Ready for a new kind of adventure? How about going in search of treasure buried on a deserted island, hidden on a peak above a tropical bay or secreted away in an underwater cave? There are thousands of sites like this just waiting to be discovered worldwide through a new sport called geocaching. So, grab your hiking boots, climbing equipment and scuba gear, because excitement awaits!
Geocaching is a relatively new phenomenon in treasure hunting that has already spawned a more challenging version called “extreme geocaching.” Put simply, geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a global activity where a GPS or a GPS-enabled device such as a smart phone is used to help find a hidden container called a “cache.” These caches are popping up along coastlines, underwater and in many other places that are perfect for yacht guests or crew to find. At press time, there were more than 1.5 million caches worldwide and 5 million registered geocachers. There are plenty of opportunities to have a fun treasure hunt, no matter where you are or how extreme you want to get in your search. You can even set your own new caches and register them online.
The treasure or caches can be as small as a pillbox, known as a “micro-cache,” or as large as a treasure chest. Inside each cache is a logbook where you can find out who placed it and who has discovered it before you. In the larger caches, there are also items placed in the box that can be taken by the treasure hunter and replaced with something else of equal or greater value. The contents, or “swag,” are usually small trinkets, souvenirs, coins, costume jewelry or anything that intrepid geocachers deem worthy. There may even be real gold and silver coins, gems and sometimes cash. You never know what you may find in a cache, adding to the exhilaration of the hunt.
In some caches, you’ll find trackable swag such as geocoins, travel bugs or other items that have a registration number on them. The number is activated by the first person that places these trackable items, and when they’re found and moved to another cache, they’re registered online and their travels can be traced.
In order to find out where caches are located, you must first register online at www.geocaching.com. Sign up is free, but a premium membership is available and will probably be worthwhile if you get serious about the sport. Once registered, all you need to do is search for caches in the areas you pick. Then, you download or print the information sheets with the approximate latitude and longitude of the cache, along with clues to help you find its exact hiding place. Each cache is rated by its terrain and its difficulty to find, ranked on a scale of one to five, with one being the easiest and five being the most difficult.
Extreme geocaches usually rate a five for both difficulty and terrain, and are gaining in popularity. The extra challenge of finding a cache that not everybody can locate adds to the thrill of the chase. Most caches are placed where average geocachers can find them, but there are those that only the adventurous and well-equipped can get to. There are even caches that are said to be only accessible by helicopter. As a result of this growing trend, there are several new websites popping up with good information for those seeking an extra thrill. A simple web search will provide an updated list and reviews.
The greatest number of extreme caches seems to involve climbing or repelling, but there are many others that have been placed in areas accessible only by boat or by otherwise gaining access from the water. Underwater caches are growing in popularity and can be found worldwide from the atolls of the South Pacific to the reefs and wrecks of the Mediterranean. They can be found in all depths. Some underwater caches are accessible with snorkeling gear, while others require scuba equipment. There’s even one at a depth of 2,300 meters that’s only accessible by submarine! Some underwater caches are not in waterproof containers, as you would find on land; they can be in pots or vessels with the swag and log inside, or they may be just a single item. A quick search on YouTube or on the geocache forum Groundspeak will show what they could look like, plus there are more tips on where they can be found.
Some caches involve several steps to find and may take you through different environments and activities to get to them. The first coordinates lead you to a clue or clues that will eventually get you in the vicinity of the cache. For example, you may need to paddle, climb and dive to find certain extreme caches, and as the activity evolves, so does the difficulty and commitment required to uncover the treasure. Indeed, many geocachers find themselves not only trying to find a greater quantity of caches, but also find the challenge of ever-more difficult searches more intriguing and enjoyable.
Whether you like a quiet walk on the beach to find a cache, a paddle to a remote island or a dive into the depths in search of adventure, there’s treasure out there waiting for you. Go and find it!
Glenn Hayes is a freelance photographer and writer living in West Central Florida. A second-generation professional photographer and journalist, he specializes in marine photography and writing. He can be reached at www.hayesstudios.com.