American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fatigue—Fall on Rock, Failure to Follow Route, Exceeding Abilities, Wisconsin, Devil's Lake State Park, Chicago

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002


Wisconsin, Devil's Lake State Park, Chicago

Two male climbers (ages unknown) were leading Chicago (5.9) at Devil’s Lake State Park. “Josh” climbed the crux of the route but soon after got lost. He spent some time searching for the proper route, and after time his strength diminished and he fell. The only protection on the route was below the crux and the first ten to 15 feet above it was unprotected. Josh had placed a #4 Camalot and a CCH Alien below the crux, and as he fell the Camalot pulled from the route, lengthening the fall.

“John,” below on belay, was approximately 20-30 pounds lighter than Josh. John had been sitting against a tree but was not anchored. As Josh fell, it pulled John from the tree and up to the first, and only, piece of protection about ten feet off the ground.

Thanks to the only piece of protection on the route, Josh stopped short of a full-fledged fall onto sharp pointed rocks. However, it did not stop him from partially hitting these rocks, causing minor injury to his legs, an arm laceration requiring eight stitches, and back pain that left him bearing a large “lump” or welt. They stopped climbing for the day and were both fortunate that injuries were minor.


Both climbers are reported to be experienced and had climbed with each other often. It is also reported that both had just returned from a climbing trip out West. It has been mentioned that they may have been feeling “cocky” from success on western granite and misjudged their abilities on Devil’s Lake quartz- ite, which is notorious for being “slippery” and can be inherently more difficult than granite due to that fact. The guidebook describes Chicago as “...a bold and heroic lead with serious potential ground fall.” Unfortunately, Josh found that out first hand. Had it not been for the Alien holding the fall, Josh would have hit the pointed rocks at full force from his estimated height of 40 feet.

These two seemed to have overlooked the weight difference between them. In a top-rope situation there may be no danger if one climber is slightly heavier or lighter than the other, but it is a definite concern when leading. Either way, the belayer should always anchor in. (Source: Steven Schaefgen)

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