Caching is a term used by mountain men to describe a stash of food and goods left in the hills. GPS enthusiasts have discovered a way to make a great outdoor game, inspired by the past with a high-tech twist. The sport began after the government removed Selective Availability in May of 2000. That was the scrambling device that made GPS inaccurate up to 100 meters. Now with GPS accurate within a few meters, it is possible to leave coordinates for treasure hunting.

Geocaching pioneers like Dave Ulmer of Portland, Oregon, were the first to hide a stash, then post the location on the Net. The coordinates went up on an Internet GPS user’s group on May 3, 2000, and by May 6th the stash already received two visitors.  Dave came up with the idea knowing that the applications for GPS use would increase with the removal of Selective Availability.  He now smiles and shakes his head in disbelief knowing in less than a year his GPS game has become an international phenomenon.

It works like this.  Fill a waterproof box like a GI ammo can or plastic container, full of neat stuff organized in zip-lock bags.  Find a good hiding spot somewhere out in the great outdoors that is accessible to the public.  Record the Latitude/Longitude or UTM coordinates of the hiding spot.  Then publish the stash location on the Geocaching Home Page.  It’s fun to have a look to see if there are any stashes within your wilderness backyard. You might be surprised. This sport is growing quickly with hundreds of stashes across the United States and now all over the world.

Garmin eTrex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS NavigatorWhy not? What a great excuse to load up the family for a hiking trip in the great outdoors. What respectable adventurer would pass up the opportunity to tromp around in an unknown patch of woods looking for a box of hidden stuff? It sounds like a fun way to get a little exercise and practice using a GPS receiver. It’s a great way to improve navigation skills because it requires the ability to understand maps, use a compass, and read coordinates.  To be proficient in navigation requires knowing how to use GPS, maps, and a compass in conjunction with each other.

How the stashes are hidden depends on the skill and creativity of the one doing the hiding.  Some are easy to find, and others take some work.  They could be on a cliff, in a cave, buried in the sand, or even underwater.  It may sound easy because you receive the coordinates, but getting there can be the tricky part.  As Dave Ulmer states, Remember there are 360 ways to get to any one location.  Roads on a map may not be accessible, and a map may not show the difficulty of the terrain. Urbanites can also play along by hiding a logbook in a city park or around buildings.

So what’s in these stashes of GEOCACHING? 

Well, you’re not going to get rich, but you will find some interesting stuff.  They are typically filled with information about who did the stashing, with gifts and maybe snacks.  The idea is to be creative and leaves stuff that would be neat to find and even a little useful.  Contents include books, maps, software, CDs, cash, and beer.  How about waterproof matches, carabiners, and mountain bars?  You can’t clean out the stash though, there has to be stuff left over for the next seeker.  The finder should leave something behind.  They should also sign a guest book and maybe take a self-portrait with a disposable camera.

Like any other sport, there are a few dos and don’ts.  The stash needs to be hidden on public property.  Ask permission before placing a stash on private property or in public parks. Do not hide anything dangerous or illegal in an environmentally sensitive area.  Seekers can be warned of stashes located in potentially difficult or hazardous areas by the difficulty rating of each stash on the website.  Site photos and special instructions may also be included.  The seeker also has the opportunity to leave comments on the website relaying their experience in finding, or almost finding each cache.