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Glossary -- Cairn

Cairn. A route marker. Usually a small pile of three or more stones set along a route to indicate the way to go. Also larger piles of stones used to mark a summit.

Cairns can be an extremely useful, low-impact way to mark an obscure route. However, people setting new cairns must be careful not to set cairns along the wrong route. If a hiker sets cairns on a route that turns out to be bad, it is a moral imperative that they retrace their steps and remove the off-route cairns. I once was led into a life-threatening situation in cliffs with a 10-day backpack following off-route cairns in the Grand Canyon; it was not fun.

Historically, miners in the west used rocks to build large cairns to mark their mining claims (sometimes with a wooden post). While not "historic" objects, these items of historical interest should be inspected for mining claim documents, but nothing should be removed.

I urge fellow hikers to remove unnecessary and off-route cairns. Removing bad cairns prevents other hikers from becoming confused by following the bad route, and it concentrates hikers on the proper route, thereby reducing environmental damage from multiple-trailing.

Unfortunately, cairns are becoming a form of "natural," new-age graffiti where people make their mark upon the land by piling up stones. People make cairns along roadways, along well established trails, in picnic areas, and in other inappropriate places. These cairns are no more than trash or graffiti left on the landscape. Especially in Wilderness Areas, the use of cairns should be limited to the least number necessary to mark a route, they should never be set in places where the route is obvious, and they should not be left as graffiti.

Summit Cairns

Cairn
Summit cairn
Cairn
Summit cairn
Cairn
Summit cairn
cairn
Double Summit Cairns -- We should avoid this.
Summit cairn Summit cairn
Summit cairn Summit cairn

Useful Route Cairns

Cairn
Useful cairn marking rocky route into the trees
Cairn
Useful cairn at obscure trail junction
Cairn
Useful cairn along faint use-trail
cairn
Black boulder on sandstone with small sandstone rocks atop
Cairn
Three rocks in a line make a subtle cairn
Cairn
A single rock of the wrong color can be a cairn
Cairns
Obscure change of direction ...
Cairns
... marked by a cairn and an arrow
cairn
Red stones atop black boulder (too many stones)
useful cairn
Cairn marks a poorly defined use-trail turns off ridgetop
Cairns
Useful cairn along intermittent use-trail
Cairns
Useful cairn on slickrock
Cairn
Useful cairn on skyline
Cairn
Useful cairn in boulder-slickrock area

Mining Claim Marker Cairns

Mining Claim Marker Cairns
Mining Claim Marker Cairn with 4x4 wooden post
Mining Claim Marker Cairns
Mining Claim Marker Cairn
Mining Claim Marker Cairns Mining Claim Marker Cairns
Mining Claim Marker Cairns
Check Mining Claim Marker Cairns for claim document
Mining Claim Marker Cairns
Cairn documents are often stored inside cigar cans

Useless Graffiti Cairns

Cairn
Useless cairn along wash; nowhere else to go except along the wash
Cairn
Useless cairn in alcove marks nothing; this is new-age graffiti
Cairn
Cairns in a broad wash marking the route ...
Cairn
... are not needed!
Cairn
Useless cairn along a road
Cairns
Garden gnomes in Cottonwood Wash

Happy hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 150116

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