Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cairns of Enchantment

My friend Emily grew up hiking and rock climbing with her dad. She was telling me about one of her favorite places to hike in the Enchantments Wilderness ~ Aasgard Pass, and the cairns there.

I had only read the word cairn. She had to explain them to me. Google the word and be fascinated like I was. There is much history/folklore about them.

Hiking here is only by regulated permit so too much traffic doesn't spoil the protected high country of The Enchantments.

Once you come out of the woods there is a big rock fall. A huge steep slide. It is difficult to get across in a half a day. Emily likes it. She takes a light day pack, instead of a heavy overnight type. It is intense and the scenery changes quickly, transporting you to the high country.

There are grown men who go the other, longer way. You don't gain elevation as fast. In her opinion it misses the majesty. And enchantment.

It is so rocky the trail becomes invisible. On either side of the "trail" there are sheer cliffs. Jagged steep rock ledges that only experienced rock climbers with equipment climb. If you accidentally started up these blinds, you might not be able to find your way out. They are dangerous. Dragon Tail is the name of one of them.

To stay on the rock trail. which doesn't have footprints or show worn spots, you look for cairns. If you get distracted, or become exhausted, you can miss one. If you miss one, it's scary. They are beacons. You constantly look for the next one ahead.

Some of them are big. Some are small three rock beginners. Monuments. Each successive hiker may add to the pile/tower. Sometimes you're too tired to add one, but extremely glad some previous wayfaring stranger added one.

Once you get to the top of Aasgard Pass, it's barren, almost no fish in the high lakes. Glacial melt. It's exposed. These delicate balancing rock cairns ~ dry stacked towers ~ don't seem to fall down. At least she's never seen one.

Emily told me they have gotten off the trail on accident before. They wandered around hoping to find a cairn marking the way.  It is a relief to finally find one again.

If someone finds something on the trail, camping gear, clothing, etc, they will leave it tucked into the cairn or leaning against it. Sometimes it is a place for notes, communicating.

I don't think I'll ever make it to the high country. My hikes are the flat lander kind. Or nearly so. I want to build a cairn in the yard for symbolic value. And the whimsical folklore attached.

The photos below are Emily's ~ of a hike to the Enchantments. Used with permission. Thanks.
(Em and her husband did Mt. Rainier a couple of years ago, too)


Glynn said...

Kathleen, you good have drawn all kinds of analogies here, but you didn't. You just told a story and let us draw the analogies. Great post.

Maureen said...

I agree with Glynn. Marvelous. The cairns are fascinating, mysterious, and yes, enchanting. I'm drawn to them as I'm drawn to Andy Goldsworthy's rock wall at Storm King, which comes out of the woods and slides down into the depths of a creek before climbing the next hill, and the rock domes he created at the National Gallery that sit behind glass, holding their secrets. I can only imagine what happens when the gallery goes dark.

Em said...

my favorite part is that you are going to build one in your backyard! i will top it off with a rock when i come over. :) love you!!

S. Etole said...

you've taken us where we might not otherwise have gone ... it isn't always easy going

M.L. Gallagher said...

when our daughters were born, my then husband climbed Mount Glasgow, in the front ranges, to place their name in the cairn at the summit.

Love the idea of a cairn in your back yard -- and your photos are stunning!

M.L. Gallagher said...

Sorry -- not your photos -- your friend, Emily's photos are stunning!