Which Blaze Color Are You?

I had just descended The Priest—a 4,062-foot tall mountain in Nelson County, VA. The previous night I had camped at the Priest Shelter, famous for the confessional shelter journal. I had pushed a 20+ mile day with no water for the last five miles. My dog and I arrived at the shelter late. There was barely enough sunlight to cook dinner and set up the tent.

By the time I got down to VA 56 the next morning my phone was almost dead. It was only 9 a.m. and already the sun was beating down hot. I crossed the road and sat down by a creek to eat a snack and cool off before the climb ahead.

The three ridges were above me. Hikers had been talking about the trail up ahead the night before. I try not to take part in hiker beta—any indulgent, hyperbolic discussion of what is coming ahead. I find that type of conversation psyches me out in a negative way. If a climb is going to be bad I’d rather learn that as I go. Once I begin to dread the trail ahead, it makes the day so much worse.

The day was only getting hotter. I put Sadie’s pack on and pulled my pack on as well. I felt weak. I technically had enough calories in my pack, but most of it was in dehydrated dinners. I didn’t pack enough snacks. I hadn’t been planning to get off for Devils Backbone Brewing, but thought I might need to now.

But first, I had to climb the Three Ridges.

The climb began quickly after the creek. Sweat poured down my face and I felt weaker. I looked up and saw a sign post. Though I could see the white blazes ahead I used the sign as an excuse to stop.

The sign said:

(via the AT white blaze) Maupin Shelter 7 miles

(via the Mau-Har Trail blue blaze) Maupin Shelter 3 miles

The indication was obvious to my tired thru-hiking mind. Take the blue blaze and cut off four miles of trail; four very difficult miles of trail. The blue blaze sign had notes written all over it:

“Blue blazes are for cheaters”

“Voldemort was a blue blazer”

I paused, but not for long. I turned left and headed down the Mau-Har trail, my first blue blaze of my thru-hike.

A Basic Guide to Blazes

White blaze: as pure as snow. If you follow these through and through you will be a purist true, so true.

Yellow blaze: For all those who love the open road. Whether you road walk (like the 13 miles I walked on the Blue Ridge Parkway to get into Waynesboro, VA), or hop in a car—you’re following that yellow blaze.

Blue blaze: Most side trails along the AT are marked by blue blazes. I didn’t often put in the work to research when blue blazes met back up with the AT, but sometimes it was obvious from signs within the parks. Being a blue blazer can also refer to taking frequent side trips to waterfalls, views, etc.

Pink blaze: Hiking with the intention of catching, or slowing down to meet up with a lady hiker. No comment really. But my question was always, what do you call it if you’re hiking for a dude? Someone suggested banana blazing, and I thought that was brilliant.

Which Blazes I Claimed

White, yellow, blue. Not sure what color that makes when you mix them all together, I think a kelly green, but that would be my blaze color.

Standing at the intersection of the AT and the Mau-Har Trail I was nervous. No one was around. I was completely alone. Yet, I doubted my desire to hike off-trail. I felt like I was cheating. I wondered what my friends would say if they found out. More importantly, I wondered if I would regret the decision later. Would I feel like I was less of a thru-hiker?

At that time I was calorie-deficient, incredibly hot, weak, and mentally exhausted. I don’t regret my decision. The Mau-Har Trail takes you along a luscious creek full of moss-covered rocks and a sweet camp spot tucked next to a cascade.

After dunking in the creek I sat in the sun and read a book while Sadie took a much-needed nap. I kept a slower pace and didn’t tire myself out. I saw no other hikers until I reached the road to get to Devils Backbone Brewing.

At the brewery I met up with my friends. I decided that I wouldn’t lie about the blue blaze if asked, but I wasn’t going to mention it. It was my hike, and so far I wasn’t feeling guilty.

Turns out that all my friends took the same blue blaze.

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Comments 6

  • Thru-Hiker1 : Oct 2nd

    This article should be re-titled “Are you a thru-hiker or a section hiker?”

    • Elise Wallace : Oct 2nd


  • Vince : Oct 3rd

    HYOH and listen to your body. You know by gut instinct when you should take the path/road less traveled. Enjoy your journey. Well written posts. Fair winds and following seas

    Vince aka The Dude, SOBO, ’17/’18

    • Elise Wallace : Oct 3rd

      Agreed! Thanks for reading.

  • Nate - Day Hiker : Oct 3rd

    Three Ridges was a great hike and had some tremendous views. I am definitely glad that I did not skip it.

    I was proud that I didn’t cut any sections on my thru hike this year. I didn’t slack pack or hike any sections southbound. The journey was just as I wanted it. Everything on my back from Georgia to Maine. Any time I took blue blazes for views or yellow blazes to get to town, I returned to that spot on the trail and headed north.

    • Elise Wallace : Oct 3rd

      Glad you are proud of your hike, just as I am proud of mine! That’s all that matters in the end, that you can feel good about your hike.


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