American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

New Mexico Rocky Mountains

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

New Mexico Rocky Mountains. In late October 1947, two girl secretaries from Los Alamos, Frances Krauss and Mildred Hartig, lost their lives on an icy slope of Truchas Peak (13,275 ft.), New Mexico’s highest mountain. One was 34 years old, the other 35. Having climbed the peak, they were descending late in the afternoon to the point where horses had been left. With them was a local man whom they had employed as guide. Against his advice, one of the women took a shortcut across a “wide expanse of ice.” After going only a short distance, she fell and slid several hundred feet down “an ice-covered rock slide,” cutting her leg and head. The party had no rope. Being unable to move the injured woman without one, from the spot where she was “lodged just above a canyon,” they made her comfortable as possible, and her companion volunteered to remain with her while the guide went for help. The rescuers arrived shortly before noon the following day to find the two crushed bodies several hundred feet below where the guide had last seen them alive.

Source of information: newspaper accounts.

Analysis. Although details of this tragedy are available only from newspaper accounts, several obvious points may be emphasized. Apparently the guide lacked the alpine experience to control his party in selecting a safe route. (It seems he was a hunting and fishing guide and a horse packer experienced in the mountains but not in technical climbing.) Presumably the victims had little knowledge of the mountains. No experienced climber would attempt the crossing of a dangerous and extensive slope without a rope. Even a 40-degree slope of hard snow can be treacherously dangerous to an inexperienced and ill-equipped person. Furthermore, after injury one would not move from a secure position before the arrival of a rescue party.

The State Police were called upon to effect the rescue. Before they found the bodies they returned to civilization to purchase “approximately 5000 feet of rope” and other equipment. This would have been an opportunity for a trained and well-organized rescue team from some mountaineering organization. Pain, hunger and exposure may impel injured climbers to attempt to further their own rescue. Delay in getting rescue personnel into the field may therefore mean disaster.

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