I am impressed with the 2023 youth theme, “I can do all things through Jesus Christ” and the cairns that represent this theme.
I have long been attracted to cairns, but for some time never understood their purpose. I remember hiking along the Napoli Coast on the island of Kauai and coming across an entire garden of cairns. Hundreds of rocks of all shapes and sizes were stacked near a little bay. They extended from the water’s edge to where the mountain ascended and grew up from the ground like Gladiolus. My family and I wandered among this garden of rock sculptures marveling at how the artists had carefully balanced each rock to support those that would rest on top.
During the Covid-19 pandemic my husband and I wanted to hike the Inca Trail but the trail head was closed. We found a guide who took us up a neighboring mountain, Salkantay, and we merged down onto the Inca Trail from above. We waited to begin our climb in a charming little tea house that was surrounded by creative rock sculptures that looked like cairns. The sculptures were beautiful and could have graced the courtyard of any elegant building.
I believe that rocks are beautiful, meant to be displayed and I collect rocks from our various hikes. My accommodating husband always saves room in his backpack to support me in my obsession, carrying my favorite rocks down the mountain. I created a rock garden in our back yard, displaying rocks from all parts of the world. When grandchildren come to visit they enjoy stacking the rocks and creating their own cairns.
Over the years we have encountered hundreds of cairns on our hikes. Sometimes they are works of art and sometimes they are simply monuments constructed by someone who wanted to record their presence on the mountain or to celebrate that they completed the hike.
It wasn’t until we climbed Cadillac Mountain in the Acadia National Park that I understand the importance of cairns as guides. There are many places along the path to the summit of Cadillac Mountain that are devoid of foliage. The trail to the top passes over vast meadows of granite. When we are hiking in a forest, it’s easy to spot the trail because the branches are cleared from the path and foliage is matted down. It’s very difficult to see a trail when walking on top of granite. Fortunately, on Cadillac Mountain when we came to a field of granite there were cairns to mark the trail. But for the first time in all my travels the cairns came with instructions: “Adding or removing rocks from Acadia cairns misleads hikers.”
The cairns on Cadillac Mountain showed me the importance of cairns, not just as pieces of art, or as monuments to someone’s presence on the mountain, but as trail markers to prevent us from getting lost. The fact that these cairns were placed strategically, every time we came to a place where we could lose the trail, reminded me of Elder Renlund’s talk about cairns. He compared each cairn to a marker that leads us to our heavenly home. He mentioned five cairns that when followed, can lead us to our heavenly home.
#1 Know Who You Are
#2 Seek Heavenly Father’s Will
#3 Align your Will with the Father’s Will
#4 Make and Keep Covenants with God
#5 Endure to the End
Considering this sign on Cadillac Mountain that instructs hikers to leave the cairns alone, I wondered what could happen if someone ignored these instructions and destroyed the cairns that lead us to our heavenly home. What happens if someone who wants to destroy testimonies knocks over the cairn that indicates who we are? How confusing life becomes when we don’t know that we’re children of God. We will be lost on the mountain at the beginning of our journey.
What if someone destroys the cairn that instructs us to make and keep covenants with God? We could go through life without the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. We would be lost on the mountain without the spirit to guide us, without the Holy Ghost to illuminate our minds. What happens if someone constructs their own cairn indicating an entirely different route from the official trail? Hikers, like followers of Christ, can be deceived by false cairns.
The cairns on Cadillac Mountain that I saw differed from the decorative or monumental cairns I was accustomed to in another very significant way. They were huge! The rocks that the forest service used to construct the cairns were so large it would take a very strong man, or even more than one man to place them. To knock over these cairns or scatter these rocks would require significant effort. A mischievous person would not be likely to attempt such a feat. Only a very determined deceiver would go to such lengths.
I am comforted that the cairns that Elder Renlund mentioned are huge! They are put in place by very strong men. Two or more prophets always put these cairns in place. We hear the same testimony of many of the apostles, reassuring us that this cairn is accurately pointing the way back to our heavenly home.
Cairns are designed to point in a specific direction. A deceiver who isn’t strong enough to actually lift one of the huge rocks that makes up a directional cairn may instead attempt to mislead travelers by twisting the rocks around until they point the wrong way.
There are deceivers in the world today who do just that. They twist the words of the prophets, or they teach their own doctrine, claiming they are showing us the correct way to reach the top of the mountain. Cairns that point the wrong way can be very destructive. We can get seriously lost if we do not discern twisted truths.
When we encounter what might be a twisted cairn we need to double check to make sure we are on the right trail. We can do this in several ways. We can watch for someone coming down the mountain, someone who has already traveled the path and ask them if we are going the right way. Once when my husband and I were hiking in Tahiti we had to repeatedly cross a river to stay on the trail. The path that had been worn through the forest ended each time we came to the river and sometimes we could not see where it picked up on the other side of the river. However, if we waited a little while we would see people coming down the trail from the opposite side of the river and we then knew where to go.
Another way we can check to make sure we are on the correct path if someone has tampered with the cairns is to check with other guideposts. We can use a GPS, a map, or a compass to find our way. The guideposts we have in our lives, in addition to the prophets, are the scriptures and the Holy Ghost. It is wise to know and understand the scriptures so if someone tries to twist the words of the prophets we won’t be deceived.
Hiking in the mountains is a delightful experience. Enjoying this beautiful world that God has created lifts our spirits. The ability to climb a steep slope is intensely satisfying. However, getting lost in the mountains is anything but delightful. Getting lost in life is no less scary. We will be safe when we follow the living prophets that set the cairns that direct our path back home.