Marking a trail properlyToday, August 2 2010, I took a trip up Flattop, up Hallets and down Andrews Glacier in RMNP. Upon coming down the Andrews Glacier Trail, I saw so many cairns across the braided trail that someone could follow right down off the trail, wasting time and energy, that I decided to write this little article to guide us all in where to place a cairn.
There are two ways you can screw up such a mundane task as stacking rocks; you can put them in a place that make no sense, and you can make them about 6 inches tall.
Let me paint you a picture of the first scenerio, below Andrews Tarn the true trail makes several quick back and forth swichbacks down a rather steep section of trail. As you hike up the trail, it becomes indistinct where it guides, and two routes present themselves. One well trodden dirt path rises from the intersection, the other is the actual trail. OH THANK YOU SWEET JESUS A CAIRN TO MARK THE WAY!!! But where is the cairn, you ask? Right at the intersection. At a real intersection, the cairn would be replaced with a sign, but its not a real intersection, and its not a sign. Its a cairn, there are no arrows pointing to the trail. Cairns don't tell directions.
How might we fix this conundrum? How about the next time build that cairn above the intersection on the real trail, so when someone else comes across it, it will be obvious that the cairn guides instead of confuses.
When I'm hiking an undistinct trail, I look for cairns somewhere near the horizon, not on the ground. A rock pile 6 inches tall won't do. Come on, those rocks aren't that heavy, just man up and build a cairn you can be proud of people. Put it on a boulder near the trail, make it 3 feet tall, just make it noticable.
HOW DARE II know sometimes people(tourists) like to sit down by the trail and build themselves a cute little cairn for posterity's sake or whatever, but if it is causing problems, I place the guilt and burden on my shoulders and just knock it over. Sometimes I get at eye level with it and make an explosion sound as I tip it over. Sometimes I play it like Janga until it crumbles back to Earth. Then I cackle loudly at the prospect of finding more poorly placed and vertically challenged cairns as I continue my way up the trail.
Just remember my simple rhyme; If it leads you astray, ther'll be hell to pay!