incident at Yorkshire Pot

ACA 1973 page 10
5th May 1973
Yorkshire Pot
British Columbia
Incident type
Rigging problems
Primary cause
Rope detached from anchor
Secondary cause
Group type
Novice cavers
Group size
Aid type
Underground aid
Incident flags
Data status

Injured cavers

Name Age Sex Injuries Injured areas
Schaffer, Al Not recorded Male Fracture Spine

Incident report

After digging snow out of the entrance, Dave Bray, Warren Blair, Doug Curry, and Al Schaffer entered Yorkshire Pot at 3:00 p.m. and began descending on fixed ropes left by an earlier expedition. All four men had some previous mountaineering experience, and three had been to the cave before, although none were experienced cavers or were members of any caving group.

The second pitch is about 170 feet down and 300 feet into the cave. Three of the men safely rappelled the 55-foot drop. By then the last man, Schaffer, was using a flashlight since his two main light sources had gone out. The rope, which had been used only as a lifeline for ladder climbers by the previous group, was looped around a sloping rock projection. In lifting the rope to start his rappel. Schaffer accidentally loosened it so that it started to slip off the anchor. He reached up and replaced the rope, but when he resumed rappelling, the rope again slipped off. This time Schaffer fell about 50 feet and suffered a back injury consisting of compacted fractures of three vertebrae. The accident occurred at 5:30 p.m.

An hour later two of the men started looking for another way out of the cave. Bray found the bypass around the pit. This passage is located about 30 feet from the bottom of the pit. While leaving, Bray took a fall of about 10 feet; however he and Curry were out of the cave by 11:00 p.m. Curry walked 8 miles through deep snow to the nearest road and returned by 11:00 a.m. with word that a rescue was underway. Help with a Stoke's litter arrived about 24 hours after the fall.

The Calgary Mountain Rescue Team, a mine rescue team, and Alberta cavers removed the victim from the cave by 2:30 the next morning. Schaffer was evacuated by helicopter at 5:00 a.m.

Incident analysis

Contrary to the beliefs of those involved, this accident was not "one of those freak things". Accidents similar to this have occurred in mountaineering. Specifically, on Shiprock in New Mexico, the last man down readjusted the position of the rappel rope, only to have the rope give way as soon as he started to rappel. The cavers placed too much faith in a rope which had been left in the cave by others. Bray had been informed that the ropes in the cave had been used only in belaying ladder climbers.

Possibly because of insufficient light, Schaffer failed to recognize an unsafe anchor. More experience in vertical caving and closer attention to the details of rigging the rope would have prevented this accident.


Thompson, Peter. (1973) "Editorial". The Canadian Caver. Vol. 5. No. 1. p. 2.
Shawcross, Mike and others. (1973) "Rescue, Yorkshire Pot". The Canadian Caver. Vol. 5, No. 2. pp. 46-53.

This record was last updated on 19th Nov 2023 at 23:37 UTC.