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Sun, Oct. 20

Johnson: Mt. Graham: Solo Encounter - Escaped Convict
Hiking Arizona

“Warning, warning, escaped convict ahead. Danger, danger, do not proceed. Do not pack, do not collect your gear.”

I suppose, if you had no idea that an escaped convict was on the loose where you were planning to hike alone for four days, you might just be considered unlucky when he walked into your wilderness camp. But knowing it and going on as originally planned, makes words like dumb come to mind.

My first thought was, “Escaped convict? So what. He’ll surely head south for the border. Why would he head into the wilderness? Besides, what are the odds that we would run into each other in the Graham Mountains? They are huge, rugged and quite unwelcoming to anyone except someone looking for a wild, outdoor adventure.” That is exactly what I found.

Driving past the federal prison at the base of Mount Graham, I thought, “Who could get out of there?” Continuing toward the trailhead, I noticed the police searching vehicles as they left the area. “Odd,” I thought. "Didn’t they know that any jail bird worth his prison uniform would be deep in the heart of Mexico by now. What’s that? A helicopter flying close to the crest of the range? “They sure are flying low,” I thought. I wondered what they were searching for. Could it be a fire control crew? Two days later, the person they were searching for found me as I was about to set up camp.

Sporting an impressive display of body art on his muscular upper body, a young man wearing nothing but orange sweats and ragged tennis shoes, walked toward me, as the day was drawing to a close. Looks like I beat the odds with this unlikely encounter. Was this a divine appointment?

He introduced himself as Mike and related a tall tale how he and a buddy were camping. One was drunk and the other stoned. They got separated and he was left behind on Sunday. Today was Wednesday. “Isn’t someone looking for you?” I thought. I just went along with his story.

Rather than ask the usual question, “So what are you in for?” I offered him a map and supplies so he could strike out for Thatcher on his own. He wasn’t interested but gladly accepted a shirt and jacket.

I offered him my last freeze-dried dinner, but he insisted that I should eat first. I was impressed with his restraint and respect as much as I had been impressed with his body art. Over dinner, we got better acquainted, talking about his family, his work and his relationship with God. We also strategized how to get him to Phoenix.

If we stuck with my original plan, we would have to climb some 4,000 feet, back to the snow and walk 18 miles to my truck. Since all the food was gone now, we would have to cover this distance in one day instead of two. We better sleep on that.

I offered him my sleeping bag. He was shocked. I explained that I had slept by many a fire, so it was no big deal. He wasn’t so sure, thinking the searchers might spot the fire, but they didn’t. I wanted to be up through the night, tending the fire and keeping watch. The night passed without incident and in the morning, I had a new plan. (To be continued.)

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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