If your favorite childhood game was a treasure hunt, then geocaching may be your new favorite hobby. Geocaching — a worldwide treasure hunt — was brought to Western Washington University by the Associated Students Outdoor Center on Dec 6th.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt activity that takes participants on an adventure based on coordinates and clues provided via a mobile phone app.
The goal is to find containers called caches that other geocachers have left. Anything from a button to a small toy could be left behind in these caches. It's encouraged that once you find a cached item, you switch it out with an item of your own.
Geocaching was created in 2000 after the U.S. government unscrambled GPS signals, which is a satellite-based navigation system. Unscrambling the signals, allows researchers to make more precise measurements. Chris Ronan, the senior public relations manager at Geocache Headquarters, said GPS signals had never been more accurate.
Dave Olmar, the first geocacher, tested the accuracy of these signals by hiding a container, marking the coordinates and challenging people to go find it. Months later, Jeremy Irish created the website https://www.geocaching.com/play which went live on Sept. 2, 2000.
Geocaching offers a unique perspective to find places you may have never heard of, anywhere in the world — even in your neighborhood.
“People get stuck in their routine. Finding geocaches introduces you to new places you never knew were there,” Ronan said.
Britta Sloan, a fourth-year student at Western and the excursion coordinator for the Outdoor Center, was the brains behind Western’s own geocache adventure.
“We needed one more event for the quarter, and the Outdoor Center has never hosted a geocaching adventure,” Sloan said.
Mars Wetzbarger is a third-year student at Western, who has geocached around Western’s campus.
“I think it is fun because there were scavenger hunts as a kid, and I wanted to be an adventurer,” Wetzbarger said.
There are five levels of difficulty for finding caches. A level one difficulty could be found within a few minutes of searching for it, and a level five is more of a mental challenge or may require special tools to open it up.
The difficulty of terrain is also ranked on five levels of difficulty. A level one is less than 0.5 miles, and the highest level could require special equipment to reach, such as rock climbing gear or even kayaking, said Ronan.
Mina Koultnow is a fourth-year at Western who has been geocaching since she was seven years old, and started to do it more frequently when COVID-19 closed down some of her favorite spots in Seattle to hang out with her friends.
“Everything was closed, we couldn’t do our typical hobbies. We were able to geocache together, that really got us outside,” Koultnow said.
Once COVID-19 ended, Koultnow expressed that she had minimal time to go geocaching. Despite that, she encourages others to try it out and believes it is a great opportunity for people to get outside.
“It can really bring people together and help you make friends. It’s always available and a fun opportunity,” Koultnow said.
Getting started with geocaching is easy and free. After downloading the geocaching app, users are brought to a map showing all the geocaches in their area.
Once a cache is found, geocachers snap a picture and log their find in the log book both on the app and in the cache. However, some caches require an upgrade to the premium version of the app to unlock more caches, which costs $39.99 a year or $6.99 a month.
There are around 10 to 15 geocaches around Western’s campus, and it's a very accessible activity for students given it’s free of cost, Sloan said.
“It gets you more in touch with Western and shows you new spots around campus,” Sloan said.
By using preexisting caches around campus and the Sehome Hill Arboretum, event leaders took the group out on the adventure to go and search for the caches.
All over the Western campus, geocaches can be found, Wetzbarger said. By just taking a walk next to the Wade King Recreation Center, there's one right underneath the George Washington flag pole.
“It's a good way to connect with nature. It’s not just a walk, it's a goal to find a goodie,” Wetzbarger said.
Hannah Quinton (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year planning on going into journalism/public relations with a minor in international business. Outside of reporting, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading and yoga. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.