The Sport of Geocaching Kicks Off

On this day in 2000, the sport of geocaching kicked off when Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Oregon, placed the first geocache and posted its coordinates on the online newsgroup Usenet: 45°17.460’N 122°24.800’W.

Geocaching is a true 21st-century hobby—an internet-based treasure hunt that uses GPS (Global Positioning System) devices to discover secret boxes hidden around the world. Over 5 million people worldwide are involved in this innovative sport, which combines high technology with a very simple premise: one person hides a box anywhere on the planet, and posts its GPS coordinates online, and others use their handheld GPS devices (such as a smart phone with an appropriate app) to try to find it.

Although those searching out the box know where it is geographically, finding it can be quite a challenge as it’s often hidden, perhaps under a rock or up a tree. Inside each box there is a stamp, a pencil, a logbook—in which everyone who opens it writes their name and the date of discovery—and often some cheap “treasure” too, such as toys and trinkets. At the time of writing, there are secret caches in over 100 countries spread across the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

It all started in the summer of 2000. The removal of Selective Availability on GPS resulted in far greater levels of accuracy, and this allowed even small objects to be precisely placed and located. Within only three days of Ulmer’s posting, the secret cache was found and logged by Mike Teague from Vancouver, Washington, and so the sport was born. The very first stash was actually rather impressive: Ulmer had buried a black bucket in the ground, and filled it with books, food, money, software, videos, and even a slingshot! Today a memorial plaque marks the spot.

Of course there has also been the odd hiccup as geocaching has grown in popularity. On the morning of 6 July 2011, Karen Brittain called the police after she spotted a mysterious man acting suspiciously outside her cafe, in the West Yorkshire market town of Wetherby in England. The man had fiddled with a container, hidden it under a flower box, and then walked off while talking on his phone. Brittain called the police, who closed off the entire high street and destroyed the box in a controlled explosion executed by a bomb disposal robot. It was actually just a geocache, of course, and the man she’d reported was just the very last to write in its logbook; he was issued with a police caution for his actions.