the 72 is actually 7² and the 112 is actually 11². I figured the older kids would know enough math to figure those out, but they didn’t seem to be engaged in the thrill of the hunt today. Since the older kids were losing steam, I had to help the younger ones figure out that the four numbers to re-arrange would be:

  • 49
  • 121
  • .0697
  • .9636
Open it already
Open it already!

Knowledge of our camping area (Sunnyside Campground in Cultus Lake BC) should make it really easy to rearrange the numbers into the GPS coordinates needed to head for the final location. Which when they plugged it into the GPS receiver, sent them to a point that already existed. The aptly named “dig dug”.

OH YOU HAVE A FINAL DESTINATION? suddenly the older kids are interested in the treasure hunt once again. HA!

It is time for one last trek into the north forest, with cameras and spades in hand, we set off to find the cursed pink diamond. Once we arrived at the GPS location, it was just a short search to find a couple of crossed logs in the ferns. Hmm, looks like the ground has been recently disturbed as well. Yup, Cam and I had buried the box not an hour before.

The oldest kids were now ready to fully participate and made short work of digging up the chest. Everyone was pretty excited to see what was inside the awesome looking treasure chest. I have to say that Cam did an amazing job putting that piece together. The locks and chains worked well, and the chest was not capable of opening, even with 75% of the keys. They had the treasure but would have to wait to see whats inside. Oh the suspense was building.

And that suspense just could not be contained. Once we made it back to our campsite, it was decided that the rest of the keys were not needed, and they would find a way to dismantle the chain. A quick thinking aunt started pulling at all sides until the chain started to unravel. With a little patience and a broken nail, the chain gave way to reveal the a chest packed full of fun treasure toys for all the kids.

Pink Diamond
We Found the Cursed Pink Diamond!

Well that ends the story. We packed up camp that evening and returned home the next day. I really hope we created some lasting memories with this adventure. I know that I had a ton of fun creating and documenting the whole event. Hopefully this goes down as one of those things we did as a family that will be talked about to the next generation on down the road.

Writing all the details down on my webpage will serve as the story board for the video I am currently working on. When its completed, I will update and link the video below.

Thanks again to my brothers (Cam, Kevin) for helping with this creation and now helping to edit the final conglomeration together.