Getting into Geocaching: High-tech treasure hunts

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The treasure to be found may be different than gold and jewels sought after by pirates, but for many people, high-tech treasure hunting can be just as exhilarating.

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BYU student Travis Hepworth attempts to find a hidden treasure while Geocaching on Tuesday in Provo.
The name of the game is geocaching, an outdoor activity where individuals, friends and families use a GPS or phone application to find and conceal  hidden containers called geocaches or caches. Participants, known as geocachers or cachers, retrieve GPS coordinates from a website and then head out, searching high and low for the prize.

 

“The coordinates bring you to within a 15-foot radius and from there you have to look for the geocache,” said Jon Burrup, a BYU student and avid geocacher. “Sometimes caches are under bushes, sometimes they’re up in trees, sometimes you’re looking at it but you don’t know that’s what it is because the cache container is a fake rock or a fake brick.”

Once found, the geocachers sign the logbook, typically a rolled up piece of paper with their secret geocaching code name and the date. Sometimes there is a secret stash with trinkets inside caches that if taken, must be replaced with an object of equal or greater value.

Cache compartments range in size and shape and can be smaller than a film canister or simply be a sturdy piece of Tupperware. Larger geocaches often use an ammo box to hide their loot.

“The coolest one that I found was in Idaho,” said Nicole Leslie, a 20-year-old humanities major. “It was hidden in a fence on the highway and we had a hard time finding it because the box itself was shaped like a rock.  Then we unscrewed the bottom of it and it was hollow. The container was probably the coolest part about it.”

An added element of fun in geocaching is the reference to those who don’t take part in the activity known as “Muggles,” a name inspired by the Harry Potter series which grew in popularity just as geocaching began.

“It’s not just about finding it, especially if it’s in public,” Burrup said. “If it’s in the city, sometimes you have to be discreet because you don’t want the ‘Muggles’ to see you. That’s part of the game, doing it without anyone seeing you. If you were caught they might go and find the cache and because they don’t know what it is they might break it, take it and they would ruin it.”

Geocachers can go to great lengths to be sure their true activities remain unknown, sometimes pretending their GPS is a cell phone.

“Some people like doing it during the daytime because it makes it more difficult,” said Travis Hepworth, a BYU and geocache enthusiast. “I like doing it a night because it makes you feel more sneaky. There’s something about being in the dark that helps you not be found.”

These hidden treasures are all around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica. On BYU campus alone there are approximately 20 geocaches hidden and within a hundred miles of the Elms Apartments there are 9,521 caches.

Geocachers can continue their search rain, snow or shine all year round and anyone can join by creating a free account at geocaching.com.

“Once we did it for a ward activity,” Hepworth said. “They set up a geocaches for our family home evening, so the whole ward went out searching. It was one of those geocaches where it wasn’t just one plot you had to find. You had to find a bunch of different caches and after you found all six of them you could go and say you found them all and get a prize.”

Geocachers enjoy different aspects of this diverse hunt and have a variety of reasons why they participate. Some said they feel it is a good way to spend time with loved ones, others like discovering new places and some just enjoy the hunt.

“My favorite part is when the geocaches are hidden up mountains or trails that I can follow,” Leslie said.  “The ones in town are pretty fun, but I like the hiking aspect of going up a trail and getting to it, having to crawl through bushes or what not.”

Part of the thrill is knowing what others don’t.

“It would be so much cooler if everyone was doing it but nobody knew everybody was doing it,” Hepworth said. “It’s kind of like a super hero thing. You have your one identity then you have your geocaching identity.”

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