Nice Cairns!

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.

Rock cairn in Southern California
A rock cairn in 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.

Trail Cairns on the JMT
Where’s the John Muir Trail? Just line up the cairns …

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