American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Rock, Miscommunication, Wisconsin, Devil's Lake State Park

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988


Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake State Park

On April 17, 1987, Richrd Kelso (21) was climbing on East Bluff when he decided he wanted to be lowered. His belayer thought he had said, “Off belay.” Kelso fell, and his belayer was unable to stop him, as the rope was reportedly going too fast. Kelso was rescued and transported to the hospital to check out possible fractured ribs and a lower back injury. (Source: Ralph Gerken, Ranger, Devil’s Lake State Park)


We do not know whether these climbers were experienced. These communication problems are not uncommon, which is why most climbers use an accepted vocabulary of climbing commands. If one expects that lowering might be necessary, and there is wind or obstacles which prevent good communciation, prearranged signals need to be worked out. “Slack,” while not sounding at all like, “Off belay,” may not work in a case like this. But then, short bursts of slack would be less hazardous than no belay at all! (Source: J. Williamson)

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