American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Wyoming, Devil's Tower

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1964

Wyoming, Devil’s Tower. On 23 July James A. Dunn, Robert C. Smiley, and Stephanie Sisca had signed out for an ascent of the Durrance Route. Dunn was leading with Smiley belaying on the first lead, the leaning column. Dunn had advanced to a point 8 feet below the leaning column proper. At this point it is necessary to use jamming techniques and a piton is usually placed in the only available crack to protect the next 8 feet of difficult climbing. While trying to advance, his jammed left hand came out, causing a loss of purchase. He fell outward and to the right of his line of ascent. The belay was ineffective and Dunn came to rest on a ledge slightly below and to the right of his belayer.

During the fall, contact with the rock produced moderate to heavy abrasions, and bruised his lower trunk. It was thought that the arm was broken when he landed on the ledge. Dunn was able to move under his own power and the party descended from the shoulder, roped and under the supervision of Rangers Thorson and Church.

Source: J. Orren Church, Ranger, Devil’s Tower National Park.

Analysis: (Church) The use of a piton before the difficult move was attempted would have spared the injury. The fact that Dunn was wearing a hard hat prevented possible skull injuries. All climbers on the Tower are required to wear hard hats. The loss of purchase with the left hand is understandable in the portion of the climb. Rock dust accumulates on ledges and in cracks which is like grease to sweaty hands.

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