Sunday, 25 July 2010

Cairns - A Diverting Topic

A couple of days ago, I climbed a mountain close to my home in the south of the island. As I neared the summit, I realised that I was not on the correct path and this despite there being only one route to the top and having climbed the peak many times in the past. Retracing my steps I found that I had been derailed by a rock cairn marking what turned out to be on further inspection, a 'short-cut'.
Now, I hate short-cuts on mountain paths. They generally occur where the path zigzags and walkers can't be bothered to follow the original line of the path and so cut off the corners thereby 'straightening' the meandering, looping path for a direct one. This to my mind is disastrous. Mountain paths zigzag for a reason. By following an indirect route they greatly reduce the incline thereby making the ascent or descent easier but probably more importantly, they reduce erosion. A long steep straight path cutting directly down a hillside becomes a river in heavy rain washing away topsoil and greatly increasing the damage to the hillside.
You may have noticed as you walk through the mountains, narrow channels cut through the path and often lined with rocks. These are water drainage channels that divert the water off of the path thereby further reducing erosion. A short cut will have none of this and coupled with the steep decent, the water cuts a deeper and deeper 'scar' down the hillside.
Having determined that the path I had inadvertently taken was a short cut bypassing the original zigzag route, I set about obliterating it. First I removed the cairn marking the start of the short-cut and then set about hiding the 'path' by covering it with as many boulders as I could find. It's bad enough that some walkers create short-cuts but to then mark them with cairns so that others then establish a false path is nothing short of vandalism.
Cairn building in Tenerife is starting to reach epidemic proportions. Along every path and track, countless useless cairns litter the routes, often on straight sections of path and sometimes many metres off of the route. I expect to perhaps see a summit cairn on a mountain-top and occasionally one marking the hard to find path but the amount currently littering the paths on the island sometimes makes me wonder if all of the islands builders, frustrated at the downturn in the building industry, have taken to the hills and started building cairns to alleviate their boredom.
They can be dangerous too. A few years ago in Gran Canaria, I was walking with my wife in the Barranco De Arguineguin when the path simply vanished! Puzzled, I began searching for the path we had walked without problem a couple of years earlier. After a frustrating and tiring ten minutes searching, we gave up and retraced our steps only to find that we had been diverted at a hairpin bend by an erroneous cairn that indicated an onward path on the apex of the bend where none existed. Other walkers had obviously been misled as we had and a 'path' of sorts had formed but petered out after five minutes or so in the middle of nowhere when they realised, like us, that they had been misled! Upon returning to the point where we had been diverted, the onward path was obvious but when we had approached from the original direction , it had been invisible. Had the cairn not been marking the erroneous path we would have automatically passed 180 degrees through the turn and carried on uphill. In this instance, it caused nothing more then a few minutes of frustration but the potential for a less satisfactory outcome is obvious. The cairn is supposed to be used to help other walkers locate the hidden path or mark the summit of a mountain but it is getting to the point here where I now regularly kick over these annoying, mostly useless and potentially harmful, unsightly heaps of stones littering the Tenerife countryside.
So, if you are walking in the hills in Tenerife and happen upon a madman kicking cairns over and swearing to himself it's probably best to just keep walking and pretend you haven't seen him.
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