In Defense of Cairns on the Trail
In a recent article in the Oneida, Tennessee Independent Herald titled Back Yard: Cairns are hikers’ calling card, writer Ben Garrett talks about the phenomenon of rock cairns. If you’re a hiker, you’ve probably seen one of these little towers of rocks along a trail or near some landmark. Many hikers build them to mark where they’ve been. Other hikers build them because someone else built one on that spot.
Now I’ve never built a cairn myself (but my kids have at Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia), but I have seen plenty in my wanderings throughout the trails of Southern California.
Garret writes that cairns “often serve no purpose” and comments on how some hikers — even park rangers — relish knocking over these finely balanced towers of stone.
I agree that seeing hundreds of rocks piled atop one another isn’t really something that’s of interest to me as someone seeking a bit of solitude in the outdoors.
However, when I hiked the John Muir Trail, cairns often served to mark the trail when it wasn’t obvious, and at those times I was really glad to see them.