Do you know what geocaching is? I didn’t. At least, not exactly. Ok, so I had a rough idea and had heard people talking about it now and then. But I wanted to try finding a “cache” and hadn’t the first idea how to go about it.
As luck would have it, my friendly ‘cubicle mate,' Kerry, is an avid geocacher! When I mentioned it one day at work she piped up and told me there are several caches very close to our office! Who knew? The first thing I needed to do was create an account on none other than geocaching.com, which I did. Easy peasy. Then I downloaded the app for my iPhone. And that's where the easiest parts end, since then it gets down to actually going out to find one of more than a couple dozen caches located in and around Lake Placid and the Whiteface Region. Some are much easier to find than others.
What exactly is the game? It’s basically a game of hide ’n’ seek - very basically. You know those handy-dandy GPS locators everyone has on their smart phones? Yup, that very same GPS locator that enables you to find your lost phone will be the tool for finding caches. That is, unless you have a dedicated stand-alone GPS device.
Next comes the actual ‘cache.’ A cache is a hidden container. It can be any size and is typically weather proof. Many of them are just basic Tupperware containers of varying sizes. It’s hidden by a fellow cacher and registered on the geocaching website, complete with GPS coordinates. There are usually ‘trinkets’ inside the containers as well as a log book.
The basic motto is “take some stuff, leave some stuff of equal or lesser value.” When you find the cache you’re expected to write your user name and date in the log book. That’s a very basic explanation.
The Origins of Geocaching
Back in 2000 a big change occurred in the government-owned satellite GPS systems around the world (complicated science stuff). It basically allowed global positioning to be available to the average consumer with a GPS receiving device — which eventually were also built into cell phones. When this historic event happened, geocaching was born. I won’t go into all the details about all the technical stuff involved with this pastime, as it’s pretty extensive and some of it’s just way too technical for me to bore you with. If you go to the geocaching website you can find out all the details and rules of the game.
Some people become way more immersed in this little game than I ever intend to, and maybe you will. I’m just playing the simple find-the-cache part of it - for now anyway. There are all kinds of little add-ons to the game — some items that are placed just to travel around with the help of cachers and are tracked via the log, or items one person wants to get from one cache location to another specific location, etc.
Our first cache
My husband Glen and I set out on our very first geocaching adventure on a nice, warm spring day last week. When you look at the geocaching map on the smartphone app, it locates registered caches in your vicinity and shows them on a map. When you click on one of them, it gives you even more information about it. It will give you the map coordinates, a bit about the cache, the size, terrain, difficulty level, and the general vicinity in which it’s hidden. This is all logged and written up on the website by the person who placed it. It also shows comments by people who have found it and logged their find, and quite a bit of related information.
A hemlock along the Ausable
We headed toward Wilmington on Route 86 to find the cache named, “A hemlock along the Ausable." The map showed its location very close to the part of the Ausable River known as “The Flume,” so we parked at the parking lot there and looked at the map. I hit the start button and the map showed the direction in which we needed to move in real time. It showed my location and the cache location with a line between them, and a compass to line up your path. We needed to walk along a small trail heading down the hill, about halfway between the highway and the river. The compass kept us on track. I’m not going to give away the location of the cache by giving a play by play here as it wouldn’t be fair. You’ll have to find it on your own. When the GPS indicated we were getting pretty close, a message popped up on the screen stating the same. After a few short minutes, success!
We found it relatively easily after reading one small clue that you can access in addition to the the description and the locator map. Remember, GPS devices are accurate to about 30 feet, so you really do have to do some searching. Many caches are very well hidden and not in plain sight. This one is in plain sight, but it’s very, very small.
Logging the find
After taking the container apart, we found a plastic bag folded up with a very long, narrow sheet of paper and a pencil inside - that was it! That’s all that would fit in this very tiny container. This type of container is called a Bison Tube. The pencil was dull and I did my best to log the date and my user name. When you register online you create a username if you don’t want to use your real name. I’ve noticed most people use a nickname they create for geocaching, and there are some pretty interesting ones. Lesson: bring your own writing implement. There were lots of names on this tiny sheet of paper. We carefully put it all back inside and put the cap back on and replaced it in its hiding spot.
Next I needed to log our find on the app. It's as easy as a click or two and then typing whatever I wanted to describe our experience. It's fun reading what others have written in the log as well. I felt a true sense of camaraderie as I logged my first find — and we were so excited to have found our first cache. And you know what? It was really fun! I had intended to really only find one for the blog, but now we had "the bug!”
One of the best things about this activity is getting out and finding areas you otherwise might not have ventured to. We’ve been to The Flume on the West Branch of the Ausable many times, but it’s a spot that’s always beautiful to visit anytime of the year. We took a little time to hike along the path above the falls and down to the base. Make sure you do so if you go to this spot. It’s gorgeous! If it’s hot, take a swim, but be very careful of the currents. They can be dangerous close to the falls. There’s nothing like cold mountain river water for a cooling dip on a hot day.
#2 - Heritage park
Now we decided to go ahead and try to find another cache right in the heart of Wilmington. Heritage Park is the location of this one, almost right next to the Whiteface Visitors Bureau, and again next to the West Branch of the Ausable River. We found this one quite easily and while I was logging the find in my Geocaching app on my phone, my husband opened up the Tupperware box it was in. Holy smokes there was a $100 bill in it!!!! What?? Who would leave something like that in a cache? Guess it was meant for us to take, so we did. A while down the road, after I was having guilty feelings about taking it and leaving just a pin, I told Glen we needed to take it back. My husband confessed he had put it there as he opened it when I wasn’t paying attention. He’d “gotten” me again (he’s famous for this kind of stuff).
#3 - covered bridge
We really had “geocaching fever” now. Off to Jay to find the Covered Bridge Cache. This one was relatively tough to find because it’s in an awesome hiding spot. We looked for a good 15 minutes before Glen finally found it. I can’t give you any more details other than it’s near the river and the covered bridge, but your GPS will get you very close. You just have to really look for it as it’s not in the open. Caches are hidden where someone other than a geocacher (“muggle” in the gc world) wouldn’t be likely to stumble upon it and take it, not knowing what it is.
I have to admit, as many times as I’d driven past this location near the covered bridge, I’d never stopped and hiked along the river (and I’ve lived in the region my entire life). I've explored the bridge, but never the riverside. This is one of the most popular swimming holes in the summer and rightly so. It’s just about perfect. Sorry to say it's taken me this long to stop and walk along the river here. I'll be back for a swim come summer.
Mind your manners
There’s a whole etiquette and language to geocaching. The website has an etiquette section as well as a glossary, which is pretty interesting. There are lots of acronyms used in the logs by 'cachers.' I learned a few during this adventure…. DNF = did not find; TFTC = thanks for the cache (I saw this a lot in the online activity log); TNLNSL = took nothing, left nothing, signed logbook... and it goes on. You can find the whole list on the website. The etiquette side of things is pretty interesting also. If you go to a cache site and someone else is already looking, you're supposed to hang back and wait your turn. What you do with the contents of the cache also falls under the etiquette section. If you take something, you leave something of equal or greater value. Many caches hold all kinds of trinkets people have left in place of what they took. The Heritage Park cache had some pretty interesting things in it, many of which were purchased on the Geocaching website (yes, I think they make lots of money on these trinkets). There are coins, keychains, and a lot of other random stuff and supplies. I counted over 100 items in the Geocaching online store. I had brought along some pins that I left in the caches that had room for stuff.
I can’t tell you how much fun this little adventure proved to be! I seriously hadn’t expected to like it much and was so glad I’d ventured outside the box of what I think I might like.
THe one that got away
On our way home we noticed another cache location close to our home, so we decided to stop and try our luck for a fourth time. It's located at "Stagecoach Rock" in the Cascade Lakes area of Route 73. This time we couldn't find it. The clue and description were really good, but we didn't have any luck. We'll have to go back again for this one. I got to use that DNF acronym too in my log post about not finding it (DNF)!
There are lots of pretty easy location close to the highways you could try for your first few like we did.
There are also lots and lots of caches in the wilderness, requiring some bushwhacking and hiking. I'll leave those for another time when I get better at this and learn more about it. Geocaches are located all around the world - millions of them. I'd venture to guess no matter where you go you could find some in any given area. It's really fun and what better way to get out and explore the Adirondacks than this great family pastime. Try it. I think you'll like it!
Stay in the Whiteface Region while you're hunting geocaches. There are lots of options on our lodging pages.
This week in related ADK discoveries: