/ Bowline use at Climbing walls
I have recently started climbing at an indoor wall locally. After signing up the guys at the wall watched me belay my pal to make sure I wasn't a danger. I don't have a problem with that as its pretty much standard wherever you go.
However I went to tie in with a bowline with a stopper, which I have used at many climbing walls up in Scotland without being moaned at. However at my new wall the guys insisted I used a rethreaded figure-of-8 and told me I couldn't use my bowline because there had been some high profile death (which was high enough profile to pass me by somehow) :( I have used a bowline without a hitch for a while now.
I just wondered why insist on one knot over the other? Surely both knots are safe providing you construct them properly!?
forgive me if this has been asked before, cheers Mark
I think the standard climbing wall manager answer is that both are safe provided you construct them properly and a fig 8 is safer than a bowline on average if you construct both improperly (averaging over the ways a climber is likely to do this).
I don't know about the wall but I always find it easier to tell if a fig 8 is tied properly than a bowline so it may just be that they want people to use fig 8's to make it easier to spot potential problems.
Then again it might not be...
It's been 'done' pretty thoroughly over several threads, and debated at length without much in the way of resolution in the usual UKC stylee.
It isn't all English walls btw, just (imo) the less sensible ones.
The 8 is generally also pretty safe if you completely cock it up and don't bother with a stopper, the bowline isn't (though in its favor it will tend to fall apart immediately). Other than that I think a lot of walls just have a 'keep it simple' mentality, one thing to teach, one thing to watch for.
Their building, their rules even if they don't always make a lot of sense...
I'm sure that's not quite what you mean!
I think that's the reasoning for most places.
A re-threaded figure of 8 knot is generally easier to spot if tied incorrectly as opposed to a bowline. There are some staff who work at indoor climbing walls who are unable to tie a bowline so the staff may find it harder to spot if it has indeed been tied wrong. Some walls just use the figure of 8 in their policy as incorrectly tied bowlines have in the past failed and unfortunately caused injuries. However when tied correctly a bowline will suffice as a perfectly safe knot to climb on.
pardon the pun!
Thanks for the feedback folks!
I ran into this same issue when moving from the Scottish walls (Alien, Ratho, Avertical World) to the Newcastle climbing centre where I was told I couldn't use a bowline. At first I thought this was a bit daft and does occasionally leads to the slightly embarrassing situation of being too pumped to untie the fig 8 and having to ask a partner to help!
Anyway I've now come to realise that I am as likely as anyone else to make a mistake at some point in my climbing life so I'm happy to use a fig 8 as I think it is a safer knot being more likely to hold if tied incorrectly and easier for someone to spot and point out. So it's all good.
Btw perhaps the incident that was referred to may have happened to John Long as I heard he recently had a bad accident at an indoor climbing gym?
I understand we can all make mistakes. I'm quite happy to comply, I just like my bowline.
Its Newcastle Climbing Centre I was talking about, probably should have said that before.
That's unfortunate. The answer is to simply tie it properly, which removes the question of it coming undone. How many wall supervisors are usually in a position to inspect knots thoroughly before a climber starts up the wall anyway!
Meh. A wee bit.
Newcastle ey? I don't have any problem in Manchester and have seen instructors climb on bowlines, So don't think it's a North/South divide thing.
Vote with your feet and don't go back. A lot of Americans have to belay off a gri gri bolted in the floor, so we can't go encouraging this mentality that there is only one truly safe way to do something.
I think a buddy check is much more important than which know you use. The issue seems to be not finishing your knot, whether a bowline of a fig of 8.
Thanks for the heads up. If I'm ever in Newcastle I'll give their wall a miss. The bowline is king for me.
its just another Nanny State Issue Really I,ve used Bowlines for 50 plus years with no problems ,use them on the Yacht for Sail Sheets ,Warps to tie the boat up etc ...if your taught the knot properly there should be no problem.in the Sea Scouts I,m told you learn to tie the knot with the rope and your hands behind your back ...
How is this a "nanny state" thing? Where's the state intervention to impose this. Most likely to be fed from the insurance industry, who are the main culprits for all the "health and safety" type moanings...
Seems like an extreme reaction. If a wall has a fantastic atmosphere, great route-setting and good coffee then the type of attachment required would be a pretty minor consideration for me. I've never been able to understand people getting militant on this "issue".
As an aside, figure-eights are much easier to untie if you dress them really neatly.
Actually some friends of mine learned the double bowline in their beginners course with the german alpine club DAV.
I am sure I have seen a document by petzl or mammut about this where they tested different knots, slippage etc. Just can't find it now....
This is a video of the double bowline. I climbed on this many times and prefer it over the 8 on hard leads where I am likely to come off. It is easy to untie even after being loaded.
Do you need a stopper knot for the double (I notice they don't tie one in the vid)?
The logical thing to do, and certainly what I do, is to tie a figure eight whenever I'm at a new wall, and then just use a bowline as normal. Nobody seems to mind.
That's one way of looking at it, Jamie but if they are stupid enough to ban the knot, which is bmc approved, then I imagine there are other unpleasant surprises at the wall which I'd rather not be confronted with.
I would say that Bowlines are also easy to untie.
Easy to untie is quite a major issue if you're falling off a lot. And some would say if you're not falling off you're not trying hard enough.
I've had a polite query at Manchester when using a rethreaded bowline - they were happy once I confirmed what is was I was impressed that the staff were clearly observant and in the ball.
Have they run mad?
The Leader must never fall. Even if your threaded chockstone runner and foot Braced waist Belay holds, the rope will cut off Circulation to your Lower half in no Time at all Hanging on it!
Pretty shortsighted really from a liability point of view.
If they insist on an 8 then to a degree they're responsible for ensuring that nobody ever uses a bowline. Fair enough if you want to employ legions of floor-walking nazis but if not there inevitably will be climbers using other standard knots. If a climber then happens to have an accident due to not tying their knot, and it turns out they usually used a bowline, who will a court then find responsible?
Plenty of accidents have happened to people failing to tie proper 8s and I'm not aware of any study that claims users of the 8 have fewer knot-related accidents.
I would also tend to agree, if they're banning knots, the atmosphere probably isn't that great.
There coffee may also be affected...
Neatly tied in through his belay loop ;)
I don't have a problem with either knot, but I wouldn't be surprised if you were statistically more likely to die through using a bowline than a figure of eight.
Quite. Can never see how it's 'safer' to coerce people to use a system with which they are less familiar.
A few suggestions that using a fig 8 might be a requirement of the insurance. Does anyone know if any climbing wall insurance policies actually stipulate this?
What a strange idea. there are plenty of great walls that ask you to tie in with a Fo8 and stopper knot.
You're quite welcome to boycott them but why miss out because you insist on throwing your toys out of the pram?
The climber if there's any sanity left in our country.
Why should anyone else be held responsible?
From my understanding it's the climbing wall that creates the policies, rules and regulations, then an insurance company will approve them and insure them. I guess if it's in the climbing wall policy that you only use certain knots or anything else then that is what's covered by the insurance and any deviation from that would then not be covered.
Dont walls just get every user to sign a Damage waiver, participate at your own risk, Kind of thing anymore?
I agree, although the only time I have ever had an accident at a climbing wall was due to the wall insisting on using a system that the other party (i.e. my belayer) wasn't familiar with. If they had been using their usual system then I'm pretty sure that the incident wouldn't have occurred. So in that I sense the wall might be considered at least partially liable. Of course if we thought that their system was inherently unsafe then no one was forcing us to climb there. However, as it wasn't something I had any personal familiarity with then I wasn't in a position to judge. Feels like a bit of a grey area (although no doubt plenty will disagree with me).
I agree, unless a bolt fails, or the wall collapses, or something directly under the company's control.
The wall in question has an ok atmosphere and piss-poor route setting (I don't know what the coffee is like).
The bouldering wall just around the corner (Climb Newcastle) has a great atmosphere, excellent setting and lovely coffee. (And no ropes.) Winner. ;-)
I agree with you.
I like bouldering too so I'll go to the other place.
Did you and your parner sign a form saying you were competent in using that system ?
I know at the wall I work at bowlines are accepted but you have to sign to say you don't need any instruction/supervising in using the system described on the form. Tje form stipulates that you can tie in with a fig 8 or bowline, can belay using a recognised device (not a fig 8 descender ) and can put a harness on properly.
Did your partner say they weren't familiar with it ? Did they sign to say they were ? Did they tell you they weren't ? Obviously I don't know the circs of your incident so I'm not casting aspertions in your direction.
We all know people don't like to admit they're not comfy. I've been amazed at the amount of 'competent' people we have to pull up for bad practice. We'll happily give 5mins to run through stuff if people are basically competent but unsure on one particular point, if we have the staff availability.
I think the point of using a figure8 over a bowline is quite obvious, even though both tied properly are just as safe the other (I agree the bowline is so much easier to untie after being loaded and quicker to tie in with).
Not so many people know how to tie a bowline correctly, therefore it is impossible for your climbing partner to check your knot prior to climbing!
I totally understand this persons reason for insisting on customers using a figure8 to tie in.
Liability and safety.
Where there's blame there's a claim.
Are bowlines and fig 8s equivalently safe? In the context of indoor walls and single pitch sport yes, in my opinion.
Sod using a bowline for multipitch routes though.
What is the obvious part ?
I understand the 'not so many people know how to tie' part, but the part that says 'therefore it is impossible for your climbing partner to check your knot' doesn't make sense to me. Unless you are climbing with someone for the first time, in which case you show them how it is tied.
I must admit that I tie an over complicated version of a bowline (End Bend Single Bowline with a Yosemite finish) of which I am happy to show people that I climb with how to tie if they wish, if they don't wish to know how to tie it. I show them what to look for when checking it (front looks like a Fo8, the back has a 4 strand plat)
Presuming you mean end BOUND single bowline with Yosemite finish, well done! I use it too, having moved on from the Edwards.
The double bowline mentioned above (actually a bowline-on-a-bight tied as a rethread) is also superb, though a bit rope-hungry.
On another point, I think the argument that the F-o-8 is safer if tied incorrectly than a bowline is a spurious and potentially dangerous one. Tying any knot incorrectly is dangerous, full stop.
When I started climbing (it will be 57 years ago in July) the bowline was the only game in town. It seemed to work well enough for me, so I never changed to anything else.
Recently, it has gotten a bad rep for coming undone. As far as I can tell, this never happens if you are using a backup knot and/or something like the Yosemite finish (I use both), but a bowline without any kind of backup is liable to loosen up and perhaps undo entirely and should not be considered a knot for climbing.
The Yosemite finish/barrel knot backup combination makes the knot stable under ring-loading, but without suitable backups the bowline cannot safely be subjected to ring-loading, as is possible if one belays through the rope loop rather than the harness belay loop.
Once the groundswell of anti-bowline bias got started, people began to assume that a mistied bowline explained all accidents in which the rope came free of the harness without leaving a single figure-eight behind. The fallacy of this assumption is that a distracted climber may never have finished tying their bowline after threading the rope through the harness. This is what happened in John Long's accident, for example, and this type of failure has nothing to do with the bowline as a knot.
If one considers as equivalent the left- and right-handed version of the bowline (the standard bowline vs. the "Dutch Navy" bowline"), then the threading steps involved in tying allow for eight ways the knot could be attempted. Two of these eight ways give you a bowline, four result in something that falls apart in your hands, and two give something that will hang together but is not a bowline and might be dangerous---I don't know if the "wrong" knot has ever been tested.
It is very easy to spot the wrong configuration, because the leader's rope comes out of the "side" of the knot rather than the "top." Given that the other possibilities fall apart instantly, the idea that a wrongly-tied bowline is hard to spot seems to me to be completely wrong.
The knot called the "double bowline" above should probably be called a "rethreaded bowline." The DAV's tests suggest it is the best knot for climbing, but it does put two strands through the tie-in points. If you are using double ropes, that's four strands, at which point things are getting a bit crowded down there. For single-rope tie-ins it is the way to go, but it seems to enjoy a very limited popularity in the U.S. where single ropes are king.
The classical double bowline involves making two loops at the beginning of the knot-tying process rather than one. It is somewhat stronger than a single bowline, but that is irrelevant because climbing ropes never break at the knot anyway. That said, I use a double bowline for lead climbing. The reason is that it has been established that knot-tightening provides some fall-energy absorbtion and I suspect that the extra strands and turns in the double bowline will produce a greater effect.
All in all, it seems to me that the bowline requires just a touch more sophistication on the part of the user than the figure-eight, and for this reason gyms and guide services, who have to worry about liability, are at least advised and in many cases required to use the figure-eight, even if it can be devilishly hard to untie after being loaded. The idea that someone would go so far as to boycott a gym on these grounds strikes me as ludicrous. It just isn't a big deal. Tie whatever knot the gym requires and get on with your day.
I agree with more or less everything there. I only started 49 years ago but, as with you, the bowline was still the only game in town. I don't know about North American practice over the years, but the F-o-8 gained its ubiquity here because it formed the basis of a formalised instructional system which, in the days of waist-belt and Karabiner tie on, required the novice to learn only this one knot for both tying on and rigging a belay. It gained a spurious status as the best knot, rather than as a jack-of-all-trades.
You're right in pointing out the confusion in terminology concerning "double bowline" etc. I don't use the "rethreaded" bowline for just the reason you mention, too cluttered with double ropes.
I replied to the previous poster because it's the first I've heard of anyone other than myself using that type of knot. It contains two of what I like to call "internal locks" in series - an end binding (free end through the trapping loop a second time) and a Yosemite finish (free end through the collar a second time). The Edwards bowline uses the same two locks in the opposite order.
I like internal locks because they get tightened-around every time the knot is loaded, when leaning on a belay for instance. A stopper knot (is that your "barrel knot"?) is just a passive floating structure which is never loaded and can work undone itself.
I've never had any problem with my knot at climbing walls, though I've had the occasional strange look from one of the wall nazis. I find my icy stare and obvious age is enough to deter the young whippersnapper.
there are 2 reasons as far as i know.
1. it's very hard to tell with a quick glance if a bowline is tied properly.
2. insurance.(according to my local climbing wall)
I haven't been climbing quite a long as you rgold, but I learned my tie-in knots about 35 years ago and at that time both the single bowline (with various stoppers) and the fig-8 were current. I used mainly the fig-8 for years, until a couple of years ago I started going to the wall (gym) with a DAV group and learned the rethreaded bowline. Switched to it immediately for single rope use because (a) cool new trick, (b) obviously superior.
I mainly use double ropes for alpine routes where I'm tying in in the morning and staying tied in all day, and not planning to fall off much. For these I still use fig-8's to reduce harness clutter.
I was in the Frankenjura at the weekend with my new skinny, dry-treated redpoint rope. Actually choose to use a fig-8 because my bowline wasn't cinching down firmly enough. Then got on a route that quickly turned into a falling practice session, and promptly learned why the fig-8 isn't the best tie-in knot for sport climbing.
Unless you're used to a bowline, in which case it's very easy.
Someone at your local climbing wall is just talking rubbish there.
Your first point isn't correct at all. A bowline is as obvious as a fig 8 if it's been tied correctly / incorrectly if you know how to tie it. The problem is that an increasing number of people have been taught that fig8 is the only / best way to tie in so have never tied bowlines, and so can't recognise it. This isn't because the knot is hard to see if it's correct, but because the person doesn't know the knot. The same is true of a fig 8, if someone doesn't know the knot, they won't be able to tell at a glance if it's correct....
Insurance is a funny one - walls tend to use it as a catch all excuse for their policies so I'm not sure just how prescriptive policies are. A lot of walls allow bowlines, and don't seem to have any problems getting policies (and there are very few providers so unlikely that theres a huge difference between the T&Cs of walls).
It comes down to their venue, their rules unfortunately. It's not based on logic.
I suspect the high profile death was a guy who fell from an indoor wall last year. The person hearing the fatal accident inquiry concluded the bowline had failed or been miss tied based on the fact the belayer reported load briefly coming onto the rope before the knot released.
That's clearly rubbish. All of my climbing partners can tie and recognise both a bowline or a fig 8 so how is it impossible for them to check the knot????
Possibly, and yes you could argue that removing the bowline is indicative of a simplistic and cautious approach to wall-management. When I ran a wall we had an educated staff who knew their knots and also appreciated that time-served climbers appreciate choice and trust. But others may choose to do it different and I think we have to respect that. Ultimately it's their premises, their rules and them that has to clean up the mess! It wouldn't ruin my days climbing to use a figure of eight.
As an aside, I think I've counted half a dozen variants on the bowline now. That doesn't make life any easier for an inexperienced floor-walker!
I suspect that this is more of a problem than the actual safety of the knot for a lot of walls - the number of bowline variants that they'd have to recognise.
Thanks, Jamie, you make good points.
To move the question along a bit - how many walls actually have dedicated floor-walkers in the UK?
In my observation it seems to be quite few, normally it's just a case that instructors might notice something when out working, and wall users might report something untoward. But rarely do you see people whose job it is just to wander round and check people aren't being stupid.
I also haven't encountered a wall that banned bowlines myself yet, though I've heard of a few from posts on here, most just specify a "suitable climbing knot" and ban clipping in with a krab explicitly. I did encounter a twit of a receptionist at one wall which will remain unnamed, who when I asked about it suggested I was a dangerous idiot for using a bowline, but when I asked him to call over the manager they said it was fine.
 It is quite within the wall's rights to dictate how people behave in their wall, including and not limited to which knots are permissible, but being rude about it is never acceptable particularly when in response to a polite question.
As I said I'm quite happy to play by the rules. Just wanted to know other peoples opinion and thoughts.
Its a canny wall from what I have seen so far. I've not sampled the coffee shop yet. It is quite minor thing but I like having options, you know?
Well I guess its Figure of 8 from here on in :)
Floorwalking is recognised as an important part of the safety management system of many/most large commercial walls. Even the most experienced climber can make mistakes and whilst climbing is about personal responsibility it is responsible of those providing the facility to take reasonable steps to minimise hazards. Its a skilled job and rather than the 'belay police' floorwalkers should get training on how to approach customers to establish what they are doing, whether they have made an error that needs pointing out and whether they know what they are doing. One of the walls I work with publishes the reports on how many floor walking incidents they've had where they felt intervention was necessary just to show people how often it is needed- which often surprises climbers.
Personally I don't favour interfering if someone is just using a knot other than the one I know, or belaying differently to how I teach novices- only if there is a chance of imminent disaster. But equally if a floorwalker is unfamiliar with a particular knot or variant then they should come over and ask to have it explained or demonstrated at the least. All the bowline variants do take a while to learn and can be a lot harder to spot even for those who know them without close inspection.
In reply to Stu Doig. i climb with a bowline and a stopper knot (ordinary, no bells or whistles) indoors and on single pitch sport crags but I still find its shape harder to see easily at the wall than a rethreaded fig 8.
I'd agree re checking. I can check a figure of 8 with a cursory glance that it looks vaguely right, but for a bowline I'd need to stop and trace the rope through the knot to check it was 100% (or, as when I'm checking a climbing partner, watch them actually tie it).
I do tie a simple overhand on the end, but mostly to make it tidy and to not having any slack dangling around.
I think it is not necessary though, definitely not for strength, and most of my friends do not tie a stopper.
So as always, if in doubt and if it makes you feel better, just do it.
Hmm maybe I'm a bit anal with checks as if I'm checking someone's knot, I'm not doing it with a glance and will trace the knot visually regardless of the type and I find most bowlines as easy to see if it's right than a fig 8 when looking at it like this. Perhaps different to a floor walking scenario where your looking from a distance etc though.
In the UK perhaps. I've climbed at lots of walls in Germany & Austria and never seen or heard of such a thing.
The stopper on a Fig 8 is often said just to be a means of proving you have enough tail.
On a bowline, however, it is a crucial part of the knot.
It also isn't really practiced in a good number of UK walls either. But these tend to be the kind of walls where there are normally instructors about who would see things that were untoward, and also a decent body of regulars who would point things out.
You probably are more formal about it than me, then, yes.
Obviously when instructing I check very carefully, but when climbing with people I know to be skilled I will just take a quick glance, and if it looks untoward or messy pay more attention. A well tied Fig 8 with stopper *very obviously* looks right to me.
Yes, I'm talking about British walls but then cultures, expectations and regulations are different in different countries- usually developed as a result of experiences and processes that have been tried and worked, or not, in those countries. Just look at many Australian walls where to attach to the walls in situ ropes you use a triple action crab at the end of the rope and another on an alpine butterfly a few inches further up the rope.
I don't know. Through work I get to visit a wide variety of walls around the UK and many operate a floor walking policy on some level. This might be a duty floorwalker, a reception staff member or manager taking a regular walk around the floor or, as you say, relying on instructors present in the wall. Or even all 3. When working in the wall I am aware of other users find it hard to focus on them to the level someone specifically on duty as a floorwalker would though.
Not sure about your experience in this matter Jamie - I have always foubnd the bowline much easier to untie after a shock loading (or any loading for that matter) than the 8 - which is why I prefer to use it. Most wall people will accept this as a reasonable pouint of view if it is explained
I think he means it's easier to untie fig-8s when they're really neatly dressed than when they're not. (Which is true.)
Well, true - but its still easier to undo a bowline.
That's exactly what I meant. I thought it was obvious.
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