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Submitting accident report to AAC

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Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 175

Just wondering if anyone can let me know what their experience was like submitting an accident report to the AAC. 

Also, I have made some attempts to get in contact with the climbers who I helped but I've had no success. Is this usually a situation where one should get permission? There was not a death and I feel like there is a decent amount to be learned from the accident. 

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,523

I have never submitted an accident report to AAC - probably because I do not read them much.

My gut leans towards not submitting to AAC unless the climbers you helped are ok with it - perhaps even have a shot at commenting on what you write.

Besides, the story could be posted on other venues with the names of the innocents changed. :-)

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 5

I can tell you what my experience was like. It will be clear I'm not happy with how it was handled, so though you may gain a valuable perspective, keep in mind this is just a sample size of one.

I was in a pretty bad accident a few years back. It was right at the start of a summer long climbing trip so for various reasons I was stuck where I was for the first 8 weeks of my recovery with no real support system in a place where I knew almost no one. I was pretty incapacitated, had a scary potentially fatal complication a few weeks later, and had difficulty taking care of myself. I had nothing on the agenda that summer but climbing, and now had nothing to do but be in pain and wait. I want to give you this context for the place I was in mentally and emotionally at the time.

Shortly after, I got an email from the editor of ANAM, asking if I would fill out an accident report and share the details. It was a little unsettling to be tracked down like that, but I always intended to submit it. When it came down to it though, I never could find the right words or the motivation to sit down and write it. Pain and medication kept my motivation low. I thought not submitting it was the same as declining to be included in the journal, but apparently in absence of a first-hand account they were happy to publish a version of the story in which absolutely nothing was correct except my name, which they published without so much as letting me know it was happening.

Apparently they got the story straight from the daily camera, who got their "facts" from whatever climbing illiterate rumor mill they usually do. Though they at least added a half-assed correction when I called them on it, ANAM stuck with the original version. I suppose having been printed in a newspaper makes it public knowledge so ANAM didn't do anything wrong, technically - but they have to be as aware as any other climber is of how wildly inaccurate climbing accident reports written by the daily camera are. That they would choose to print the report knowing they almost certainly did not have the facts, use my full name when they did not have my permission, (and on top of that their "version" isn't even an interesting accident in the slightest), makes me think they are prioritizing filling space any way they can over educating climbers through factual reports.

I learned of this report after it was published, from a friend who read it in his copy and knew it was way off. In the year that followed I spoke with AAC representatives three separate times about it (I wasn't seeking them out for this reason, the interactions were unrelated) and each time they expressed surprise, concern, and an interest in following up. Each time they took my contact info and were never heard from again.

I care very little today about the accuracy of this report, but at the time it felt intensely personal and important, and that the truth seemed not to matter to those willing to tell the world about this very personal thing felt like a tiny betrayal.

I know there are those who view the ANAM as robust data; I used to view it as useful though selection-biased and anecdotal; now I view it as a collection of stories which value entertainment over facts and take each report with a grain of salt.

The other takeaway is, I guess, someone's accident probably looms far larger in their life than yours, and what may seem like no big deal to you may have a lot of emotions tied up in it for them, and maybe let them decide if and when and how to share it with the world.

Dougald MacDonald · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2002 · Points: 725

Hi Everyone,

I'm the new(ish) editor of Accidents in North American Climbing (formerly Accidents in North American Mountaineering). I have responded to "Em Cos" to get more information about the published report on her accident. In the past, the book sometimes relied heavily on newspaper accounts, but this is very rarely the practice today. Sometimes we'll use newspaper stories or other third-person accounts (such as Mountain Project reports or discussions) to supplement our information, but wherever possible we use first-person information or documentation from rangers and search and rescue teams. If we don't feel the information is authoritative, we don't publish it. 

Accidents in North American Climbing's sole mission is to educate fellow climbers, and we work with climbers, rangers, and SAR professionals to ensure we're publishing only the most helpful and educational material. We are also happy to publish anonymous reports if the educational value is there. If anyone has any questions about our reports or would like more information about what we're looking for in a submission, please contact me at Thanks!

Dougald MacDonald

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,470

Sorry you were injured and on pain meds, unable to really write up your own report, Em. I think you can all see that if you are involved in an accident, you should write up the report before someone else does. I have been in that position as well and wrote the report within days of the incident and went so far as to create illustrations. Because of that I at least was assured the content was as accurate as my own memory. Doing the report quickly also helps, as facts begin to fade within a few days. 

Jake, if you just report what you observed accurately without speculation, then you should be fine. 

pfwein · · Boulder, CO · Joined May 2006 · Points: 35

I posted an account of my serious (but not completely catastrophic) accident on MP.

I wrote it in the hospital out of a combination of wanting to write down what happened to best understand it myself and provide some information that may be useful or at least interesting to other climbers, and as I had nothing better to do and it weighed heavily on my mind as I recovered and contemplated my fate (which has turned out to be pretty good, mostly just due to luck and good medical care).

Dougald contacted me about including my account (as edited) in AAC Accidents--I was fine with that and with his editing, which just removed some reminisces and sharpened the writing.

I believe we can learn from other people's mistakes as well as our own (not to say that every accident is the result of a mistake, but most are) -- and that sharing information is good. Not everyone agrees, for whatever reasons.  Still, my experience with Dougald and with publicly sharing the details of my accident was positive.

Ryan Marsters · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 883
Dougald MacDonald wrote: ensure we're publishing only the most helpful and educational material. 

In light of this, have you considered trimming the near-useless analysis section?

Analysis: The climbers got lost because they got off route. If a climber starts to get off route, they should get back on route and then they'll no longer be lost. 

Jonathan Stickel · · Golden, CO · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 100

A few years ago I submitted a report to the AAC about an accident I had. AAC contacted me asking for a report after noticing my brief account on Mountain Project. I was somewhat dissapointed to find my report was not included in that year's ANAM. I decided I'd rather be in a climbing publication for other reasons, and so I let it go.

Rob Dillon · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2002 · Points: 710

Seems like the OP should get in touch with the principals and get their blessing before landing them in print?

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 294
Ryan Marsters wrote:

In light of this, have you considered trimming the near-useless analysis section?

I disagree. I think ANAM has done a pretty good job providing fairly subjective analysis without being too judgemental or preachy. Just because something is useless to you doesn't mean it can't be useful to others.

Rob Dillon · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2002 · Points: 710

"near-useless" is the kind of needlessly antagonistic language that helps to make one's opinion "near-ignored"

rob.calm · · Loveland, Colorado · Joined May 2002 · Points: 630

About 20 years ago, my partner, Andy, and I were hiking a couple of miles into a climb when we heard cries for help. We found two stranded climbers about 40 feet up a cliff. They had made one rappel. Their partner was dead in a deep trench fracturing the ledge to which they had wanted to rappel and on which we were standing. The dead partner had a coiled rope on his back and a second rope scattered at the base of the trench. Thus, the stranded climbers had no rope to use for rappelling.

We thought we could climb up to them. I got about 20 feet below them and decided it was too dangerous to proceed. I was climbing with half ropes. I said if they lowered me a carabiner on some slings linked together, I could tie one of my ropes to the carabiner. They could hoist it and then rappel. They said they only had one sling. I asked if they had stoppers. They said, "Yes". I explained to them how to link them together and lower it to me. They did. I tied the end of a rope into the carabiner. After pulling about half way up, they dropped the linked carabiners. At that point, Andy and I decided we needed to call for search and rescue. I stayed talking to them, while Andy went for help. A long and complicated rescue involving a helicopter ensued.

I didn't write anything about the accident, but later saw a report in ANAM. Pure fantasy.  Amongst other misstatements, it described the guys on the cliff as experienced climbers, while Andy and I were described as hikers who happened by. Over the years when I've told this story it often happens that someone talks about a report he/she saw in ANAM that was inaccurate or misleading.

Another accident I was present at seemed very relevant in that it contained a warning lesson about what not to do. Two climbers had taken the easy way up to the top of a climb. They set an anchor using stoppers and one climber lowered the other.  The climber  at the top then started to rappel and plunged to the ground with fatal results. The conclusion of those of us at the scene was that as he stood up to rappel, the stoppers rotated and pulled out. The report submitted about this accident was not published.

Since Dougald is now the editor, I anticipate that the relevance and accuracy of ANAM will improve greatly.


djh860 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 110

I think we should all read the accident reports .  I think reading them makes me a safer climber.

sfotex · · Sandy, UT · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 225

Accident reports are hard. Sometime the person(s) involved are dead, don't remember the events leading up to the accident, there's conflicting information, people involved change the story because they are ashamed, covering their asses, etc. I've submitted quite a few reports to ANAM and Dougald has been  professional and inquisitive about them.

 If you were a bystander on an  accident and stepped up to help out, then the involved party really doesn't have much say if you want to report it - once they involve you it becomes your problem too. 

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,523

Fortunately for most, answering the question goes far beyond whether it is legal or not.

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 5
Stich wrote:

Sorry you were injured and on pain meds, unable to really write up your own report, Em. I think you can all see that if you are involved in an accident, you should write up the report before someone else does. 

Agreed, I will definitely keep that in mind but hope there won't be a next time. If the ANAM editor at the time had told me that the report was going to be published with or without accurate info, I absolutely would have rallied to write it myself. 

I wanted to update this thread as I have heard from Dougald, and in our email exchange he has been professional, concerned with what happened, and motivated to fix it. He has taken down the inaccurate report and as he believes there is educational value in what really happened I am working on writing up a report on my accident for him. In light of this it seems ANAM (or ANAC now) is moving in a better direction and more concerned with accuracy. 

This doesn't change my advice that I believe it is best to let those involved in the accident decide if, when, and how to share their (possibly traumatic) experience with the world. If you were a witness or involved in rescue, it could be great to have your first-hand account to supplement any report they'd like to share. However if they don't want to and you feel the accident is too unique, highlights an unknown or easily preventable danger, or otherwise could save other climber's lives by getting the info out there, please consider keeping it anonymous, as that obviously can't affect any educational value. 

Thanks to those of you who checked in by email. I am basically fully recovered and climbing is still my favorite thing. :)

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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