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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"You man-eating son of a . . . There was seven Democrats
in Hinsdale County and you ate five of them!"
- quote attributed to saloon keeper Larry Dolan after Alferd Packer's first trial


Did I get your attention with that quote??

There are very few tales in American history more riveting (and revolting!) than those involving cannibalism. Think Donner Party in California. Or Alferd Packer in Colorado. Or the plane crash with the soccer players (?) in the Andes Mountains of South America, I believe. I read the book and Jim saw the movie, but we don't remember the title or exact circumstances. [Thank you, Harry, for the reminder: Alive was the name.]

Notorious folks, those cannibals!

Scott Weber is an ultrarunner/coach who used to direct several ultras in the Denver area. Two of his races that we ran several years ago were the Frosty 50K and the Alferd Packer Double Marathon (52-mile), both held in late winter/early spring in Chatfield State Park. Brrr. Both races involved snow-covered trails. The Packer race was particularly odious because we had to wade through a half-frozen swamp in murky knee-deep water four times on the four-loop course.

Too bad Scott moved East several years ago and the race is no longer held. (As if we'd want to do it again!)

I still have the shirt from the Packer race, although I don't have it with me on this trip. It's not a shirt you wear just anyplace, unless you either want to deal with the shocked looks of people who know the story or want to explain who Alferd Packer was to those who don't know the story. His likeness is on the shirt.

Anyway, I'm not sure if Alferd Packer was even on my mental radar screen before that race. He is now, even more after visiting the grave site of his five alleged victims in Lake City, Colorado.

There was a sign for the memorial right across the road from our campground (Woodlake Park), just south of Lake City. How could we not go see it??

That's the very spot where the skeletons of five intrepid adventurers were found.  Israel Swan, George Noon, Frank Miller, James Humphreys, and Wilson Bell were murdered early in the year 1874 "while pioneering the mineral resources of San Juan County."

They hadn't exactly gotten to their destination, however.

Several groups of men were headed for San Juan County in the fall and winter of 1873/1874 to seek their fortunes after word of the discovery of gold in the area spread east. It was a lousy time to venture forth in the mountains, however. I mean, how many brains does it take to realize that a whole bunch of snow usually falls in the Rockies in the winter?? At least one group turned back when their progress was slower than expected and they ran out of provisions in the high country. Duh.

The Packer group wasn't as smart. They kept going.

In February, 1874 Packer became lost in a severe snow storm while guiding the other five men from Salt Lake City to the Los Pios Indian Agency south of Gunnison, Colorado.  No one heard from them until mid-April, when Packer arrived - alone - at the Agency.

No one knows for sure what happened. Packer's story changed from his initial version of the events that happened that winter to his testimony later in court hearings. He admitted guilt to killing and eating only one of the victims, saying the others ate each man as he died from exposure and malnutrition. Packer only admitted to killing the last man standing, and then only in self-defense.

Eat or be eaten?

Apparently, evidence at the grisly scene when it was discovered that summer indicated Packer killed them all - and ate them to survive until he could reach civilization. The skulls of the five men were crushed. Packer was arrested and accused of murder and cannibalism of all five victims.

He fled Colorado, however, and wasn't captured until nine years later. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to forty years in prison. He was paroled in 1901 after serving only fifteen years, and maintained his innocence until his death in 1907.

I guess we'll never know the real story.


As you may have noticed from the last couple entries, we aren't in the Silverton area any more. We loved it there, but it was time to move on. Plan A was for me to continue running segments of the Colorado Trail northward/eastward until getting closer to Leadville, our next long-term destination. Jim's running the Leadville Trail 100-mile race (LT100) August 19 and we want to get there by August 1 so he can train on the course.

Tuesday was our last day camping at South Mineral Creek. After taking me to the Stony Pass/Rio Grande Reservoir Road trail head that morning, Jim moved the camper to the Lake City area for a few days. Since he didn't have time to scout out a freebie forest service site, he paid for a space at Woodlake Campground south of town for one night and looked high and low for a boon-docking spot on the way to pick me up at Spring Creek Pass that afternoon. (None looked particularly promising, so we stayed at Woodlake two nights. The price was reasonable, and it was on the scenic Gunnison River.)

Wednesday morning we visited the Alferd Packer site and went into town to get our e-mail at the library (no cell phone connection at our campsite, and no Wi-Fi to get on-line - how primitive!).


Sounds like someplace or someone out of Lord of the Rings, doesn't it?

Between Lake City and Spring Creek Pass on Hwy. 149 we went over Slumgullion Pass and saw a sign for the Slumgullion Slide. I was curious as to the origin of this unusual name. Jim suggested maybe it has an Irish derivation, since many miners were Irishmen.

While I was waiting for a computer at the library, I leafed through several local historical books that mentioned the name, but didn't tell me where it came from.

I asked the librarian. She didn't know. However, she turned to a man standing nearby and introduced me to the local historian who filled me in on the meaning(s).

Turns out the word has at least two definitions derived from the miners who populated the region over one hundred years ago. "Slumgullion" refers both to a reddish brown slurry produced from the mines as well as a popular stew the miners made. The ingredients vary from cook to cook, so he's not sure just what's in it. Apparently it's about the same color as the slurry! (Yuck)

One of the local restaurants serves Slumgullion stew. Gotta try it sometime just to say I did.

Lake City is a charming little town that is even smaller than Silverton. It's one of the oldest settlements in western Colorado. It served as a railroad shipping center for the gold and silver mines in the surrounding San Juan Mountains in the 1800s, but residents rely mostly on tourism and ranching to make a living now.

The Victorian homes and stores look to be in better condition than many of those in Silverton or Leadville. Most of the town's old buildings from the 1870s to 1900 have been restored and preserved as a national historic district. We didn't have time to shop there this visit, but I'd like to poke around in some of the stores another time.

Lake City is linked to Silverton and Ouray by the popular Alpine Loop, roads best driven in a 4WD vehicle. With all the 14ers nearby, recreation is a big draw year-round in the area, as it is in the other little San Juan Mountain towns.

Thursday morning, I was back on the trail again. As noted in yesterday's entry, Jim took me to the Spring Creek Pass trail head to continue northeast on the Colorado Trail. After running ten miles of the route himself, he packed up the camper again and headed for the Gunnison area.


Again, since Jim hadn't had time to scope out the boon-docking potential in the area between Gunnison and the Eddiesville trail head where he picked me up yesterday, he found a great campground just north of the city - the Tall Texan. I'm guessing the large number of Texas license plates in this spacious campground might explain the name of the place! (We noticed an unusually high number of Texas plates all over San Juan County, and now Gunnison. Appears folks from there and New Mexico like to vacation in these cooler climes to escape the intense summer heat farther south.)

If you're ever camping in the Gunnison area, check out The Tall Texan. It's a great campground run by folks with a good sense of humor. For example, on the "rules" sheet Jim got at check-in is this apology: "Forgive us for all the rules that follow, as we forgive those that make them necessary." And then there's "This park is like heaven to us. Please don't drive like hell through it."

Besides the low cost of this campground, the laundry facilities endeared me to the facility. Yes, the laundry room! We generate a lot of dirty clothes with all the running we do, and costs add up quickly when you average one or two loads of laundry every day. Some places really rip you off, but here I was able to use five washers and six dryers for only $6.00 total. Other places have been double that. 

In addition, the laundry room was actually clean and every machine was operational. What a concept! We've been in some pretty filthy, disfunctional Laundromats around the country, so I was quite pleased with The Tall Texan's facilities.

It doesn't take a lot to make me happy, does it?


Plan A was to stay in the Gunnison area for four days while I did two more double segments of the Colorado Trail (Segments 18-19 and Segments 16-17) that were best reached from there. On the way back from the Eddiesville trail head yesterday afternoon, we looked for potential free forest service and BLM campsites along the dirt roads and paved Hwy. 114 and came up with a couple possibilities but nothing great.

It took us over two hours to get back to the campground. I was exhausted and my knees hurt from my long day on the trail. Jim was exhausted from his long day driving and changing campgrounds. He was also becoming increasingly concerned about not having good places to run to train for Leadville and fears of  losing his altitude acclimation from Silverton now that we're camping at lower elevations.


I made a decision after we got home, cleaned up, and ate supper (by then it was about 8 PM):

Jim's goal of finishing Leadville is more important than my goal of doing all of the Colorado Trail. It's that simple!

Leadville was Jim's very first 100-mile race. It was a tough one to start with, but he finished the sucker! I got pulled at Winfield, the turn-around at 50 miles, but crewed him the rest of the way that year. We were a team, and I wanted him to reach his goal even if I didn't reach mine.

We returned to Leadville three more times. Jim dnf'd each of those races for various reasons. He's very motivated to finish this race at least one more time.

So now we need to do whatever it takes for Jim to remain acclimated and get the training he needs to complete Leadville. If that means I don't get all the CT segments done this summer, so be it. Finishing the CT isn't nearly as important to me as finishing the Appalachian Trail was last summer. That was a dream I had for 36 long years. Running/hiking the Colorado Trail is simply something challenging and interesting for me to do while we're in Colorado for two months!

So I suggested to Jim that we move immediately to the Leadville area. He hesitated at first, knowing we might not have the time to return to do some of the CT segments before we head home in late August or September. I finally convinced him that I was sincere in keeping his LT100 goal our Number One priority for the next month.

I will figure out when and where to do CT segments based on his schedule of training for Leadville. If he has the energy to take me to and from trail heads, I'll run more segments on his rest days.

Priorities. Flexibility. Partners helping each other reach their goals, l like Jim did last year with the Appalachian Trail.

Isn't that what marriage is all about??


So this morning (Friday), we headed north toward Leadville. We vaguely remembered a large camping area on the road to Winfield, the turn-around point in the Leadville race. A couple miles before reaching the road (actually named Clear Creek Canyon Road), we un-hitched the camper at a pull-off along Hwy. 24 and drove the truck two miles in to the campground.

We passed by the beautiful Clear Lake Reservoir, very popular with fishermen and women:

Just beyond the lake, we saw what we were looking for. The campground was there and not on the road to Twin Lakes. And there was plenty of room to maneuver and lots of available spots near Clear Creek.

Yes! We'd found our new home for at least another 14 days, the time limit the forest service imposes on these free "dispersed" campsites. Cody, Tater, and I waited there to hold our chosen site while Jim went back down the road to get the camper. He was back in about 30 minutes and soon we were set up again at our new "home."

You can't see our camper in the photo above; we're in the "willows" (which in Colorado are shrubs, not trees) and other greenery in the back, next to the creek. This photo shows only part of the large camping area.

After a couple weeks, we'll move closer to Leadville for the race. Meanwhile, this is the perfect location, halfway between Leadville and Buena Vista, for Jim to train on the LT100 course (we're about seven miles from the Hope Pass trail head) and for me to snag a few more sections of the CT south of here. In fact, the trail head between Segments 11 and 12 is just a little over a mile from here!

Next up: our training runs Saturday on Hope Pass - we can't wait to get up there again! (Note the little photo at the top left of every journal entry.)

Happy to be back in Leadville,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil