Cairns or No?

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    • #5465
      BrianD
      Participant

      Just soliciting thoughts here. I spend most of San G time off trail. In some of the more popular off trail spots–as in my recent 10k Ridge traverse– I run into a lot of cairns. Personally I hate them. For me the whole point of getting off trail is the feeling (helped along by willing suspension of disbelief) that I may be seeing a place few if any people have. Then is see a left over fire pit or some trash. And I really draw no distinction between that and cairns. (Don’t get me started on the forts at the summit and FC saddle.) All of these are equally inconsistent with the very idea of wilderness. Leave no trace!

      One caveat, I can see the value of a cairn in desert where it is easy to get lost off trail. But in the mountains . . . there is up and down, ridges and drainages. Both lead to trails or roads.

    • #5467
      shawnsisler
      Participant

      BrianD,

      You have a good point.

      Leave No Trace but only foot prints & cains?

      I think cains can be ok in moderation on trace trails or know cross country routes in place of a sign or hard to navigate sections. Otherwise cains are only stacked rocks which if not serving a purpose should be dispersed.

    • #5472
      Ed
      Participant

      Brian,

      I am with you.  I am a cairn-hater, and always have been.  And there is no need for them today with GPS.  Same for stone wind shelters on summits.  I admit to having sheltered in them on windy days.  But I don’t think they should be there.

    • #5478
      jack
      Participant

      I have never understood why folks are “anti-cairn.” If hikers want to use something from the natural landscape to help mark their trail and that helps prevent someone from getting lost, then that is fine by me. The National Park Service and National Forest Service routinely use rock cairns to mark off trail routes in order to help prevent folks from getting lost (Mount Langley above Old Army Pass and the south side climbers trail on Mt. Adams in Washington are two good examples where the park/forest service has created quite immense rock cairns to mark the route). I once saw a San Gorgonio Wilderness trail volunteer knocking over cairns on the San Bernadino Peak trail, and I wanted to throttle him for his stupidity. Purposefully doing that and increasing the chances someone might get lost wass a dereliction of duty in that case, at least in my humble opinion. If somone is using ribbon or wands to mark a trail, then they should certainly remove those on their way out (most people do with wands, though I have seen ribbon tied to trees in cases when I was pretty sure those who had used it to mark the trial were long gone from the trail).

    • #5479
      Ed
      Participant

      I climbed Langley in the mid-1970’s from New Army Pass.  There were not only no cairns, I don’t recall a use trail, or any other sign of human passage from New Army Pass to the summit.  Route-finding was absolutely no problem.  And I am not a great route-finder.

      I object to cairns for esthetic reasons.  While they can be helpful for navigation, I don’t consider that to be a justification for their existence.  Route-finding is part of the challenge of cross-country hiking and mountaineering.  And now we have GPS.

      Also I think it can be unwise to trust them for navigation, because you often don’t know who put them up.  Some people simply like to mark their passage and imagine they are helpful, for reasons I don’t comprehend.  The worst case of this I know of is on the Skyline Trail in Palm Springs, where twice someone has painted markers on the rocks in recent years, and in places where the trail is perfectly clear.

    • #5486
      jack
      Participant

      If aesthetics is the argument, then I think one would also need to object to creating any trails in the wilderness. Semi-permanently scarring the landscape to make a trail is much worse than creating a small pile of rocks that does not damage the terrain nor impact the ecosystem. Ed, I am guessing you do not object to the trail systems that exist in our local mountians or the Sierra Nevada, and which it sounds like you regularly use? I completely agree that painting rocks or leaving behind ribbons/wands is not acceptable. And I would  not object to scattering a cairn that is placed in the middle of an obvious man-made trail (especially if it impeeds hiking on the trail). But if you knock down a rock cairn someone else may have made in an off-trail area or an area where the trail is difficult to navigate, then you are needlessly increasing the risk someone might get lost and subsequently require a rescue. If you don’t trust the cairns created by somone else, don’t use them to navigate, and I think it is safe to assume everyone else navigates via previously made cairns at their own risk.

    • #5487
      Ed
      Participant

      If I am opposed to cairns, I must be opposed to trails?  I won’t bother to comment on that.

      I have made plenty of route-finding mistakes in my time, costing me time, effort and aggravation, and in some cases being risky as well.  I can’t say cairns have had much to do with them, one way or another.  In the great majority of cases, there were no cairns.  When I do see a cairn, I notice it, but I don’t particularly trust it.  I regard them as more due to individuals who like to leave their mark on the wilderness, than as a navigation aid that can be trusted.

      And, once again, we now have GPS.  Whatever the arguments once were for cairns, GPS is far better, and easily available by installing an app and map.

      I am curious, where were the cairns on the East San Bernardine Peak trail?  Trails in the SGW are generally very clear, and the only error you can make is taking a wrong turn, something that can make a sign useful, but not a cairn.  There are use trail spurs to summits, but Hundred Peaks Section route-descriptions and GPS are aids that can be trusted and leave no mark.

    • #5502
      jack
      Participant

      The incident was on the San Bernadino Peak trail during later winter/early spring, and was on the section of the trail above the Limber Pine Bench Camp junction before you get to the base of the mountain. That section was covered in snow and the proper trail not visible, and I could see how one might want to lay a few cairns to mark their way through that area (hence my displeasure with the volunteer “ranger” knocking down the cairns).

      Obviously not advocating we should disband all trail systems in the wilderness. Just pointing out how it might be hard to reconcile not liking the aesthetics of a small pile of rocks but not minding the permanent damage created by our trails.

      • This reply was modified 4 days, 21 hours ago by jack.
    • #5509
      Ed
      Participant

      Jack,

      Understood.  I thought you were referring to East San Bernardino Peak, with which I am either not familiar or is lost to my memory cells.  I am very familiar with the long switchback above Limber Pine Bench, and it certainly would not take much snow to cover it.

      Route-finding in snow is certainly often a problem, though less so today with GPS.  I can see that a few cairns could be helpful.  But they could also be covered by the next storm.  And they suffer from the same problem as following other people’s tracks in snow:  who laid them, where were they going, did they know where they were going?

    • #5514
      SGWA_Editor
      Participant

      Carins were installed by SGWA along the trail coming from the Summit towards the Vivian Creek trail.  So many people had used “trace trails” “short cuts” etc that the actual trail became unclear.  Two hikers on different days were lost – SAR found them in the Raywood Flats area.  .

      Its confusing for most hikers to find Carins that off trail hikers have used.  Most don’t have a map, they are not familiar with the area and they get confused/lost.  You all seem like seasoned hikers but many aren’t – would be very considerate not to make trails off main trails so visitors are able to find their way down.

       

    • #5516
      Ed
      Participant

      I am very much in agreement.  I understand the use of cairns, signs, rock and branch barriers, etc. to keep people on the true trail, and support it.  Perhaps that is why the giant cairns on Mt. Langley were erected by the USFS/USNPS, since that route lends itself to people wandering about.  I wish something would be done about the proliferation of use paths on Baldy.  There seems to be no equivalent of SGWA there.  And I believe that off-trail cairns are unsafe to rely on.

    • #5517
      BrianD
      Participant

      I have no real opinion on cairns on or near existing trails to keep the herds in line. My point was that off trail they are a bit annoying. One thing I would point out is that they are not useful, as their placement is governed by the perspective of the maker. A later traveler cannot necessarily interpret their purpose. Heading from Lake Peak down the ridge toward the 10 K ridge, for example, its a pick your way situation through brush, trees, and little rocky peaks. I’ve traveled this area multiple times and am pretty sure I’ve never taken the same route twice. And yet on nearly every winding path I’ve chosen, cairns appear, but there are not enough to really follow. So someone had an idea of why it was necessary. But no one else could possibly figure it out.

      As I said, in the mountains, there is NSEW and UP and DOWN. Maybe I’m just an insensitive jerk, but if you go off trail, you should be able to figure it out.

      To Jack’s point about getting rid of trails. It’s something I’ve thought about often. Part of me thinks that would be great. That’s why I like to spend so much time in the south eastern part of the wilderness. No trails. But I also think its important for all to have access to wilderness experience–that’s sort of the point.

      I’m just not crazy about cairns.

    • #5518
      Ed
      Participant

      Interestingly,  the San Gabriel Mountains Discussion Board started a new thread, CairnsOnly, dedicated to posting photos of cairns.  Evidently there are tons of them in the San Gabriel Mountains, mainly big ones on summits, and they seem to have their enthusiasts.  Not directly related to what we have been discussing here, which is cairns at least allegedly erected for route-finding purposes.

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