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Cairns and LNT?
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Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
Crazy comparisons on 03/17/2012 08:55:57 MDT Print View

What happens in Scotland (where the author lives and hikes), the Mediterranean (where there is almost no wilderness at all), or the Himalayas (where cairns are a cultural artifact) doesn't really have any place in a discussion about policies and philosophies here in North America. Completely different issues there.

In the sierra, the USFS makes a distinction between trails (marked clearly and maintained by USFS or volunteers) and routes, which are use trails that are not maintained at all. But those routes regularly include cairns, and are an accepted part of the wilderness management policy. (There are also maintained trails across terrain that has no better way to mark the trail than cairns, and as such they are part of the maintained trail system.)

When I see cairns I generally leave them alone. Partly because I don't know who put them there, and don't know why there were put there. But I never create a cairn, and only VERY rarely add to a cairn, when I am on a maintained trail, spent some time trying to find the trail, and found a cairn that had fallen down.

I understand that some people would like to hike where no man has ever gone before, or at least feel that way. If you really are disturbed by finding a cairn, try hiking in more isolated areas. Those areas exist, and we've done hikes in Yosemite where we hiked for miles without seeing a trail, cairn, or blaze.

But to appoint yourself as the cairnmaster, in charge of destroying cairns wherever you find them, seems to me not only arrogant but a bit stupid. You are making assumptions with knowledge.

On the other hand, don't get me started about campsites with neanderthal furniture carved from trees or built up from rocks...

Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Stupid? on 03/17/2012 11:27:42 MDT Print View

"But to appoint yourself as the cairnmaster, in charge of destroying cairns wherever you find them, seems to me not only arrogant but a bit stupid. You are making assumptions with knowledge.

On the other hand, don't get me started about campsites with neanderthal furniture carved from trees or built up from rocks..."

What's wrong with neanderthal furniture? Aren't you making assumptions without knowledge?

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Cairns and LNT? on 03/18/2012 02:29:51 MDT Print View

>> Im not quite sure what the ethics are in other places, but dont import them here <<

+1 for Eric's comments.

Obviously this is something that varies considerably from area to area. Knocking down cairns in some of the areas that I hike in would be considered irresponsible.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: Cairns and LNT? on 03/18/2012 09:25:37 MDT Print View

Cairns have been helpful when I needed them. I really don't notice them when I don't need them. I can't imagine them "ruining" a backcountry experience.

I don't make one without knocking it down on the way out. I never knock one down that I didn't build myself.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Cairns and LNT? on 03/18/2012 10:02:27 MDT Print View

Call me a romantic, but when I find a cairn here in the southwest, I just assume it was made by the Anasazi, smile, and walk on.

The PC/religious aspects some people apply to LNT make me want to barf most of the time.

Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Cairns and LNT? on 03/18/2012 12:08:53 MDT Print View

"I agree with what Art said earlier (9:42 MDT)."

I agree with Michael.

Edited by csteutterman on 03/19/2012 17:38:46 MDT.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Re: Cairns and LNT? on 03/18/2012 14:37:59 MDT Print View

Warning: this is not exactly on topic, but it might make you chuckle anyway ...

t'was said above: I agree with what Art said earlier (9:42 MDT).

a portion of what Art said is where those who are not Danial Boone may wander astray

Of Mr. Boone it is said that while back in "civilization" he was once asked, "Do you ever get lost out there in the wilderness?"

His response was something like this "No ma'am, I've never been lost. Mind you, I was a mite confused for a week once."

Edited by jcolten on 03/18/2012 14:38:48 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Stupid? on 03/18/2012 17:03:37 MDT Print View

"What's wrong with neanderthal furniture?"

What, exactly, is Neanderthal furniture?

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Re: Stupid? on 03/18/2012 17:17:28 MDT Print View

"What, exactly, is Neanderthal furniture?"

Edited by ben2world on 03/18/2012 17:23:54 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Stupid? on 03/18/2012 17:30:55 MDT Print View

Thanks, Ben. I'll be ordering some of that for my patio. :=)

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
the Problem is not cairns, the Problem is... on 03/21/2012 15:45:17 MDT Print View

...Trail Guides, Backpacker Magazine, detailed Trip Reports in sensitive areas, and GPS Way Point files on the Internet :(

-------------------------------

These things drive people to places they would not find on their own, and it puts unneeded pressure on the wilderness.

I agree with Art, not a simple cut and dry solutions.

Generally I leave them be, but in some instances I knock them down or even do more creative things with them.

Sometimes I follow faint Indian trails that have cairns on them. I don't need the cairns to prevent getting lost -- I know where I am going, but they sometimes help me walk the easiest routes. I often hike in trail-less areas, and it is not uncommon to come across many, many cairns; many which end up in places that cannot be easily navigated, or is a much more difficult route. Be skeptical of them.

An example was a trip I did last year. I wanted to hike to a summit and there were no trails on my map. I found a ridgeline that looked promising. When I got near it, there was a sign that warned, "use trail not maintained" at the mouth of a canyon. The trail went up the canyon and there were plenty of cairns. But the route looked too difficult versus climbing out of the canyon to the ridgeline. So after about a 1/2 mile of canyon and boulder work, following cairns, I climbed up to the ridge and found an easy trail with zero cairns on it and was able to get to the summit.

For the most part, I don't mind cairns marking old and rarely used trails. I object to new trails being made, and cairns creating additional foot traffic that results in a new trail.

Interestingly that Steve Roper, in "The Sierra High Route" says, "I recommend that High Route backpackers dismantle ducks wherever they are found -- unless there's a very good reason for them." The point is that the areas of the route that are cross country should remain cross country routes, and no defined trail should be constructed either by plan or heavy use. This enables each hiker to hike his or her own route and overall there is less impact. And Roper's suggestion will hopefully minimize any impact due to his publication of the book. I guess that is LNT or walking softly.

Earlier, someone mentioned Carey's Castle in the vein of should we destroy this man made rock house? The answer is no, it is 80 years old. But here is the rest of that story... little is known about Carey. He dug a mine in that area of Joshua Tree National Park and it is now part of a designated wilderness. Not easy to find. About 30 years ago I was doing a lot of hiking in the area, learning and seeing as much of this small mountain range as I could. I stumbled across Carey's Castle by accident; it was not a publicly known place at the time. Occasionally in the JTNP backcountry I would run into a ranger who pretty much had the same ideas as to what wilderness should be, as I have. I asked him about the rock house. He said it was called Carey's Castle and was only known to a few park employees. A few years later a picture of it was included in a trail guide, but no directions or even the area of its location was revealed. It became sort of a needle in the haystack search for some people... they didn't even know where to start if they wanted to find it. Then came Trail Guides and Internet postings with fairly explicit instructions on how to get there. What has happened in the 30 years since I ran across it? Many of the artifacts inside the house are gone - stolen. Many Indian artifacts, including arrowheads, that could be found near the house are gone - stolen. So when I am in this area, I either relocate the ducks or disassemble them into arrows pointing the wrong way. If you want to visit Carey's Castle, then get a friggn' topo map and figure it out. If you can't navigate there by yourself, you shouldn't be hiking there.

Last month I led a group of BPLers on a hike in Anza Borrego. A small section of this route is across a faintly marked Indian trail, hard to follow and the cairns help -- but you do not need them. I would not knock these down. The trail is almost impossible to find. Now if someone built cairns in the area at the beginning of the trail to tell people there is a trail up there, I would knock them down in a heartbeat. If you want to hike the area, get a friggn' topo map like I did. If you can't navigate without the cairns, you shouldn't be hiking there.

In other areas I am familiar with, I do not knock down new cairns the first time I see them. Someone may be relying on them to get back. However on subsequent trips I might take them down, and if I see a trail is developing along the new cairns, I will definitely take them down.

Is this right or wrong? Each person must decide for themselves.

Martin Rye
(rye1966) - F

Locale: UK
Cairns on 03/22/2012 17:05:14 MDT Print View

Chris Townsend is entitled to his views. His old TGO Editor use to write about this subject. McNiesh linked destroying cairns as if expelling demons in his writings.

In places they seem wrong. But many in the UK are historical now and have been there way before McNiesh preached his gospel. The one Roger shows in his photo is one of many on Cross Fell. There are some summits in the Dales, and north Pennines with rows of them.

But to say they detract and are wrong makes little sense when you see a foot deep, and four foot wide path blazing across the hills. Maybe people would like to kick all the paths in that cross wilderness as they are man made?.

In the Lake District some paths are now raised up cycle tracks with switchbacks. A blot on the landscape far worse than any cairn. Mike mentions Ben Nevis. It sadly is a mountain with a high death rate. Years back the Local Mountain Rescue Team fixed two posts are set points to mark the distance between bearings to help people know when to change bearings, and miss a gully that has seen too many come to a terrible end.

Yet some decided this was wrong to do and ruined the landscape. Regardless that it could help others, and save the MRT team being called out to recover bodies. Yet on the summit there are large ruins, old shelters and the like all erected by someone. Cairns in many places are fine with me these days. The argument they detract when so many other things like building, old tracks remain in Scotland is so flawed. I don't see no one demolishing them.

I have attached a Ben Nevis summit scene.Ben Nevis

How can large walls be any worse than cairns. Yet I don't see them being knocked down.

Dave T
(DaveT) - F
cairns. on 03/22/2012 17:35:31 MDT Print View

"Interestingly that Steve Roper, in "The Sierra High Route" says, "I recommend that High Route backpackers dismantle ducks wherever they are found -- unless there's a very good reason for them." The point is that the areas of the route that are cross country should remain cross country routes, and no defined trail should be constructed either by plan or heavy use. This enables each hiker to hike his or her own route and overall there is less impact. And Roper's suggestion will hopefully minimize any impact due to his publication of the book. I guess that is LNT or walking softly."


Since I do most of my hiking above timberline in the High Sierra, I take the Roper approach and dismantle them almost always, unless they are at the beginning of an entrance to a complicated cliff/ledge ascent/descent or similar ACTUAL navigational aid. Typically they are like what is encounted on the way to the top of Mt. Langley: an endless series of cairns scattered all over the broad, sandy ascent to the summit (as if there is any possible way to get lost on the way up or down!). So they get the boot and get scattered.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: cairns. on 03/22/2012 17:41:31 MDT Print View

"The point is that the areas of the route that are cross country should remain cross country routes, and no defined trail should be constructed either by plan or heavy use."

But if there exists 'heavy use' -- as in the quote above -- can one argue that a trail in this case could at least save a wide stretch from regular trampling? Or is it better to have "even wear" so certain hikers can still pretend they are walking across wilderness country?

For me, I am less concerned with cairns built along regularly used trails and routes. If you want the feel of 100% unspoiled wilderness, then hike off trail. Cairns should not be built outside of trails/routes. Those who don't feel comfortable should just stick to trails and not build cairns. I think this is a viable middle ground.

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: cairns. on 03/22/2012 17:42:26 MDT Print View

I leave stuff like that for the park/forest service. Only they could really know if something was out of place or was put there for a reason.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Re: cairns. on 03/22/2012 17:56:40 MDT Print View

Brian:

I thought about that too. A cairn at a particular trail might make perfect sense to me but a totally unnecessary eye sore for you. So why not just have official cairns and markers? No hiker should tear them down and no hiker should add new ones.

But then, given years of budget cuts and all, there really are places where a new cairn or marker can be helpful! Yes, it takes judgment and we can never have full agreement. But I do have trouble with some hikers who take the extreme of dismantling every cairn he sees because they detract from his 'wilderness' experience. But on a trail? An eye sore is bad. But dismantling and potentially causing less experienced hikers to get lost is a lot worse. Something about the "me" attitude that makes it hard to cultivate an overall "live and let live" attitude. Obviously, not referring to anyone specifically, but making a general statement.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: cairns. on 03/22/2012 18:14:31 MDT Print View

Ben,

Most of the High Sierra Route, or the places I often hike do not see heavy use... unless all the hikers travel the same exact track... which cairns might encourage.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Re: cairns. on 03/22/2012 18:16:25 MDT Print View

"But dismantling and potentially causing less experienced hikers to get lost is a lot worse."

Maybe they should improve their navigation skills before attempting those places?

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: cairns. on 03/22/2012 18:35:58 MDT Print View

Nick:

Per the quote used, I was talking about 'heavy use'.

As for experience, again as written above, I would expect off trail hikers to have more experience. Experience levels of trail hikers tend to be much more varied.

To me, the entire trail is one big marker already -- although folks can still get lost, what with poorly marked or wash-out sections and all. For a trail hiker to kick away any and all cairns that he sees -- so he can feel the wilderness better -- can be pretentious. It's not the worst sin, but causing dangers to others can be.

Edited by ben2world on 03/22/2012 18:40:59 MDT.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Re: Re: Re: Re: cairns. on 03/22/2012 18:37:03 MDT Print View

Without cairns in use in many backcountry areas in Banff and Jasper you could get lost within minutes because of the heavy tree cover at lower elevations.