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Word of the Week: Switchback

Earlier today, while reading a blog post by a distant friend I met in college about his experience hiking Cerro Companarios in South America, he mentioned the term “switchback,” and I went straight to Google.

“Whoever designed the trail apparently never heard of a switchback, there was probably a 1000 ft elevation gain in less than a mile.”  – A Gringo With a Guitar

I’m pretty good at context clues, but I wanted to really have a grasp on the concept, and thought to myself, I do this a lot.  I am fairly new to the world of outside adventure, and I am a thorough researcher, so why don’t I share my findings on here, so people can more closely follow my journey?

So here is my very first Weekly Word:

Switchback   [swich-bak]

photo courtesy of


  1. a zigzag track arrangement for climbing a steep grade.
  2. zig-zag routes up a steep hill. They help reduce the elevation grade (and hence the difficulty level) of the hike. Instead of a short steep hike, switchbacks provide you with a longer, less-steep route.
  3. a trail up a steep hill or mountain that is like a zig-zag pattern instead of a straight trail. The zig-zag pattern protects the hill and the trail from excessive erosion. Trails that go straight up and down steep hills don’t stay nice trails for long. Erosion turns those trails into gullies because water moves faster down steep straight-aways and it hollows out the trail and washes all the soil and vegetation down hill.


As you can see, I picked my favorite definitions from a variety of online info sources.  I’ll see you next week with more adventure vocabulary!  Haha, nerd.


Photo credit for featured image is

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