A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining Diane Kashin and Tanya Murray from the York Region Nature Collaborative, along with Lisa Brown from Tir na Nog Forest School, on a visit to Forest School Canada in Ottawa to meet with Marlene Power. We opted to take a hike through the beautiful Wesley Clover Park, home to Ottawa’s Forest and Nature School. While we were chatting, I took out my phone, launched an app, and used the on-screen compass to lead us to this little treasure hidden in the woods.
Do you know what this activity is called? Geocaching! In simplest terms, I like to think of it as using multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware containers in the forest but it’s about much more than that! It’s about getting outside, being active, and using this fun-filled treasure hunt to explore and connect with nature!
To get started, you will need to sign up for a free account at Geocaching.com. Using a GPS unit or an app on your phone, you can then search for geocaches in your area. Once you find the geocache, you sign the logbook, trade items if you would like, return the geocache to its original location, and be sure to log your find. Visit the Geocaching website for a quick video on how this treasure hunt works.
Geocaches come in different sizes, shapes and level of difficulty. A Traditional Geocache is often the size of a small Tupperware container and will contain a logbook and small knick knacks. If you are new to geocaching, it’s a good idea to get started searching for these larger containers but be sure to watch for the difficulty rating – just because the container is large, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier to find!
When you are successful at finding a geocache, you can take something from it as long as you leave behind something you have brought with you that is of equal or greater value. I love to search for these types of geocaches with my family – my young daughters often make beaded jewelry to leave behind, and are thrilled when they come home with a rubber duck or army figurine!
For me, the best find in a geocache is a trackable. A trackable is a special sort of knick knack that has its own barcode. You can enter the barcode on the Geocaching website and see where in the world it has travelled. Some of the stories are amazing! Imagine finding a trackable that originated in Germany, made it to Mexico, visited Alberta and now you have found it on a camping trip to the Georgian Bay area. Best day ever!
As I gained confidence geocaching, I started to search for smaller containers called Micro Caches. These containers are often the size of film canisters (wow – remember film!?) and are camouflaged. They are too small to hold knick knacks but there will be a logbook you can sign.
If you really want to up the ante, try searching for a Nano Cache! These containers are often the size of your thumbnail so be prepared to really search. I have lost hours of my life, determined to uncover these miniature treasures. Nano caches will also have a logbook but as you can imagine, only your initials are likely to fit.
My most favourite nanocache was hidden in my local community. I was hiking along a trail network and came to bridge. I suspected from the name of this particular geocache that it had something to do with beavers so I scrambled down the side of the riverbank to continue my search. After almost 30 minutes searching, I happened to glance up and see a big wad of bubble gum stuck to the underside of the bridge. Thoughts went through my mind, mostly along the lines of “What is wrong with people!” but something about this big piece of gum intrigued me. It was too pink and too perfect so I did it…I touched it (ewww, gross) but sure enough, it was the geocache!
Turns out these gum geocache containers are quite popular, especially on the “gum wall” in Seattle.
I have found geocaches in all sorts of shapes, sizes and locations. You really have to think outside the geocache container when you are searching – your treasure could be inside a fake rock or log, or even in a fake bolt in a gate!
Once you are comfortable with the basics, you can start to expand your geocaching experience by searching for a Multi-Cache, trying your hand at night geocaching, or even visiting an Earth Cache to learn more about an interesting geologic feature.
For starters, be prepared to learn some acronyms! FTF, TFTC, TNLN…huh?? The most common acronym I see is TFTC which simply means “Thanks for the cache”. With little logbooks, you don’t want to be writing diary entries so these few letters are helpful to know. TNLN means “Took Nothing, Left Nothing”. I would love to have an FTF (“First to Find”) but alas, I am not quick enough out of the gate. That’s too bad because the First to Find often discovers great prizes to enjoy (think movie passes), in addition to bragging rights. Imagine if you were the FTF a geocache that had been placed 12 years ago! Amazing!
Trial and error has also taught me how best to be prepared. When I geocache, I take a pouch with me that has a few sharp pencils for signing logbooks, some knick knacks, and small tools like tweezers and a screwdriver. Before heading out, I also check the logs associated with the geocaches I intend to search for. If I read that a particular geocache was last found three weeks ago, I’m likely in good shape to find it myself. However, if the log tells me that the geocache is damaged, missing or the last 7 people weren’t able to find it, I might not want to spend time searching for that particular one.
Also pay close attention to the weather forecast for the day, and dress appropriately for your adventure including closed-toe shoes, long pants, hat, and water. Much like any trip out into the woods, it’s also good practice to leave details of your adventure with someone so they know where you are, who you are with, how long you will be gone, and when they can expect you to return.
Etiquette is important when you are geocaching. You want to enjoy the adventure but you also want to make sure those who come after you can do the same. Examples of poor etiquette would include taking a knick knack and not leaving one in its place, moving the geocache from its original location, or putting something into the geocache that might compromise the contents or attract animals (such as food or liquids). I once had the unfortunate experience of opening a geocache and getting covered in not-so-nice perfume that had spilled.
It’s also a good idea to show some stealth while you search. Often geocaches are hidden in areas where there are lots of geo-muggles nearby (people not familiar with geocaching or non-geocachers). You don’t want to draw attention to yourself or the geocache. Although, it makes for a good chuckle when two groups of people happen to be searching for the same geocache and each is trying to fool the other.
It’s not all about the searching; you can also opt to hide geocaches of your own. Start by choosing a solid, waterproof container, and a good location on public property, then visit Geocaching.com to register your cache. You will receive notification every time a geocacher logs their find.
I encourage you to visit Geocaching.com, sign up for a free account and spend some time becoming familiar with this adventure that takes you outside to explore and have fun. There are over two million geocaches hidden all over the world. Chances are, there is one not far from where you are right now.
York Region Nature Collaborative plans to host introductory geocaching workshops so watch the Events section of the website for opportunities near you.
And in the meantime, Happy Geocaching!