Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
We were almost all of the way up a mountain near Hinton, Alberta. The almost was the key part to it. The view was stunning, and we were just metres from a beautiful cave. Unfortunately the scramble up the cliff was terrifying to me, because I’m rather afraid of heights.
The bushes cracked, just enough to push my heart rate up even further. Human voices came through the trees. The sound came from a couple out for a jaunt up the same hill that I was warily debating, and they were pleased. They’d just found a geocache.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt with a dash of technology. In Geocaching.com, the activity is described as “a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt where players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online.”
And since that day almost 10 years ago, the popularity of the sport has grown as the accessibility of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has increased. If you’re planning a trip, geocaching is an outstanding way to get to know a neighbourhood, go on an eclectic hike, or tease your inner daredevil.
When you go geocaching, you use a GPS device to embark on a modern-day hunt for a hidden object, small or large. Geocaching was invented in 2000, when it became possible to get a lot more accuracy out of handheld navigational devices. When you find a cache, you’ll often find tiny treasures. One cache in our neighbourhood in Vancouver features a selection of guitar picks. However, the hunt is just as engaging as the find. Searching for caches is exciting, and as you wend your way toward a cache, you get introduced to places that you’d never consider visiting otherwise. If you’re looking for a local cache, Geocaching.com has listings for places around the world.
A Wide Range of Geocaching Challenges
Not all geocaches are as challenging as the one on that mountain in Alberta. Many are in very accessible locations. In fact, if you’re visiting an urban area, it’s quite likely that there’s a geocache within a short walk. When you’re visiting a new city, geocaching is a great way to get to know the ins and outs of a place. Stop for coffee along the way, discover locations that you would have ignored, and learn about the quirks of the city.
If you’re in a more rural area, geocaching in wilder places is a good way to find a hike. On the way to the cache, you’ll see wildlife, visit new vistas, and get drawn into parks that you may have passed by on your way to other sights. The treasure-hunting aspect is especially good for prodding reluctant children into exploring: this is a walk with a purpose. Do check out the terrain on a paper map before you go bushwhacking, though, or you too may find yourself clinging to the side of a mountain.
If you’d prefer to embark on a device-free treasure hunt, letterboxing is the way to go. Letterboxing is much older than geocaching, predating satellite technologies by a good hundred years. It began in 1854, when an English tour guide named James Perrott hid a bottle in Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, providing cryptic, coded instructions to help people find the box. Over time, people hid many containers in the area, and the concept ultimately spread to North America. Today, a letterbox is a little container that holds a stamp. When you find the box, you stamp your notebook to show that you’ve discovered it. If you’re visiting a particular neighbourhood and you’re looking for a letterbox, you can find clues and instructions on Letterboxing.org and Atlas Quest.
Travel is an adventure, and adding a treasure hunt makes it even more fun. Letterboxing and geocaching are pursuits that help grow deeper connections in the places that you visit. You can give back, too: By hiding a cache in a place you’ve fallen in love with, you can draw other visitors to the area as well and make someone else’s day.