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GPS units add to thrill of the chase in the Sierras

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GPS units add to thrill of the chase in the Sierras

Postby ERIC » Sun Oct 30, 2005 3:45 pm

Through California on electronic treasure hunt

GPS units add to thrill of the chase in the Sierras.

By John Flinn
San Francisco Chronicle
Posted October 30 2005


http://www.sun-sentinel.com/travel/prin ... avel-print

Fish Camp, Calif. · I am a human cruise missile, zigging and zagging through the forest with the same technology that guides our military's smart bombs to their bridges and bunkers.

If all goes to plan, data beamed from a cluster of navigational satellites 22,240 miles overhead will steer me unerringly to my target: a bucket with some tchotchkes in it.

This relatively new pastime -- basically a high-tech scavenger hunt -- is called geocaching, and it's become wildly popular among owners of handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) units. It's so popular, in fact, that the Tenaya Lodge, just outside Yosemite National Park near Wawona, has begun offering a geocaching program along with its nature hikes and horseback riding outings. I signed up for it recently to sample both the sport and the hotel.

Built 15 years ago and renovated recently, the 244-room Tenaya Lodge is the grandest of Yosemite's perimeter "gateway" hotels catering to the park's overflow and visitors who prefer to put a little distance between themselves and Yosemite Valley's bustle.

Tenaya Lodge began offering the geocaching program this fall, and I was one of the first to sign up. Essentially, the sport is a cross between orienteering and a treasure hunt using high-tech navigation. Someone hides a "cache" -- typically a plastic or metal bucket with a lid -- with a logbook and some goodies in it and publishes the precise latitude and longitude on the Web. The goal is to dial those coordinates into your handheld GPS unit and have it lead you to the stash.

Since the sport began in 2000, it has grown exponentially. According to Geocaching.com, there are 202,735 caches in 218 countries.

"Some people call it a hobby," said Bryan Roth, co-founder of Groundspeak, the Web site's parent company, "and others call it an addiction."

Geocachers are continually adding new wrinkles to the sport. Some transport little objects from cache to cache around the world, a high-tech twist on the famous traveling gnome.

Tenaya Lodge offers both a hiking and a mountain biking version of its geocaching program. I signed up for the former. At the hotel's activity counter I was handed a small backpack, a box lunch and a Garmin Rino 130 model GPS unit, which was about the size of a small walkie talkie.

When I switched on the unit, it locked onto four satellites in geostationary orbit -- meaning they appear to hover over one point on the globe -- and spat out our elevation (5,288 feet) and our exact location (37 degrees, 26.402 minutes by 119 degrees, 36.237 minutes.) Depending on how well it linked up with the satellites, it was accurate to anywhere from 25 to 100 feet. With various "waypoints" pre-programmed, the GPS unit directed my wife, Jeri, and me down a series of increasingly rough dirt roads -- the last was four-wheel-drive territory -- and beeped to alert me at various junctions.

I was beginning to wonder about the point of the hike when we reached the last waypoint and found ourselves staring up gape-jawed at our own private grove of giant sequoias.

As I reached each waypoint I dialed in the next one, and the gizmo's arrow pointed me in the right direction. After a few minutes I arrived at a little metal pail tucked into the bushes. I'd found my treasure.

Inside was a disposable camera with which I was invited to photograph myself for the hotel's Web site, a logbook to sign and a handful of goodies: squashed pennies with the Tenaya Lodge logo.

Under the rules of geocaching, I was supposed to take one and leave something of my own, but I'd forgotten to bring anything.

___________________________________________________________

If you go: Yosemite

Tenaya Lodge is located on Highway 41 in Fish Camp, two miles outside Yosemite National Park's Wawona entrance.

Where to stay: The lodge's "Geocaching, Sierra Style" package runs through Nov. 22 and starts at $202 for hikers and $214 for mountain bikers. http://www.tenayalodge.com.

For more info: Visit http://www.nps.gov/yose or call 209-372-0200.



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Postby Ranboze » Tue Nov 01, 2005 7:43 pm

I can save ya a bunch of $$$!!

As a well seasoned geocacher (been caching since November 2001), I have cached heavily in the eastern sierra. As a matter of fact, geocaching is what has taken me back to the sierra, and to places I never would have gone. Mammoth has been a portal of various activities for me for over 25 years - Ive skied there, hiked, fished, etc... Since geocaching in the area, Ive been to places I never knew existed and just stood in awe. This summer I bagged five year old unfound eastern sierra caches, virgin caches as we call them. I say all this with a bit of trepidation as I know there are some who look at this sport as geolitter, but I won't even bother to go there. I have hiked and climbed places I wouldn't have otherwise; I have visited secret mining camps, mini slot canyons, and vista overlooks... all for sake of cache. As a matter of fact, my current avatar... me with the lawn jockey was taken at a virtual cache in the middle of the desert.

Im happy to share my knowledge for free! And as an old-timer geocacher, I would hope to impart the true spirit and adventure of the game as it was conceived.
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Postby gdurkee » Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:02 pm

Eeeek. Boy, I would really hate to start getting a rep as a resident grinch, but I'd really like to hear the difference between geocaching and leaving garbage under a rock?? The backcountry does not need more junk -- it really and truly doesn't. I've spent years picking garbage up and, to me, there's no difference between a wad of aluminim foil and a camera in a bucket.

How about something like "cool spot" caching. Instead of leaving a trail to junk, you leave coordinates to a cool spot. After all, the example given was to an outstanding Giant Sequoia Grove. Why ruin it with the camera and bucket. Wasn't the Grove more than enough?

Sigh.

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Postby Ranboze » Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:16 pm

As you know, Mr Ranger, physical caches are not allowed in national parks, national monuments and some wilderness areas. The geocaching community has been torn apart by exactly what you are referring to as, "cool spots"... aka virtual caches. Virtual caches are no longer permissable in the traditional geocaching. An offshoot of geocaching, called waymarking is indeed designed for virtual caches. I, for one, was very sad to see the disappearance of virtual caches.

Nobody likes geolitter. Im sure I don't like litter in the backcountry any more than you. I can also say, that caches have also gotten me back into the backcountry and renewed my passion for the eastern sierra. Unfortunately, like any hobby or sport, there are those who take care of the hobby and those who abuse it. Do we prohibit backpacking because some backpackers from leave TP along the trails, defecate near streams and campsites and leave cliff bar wrappers along thet trail?

How about those summit registers? One can argue that summit registers are much like physical caches. They are a non-organic material left in the wilderness for enthusiasts to visit and log their well earned trek. Sounds a lot like a physical cache with log book.
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Postby gdurkee » Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:40 pm

Ha! Who knew there was such intense debate about these things? A whole debate I'm totally unfamiliar with... . The debate between "virtual" vs. "real" seems too weird for me. Bummer they don't go for the "virtual" thing -- seems more in keeping with the spirit and philosophy of the great out of doors. Thanks for filling me in. Glad there's some sort of governing body. Actually, I didn't know that it wasn't allowed (by the geo community) in backcountry and wilderness areas because, alas, we get a lot of them so I thought (and still think) that there's a lot of encouragement -- if not "official" approval -- to do it there.

I'm cheerfully for anything that gets people out of their carports. I do get a little grumpy, though, when many of these activities seem to require changing the very nature of the place being visited. Why do we insist on leaving stuff everywhere we go? (That's a rhetorical question and no answer is needed....). People are actually getting much better (than, say, 20 & 30 years ago) at not leaving litter -- by actual numbers we're taking out far less than we were 20 years ago. So the geocaching seemed like a step backwards. I'm glad to hear, though, that at least it's not officially encouraged.

For whatever it's worth, I'm with you also on the summit registers. The NPS, for instance, is discouraging the placement of any more (though it's far too late). I'd support taking them out completely.

Thanks again & take care,

George
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Postby Ranboze » Tue Nov 29, 2005 10:05 pm

Debate is good. Hopefully, debate helps everyone see all sides to the issues and not just their own. Perhaps through that awareness, a greater respect is gained by all sides, and enduring solutions can be implemented. :)
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Postby Red Iguana » Sat Jan 14, 2006 10:48 am

As a fellow geocacher, I'd like to add a couple of points, hopefully w/o fueling a p-match.
One aspect of caching is called CITO, which stands for cache in, trash out. This aspect is heavily promoted within the sport, and you will regularily find CITO bags placed in caches. This is a encouragement to "trash out" all those powerbar wraps, water bottles and other debris that you cursed on your hike in.
Another point is that as with any group, you are going to find all kinds. Typically, the further from a trailhead you search a cache, the more respect for nature and fellow hikers will be applied. While I am sure they do exist, most back country caches are not going to be the bucket and camera setup, rather it will most likely be a "micro", that was thought out in placement, as to draw little interest and attention from either two legged or four legged visitors. I think that most cache placements are much more discreet than those colored ribbons tied to trees as trail marks (usually forgotten about and left).
New caches must be approved through the website, before being posted. The volunteers who do approvals are most likely also outdoors types, and they do have stringent guidelines. They will not likely bless new caches that are an eyesore, will attract unwanted attention, or are placed on NP lands.
That said, I certainly can understand those whose position is no caches whatsoever. I have nothing but respect for your position, if that is how you feel. I chose to cache, and I will always be mindful of fellow hikers, cachers, landowners, parks, and most importantly, wildlife. I hope that we can all co-exist.
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Postby SteveB » Mon Feb 13, 2006 10:30 pm

What are your fave geocaching websites? I'm thinkin' about getting into it as an alternative sport while the biking trails are still wet and crappy. Suggestions for getting started?
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Postby dave54 » Mon Feb 13, 2006 11:12 pm

SteveB wrote:What are your fave geocaching websites? I'm thinkin' about getting into it as an alternative sport while the biking trails are still wet and crappy. Suggestions for getting started?


geocaching.com is the one I use.

I currently am in the planning stages of a 5/5 multicache inside a wilderness (already have verbal approval) that will take a minimum of a couple of days backpacking to complete.
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Postby Red Iguana » Tue Feb 14, 2006 8:13 am

Yes, geocaching.com is the best place to learn about caching and also the best source for caches.
You can go to the forums to research GPS units, getting the pros and cons. Set up an account for free and you can find and keep tabs on caches in proximity to your home.
My suggestion is to think about what you may use the GPS for beyond just caching before making a purchase. Be aware that there are limitations to reception when you are in the mountains and forests.
Oh, one more thought. Keep it simple at first. Each cache has a difficulty rating. Stay within the 1 and 2 star caches to get a feel for the hunt and grow from there.
Good luck. Happy trails.
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Postby SteveB » Tue Feb 14, 2006 12:20 pm

Red Iguana wrote:My suggestion is to think about what you may use the GPS for beyond just caching before making a purchase.


I already have an old Magellan 315 that I've been using for backpacking, hiking, 4WD trail exploring, and such for years, so the hardware won't be an issue. :) Just more curious about levels of difficulty, general rules of geopcaching beyond the obvious, and so on. :)
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