Those who cairn too much

balzaccom

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I got a lot of feedback from a recent blog post on my website about trailwork to Lake Margaret. Lots of people wondering why we are taking down cairns. It's pretty simple: they're unnecessary. And part of Leave No Trace is to ...you know...Leave No Trace. I knocked down more than 130 cairns in 4 miles on this trail. I left three.

So here's my summary of cairn policy.

Should you ever put up a cairn? Before you do, ask yourself this question: Am I lost? If you are lost, don't put up a cairn. It will just confuse anyone who follows you. If you are not lost, then you don't need to put up a cairn. You found your way just fine. Please allow other hikers to do the same.


If you can see where the trail goes, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see the trail behind you, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see a log cut for the trail, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see a blaze on a tree, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see a strip of plastic ribbon, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see footprints in the dirt or sand, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see a path through the grass, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see branches outlining the trail, Don't put up a cairn.

If you can a cairn ahead or behind you, don't put up a cairn.

If it's obvious where the trail goes, don't put up a cairn.

If you are moved to create artwork with natural materials, do it in your garden at home. Don't put up a cairn.

And if you do put up a cairn to help you find you way back....take it down on your way back.

When in doubt, don't put up a cairn.
 
Love this. The only time they've been helpful for me is in finding my way across large expanses of slick rock, sand, and brush on the Colorado Plateau. If there's a easily visible trail, then there's no need at all.
 
If you are moved to create artwork with natural materials, do it in your garden at home. Don't put up a cairn.
One of my big pet peeves is people building huge "decorative" cairns. I view it as vandalism/graffiti/whatever you want to call it, and react accordingly.
Boggles my mind that people go somewhere beautiful, and can only think of ways to deface it.

I've only had the opportunity to interrupt the process twice, at Zion and a SNA in TN, but both times it was probably a shock to the other people involved as I kicked over their "artwork" before scattering it in all directions.
"What's wrong, did you forget your spray paint?" is what I ask them.

I don't see much of that in the backcountry. It's usually on easy trails with easily accessible THs.
The one at Zion was on the Taylor Creek Trail, and had 4 people working on it.
It was over 6ft. tall.

Make that 3 times. I got roped into a dayhike with a cousin and some of her inlaws last December. Had to stop two of the kids(15-18, young "adults") who were smashing rocks into a tree, and throwing some that were the size of cinder blocks over a cliff-right down onto where people stand to get the best view of the waterfall we were headed to. They could have literally killed someone.
The other started building a cairn right in the trail.
-What are you doing?
"I'm building a monument to myself."

I suppose that's the mentality(?).
 
Ikl
While I appreciate all the enthusiasm here for knocking down cairns, I should point out that my original post was based on a USFS trail crew project. We were AUTHORIZED to take those puppies down!
call and get a permit to do it ...wait ...none needed .. most cairns are a joke and can be eyesores... They put them in canyons, stream bottoms, next to well worn trails, 59 ft apart, etc. ....the ones on open untrammeled areas get left..
 
last fall I was walking in Burro Wash in CRNP and there were a ton of cairns outside of the park boundary, just incredibly silly. then, once I crossed into the park, almost zero. love those park rangers! :)
 
demolishing other people's cairns is often mean spirited and self righteous. I bet some cairn destroyers probably secretly envy what Isis did in Palmyra, Nimrud, etc and what the Taliban did to the Buddhas of Bamiyan
 
destroying other's cairns is often mean spirited and self righteous. Probably some degree of secret envy for what Isis did in Palmyra, Nimrud, etc and what the Taliban did to the Buddhas of Bamiyan

How about on the facebook or whatever page of those who like knocking over cairns, "So & So, Destroyer of Cairns" --- not as grand as "Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds" but it still has some gravitas
 
also, glad I did the Boulder Mail Trail before the cairn-oclasts have been there
 
also, glad I did the Boulder Mail Trail before the cairn-oclasts have been there
I don't think many if any users here would advocate for kicking down cairns on slick rock traverses with no other directional indicators. This is all about doing it on clearly marked trails where there is absolutely no purpose for them, just like in the video.

Really got a kick out of your comparison of people following LNT to religious extremists destroying ancient cities and monuments with UNESCO designations.
 
also, glad I did the Boulder Mail Trail before the cairn-oclasts have been there
Give me a break...... who put the rock in your shoe.....
 
In virtually all cases, cairns are meaningless visual clutter. On trail, what is the point? Off trail, they tend to focus people on the same path, which is not what you want on off-trail routes. They destroy a sense of spontaneity in route-finding and who is to say that the cairn builder was on the best (any?) route? And why would you trust that the cairn is the actual route? You have no idea as to who built it, why it was constructed, or where the builder was going. Learn to read a map and just as importantly, how to read terrain to determine a viable route, and ignore, or better yet, knock down the cairns.
Steve Roper, the great Sierra mountaineer who designed the High Sierra Route encouraged cairn dismantling in his 1982 guidebook to that fabulous route. He had this to say: "The High Route in the vicinity of Gabbot Pass is cursed with an inordinate number of ducks, those piles of rock constructed by well-intentioned hikers who imagine they are the only ones capable of finding the easiest route. These ducks-distracting, unnecessary, and often misleading-spoil the sense of adventure for hikers who believe, however falsely, that they are explorers wandering across uncharted lands."
 
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Steve Roper, the great Sierra mountaineer who designed the High Sierra Route encouraged cairn dismantling in his 1982 guidebook to that fabulous route. He had this to say: "The High Route in the vicinity of Gabbot Pass is cursed with an inordinate number of ducks, those piles of rock constructed by well-intentioned hikers who imagine they are the only ones capable of finding the easiest route. These ducks-distracting, unnecessary, and often misleading-spoil the sense of adventure for hikers who believe, however falsely, that they are explorers wandering across uncharted lands."
My thoughts exactly... I couldn't remember where I read this, but it sprang to mind when I first stumbled across this post. I dislike cairns in general, but I don't waste much time thinking about them - and I definitely don't follow them.
 
Besides a lot go nowhere because they cairn and then they end....
What one persons route is not necessarily (usually) not mine or anyone else's....
I will still knock redundant ones over, but don't care if others leave them.
 
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