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Sunday, 13 January 2013

Treasure Hunting...

…with Satellites!

No buggying for me today due to the tyre issue. So we are heading out geocaching - here is a copy of an article that I had published in Great Walks Magazine in 2010 -


There are over a million treasures hidden all over the world that can be discovered in fantastic locations from the middle of cities to the middle of nowhere - all you need is internet access (to download the co-ordinates) and a GPS receiver (GPSr).

Ten years ago the US government flicked the switch that controlled selective availability for the 24 global positioning satellites around the globe. From that point onwards the accuracy of GPS technology improved tenfold – this was the birth of satellite navigation, as we now know it.

It is now possible to locate your position anywhere on the globe to within five to ten metres accuracy – or navigate your way to a point where treasure has been hidden simply by going to the specified co-ordinates.

Welcome to Geocaching.

“Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventures seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment” taken from www.geocaching.com

Some friends introduced us to geocaching in September 2009, the next day we went out and found one on our own using our car sat-nav. The next weekend we went and bought our own hand held GPSr, we have now found over 500 and have hidden 30 (these are small numbers compared to some) – be warned before you read any further geocaching is addictive!

How to find treasure! –

You need internet access, go to www.geocaching.com and register (it’s free to be a basic member).
Search for caches hidden in your area or anywhere around the world – click on the hide and seek tab, you can either search by location or address but the easiest way is to click on search using Google Maps. This takes you to a map enter the area you want to find caches in and watch them all appear. Then just click on the caches you are interested in.

Each cache description includes the co-ordinates, a terrain and difficulty rating (1 being the easiest and 5 being the most difficult which may require specialist equipment) and the size of the cache. As you scroll down the page you will see a description of the cache/area etc and also the attributes list, and the list of any travel bugs or coins.

At the bottom of the page you will see the logs of previous cachers – these help to tell you if the cache has been found recently, also what sort of condition the cache is in. They may also contain useful hints and tips that may help locate a tricky cache (spoilers)

Enter the co-ordinates on your GPSr – start hunting!

On the hunt-

Your GPSr will point and give the distance to the cache as the crow flies, this can lead you on many an adventure!

“In Alice Springs there is a cache called The Pink Lady (GCR9Z4) that is in the Olive Pink Flora Reserve. We parked the car in a designated spot and then started to follow the GPSr – climbing up over rocks and through the bush heading towards Ground Zero (the location where the GPSr indicates the cache is hidden) after a steep and difficult climb we came across a nice clearly marked footpath that took us to within a couple of metres of where the cache was hidden! We then proceeded to follow the path down (which was a much easier climb) which led us to a very nice cafĂ© and the car park. Afterwards when we read the description in full we realised our ascent should have been via this path!”

There is often a more direct or accessible route to the cache which can be found in the description or logs and often will give you an indication of how far from the track the cache is hidden so that you don’t have to go stomping off through the bush damaging the flora and aggravating the fauna!

When you reach the point at which you GPSr is indicating that you are at ground zero start looking for the cache. Most GPSr‘s have an accuracy of 5-10 metres (dependant on weather conditions, tree cover etc)– this means that the cache could be within a radius of about 10m of where you are standing. Start with the obvious places and remember the size of the cache and start to expand your search area – remember to respect the environment and search carefully.

Some caches are fairly obvious and can be seen as you approach them others maybe hidden (we have even found an ammo can in a tree – spotted by my 10 year old daughter while we were looking on the ground!). Others are craftily camouflaged and maybe very tricky to spot. Again the logs of previous cachers may help.

When you find a cache, write in the logbook and when you get home or to a computer, log your find on geocaching.com.

The feedback that is left in the log on geocaching.com is an important part of the process, the owner of the cache will receive an email with your log – so a quick TNLN, SL, TFTC (Took Nothing Left Nothing, Signed Log, Thanks For The Cache) is ok, but a bit more is always appreciated, for example –

“Great walk, the cache was located within a few minutes of searching and wasn’t very well hidden. Watch out, as a few muggles spotted around so had to be a bit sneaky. The logbook is nearly full and will need replacing soon. We took a travel bug and left some swaps. We hid it slightly better when we left. TFTC, SL”

Be careful not to leave to many spoilers (hints and tips). As a cache owner I find the logs very useful as it lets me know that the cache is in good condition or if there is any maintenance required.

If you don’t find the cache log it as a DNF (Did Not Find) on geocaching.com. Posting a DNF isn’t a sign of a failure but a useful tool, this allows the owner to see that it hasn’t been found, if the cache has a few DNF’s then the owner should check on it to ensure it hasn’t been Muggled (removed by a non-geocaching person). If it is there it may mean that it has been put back in the wrong place or hidden to well by the previous cacher.

“We have a crafty camouflaged cache hidden opposite our house and we can sit in a front room and watch people looking for it! I get some satisfaction knowing that my camo has beaten somebody and they cant find it, but much more pleasure watching somebodies face and expression of realisation as they discover it.”

There are different styles and sizes of geocache.

The Traditional cache - the co-ordinates lead you straight to the cache.

The Multi-Cache – the initial co-ordinates will lead you to a waypoint that will lead you to additional waypoints and eventually to the final cache (there maybe just one waypoint or many).

Mystery cache – you have to solve a puzzle to get the co-ordinates of the final cache.

Earth Cache – An area of special interest, there is not usually a container but you may have to answer some questions that get emailed to the owner of the cache to prove you were there!

Caches are also come in different sizes and can be cleverly camouflaged.

Micro – either a 35mm film canister or smaller (a nano is about 10-15mm long) usually only contain a logbook, can be magnetic and are often used in urban environments.

Small – less than 500ml, a small cliplock or Tupperware container, again usually only contains a logbook, pencil may have room for trackables (what are trackables? – see below).

Regular – 500ml or bigger cliplock, ammo cans, etc. Plenty of room for swaps as well as the logbook etc.

Large – self-explanatory!

How long should I look for before giving up?

That is up to you, if the description and previous logs say it is an easy find, has been found recently and you are confident that you are looking in the right spot (check the co-ords you have entered on the GPSr) and you cant find it after 10 – 15 minutes (and you have checked all the obvious and not so obvious places call it a DNF and log it.

If it is a difficult hide (camouflaged or a nano) you may want to try longer, to explore every possibility – caches have been disguised as rocks, sprinklers, twigs, leaves and even dog droppings (just be careful with this one!). They can also be magnetized and stuck under or behind metal objects, and disguised as electrical plates. If we know a cache has been found recently and in all likelihood is there, we will keep looking for as long as we can and only give up when we feel we have exhausted all possibilities – it is up to you, but give it a fair go.

Trackables

There are two different types of trackable items, geocoins and travel-bugs. These both work in the same way, being moved on from cache to cache collecting miles and stories on the way. They all have a unique identifier, which allows their movements to be logged and tracked on geocaching.com. You are not supposed to keep these but log them and move them on – many have specific missions.

SWAG (Stuff We All Get)

When you find a cache you will find that it contains treasure! This treasure can be swapped – the usual rule is if you take something you should leave something better. You can of course choose just to sign the log and not take anything.

Muggles

Non-geocaching folk, may make it difficult to retrieve a hide, or ask you what you are looking for!

Cache in Trash Out (CITO)

Part of the philosophy of geocaching is looking after the environment and environmental responsibility. Part of this is Cache in Trash Out, when you go to find a cache pick up any rubbish you may find and dispose of it properly. There are also CITO events.

Cache events

Held all over the world, especially this year to celebrate 10 years of geocaching – meet fellow cachers, swap trackables and stories.

Geocaching has lead us to some unique and fantastic locations, places we wouldn’t have discovered that are 10 minutes from home. We have also found caches in other states, in the middle of cities, and out in the bush. We have friends and family who geocache in the UK and have also found caches all over the world – you will be surprised how many there are and how close to you they are hidden!

It is a family affair, both of my girls love it (as much for the SWAG as the find), my parents’ do it and we have lots of friends who now cache. You can do it on you own or with a group of people. It does have its risks – we have encountered tiger snakes, spiders and been eaten by mosquitoes. There are stories of people being stopped by the police while hunting – who, after an explanation, have then joined the hunt. You may also encounter fellow cachers searching for the same thing. Some caches need special equipment to retrieve but most are easily accessible and fun to find.

Get out there and find treasure… gum-nuts (that’s our caching name!)

For more information go to www.geocaching.com









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