“Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy”
is a remarkable account of human tragedy and sacrifice. It recalls the 1950s neighborhood friendship of six boys and their
excitement about a weekend hike to the top of the area’s tallest peak. The story recounts the youths’ encounter
with an unanticipated snowstorm moving in from the other side of the mountain, the escape of three of them, and the search
that finally discovered three bodies in the melting snow.
Author Cathy Coltrin Hufault, sister of one of the survivors, has gathered hundreds of facts that had been obscured
by the passage of time. She studied the newspapers of the day - as a newspaper reporter, I wrote many of them - for clues
to the past, and then followed up with an unusual determination.
She tracked down more than 100 participants in the events that followed the storm, and 79 of them had never been interviewed
before. She resurrected Tucson weather records, and then extrapolated them to the Santa Rita Mountains south of the city to
recreate the hardship encountered by the boys and the searchers - as many as 750 on some days.
She even uncovered a side story about two airmen who had been trapped in the snow and cold without anyone realizing
it. They lived to be accidentally rescued only because one of them had been trained in cold-weather survival by his father
in Washington State. But for the other search, they might have died.
The book’s photos include one of cowboy Ralph Spillers standing by his horse after a day on the mountain. His
chaps are soaking wet almost to his mid-section, a sign of how deep the snow was. Another shows rancher Mike Knagge, who worked
the mountain for 19 straight days, as he rides away on the back of his mule.
Author Hufault has pieced together the myriad parts provided by detailed interviews and reconstructed weather records
to provide a riveting account of human tragedy and sacrifice.
To this day, when winter comes and clouds hover over Mount Baldy, it is almost automatic for the longtime area resident
to recall the danger and deaths of November 1958.
Donald W. Carson
Reporter for The Arizona Daily
Star in 1958
Winner of the Arizona Press Club
“Story of the Year” for the newspaper articles about the lost scouts
Co-author of Mo, The Life &
Times of Morris K. Udall