Geocaching is a newer sport that combines treasure hunting, trekking and puzzling, using handheld GPS units to track down the exact coordinates of goody boxes the world over. It has caught on in a big way in Northern Utah.
Though many sports have their origin stories, few are as precise as geocaching's. On May 3, 2000, a man known as the Adam of geocachers, Dave Ulmer, planted the first cache in Oregon -- a black plastic bucket containing software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot, and posted the coordinates online. This cache was made possible by the fact that the day before, on May 2, the U.S. government turned off Selective Availability, a program that limited the accuracy of GPS for nonmilitary purposes. The new, improved accuracy for the general public made it possible for small containers to be accurately placed by one person, and found by another, using the same set of GPS coordinates.
Thus, a new satellite-guided breed of treasure hunter was born.
According to the most popular website to date for the hobby, www.geocaching.com, geocaching has since spread around the world, with more than 1.7 million geocaches now in existence, and more than 5 million geocachers a-hunting.
In Utah, there are about 25,000 caches -- 2,700 in Weber County alone -- with more popping up daily, according to www.utahcacher.com.
Caches can be hidden in the woods, in the heart of the city, or in many other public areas and parks. Some restrictions do apply, such as respecting private property. And physical caches are not allowed in certain places, such as national parks.
It does not take a whole lot of capital to start geocaching, though you must have a handheld GPS or a GPS smartphone app. The devices run anywhere from around $100 for a basic unit to more than $500 for bells and whistles.
Unless geocaching in an urban setting, prepare to go out as you would for any day hike -- a backpack with water and maybe a snack, and clothing appropriate for the season. If you intend to take a souvenir from a cache's swag, as geocachers call the booty, make sure to bring a doodad to leave in its place. Some people have signature items they leave, but most just leave a small toy or keepsake.
Larry Robley of Roy, who geocaches under the handle of Larobley, got started early on in the sport, in 2003. A diabetic who has suffered two heart attacks, Robley started walking for his health. Geocaching added another facet of fun to his fitness program.
Like the geocachers themselves, the caches have given names, as well as coordinates. Robley's first found cache, in Logan Canyon, was called Under the Bridge.
"It was a challenging first cache," said Robley. "I was standing on the bridge, not realizing I had to go underneath. But when I figured it out, there it was -- a nice cache, a little coffee can, well-stocked and everything."
Danny Brewer of West Haven, who is known in geocache circles as railroader921, is a passionate geocacher who started the sport in 2010.
"I've always been into hiking and being outside," said Brewer. "Then my wife bought me a GPS. One of the buttons said 'geocache.' About then I looked up an article online. It directed me to a website and that got me started. Ever since, I've been addicted to it."
Thom Priest, an Ogden-area cacher and music professor whose family caches under the name TheRhythmClan, has long been an avid hiker. He started geocaching in March of this year, when his wife, after him to take up a hobby, encouraged him to give it a try.
"One of the things I love about geocaching is that, oftentimes to be successful in finding a cache, you have to be willing to change your perspective," Priest he said. "I think it's a great metaphor for having a fulfilling life. People should be willing to change their perspective."
As with any kind of hiking or trekking, precautions must be taken. Before you go off the trail, or into an unfamiliar neighborhood or area, know your literal bearings. Take waypoint coordinates from your GPS along the way for reference. And, as you would for any hike, watch your weather conditions.
Robley was in Pocatello, Idaho, when he ran into trouble.
"The cache was about 3 miles in, and when I got there, I could hear thunder," said Robley. "I thought, 'I better get my butt down the hill.' It was July. And then, very suddenly, it was raining, snowing, lightning, all at once. And then, a loud bang. Next thing I know, I am lying on my back. Lightning must have just missed me, because that GPS and cellphone never worked again."
Priest has a cautionary tale about getting lost in his own backyard. He has taken Ogden's Indian Trail scores of times. And yet, he lost his bearings there, late this spring.
"I was going after this cache and it told me I needed to go off the trail, I guess about 200 feet," said Priest. "It was beautiful there -- a place I had never been."
The sun was setting by the time he found the cache, and he started heading back in what he thought was the right direction. It wasn't. He feared spending the night in near-freezing conditions, and perhaps badly injuring himself in a fall. After calling his wife to let her know he was turned around, Priest reoriented himself, and got off the hill under his own power.
"I never dreamed in my life I could get lost on the Indian Trail -- and yet, there I was. That could have been very bad, and all because I didn't take a reading when I went off the trail, so I could get back. I learned a hard lesson, and am very careful now."
Though geocaching can certainly be a pleasant solitary sport, it is also a great way to make new friends and see the world.
Priest and his sons, Gabriel and Elijah, who often join him on hunts, like to have their swag travel as well as themselves. They have placed "travel bugs" in caches, little swag pieces left in caches with instructions to send them on a journey, cache to cache. Priest has one he wants to end up at the Red Sea.
"I placed it first in Chicago," said Priest of his travel bug. "Now it is in Manitoba -- it's been a few places up there -- and I saw where someone has recently promised to take it 'across the pond.' So I hope by that, they mean the ocean. It's really fun watching its journey."
Robley has geocached in 24 states. He has been to about 800 sites in Utah alone.
"I have been to a couple Geo-Woodstocks, where people from all over the world get together for this," said Robley. "I went to one in Texas where there were hundreds of people, and to a party in Seattle, where we cached around the waterway there, enjoying the city. It's a great way to meet people."
Brewer has been on some crazy caches with the friends he's met through geocaching, including one up Strongs Canyon that required four attempts and, finally, a 20-foot ladder, to find.
"This is so much more than treasure hunting," said Brewer. "This is a real community. You get to know the people hiding caches for you to find, and they go find the caches you hide, too. When we have events where we all get together, it is really a neat way to meet friends who have similar interests. These are people you would have never met otherwise. And on top of that is a worldwide online community. I made a lot of friends through geocaching in other states, really good friends. It is a big thing, and growing all the time."
OGDEN -- A special "treasure" is available for geocachers from the Standard-Examiner from 8 a.m. to noon today (Sunday) at the following coordinates:
41 294032 - 112 077906
Further instructions are available at the site.
1. If you take an item from a cache, leave an item. Use common sense when stockpiling or leaving items. No drugs, weapons, ammunition, explosives, fireworks or pornography -- remember, this is a family sport, and kids are often the first to find the cache. Food is not a great idea, either, as animals tend to get to it before cachers do. Leave gift certificates for things like ice cream cones if you want to provide a "cache snack." Items to leave might include guitar picks, small toys and obsolete keys. Some caches have themes, and will specify what you are to leave and take at the cache.
2. Record your visit in the logbook when you discover the cache. This is your "proof" you have found the cache.
3. Put the cache back in the same place you found it, unless its instructions say otherwise.
4. Report your visit on the website where you found your coordinates.
Hiding a cache
1. When you place a cache, you are its owner. Put it someplace where you can visit occasionally to make sure there is not too much impact on the environment, and that the cache is in good condition. Remove the cache, and note this where it is posted online, if there is too much wear and tear at the site. Do not place a cache somewhere you cannot visit fairly often.
2. Include a logbook so visitors can record their visit. If there is room in your cache, include a pencil. If not, make note in your online description that people should bring their own to log in.
3. Never bury a cache. One appeal of the sport is that it brings minimum impact to the land, so place it where it can be found without too much disturbance. You can "camo" your cache a bit in twigs or leaves, but keep it at least partially visible for seekers.
Sources: www.geocaching.com and "Outdoor Navigation With GPS" by Stephen W. Hinch (Wilderness Press 2009)
Traditional -- Also called a normal cache, this includes a logbook and prizes in a container about the size of a shoe box. Army surplus ammo boxes were original favorites, but too many people liked the containers themselves, so people more often use weather-resistant receptacles like peanut butter jars, Rubbermaid containers and empty paint buckets.
Micro -- These are tiny versions of traditional caches. Film canisters, key holders, breath mint tins and empty pill bottles make good micros. Often, there is room for just a tiny logbook. Bring your own pencil.
Offset -- This is when a set of waypoints directs you not directly to the cache, but to a local landmark, where you will perform additional navigation to find the cache itself. For instance, you might be directed to a waterfall, and then have to pace off 60 feet north to find the cache.
Multipart -- You must find multiple caches to complete your quest.
Virtual -- Sometimes making a physical geocache is illegal, as in national parks. In such situations, you can leave a virtual cache -- coordinates to a particular point of interest, such as Old Faithful or the base of Yosemite Falls. You are asked a question about the place; you then email the "owner" of the cache to prove you were there.
Reverse -- Instead of going to a specific waypoint to discover what is there, you are to find an object and record its coordinates.
Source: "Outdoor Navigation With GPS" Stephen W. Hinch (Wilderness Press, 2009)