Geocaching 101: Hunting Your First Geocache
Last month, I told you about the fun game of geocaching. Now it’s time to learn a little more…
First things first! If you haven’t already, set up a free account on geocaching.com. Then, make sure you have a GPS device or download a geocaching app for your smart phone. I use a Garmin GPS as my primary tool, and I also have the geocache app on my Android phone – they work well together. A GPS will always pick up a satellite signal and most of the newer models allow you to download all of the info on selected caches. The app only works if you have cell phone coverage in the area. Usually the GPS on a smart phone is not as accurate as a GPS device, but I’ve been surprised how close you can actually get. The app does allow you to access any cache at any time which is great for spur-of-the-moment caching.
Picking Your First Cache
It’s time to seek your first cache! But which one? There are thousands of them right here in Hamilton County and 150+ of them hidden at the Great Parks. So which one do you pick?
Start out with an easy one. Caches come in all shapes and sizes. Some are as large as a lunch box and some are so tiny that you can barely see them even if they are right in front of your nose. The terrain that you’ll be searching can vary tremendously. Some areas are very steep, heavily overgrown and require that you hike a long, long way to find the cache. Others are pretty simple: they are on level ground and fairly easy to spot. Pick a large cache in an easy terrain that is close to home – possibly a nearby park, play field or other public area that you are familiar with.
To see which caches are nearby, sign in at geocaching.com and click on “Play” and then “Hide and Seek a Cache”. Enter an address (like your home) or postal code and you’ll see a list of caches.
Look at the list and hunt for this symbol:
This indicates a traditional cache such as a plastic Tupperware container or peanut butter jar. There are lots of other types of caches, but these are the best ones to start out with.
This box is specially coded to give you a good idea of the size of the container, how hard it is to find and how difficult the hike or terrain is. They are each rated 1 to 5 (1=easy; 5=very difficult).
Here’s one that Great Parks hid in Glenwood Gardens. It’s called “SpOAKen For”. The difficulty is 1 (very easy container to find), the terrain is 2.5 (a bit challenging but not too hard) and the container is fairly large. This would be a good one to select.
The description of the cache will give you lots of additional information. Take a look at when it was last found (hint: if it hasn’t been found in a long time, it may not be there anymore) and look at the recent “logs.” These are entries that other players have made when they hunted for the cache, and they may give you additional hints on what and where to look. Some owners will also provide their own clue that you can “decrypt” to see.
Once you’ve picked your cache, print the page and take it with you as a reference as you are hiking. If you have an app or a GPS device that allows you to download the information from the website to your device.
Finding the Cache
Now it’s time to head out! Wear sturdy shoes and bring a pencil or pen and your GPS device. Drive, bike or hike to a starting point that is close to the cache. Turn on your GPS and begin your hike. Keep in mind that your device will provide a compass that directs you to the coordinates “as the crow flies” (in a straight line). Your path most likely won’t be straight, so you’ll have to figure out the best way to get there. This is half the fun, although it can be a little frustrating at first.
Depending on how accurate the owner was when they placed their cache, you’ll be in the area of the cache when you reach the coordinates. But don’t count on them leading you to the exact spot. Look for something unique or unusual in the area, like a pile of logs or rocks or a strange-looking tree. Cachers usually pick something different in the area to hide their cache. Look up, down and under things. If someone found it a few days ago, chances are it’s still there.
When you do find the cache, make certain no one else is around. Remember: this is a game and others might be hunting for the same cache. Open the cache and enter your geocache user name on the log and the date. The cache may have trinkets. If you take something, leave something. For now, if the trinket has a special tracking tag on it, do not take it. They are called “travel bugs,” and we’ll cover those on my next blog next month. Then put the cache back as close to the same spot as you found it.
Finally, when you get home, go to geocaching.com and log your find into the cache name. Leave a message about your hunt and the fun you had. The owner will receive your log and enjoy reading about your adventure. Plus other cachers can read your log when they go after the cache. Just don’t give away too much information or hints.
Ready to go? I hope so. There seems to be a lot of steps, but once you try geocaching once, I know you’ll go back for more and more.
Check in with me next month for more geocaching fun including “geocaching etiquette” and “travel bugs.”
Good luck and happy “caching!”
Chris Wais, Volunteer