Leadership Lessons From The Cairns On My Pikes Peak Climb

This weekend I crossed off a huge personal goal by hiking Pikes Peak. Tomorrow over at Jeff’s Crazy Idea I will be sharing what I did to prepare and insights into the physical and mental part of this adventure.

Today I’m talking here about a very unexpected leadership lesson I learned while climbing my first fourteener.

My friend Deb went with me on this journey. She is an experienced climber who I trust and asked to go with me. My goal for her? Don’t let me die and drag my butt up the mountain even when I want to quit.

Deb was awesome. She helped me prepare weeks in advance and the day of the climb she kept me safe, focused and aware of what was going on around me. She also is a wickedly smart business woman, so I had 5 1/2 hours of personal consulting time on this trip. I’m smarter than the average bear when I pick my traveling companions.

At one point, we got to a part of the trail where she yelled over her shoulder, “Watch for the cairns”.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

Who is Karen and why should I be looking for her?

I can be blonde like that sometimes, but I’m blaming this response on the lack of oxygen and the altitude.

She stopped and explained, no watch for the “cairns” the rock piles along the trail. They will keep us on the right path and become really important when we get up to the to the rocky part.  The cairns keep you from getting off track and getting stuck into some major bouldering.

Ok, whatever. Until we hit this part of the trail, I really had no clue what she was talking about.



When you are climbing rocks, like this they all look the same. You have to look for the cairns to keep you on point.

I couldn’t help but think about how many times in ministry or non-profit management I need to set up cairns to keep me on track. Just because opportunities that come up are a good idea, it doesn’t mean I should try to do all of them. If new things that come up aren’t a goal you have set and are shooting for, then you really have to resist getting off the path you have before you. If not, then you could find yourself in some pretty gnarly stuff.

Simple enough. But hard to do in the day to day.

I have to keep a close eye on the cairns. Especially in the rocky parts. They are there for a reason.

 What cairns have you set up ahead of time that are there to keep you on track? Remember, they are there for a reason.



  1. Gaye Tillotson says:

    Well said my friend! The first time I saw cairns on a wicked hike, I thought somebody got creative while they were resting. Who knew? I’m thankful God speaks to the importance of staying on track in Philippians 1:9-10…that we would have a depth of insight and be able to discern what is best… Thanks for the awesome visual Julie.

  2. Nice photos of the cairns! 🙂


  1. […] This weekend my friend Bekah and I are checking Mount Bierdstadt off our lists. I think I might have even talked Jeff into going as well. It is considered one of the easiest 14ers in Colorado to climb. But still, I’m reminded that there is no such thing as a easy 14er. The weather can change quickly, and above the tree line anyone can be pressed. I’m sure there will be new cairns to guide our path. […]

  2. […] though I knew a little more about what to expect from hiking Pikes Peak earlier this year, I constantly had to manage my expectations for Bierdstadt. The company was […]

  3. […] of Colorado’s 14ers (there are 54 mountain peaks over 14,000 ft above sea level). Julie had climbed Pikes Peak last month and apparently got hooked. She had been planning this trek with Bekah for a couple of […]

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