Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rocky Road

We facilitated a Leave No Trace Trainer Course in Acadia National Park earlier this year. It was a great course with lots of discussions about outdoor ethics! One conversation that came up during the principle of "Leave What You Find" was the practice of rock stacking. It was the first time that this issue had ever been brought up during one of our courses and opinions ranged from finding rock stacks beautiful to offensive. At the time, we had not given much thought to the carefully balanced rocks we had occasionally seen along trails.

So, why months later are we still contemplating the question of rock stacking? Well, we recently had the opportunity to hike in Bryce Canyon National Park and came across a portion of trail that was covered with thousands of rocks balancing upon each other. The sight immediately brought to mind the "Leave What You Find" conversation we had back in Acadia National Park and we could see why there had been such varied feelings towards the activity. While one artfully balanced rock stack can be quite beautiful, seeing these stacks in such a large quantity in a national park felt somewhat disconcerting.

What are your thoughts on rock stacking?


derek said...

I feel that the rock stacks, since they are traditionally used as trail markers, should only be used as so.

Only people with absolute knowledge of the trail should be creating them

There are other rocks stacks that I tend to find at mountain summits. I guess I am OK with these, with some exceptions.

I see many fire rings where fires are illegal. Also, some people in the 1970's rearranged some stones that were placed there by the Kumeyaay Indians that were aligned with the winter solstice and was used for ceremonies. It would have been nice for these to be preserved.

When I hike somewhere, I would at least like to have the illusion of an untouched wilderness as much as possible.

Judy said...

I'm a little torn on the issue.

I see cairns on trails where they are so unnecessary it makes me laugh. I'm guilty of knocking a few of those down :)
I always thought of them as markers for places with no other distinct features. I admit, I've been "helped" by them a few times (middle of nowhere, Utah) but again, I take full responsibility for knowing whether or not I'm prepared to be hiking in an area.

The cairn just tells me someone else has been there.

I also understand the sentimental value of placing a rock on top of an existing stack, in memory or honor of someone. My preference for "leave it as you found it" however,trumps any sentimental tug.

Easy E said...

I agree with Judy, there have been several places in UT and CO where cairns have helped guide my way.

However, placing them everywhere just to say "I was here" can get distracting sometimes. If I am in nature, I want to be in nature and at least have the illusion that I am treading in untouched lands.

Paul said...

In Cloud Peak Wilderness in Wyoming, the wilderness rangers finally removed a HUGE cairn halfway up Cloud Peak that folks had been adding to for years and years. It was over 6 feet high.

On the way up that hike/climb there are hundreds of small rock pile markers, all of them completely useless because you just go 'up'. :-) From any point, you can easily see a half dozen markers all leading you in different directions.

Maybe the question should be asked, "Why stack rocks here?"
If it is to aid future visitors, then that robs them of the adventure. You might as well pave the trail for them.
If it's to leave your mark, well that's an easy one.
If it's to mark a trail in a highly used area in which the terrain prevents the trail from being easily recognized and the stacks are created and maintained only by land management personnel, then that sounds good to me.

Of course, if it's on private property or at specified locations, then stacking for art, memorials, rituals, or just plain fun is cool, too.

Ranger Kt said...

I'm completely against unnecessary cairns and rock towers. When they are marking an otherwise invisible trail, I understand their helpfulness. I have navigated by cairns on several backcountry trails and in wilderness areas.

However, it's in front country areas (at least the ones I've seen) where unecessary rock stacking is rampant. It is there where I have no qualms of knocking them over and dispersing their remains, whether I'm in uniform or in my civilian clothes.