American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Falling Rock — Wisconsin, Devil's Lake State Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1983


Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake State Park

On June 12, 1982, Darrel Whynot (33) fell two to three meters onto his back when a rock he stepped on disappeared. He was reaching for a belay rope which had been dropped from above. His fall was broken by his pack and no serious injury resulted. (Source: C. T. Sanner, Ranger, Devil’s Lake State Park)


This climbing area has some similarities to the Shawangunks, especially in terms of accessibility. It is at the same stage of development as the “Gunks” were in a decade ago. The area is becoming more popular both for hiking and climbing. A letter to the U. S. editor from James Buchholz, one of the park’s supervisors, reveals the current state of affairs:

Falls from the bluffs continue to be a major concern for us and we continue to search for answers to the growing problems associated with the sport. In the past year, several private rock-climbing classes have been established using the park as their classroom. A benefit from this type of training is better skilled climbers with the knowledge of safety techniques. Unfortunately, we have found that as each class completes the course, the number of climbers on the bluff increases proportionately, since there are few other places in the midwest to climb.

Ironically, the climbing classes have swollen the ranks of climbers to the point of pushing former climbers to the more isolated areas of the bluffs and unfortunately less accessible for rescue purposes. More climbers will undoubtedly lead to more falls just by the sheer number of people on the rocks.

A related problem of more climbers is the hiker/climber conflict. Ropes secured to trees and rocks on top of the bluff areas are sometimes stretched across hiking trails. Backpacks, ropes, gear and climbers themselves are often laid out on trails making passage difficult for hikers. Climbers often climb directly over hiking trails creating a dangerous situation.

Some unique geologic rock formations such as the balanced rock and Devil’s Doorway here at Devil’s Lake may already be overused and abused by rock climbers. Other park visitors’ desires to view and photograph these and other natural rock formations without the “spaghetti effect” of ropes, anchors and people all over them must be taken into account.

As the sport grows among clubs, universities and private classes, and as our visitor days number 1 ¼ million per year, it is apparent that some sort of control will be necessary in the near future. We are confident there can be a place for climbers and hikers alike.

(Source: J. Williamson and James Buchholz)

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