American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Protection Pulled Out, Fall on Rock, "Ego in an Uproar," California, Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows—Daff Dome

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 1995


California, Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows—Daff Dome

On August 12, 1994, at 1010, the NPS received a report of a climber injured in an 60-80 foot fall to the ground at Daff Dome in Tuolumne Meadows. Ranger Kris Bardsley, the first ranger at the scene, arrived at 1040. The victim, Dan Acland (25) had struck his back and side in a sliding fall and landed hard on his left side. He was conscious but complaining of pain in his back, pelvis, chest, and ankle. During her exam, Bardsley also noted some abdominal rigidity.

Because of the potential for life-threatening injuries, Bardsley requested both a helicopter and a carry-out team. The NPS helicopter was working on a fire outside the park, so a UH-1N (Huey) responded from Naval Air Station Lemoore, one to two hours away.

Acland was given oxygen, an IV, and morphine for pain, and was immobilized in a full-body vacuum splint. At 1150 he was carried in a belayed litter down the slabs below the dome's east face and taken by ground ambulance to the ranger station. The Lemoore helicopter had arrived by then so it flew him from there to the Crane Flat Helibase, saving an hour drive. At about 1400 at Crane Flat he was transferred to a Mediflite helicopter and flown to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto. He was found to have a sprained ankle, cracked ribs, and a simple pneumothorax. (Source: Kris Bardsley & John Dill, NPS Rangers)


The mechanical reason for the accident was that I placed a marginal anchor, consisting of a #13 stopper and a #8 Hex in a shallow, flaring, diagonal crack, clipped into it on a short runner, creating an outward pull that rendered the anchor even less than marginal, and then untied from my lead rope so that someone else could use it on another climb. I had been hanging on that anchor for ten or fifteen minutes, hoisting up extra gear and preparing to set up a top- rope anchor when the two pieces failed, the shock-load from one no doubt pulling the other one. The technical lessons are too numerous and too obvious to list.

At a deeper level the cause of the accident has to do with the way I learned to climb. I was self-taught, learning primarily from my own successes and mistakes. I did not learn by going out with experienced climbers. I was never “shown the ropes,” was never an “apprentice,” never put myself in a position to ask a thousand questions and have a thousand of my placements critiqued. Not only was I unwilling to go through such a process of learning, I was also unwilling to acknowledge that I had not done so, either to my climbing partners, or to my employer, for whom I was teaching at the time of the accident. After working a couple of summers teaching at the same old sites, setting the same old ultra-redundant top-rope anchors, I believed that I knew how to place pro and climb safely. I was in a state of denial.

At the time of the accident I was co-instructing with two people who both tacitly and explicitly questioned my capabilities and my judgment, and I was trying to convince them, and more importantly, myself, that I knew what I was doing. I had become very attached to the idea of myself as an experienced climber. In truth I had spent more time teaching climbing than climbing.

So two things were happening at the time of the accident. One was that I was up a cliff doing something I was inadequately trained to do. The other was that my ego was in an uproar because of the threat to my identity as a good climber and instructor caused by the doubts of my co-instructors. My fervent desire to cling to my own self-definition, my unwillingness in the preceding years to allow myself to be a beginner, and my unwillingness that morning to accept my right size, these things caused the accident.

No one can afford to plan a half rope-length ground fall into their learning process. I am wildly lucky to be alive. I don’t know if anything less could have shaken me from my denial. I encourage anyone learning to climb to earnestly question whether they are getting the necessary input of experienced climbers, and to put aside any idea of proving themselves. I also encourage all climbers to take into consideration the possible ego-related effects of questioning a fellow climber’s abilities, since a wounded ego means impaired judgment. Be diplomatic but firm. (Source: Dan Acland)

(Editors Note: We appreciate Mr. Acland’s candidness. Without his personal viewpoint and understanding, we would only have been able to surmise that he had “placed inadequate protection. ”)

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