Geocaching offers a pandemic-safe form of sophisticated hide-and-seek, with dozens of caches scattered across the Northwest Territories.
Rachel Roemer and her daughter have been geocaching around Yellowknife since 2014 as a way to encourage being active and spending more time outside.
It quickly turned into something they enjoy doing together every summer, with her daughter excited to go “treasure hunting” when they go out together.
Geocaching usually involves having a GPS, punching in coordinates one by one, and following the route to navigate your way to small containers – known as geocaches – with items inside.
There are currently 215 registered caches in Yellowknife and 358 total active geocaches in the NWT, according to Chris Ronan, the community relations manager of Geocaching HQ.
Ronan says an advantage to the activity right now is that “most of the time we don’t see anybody else when we’re out geocaching.”
Normally placed in areas to make items blend in with their surroundings, caches can be hidden in plain sight or made harder to find.
“People put geocaches out for other people to find them. It generally isn’t about trying to stump everyone,” said Ronan.
Roemer says she loves reading the logs left behind by others who have found the caches before them, while her daughter enjoys swapping out items found in the cache.
“It’s an overall great activity to do alone or with family. It encourages outdoor activity and sparks imagination from the little ones,” she said.
No GPS? No problem
A GPS device can run from $100 to $200, according to the Canadian Wildlife Federation website. That used to make the traditional style of playing the game expensive.
Now, apps like Geocaching – available from the Apple Store or Google Play Store – makes it a more accessible activity.
“There was a barrier to entry there that doesn’t exist now every modern smartphone has GPS in them,” Ronan said.
The Geocaching app makes it easy to find hidden caches with your phone instead of a GPS. Photo: Groundspeak Inc
When using the app, each cache is given a difficulty and a terrain rating from one to five. One is the easiest to access, five means specialized equipment like a kayak or climbing gear may be needed to get to it.
Ronan says looking at the caches beforehand is important to know if you will be able to safely access them. Paying attention to your surroundings and personal physical limits is important when planning out your course.
Examples in Yellowknife
Opening the Geocaching app in Yellowknife reveals dozens of caches within the downtown area alone.
For example, a cache near the offices of newspaper publisher Northern News Services is listed as being “a quick find if you like turquoise.” The description adds: “Tweezers strongly recommended.” The app carries short messages from a number of people who successfully found this one in the past year.
Other caches are located at St Pat’s high school, the legislature, and around Tin Can Hill, though there seems to be a dearth of them in Old Town and Latham Island.
Across town, a string of caches is shown along Deh Cho Boulevard, then more fan out across the roads heading west and north from Yellowknife.
For the more ambitious Yellowknifer, there are some tricky caches to access. One, for example, is located near Banting Lake and would require a snow machine or canoe to reach. (A handful of people have left messages after successfully reaching the cache. “I wasn’t prepared to be mozzie food … so I signed the log quickly,” one reads.)
There are plenty of caches across the NWT far beyond Yellowknife, too. The old South Slave mining community of Pine Point has one, as does Fort Smith, though things seem quieter in the Dehcho, Sahtu, and Beaufort Delta.
How to get started
A GPS or charged smartphone is needed in order to find the caches. Some people opt to bring a map as well. Any type of cellphone should be brought in case of emergencies – let family or friends know before you go out for the day.
It is not uncommon to encounter containers with small items inside. As a geocaching tradition, there is a “take an item, leave an item” rule where you can swap a personal item for one already there.
Other times, there are pieces of paper signed by everyone who has previously found the cache. Having a pen comes in handy.
Some essentials include a flashlight, first-aid kit, water bottle, a pen, a small item to trade, and anything else you may normally need for a typical day outdoors.
Carrying hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes is also a key thing to remember during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ollie Williams contributed reporting.