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Friday, March 4, 2016

Night on Mt. Baldy

Good evening, dear readers.

I recently stumbled across an article about a tragic event that took place right here in southern Arizona. The article, though written in 2012, described how on a mild November day in 1958, a group of six Boy Scouts went on a hike up Mt. Baldy (now called Mt. Wrightson) in the Santa Rita mountains just south of Tucson, AZ. What should have been a relatively uneventful hike became a fight for survival after a freak storm blew up over the valley, pummeling Tucson with six inches of snow and walloping several feet on the mountain. With no trails to walk on and no landmarks to guide them, the boys were lost in the deathly fog which enveloped Mt. Baldy. It is said one of the boys broke his leg and with help from his fellow scouts, fashioned a lean-to to try and protect himself from the elements while waiting for help. He and two others perished from hypothermia and while the surviving boys were found by a massive search party and taken to safety, the bodies of their companions remained lost. The three dead boys were discovered weeks later by a rancher, their bodies removed by soldiers stationed in nearby Ft. Huachuca and a memorial erected on the site just off the trail where they lay. The memorial still stands to this day commemorating the tragedy that befell there over fifty years ago.

One of the memorials dedicated to the lost Boy Scouts. Pic found here


The story of the lost Boy Scouts became the subject of a haunting memoir that was written by the sister of one of the deceased Boy Scouts in honor of her brother's death and sparked a renewal in interest of the tragedy so close to home. It was actually the subject of an NPR book review, which was how I first heard of this event right here in my part of the state.

As is often the case in the aftermath of a tragedy, the questions begin to arise. What if modern meteorological technology had been available back then? Could modern technology like cell phones and GPS have led to finding the boys alive? Was there anything that could have been done to prevent this from happening? Can anything be done to ensure this doesn't happen again?

An appropriately snowy image of the Santa Ritas. Mt. Wrightson would be the tall peak on the left (the one most hidden by the clouds). Pic found here


I suppose modern meteorological tools like satellites could have given forecasters a better idea of what sorts of conditions to expect that day, but even then there is a reason why the old cliche about weathermen being unable to predict the weather sticks around. I don't know that modern satellites and computer models could have predicted this event. As for modern technology like cell phones, those only work so long as you have a charge in the battery. It will work for a while, but eventually the battery will run out and when the battery runs out, the GPS in the phone will go offline too. I honestly don't know that anything could have been done to prevent this tragedy, given the utterly unpredictable way everything went down. I don't think anything really can be done to prevent a freak occurrence like this from happening since no one can see when its coming.

Clearer view of the Santa Ritas. The adjacent saddleback peak to the right of Mt. Wrightson is Mt. Hopkins, where an observatory is located. Pic found here


Many primitive cultures like those of the Native Americans have beliefs about spirits residing in the natural world, such as in trees, bodies of water, and mountains. As such, these spirits demand offerings from time to time as a means of appeasement for their continued existence. Given the freak nature of the deadly storm that killed these boys, can it be speculated that a mountain spirit (or more) became unhappy and demanded a sacrifice? It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Some basic instruction in Catholic demonology tells of how demons can influence weather patterns to bring about death and destruction which they then proceed to feast on. I'm not saying this is what happened, but it does make you wonder if there wasn't something supernatural at play that deadly night on Mt. Baldy.

If you're interested in learning more about the tragedy on Mt. Wrightson in 1958, check out the book Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy: Tucson's Lost Tragedy by Cathy Hufault

Note: This post was inspired by this video.

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