A reason for adventure
On a damp March afternoon, Abby Wolfe turns a jaunt on the Coal Creek Trail into a high-tech treasure hunt with the push of a button.
Not only is Wolfe is one of thousands of Washington State geocachers, she is also going on her fourth year as president of the Washington State Geocaching Association.
Geocaching is a booming international game of participants hiding containers — called caches — outdoors and using GPS coordinates to find them. Participants can use a GPS device or even simply download a GPS app to their smartphone to find the geocaches, which contain a finder log and various trinkets to trade.
The geocaches vary in looks from plastic camouflaged to look like a large rock to clear, watertight plastic containers clearly labeled “GEOCACHE.” The caches can be hidden behind logs, next to a tree or in a row of rocks. The main rules to placing a cache are: No digging and leave no trace. When it comes to trading trinkets, such as figurines, buttons, pins or other small items, participants are instructed to trade even or trade up.
“Don’t trade a rock for a matchbox car,” Wolfe says.
It is free to participate and sign up at Geocaching.com, the top geocaching website. After that, it’s as easy as pulling up the app on a smart phone or pressing a few buttons on a GPS device and following the arrows and clues on the screen to the hidden treasure right in front of you.
“It’s goal-oriented hiking,” the Newcastle resident says as she stands in the Coal Creek Natural Area.
Wolfe was already an avid hiker when she first learned about geocaching in 2003. A friend of hers got a GPS device and they used it in Wolfe’s own neighborhood to find four different caches. It became a year-round hobby for her as she moved from San Jose, Calif., to the Seattle area, she says.
By now, she probably knows the state better than many natives, having crisscrossed the state multiple times geocaching. Wolfe says there are approximately 27,000 active geocaches hidden across the state everywhere from city sidewalks to mountaintops and even underwater.
But the activity isn’t just for those ready to scale Mount Rainer – though that’s exactly what geocacher Annie Love did.
Love, who works as the partner programs manager for Geocaching.com – the official geocaching website that tracks all active, registered caches – says it was geocaching that inspired her to train to climb Mount Rainer and find the cache at the top.
While that is a more extreme example of geocaching, Love says there are many wheelchair-accessible caches as well as ones in neighborhoods, parks and various locations in the city. One geocache in the city of Seattle is simply a piece of gum that thousands of people walk by each day, she says.
“There’s a type of caching for everyone,” Love says.
One of the most fun geocaching activities Love has attended on the Eastside is the annual Cache In Trash Out event, which serves as an opportunity for geocachers to give back to the parks that host their hobby.
“I’m finding caches and hanging out with fellow geocachers — people I now call my friends,” she says.
Wolfe is coordinating a CITO event on behalf of WSGA at Cougar Mountain April 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Cougar Mountain trailhead at Newport Way in Issaquah. She is also partnering with Washington State Parks for the Washington State Parks Centennial GeoTour, which kicks off June 7.
The centennial geotour will consist of 100 caches placed in 100 parks throughout the state for participants to find. Wolfe says specially made geocaching coins will be awarded to participants who reach different levels of the high-tech treasure hunt.
For more information about the Washington State Geocaching Association or events mentioned, go to http://www.wsgaonline.org/.
Serving as WSGA’s park liaison is a way for Wolfe to encourage support for geocaching, her favorite recreational activity, and maintain a good working relationship between geocachers and the parks that host them.
“I love the outdoors, and geocaching combines hiking with the lure of the hunt,” she says. “And geocaching takes me to so many cool places I would never have seen otherwise. Even after 10 years, my wish list of places to visit and cache is quite long.”