The all-seasons hide and seek
A flag pin cache found in Peterborough.
Photo courtesy PSD Portfolio
When I recently mentioned in passing to a friend that I was working on an article about geocaching she said, "Oh, we just did that last weekend with the kids!" The more you talk to folks around here, the more you realize it's a pretty popular recreation in New Hampshire, and it's very likely if you haven't done it yourself then one of your neighbors has. My expert on the subject, John Junkins, describes geocaching as "a high-tech scavenger hunt that uses GPS to find containers that people have hidden in various places."
"Sometimes," Junkins adds, "that spot is at the end of a tough hike, but sometimes you can retrieve a cache within reach of your car. Inside a cache you will always find a logbook, which you sign, and if the container is big enough, you'll find 'swag.' If you find something you like, you can trade it for something you have of similar value. When you're done, you put the cache back where you found it and log your experiences on the caching website."
Geocaching is not treasure hunting, and guidelines for caching prohibit digging to either bury or retrieve caches. Rather, caches are often well hidden and it's up to the hunter to keep his or her observational skills sharp.
If you are interested and trying to find a cache for yourself, a good way to begin is by logging onto geocaching.com to find a cache near you. Plug the coordinates of the cache you want to find into your GPS-enabled device or smartphone and follow the directions to the cache. Once there you will need to look around a bit as caches are often very well hidden. Caches are rated for their difficulty, so start with something easy and progress at your own pace. Don't forget to log your find back on the website. Once you are comfortable finding caches, you may want to create your own and list it on the site.
With well over a million active geocaches worldwide, more than 8,700 of them are located right here in New Hampshire.
While you could get by with an app on your cell phone to help you find a cache, a reliable handheld GPS will make the experience that much better, particularly if you plan on doing more than a few. The Magellan eXplorist 110 ($129.99) features a lightweight, yet rugged and waterproof design that allows you to download and view over 20 unique characteristics of each cache, including location, description, difficulty and terrain.
Geocaching containers come, quite literally, in all shapes and sizes. You can even find ones that simulate logs, rocks and pinecones, making even the most savvy of cachers question their GPS coordinates. The Mighty Mega Cache Container ($12.99) is weather-proof, crush-proof and critter-proof and has enough room for geocoins and other swag.
Each cache container holds a logbook and the "RITR All-Weather Log Book" ($2.99) featuring "Rite In The Rain" all-weather writing paper keeps track of all cachers who have found the location.
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching, 3e" ($12.89) can tell you what you need to get started in creating your own cache and/or finding existing ones.
Expert advice with John Junkins
How did you first get involved in geocaching?
My wife used to work at the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm in Tamworth. There is a multi-stage cache that ends on the property. She noticed some people looking for it and started asking questions. She thought I'd be interested, so she told me about it. Turns out, I'd accidentally found a cache a couple months before while leading a group on a hike around the Boulder Loop Trail off the Kancamagus Highway. One of the hikers found an ammo can in the bushes, clearly marked "Official Geocache, Do Not Disturb." Since it said "Do Not Disturb," we put it back without opening it. I didn't think much more about it until I started caching.
What compels you to be a geocacher?
I like the cool spots people will hide caches in. My wife and I traveled to Utah for vacation. We saw a lot of things that we'd have missed if we just followed the travel guides - kind of a "Best Kept Secrets" tour. It was great! Even locally, there are places I'm brought to just around the corner that I'd have never seen if someone didn't hide a geocache there.
What was your best experience and/or most interesting cache that you found?
Wow, that's a tough one - there have been a lot of great experiences looking for some pretty great caches. A recent memorable cache was "The Highest Cache in the Ossipee Ten" (GC1H5ZY). I hiked about 10 miles round trip around the Castle in the Clouds, found a total of seven caches and enjoyed the views from a few different peaks in the Ossipees.
Have you ever been unable to find a cache?
Many times. What fun would it be if it was so easy that you found every one? Sometimes it's a challenging hide, sometimes the cache is missing and sometimes it turns out you just missed the obvious. I'd guess I probably find at least nine out of 10 caches.
Do you know how many caches you have found? How many have you created yourself?
I've found 2,733, hidden 74.
What recommendations do you have for people who are interested in participating in geocaching for the first time?
Just get out and do it. Signing up for an account on geocaching.com is free and GPS devices seem to keep getting less and less expensive. Oh, and "There's an app for that!" Just be sure the GPS is turned on on your smartphone. Caches are rated by difficulty and terrain; be sure not to have your first cache be a "5-Star Difficulty Cache" as you'll probably just get frustrated. The first few caches I found intentionally were found with no GPS at all, just with some careful reading of the cache description and a good topographical map. After trying it out without a GPS and deciding it was great fun, I did some research and decided to buy a Garmin brand GPS based on their customer service track record.