I love cairns.
Little cairns, big cairns, artistic cairns, sloppy cairns. There. I said it: I Love Cairns! The topic of cairns causes a lot of friction amongst the backcountry loving community who generally are very mellow people. The #1 reason some are apposed to seeing them while hiking is because it goes against LNT (Leave No Trace) which is hands down the most important tenant that responsible backpackers and hikers practice. I myself practice LNT whole heartedly but when it comes to cairns I find them to be comforting. Knowing that those who went before me on the trail thought that the next person behind them may have potential trouble locating exactly where to go, this gesture connects our fellow hikers, a very caring group. Yes of course if you look hard enough, if you bush whack around long enough, if you go in enough circles, the trail always miraculously appears but for the new hiker or the unsure, it truly helps mark where to go. My girlfriend Su is a prime example of a woman who is new to desert hiking and finds cairns to be the signal that she doesn’t need to panic just because the trail isn’t in the obvious spot it should be. Yes, cairns leave proof of human activity, disrupting mother nature as she intended her rocks to sit, but I also feel there is great potential to keep some directionally challenged hikers from getting lost. Maybe I am looking at it too pragmatically but at my age I understand that things can go wrong on the trail and if I had to choose between a person staying on the trail vs. looking at rocks stacked at unnatural attention, I would side with the person. And honestly, I think Mother Nature would too.