American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Wisconsin, Devil's Lake Practice Bluffs

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1956

Wisconsin, Devel’s Lake Practice Bluffs—On October 16, 1955, the weekly Sunday rock climb of the Wisconsin Hoofer Mountaineers was attended by nine climbers and four leaders. Four rope teams commenced climbing the quartzite buttresses of the east bluffs. The rocks were dry, the weather cool. After completing the first pitch two rope teams started climbing simultaneously two different routes on the same buttress. At this point Steve Smith, a relatively new climber, became impatient and left his party to traverse diagonally upward across the buttress alone. His leader climbed upward without knowledge of this. Smith’s chosen traverse led to a point 18 feet off the ground and brought him to a ledge gained simultaneously by Tom Benedict, the leader of the rope team ascending the opposite side. Benedict then directed him to retrace his route to rejoin his party. Smith remained on the ledge while Benedict examined the route upward. It consisted of an inside corner climb containing a layback crack which Benedict judged unsuitable for the party. Benedict then selected a parallel route for his party, expecting Smith to follow his advice. At this point Smith, now out of sight, attempted the rejected route alone. He climbed up to the layback crack where insufficient holds caused him to free fall a distance of 25-30 feet, resulting in a compound fracture of both bones of the right lower leg. Evacuation was accomplished by stretcher and truck in about 90 minutes.

Source: Club members present at the time of the accident.

Analysis: Inexperienced climber attempting to exceed abilities, failure to accept judgment of leader.

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