American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Northern Cascades: (3) Mt. Index, Washington

  • Accident Reports
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1948

Northern Cascades: (3) Mt. Index, Washington. During the first week of October 1947, there occurred a tragic accident which has not yet been fully explained. Two young men named Franklin and Westphal, each 17 years of age and with a minimum of climbing experience, set out on the normal route up this difficult peak. They had no extra food, and they wore light jackets and lightweight cotton shirts. They carried only 25 ft. of rope. They have not been seen since. Their jackets were found later at a camp beside a lake. The only other traces were a few scattered orange peels at the bottom of a rock gully leading to some of the most difficult climbing on the established route. Here they must have stopped for lunch. No trace of them has been found elsewhere. Presumably they had not picked the best route. Thick weather blew in on the evening of the day they set out and continued for several days, covering the high country with several ft. of snow. Search parties found as much as five ft. of snow in a chimney above the orange peels, and the gully was being swept with avalanches. We may never know where they died, even though it is far too obvious why.

Sources of information: Newspaper accounts and Seattle Mountaineers search personnel.

Analysis. The previous climbing experience of these two boys was limited to an ascent of one of the easier peaks in the Olympic Mountains a few weeks before. Obviously their training was insufficient to justify such a difficult climb. The storm and attendant cold probably caused them to lose their way. It was very cold the following day. Possibly they fell to their death; perhaps, by spring, their bodies will be found huddled under some tree where they froze in their cotton shirts. Their failure to appreciate the gravity of mountain climbing was evident in their lack of equipment. Twenty-five ft. of rope would be next to useless on an ascent of this type. These men should have been encouraged to join an established mountaineering club in which they could have learned to climb with judgment and security.

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.