by Joey Crandall, firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s billed as “The adventure that exists every day all around you.” Or “The real world treasure hunt.”
Some call it “Hiking with a purpose.” One T-shirt proudly proclaims, “We use multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware hidden in the woods.”
It’s Geocaching, the scavenger hiking sport that used to depend entirely on your ability to acquire a portable GPS system. Lately, though, the hobby has exploded in popularity due to the availability of GPS through cell phones and mobile apps that can cost as little as $10 (search for “Groundspeak Geocaching” on your phone).
Geocaching.com, the official hub of all things Geocache, boasts more than 2 million active geocaches, or hidden containers (of all sizes), worldwide. And globally, 6 million people seek these quirky objects as frequently as multiple times a day.
Locally, hundreds of Geocaches are planted throughout Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe (see the map above).
Very simply, it’ s a unique activity that can get you on your feet and outdoors in a friendly game of wits against all those that came before you. And you can play it literally anywhere.
Recently, Gardnerville resident Adrian Cobb and his daughter Kristin Ridley, both avid Geocachers, took the Carson Valley Times on an outing in the Sierras. We won’t disclose the location for fear of spoiling anyone else’s hunts. But within two hours, we’d (and by we, we mean they) had found nearly 20 targets.
“The most I’ve found in one day is 77,” Cobb said. “We were out in Yerington and made a whole day of it. All the way out and back.”
Cobb has found more than 1,200 caches in three years of experience and has hidden 160 others.
“It becomes a friendly competition,” he said. “You can see other active screen names in your area. You get to know the hiding habits of some of them. There are some, you see the name and you know it is going to be next to impossible to find.
“The Web site will alert you to a new cache that has been placed, and it becomes a game locally of being the first to find it. There are some friendly rivalries that develop.”
The Web site. Everything central to Geocaching depends on www.geocaching.com. You can register for a free profile there, at which point you can begin searching for, and logging, the various geocaches out there.
Searches can be based on towns or zipcodes can open up all of the available caches in any given area. The site gives you the coordinates of each individual cache, along with a title – which usually includes some sort of hint or clue as to the location of the cache – and separate ratings for the degree of difficulty and difficulty of terrain. The harder a cache is to locate, the higher its degree of difficulty. The harder it is to physically reach the cache, the higher the terrain rating.
The coordinates get you to within about a 30-foot radius or better of where the cache is hidden, and then it is up to your instincts.
The site gives you a general idea of the size of a cache as well. Most commonly, you’ll find caches ranging from the size of an ammunition can on down to the size of a bolt.
“It can really be anything, and there are some very clever hides,” Cobb said. “There will be fake tree branches stuck in a knot, or a fake wad of chewing gum under a bench. You’ll find some that are behind reflectors on a highway marker or disguised as a bolt on a guard rail.
“After a while, you get a sense for where they’ll be. We call it our “Geo-Senses.” You start to think about how you’d hide a cache in that area.”
It’s not unusual to have to climb a tree or reach down in a hole to find your target.
Once you find the cache, you open it up – sign the log book – and put it back where you found it. You can either log your find on the mobile app, or on the Web site once you return.
There are some other facets, like taking an item from the cache (in the bigger containers, and only as long as you leave something in return). There are travel bugs, which you can take with you with the express purpose of putting the bug in another cache to be taken somewhere else. As you log such markers on the web site, you can see where they go once you’ve put them elsewhere.
There’s a certain amount of common sense that goes into it. Caches aren’t hidden near schools, and it would be unwise to place an ammo can anywhere near a post office or police station.
“You can’t go onto private property,” Cobb said. “You don’t want to get anyone into trouble, and you don’t want to put anyone in danger, obviously.”
There is the occasion of doing your hunting while onlookers are nearby.
“They’re called Muggles (from the Harry Potter series: Those that lack magical ability),” Cobb said. “It’s not that you don’t want them to know what you are doing. If someone asks, we are glad to tell them. It’s that you don’t want someone watching, and then taking or destroying the cache. There’s a definite honor code to the game. You don’t want to spoil the search for anyone and you don’t want to leave the cache where it could be found by someone not playing the game.”
The hiders of the cache become the stewards over its maintenance. If several geocachers come back with unsuccessful tries at your cache (this also can be noted on the Web site), it’s then time to go out and see if it has been taken, or moved by an animal.
Cobb and his family began Geocaching as he was looking to get into hiking.
“I wanted to do something active and outdoors and was made aware of this hobby,” he said. “It was really fun to do as a family and I really like that you were going out with a specific intent, as opposed to just hiking a trail and seeing the views. All of that is nice, and you still get to do that, but this gives you a game to play while you are out.”
Ridley adopted it as her own hobby that she and her husband enjoy in their spare time.
“There is a real challenge to some of them,” she said. “You have to be patient and you have to be willing to stop and come back to some. There are some I’ve been looking for for months. And you eventually find them.
“Some of the hardest ones are the ones out in public. You have to be stealthy and not be too obvious about what you’re doing.”
Cobb offered several simple tips for your first time out:
– Wear hiking boots and bring a pen.
– If all else fails, look for footprints. Geocaching is getting to the point where most caches are frequented often. You can see where people looked before you.
– If it seems the cache is hidden in a tree, try shaking the branches. Look for an object that sways the opposite direction. That’s probably your cache.
– When you get to the targeted coordinates, look for the thing that just doesn’t belong. An extra bolt, or a birdhouse out in the open. Go for the spot that would be least likely for anyone not geocaching to look. Underneath benches, behind guardrails or mid-level tree branches are popular hides.
– Come prepared. Cobb brings a backpack full of random tools and equipment – from gloves and pliers to a hefty first aid kit and a reflective highway worker’s vest. For the more avid geocacher, he keeps a couple MacGyver-esque items in the truck as well, including a measuring tape with a hook on the end – to extend down into water or into a hole – and a magnet on the end of a long stick – for those higher to reach caches.
“You basically can’t have problems with heights, water or snakes,” he said.
– Write the coordinates of the cache(s) you’re searching for and leave them on the windshield of your car. That way, in case you get lost, emergency personnel would have a starting point for where you were headed.
– Don’t forget a charger for the GPS or your mobile device. Connecting with a satellite tends to sap your batteries quickly.
And that’s essentially it.
For more information on Geocaching, visit www.geocaching.com.