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 out to 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 Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness. We’d be there in less than an hour except for whatever was about to happen. He was ragged looking, probably in his 40’s, and had a Pit Bull by his side. And thankfully, he 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 in which there were no trails if there weren’t illicit drugs involved, 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 that we could go on ahead and call the EMS or Sheriff’s Department for assistance.

“No, don’t do that”, he was adamant.

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

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, and raccoon.

After he finished confusing us with his story, we headed on down the trail, assuring him as we walked off that we’d send someone back to help him. I was ecstatic when he just stayed put and didn’t follow.

We ultimately got back to our base, unpacked, and then called the authorities to report the problem. But when they responded and got there the man was never found and we never saw him again, although I’ll be the first to admit that 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, 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 tents and sleeping bags and then 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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