Some years ago, on the day after Christmas, five climbers walked into Bob Frauson's ranger station in St. Mary, on the eastern side of Glacier National Park. The young men, all local boys, were prepared for a serious winter expedition, their packs heavy with skis, crampons, and ice axes. They also came equipped with a deep knowledge of the Glacier backcountry and extensive avalanche training at the hands of some of the West's finest mountaineers. But their plan was audacious even by their own standards: an ascent of the north face of Mount Cleveland, one of the country's biggest vertical walls at 4,000 feet. It was the winter of 1969, and the face had never been climbed.
For months, the boys had enjoyed one of the mildest climbing seasons in memory: warm, clear weather that had lasted deep into autumn. But despite that fall's run of good weather, winter conditions are notoriously unpredictable in Glacier's mountains, nowhere more so than on its highest peak, 10,448-foot Mount Cleveland. What the team needed to know was not Frauson's opinion about its north face—they had been studying that for years. They needed to know about its snowpack.
In Bob Frauson, they could not have encountered a more competent adviser. A large man with bright eyes and generous jowls, Frauson was a World War II combat veteran who had served with the Army's Tenth Mountain Division; in 1944, he'd celebrated his 21st birthday on a reconnaissance mission to the base of the German stronghold in the Italian Apennines known as Riva Ridge. Recognized nationally as an expert in winter mountaineering, he had spent the years since in the northern Rockies and knew the moods of winter weather as well as anyone alive. When he trained new rangers, Frauson made no bones about the dangers of high-mountain rescue, or high-mountain play. He would show his young charges a body bag and tell them, "This is how you'll come back if you go out climbing where you're not supposed to."
Montana was filled with expert mountaineers like Frauson, many of them Tenth Mountain vets, and their protégés. The five boys who knocked on his door—Jerry Kanzler, Clare Pogreba, Ray Martin, Mark Levitan, and James Anderson—were only in their late teens and early twenties, but they had rambled around Glacier since they could walk. Jerry Kanzler, 18, and his older brother, Jim, had been raised climbing here with their father, Hal, an Okinawa vet with a passion for wildlife photography. Park rangers knew the Kanzlers to be among the most talented climbers in the region.
Their friends Ray Martin and Clare Pogreba had founded the climbing club at Montana Tech. They were known as Mutt and Jeff to family, friends, and professors alike: Ray, who worked summers in Alaska fighting fires, was a gangly six-foot-six with a grin as broad as his face. Clare was a stocky five-foot-two, with a sloping, Eastern European nose; his head came to just under his friend's armpit. Clare had taken to flooding sections of ramp inside the college football stadium to construct a long sheet of ice, and he'd inch his way up it using crampons and ice axes.
At 22 years old, Martin and Pogreba were the oldest, and the leaders in spirit if not necessarily in ability; even they considered Jerry Kanzler to be a superior mountaineer. Not long before the Mount Cleveland trip, the Kanzlers had gone off to Oregon and Washington to climb some of the highest mountains in the Northwest—Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams—all in a week. Jerry's grace on rock faces left his companions awestruck. Peter Lev, a skiing and climbing instructor at Montana State who would go on to become a co-owner of the world-renowned Exum Mountain Guides, considered Jerry the best mountaineer he'd taught.
James Anderson and Mark Levitan were not nearly the technical climbers their friends were, but they were nonetheless comfortable on high peaks. Levitan, 20, was the bookish son of a Tenth Mountain Division battalion surgeon who had been the division's only officer taken prisoner of war. Father and son had scaled the Grand Teton. At Montana State, Mark had also enrolled in Peter Lev's ski mountaineering class, and it was there that he befriended fellow intellectual James Anderson. By the time of the Mount Cleveland expedition, Anderson, 18, had already climbed the comparatively gentle west face twice, although during the summer. The sheer wall of the north face, especially in winter, would present challenges of a different order.
The team was missing its most accomplished climber, Jerry Kanzler's brother, Jim. Recently married and responsible for a young son, he had accepted a job as a ski patroller at Bridger Bowl. But if anyone could do the north face, this group could; together they'd pioneered routes up peaks from Bozeman to the Canadian border, including a first ascent of Glacier's Citadel Spire, with its daunting 350-foot pinnacle. Pogreba and Martin had completed a two-week course in avalanche safety in the Tetons. Before they graduated, before jobs and families and Vietnam, they wanted to scale Mount Cleveland.
What happened to these climbers left an indelible mark on an entire generation of outdoorsmen. Prepared and informed, suspended between an older corps of relatively few and highly skilled experts and today's army of backcountry skiers and climbers, they stood on the eve of a new era of American adventuring. Their story is no less relevant today than it was in 1969.
Compared to the peaks of Colorado, Glacier National Park's mountains are, in height at least, modest. But there are no discernible foothills here. You come up the Flathead Valley from the south, or across the plains from the east, and there it is: a mighty fortress of mountains, rising without preamble from the flatland, beckoning and forbidding your approach. In winter, because they trap clouds moving in either direction, the mountains of Glacier are blanketed by incredible amounts of snow; along the Continental Divide, annual snowfall can reach 1,000 inches—more than 80 feet. Much of it falls on Mount Cleveland. But in 1969, no one would know just how much snow covered its upper reaches until it was too late.
Looming over the north-central section of the park, Cleveland's summit affords unmatched views—the Glacier peaks to the south, Alberta and British Columbia to the north, Idaho to the west, a hundred miles of prairie to the east. Because it is inaccessible, miles and mountains away from any road, Cleveland cannot be driven to and climbed in a day. In winter there are no rangers nearby, no tourists. There is only the wind, blowing over the ridges.
The winter of 1969 had already seen some big avalanches up high on Mount Cleveland, some snapping trees as they came rumbling down. "That mountain doesn't give a damn about anyone," Canadian naturalist Kurt Seel once told a local paper. "In the summertime, rocks roll constantly. In the wintertime, it's the wind and snow. That mountain is alive all the time."
At the St. Mary ranger station, Frauson drove that point home. For some time, the boys told him, people had been telling them the expedition was foolhardy. But Frauson figured his role was to advise, not to scold. He warned them about the mountain's severe weather patterns and impressed upon them the extreme difficulty of rescue should they run into trouble. Mount Cleveland was particularly prone to avalanches, he cautioned, sometimes ten or 15 a day. Rocky-faced and rising well above timberline, the peak is virtually bare at its upper reaches. No trees means no anchors for the vast fields of snow.
Moreover, Frauson emphasized, the north face had recently been glazed over by an ice storm; it was "an escalator of moving snow." He argued that it would be more prudent to try the comparatively easy route along the southwest ridge. Though precipitous on both sides, it would steer them clear of the rock- and snowslides so prevalent on the north face. They would also avoid the center of the west face, which presented serious dangers of its own. Its geometry—a "parabolic mirror," Frauson called it—made it exceedingly dangerous avalanche terrain after even the slightest accumulation of snow. Climbing a bowl is like climbing half a funnel, the wider end above catching snow until it can no longer hold it all. Once the strain becomes too great, the snow dumps down the bowl from all sides. By the time the funnel narrows, the snow is running very fast and very deep.
The boys assured Frauson that they would use extreme caution, but the mission was still a go. They told him not to worry unless they had failed to report back by noon on Friday, January 2. As they left, he wrote in his station logbook: "Five boys checked out to climb Cleveland on six-day expedition."
Hiking or skiing in avalanche country is like walking in a valley inhabited by grizzly bears: Your senses become more alert. You become aware of tiny sounds—every creak of a tree limb, every snap of a twig. When each footstep on a steep slope is potentially your last, you tend to pay attention to where you put your feet. Time slows down. Your actions matter.
Once a slab of dense snow becomes sufficiently unstable, it can begin to slide downhill with almost unimaginable force. Small avalanches can carry impact pressures of up to 1,000 pounds per square foot, enough to completely demolish a wood-frame house; larger slides, with 20,000 pounds per square foot, can crush a concrete building. Researchers have estimated that an average powder-cloud avalanche of 160,000 tons can generate 20 million horsepower, about 2,857 times that of an Amtrak locomotive. Getting caught in an avalanche is like trying to stand on a breaking wave. It both violently tumbles you forward and sucks you under.
In January 1951, after a two-day blizzard dropped 38 inches of snow on Alta, Utah, avalanche expert Monty Atwater was checking the slopes before turning skiers loose. At a steep, concave chute his ski patrol partner triggered an avalanche, and Atwater fell through the cascading snow until his skis hit the hard base of snow underneath. "I was knee deep in boiling snow, then waist deep, then neck deep," he wrote in his 1968 memoir, The Avalanche Hunters. "Very fast and very suddenly I made two forward somersaults, like a pair of pants in a dryer. At the end of each revolution the avalanche smashed me hard against the base. It was like a man swinging a sack full of ice against a rock to break it into smaller pieces.
"My principal sensation was one of wild excitement," he wrote. "Under the snow there was utter darkness instead of that radiance of sun and snow which is never so bright as directly after a storm. It was a churning, twisting darkness in which I was wrestled about as if by a million hands. I began to black out, a darkness that comes from within. Suddenly I was on the surface again, in sunlight. I spat a wad of snow out of my mouth and took a deep breath.... The next time I surfaced I got two breaths. It happened several times: on top, take a breath, swim for the shore; underneath, cover up, curl into a ball. This seemed to go on for a long time, and I was beginning to black out again. Then I felt the snow cataract begin to slow down and squeeze.... I gave a tremendous heave, and the avalanche spat me onto the surface like a seed out of a grapefruit."
There are, in fact, several ways to die in an avalanche. A third of the fatalities are caused by trauma to the head and neck sustained during the fall, from smashing bones on rocks buried in the snow or from the contortions inflicted on a body by cascading snow. The rest are due to suffocation. Even with a small air pocket, the warmth of a victim's breath can seal the snow around his mouth much as perspiration seals the inside of an igloo or a snow cave. Within minutes, a virtual mask of ice forms around the face, cutting off any flow of air.
Few experiences are more terrifying. "Try as I did, it was absolutely impossible to expel the snow from my mouth," a survivor named Bill Flanagan told ava-lanche researchers Betsy Armstrong and Knox Williams. "The ball of snow simply packed harder each time I tried to gulp air around it." When he finally came to a rest, the ice ball in his mouth "was so big and hard that I was unable to get it out from behind my teeth. I was able to crush it bit by bit with my front teeth and finally reduced it to a size I could at last spit out."
With so little oxygen available under snow, avalanche survival depends critically on the efforts of survivors to dig out their compatriots. There just isn't time to wait for rescuers. And when all the members of an expedition get buried, the chances for survival are very slim.
The Mount Cleveland team camped the first night at St. Mary. The next day, Saturday, December 27, they made their way across the Canadian border to Waterton Townsite, a humble collection of uniform white wooden buildings that served as headquarters for Waterton Lakes National Park. Here they checked in with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and hired a local named Alf Baker to ferry them back across the border by motorboat to Glacier's Goat Haunt ranger station. Eight miles away, at the other end of Waterton Lake, Mount Cleveland dominated the southern horizon. That day, the temperature would never rise above the high teens, and as the boys scanned the gray skies and the snow-dusted slopes, their enthusiasm for the trip must have been tempered by the cold. Although there were only a few inches of snow on the shore of the lake and on the lower slopes, how much had accumulated at higher altitudes was impossible to guess.
They docked at 11 a.m. Jim Anderson was the first ashore. Spinning around, he snapped a photograph of Clare Pogreba, in an orange slicker and baggy pants, pulling the aluminum boat ashore as Jerry Kanzler handed out wooden snowshoes. (Under his balaclava, Kanzler wore a full beard, but his thin mustache gave away his youth.) Protruding off the bow were three sets of metal ski poles, their baskets pointing outward like a bunch of flowers. Ray Martin knelt on the dock, arranging backpacks and long wooden skis.
These first moments of organization were hasty, the boys stamping the cold out of their feet and rubbing their hands. Once they had hauled out their gear, Alf Baker motored away, the flag on his little boat's bow snapping in the winter breeze. Perhaps because they were hiking off-season, with no rangers to check their progress, the boys did not sign the Goat Haunt registration book. They did not plan to get lost.
An hour or two later Anderson snapped another photo, this one looking back toward Waterton Lake. From this vantage point, perhaps 500 vertical feet above the lake, the boys could see that despite the relatively light snowfall thus far in the season, there was in fact considerably more snow above the tree line than below. More snow than they had planned on seeing, period.
Removing his pack while arriving at a break in the woods, Pogreba gave Martin his camera. Whether the boys were still skiing is impossible to tell from the photo. Kanzler and Pogreba were both wearing high lace-up leather boots; although they'd packed snowshoes, the snow was not deep enough, here under the trees, to merit their use. Levitan had a heavy coil of climbing rope strapped to his green pack. Kanzler carried a double load, his own orange pack strapped atop his father's old green Kelty like a koala cub clinging to the back of its parent.
Rather than following Camp Creek to the west face, the boys followed another line—along Cleveland Creek—to the north face instead. They were apparently still planning to make some first-ascent history.
By the end of the day, after a four-mile walk, they reached the bottom of the north face and set up a base camp. What they saw could not have been inviting: Snow clouds covered the mountain's summit, and loose powder avalanches were scrubbing the north face clean as quickly as the snow built up. Out of reach of any avalanches, the boys decided to build three snow caves in case the weather turned much colder. There, beneath the frigid stone of the north face, they spent the night.
The next day, Sunday, the 28th, with snow still falling up high on the mountain, they discussed their options. The north face would demand their most exquisite technical climbing skills, skills that two of the team, James Anderson and Mark Levitan, did not possess. The chill of the rock would be unforgiving, the footing slick, and the handholds, where they existed at all, unreliable. A far more tenable route would be up the base of the northwest ridge and out onto the west face. Ropes would have to be fastened not to climbing protection, but to each other in case someone slipped on the ice.
Their decisions were not casually made. With the weather threatening to turn, the boys knew they should get up and down the mountain without delay. Step by step, they checked for settling and cracking snow underfoot, to gauge the tension in the snowpack. Their cheeks picked up any shifts in the wind, determining which angles in the mountain would be covered in deeper, windblown snow. They listened as their footsteps fell for sounds of sudden settling, the ominous whoomph of a weak layer of invisible depth hoar, buried like ball bearings deep in the snowpack, giving way under their weight.
Meanwhile, Bob Frauson began checking the skies. He drove to a vantage point near Cardston, Canada, to look at Mount Cleveland. Even from a distance, he could see the unmistakable plumes of avalanches cascading "all over."
Three days later, on New Year's Eve, Bud Anderson, James's older brother, flew a single-engine plane over the mountain, hoping to check the boys' progress. He spied what looked like tracks along the lower reaches of the west face, which he thought odd, given the boys' itinerary. As he looked closer, though, he caught his breath. The tracks ended at the unmistakable edge of a massive fresh avalanche, about halfway up the mountain. Strangely, Anderson also thought he saw tracks leading away from the debris and convinced himself that the team had continued on its way.
From the air, however, Anderson could see that the snow on Cleveland was deeper than anyone had suspected after such a mild autumn. Given the way the weather had played out in the late fall and early winter—warm temperatures, then light snow, followed by cold temperatures—the snowpack had become a textbook example of the formation of depth hoar.
Since the boys had told their families not to worry until January 2, Bud Anderson spent New Year's Day at home in Bozeman. Early the next morning, he and Canadian warden (the equivalent of a ranger in the United States) Jack Christiansen took a boat to Goat Haunt for what they expected to be the triumphant return of the group. There was no one waiting at the dock. Hiking around the ranger station, the pair came across some ski tracks climbing up through the timber toward the north face. Following the tracks, they found abandoned skis and snowshoes about a mile and a half from the lake, near timberline. It appeared that the boys had decided to attempt the north face after all, and that they were still on the mountain. Meanwhile, Frauson and the other Glacier rangers had grown worried too, and when Anderson called shortly after 9 a.m., a search swung into full gear, complete with planes and helicopters.
On January 3, two teams of rescuers, including Bud Anderson, gathered at Waterton Townsite, packing climbing skis, ice axes, probe poles, and ropes. Over the next few days they would be joined by several dozen of the best mountaineers in North America, some of them friends and mentors of the missing climbers. Volunteers (including well-known cousins George and Mike Lowe) began arriving from the Tetons to the south, Canadian alpine specialists from Jasper and Banff to the north. The search had suddenly become one of the most complex and dangerous in the region's history. And the weather up high was deteriorating, as winds kicked up to 25 knots and the windchill dropped to minus 44. The cloud cover hung so thick that it entirely occluded the upper half of the mountain.
But following the ski tracks toward the mountain, at about 10:30 that morning, the searchers discovered something haunting: the remains of a fire, coals still smoldering near the base of the north face, about a half-mile above the abandoned gear. The boys' base camp. Around the fire the searchers found two backpacks, four aluminum-framed cargo packs, two tents, a cache of food, and an array of gear: helmets, stove, carabiners, pitons, webbing, socks, foam pads, sleeping bags, 200 feet of avalanche cord, and a can of exposed color film.
Leading away from the camp were not one but two sets of footprints, the first heading to the north face, the other to the west face. Had the boys split up? Divided as they were in the level of their mountaineering skills, the searchers figured, perhaps they had separated to attack the mountain from two angles. But wherever they'd gone, the weather would be making it difficult to survive for long. If the boys had somehow managed to hunker down in snow caves to ride out the cold, their food supplies would almost certainly be gone by now.
When he heard about his younger brother's disappearance, Jim Kanzler bolted for Mount Cleveland from Bozeman, bringing with him Peter Lev, the climbing instructor, and Pat Callis, a chemistry professor from Montana State who was also one of the decade's most celebrated climbers. In 1963 Callis and his partner Dan Davis had made the first ascent of the north face of Mount Robson, one of the great challenges in the Canadian Rockies; along with Lev, he had become a mentor of the missing boys.
The afternoon of January 4, as even more winter rescue personnel streamed into Waterton, Jim Kanzler produced two photographs of the north face of Mount Cleveland, taken by his brother two years before. He marked the photos with the routes that the boys had discussed, and the search team began formulating its plan. Supplies were already stretched thin—only three tents, for example, remained for the new arrivals, which could severely limit a rescue effort that required a full day's walk simply to get back and forth from Goat Haunt to the mountain. But with a Pacific front on the way, the field leader, American ranger Willie Colony, decided to move everyone by boat from Waterton to Goat Haunt, along with gasoline lanterns, stoves, tents, shovels, and cooking gear. Ice was already forming on the lake, and soon all supplies would have to be moved by helicopter or snowmobile, or on people's backs. Bob Frauson remained behind to direct the search.
Early on January 5, the search party organized into five groups. A team of Canadian wardens attempted a climbing reconnaissance of the north face. Three other Canadians set off onto the northwest ridge. Three American rangers looked again at the lower portion of the west side, while the last group took binoculars to the southwest ridge of Goat Haunt Mountain to scout for avalanche activity on Cleveland's north face. The last group—Lev, Callis, and Kanzler—was told to climb the bowl on the west face. With the main search party concentrated on the north face, this was the safest place for them, Colony and Frauson thought, out of the way of the professional search team—and out of the way, had the boys fallen or frozen or been buried by an avalanche, of the most likely disposition of their bodies.
The plan, the rangers said, was for the three friends to go fast and light, with no sleeping bags, stoves, or any other overnight gear. They were to work their way around to the upper end of the west face and then descend to its base by nightfall, where they would be met with tents, sleeping bags, and dinner. But Callis rejected this plan. They weren't familiar with the terrain, he argued, and no one could predict what sort of hardships or bad weather might be encountered. Climbing with no overnight gear meant that if they did get stuck on the mountain, they would be in for serious trouble.
Still, Callis, Lev, and Jim Kanzler represented the finest technical climbing skill that northwestern Montana had to offer, and they were intensely motivated. They had taught their friends most of what they knew about mountaineering, and while the other searchers were looking for five lost boys, these three were searching for their closest companions. After some hard debate, they decided to take full backpacks, with sleeping bags, a stove, a shovel, and two days' worth of food. They did not take a tent. If they were to spend the night on the mountain, they would dig a snow cave. On the way up the west face, looking for the little brother with whom he'd climbed so many peaks, Jim Kanzler cried.
After four hours, Canadian Warden Peter Fuhrmann had climbed partway up the chute of Mount Cleveland's north face without finding tracks. Over on the northwest ridge, the other Canadians did see a few tracks and what appeared to be human urine marks. Meanwhile, on the west face, the day grew late for Kanzler, Lev, and Callis. Working their way up the bowl from the northwest ridge, they searched into the early evening, climbing up past a scree field and then up a ramp to the left of a ledge that in summer supported a waterfall. Physically and emotionally wrung out, they peered into the diminishing light, looking for the tiniest protrusion from the snow cover, for anything that might turn out to be the tip of an ice ax, the end of a climbing rope, a piece of discarded clothing. Initially there was little snow—just a few inches of light powder under their feet. But then they encountered something that left them with a sense of horror: a series of "crown faces," or fracture lines, two to three feet deep, that extended all the way across the bowl. A massive slab avalanche had broken off above them, causing the entire bowl to release. Kanzler, Callis, and Lev could now see why there had been so little snow on the way up. Everything in the bowl—nearly a half-mile across—had slid down the mountain.
After radioing down to Goat Haunt, the three dug a snow cave and spent a long night on the mountain. In the morning they began to search the avalanche path. Finally, frustrated by hours of fruitless combing, Callis was walking down the west face when suddenly, in the surface debris of the avalanche, he saw a small backpack. In that moment, the entire search changed. The main party had been concentrating on the wrong side of the mountain. At least some of the boys had been here, on the west face.
The Callis team reconstructed what could have happened. Although it was possible that the boys had triggered the slide on their way down—perhaps by glissading down the slope—the avalanche had probably released on their way up. Most likely they had crunched through to a layer of depth hoar and sent a fracture line running uphill. Eventually it would have reached a weak spot in the terrain—a dip in the face, a rock outcropping—and broken off completely. All this would have happened in an instant, without their ever seeing it.
Years later, an accomplished technical climber named Terry Kennedy, with whom Jim Kanzler had made a number of first ascents, would offer an analysis of what might have happened to the boys on the west face. "They follow a gully onto the ridge," wrote Kennedy, "ascend it a ways, then begin a long but easy traverse to the middle of the west face under several thousand feet of cliffs. The logical thing is to keep traversing to the center of the face and do the standard route. They go. The snow becomes deeper.
"They look up and what do they see? Answer: dry cliffs. At some point the series of short cliffs disappears and they find themselves on even easier terrain that only warrants plodding through it. Maybe they recognize soft slab and maybe they don't.... The day is probably waning quickly just a week after the solstice and they are going to have to keep the pace stiff to get up and down by nightfall. Up they go, breathing hard, their attention on the summit, not the plates of snow fracturing underfoot."
If the boys on the west face had somehow heard the avalanche bearing down, they might have tried to leap on top of it before it bowled them over. Or perhaps they tried to run out of its track but found the flow moving too quickly. Once they were knocked down, they likely tried to grab their ice axes and self-arrest. Perhaps they tried swimming out of the slide, furiously waving and kicking to thrust themselves out of the surging snow. Or barrel-rolled sideways, in an effort to move faster than the snow and get out of its teeth. Nothing they did, it now appeared, had allowed them to escape.
Avalanche rescue depends critically on the speed of the search team's response. Only one in five victims has been saved by an organized rescue team; out of the 140 found on American slopes by teams of probers since 1950, 121 were already dead.
So it was with little hope that the searchers helicoptered to the west face. Where the arms of the avalanche converged, lines of probers jammed poles through the snow, expecting at any moment to hit something solid—another pack, a boot, a body. Progress was agonizingly slow. In some places, the avalanche debris was too hard to penetrate. They tried a magnetometer, and it sounded once, but intensive digging revealed only flecks of metal in a stone.
Finally a prober broke through and struck something soft. Digging, the team discovered a buried parka and, in its pocket, something even more promising—a camera with film in it and an additional roll of exposed black-and-white film. All of the rolls were flown off to be developed; they arrived back at five o'clock the next morning. The color film found at the camp merely chronicled the boat trip across Waterton Lake. Virtually all of the black-and-whites, however, were taken as the team approached the north face. Some of the images were sharp enough to show the upper mountain covered by a heavy blanket of snow, indicating that conditions were considerably worse than when rescuers went in.
The images were, in their innocence, unbearably poignant, as if apparitions of the climbers themselves stood before the rangers, offering clues to their route but little hope for their safe return. Here was a photo of Jerry Kanzler and Clare Pogreba, best of friends, sitting in Alf Baker's boat and staring off into the middle distance. Here was Ray Martin, on the dock, smiling his goofy smile and standing half again as tall as his companions.
On January 7, with fresh avalanches still plummeting down the west face and winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour, the searchers returned to Goat Haunt and packed up the boys' base camp. Back at Waterton Townsite, Bob Frauson called a supplier for one more set of equipment: five body bags, to be delivered in unmarked boxes.
It would be another five months—after the spring thaw had broken up the snowpack—until the search resumed. With grizzly bears emerging from their dens and beginning to congregate below a waterfall on the west face, their noses leading them in the direction of decay, rangers once again climbed up the bowl. On May 23, 1970, a couple of rangers, exploring on foot, made a remarkable discovery. There, lying on the chunky wet snow, was another camera, flung from its case, lens pointed at the sky. It had clearly been wrenched free from a climber's neck or from the pocket of a backpack. The case, lying nearby, had James Anderson's name on it. The last picture on the roll showed all five boys standing together at about 8,000 feet on the west face.
Like spring buds sprouting from winter hibernation, more gear began to pop to the surface. On June 7, a wool knit cap on the main avalanche path. Three days later, a rucksack. A week of nothing, and then a plastic bag containing flashlight batteries.
Two weeks later, five rangers ascended the west face in intermittent rain and snow. At 9 a.m. on June 29, at about 6,800 feet, they climbed up the side of a waterfall that, frozen-over in winter, had now begun to drain the western bowl. Above the waterfall, the snow—although solid and deep—had been hollowed out by running meltwater. Thirsty from the climb, Jack Christiansen bent down to get a drink and caught the unmistakable whiff of decomposition.
Carefully, nervously, the men shone a flashlight up under the meltwater cave and peered into the darkness. The sound of running water, inside the tunnel, was loud; a full-fledged stream ran right past the men. Peering deep inside the cave, the rangers made out a head and a pair of arms hanging down from the six-foot snowpack. There, attached to a red Perlon rope, was the body of Ray Martin.
As searchers followed the rope from Martin's waist to its terrible end deep in the snow, they discovered four more bodies. All were found in states of violently arrested tumble. It took several days of relentless digging, but once the bodies were removed from their encasement, the cause of death became grotesquely clear. The boys had not lived long enough to suffocate. They had been killed by the fall, carried half a mile down the slope and some 1,500 vertical feet by a vast, tumbling wall of snow. Ruby Martin would recall that her son Ray "was six-foot-six-and-a-half, but when they found him he was six-foot-13 because of a broken back and neck."
The searchers set about identifying the bodies and putting them into the body bags that Bob Frauson had ordered. The last thing they did was take pictures of the dead boys. Strangely, none of the photographs came out.