Error 404 – Trail Not Found
If you’ve hiked any of the other National Scenic Trails, you may have certain expectations regarding trail quality. You should lower those expectations. No, lower them a bit more. Lower still. Yup, that’s about right. The CDT is lumpy, swampy, rocky, overgrown, trampled by cattle, and extremely steep in so many places. Whatever average speed you’re predicting, knock off at least 0.5 miles per hour.
There are fallen trees that have been an obstacle for so long that the trail around them is as well-defined as the trail leading to them. There are sections of blowdown so long that you’ll forget the floor isn’t actually lava. If you have nice legs, and you’d like to keep them that way, I’d suggest long pants made of something bulletproof. I wore shorts the entire way, and I will forever bear the scars of my considerable clumsiness.
I should probably emphasize that I did actually enjoy my time on the CDT, but that doesn’t mean the trail can’t be improved. Here are some changes I think future hikers would appreciate.
Walking south along the highway towards El Malpais National Monument, I found a discarded lamp among the roadside litter. I rubbed the lamp, of course, and a genie appeared. Nice guy. Anyway, he asked for my wishes, and I took a moment to think.
- I wished that chainsaws were allowed in wilderness areas.
- I wished that cows weren’t. Then, I thought about how much of the CDT has been grazed, and the damage it’s caused. I amended my wish, asking the genie to banish cattle from all public lands.
- I wished there was an effective way of directing hikers. The genie, named Grant, needed more detail. “Something like a sign on a post,” I suggested.
He paused for a moment before speaking, “Number three: granted. Signposts are now a thing.”
“What about wishes one and two?” I inquired.
He flashed a wry smile before answering. “Sorry. I can’t put those genies back in the bottle.”
Then he vanished in a puff of smoke and a whiff of Old Spice. I hung the lamp on a fencepost and continued walking.
This too shall pass
So, given that signposts exist, the CDT really needs better signage in a few critical places.
- Junctions where the trail leaves a dirt road.
- Junctions in burned or overgrown areas.
- Basically, anywhere a turn is easy to miss.
Judging by the FarOut comments, “easy to miss” depends on which direction you’re going. Heading south through Montana, my first missed-turn was also my most frustrating. Just north of Mystic Lake, I should have made a 90-degree turn onto a faint trail to my right. As usual, my mind had wandered off, and I kept walking the well-defined trail straight ahead. When I next took out my phone to check my progress, the little blue dot in the center of the screen was nowhere near the redline. What happened next, I can best describe as a “toys out of the pram” moment. I complained loudly and bitterly:
This is such bullshit! You f**king idiot! How could you have been so f**king stupid?
Then I raced back to the CDT, deciding along the way that I’d start keeping track of its Bullshit Junctions and the “bonus” miles they caused.
In 1978, Congress made a monumental decision, one that secured the future of the most scenic, wild and remote landscapes in the United States. They designated the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST), also known as the “King of Trails”. The vision for the CDNST is a 3,100-mile primitive and challenging backcountry trail from Canada to Mexico along the backbone of the Rocky Mountains.
I read this at a Lordsburg trailhead on the final day of my hike, and I agree completely with the “primitive and challenging” part. I disagree with the “King” descriptor. The CDT should be called the “Cinderella of Trails”. It obviously doesn’t get much money, and its two sisters get all the attention.
For every year I renew my Continental Divide Trail Coalition membership, I’ll be helping to fund trail maintenance. My main concern is that without incentive, the CDTC won’t get around to addressing Bullshit Junctions. I’ve decided to hold some of their annual fee hostage.
Per Facebook’s “Continental Divide Trail Class of 2023” group, I knew that domestic dogs along the main road at the north end of Cuba were causing problems. Early in NOBO season, someone posted a pretty gruesome picture of a bite they’d suffered. When I checked the FarOut comments for the “Leave/Enter Cuba” waypoint, I saw that the first one (from May 2021) mentioned an aggressive dog. More than half of the comments since then are dog-related.
Between the 2020 and 2021 hiking seasons, the CDT north of Cuba was rerouted. FarOut’s “ABOUT” tab for junction 25_063XL provides a quick explanation:
The old CDT route now crosses private property that is closed off by a gate.
I read the user comments, and one that caught my attention came from CDT commentator extraordinaire, “lillian”. In October 2022, she wrote:
I’m solo hiker. I don’t think I have any chance to win the fight with 6 dogs, one or more bites will make Cuba become my CDT end point.
After reading that, I felt a bit sad. It looks like lillian was among the first to decide that the old CDT was a safer bet. Since then, several hikers have followed in her footsteps, and commented accordingly. I have something of a history with aggressive dogs, so even though I’d continued carrying bear spray for exactly this type of situation, I decided to follow lillian’s example.
Strictly speaking, FarOut’s “ABOUT” tab is correct, but I think it needs some context. The old CDT follows Forest Service Road 95 across private property, the boundaries of which are clearly marked with National Forest signs. There’s an official USFS gate across FS95. About five minutes south of the gate is an official-looking (although poorly punctuated and capitalized) sign that reads:
Locked Gate Ahead – No Turn around Foot traffic allowed on Road through Private Property
Someone has attached non-official Private Property/No Trespassing signs to the gate and signpost.
That night, I made sure I was camped on National Forest land. The next morning, walking into town, I came up with some potential solutions to Cuba’s hiker-safety problem. In order of increasing impracticality, here they are.
- Hikers carry bear spray outside of Grizzly territory.
- Reroute the redline. Either through south Cuba or back to the old CDT.
- Set up a “Take a bear spray, leave a bear spray” system on the outskirts of Cuba.
- Call in the navy! Enlist a group of local trail angels armed with bear spray. Assign one at a time to escort hikers through Wolfpack territory.
- (This is where things start to get a little ridiculous, but hear me out.) The police and/or animal-control could hold the owners of aggressive dogs accountable.
- The owners could train, restrain, or contain their dogs. With more wishes, I’d have asked Grant to invent something like leashes and gates.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.