Extracurricular – Geocaching

Geocaching is now one of the most popular hobbies around. It requires minimal equipment, is a great way to get some exercise, and can be enjoyed by the entire family pretty much all year long. Best of all, there is the promise of finding a prize at the end!

The simple explanation of geocaching is that it is an outdoor game using a GPS-enabled device to use coordinates to navigate to and find “treasure” (the geocache). At first, geocaching was done with a handheld GPS, and many people still use them, but now participating is extremely easy using a smartphone. Simply download the free app and You’re ready to start. The geocache is a hidden container placed by another geocacher. Geocaches are never buried, but can be extremely sneaky to find. Visits to the cache are recorded either via a logbook or online. The cache also contains small treasures (known in geocaching terms as “swag”). The general rule of geocaching etiquette is that if you take a treasure you must leave something equal or better than the item taken. If you have nothing to trade, then etiquette dictates that you take nothing and simply sign the logbook. Dollar stores are great places for finding swag to place in the cache: hair barrettes, small toys, keychains, mini playing cards, brain teaser puzzles, and golf balls are just a few ideas. Many ?cachers also leave handmade items such as magnets and painted rocks. However, liquid items, such as bubble mixture, anything edible such as chocolate, or even bars of soap should not be left. If they leak, it could ruin the cache and they can also attract animals.

The main myth about geocaching is that it requires a lot of hiking in a remote area, but this isn’t necessarily true. There are caches in wilderness areas including national and provincial parks, but there are also thousands of urban caches across both North America and internationally. You may have passed right by one without even knowing! Karen Ung, a Calgary outdoor writer and blogger (see her blog http://playoutsideguide.com for great information for getting families outdoors), regularly geocaches with her children both in Calgary and beyond. She says “Urban caching and rural caching are very similar – there are caches right on the side of the trail and others that require bushwhacking, so it is important to look at the difficulty and terrain ratings as well as the descriptions. Some will tell you the cache is 150 metres off trail, for example. In national parks, caches are placed very close to the trail to prevent trail widening, so you can count on those to be fairly easy to find.”

Geocaching is a great way to get used to hiking and navigating by using geographical landmarks. Geocaching in urban areas also has the appeal of being able to bring strollers and babies in carriers with you or the ability to travel to cache sites by bicycle. The best advice for beginners is to start out small and find easy caches (the app gives difficulty indicators) then work your way up. Make sure you always check the weather reports, dress sensibly with appropriate footwear and bring enough snacks, sunblock and water with you. Also, a good idea is to bring your own pen or pencil to fill in the logbook just in case the one in the cache is missing or unusable. don’t forget to snap a photo of your find and log it on the http://geocaching.com website!

Karen Ung also says that geocaching etiquette for everyone is extremely important. “In town, respect private property. No shortcuts through people’s yards–and always cross the road safely. don’t just follow your compass blindly across the street. And Geocaching is based on the honor system so, even though no one may be watching when you find the geocache, making good choices in making a trade [for items in the cache], and leaving the cache the way you found it is important.” Something else that Geocachers can do is practice “cache in, trash out.” Bring a garbage bag with you and pick up any litter that you see in order to be good stewards of the land and leave the area better than you found it.

Geocachers say that once you find your first few caches, you will be hooked. Admittedly, it is rather discouraging as a newbie to compare yourself with those who have been doing the hobby for a long time and have logged literally thousands of caches. Many serious Geocachers even plan vacations around their hobby. But, what matters most about this activity is that you learn some outdoor skills and explore neighbourhoods in a way that you would not have done otherwise. It is an activity that can be done either alone, with a family, or a larger group of people. Of course, finding the treasure is the bonus!

Carla’s family has just started to geocache. Their current logged cache total is in the single digits but hopefully that will soon change!

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