View Full Version : Need some help on the trail.

03-27-2010, 20:02
This is my first post and i'm sure i'll get a lot of hell for this but i'm really hoping someone out there can point me in the right direction.
I'm going to thru-hike this year, i'm leaving on april 14th, i have everything worked out for the most but except one key part. How do i keep from getting lost/ stay on the right trail. There can't be markings everywhere, i imagine that there will be some pretty long stretches where your away from any white blaze at all. so please help me how do i do this. i know i'm getting in over my head and that i sound like a fool to a lot of people but i'm going to do this and any help would be appreciated.

Hikes in Rain
03-27-2010, 20:16
There aren't any areas where there aren't blazes, and in most areas the trail is worn down anywhere from one to three feet from all the folks who've been before you. Honestly, you'd have to work at it to get lost.

With the attitude you just displayed, you'll make it. I have no doubt. You've got what it takes.

For all that you can hike the trail without aids, I'd suggest getting some maps and guidebooks if you can do it. It really enhances the experience. Check eBay, or the for sale sections here on this forum for used ones for cheap. I started my section hikes without them, and missed things here and there because I just didn't know they were there.

Even if you can't do that, go for it anyway! I'm rooting for you.

03-27-2010, 20:17
David there are plenty of markings just follow the white blazes also purchase appalachian pages by David Miller it is an excellent guide you can google appalachian pages and locate his website David thru hiked the trail sometime ago and wrote a book -AWOL on The Appalachian Trail- it is a great read and I recommend it to you you may also want to purchase the AT Maps which are avilaable from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy .

03-27-2010, 20:21
Follow the white blazes. They really are pretty wall marked. Take a map & compass &/or GPS for assurance

Also, the path is pretty distinct, if not covered with deep snow.

03-27-2010, 20:21

I'd buy the book though.

03-27-2010, 20:28
thanks so much, i really appreciate it, i was really nervous but you guys put me at ease. I was going to pick up the thru hikers guide but i will definitely grab those books too. anyway maybe i'll see some of you guys at Katahdin

03-27-2010, 20:35
Do expect to get turned around from time to time. When that happens, walk back to the last white blaze you saw and try it again. It will happen, you can count on it. The more you hike, the easier reading the trail gets to be. Then you have to watch out for zoning out and hiking a mile down an old logging road because you missed the double white blaze indicating a turn. :)

If you haven't seen a blaze in a while, turn around and look behind you - there are blazes for people hiking north and south. Often, if you will see a blaze for folks hiking the other way.

Some road crossings are confusing as heck. This is where having a map can be very handy.

Hikes in Rain
03-27-2010, 20:38
No reason to be nervous here; you're among friends. One thing to remember, there are no stupid questions. Don't be afraid to ask anything. All of us here love the trail; if we're not hiking, we're hanging out here.

03-27-2010, 20:50
If you are on a tight budget and want to minimize your purchases, just buy the ATC databook. It only costs around $5 and has most of what the many times more expensive alternatives have.

Having said that your best overall purchase is a map set from ATC and an inexpensive compass. All compasses will work. Great ones cost but $15 or so. Despite the rumors on this and other sites, learning to read a map and compass remains easy. Stop at the first town with a library, scan a book on compass and map reading, in 15 minutes you will gain all you need for an AT thru hike. Sure there are refinements that eventually you will want to know about. But you'll get to Katahdin easily without them.


03-27-2010, 23:03
You can see a blaze standing just about anywhere on the AT. The rule of thumb is your suppost to be able to see the next blaze while standing next to one. Sometimes you have to turn around to see one. Though this is not always the case, usually on long straight sections where its obvious you have to be on the right path. Then they can get a little sparce.

However, you do have to watch out for turns. If there is an obvious path that you have been following and the trail suddenly turns off it, you can bet there is an overgrown bush hidding the double blaze! Thats gotten me a couple of times.

But its strange that after awhile you don't even look for blazes, but if you make a wrong turn, some how your subconcious knows you haven't passed one recently or the trail doesn't "feel" right and makes you stop and look around.

One thing about a map, you have to refer to it frequently to keep track of where you are on it. If you don't know where you were, no way a map is going to tell you where you are now. (unless you have GPS to spot your location) And remember, though the trail heads in a generally northen direction, at any given time, you can be heading anyway but north!

03-28-2010, 00:15
You really have to try hard to get lost. The trail is so obvious most of the time I have wondered how anyone did get lost.

03-28-2010, 07:03
Also look for blazes on rocks, the road, signs, telephone poles, etc. You're not always in the woods.

03-28-2010, 07:17
During our thru hike last year, my wife Tag-along and I used a "rule of thumb" that served us well. If we found ourselves walking 20 minutes without seeing a blaze, we turned around and walked back to the last blaze. We only got off the trail (inadvertently) twice - both times in very foggy near whiteout conditions.

03-28-2010, 08:01
David - There's over 50 miles of the AT in CT. I can't imagine the closest trailhead isn't more than an hour away from Hartford. Just drive over to a spot where the trail crosses a road and walk on it for a few miles. You'll soon have an idea of the trail..

03-28-2010, 09:25
Some new hikers get turned-around when getting going in the a.m.'s. Which way is north and south on the trail. If no one is around to remind you, mark the direction before putting up for the night. Tied off piece of string to bush tree to get you started in the a.m. Suggestions guys for this hiker?

03-28-2010, 09:32
Even when the AT is poorly blazed, it is almost always quite obvious where the trail goes based on the worn footpath and logical assumptions. Just be attentive, especially to the double blazes which typically signal an upcoming turn or an intersection.

I firmly believe that everyone should bring a trail map, which if nothing else can give you a sense for which direction the trail is heading (it doesn't always go straight compass-north!). With a guidebook and elevation profile, you can also get a sense for whether or not you're on the right trail, or if there's an unexpected turn coming up.

If thousands of people can walk this trail every year, you certainly can do it. Just be prepared and don't take any inordinate risks that could cut your hike short.

03-28-2010, 09:36
Some new hikers get turned-around when getting going in the a.m.'s. Which way is north and south on the trail. If no one is around to remind you, mark the direction before putting up for the night. Tied off piece of string to bush tree to get you started in the a.m. Suggestions guys for this hiker?

If you hang your food bag (I always did), hang it down the trail in the direction you're going to hike in the morning.

The confusion never happened to me, but I saw several hikers get turned around, even leaving a shelter after a short break.

According to the ATC website, there are about 170,000 white blazes on the trail, going each way. That figures out to about one blaze every 140 feet! The only places I ever got confused was at a couple of road crossings, and a 200' hike in each direction always solved the problem.

03-28-2010, 10:00
If the maintainers have painted the blazes the way the ATC rules require, a double blaze always signifies a turn in the trail. Sometimes the "turn" is pretty minimal. But a double blaze alerts the hiker to be aware that a change in directions is imminent.

Hikers assume that everyone knows this. But when I walk with others on our land trust trails, I'm constantly reminded that new hikers have no idea.


Rain Man
03-28-2010, 18:08
... i sound like a fool to a lot of people but i'm going to do this and any help would be appreciated.

If you sound like a fool to anyone, that's their problem. It's an excellent question. As a section hiker, I've gotten off the trail several times. Fortunately never for long, for as someone said, you realize after a short while that you haven't seen any white blazes, and you go back.

First of all, the weather is not always a nice warm sunny afternoon. Often, you'll be out after dark, or in dense fog, in pouring rain, maybe a thunder storm, sleet, etc. Or maybe the trail is COVERED in leaves, or snow, or weeds and brambles. Or it's a trail intersection or camp area, or even a shelter, with trails going everywhere.

And all those nice, fresh, bright-white blazes, plain and just at eye level? It ain't 100% so. Often enough, they're on posts or trees that have fallen down, or weeds have over-grown. And it's worse when the most worn footpath or woods road continues straight, but the AT veers off, and THAT is where the blaze is missing.

Anyway, this isn't a great concern. It's certainly a small, small minority of the time. But it does happen and you will get a sense about it. AT hikers rarely get lost, though many don't know just where the trail is, for very brief periods of time. LOL

Have a great hike!



03-28-2010, 18:21
I've done the Springer to Daleville section and have to say the only time there was an issue was at road crossings. Sometimes you have to look up and own the road a bit. But, have the faith that there is a WhiteBlaze and you'll be right.

The only time I went off trail it was because of a junction and being zoned out. When you're on the trail it's obvious. The blazes become something nice to see and like others have said if you haven't seen one in, say 10-15 min, turn around and look behind yourself or go back until you see one. After being out a fairly short while you'll know when you're on or off trail, you develop a feeling for it.

Initially, this getting lost was my major concern and I prepped with guide book (Appalachian pages), compass, all the maps and a GPS. I left the GPS at home and sent the maps home by Neels Gap. I never looked back. except of course to look for a blaze :-)

03-28-2010, 18:21
I wouldn't be so concerned with getting turned around as much as if the Trail goes onto a logging or tote road for a distance and you become so engrossed in thought on a nice road that you miss the turn off completely. Usually you will know within a few hundred meters, as thoughts usually always turn back to looking for that white blaze.

One thing I have discovered is that if you don't see a blaze on a tree in front of you and you think you got off the trail, turn around - If you are still on the trail, you will usually at least see a blaze on a tree behind you.

Brushy Sage
03-28-2010, 18:28
I like the suggestion that you go to a road crossing or other access point and do some AT hiking just to get a feel for the trail, blazes, etc. Actually, that's the ultimate way to learn anything about the trail. Books and maps are helpful, but they are not the "real" experience. Good luck!!

03-28-2010, 19:43
Take maps. Important.