Backpackers and a Stranger

A group of backpackers encounter an unexpected trail visitor while descending from the Lost Creek Wilderness.

Backpackers in Copper Canyon
Backpacking- Copper Canyon, Mexico

He yelled at us to stop, from out of nowhere it seemed. It was certainly one of the last things on my mind as I led the group of 9 teenage backpackers down the trail, headed back to our Base Camp facility after a week out in the Lost Creek Wilderness. We’d be back in less than an hour except for whatever was about to happen. He was ragged looking, probably in his 40’s, had a Pit Bull by his side and, thankfully, kept his distance across a dry wash as we talked.

“Got any drugs”, was the second thing out of his mouth.

My heart instantly sank when I heard those words. It didn’t really surprise me—why else would someone be engaging us and coming from a direction where there were no trails, I reasoned?

But almost seamlessly, he made it known that it was antibiotics, and not the other, that he was talking about. That fact made me feel better initially, but I soon began wondering if maybe he had something going on that was in need of medical attention. What, I wondered, would he be willing to do if things were really serious?

Not knowing anything about him, I didn’t want to clue him into the fact that we had a facility full of food and potential hostages just down the trail, so I suggested I go on ahead and call the EMS or Sheriff’s Department.

“No, don’t do that”, he was adamant.

His response concerned me, so I just said that maybe one of the people waiting for us up ahead might have something that would be of use and that I’d just send ‘em back his way. I knew that in reality there was no waiting for us, but he didn’t. Thankfully, our group was just plain confused by the whole situation and didn’t verbalize anything as they privately speculated about whether or not there were indeed people up ahead waiting to cheer for us or something as we ended our trip.

The raggedy man seemed appeased and unwary of the dupe. He then launched into an explanation of his situation, which had something to do with an infected cut, hatchet, racoon and being out in the wilds for more than a month.

He finished confusing us all with his story and then, we headed on down the trail, walking and assuring him over and over again that we’d send someone back up to help him. I was personally ecstatic when he just stayed put and didn’t follow.

We ultimately got back, unpacked and called the authorities to report the problem. But, the man was never found and we never saw him again, although I’ll be the first to admit I still sometimes see him blending into the trees and simply watching.

I know there’s a good story mixed in with all of this, and it’s one that’s probably true. Through the years, I enjoyed telling it the way I saw it—you know, the one where the escaped mass axe murderer hacks up the sleeping backpackers struggling to get out of their sleeping bags and feeds the body pieces to his dog to get rid of the evidence.

The Ruth Ampitheater
Ruth Glacier, Alaska Range

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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