The great search for hidden gold

GPS enthusiasts can share geographical coordinates online for an outdoor or urban adventure

Geocaches can be found in containers as large as a bucket or as small as a film canister. This find holds a clue to our final cache.
Geocaches can be found in containers as large as a bucket or as small as a film canister. This find holds a clue to our final cache.
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Using clues from five other geocaches, we find GPS coordinates that lead to the final cache of the day.
Using clues from five other geocaches, we find GPS coordinates that lead to the final cache of the day.
Photo: 

Dr. Bob Connelly just might prove himself.

Standing on the edge of a field 20 minutes northwest of Kingston, we’re trying to find a geocache — a hidden item at a specific location.

Connelly is 15 minutes into the search for a cache that eluded him an hour before.

As a modernized scavenger hunt, geocaching makes use of social networking and GPS technology — it reaches across the globe.

I joined Connelly on a Sunday morning to observe what it takes to be a geocacher.

Connelly’s son Luke dives into the tall grasses while the rest of us search under garbage cans and behind metal signs for fake screws that could be well-hidden cache containers.

Connelly, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics, checks an electrical box on a telephone pole for the second or third time. He tells me how there was once a geocacher who would fashion fake electrical boxes to hide his caches. We keep searching.

The activity is done through Geocaching.com. People register online with geocacher aliases, using the site to keep track of their finds and to place their own caches. With the exception of North Korea, there are geocaches all over the world — even on the International Space Station.

Started in 2000 as a mailing list for a group of GPS enthusiasts, geographical cache coordinates were sent for people to follow. The mailing list eventually became a website which now boasts over four million users.

Caches are containers that can range from the size of a watch battery to a large bucket. According to the website, they always hold a logbook for geocachers to record their find. In some cases, the containers hold small, inexpensive items that make the search like a treasure hunt.

Connelly’s not after treasure — he only wants to record his name in the logs.

With Luke and his dog Jax accompanying him most of the time, Connelly has found almost 2,000 geocaches.

“It’s fun,” he said. “[With] a good friend of mine, when we get together it’s always a competition between the kids and the adults.”

Nowadays, he prefers to leave Kingston’s urban sprawl where geocaches are easy to get to.

“Typically the ones we do now are the ones that are harder to get to or take more effort,” he said, referring to the five-star rating system the website employs.

Today’s series of five geocaches, chosen for their distance outside of the city, are all rated two stars for difficulty and terrain. This means that they’re supposedly fairly easy to access and locate.

At the start of the trail, Connelly turns on his GPS device to see which direction we should head. It’s already programmed with the caches’ coordinates.

We can’t fail to find our first cache located a mere 14 metres away, so we move on to the next cache where our luck might be better.

Some metres later, the GPS beeps.

“That’s an indication we’re close,” Connelly says.

Luke walks into a geotrail, something Connelly points out as a beaten looking path off the gravel road. We all follow him to a little alcove of trees.

While I hesitate about where to look, I can’t help but wonder what this looks like to non-geocachers — people who have been nicknamed Muggles by those in the community.

“You’re always worried about people seeing you trying to find [geocaches in case] they’ll discover them, and they’ll take them,” Connelly said.

According to him, it’s become common now that geocaching is gaining more popularity.

So the onus is placed on the geocacher who initially hides the cache. Their challenge, Connelly said, is to put enough thought into its concealment so that only a true geocacher could locate it.

Thankfully, the geocache under the alcove of trees is found in a wooden stump. It’s a film canister covered in camouflage tape. Connelly shouts of joy when he finds it, and now I think I understand the satisfaction of locating a find.

I ask him how long it took us to find the cache.

“Too long,” he says, as he writes his name and the date into the cache’s logbook.

Geocaching seems to appeal to something beyond a simple scavenger hunt, I notice. It’s the success of the hunt — that knowledge that you were clever enough to find something that no one else could.

It’s usually just fun and games, but sometimes it becomes something more sinister.

This past May, a geocache thought to be a bomb was found in Toronto’s west end. Emergency units were tied up for more than three hours, according to an article in the Toronto Star.

We move through the rest of the geocaches with relative ease. Connelly, whose farthest geocache was in Costa Rica, offers me tips and tricks as we search for each one — be sure to look in trees where caches can be suspended up high, keep an eye out for unusual rock piles that can conceal caches, watch out for snakes.

Geocachers are known to go to great lengths to hide a cache. Connelly found one geocache in a fake deer dropping. He had only noticed after returning to the location multiple times over several days.

Connelly’s geocaching cleverness pays off when he finds this cache hidden in a fake rock.

Celebratory and relieved to find it, we move on to the final cache.

Luckily for Connelly, he still has many more geocaches to explore in the Kingston area. There are over 550 geocaches within 16 km of Kingston.

Today’s search, however, demands that we gather clues from each one to find a final cache.

Compiling the clues, we get coordinates for our last find — the “End of the Rainbow.” It’s another ten-minute walk away, but the find is well worth the wait. Located in the crook of a tree, it’s our pot of gold.

So You Want to Geocache?

1) Sign up for a free membership with Geocaching.com.

2) Search for caches in your area on the “Hide & Seek a Cache” page.

3) Choose a geocache. Each one has a different level of difficulty and terrain. Choose wisely!

4) Enter the coordinates into your GPS device. Before heading out, be sure to bring equipment appropriate for the terrain. Depending on the weather, these might include hiking boots or snowshoes.

5) When you find the geocache, write your name and the date into the logbook. If you want to take an item from the cache, make sure you have something of equal or higher value to trade it with.

6) Log back on Geocaching.com to record your find and share your experience.

Geocaching.com

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