I was talking with a friend a while back and the topic turned to geocaching. He rolled his eyes and called it “organized littering.” I was initially defensive about it and said it’s a pretty harmless activity. I cited summit registers as an example of people leaving items in the wilderness that don’t really impact the environment. I also argued that the people who cache items typically hide them pretty well.
He wasn’t convinced, and his point of view got me to thinking. And then I noticed some trends in geocaching that gave me pause. While preparing for my hike to Dry Lakes Ridge, I decided to check and see if there were any geocaches along the trail. What I found astounded me.
When I was hiking regularly in San Diego, I found a geocache here and there. It was a fun addition to hiking when I got a chance. I’ve only found a handful overall and it’s something adventurous to do with my daughter. After seeing the map above, I decided to check the route along Nordhoff Ridge to Nordhoff Peak and Chief Peak.
In simple economics, scarcity adds value, and I originally saw geocaching as a sort of treasure hunt. But if in a 2-mile hike, you can find 20 geocaches, then it just becomes overkill. In addition, many of these geocaches are off-trail, causing seekers of these caches to stumble through the brush, looking for a camouflaged container, and create new use trails.
I see this activity be more suited for urban and suburban environments, where the impact on vegetation would be minimal, but the sheer quantity of caches as seen in the above images are ridiculous. How can you enjoy a hike when you are constantly looking at your GPS and trudging off-trail while looking for a cache?
I believe almost any incentive to get people outside is a good thing, but there is such thing as too much of a good thing.
UPDATE Jan 01, 2013:
To be clear, I never called it organized littering. I actually enjoy geocaching from time to time. But perhaps the discussion could be around an acceptable distance between two geocaches, at least in the wilderness.
When I see a list of many caches along a trail, I think to myself, “Which ones do I choose to find?” If I wanted to do just one, then which one? I have to pogo stick through them all to find what I feel is the right one. If there were just two, or three, one near the trailhead, one about midway and one near the peak, it would be a no-brainer.