Today, a few articles were published about rowdy Appalachian Trail hikers. An excerpt from this PennLive article read:
At Maine’s Baxter State Park, home to the trail’s final summit on Mount Katahdin, officials say thru-hikers are flouting park rules by openly using drugs and drinking alcohol, camping where they aren’t supposed to, and trying to pass their pets off as service dogs. Hundreds of miles away, misbehaving hikers contributed to a small Pennsylvania community’s recent decision to shutter the sleeping quarters it had offered for decades in the basement of its municipal building.
Naturally, a story of strangers helping each other on the trail, trail magic, and spiritual journeys would not have made as good of a news story. (Though, I have seen a good share of those too!)
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy issued a response on their Facebook page:
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has led the effort to protect the Appalachian Trail since 1925, and today is no different. Recent media coverage of the A.T. has highlighted the misguided behavior of what we believe is a small percentage of hikers, mischaracterizing the millions of visitors who understand the importance of responsible use of the Trail. It is our hope that the attention given to the small fraction of hikers who do not exemplify values of respect does not eclipse the cooperative management system that enables a 2,190-mile path to stretch from Maine to Georgia.
With the expected increase in Trail usage, especially with the release of the upcoming film A Walk in the Woods, we will be expanding our efforts to educate the public and instill the best practices for hiking the A.T. We will continue to work with representatives from Baxter State Park to address the complex issue of increasing hiker traffic and bad behavior. As guardians of the A.T., we are encouraged by the large majority of A.T. hikers who have a legacy of exhibiting respect to both the Trail and the surrounding communities.
I’ve heard of the trail attracting more hikers every year, and the need to raise awareness of leave-no-trace or low-impact camping etiquette is growing, but it seems absurd that a hiker would consciously take an extended journey for the purpose of partying and abusing their privileges.
I refuse to believe anything more than — like anywhere else in the world — a few bad apples will ruin the bunch. And similar to the communities we all live in, it is up to the hiking community to educate those who are less aware of what etiquette is expected of them in their environments.
It’s one more thing to carry while backpacking, but this table is a great idea.
This is a thought-provoking opinion piece that made me realize I have also asked “Why the need for this here?” Whether or not you sit on one side of the argument, if you spend time in the woods you have undoubtedly encountered a stack of rocks, or a cairn.
The first cairn I can remember encountering was in the 1990’s along an unmaintained logging road which intersected the Appalachian Trail in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. It noted an almost invisible side trail off the road, as if a hiker or hunter wanted to remember where they planned to enter the woods when returning to the location. Like this hunter’s footpath indicator, I highly doubt that any of the stacks of rocks I’ve encountered were built to have spiritual meaning, but for the purpose of the conversation, I’ll join the author and refer to these as “cairns”.
While I have seen some cairns in arguably navigable terrain, making them seem completely unnecessary, others have been clearly built to assist with navigation. Take for example the cairn built to indicate an unmarked trail’s abrupt turn. Without the cairn, an unmarked (or unclearly marked) trail may appear to maintain a direction, allowing the hiker to unknowingly pass the desired turning point. This could especially be true in the summer months, where brush in a low traffic area can get quite out of hand. (At least in Pennsylvania…)
I encountered a few of these “navigation cairns” last weekend during a hike with my Dad in Colorado’s Uncompahgre National Forest. A couple times the trail would fizzle out in a pasture where hikers and horses alike had chosen the least path of resistance to avoid muddy sections of trail, resulting in multiple paths around the mud. On the other side of the muddy section, the trail would disappear, but a small stack of rocks in the distance would assist in relocating the hiker to the trail.
While the author raises some good points, the comments are also worth reading. Specifically, “James” reminds us that cairns which are used to point out an unintended trail are indeed a problem, as they encourage traffic to an area where it may not be wanted in the first place:
What about situations where people use cairns to mark “social trails”? Just for clarification, when I use the term social trail I am referring to an unofficial trail that has been created by visitors without permission from the organization or people that are responsible for managing a piece of land. Social trails are problematic because they are nearly always created with little to no consideration given to the long term sustainability of the trail or the impact that have on the surrounding environment.
Signs which read “Stay on the trail!” are always there for a reason, whether it be to prevent unwanted erosion, preservation of animal habitat or fragile alpine plants. The commenter continues:
Professional trail builders are responsible for avoiding impacts to natural and cultural resources and there is supervision that take place to ensure that the trails they build are properly constructed. When a individual takes it upon themselves to create a new trail without adequate knowledge of the resources they may be impacting and insufficient knowledge of how to build a sustainable and durable trail there will certainly create a trail that is going to have an unnecessarily large impact on the land and the resources. As someone who restores poorly designed trails for the National Park Service, my primary request is that people not construct cairns to mark unofficial trails.
And so, while the article itself is an opinion piece, I side with the “leave no trace” approach to cairns — if they aren’t there, don’t build them.
Looking forward to my first visit to Gallitzin State Forest this weekend, where I’ll be hiking the 17 mile John P. Saylor Trail, and spending the night in my hammock.
Over the weekend I made my fourth trip to Upstate New York to bang out another handful of peaks in the Adirondacks. In about 12 hours and 18.6 miles, I summited four peaks, bringing my total to 13:
- Mount Colvin, 4057 ft (10/46)
- Blake Peak, 3960 ft (11/46)
- Nippletop, 4620 ft (12/46)
- Dial Mountain, 4020 ft (13/46)
Unlike my last Adirondacks hike which took me to the top five peaks in the Dix Range, the challenge with this group was that Colvin and Blake sat on a different range than Nippletop and Dial. This meant hiking up the first range to summit two peaks, descending, hiking up the second range for the other two, and descending again — a challenging day no matter how I would slice it.
And so, no matter which two mountains I hiked first, I knew I would be getting tired during the second range. I settled on starting with Colvin and Blake, as the hike back to the parking lot from Nippletop and Dial would be — for the most part — a slow descend with no backtracking, unlike the trek from Colvin to Blake and back.
Some of my favorite views during this hike weren’t on the peaks at all, but on a side trail that took me to Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs, which presented a gorgeous view looking down and South at Lower Ausable Lake, tucked between Mount Colvin to the East, and the Great Range to the West.
At 3960 feet, Blake was my first false 46er. Although its top was covered in trees, its ascent still proved to be a challenge.