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Wisconsin, Bascom Hall

Wisconsin, Bascom Hall (University of Wisconsin). On 26 June at 1:30 a.m., Charles Cary (20) began climbing Bascom Hall, the administration building of the University of Wisconsin. His companion, Delbert Marshall (19) remained on the ground. Both were experienced building climbers, they had already made two ascents that evening. Cary was unroped, as there was no place to put in protection for the leader. He had climbed the building from this side previously, but was attempting a harder variation. The rock on this building consists of a weathered limestone offset in a concrete base. The limestone blocks are raised an inch from the matrix, but crumbling has reduced this relief considerably.

Cary was about 30 feet up, traversing over a doorway when he came off, probably due to a crumbling handhold. Marshall was not in a position to see the fall, but he found that Cary had fallen over backwards and had struck a concrete abutment near the doorway. He felt a faint heartbeat and went for help, but Cary was pronounced dead of a broken neck and severe concussions at 2:15 a.m.

Source: Alan Rubin.

Analysis: (Rubin) Building climbing is a branch of the sport quite common on many campuses. With the many risks inherent in it, it is surprising that so few major accidents have occurred. Cary was a good rock climber and had made many ascents on University buildings, including Bascom Hall. He realized the treacherous nature of the rock and the difficulty of his variation, but felt that he was capable of making the climb. He had made two other climbs that night, but did not appear unusually tired and rejected Marshall’s suggestion that they not attempt the climb.

A top rope (sent up via a fire escape) would have made the accident trivial, but Cary believed that all ascents should be made as leads even if no protection was possible. He had already made several severe building and rock climbs with inadequate protection and had ignored warnings as to the outcome if he continued the practice.

It is possible that a spot could have broken his fall sufficiently to save his life, though at a risk to the spotter. However, Cary had not requested a spot and Marshall was in no position to give him one when the fall occurred. Had he fallen two feet farther left, Cary would have landed in shrubbery and probably lived, but falling climbers are unable to choose their landing spots.

Other than not climbing buildings it is hard to prevent such accidents, unless the climbers are willing to take certain precautions, even if such precautions may reduce the “purity” of the climb. Only when certain climbers have the sense to take basic precautions will such accidents be eliminated.