Rock Cairns, Trail Stewardship

Appalachian Trail - Rock cairns near the summit of Mount Moosilauke during the summer months in the White Mountains, New Hampshire. This area is excellent for hiking.
Appalachian Trail – Mount Moosilauke, New Hampshire
 

Rock Cairns, Trail Stewardship – A rock cairn is a man-made pile of rocks that marks a landmark or the route of a hiking trail above tree line. They have been used for many centuries and vary in size from one foot to massive piles of rocks. The word “cairn” is Scottish and means a “heap of stones”. Cairns are found throughout the New Hampshire White Mountains, and they make great photo subjects. My favorite ones are along the Appalachian Trail on the summit of Mount Moosilauke.

For some time now there has been an increasing concern about rock stacking (random piles of rocks) on public lands. People are innocently building rock cairn look a likes along beaches, rivers, and trails, and it is drawing both positive and negative attention. Out west, rock stacking is a major problem. Here in the White Mountains, fake cairns built along the trails can cause navigation confusion for hikers, but that is for another blog article.

Boott Spur Mountain from Davis Path in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Davis Path – Presidential Range, New Hampshire
 

In the alpine zones of New Hampshire, rock cairns mark the trail corridor and guide hikers through established routes. And this helps protect the fragile alpine vegetation that lines most of the alpine trails. Without cairns, much of the alpine vegetation would be trampled.

Appalachian Trail - Extreme weather conditions near the summit of Mount Washington during the winter months in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Crawford Path – Mt Washington, New Hampshire
 

Rock cairns are very beneficial during adverse weather conditions and when hiking in the alpine zone during the night. In foggy and whiteout conditions visibility is only a few feet and rock cairns are essential in guiding hikers out of the alpine zone into the safety of the forest. 

Appalachian Trail (Franconia Ridge Trail) on the summit of Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains, New Hampshire USA in foggy conditions during the autumn months.
Greenleaf Trail – Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire
 

Have you ever thought about how trails in the Presidential Range would be marked if rock cairns were not used?

Rock cairn along the Davis Path with Mount Washignton in the background in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Davis Path – Presidential Range, New Hampshire
 

Even though rock cairns are man made structures, I find the ones in the Presidential Range picturesque. And the rock cairns along Davis Path (above) are an excellent example of quality stone work. The care taken to build each one is obvious and shows true craftsmanship. They are permanent fixtures of the White Mountains landscape, serve a very important purpose, and are perfect examples of trail stewardship.

To license any of the above images for usage in publications, click on the image. And you can view more images of rock cairns from along White Mountains trail system here

Happy image making..


 

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Erin Paul is a professional photographer who specializes in environmental conservation and historic preservation photography in the New Hampshire White Mountains. His work is published worldwide, and credits include; Backpacker Magazine, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and The Wilderness Society.

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