Jan 282009
 
Authors: Glen Pfeiffer, Ryan Gibbons

What do you get when you mix elements of scavenger hunting, hide-and-go-seek, treasure hunting, hiking and a handheld global positioning system? No, not an anti-social landlocked pirate … more like: A fantastic high-tech sport that appeals to a wide variety of enthusiasts!

And also a great way to mix two species: The computer geek who has trouble getting into the outdoors and the outdoorsy geek who packs technology./

Geocaching, a word derived from the prefix “geo”/meaning earth and the french word “cache” meaning to store or hide, began in 2000 when the U.S. government allowed public use of GPS to be accurate to within feet.

New possibilities arose for GPS users with the new level of accuracy, ones that are more fun than just not getting lost. The first cache was placed by a man named Dave Ulmer in the woods near Beaver Creek, Ore. But what is a cache, exactly?

A geocache is generally a small container containing trinkets such as coins, stickers or anything small enough to fit in the container, plus a logbook.

They range in size from a “microcache” — a tiny metal container only big enough to store a rolled up paper logbook and usually found in more urban areas — to ammo cans, found in more remote forested areas and able to hold larger and more interesting treasures. So how can you find these caches?

A vast database of geocaches is kept on the official Web site http://geocaching.com. As of Monday the site had 719,464 active caches worldwide, and a quick search of the Fort Collins area will yield hundreds of nearby caches.

Once you register for a free account on the site, you will have access to the coordinates of the majority of these caches (a very few are available for paying members only).

The Web site supports handheld Garmin GPS units, so if you plug one into your computer via USB, you can download the coordinates of caches directly from the Web site to your device./

Once you know where you’re going, you can find the coordinates with your device — ranging from easy finds on a street corner near your house to hard ones at the top of a mountain.

Our GPS usually gets us to within five feet of the cache — and once you find it, make sure to sign the log book, and if you wish, take a trinket and replace it with one of equal or higher value.//

So what’s stopping you from heading out right this instant and embarking on the largest scavenger hunt in the world? Chances are its because you don’t have a GPS.

Look up Garmin’s Web site — basic handhelds range between $100 and $200. If you aren’t ready to take that plunge, don’t worry: you can get hooked on the sport initially with your GPS-equipped phone.

Any phone with a GPS-like capability (meaning, you can input latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates) can serve to find caches. The only downfall is that most cell phones use cell towers to triangulate your position rather than actual GPS satellites, so you have to have decent cell service for this option.

Despite the level of technical know-how this sport seems to require, it is actually extremely easy and fun. We didn’t even own a GPS until this December, and it only took an hour or two one night to become familiar with using the unit, and the next day we were off caching like pros./

Columnists Glen Pfeiffer and Ryan Gibbons can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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