Geocaching

Friday, 02 April 2010 17:10

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Geocaching:
OUTDOORS AND HIGH TECHNOLOGY

GPS
Global Positioning System (GPS)



What is geocaching

In a few words, geocaching is the treasure hunt of the 21st century. This sport consist of finding a "cache" (pronounced "cash") or treasure, hidden by others practitioners of  the sport using a GPS receiver and a set of coordinates that indicate its location. The place where the "cache" is hidden determines the difficulty and the levels adventure you will have to face.

Origin and history

The GPS or the global positioning system is composed by the NAVSTAR network of 24 satellites from the US Department of Defense.  These satellites send continuous positioning signals and in base of these signals a GPS receiver can determine your position by triangulation with a precision of up to 15 meters, depending on the geometry of the satellites at that moment.

Before May 2000, the GPS signals were intentionally degraded  +/- 100 meters to avoid its use for military purposes. Then,  the US Government decided to suspend degradation (called Selective Availability), in a way to encourage the use of the GPS for civil and peaceful activities throughout the world.

This not only benefited the traditional use, such as air and land navigation, telecommunications, mining explorations, etc., but also made room for this new sport called Geocaching.
Sanctuary of Nature Yerba Loca

The first "cache" was placed by Dave Ulmer close to Portland, Oregon, US. on May 3, 2000. Three days later, two people read about cache in the newsgroup sci.geo.satellite-nav, and found it. They later registered their names in the log. This is how geocaching was born.

The sport and its rules

It is difficult to say if Geocaching is a sport, or simply an outdoor activity, as it  depends on where the cache has been hidden. The search can be a short walk, or an expedition across difficult terrain, where specific skills in mountain climbing, kayaking, orienteering, etc, are needed.

As a new sport the rules are very simple:

1. Obtain the coordinates and the description of the cache that your going to search for in a geocaching community, for example www.geocaching.com.
2. Find the cache.
3. Take a gift from the cache.
4. Leave a gift in the cache.
5. Register your visit in the logbook.
6. Log your "finding" in the geocaching community.

Besides enjoying the adventure of searching, the landscape, the place, and the outdoor activity, you will receive a gift from an unknown person and leave a gift for another stranger.
Route 5 South

Given that it is a sport for the whole family, you should only leave safe and appropriate articles. Don't leave alcohol, drugs, explosives, rap music, political or offensive material,. etc. Food is also inappropriate as it causes the "cache" to be destroyed by the ubiquitous rodents or other local inhabitants.

There are distinct types of caches and the list is open to the creativity of the participants. Some examples are:

* Traditional: usually composed of a plastic box with gifts and a log  of visitors.
* Multi-cache: the first cache gives the coordinates (or part of them) of the second cache, and the second contains the coordinates of the third and so on. Also, multiple caches are used to give clues on the location of the final cache.
* Virtual Cache: This cache generally corresponds to an existing landmark, such as a statue or gravestone. To register your finding you must respond a question about the landmark as a proof that you were there.

The equipment

Not much equipment is required to practice geocaching. A handheld GPS  is enough, you can buy one in the internet for US$ 100 - in its most basic models -, add a good pair of shoes and a healthy spirit of adventure.

If you search for caches on difficult terrain, consider taking adequate equipment. There are caches that require special abilities like mountain climbing, scuba diving, or may even require an overnight stay in the wild.
Radal 7 Tazas National Reserve

It is advisable that you take a map and a compass to establish the most appropriate route.

The search

The search of a cache is initiated in a geocaching website,  where the coordinates and the description of the caches of your area are found. Normally, you have to locate the cache on the map and go find it following the GPS directions, but take into consideration that the GPS indicates the direct route disregarding the terrain features. For example, a cache could be located half a mile away, but a cliff will make us take a 2 mile walk.
Once you have found the indicated area with the GPS, the cache will be in a radius of 15 meters. From there on, it is necessary to look in areas in where it could have been hidden.
Some caches can be found easily and others may require various attempts to find them.  In any case, don't get discouraged, enjoy the journey and the search.

The reward

You can find all types of things in a cache. Small toys, books, foreign money, music, ornaments, in short whatever some stranger has gracefully left behind as a present. Nevertheless, the reward for many is simply finding the treasure, the adventure of getting there, to a place that otherwise you'll not have visited. Likewise, the possibility of making a gift to someone that we will never possibly know and whose path crossed with ours for an instant, through a goodie and piece of paper.

The spirit

Geocaching is an activity practiced generally by lovers of nature and outdoor activities. The search is rather an excuse to get out more, know new places, be in contact with nature and develop sporting abilities.
Radal 7 Tazas National Reserve

This ecological spirit of geocachers make them carry a plastic bag to pick up garbage found on the way and remove it from the wild areas.
Practice the leave no trace philosophy. Take care of nature and stay within the trails to avoid impacting the virgin areas. For more information about "leave no trace" visit the LNT site.



Where to Practice

Although the sport is very recent, nearly 340.000 hidden caches exist in more that 130 countries around the world. The numbers in South America are growing, with about 500 caches (as of Nov, 2006 ) and Chile being the most developed geocaching country with around 165. We hope that soon more gocachers will unite us.

Geocaching is not solely about searching, but also hiding caches. For more information on how to hide caches, refer to Geocaching.com.

You can search geocaches in Chile, from Geocaching.com with the link below :

* Geocaches in Chile

Recommendations

- Take the same precautions that you would when you go on a hike or trekking trip.
- Advise or warn someone about your travel itinerary
- Take a map, water, sun protection and a flashlight in case the night catches you in the way.
- Do not underestimate the time for the trip. The distance of the GPS indicates a direct route.
- Choose a cache in accordance with the difficulty and your abilities as well as the people who are accompanying you.
- It is convenient that you familiarize yourself with the area through a topo map and identify the possible obstacles and dangers.

Links


Geocaching sites:

- Geocaching.com
- Buxley's Geocaching
- Navicache
- Geocaching Worldwide

GPS and Software:

- Garmin.com
- Magellan
- EasyGPS.com
- GPS Aventura


Text: M.Costa












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