It’s always reassuring to see a trail marker in the middle of nowhere. But if you’re in an area that doesn’t have consistent trail markers, it’s important to remain vigilant along the trail and look for marks that will help you return along the same trail if you’re meant to be on an out-and-back hike. And…if for some reason, you become lost and need to turn around, you’ll want to recognize the correct trail when you hit it.
Generally, I feel constantly reassured of my location when hiking in the French and Swiss Alps, sometimes annoyingly so. But I’d rather complain of constant trail markers than complain of getting lost. Large cairns are often visible on the peaks of mountain summits, just to help you make sure you’ve arrived. My sister Shawna and I (above right) were happy to pose on the Mont Buet summit cairn near Chamonix, France, as was our buddy Trent:
Guideposts are also common in the French and Swiss Alps, sometimes giving you numerous options at each juncture:
Blazers in Switzerland are often yellow and diamond-shaped, like this one on a trail along the Rhone valley:
Trail blazes are common along trails in the Alps, as well. Typically, France’s GR (or Grande Randonee) trails are blazed in red and white paint on trees or rocks, but in this area in a high alpine meadow, there weren’t any trees; it was a notoriously bad stretch for foul weather and route-finding errors, so the owners of this farm painted a huge blaze on this building to help guide hikers through. I was especially thankful for it on this scary, foggy day when I was passing by:
Yes…all of these trail markers are amazing to find, especially in bad weather. But I also feel comforted by the natural trail markers I always look for when hiking in well-known areas. I frequently look for patterns in the area where the trees hit the skyline…here’s one of my favorite silhouettes that helps me navigate through a well-known wilderness area at night:
Want to know more about cairns, blazes, blazers, guideposts, and other trail markers?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.