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Geocaching Files: Amazing Search and Rescue Stories

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/22/2009

Geocaching is a popular and ever growing outdoor activity that has many folks wandering over hill and dale in search of stashed prizes with the help of portable GPS devices. But here are some intriguing search and rescue stories involving geocachers that go above and beyond the call to recreation.

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    Tales from the Trails

    Nothing enhances the likeability of a recreational activity more than a couple of intriguing stories about it that you can later share with fellow enthusiasts. So next time you’re out on the prowl for a cache taking instructions from your portable handheld GPS about where to go next, retell these tales to spark a little more interest. These same tales, depending upon the amount of sarcasm your comrades employ, might also spark a comment such as “Thank you so much for that bit of useless information.” But the fact remains that no matter how advanced our technology gets, the value of a good tale told by a human has yet to become outmoded.

    There are likely two schools of thought that operate within the bounds of the geocaching community. The first believe that it is the hunt, the process of seeking and bringing to bear their native-GPS assisted skills set to track down the geocache stash at the end of each journey. Perhaps they cling to the credo which states “life is a journey and not a destination.” Perhaps that group buys Cracker Jacks for the taste and not the prize at the bottom of each box.

    Then there is the other school that is in it for the prize, the end-result. This set will not be so pleased with the same old run of the mill stashes in the geocache box (the same old story) at the end of the satellite-assisted hide and seek game. This crew is going to want some variety, originality, and perhaps a proverbial Holy Grail when their geocaching day is done. Making That Geocache Stash Very Difficult to Find would be a good read for these types, incidentally.

    With that said, either school of geocaching enthusiasts will appreciate a couple of intriguing stories about amazing geocaching finds – search and rescue stories that encapsulate pragmatic and even life-saving byproducts of this recreational activity. Geocaching is actually a very helpful exercise for search and rescue personnel to employ since many times they have to find stranded, lost, and hurt people in the wild in a similar manner to the way geocachers track down what they’re looking for. Even more so when rescue workers actually have GPS coordinates to work with. At any rate, a little light reading here will make you eager to get back out there and enjoy the great outdoors and seek what you should find.

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    Injured Geocacher Rescued in the Dark Wilds

    Elkhorns, Muskrat Creek 017 

    So, what are some of the exciting occurrences taking place on the fringes of this outdoor scavenger hunt and the machines in outer space which make it possible? This first story shows that geocaching with your cell phone is always a good idea even when you’re in a remote area where you might not think you’ll get coverage.

    In the somewhat remote Gifford Lakes region in Washington State, a lone geocacher left the trail and fell some 30 feet off a cliff. Since his knee was badly injured, he was left immobile. Luckily, since his cell phone was operational and his GPS device gave him precise coordinates, rescue personnel where able to locate and extract the injured treasure-seeker in very challenging nighttime conditions. The rescue crew was certified in such operations only a few mere months before this occurrence. Now because of this story some might advocate that one should never geocache alone. I wouldn't necessarily agree so long as you're prepared, as this man was with survival gear. Still, the following article might be a good read for the hardy lone wolfs among you; Why Have a Portable GPS with a Beacon?

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    Lost Wreckage Found to Bring Closure for a Distraught Family

    Google Earth Images This second news items involves a missing plane and its occupants which went down in an extremely remote area of Arizona. Search and rescue folks were not able to find the plane right away but a crafty individual utilized the satellite imagery of Google Earth to pinpoint a small forest fire that likely had something to do with the crash. Some GPS devices these days have functions whereby you can upload waypoints and such on topographical Google Earth maps for your own information and convenience. The family of the lost persons set up a website to coordinate rescue volunteers. The rotating, three dimensional viewing capabilities which Google Earth maps provide greatly enhances a methodical searching technique for people on the ground who can easily get confused and unsure in that kind of topography. Amongst others involved in the search were geocachers who were able to report on the public website the places they had been and not found any evidence so that others knew not to look in the same places. In the end, a grieving family was able to put some closure on the unfortunate incident when the plane was found. The mapping capabilities of GPS devices these days are extraordinary especially when combined with Google Earth and the precise determination of latitude and longitude this technology calculates.

    Even with all this GPS satellite and Google satellite imagery, people still get lost and planes still go missing. So it's still the case in many instances that humans on the ground are the fundamental link in search and rescue stories. And in that second story, random geocachers working in concert were able to provide an invaluable service. Hopefully, these remarkable stories involving geocaching have provided you with even more incentive to get out there. And if you’re looking for the best GPS makes and models to geocache with, you’ll find it on this Bright Hub channel too.

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    Sources: November 4, 2009 by Tara Ballenger

    Tech Crunch, April 25, 2009 by MG Siegler