Have you heard the word? The term geocaching is travelling steadily to people all over the world, and yet many people do not know what geocaching is.  Quite simply, geocaching is the sport of hiding and seeking treasure.  The “treasure” is referred to as a cache, and the hunting weapon of choice is a GPS device (global positioning system).  Caches are hidden, location coordinates are recorded online, and geocachers seek to find the coordinates and the resulting treasure.  Although finding a geocache is exciting, the main goal of geocaching is to provide the opportunity to visit places that you might not have visited otherwise.  In order to get started with geocaching there are only a few steps you need to take.  The first of which, is to register yourself into the geocaching community.  The website for this is www.geocaching.com.  Upon completion of your registration, you will want to get started hunting down your first cache!  To facilitate geocaching you need to have a GPS enabled device.  Hand-held GPS units are the preferred tool of trade, however; people can also purchase an application to use on their iPhone, android, and windows phone 7. When purchasing a GPS device remember it does not have to be fancy, but should be durable and easy to use.  Make sure to check for second-hand devices being sold on kijiji.ca or in your local paper.  Local libraries also have a program set-up where you can sign out a kit that contains a GPS unit.

After equipping yourself with a GPS device, you will need to search for caches in your area that you are interested in finding. www.geocaching.com explains in detail how to do this, but basically you just need to enter your postal code and a list is populated for you to choose from. Alas, you have chosen your first target and now you must prepare for your adventure.  Make sure you are fully equipped by following the motto; prepare for the worst, hope for the best.  You may be hiking on trails, climbing rocks, and most importantly you will be exposed to the elements. Sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, proper footwear, water, extra batteries and clothing, and snacks are all recommended items to bring.  When you are about 50 feet from your objective point, rely upon your eyes to find the cache, opposed to your GPS.  This is the tricky part as caches are hidden well for two reasons; to make the find appealing and so “muggles” do not find and take the cache.  The term muggles comes from the Harry Potter series referring to people who are normal and not magical.  In the geocaching world, muggles are people who are not geocaching (they also look at you funny while you are on your search).

When you have found the cache, (be patient sometimes it takes a few tries) you will find a logbook.  In this logbook you should enter your name (username from geocaching.com) date and any other comments you feel necessary!  Some common acronyms found in logbooks are:Ø FTF- Indicates you were the First To Find the cacheØ TFTC – Thanks For The Cache!  It is always nice to thank whoever set up the cache location. Ø TFTH – Thanks For The Hide!  Another way to say thanks.Ø TNLN – Indicates that you Took Nothing and Left NothingAfter signing the logbook, you may notice a wide array of items in the container.  This is known as SWAG (Stuff We All Get) and is part of the treasure hunting experience.  If you take an item, you are expected to replace it with something of equal or greater value.  Some common items found in a geocache are small toys, geocache patches, stickers, and various collectable coins.  Along with the geocoins, there are some other items commonly placed in geocache’s called trackables. These items, such as travel bugs, patches, Cachekinz, and other tags, are documented on geocaching.com and traced as people find and hide them in new places.  After logging your find and cleaning up any garbage in your surroundings, it is time to head home. One of the most important things to do as soon as you return home is to enter your find on geocaching.com.  Share stories and photos of your adventures with other cacher’s, and last but not least, rejoice that you are now officially a world discovering geocacher!

Part 2

In this second part of our Grand Adventure, we will discuss caches in our local area, groups that connect fellow geocacher’s, as well as some more advanced terminology. If you look at the picture above, you will see there are hundreds of caches waiting to be found in the counties of Grey & Bruce.  The Beaver Valley alone has a several days worth of caches and adventures to be found!  These Google maps can be found on geocaching.com, under the hide and seek a cache tab.  One cache that offers especially brilliant views of the Beaver Valley is Thanksgiving with Old Baldy and is best viewed in fall, when the leaves exhibit a plethora of colours. The terrain and difficulty level are both listed as 3, so be extra careful when searching with smaller children.  Another thing that makes this cache interesting is the actual location of the container itself.  A large portion of caches are hidden amongst trees or bushes; however, this one is hidden in a small gully of a rock face which is very interesting to search for!  Since geocaching with friends is always more fun, groups or associations have been created to unite geocachers in their local areas.

If you are interested in joining a group the first one to check out is the Ontario Geocaching Association (OGA).The OGA serves members of the association across Ontario within its five regions: south-western, golden horseshoe, central, eastern, and northern Ontario. Part of the south-western region, Bruce and Grey County are considered to be within the following local associations: Central Ontario Geocachers (COG), South Western Ontario Geocachers (SWOG), and Mid Western Ontario Geocachers (MWOG).  MWOG seems to be the best fit for our family; however, we have joined all three so we can be posted on various events in our surrounding area.  One major event happening this month is Saturday in the Park at the Pittock Conservation area in Woodstock.  August 27th is the date and it will run rain or shine!  Activities are scheduled throughout the day to aid exploration of the area and a potluck supper takes place in the evening.  Admission is free with the exception of a small Park Admission Day pass.

Camping is available on site as well.  Events are planned throughout the year and help bring together fellow geocachers, and if geocaching is of interest to you, should not be missed! Advanced Terminology (from geocaching.com)Ø  GC Code: A unique identifier associated with every geocache listing. The GC Code starts with the letters “GC” and is followed by other alphanumeric characters.Ø GPX (GPS eXchange Format): A specific file format available when creating a Pocket Query. A Premium Member feature, the GPX file format has specific geocaching information that can be used by supporting applications.Ø   Latitude: Latitude and longitude create a waypoint. Latitude is the angular distance north or south from the earth’s equator measured through 90 degrees. Think of latitude as rungs on a ladder.Ø  Longitude: Latitude and longitude create a waypoint. Longitude is the angular distance measured on a great circle of reference from the intersection of the adopted zero meridian with this reference circle to the similar intersection of the meridian passing through the object. Think of the long lines running north and south.Ø Reviewer: Local volunteers from all over the world who publish the cache listings on geocaching.com. (Needed to hide your own caches)Ø Waypoint: A waypoint is a reference point for a physical location on Earth. Waypoints are defined by a set of coordinates that typically include longitude, latitude and sometimes altitude. SOURCES:

Part 3

This is the third and final instalment on our journey of geocaching and so we will cover the many different types of caches, as well as the process of hiding your own treasure for others to find!  There are two types of caches in the world of geocaching: physical caches that consist of actually finding a material object, and non-physical caches which require additional logging requirements like taking a picture to log your find.  Physical caches include:

  • traditional; using coordinates to find and sign a log book and trade items. Containers range in size from a nano that is no bigger than a pinky finger, to large Rubbermaid containers that hold 20L or more.
  • multi-cache; which has geocachers searching for two or more points that contain clues and coordinates to the final site.
  • mystery/puzzle caches; that require a puzzle to be solved in order to find the correct coordinates. Sometimes other information is needed to open the cache, such as a padlock combination.
  • letterbox hybrid; which contains a stamp and logbook instead of items that can be traded.   Participants must stamp their own personal logbook with the letterbox stamp, and then sign the logbook with their own personal stamp.
  • event cache; such as Cache-In Trash-Out (CITO) Events, Mega Event, GPS Adventures Maze Exhibit.  Events bring together geocachers to find caches that are specifically hidden for the event.  Mega Events are attended by over 500 people and are run annually.  Maze exhibits teach about geocaching and are held at museums and science centers.
  • Wherigo cache; is a unique cache that enables users to create interactive tours, adventure games, and puzzles.  The information is contained in a cartridge and users partake in a location based adventure!

Non-physical caches include:

  • Virtual; caches of this type usually require participants to log their find of objects by taking a picture of the find while holding their GPS.  One example of a virtual cache is to find a historical plaque.
  • Webcam; similar to a virtual cache but participants are required to capture their image on a webcam in order to log their find.
  • Earthcache; Maintained by the Geological Society of America, these types of caches aims to teach about the area’s earth science.  Pictures are usually required in order to log a find.

Now that you have gone on adventures and found other peoples caches, you may be interested in learning how to create and hide your own!  The first thing to do is to pick what size of cache you want to hide and if you want it to contain items for trade.  If all you want is a log book to be signed, then a micro or nano cache would suffice, however; tradable items require larger sized containers depending upon how many things you will be adding to start.  Collectable items are highly prized and you may consider putting one in for the first person to find your cache!  Trackables, such as travelbugs, or geocoins can be exciting to find as well.  They usually have a goal, for instance, to travel to all the deserts in the world and to return by 2012.  In our family we each have a travelbug and enjoy watching them travel the world!  The travel companion that goes with the tag represents something that is special to us, such as a coin bearing the cypher and cap badge of The Royal Canadian Regiment, or Lightning McQueen our son’s favourite race car!  Containers should be camoflauged in some way either with camo tape, spray paint, or using a container that resembles the environment like a fake log.

After you have decided on a container there are a few guidelines that should be followed when creating your own cache.  First, make sure to include a note that explains what the cache is should any muggles find it, and second that all items within are family friendly. (ie. no knives, ammunition, drugs, or alcohol!)  Now start thinking of a location to hide your container.  Think of why you would want people to visit this area; maybe the sunrise is amazing, or perhaps the location is part of a scenic hike.  A few things to remember when choosing a location are:

  • Not on Military Property (or anywhere that might look like suspicious behaviour)
  • Not on School Grounds or Playgrounds
  • Seek permission from land owner or manager.
  • Not on historical or National Park lands.
  • Must not affect the environment from increased activity.

Once the spot is chosen, you will need to log coordinates for others to find.  The accuracy of this is crucial to geocachers finding your special hide.  After finding the coordinates with your GPS 3-5 times, preferably over a few days, take the average of the last 3 digits and mark as your coordinates.  After the coordinates are set, hide your container and it is time to register your cache.   Geocaching.com has an online form to fill out in order to submit a cache.  Information needed includes, the coordinates, description, cache type and size, the difficulty of the terrain and general difficulty of the cache.

Once the form is filled out it is submitted and reviewed by a local cache minder and then published as long as all guidelines are met.  For a full list of guidelines please visit http://www.geocaching.com/about/guidelines.aspx Once your cache is published it is up to you as the owner to maintain it.  Caches are placed with a long-term goal in mind.  In some cases, caches have been placed by owners and then maintained by other geocachers in order to keep them active.  Information and screenshot taken from www.geocaching.com

Photos of Geocaching