2 men recover history related to tragic scout hike

By Dan Shearer

Green Valley News

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 4, 2012, Ralph Coltrin shows a plaque that was used to mark a spot where Michael LaNoue died. Coltrin was on a hike with LaNoue four other Boy Scouts in 1958. LaNoue and two other Scouts died on the trip.

Green Valley News, Dan Shearer, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

GREEN VALLEY, Ariz. — The Santa Rita Mountains gave up a secret last Saturday, a secret that stretches back more than 50 years to one of the saddest stories in Arizona history.

And it did so in startling fashion.

On Nov. 15, 1958, six Boy Scouts from Tucson started out on a day hike from Madera Canyon to Mount Baldy (Mount Wrightson) in the Santa Rita Mountains.

The temperature was in the 70s and the forecast called for wind but no chance of rain. They planned to return and spend the night in Madera Canyon, and stashed their overnight gear in a picnic area about a mile from Santa Rita Lodge. Around noon, they started up Old Baldy Trail toward Josephine Saddle.

On the hike were Louis Burgess, Ronny Sepulveda, Ralph Coltrin Jr., Mike Early, Michael LaNoue and David Greenberg, who was celebrating his 12th birthday.

Part way up the mountain, two young Scouts became tired and, with a third, turned back for base camp. The others, sensing they were on the verge of conquering the region's tallest peak, forged ahead.

Not long after, everything started to come apart.

Unsophisticated weather forecasting methods of the day couldn't predict what was to come. The wind kicked up and as night fell, the rain came. Snow began to fall around midnight and it seemed like it would never stop.

Burgess, Sepulveda and Coltrin headed down the mountain and made it to their gear where they huddled overnight in freezing sleeping bags under a picnic table. On Sunday morning, they found themselves under two feet of snow; Sepulveda had lost his shoes and walked barefoot with the others to the lodge.

The freak storm caused chaos as it dumped six inches of snow in Tucson, but on the mountain the scene was far worse with several feet of snow covering trails and landmarks.

The three lost Scouts prompted the largest rescue effort in Arizona history, with 700 volunteers combing the mountains. A week later, the search officially ended, but not everybody gave up. On Dec. 4, a rancher found three bodies east of Josephine Saddle. Soldiers from Fort Huachuca stacked rocks and erected crosses where the boys were discovered. Then they carried Mike Early, Michael LaNoue and David Greenberg off the mountain.

In August 1959, Ralph Coltrin Jr., who was just 12 on the day of the hike, returned to the site with John Early, Mike's father.

They carried three small markers fashioned by a metal worker with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Rescuers believe the boys died at a campfire about 100 feet below the Temporal Gulch Trail, and that two of the bodies then slid part way down the mountain.

Coltrin and Early found the three stone piles and wooden crosses erected by the soldiers and wired the metal markers with each boy's name to the memorials.

Thirty years later, in 1988, Coltrin returned to the mountain and found two of the three markers deteriorating. The third, Michael LaNoue's, was missing. He decided to take the markers off the mountain.

Greenberg's went to his family, but by then the Early family was gone and the metal marker was placed in the Otis H. Chidester Scout Museum in Tucson.

In 2010, Coltrin's sister, Cathy Hufault of Vail, wrote a book to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Boy Scouts' deaths.

"Death Clouds on Mt. Baldy: Tucson's Lost Tragedy" sparked renewed interest about the event in the mountains overlooking Green Valley and Sahuarita. Hufault went on television and radio to talk about the book that honored the Scouts who died and those who survived. She continues to do public speaking engagements, including one in Green Valley last month.

And that's where Andrew Scott Gallas comes into the picture.

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