The topography of Canada and the United States, west of Lake Superior and North of the forty-second parallel, was determined between 1793 and 1812. With the exception of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, fur traders from the American and Canadian fur trading companies did all of the early exploration. These fur traders were either accompanied by Native Americans, or Native Americans told them about the major passes and routes through the Rocky Mountains.
The French explorers who mapped the shores of America’s Great Lakes were not trained in surveying. When we look at the maps they drew, in the 1600s and 1700s, there are many mistakes. Modern surveying had to wait, in any case, until the invention of a reliable chronometer watch that could be used to observe astronomical objects and precisely fix longitudes. The inventor who assembled the first longitudinal chronometer was an Englishman, a Mr. John Harrison, and he and his successors sold chronometers to the “sea dogs” of the Royal Navy. Starting in the late 1700s, the Royal Navy calibrated its chronometers by the longitude of its headquarters in Greenwich, a suburb of London, and the longitudinal numbers that flash on our GPS devices are based upon Greenwich to this day. Determining one’s precise location, which now can be done with the push of a button or two on a smart phone, then required tedious observations of several known angles – such as the elevation of the North Star – and then complex arithmetical calculations by the light of a grimy window, a candle, or an oil lamp.
The word CACHE stirs up visions of pioneers, gold miners, pirates and FUR TRADERS. Fur traders and early explorers often “cached” their goods. When Lewis and Clark were hiring men in and around Mackinac Island’s great rival, St. Louis, in 1803; they hired many trained fur traders. Two years later in 1805, pushing up the Missouri River into what is now western Montana, these men saw the Rocky Mountains rising in front of them. They knew they would be coming back, so they carefully memorized certain sections of the riverbank, dug at least two separate holes, deposited some of the goods that they did not want to portage over the mountains, and called the holes “caches.”
In 1806 the successful explorers, who had reached and wintered on the Pacific coast, re-crossed the mountains and retrieved their hoards. Lewis was sad, however, he admitted in his journal, that at least one of the caches, containing valuable bearskins, had gotten wet and the furs were ruined. Later fur traders learned how to dig and line relatively waterproof caches by searching for patches of well-drained sandy high ground and using grease, tallow, wax, or some other waterproofing agent to try to seal valuable goods.
Each cache was buried secretly and the extra dirt was piled on a blanket or hide and taken to a stream where it could be washed away. Other tricks to hiding a cache include digging up the floor within the walls of a tent, burying the cache and then camping over it for a period of days to tamp down the dirt and remove any sign of the hole. Many trappers would build a campfire over the cache as well. Sometimes, it was over a year before the trapper returned to their cache and to find it they made rough maps, identifying a large mound of dirt over here…a unique tree over there…a big boulder…They would then note the location of the cache by pacing the distance to the cache from each identified landmark.
Let’s fast forward to the current century. Although modern technology has given ease to what was once tedious, man’s desire to seek and discover has not waned. We experience a Bill Murray type of “Groundhog Day” each day we live by getting up, going to work, doing the sleep thing and starting all over again most days of our lives. It’s no wonder our desire for diversity and adventure is often achieved during our “down-time” by getting ourselves lost in the great outdoors.
On May 2, 2000, at approximately midnight, eastern savings time, twenty-four satellites around the globe simultaneously processed new orders and instantly the accuracy of GPS technology improved tenfold.
An announcement, the day before, came as a welcome surprise to everyone who worked with GPS technology. The government planned to remove selective availability of GPS completely by 2006.
On May 3, 2000, Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, wanted to test the accuracy of the now publically available GPS tracking by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” and posted it on an internet GPS users’ group. Dave placed his own container, a black bucket, in the woods by Beavercreek, Oregon, which is near to Portland. Along with a logbook and pencil, he left various prize items including videos, books, software, and a slingshot. He shared the waypoint of his “stash” with the online community on sci.geo.satellite-nav:
N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800
Within three days, two different readers read about his stash on the Internet, used their own GPS receivers to find the container, and shared their experiences online. Throughout the next week, others excited by the prospect of hiding and finding stashes, began hiding their own containers and posting coordinates. Like many new and innovative ideas on the Internet, the concept spread quickly.
Within the first month, Mike Teague, the first person to find Ulmer’s stash, began gathering the online posts of coordinates around the world and documenting them on his personal home page. The “GPS Stash Hunt” mailing list was created to discuss the emerging activity. Names were even tossed about to replace the name “stash” due to the negative connotations of that name. And Geocaching was born.
GEO: for Earth, was used to describe the global nature of the activity, but also for its use in familiar topics in gps such as geography.
CACHE: The French word invented in 1797, referred to a hiding place someone would use to temporarily store items.
For the first few months, geocaching was confined to existing experienced GPS users who already used the technology for outdoor activities such as backpacking and boating. Those users had an existing knowledge of GPS and a firm grasp of the obscure lingo used. New players had a steep learning curve before going out on their first cache hunt and tools were initially scarce for this new game.
Jeremy Irish, a web developer for a Seattle company, stumbled upon Mike Teague’s website in July 2000 while doing research on GPS technology. The idea of treasure hunting and using tech-gadgets represented the marriage of two of his biggest interests. Discovering one was hidden nearby; Jeremy purchased his first GPS unit and went on his first hunt the following weekend.
After experiencing the thrill of finding his first cache, Irish decided to start a hobby site for the activity. Adopting the term geocaching, he created Geocaching.com and applied his professional web skills to create tools to improve the cache-hunting experience. The cache listings were still added by hand, but a database helped to standardize the listings. Additional features, like searching for caches around zip codes, made it easier for new players to find listings for nearby caches.
With Mike Teague’s valuable input, the new site was completed and announced to the stash-hunting community on September 2, 2000. At the time the site was launched there were a mere 75 known caches in the world.
Slashdot, a popular online magazine for techies, reported the new activity on September 25, 2000, introducing a larger group of technology professionals to the activity. The New York Times picked up the story and featured it in its “Circuits” section in October, starting a domino effect of articles written in magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets around the world. CNN even did a segment in December 2000 to profile the new hobby.
The growing community chanted the mantra “If you hide it, they will find it” to the newer players. After some reassurances, pioneers of the hobby started placing caches just to see whether people would go find them. They did.
Through word of mouth, press articles, and even accidental cache discoveries, more and more people have become involved in geocaching. First started by technology and GPS enthusiasts, the ranks of geocachers now include couples, families, and groups from all walks of life. The excitement of the hunt appeals to both the inner (and outer) child. Today you can do a search on just about anywhere in the world and be able to walk, bike, or drive to a nearby hidden cache.
Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt that’s happening right now; all around you using GPS enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache hidden at that location. There are now 2,590,242 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.
See! Everyone, at heart, wants to be a Mountain Man!
If you are bringing your family up to camp and visit the Rendezvous, consider giving geocaching a go. If you have a boy scout in your family, they can earn a merit badge for participating. This is a FUN, FUN activity for the entire family!
Dana is a member of Groundspeak and Geocaching.com. If you have any initial questions about this activity, please feel free to leave a comment below and she will reply. Or, you may contact her by email with your questions: