The members of the Appalachian Trail community, including hikers, townspeople, and trail maintainers, share some unique vocabulary specific to the features and nature of the Appalachian Trail.
They even have weird but often meaningful names for one other, called trail names.
Up and down the roughly 2,170 miles of Appalachian Trail, you will see White Blazes, and everyone know’s what the white blaze means. These 2 inch by 6 inch vertical rectangles are painted in white paint on trees, rocks, and sign posts, showing hikers the Appalachian Trail.
Beyond the White Blazes, however, people have dreamed up all sorts of other colored blazes to indicate different activities on the trail. And in most cases the activities are communicated as “blazing”. For example, if a hiker is following Blue Blazes that mark a side trail or alternate route to the Appalachian Trail, then a hiker is Blue Blazing.
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Here’s an inventory of the various blazes that I heard described while on my thru-hike. Some are real, as in you’ll see them painted in the woods, but others are more conceptual to describe behavior.
The most commonly referred blazes are White, Blue, and Yellow.
White Blazes: As mentioned, these blazes mark the trail. The single white blaze is most common, but a double white blaze (two blazes stacked on top of one another) indicate a sharp turn in the trail. White blazes are the best friend of the AT Thru-Hiker, as they usually clearly show the way. However, White Blazes can be worn over time, and if a trail maintainer isn’t there to refresh the paint, they can be worn away completely.
Blue Blazes: A Blue Blaze is a spur trail branching off of the Appalachian Trail. Blue blazed trails could lead to a vista, water source, shelter or campground, or some unusual natural feature. The blue blazed trails may be dead ends, so that it would be an out and back walk to something like a vista. Or, a blue blaze can be an alternate route of the Appalachian Trail, and you could leave the trail and then rejoin it a mile or two further down the path.
A blue blaze is basically used to mark just about any trail that isn’t the Appalachian Trail (or some other named trail). And as a seasoned hiker named SourBall told me near the beginning of my thru-hike, if you’re walking along the Appalachian Trail and you see a random blue blazed trail, then check it out. It’s likely that the trail leads to really great spring or some awesome overlook.
Yellow Blaze: Yellow blazing means walking, hitchhiking, or driving the highway. The Yellow Blaze is a reference to the yellow dashes down a highway. Yellow Blazers get a lot of grief from thru-hikers, especially purist thru-hikers that are no doubt frustrated that the 100 miles they covered by foot over a week was covered by a Yellow Blazer hiker in a couple hours.
Some people get tired of walking in the woods, especially some of the more boring and painful states like Pennsylvania. In some cases, bored or frustrated hikers will walk the road for a change of scenery or a shortcut. In other cases, they might hitch a car ride further north or south and get back on the trail in a more interesting stretch. In once case, I met a guy that got bored of hiking, and he cycled four hundred miles on the road to skip most of the trail miles through Virginia. Some would call that Bike Blazing.
There is a saying on the Appalachian Trail, “Hike your own hike.” However, if you’re opting for some Yellow Blazing, be prepared to get some flack from other hikers.
Here are some of the more obscure blazes.
Green Blazing: Smoking marijuana while hiking the Appalachian Trail. One might assume that there is a lot of pot surrounding the Appalachian Trail community, and in my observation that is a correct assumption. Not everyone smokes, but it’s not hard to find people that do. On my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I was on a city bus in Rutland, Vermont and a random stranger handed me a small bag of pot for my journey. I passed it along to someone else, but it was as casual a gesture as if he had bought my lunch.
Brown Blazing: There are lots of privies (outhouses) up and down the Appalachian Trail, but brown blazing is when a hiker leaves the trail to dig cat holes when privies aren’t around. It’s also used to reference a hiker battling stomach viruses and diarrhea that causes them to stop every few miles.
Pink Blazing: Wherever and whenever young men and women get together, there is an opportunity for love to blossom. This is even the case on the Appalachian Trail, where showers are infrequent, men grow grizzly beards, women grow hairy legs, and in general people can become filthy. I met several pairs of hikers that met on the trail and become companions, hetero and homo, and this is pink blazing. Often these couples become disgustingly inseparable, and they simply cannot be without on another. In other instances, as I saw with one poor sap who was at the mercy of a pretty hiker name Miss Direction, a hiker develops a crush on another hiker and pursues them.
Amber Blazing: The simple activity of hiking into town to by some beer. Some shelters on the Appalachian Trail are quite close to a road, and some are really close to a store, making a quick trip for a pack of beer a worthwhile and effortless endeavor.
Bar Blazing: Amber blazing times twenty. There is a lot of youth and exuberance on the Appalachian Trail, and when hikers get to town the social life can be quite entertaining. Each year, when thousands of people set out from Springer Mountain, GA in an attempt to northbound thru-hike, there are several groups that evolve into party groups. They bar blaze, going from one trail town to the next to drink and indulge. Some of the hikers that I met referred to the trail experience from Springer to Damascus as the 500 mile bar crawl. A number of these hikers, as you might imagine, don’t complete the thru-hike.
Aqua Blazing: Remember the guy above who Bike Blazed? Well there are a small number of hikers who aqua blaze, who bypass parts of the hiking trail via kayaks, rafts, and boats. There are opportunities to travel by water alongside the Appalachian Trail, and some people have traveled hundreds of miles down various rivers before rejoining the Appalachian Trail.
I never heard the following blazes on the trail, but my on-line search turned them up:
Platinum and Gold Blazing: These may be separate blazes, but each seems to reference the high roller hiker with all the top of the line gear and supplies who eats and drinks like a king in town.
Red Blazing: Hiking with an injury, presumably only the type of injury that produces blood.
Dude Blazing: This appears to be the opposite of pink blazing. Assuming Pink Blazing means a man is trailing a women, Dude Blazing is a woman trailing a man. I usually just refer to any kind of love pursuit as Pink Blazing.