Geocaching takes off at South Shore: Hundreds compete in GPS treasure hunt
STATELINE – A first-time event that’s growing in popularity across the United States put Lake Tahoe on the map last weekend.
On the official opener to the summer season, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority launched a geocaching treasure hunt ending Sunday.
Lee Szromba combed the south end of Fallen Leaf Lake area to come up with one of two first-prize finds in the wilderness, seizing celebrity golf tournament tickets by the end of the weekend.
“We must have walked four or five miles today,” the 69-year-old South Lake Tahoe man said Sunday evening. He mentioned also being the first to find the cache at Kiva Beach.
More than 400 competitors – about a third registered from Tahoe – tested their navigating skills via a global positioning system designed to get them to within 30 feet of the 50 treasures marked by a box called a cache site. Some were set in the urban environment. Others required a mile-long hike off the beaten path. When found, participants placed their slips in the box and became eligible for more than $10,000 in prizes. They ranged in size from trinkets to hotel stays.
But most geocachers’ motivations lie with the conquest.
Among them, Jim and Cheryl Morgester of Folsom brought their granddaughters from Houston out for the event. Taylor, 12, and Jordan, 15, were helped by 1-year-old Heidi, the Morgester’s golden retriever.
“I hoped she could smell the geocache,” the Morgester patriarch said.
It was the couple’s first event, but they are not strangers to the sport. They’ve gone geocaching for individual sites on the Internet. The duo has gone as far as New Zealand on vacation to find a geocaching site – one of about 220 logged.
Jim Morgester pointed his GPS and followed the needle toward the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course Sunday morning. The unit indicated he was 0.14 miles away, revving up the excitement level of his clan on Father’s Day.
John Chen, chief executive officer of Geoteaming and organizer of the event, joined the family for a few hunts. The Seattle entrepreneur got into geocaching in 2001, taking part in 500 events.
Chen said the event has a way of bringing out the dynamics of a family. For instance, men are known to be hunters when they shop and women gatherers.
Running to keep up with her husband’s pace, Cheryl Morgester agreed with that theory.
She handed the GPS unit to her husband, and he plugged in the location coordinates.
“You know men,” she said, implying they don’t ask for directions. “What I like about it is you can take the dog out for a walk with it.”
With Heidi bounding ahead, the GPS trail led down to the rocks next to the beach at the golf course, where the girls looked for the box. As with all the sites, there were clues and pictures to give the player perspective.
“How could you not love this rock?” read the clue in the player’s treasure-hunt manual.
“I see it,” Taylor yelled out.
At that, Heidi, the retriever jumped in the water for a break in between hunts. Then, the family moved on to the next site – a cache set in the rafters at Edgewood’s gate. Getting out of his chair, the gatekeeper appeared concerned the group would tear up the plants in the flower bed to find the box.
The next site took the family to Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. They searched in vain for the box next to the Pony Express rider statue.
“I didn’t think this one would be this hard,” Cheryl Morgester said.
But Chen said the ones that look easy can amaze any participant.
Geocaching is a friendlier version of orienteering, which involves using a map and compass to locate a destination. The sport has a ways to go but is fast catching on with growing worldwide prominence.
Cheryl Morgester said a local hotel clerk “looked at her like she was from outer space” when she inquired about the event.
“We are (from outer space). We’re geocaching,” Chen replied.