Geocaching: A Booming Activity
Halfway between an ultra-modern treasure hunt and an orienteering competition
Geocaching is an original way to explore unusual spots with a GPS device in hand. Geocachers roam the globe in search of mysterious treasures hidden in geocaches. In the past three years, the Tourist Office in Langres (Champagne Ardennes) has been encouraging this activity by creating 50 caches in the area around the fortified city, such as the tufa-stone reserve at Rolampont and the ‘snail’ structure at Cohons. All you need to do is to sign onto the geocaching.fr site, then download GPS coordinates and clues that allow you to locate the cache – then you’re off on a hunt! It is very important to configure your GPS receiver to the WGS84 standard in the DDD MM.MM format, which is the format used for geocaching.
Step 1: Preparation
Preparation is just as important for geocaching as it is for other outdoor sports. You are advised not to head deep into a forest without a partner, especially when geocaching, because you may pay too much attention to your GPS receiver and tumble into a ravine! Be sure to take enough drinking water. Tell friends or family where you are going, when you plan to leave, and your expected itinerary.
Step 2: Approaching the Cache
Distances can be deceptive – when using a GPS receiver to find a cache, the distance from the target is measured ‘as the crow flies.’ In other words, you may be only a mile away, but between you and your goal there could be a river to cross, a field of brambles to negotiate, and so on. It is recommended that you always have a map of the area – some GPS devices display background maps directly on screen. A map of the broader area allows you to get an overview and thus to choose the best route. It will also give you an idea of possible
approaches in a vehicle, and the distance that must be done on foot. If you’re heading off in search of your first cache, you are advised to read the comments of other geocachers and note the encrypted ‘hint’ given on the site. Some caches are visible from a certain distance; others are buried, and so on. In terms of terrain, difficulty generally increases as you approach the cache, so the last ten yards may be the trickiest.
Step 3: The Hunt
Unless otherwise indicated, you can get within a mile of the cache fairly easily. But when crossing a dense forest or steep valley you may lose the GPS signal; reception also depends on the position of the satellites, which varies constantly. If you lose reception, you lose your position! For this reason, it is a good idea to always save the location of your vehicle in your GPS device before beginning your journey. The final yards are the most complicated. When your GPS receiver tells you that you have arrived at your destination, turn it off and put it away. Then ask yourself: “If I were the person hiding something within a radius of five or ten yards around this spot, where would I put it?” Look for clues (upturned stones, footprints, etc.). If necessary, decipher the encrypted ‘hint.’
Step 4: Found it!
When you’ve found the cache, open the box which always includes a logbook, an explanatory note about geocaching, and a writing implement, and perhaps various other items. You are free to enter a comment in the logbook (highly recommended), and to swap one object for another (except for the functional tools of the logbook, local guide, pencil sharpener, etc.) Put in an object of equal or greater value than the one you take out, so that the cache will always retain its value for other geocachers. Such objects include souvenirs, small change, collectibles, gadgets and other trinkets – but not food (which attracts animals) or dangerous or illegal items! Then hermetically seal the box and put it back exactly where you found it, replacing the camouflage, if any. Once back home, announce your discovery to the community!