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Geocaching is the "sport" of hiding and/or locating small treasures or "caches" with a few verbal clues and, most importantly, GPS coordinates.
The cache is often a few trinkets relating to the individual who places it, a memo pad and pencil, and possibly a few coins, or some other "treasure." These are usually placed in an air-tight container -- most often Tupperware -- and hidden in some out-of-the-way place. The ultimate hiding spot is (hopefully) well-concealed; a hollow log, a space under a large stone, a crevice in a rock, etc. [Editor's Note: Candy or some other snack was often included in the early days of the sport. Today, geocachers point out that it is wrong to place food items in the caches, since food attracts animals, especially rodents and bears. Nothing like finally finding that cache and pulling out an angry mole!]
The individual responsible for placing the cache then provides a series of clues and GPS coordinates for the cache hunters. These clues are usually provided through clubs or via the internet, through links like the ones below. Some geocachers provide regular clues while other provide various levels of clues so that the chase can be as challenging or as easy as you want it to be.
How Geocaching Got Started
Although treasure hunting games have existed since the beginning of time, the specific hobby of geocaching was prompted by an official act by President Clinton on May 1st, 2000:
Today, I am pleased to announce that the United States will stop the intentional degradation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) signals available to the public beginning at midnight tonight. We call this degradation feature Selective Availability (SA). This will mean that civilian users of GPS will be able to pinpoint locations up to ten times more accurately than they do now. GPS is a dual-use, satellite-based system that provides accurate location and timing data to users worldwide. My March 1996 Presidential Decision Directive included in the goals for GPS to: "encourage acceptance and integration of GPS into peaceful civil, commercial and scientific applications worldwide; and to encourage private sector investment in and use of U.S. GPS technologies and services." To meet these goals, I committed the U.S. to discontinuing the use of SA by 2006 with an annual assessment of its continued use beginning this year.
To celebrate the elimination of GPS degradation, a GPS enthusiast named David Ulmer hid a small container near Portland Oregon a couple days later. By the end of the week it had been visited a few times; most notably by Mike Teague, who began documenting his finds on a GPS newsgroup. The phenomenon was called "GPS Stash Hunting." By July 2000, the newsgroup postings had evolved into a website run by Teague and Jeremy Irish, who coined the term "geocaching." Today that site (now run by Irish) has become geocaching.com, and is regarded as the "go-to" site for the hobby. Incidentally, if you are interested in seeing what the earliest days of "stash hunting" were all about, one of the first websites has been recreated here by an original stash hunter. Although some stick by the original name, the website name has become synonymous with the hobby.
In just a few short years it has caught on like wildfire. According to Irish, "There are now many variations of the game, including virtual caches, offset caches, puzzle caches, and multi-stage caches. New ideas and new great games crop up every day."
Any accomplished slackpacker will have a pretty good sense of how to prepare for geocaching. Instead of searching online for a trail, you'll search for a local cache. Investigate maps -- probably want to have a topo map -- familiarize yourself with the terrain. (Can it be reached, or will you have to rappel down a cliff unless you drive 20 miles to another starting point?) And of course you'll pack the basics -- snacks, plenty of water, proper clothing...and leave word with somebody as to where you'll be.
Like a novice hiker would start with the ubiquitous "nature loops," the novice geocacher should aim for the easiest caches for the first few go-arounds. And just as hiking is (usually) more fun with a friend, so is geocaching...in fact, you'll probably need a "helper" for your first searches anyway. The first timer should avail himself or herself of every clue -- called "stash notes" -- and look at any "cheats" offered by the cacher: Photos of the site, description of the container, etc.
The geocacher usually moves into the general area via map first, then shifts to GPS to locate the site. Some find the cache location easily, others use a circling technique...successes and failures will develop your technique.
Upon finding the cache, you'll usually note something in the little register book, take an item from the bin, leave a different item, and off you go. The cache should be replaced in the exact same manner as you found it. Some cachers leave e-mail instructions, and if you find a seldom-visited cache, it is a common courtesy to let the cacher know that you found his or her handiwork.
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