Geocaching brings treasure hunting to Williamstown

When different people hear the word “geocaching” (pronounced JEE-oh-cashing), different things immediately come to mind: some may imagine a mineralogist’s research tool, while others envision a get-rich-quick scheme. In reality, however, geocaching is worldwide treasure-hunting game that involves using a set of GPS coordinates to find hidden objects, called caches, in the real world. While many at the College are totally unfamiliar with the activity, communities of “cachers” are active all over the world, including in Williamstown, and although free-to-find “beginner” caches are fairly sparse, they can offer a fun afternoon of exploring and give potential cachers a taste of what the hobby has to offer.

To get started geocaching, would-be adventurers first need to download the Geocaching app, which is free on both iOS and Android app stores. After making an account, users are brought to a map of their local area overlaid with the approximate locations of nearby geocaches. Some caches, identified in green on the app, are accessible to anyone; when cachers move within the geocache’s radius (about 30 feet), they can access a handful of basic clues, and must begin scouring the area – turning over rocks, poking around in trees – for the cache itself, which usually takes the form of a small box or vial. Inside is a list of all the people who have found the geocache and often a handful of trinkets left by previous cachers. Those who find the cache are encouraged to take one of the knickknacks (objects of all shapes, just about anything that could fit in a pocket) and replace it with something of their own. In this way, cachers can keep a pocketful of memories of the caches they have most recently found, and objects can circulate around the community as people move them from cache to cache. Some even have objectives on them, like one plastic coin, originally deposited in a cache near the East coast, that read “Take me to the Pacific!” As cachers pocket these trinkets and leave them in different geocaches, they help solidify the inexplicable bond that members of the geocaching community feel, despite rarely meeting each other in person.

While this community certainly exists for those who seek it out, geocaching, especially in Williamstown, can make an excellent one-time afternoon excursion as well. Chris Kim ’20 and Emily Elder ’20, despite having no experience in or knowledge of the hobby, still found geocaching to be a great way to spend a warm Sunday. “The idea of little capsules being hidden around otherwise inconspicuous areas is like mini treasure hunt … it’s cool to see these hidden geocaches around such a small town,” Kim said. “It was a fun opportunity to relive my childhood scavenger-hunting glory days and go adventuring with friends,” Elder added. “My favorite part was the thrill of discovery upon finding the geocache and seeing all the little trinkets that people had left over the years.” They both agreed that next time, they would like to bring along more knickknacks for trading, and even some larger items for the handful of bigger, shoebox-sized caches.

After the first few excursions, however, fledgling treasure hunters will soon begin to exhaust the free, “green” caches within walking distance of the College. The more exclusive caches tend to have higher difficulty ratings – they are better hidden, tougher to get to and sometimes even involve solving riddles or visiting different locations to find. While users on normal accounts can see generally where the more advanced caches are, however, they are frustratingly unable to see any of the more specific details needed to seek them out. To fully access these caches, users must upgrade to a Premium account.For those who are particularly fascinated and willing to shoulder the subscription fee, Williamstown does offer a good number of these more intense caches.

Despite the annoying subscription barrier, just sticking to the free caches can still be a rewarding experience. “Geocaching is a spectacular opportunity to get outdoors and explore the community,” cacher Rainer Wasinger ’19 said. “There’s not all that much in Williamstown, but it is definitely a great one-day excursion to find a few caches scattered around town.” Any details about specific caches have been intentionally omitted from this article – that’s for the cachers themselves to discover!