The Art of the Cairn

I learned to look for cairns when I began backpacking in the Sierra Nevada at a young age.  Cairns are little towers of stacked rocks to mark the way of a path or trail.  In the Sierras, they are especially helpful when traveling cross-country away from the main trail.  They are a welcome sight on the granite terrain, knowing you are headed in the right direction.

Since my backpacking days, it seems my entire life I’ve been looking for cairns, literal or metaphorical.  Now I build them, usually with my group three other women friends that I been adventuring with for going on over 25 years.  Usually, these are for more spiritual reasons, sometimes to mark the passage of a loved one.  It is a treasured ritual we have adopted.  Below are some of the cairns we have built or come upon.

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Rocks stacked upon rocks


Stone sentinels

Marking the way

When the path is unclear


The Inuits have a name for them


Theirs with heads, arms, legs

Human forms

Beckoning landmarks on the stark tundra

When the frozen landscape

Has nothing more to offer


Cairns may be memorials

Built in quiet places of beauty

Marking those departed

Or they can be built for reasons unknown

Even to the builder

A primitive response that rises deep within


Cairns beget cairns

Travelers make their encounter

And desire to build more

Placing rock upon rock

With focused intention

Until cairn families appear

On lakeshores

The openings of caves

Lonely plateaus

Summoning the wild spirits

That ride the wind

Guiding their way home










6 thoughts on “The Art of the Cairn

  1. Alanna,
    I’ve been with you for most of these moments, they are treasures buried deep within my heart, and in stone form, hold up my human spirit in a most eternal way.
    Thank you for collecting, balancing, and saying.

    Liked by 1 person

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