Geocaching Part 1

After our recent poll question I asked a good friend of mine, Gabe Vistica, to write something up on the wonderful world of Geocaching. 66% of you had no idea what it was. So I thank Gabe for the following info. This is part one of two. Part two will be posted tomorrow (Wednesday 11/4/09 around noon). Enjoy, and if you happen to start GeoCaching please let me know about your experience.

-Justin Flores (Star 92.7 Morning Show)

Gabe, take it away….

Welcome to part one of a two-part article on the global sport/phenomenon of geocaching. This was going to be a single article, but it just got too long. There’s too much that you need to know to get the basics. Besides, I would be remiss if I didn’t try to get you to join in. I will definitely be leaving parts out, not only because the info is irrelevant if you decide to not play, but also because I need to let you find out SOME stuff for yourself. After all, that’s what the game’s about: finding stuff.

Geocaching (it’s pronounced GEO-kash-ing).  Some of you may have heard of it before, but you didn’t know what it was. Some of you may be hearing the word for the first time. Basically, it’s like a worldwide, high-tech scavenger hunt with a little bit of hide-and-seek thrown in. Let me give you a little background:

A Short History of Geocaching

On May 1, 2000, an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton took effect. It required that the U.S. military turn off the Selective Availability feature on all GPS satellites in orbit. Selective Availability (or SA) was designed to introduce slight, non-random errors in a GPS signal, making any GPS unit that did not know what the errors would be, very inaccurate. When SA was turned off, civilian GPS receivers, which had previously only been able to pinpoint a location to within about 100 feet, were suddenly able to pinpoint a location to within about 15 feet.

On May 3, the first documented geocache was placed about 25 miles southeast of Portland, Oregon, by Dave Ulmer. It was a black plastic bucket buried most of the way in the ground, and contained computer software, videos, books, food, money, and a slingshot. Ulmer sent a message with those details, plus the latitude and longitude of the bucket, to an email mailing list he was part of, and challenged them to find it using their handheld GPS units. Three days later, it had been found by two people, and one of them had written back to the group to say they had found it. Originally, the group was going to call the activity a “GPS stash hunt” or “GPS-stashing”, but decided on “geocaching” when it was suggested that the word “stash” could have negative connotations. The word originates from “geo”, for “earth” (in this case, worldwide), and cache, a secret hiding place or a special type of computer memory (the high-tech side of the sport).

Since that day, the sport of geocaching has grown considerably. Today, almost ten years later, there are over 930,000 geocaches hidden in over 100 countries, and on every continent, including Antarctica.

About Geocaches

Nearly every geocache in the world shares certain traits. All of them contain a logbook, notebook, or piece of paper for geocachers (people who go look for geocaches) to sign to prove they found that particular geocache. Pretty much every geocache container (or cache for short) can also be classified as being one of four sizes: Micro (about the size of a 35mm film canister), Small (around the size of a small Tupperware container), Regular (close to the same size as an army surplus ammo can), or Large (anything significantly bigger than an ammo can, commonly a 5-gallon bucket). All containers should be waterproof; containers that aren’t generally end up with soggy logbooks, and metal containers have been known to sometimes rust shut when they get wet inside.

Every geocache also has a difficulty rating and a terrain rating. Each rating is 1-5 stars in 1/2 star increments (allowing for ratings like 1.5 or 3.5). The difficulty rating indicates how hard the cache is to find once you get close to its location. 1 means there are very few hiding places, while 5 means heavy camouflage and lots of hiding places (like a film canister in a boulder field). The terrain rating indicates how hard it is to get close to the cache in the first place. 1 means a nice, level, well-maintained trail, while 5 usually means a 10-mile hike or that special equipment is required, like rock-climbing gear.

There are several types of geocaches. The most common type is the Traditional cache. It consists of, at the very least, a container and a piece of paper to sign. Another popular type of cache is the Multicache. With a multicache, multiple containers are hidden; all of them must be at least 500 feet from other geocaches, though that rule doesn’t apply to containers in the same multicache. Only the coordinates of the first container, or stage, are posted in the cache listing. The first container has the coordinates of the second container on a piece of paper, or a puzzle to solve to get them. What the first stage does not have is a logbook; only the last stage has a logbook. If you don’t find the final stage, you haven’t found the cache.

There are several other types, but I’ll let you find those for yourself. Like I said, that’s what the game’s about.

Coming up in part 2:

–   How to find a geocache

–   What you need to get (and do) before you go looking for one

–   And how to hide one yourself!

Posted in Mark Grauer and tagged , .

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