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Cairns and LNT?
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Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Cairns and LNT? on 03/16/2012 07:42:54 MDT Print View

I've always thought of cairns as something hikers did for other hikers (or just themselves) to help them follow a defined route. I was struck last night when reading Chris Townsend's The Backpacker's Handbook, 4th Edition that he said he regularly destroys cairns as they detract from the wilderness experience. Granted, he seems to do mostly off-trail walking so maybe he's mostly referring to ones he finds off-trail. Nevertheless, it got me to thinking that maybe I shouldn't add any more in difficult sections. I can see that building such could violate the "Leave what you find", while aiding in the "Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces" point. "Be Considerate of Other Visitors" could go either way - you're either ruining the unspoiled outdoors or helping them stay on track.

Where do you all fall in this area?

For this discussion let's just stick with cairns and not degenerate into stepping stones across creeks, shelter walls on peaks, etc.

Chris C
(cvcass) - MLife

Locale: State of Jefferson
leave them on 03/16/2012 07:57:40 MDT Print View

I didn't add the cairns I won't knock them down, they could be very old and destroying them could be like vandalizing an historic route. There are many places where cairns have been maintained for well over one hundred years.

Steven Hanlon
(asciibaron) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
never thought of that... on 03/16/2012 08:07:10 MDT Print View

excellent topic. i never thought of cairns and blazes in the LNT context.

i don't mind the smaller, 4-6 stone stacks, but some of the cairns i have seen are elaborate structures that are totally over the top. IMO, cairns need only exist where the trail is painfully difficult to follow, such as across talus, or where a side trail to an overlook leaves the main trail.

i have walked along trails that seemed to have a cairn every 10 feet on very well worn and obvious stretches. i have also walked along trails so poorly marked that i spent some time scratching my head. without fail, the farther from a road, the less well marked the trail.

i'm not sure if i would tear down a massive cairn, but i might kick over a series of redundant smaller ones. or i might not. quite the interesting dilemma you have presented.

Edited by asciibaron on 03/16/2012 08:08:08 MDT.

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
We're critters too on 03/16/2012 09:10:49 MDT Print View

Sounds a bit over-PC to me. The LNT ethic was created because we were destroying natural environments recklessly. If you truly want to LNT, stay out of nature all together.

A cairn isn't destroying anything, and in many if not most environments, is only having an aesthetic effect. A cairn is as much impact as a moose turning over a rock during its step. The fact of the matter is that we're critters of the woods as well, we're going to have an impact, we're going to change things.

If you're that bothered by every cairn, you're probably not spending enough attention enjoying the nature around you. If you suddenly come into an area with a bunch of cairns, there's probably a good reason for them, some sort of tradition, that might enrich your hike once you learn about that reason.

If we travel ethically, then we should see each other as critters of nature too. And cairns are a part of our nature. After all, cairns have been around for thousands of years - why should we suddenly decide we're not part of nature?

John Vance
(Servingko) - F

Locale: Intermountain West
Cairns on 03/16/2012 09:23:53 MDT Print View

I knock them down as well.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Cairns on 03/16/2012 09:28:04 MDT Print View

I don't knock them down. If it's a matter of spoiling the "wilderness experience" then maybe one should just go in wilder, less traveled areas .

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Cairns on 03/16/2012 09:41:49 MDT Print View

I suppose it's a violation of LNT but I just leave them

Even when someone has made a number of artistic stacks of rocks

On some routes they are very useful for finding the route

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Cairns and LNT? on 03/16/2012 09:42:07 MDT Print View

this is an old issue, and not a simple one, with a one size fits all solution.

if there's an existing clear trail, adding cairns is visual trash.

if there's an existing faint trail, where those who are not Danial Boone may wander astray, then maybe an occasional cairn is warranted.

if there is no trail, but its a well used area, then maybe cairns are justified in order to create a use trail and minimize damage to the environment.

if there is no trail in a seldom used wilderness setting, the question is more iffy in my mind.
do you use cairns to keep people from getting off course, or do you not have cairns in order to preserve each persons wilderness exploration experience?
here, I think it depends on the terrain, and you need to take it one spot at a time, no blanket rule.

Steven Hanlon
(asciibaron) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
over the top on 03/16/2012 09:46:53 MDT Print View


not sure why there needed to be one cairn here let alone two. there is no trail here, just a great view of the valley.

not to be out done, a section of the AT has 107 blazes in a 2 mile stretch. i know, i counted them.


IMO, this is worse than the random cairns...

more blazins

this is the shot facing the other direction. there are five blazes in this shot.

Edited by asciibaron on 03/16/2012 09:52:14 MDT.

Mark Regalia
(markr) - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz
Seems pretty selfish to me on 03/16/2012 09:50:33 MDT Print View

What makes this person the arbitrator of the wilderness? Creating cairns is an old and useful practice. There have very little visual impact. Hey we could still be chopping blazes into trees

I personally very seldom set them up. If a route is already makred with them and there is a bad gap in the marking I might. But when I'm in a new area off trail I sometimes find them useful.

This person seems to feel that if he can make it up to a spot without cairns then everyone else should be forced to do the same. What arrogance.

Steven Hanlon
(asciibaron) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Re: Seems pretty selfish to me on 03/16/2012 09:55:24 MDT Print View

"This person seems to feel that if he can make it up to a spot without cairns then everyone else should be forced to do the same. What arrogance."

what arrogance it is to deem the location in need of a cairn. maybe the cairn builder isn't very good at using a map and built the cairn as crutch for others simply based on his inability and thus projecting them to all other wilderness users.

the arrogance cuts both ways.

i have never needed to build a cairn, but i have been grateful that someone had.

Edited by asciibaron on 03/16/2012 09:56:01 MDT.

Mike In Socal
(rcmike) - MLife

Locale: California
the wilderness experience? on 03/16/2012 10:11:50 MDT Print View

"I was struck last night when reading Chris Townsend's The Backpacker's Handbook, 4th Edition that he said he regularly destroys cairns as they detract from the wilderness experience."

I suppose one could take different viewpoints but who gave him or anyone else the right to determine what others' wilderness experience should be like? That is a rather selfish point of view.

Steven Hanlon
(asciibaron) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
selfishness on 03/16/2012 10:17:03 MDT Print View

it seems that both sides of this coin are selfish - building a cairn and removing it.

my future compromise solution is to never build one and to ignore the ones i see. i will just exist in nature.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Cairns and LNT on 03/16/2012 10:17:17 MDT Print View

The problem is people believing that a place visited by many people is wilderness.

Steven Hanlon
(asciibaron) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Re: Cairns and LNT on 03/16/2012 10:25:43 MDT Print View

"The problem is people believing that a place visited by many people is wilderness."

but it sez so on the map :)

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Cairns on 03/16/2012 10:31:34 MDT Print View

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland, and as such, is climbed by many folk who ordinarly never set foot outdoors. There is a well worn, clear trail to the summit. At least if there is no snow it is clear. Add snow and cloud, then it easy for someone un-used to navigating to become lost.
The Ben is surrounded by steep cliffs and gullys, popular with summer and winter climbers. Huge cornices form to catch the unwary. Every year folk were killed following the many cairns that littered the summit. Many of the cairns were made by climbers to help locate the top of routes.
Recently, all the cairns were removed, except for the ones showing the safe way down.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
snow or no on 03/16/2012 10:38:03 MDT Print View

Remember that what may be a very obvious trail in summer, with no need for cairns, can be completely hidden in winter or spring unless there are cairns marking the route.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Re: Cairns and LNT on 03/16/2012 10:48:12 MDT Print View

"The problem is people believing that a place visited by many people is wilderness."

"but it sez so on the map :)"

That made me chuckle!

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Snow or No Snow on 03/16/2012 10:58:59 MDT Print View

Stephen has a good point. Its not just a matter of conviences. The more people are able to follow the real trail the less likely they are to beat scores of unofficial routes (not LNT).
I don't build cairns but I leave them where I find them. They may be there for a good reason that I'm unaware of (I've seen them used to help mark the boundaries of wildlife managment areas above treeline for example). They may be in a guidebook, or someone with poorer navigation skills than me may be using them to navigate.

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
re on 03/16/2012 11:10:23 MDT Print View

Followed several cairns up the Porter's Creek manway in the Smokies a few weeks ago. I was pretty happy they were there, but didn't make any new ones at the sections that were hard to follow. Not being 100% certain helped make the trip even more exciting.

To knock them over because it "ruins the experience" seems kinda silly to me considering I probably picked three Happy Birthday! balloons on the way up.