More Cryptic than T.S. Eliot

Yesterday my friends and I returned to Penitente Canyon to finish our hike. There we  saw this sign, one of the most puzzling bits of signage in my experience. I have never, in all my hiking, seen such an absurd and confusing sign. The words were bizarre and what did the 10 mean?

BLT-Lagunas-30OCT08-12_smallIn the mountains of California where I hiked most, there were no signs like this anywhere. There was a trail head. There were markers where trails intersected (such as the Pacific Crest Trail intersecting the Big Laguna Trail) and that was it. Not even on mountain bike trails.

In Switzerland, there are universal markers (universal for Europe) on rocks and trees and the ubiquitous and reassuring Wanderweg sign. Sometimes at an intersection of trails, the Wanderweg signs will tell you what you will find in each of the various directions. Trails are marked more like ski areas. Yellow — a nice walk for anyone. Red and white — 57400374moderately challenging. Blue and white — technical skills are needed (minimum self-arrest with ice axe). I am familiar with those. (That’s not to say I haven’t been lost on hiking trails in Switzerland.) Our hike yesterday in Penitente Canyon would get a red and white sign in Switzerland.

OH well. My hiking style has always been to know where the sun is, find distant landmarks, have and use a map. Even so, it looks like I’ll have to learn a new trail language.

Flumoxed by this “Trail Confidence Marker” I decided I should do some research. I’m NOT in Switzerland or in California, I’m here and that sign is here, too. Turns out the sign is exactly what it says. It’s a sign to tell the person looking at it to be confident they are on a trail. My research says they show up when there are numerous trails. The “Trail Confidence Marker” was at an intersection of three trails. That made the sign the most ambiguous thing there as far as I was concerned.

Now I know these are mostly used by mountain bikers to navigate through a landscape that’s a lot faster than it is for hikers. That explains why it’s high, very new, very bright and in a location that for someone on foot would not diminish anyone’s confidence.

It’s interesting to me that the earth is different depending on how you’re traveling it. A map for trains is a different earth than a map for bicycles or feet. The speed through which we move through the world determines the map we’re using.

Here I am negotiating a trail that, three years ago, I could not have gone up or down.

4 thoughts on “More Cryptic than T.S. Eliot

  1. Wait for it…

    Wait for it…..




    Of course it was a T.S. Elliot trail. Everything was in Bloom!


    Oh, and checking the USDA pdf guide to that park ( ), it seems the color of your sign had meaning. Yellow signs are walking trails, green and blue are bike trails, white connector trails, etc. Looking at other USDA trail sites, I believe “Confidence” may also refer to how navigable a trail is for different levels of handicapped persons. Although I’m not absolutely confident with that one, as I got distracted by kitten videos on YouTube before I reached the end.



    • One of the trails there has the word “Kitty” in it.

      Oh and the prickly pear were out in force, and we found it wise to go around the prickly pear, so it might in fact be the Eliot Trail.

      That is a cool and helpful map with different information than the other two I have — incredible. I think maybe this is because the whole network of bike trails up there is exactly one year old. Here’s where I found some information about this “Trail Confident Marker”

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