Stacking stones along a mountain path is an old practice, perpetuated from ancient cultures. The Scots may be best known for it; afterall, the word cairn originates from the Gaelic term for "heap of stones." But the crude meaning of the word does little to illuminate the richness and tradition of the term among wayfinders and world travelers stretching back a millennia.
The early Norse people used stones as precursors to lighthouses, marking an important navigational site in the maze-like Norwegian fjords. Vikings blazed routes across Iceland with varda (Icelandic for cairn) over a thousand years ago.
When European explorers began pioneering the arctic coast, they would conceal messages describing their discoveries in prominent cairns. Sometimes this would be their last mark on the world and their best effort to help the explorer who would be there after them.
Across the North American Arctic, Inuit people constructed stone monuments called inuksuk. Meaning "to act in the capacity of a human," an inuksuk could relay a variety of messages-- memorial, resource site or safe passage.
Cairns cross deserts on three continents and dot the Tibetan Plateau, the Mongolian steppe, and the Inca road system in the Andes. Erected for navigation, spiritual offering or as monuments of remembrance, heaps of stone occur on just about every landscape where there are materials available to stack.
From human to human, from generation to generation, this is our way of communicating that someone has been there before, that the route they've selected thus far is going in the right direction. Sometimes when looking onto a foreign landscape, while you can feel its majesty and you are overwhelmed by its exotic beauty, this simple signal from a fellow trailblazer is enough to calm your mind.
**If you see any cairns along your journey, snap a photo and submit it when you return. As a thank you Trailblazing Travel will offer you a special check-in amenity on your next journey with us.**