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December 08, 2016
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Geocaching: the hunt for cache

Geocacher Chris Mackey acted as guide for the author’s first geocaching experience. Mackey and another acclaimed geocacher in the Northeast have found and stashed thousands of caches.
Photos by Billy Templeton

In addition to leading the group Northeast Pennsylvania Geocachers, Chris Mackey is one of the preeminent designers of geo-coins in the world. A geo-coin is a metal or wooden medallion used as a common and often coveted form of treasure in geocaching. Groups or individual geocachers design their own unique coins that represent personal significance; these are then cached and shared with others. Specific geo-coins are sought and collected, and many coins contain a tracking ID so cachers can log the location of the coin. Its journey, which often spans the globe, can be recorded and followed by all.

I met Chris at his office in the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce building on a warm, late summer morning for a crash course in geocaching. Before we set out on our hike through the Merli-Sarnoski Park in Jermyn, PA, Chris explained that, although geocaching does not require more than a pair of sneakers and a smartphone, it is essential to the spirit of geocaching that all cachers follow a few ground rules while treasure hunting.

First, he stressed the importance of treading lightly and of practicing the “Leave No Trace” philosophy while hiking in order to minimize the impact on nature. Second, it is understood that one should not take something from the geocache without replacing it with something of equal or greater value. This practice of anonymous gift-giving and reciprocity is what defines the heart of geocaching and has connected people from all walks of life, while creating a strong community that extends all over the world.

Chris led the way through the park to our first cache using his handheld GPS. The trails were well maintained and he walked at a brisk pace, occasionally glancing down at his GPS to make sure we were heading in the right direction. The coordinates brought us to a stop at an inconspicuous pile of rocks just off of the main trail. There, behind a mismatched slab of bluestone, we spotted the cache—a military ammo box. Ammo boxes are the gold standard of containers because they are waterproof and animal resistant, and they have plenty of room for “swag,” or trade items. This cache contained sundry items, from personal trading cards to a matchbox car.