BWCA Rock cairns Boundary Waters Listening Point - General Discussion
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01/30/2020 03:59PM  
Always dislike seeing these put up for no reason. Rock piles

I usually knock 'em down. You too?
 
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01/30/2020 04:13PM  
No I leave them. Was on a portage years ago, think it was out of Bootleg lake, if it wasn’t for those, I probably would of got lost.
 
Jackfish
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01/30/2020 04:22PM  
I’m not going to let a little pile of rocks ruin my day. As Walllee said, sometimes they’re very helpful in identifying the trail. There are others, but so what?
 
Savage Voyageur
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01/30/2020 05:07PM  
I was in a State park in Wisconsin in Door county. There were signs everywhere warning people not to build these. Right below the sign was a rock cairn. I’ve seen some spots by Lake superior that have hundreds of these. I do not like seeing them, but not really a big deal.
 
moosedoggie
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01/30/2020 05:09PM  
I think the term "for no reason" is the key. Some do actually serve a purpose and need to be left.

The useless ones kind of irk me but I just leave them alone.
 
01/30/2020 05:51PM  
bobbernumber3: "Always dislike seeing these put up for no reason. Rock piles

I usually knock 'em down. You too?"


Knock this one down. Came across it Bikepacking the Superior National forest. Had to be almost 10 feet tall. Someone on the road crew had fun.
 
01/30/2020 06:04PM  

I have never knocked a cairn down but have been very tempted! Its amazing how many times I am bushwhacking and get to a scenic overlook and see a cairn there. As though someone was saying 'I was here before you!'
 
01/30/2020 06:09PM  
Probably don't wanna knock this one down.


I remember hiking the Sioux Hustler trail and was really glad for the rock cairns pointing out the direction of a trail that crossed a long part of bare rocks that just didn't show any trail at all.
 
01/30/2020 06:40PM  
Depends on the mood and location. If they were in reach and I was grumpy I would probably knock it down but I am not going out of my way to do it :)
 
01/30/2020 06:48PM  
Rock cairns are often useful (and sometimes critical) trail markers in spaces where the trail might not be obvious. Knocking down cairns that are meant for navigation could result in someone losing the trail and getting lost.

Please do not knock down a cairn if there is any possibility that it is meant for navigation. Not sure? Leave it to the Forest Service to take care of.

On the flip side, please never build cairns. 1) Because building a cairn is inherently leaving a trace. And 2) like knocking down cairns, building cairns can lead people on the wrong path and result in losing the trail. Again, leave it to the Forest Service.
 
nooneuno
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01/30/2020 06:52PM  
When the trend first started they were kind of unique and they didn't bother me at all, but now in today's "facebook' look at me generation I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine...
 
SevenofNine
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01/30/2020 06:57PM  
ghamer: "I have never knocked a cairn down but have been very tempted! Its amazing how many times I am bushwhacking and get to a scenic overlook and see a cairn there. As though someone was saying 'I was here before you!'

"


I guess this is a case where you can let something bother you or you can let it slide off you. I’d rather just appreciate that someone else shared in the experience as I was doing.
 
Jackfish
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01/30/2020 08:40PM  
nooneuno: "I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
LOL... I’m glad you said “almost”. :)
 
hobbydog
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01/30/2020 09:07PM  

Along the Bow River in Jasper. Tourists... don't do it.




Woodland Caribou....intended purpose. Most here are just 2 or 3 stones. I add one occasionally when I have missed a turn or feel it could use one more.

 
nooneuno
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01/30/2020 09:41PM  
Jackfish: "nooneuno: "I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
LOL... I’m glad you said “almost”. :)"

Almost does indeed carry with it a vast buffer, yet Leave No Trace does not mean one should merely scatter your beer cans where no one can see them.
 
yogi59weedr
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01/30/2020 10:32PM  
I wonder what's worse. Seeing these things or seeing a sign telling you not to build them.....
 
Z4K
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01/30/2020 11:34PM  
+1 for kicking them over

Leave No Trace
 
01/31/2020 12:18AM  
On the souix hustler trail there was a cairn every twenty feet for a quarter of a mile. It was a long stretch of of rock ridge. Turns out they led to a spur campsite but not the trail. Bored campers built these for some reason. I did kick down a bunch of them. They had no purpose on a wilderness trail, they mislead us from the actual trail
 
missmolly
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01/31/2020 04:21AM  
People stack rocks on Maine's shoreline. They have nothing to do with directions. They're, "Kilroy was here."
 
01/31/2020 04:36AM  
moosedoggie: "I think the term "for no reason" is the key. Some do actually serve a purpose and need to be left.

The useless ones kind of irk me but I just leave them alone."

It's pretty easy to tell a useless "I was here" pile of rocks from a helpful "this way" cairin.

"I was here" bugs me. Thanks for the help clarifying.
 
01/31/2020 07:42AM  
I'd rather see a cairn than some spray paint rock art or carvings in a tree.
 
01/31/2020 07:56AM  
AmarilloJim: "I'd rather see a cairn than some spray paint rock art or carvings in a tree."

Well... there is always something worse. Like the teenager caught with a beer, "at least it's not pot"
 
hobbydog
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01/31/2020 08:44AM  
City parks should have rock stacking play areas. Then people could get their rocks off in a designated area.
 
riverrunner
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01/31/2020 08:53AM  
Knocking down a cairin could easily lead to some one getting lost in true wilderness
areas.

Cairins have been used for navigation and other purposes for as long as man has been around.

The idea that modern cairins are less important then old cairins is just plan foolish.
 
01/31/2020 08:59AM  
If a cairn has ever helped you find your way, you're probably thankful it was there, like me. I don't see any harm in having them present in the wilderness. If you want to feel like you're the only one that's been anywhere, why use portages? Just sounds like someone wanting to gripe about something, which makes sense because it's the last day of January. Brighter days are ahead, hopefully they're not too filled with cairns. ;)
 
01/31/2020 09:11AM  
jwartman59: "On the souix hustler trail there was a cairn every twenty feet for a quarter of a mile. It was a long stretch of of rock ridge. Turns out they led to a spur campsite but not the trail. Bored campers built these for some reason. I did kick down a bunch of them. They had no purpose on a wilderness trail, they mislead us from the actual trail"

How do you know these were built by campers? Seems perfectly reasonable to have cairns marking a spur trail to a campsite. In fact, one of the times I hiked the Sioux Hustler the only reason I was able to find my campsite on Shell was because I had cairns to follow.

I totally get not wanting Instagram cairns built by tourists, but if a cairn is marking a trail then I'm not going to mess with it.
 
Tomcat
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01/31/2020 09:38AM  
One persons graffiti is another persons art. I have never built a rock cairn but on a solo trip I saw one rising out of the water by my campsite. I don't know who built it but as I sat near I imagined the child or adult taking the time and the enjoyment it may have brought to them. It brightened my day, Thank you.



 
nofish
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01/31/2020 09:40AM  
Generally I leave them alone and rarely give them even a second thought. The only ones I knocked over were on a section of trail that went through a wide open area with the trail going over a lot of exposed rock. There was no real way to identify the trail without some sort of markers. There were cairns marking the trail but people had started making cairns all over that open area. Its a good resting/lunch spot so I assume people leave the trail to have lunch and then get bored and make these things. Trouble is when you make a bunch of new meaningless cairns in the same vicinity of useful cairns that are actually marking a trail like they are supposed to then it can be hard to determine which are the good ones and which are the fake ones which makes keeping the trail difficult. I knew where the trail went from previous hikes so any confusing meaningless cairns got kicked over and scattered in an effort to not confuse other hikers.

When I encounter them at campsites or other places where they are meaningless but hurting anything I just leave them. Takes more than a pile or rocks to get my undies in a bunch.
 
Flashback
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01/31/2020 02:29PM  
The majority of rock cairns I've found were on clearly marked trails, and were totally unnecessary. They were typically (in my opinion), made by idle hands with nothing more positive to do.

I don't like them, but typically leave them alone, unless they are in a location where they create a nuisance. I'll scatter those.

What bother's me much more than rock cairns is discarded trash of any kind. Also hate to see, small, chopped, green saplings, and nails hammered into tree trunks.
Typically done by idle handed dweebs.

I'm from the no trace is best school.

BOB
 
Stumpy
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01/31/2020 03:21PM  
nooneuno: "I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."

I'm all for the billboard, of that.
As for the cairns, I've been kicking them over for decades.
 
Zwater
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01/31/2020 06:39PM  
VaderStrom: "If a cairn has ever helped you find your way, you're probably thankful it was there, like me. I don't see any harm in having them present in the wilderness. If you want to feel like you're the only one that's been anywhere, why use portages? Just sounds like someone wanting to gripe about something, which makes sense because it's the last day of January. Brighter days are ahead, hopefully they're not too filled with cairns. ;)"
+1. Just relax.
 
01/31/2020 06:52PM  
I don't lose any sleep over them, but I can understand why some people do.
They look like environmental friendly litter to me.

I used to backpack through the top of mountains. 12k above sea level on decomposed granite, in cloudy weather. Those carins may have saved my life a few times as I remember almost walking over a 1,000 foot cliff due to the clouds one time.

The pic of this carin is located a mile off the path in Tangle Lakes of Alaska by Paxon, above the treeline, no reason for this carin, it qualifies as litter in my book.


 
01/31/2020 07:38PM  

I came across this last fall in the Valley of the Cedars, NW Montana fall, in a creek bed.
Positive thing, there is no reason to kick them over. The spring melt/runoff will take care of that.
People who kick over carins must have way more energy than me, if I were to kick over these carins, I would lose bigger than a one legged man in an A-- kicking contest.


 
thegildedgopher
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01/31/2020 08:57PM  
LindenTree: "
I came across this last fall in the Valley of the Cedars, NW Montana fall, in a creek bed.
Positive thing, there is no reason to kick them over. The spring melt/runoff will take care of that.
People who kick over carins must have way more energy than me, if I were to kick over these carins, I would lose bigger than a one legged man in an A-- kicking contest.



"


holy rocks batman. i'd like to imagine all that was done by one person on an acid trip. he built one, and then it started talking to him and demanding he build more until there was a cairn army surrounding him in all directions.
 
01/31/2020 10:15PM  
walllee: "No I leave them. Was on a portage years ago, think it was out of Bootleg lake, if it wasn’t for those, I probably would of got lost."
agree and much rather have them,than a sign pointing the way. Yes moderation is in order here with the rock markers.
 
srust58
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01/31/2020 11:13PM  
ghamer: "
I have never knocked a cairn down but have been very tempted! Its amazing how many times I am bushwhacking and get to a scenic overlook and see a cairn there. As though someone was saying 'I was here before you!'
"


Those two are actually quite nice and add an interesting element to your photos. A few times I have bushwacked across an island we had camped on or just through the woods to an overlook like you state and found an old boot or shoe...usually just the sole left. Hiking across a large island once I came across a pile of old oil cans. So I don't get worked up over a pile of stones. Any place you go up there someone has been there before you. The ancient inhabitants built cairns, sometimes for a purpose and I imagine sometimes just for the hell of it so I don't get my undies in a twist over it. They are very transitory. People who get upset over it may be the same type who probably yelled at the kids who painted all over their nice pristine cliff hundreds of years ago.
 
srust58
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01/31/2020 11:32PM  
Tomcat: "One persons graffiti is another persons art. I have never built a rock cairn but on a solo trip I saw one rising out of the water by my campsite. I don't know who built it but as I sat near I imagined the child or adult taking the time and the enjoyment it may have brought to them. It brightened my day, Thank you.





"


Well said.
 
02/01/2020 01:17AM  



 
Unas10
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02/01/2020 07:16AM  
You gotta be careful about knocking over those cairns/inukshuks/inunnguaqs. At some arbitrary point they become significant relics of the past with deep spiritual and sociological meaning.
 
Marten
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02/01/2020 07:18AM  
jwartman59: "



"


Just to freshen the discussion: I would call this an Inukshuk, not a cairn.
 
Grizzlyman
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02/01/2020 07:31AM  
They’re graffiti.
 
schweady
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02/01/2020 08:48AM  
Stumpy: "nooneuno: "I would rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
I'm all for the billboard, of that.
As for the cairns, I've been kicking them over for decades. "

Is there some reason you felt entitled to edit nooneuno's quote, changing its actual message?
 
firemedic5586
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02/01/2020 11:04AM  
I rather enjoy building cairns.. Then I spray paint them bright florescent colors.

Thus ends my daily troll thread.

I can see the use as a Nav aids, otherwise its a waist of time.

That said, what you leave as a Cairn today may be used as a reference point in 110 years.

I did some work with Toby a few years back now..

Toby

 
Duff
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02/01/2020 11:12AM  


Co-worker built one and took this pic last week. I will admit that it sure adds to the photo compared to others he took at the same location. I'll have to ask, but I'm guessing he kicked it over after the pic. Lake looks big enough to take care of it shortly if he didn't. Seeing one here or there doesn't bug me in the least. But those cairn gardens are ridiculous.
 
CampSR
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02/01/2020 03:36PM  
I dont really give them much thought honestly. Definitely not worth losing sleep over or letting it ruin your day. In fact, I build them (usually just to take a picture or to pass the time) but then also knock them down before leaving.
 
CampSR
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02/01/2020 03:40PM  
I also did not know they were called "cairns" or that there was a specific name for them. Just thought it was a stack of rocks lol
 
Jackfish
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02/02/2020 12:00AM  

The Inukshuk we have in our backyard.
 
Stumpy
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02/02/2020 12:09PM  
schweady: "Stumpy: "nooneuno: "I would rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
I'm all for the billboard, of that.
As for the cairns, I've been kicking them over for decades. "

Is there some reason you felt entitled to edit nooneuno's quote, changing its actual message?
"

I don't know how the "almost " got left out.
Must have been because I edited it on my phone.
 
ChazzTheGnome
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02/04/2020 12:21PM  
nooneuno: "When the trend first started they were kind of unique and they didn't bother me at all, but now in today's "facebook' look at me generation I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
+1!
 
02/04/2020 01:39PM  
ChazzTheGnome: "nooneuno: "When the trend first started they were kind of unique and they didn't bother me at all, but now in today's "facebook' look at me generation I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
+1!"

+2

 
02/04/2020 03:13PM  
Drab: "ChazzTheGnome: "nooneuno: "When the trend first started they were kind of unique and they didn't bother me at all, but now in today's "facebook' look at me generation I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
+1!"

+2 "

How old are you? I believe this trend started about the same time pictographs came about or sooner. Haha.

I’ve not seen them at all in the Bwca but often in remote woodland caribou. Some old, some new... some for show, but none offensive as far as I can see.
 
02/04/2020 07:07PM  
nctry: "Drab: "ChazzTheGnome: "nooneuno: "When the trend first started they were kind of unique and they didn't bother me at all, but now in today's "facebook' look at me generation I would almost rather see a billboard for a copper nickel mine..."
+1!"

+2 "

How old are you? I believe this trend started about the same time pictographs came about or sooner. Haha.

I’ve not seen them at all in the Bwca but often in remote woodland caribou. Some old, some new... some for show, but none offensive as far as I can see."


Always seen them out west in the Beartooth Mountains and they were very helpful. Seen them in the BWCA on the POW WOW trail-ironic it was close to where the individual got lost and later wrote book Lost in The Wild. I believe that one was grown over with grass. Also I know about there is where he went right instead of taking a left.
Like many things Moderation moderation.

I guess once also between Bald Eagle and Gull lake.
 
02/06/2020 06:52AM  
<---- grateful for GPS
 
brp
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02/06/2020 07:38AM  
It has got to be the case that a cairn can serve an important purpose but appear as random/litter/art to someone else. Maybe they mark a grave, or an important long/latitude, a gear drop/cache, I can for sure see this being the case up in the Beartooths.

I've never kicked one over, they don't bother me and there is always the chance they are serving an important purpose.

 
02/06/2020 08:06AM  
There are places for them and places they should not be present.
 
Grandma L
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02/06/2020 11:00AM  
Hmmmm, rock cairns? I actually find many more meaningful things in life to contemplate, consider and complain about. A rock is a rock - at water's edge - the winter ice might just push them over. Seems a passing concern from my perspective.
 
tonecoughlin
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06/21/2022 12:09PM  
Yes take them all down no place in the B Dubbs. If you're dependent on cairns for navigation you might have bigger things to worry about.
 
06/21/2022 12:33PM  
tonecoughlin: "Yes take them all down no place in the B Dubbs. If you're dependent on cairns for navigation you might have bigger things to worry about."

This continues to be an incorrect response to the "cairn question." Particularly on trails in the BWCA where navigation by sight/map/compass can be difficult or impossible because of lack of identifiable landmarks and lack of use. Cairns on these trails are navigational markers put up by the FS or whoever manages maintenance of that trail.

If there is any chance that stack of rocks is a navigational marker, please don't touch it. Only if it is obviously not a cairn marking a trail (like a stack of rocks at a campsite) should you be knocking it down.

There isn't a debate here. Don't build cairns/rock stacks. Don't knock it down unless you are 100% sure it is not for navigation.
 
deerfoot
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06/21/2022 07:33PM  
The misses and I first saw them on the Greenridge Trail in Isle Royale NP on our honeymoon in August 1974. They were helpful on this trail, the highest on the island with many open rocky areas where the trail was not apparent.

I have also encountered them in Canada where they appeared to serve no purpose.
 
Duff
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06/21/2022 09:02PM  
Put me down in the case by case category.
As a geographer, I appreciate the use as a marker.

But if you can spy them on Google Earth.......it might be a bit much.
Having said that, we left them untouched.



 
RatherbeDuffing
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06/21/2022 09:31PM  
There is a difference between cairns on the way to something and cairns at that something. I don't mind them if it is obvious they are for directional purposes and they are subtle. I will kick them over when they are at a destination.
 
06/21/2022 10:32PM  
I’d never waste my time building one nor destroying one…
 
06/22/2022 08:29AM  
I could go either way. There have been times in the mountains where they have helped and hindered me.

Was climbing a mountain in Mexico "papitas" they call them out there. They were critical for finding your way through the labyrinth on Pico De Orizaba.

On the flip side they actually marked a trail the wrong way up Gannett peak in Wyoming. I think sometimes they're made for navigational aid by those who actually know the way, and sometimes they're used as breadcrumbs for those who don't know where they're going and want to be able to find their way back.

There are some cases where you could consider them archeologically significant like in the tundra in Alaska where they've likely stood for hundreds/thousands of years marking migratory routes and ancient camps, etc. I think it'd be a shame to knock one of these down...

When they're made just for fun (more of a recent trend) I think they take away from the wilderness experience, but I don't feel a need to destroy them. Who knows maybe someday they'll be archeologically significant as well. :)
 
MikeinMpls
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06/22/2022 08:59AM  
A year or two after the Ham Lake fire (I think it was the Ham Lake fire, might have been a different one but doesn't matter), my wife and I attempted to walk to Magnetic Rock. Rock cairns were in place to mark areas of the trail that were not obvious following the burn. Helpful for the navigation.

I don't spend any time knocking them over, though I do find them intrusive at times. I think people see them as harmless "I was here" memorials that are not permanent, like graffiti might be. They are harmless, to be sure, but they certainly are not LNT. And one appears to beget another and another and they seem to reproduce like bunny rabbits.

Mike
 
Prospector
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06/22/2022 09:59AM  
I enjoy them as a testament to the futility of human works. Nature will knock them all down in time, the ice will return--soon!
 
thegildedgopher
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06/22/2022 10:52AM  
MikeinMpls: "A year or two after the Ham Lake fire (I think it was the Ham Lake fire, might have been a different one but doesn't matter), my wife and I attempted to walk to Magnetic Rock. Rock cairns were in place to mark areas of the trail that were not obvious following the burn. Helpful for the navigation."

That trail has brand new carsonite sign posts along the route now -- as well as refreshed blue spray paint markings at times. Almost impossible to get lost now.
 
MikeinMpls
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06/22/2022 12:47PM  
thegildedgopher: "MikeinMpls: "A year or two after the Ham Lake fire (I think it was the Ham Lake fire, might have been a different one but doesn't matter), my wife and I attempted to walk to Magnetic Rock. Rock cairns were in place to mark areas of the trail that were not obvious following the burn. Helpful for the navigation."


That trail has brand new carsonite sign posts along the route now -- as well as refreshed blue spray paint markings at times. Almost impossible to get lost now."


Yep! We did it in October. Beautiful day, light snow...otters in the pond where the trail starts.

Thanks

Mike
 
thegildedgopher
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06/22/2022 12:50PM  
MikeinMpls: "thegildedgopher: "MikeinMpls: "A year or two after the Ham Lake fire (I think it was the Ham Lake fire, might have been a different one but doesn't matter), my wife and I attempted to walk to Magnetic Rock. Rock cairns were in place to mark areas of the trail that were not obvious following the burn. Helpful for the navigation."



That trail has brand new carsonite sign posts along the route now -- as well as refreshed blue spray paint markings at times. Almost impossible to get lost now."



Yep! We did it in October. Beautiful day, light snow...otters in the pond where the trail starts.


Thanks


Mike"


Well, thanks for your work. We had a wind-bound day last week and enjoyed that hike very much.
 
06/22/2022 01:43PM  
We also hiked that trail last week (Friday) with our granddaughter. It was challenging for me, but glad I did it. Fun to have the experience with her, and she loved it so much!!
 
thegildedgopher
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06/22/2022 02:02PM  
Spartan2: "We also hiked that trail last week (Friday) with our granddaughter. It was challenging for me, but glad I did it. Fun to have the experience with her, and she loved it so much!!"

We had 3 generations on that hike -- ages 15, 41, and 68! We kept a nice moderate pace and took time to stop and enjoy the vistas. I was proud of my dad for accepting the challenge and he rose to the occasion. He made his first trip up the gunflint trail at 65 and is hooked now :)
 
scotttimm
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06/22/2022 03:37PM  
I saw this on FB and it made me giggle. Not in camps, etc, but marking a portage? Yes please!
 
06/22/2022 10:07PM  
scotttimm: "I saw this on FB and it made me giggle. Not in camps, etc, but marking a portage? Yes please!
"




Always wonder if someone complained about the rock chairs on Gebe... most people look at em as pretty cool. Then you get that guy...
 
RatherbeDuffing
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06/23/2022 07:11AM  
nctry: "scotttimm: "I saw this on FB and it made me giggle. Not in camps, etc, but marking a portage? Yes please!
"





Always wonder if someone complained about the rock chairs on Gebe... most people look at em as pretty cool. Then you get that guy..."


The leave no trace guy? Yeah, what an asshole!!
 
Lawnchair107
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06/23/2022 07:49AM  
RatherbeDuffing: "nctry: "scotttimm: "I saw this on FB and it made me giggle. Not in camps, etc, but marking a portage? Yes please!
"



Always wonder if someone complained about the rock chairs on Gebe... most people look at em as pretty cool. Then you get that guy..."


The leave no trace guy? Yeah, what an asshole!!"


The classic rock cairn debate! Almost as good and enlightening as the inner vs. outie debacle!

FWIW- outie all the way.
 
HangLoose
distinguished member(862)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
06/26/2022 05:07PM  
hobbydog:



Woodland Caribou....intended purpose. Most here are just 2 or 3 stones. I add one occasionally when I have missed a turn or feel it could use one more.


"


+1 for some necessary cairns in WCPP. Especially through some burn areas. I'd rather see cairns than pink trail marking tape. Either way, something needs to mark the trail in those areas. Without a GPS it would be impossible to see the portage trail after a forest fire burn. Also cairns are very helpful marking extended trails over rocky outcrops. They serve a very legitimate purpose in those areas.

 
MidwestMan
senior member (74)senior membersenior member
 
06/27/2022 12:31PM  
They bring me joy. Wouldn’t ever consider knocking them down.
 
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