Quandary: Trail signs are the mom you never knew you needed
Quandary, the old and wise mountain goat, has been around Summit County for ages, and has the answers to all questions about life, love and laws in the High Country. Have a question for Quandary? Email your queries about Summit and the High Country to Quandary@summitdaily.com.
What does this sign mean? It’s at the start of the trail on the north side of 70 at the Vail Pass rest area exit. Your sagacity is appreciated. Thanks.
David, you stumbled across something this old goat didn’t know. The possibilities seemed so limitless. Pharaoh’s tomb ahead? Scarabs hatching habitat? That sign could mean so many different things.
However, a quick conversation with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District gave the real answer: Someone put a sticker on an old Forest Service sign.
Good attention to detail though, David. Real trail signs — not the one’s put up by hippies who’ve run out of room on their Subaru — can give you clues as to when a trail is open, how muddy it is and who is allowed to use it. Not to mention indicating whether you are on a real trail or someone’s doomsday bunker escape route. Think of trail signs as an extra mom double-checking to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Often there will be a post with different symbols indicating trail use at a trailhead. The symbols at the top are the permitted trail users — hikers, mountain bikers, horses, depending on the trail — and further down you’ll see symbols with a line through them. The guys that are crossed out, are not permitted on the trail. It seems pretty straight forward, but you’d be surprised how many people seem to get confused. A good way to know if you are allowed is to look at the mini-men decorating a post and compare it to your own gear. “Hey, that guy has a bike, too,” means that you are good to go ahead and put tracks to trail.
Junctures where trails meet up should also be marked, usually with the trail name and number and an arrow pointing you in the right direction. Often these signs will also have mileage indicators so you can decide if you want to commit before your boot even hits dirt.
Along with distances, trail signs can also indicate difficulty. The difficulty ratings are similar to what you’ll see on the ski slopes, with green being an easy trail and a black diamond indicating you may want to hit the gym a couple more times before attempting the mountain.
Many of the trailheads in Summit also have muddy meters. These are especially useful in the early and late-season when, hopefully, there’s been recent moisture. If a trail is too muddy, hiking and especially mountain biking, can create ruts or widen the trail making it less sustainable. If you see a trail that’s listed as “poor” on the muddy meter, consider taking a different route. Other trail users update the meters, which means everyone has to be an adult. If you take a trail, pause at the trailhead and adjust the muddy meter if you think it’s wrong — don’t just change it because your fingers got bored. To view trail conditions before heading out, you can visit BreckenridgeRecreation.com/locations/open-space-trails/trail-conditions for Breckenridge routes.
You might also see diamonds in the trees along a trail. These symbols, or arrows, are used to let you know you are still on a real trail. They are often fairly high up on a tree trunk because the trails are used for cross-country skiing as well, and you wouldn’t want a snowdrift to block your knowledge. If you have questions on any signs or want more information, talk with local rangers at the Dillon Ranger District or visit the U.S. Forest Service website at FS.fed.us.
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