Brief Intro to Geocaching

Many times I’ve mentioned Geocaching and been asked “Tell me all about it.” So I’ll take a little time here to give a short introduction. Some call GeoCaching, from now on I’ll just call it Caching, a sport, a hobby, or just an activity. In any case Caching is an outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by anyone of all ages. I’ve seen families with small babies and (very) seniors out caching. It can be done alone or by groups. Caching can be done in all weather conditions and in most all countries. Caching can be done on dry land or by boat, many travel on bicycle when caching. When I travel I break up the drive by stopping periodically to cache. If it is a longer trip I find a cacher near my destination and ask if she or he can point out some caches nearby. I’ve crossed the U.S. met a cacher. We found about half a dozen then had dinner together.

Ok, so what is Caching? Well to describe it very briefly, it could be called a world wide scavenger hunt. We use containers that range from very small to Ammo Cans, a Tupperware box is the normal size. These caches will contain a Log Book, and maybe some small toys for trade – great when you are caching with children. Cachers first place a cache, note its coordinates, then publish the coordinates on one (or more) websites. The most popular of those sites is www.Geocaching.com. Then other cachers load the coordinates into GPS receivers and try to find the cache.

Take a minute to see This Article That appeared in The Bulletin, in Bend, Oregon. Bend, by the way, is one of my favourite small towns, located just east of the Cascade Mountains, about 100mile bike ride from Eugene, Or.

That all sounds simple, but in reality some caches can range from very obvious to very hard to find, the GPS receiver can locate a point within a few yards but in a forest there can be dozens of hiding place within a range of 10-feet. I have found caches that are up to 50′ from where my GPS receiver says it should have been. The signals from the GPS Satellites can bounce off buildings, High-Tension towers, trees, or what have you. And tree leaves, wet or dry can affect the GPS signal. So if the hider’s GPS is off by a few feet, and yours is off in the opposite direction, the apparent location may be many feet in error. Enough of the technical details.

So how does one go about finding a cache. I’ll assume you have a handheld GPS receiver, many times abbreviated GPSr, or can borrow one. You will need a GPS that can accept coordinates and show distances to a point with an accuracy of feet. Automotive navigation systems will get you to the correct parking lot, but not much closer. First connect with Geocaching.com, you will need to open an account, which is free. Choose your caching name, then login. In the main menu you will see “Hide and Seek a Cache”. Select that, then enter a location near by your home, and limit the search to only a couple miles. In a few seconds you will see a small map and a list of caches that appear in that map. Selecting one of them will bring up an information page with all the information about that cache. Read and print it, you’ll need this information when you go out for your first find.

A couple things to note first. At the top of the page are a few things you should note first. The size, terrain and difficulty. As a beginner you will want to find a ‘regular’ or ‘large’ cache. And you probably don’t want to find a cache with a terrain of 4 or 5 (very difficult) for your first few caches. Also you probably will want to limit the difficulty of cache you are looking for to a 1 or 2 (fairly easy).

Ok, Put the coordinates of your desired cache in the GPS, put on your walking/hiking boots. Prepare yourself for an enjoyable time outdoors. Get yourself to somewhere near the cache. If you have looked at the maps on the cache’s page you should have found generally where you cache is, probably in some park. So the closest parking lot will be your starting location. And if the Cache Owner was extremely helpful you may even know where the trailhaed is.

Watch the ‘needle’ or map pointer on your GPS. Walking generally toward your goal. Generally! If you are on a winding trail and the pointer says that the cache is 400′ to your left, you may not want to turn left, but follow the trail, which often will end up passing within 10-25′ of the cache. Bushwhack or go cross country only when really needed. I once was about to start out for a cache only 500′ away but then thought better and drove around. I’m glad I did because there was a small dense forest and then a small lake that stood in my path.

Ok, now that you finally gotten to where the GPS says you are only feet from the cache, now what? Re-read the description. Then read it again. What does it tell you. Often there will be little hints that will tell you to look in a tree root, in a fallen log, or even suspended high in a tree. Once you have found many caches you will develop “Geo Sense” and you will know many kinds of places to look. Keep looking and if you have picked a cache with a difficulty of 2 or lower you should be able to find the cache with no great problem.

Once you have found it, find the log and sign with your caching name and date it. Then, repack everything, and hide the container back where it was. Congratulations you’ve made your first find.

Once home, go back online, login and select the cache again. Pick “Log Your Visit”, select “Found It” and write something about your experiences, but don’t give away any spoilers. You’re now a GeoCacher.

Once you have a few ‘rural’ caches, you may want to try some ‘urban’ caches. These can be lots harder to find, mainly because you have to watch out for ‘muggles’, non-cachers. Some urban caches are not any bigger than the tip of your little finger, and held in place by a magnet. These hides could be most anywhere, under pay phones, in fence posts, the possibilities are endless.

Another type of cache that you should consider is an “Event” cache. These are informal get togethers, we call “Meet and Greet”, normally on an evening at a Pizza or Donut shop. This is one place to meet others, tell stories, and ask questions. In short the Meet and Greet is one of the social aspects of caching. Sometimes after a M&G others will head out to a nearby cache, this is where you will really learn how others search, and what they are looking for. Learn from their experiences.

When I mentioned the Terrain rating I said to skip 4 and 5 at first. a terrain of 4 is very difficult, and 5 requires specialized equipment. That could mean ropes in mountains, or a kayak, or scuba gear in maritime areas. The terrain rating system is described on the website. but runs from 1 – easy walking to 5 – most difficult.

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About Mike

I'm an avid bicyclist, that also enjoys Kayaking, Nature Photography, Cross Country Skiing and Geocaching. There's nothing more boring than sitting indoors in "good" weather.
This entry was posted in Bicycling, Geocaching, GPS, Sea kayaking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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