Because we are now Southbound, we have met lots of CDT hikers who are going North and it has been nice to chat with people about their experience. We’ve met Ellie, Mike, three young bearded men who do yoga on the trail, St. Gabriel, Out-of-Order, U-Haul, Cruise and Reason, Johnny Storm, Wrongway and Tikka. Wrongway and Tikka we were able to spend some enjoyable time with in Lake City, mostly eating and chatting. Best of luck to all of them!
The last section was quite long (100 miles aprox) and quite high. We saw a mountain goat grazing in the sunset on a slope opposite us when we camped at 12 200 feet below San Luis peak, a shale-bing like 14,000er Brian bagged since it was right next to the trail.
Some fabulouse afternoon thunderstorms were had with hail and torrential downpours that lasted 45 minutes, lightning striking near us and lots of noise. Very little snow in the last section (hurra), but now we are heading for the San Juan mountains which, the reader may recall, were the reason we flip-flopped: to avoid their high and snowbound slopes and give them some melting time. We’ve seen them from a distance in the last section and they look spectacular!
Lake City is very old by Colorado standards (1877) and has some wonderful gruesome history in that this is where in 1874 (before the town was built) a party of prospectors from Utah got stuck trying to cross the mountains in winter. One of them, Alferd Packer, turned up at the nearby Indian Agency weeks later, claiming the others had left him behind and gone South when he got frost bite. He seemed to have a lot of money on him. This made the locals suspicious and he was arrested. He then confessed to having had to eat some of his companions after they had died of natural causes, but refused to take the authorities back to the last camp to find the bodies.
Later that spring, 5 bodies were found, mutiliated and with clear signs of meat having been cut off them. However, they all had their heads smashed in (except for one whose head was missing), 4 of them lying on blankets by the fire pit and a 5th apparently having struggled before being killed. The accusation was then made that Packer had killed all his companions to eat them and take their money. He escaped and was free for 9 years – in the meantime, Lake City was built pretty much next to the spot where the bodies were found. When Packer was recaptured 9 years later, this is where he was brought for trial. In a second confession, he said that another man in the party had gone mad and had killed 4 men while he, Packer, was away routefinding. On his return to the camp, the mad man had attacked Packer and was killed in self-defence.
But since the snow still did not allow Packer to leave the place, he then had to consume flesh from all the dead men. He stuck to that story in his trial, was granted a retrial in another county and in the end was found guilty of 5 murders and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was granted a pardon at the age of 60 but died quite soon – a life-long epileptic (without modern treatment of his conditions), he was not a well man (in many ways).
It seems that Packer the Canibal is good for business here and the local paper (the Silver World, which is still in print!) had made up their mind pretty quickly about the guilt of the man. But I just read a book with transcripts from the court proceedings and there was next to no consideration of forensics and Packer’s story seems as good as the accusation. So I’m not convinced he was a murderer. The eating of dead companions is not unique to Packer in these parts. Better make sure I pack enough pasta meals for the next section…..