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Fall on Rock, Inadequate Protection, Wisconsin, Devil's Lake State Park


Wisconsin, Devil's Lake State Park

Two climbers (who are guides) were setting up individual top-ropes when John (21) heard the sound of a falling backpack. John called out to Elaine (20) and received no response. Knowing immediately the gravity of the situation, John placed the clients in a safe position and ran to the aid of Elaine.

Elaine had attached herself to a large but loose block with a #3 Camp Tri- Cam and a 20-foot section of one-inch tubular webbing. She had hopped over the edge of the cliff to a ledge five feet below to gain access to a crack to place protection for anchoring the top rope. As she leaned over the edge of this lower ledge to gain access to the crack, she felt a “pop” and fell over the edge. She fell 50 feet, hitting several large tree limbs and finally ending up on the mud and scree slope below.

John, who had Wilderness First Responder training, did immediate spine immobilization and checked her airway for breathing as he thought that she had not been breathing for those few minutes. She let out a large gasp of air and was very incoherent in verbal response. John sent his two eldest clients down to seek Ranger and rescue assistance.

Within 20 minutes, a rescue team arrived. Elaine was raised and prepped for a Flight For Life flight to Madison for her injuries. Elaine sustained a separated shoulder with fractures, a punctured lung, and a leg laceration. She was hospitalized for six days, three in intensive care and three for rehabilitation, after which she was released for home care. She admits to not using enough protection and credits her helmet for limiting injuries.


Using proper and sufficient equipment is highly recommended. In this case, Elaine used only one piece of protection and attached it to a loose boulder. Perhaps she hadn’t placed the protection adequately to prevent a side-loading that may have been put on the piece.

John was happy with his first aid training and stated, “The whole book just flashed before me,” and was glad to be able to help. Whatever mistake was made, Elaine admits to not using enough protection. She is climbing and guiding again, but never gets near the edge unsecured and unroped. (Source: Steven Schaefgen)