/ Auto-Belay injuries / incidents

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nate on 14 Mar 2014
Hi All,

I am doing a bit of research about incidents with auto-belays and would be great to get some data. Basically I am looking for incidents of: Not clipping in, clipping into the wrong attachment point, entrapments and malfunctions (including maintenance issues e.g. wire/rope/tape worn). Hard / personal evidence is great as it is not as diluted.

I am aware of many of the incidents involving helmet hang-ups with children and the death in Texas but looking for more un-reported injuries. (found many stories of back / lower limb fractures but trying to get an idea of numbers)

If you don't want to post story but want to help, please email

Thank you!
Oceanrower - on 14 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:

Would the BMC/ABC accident reporting database not have this?
nate on 15 Mar 2014
In reply to Oceanrower:

I tried the BMC but the database is not functioning at the moment so no luck. My guess is most of the incidents go unreported. I know of 10 or so pretty serious incidents which have not been put out...
Lone Rider - on 17 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:

Are you talking about devices such as the Silent Partner and Soloist used for self belaying?
I use a soloist mainly for sport climbing and the worst so far is a dislocated finger joint when I slammed into the wall which relocated itself before I realised. Have used at the local wall in Inverness with rope tied off to the sand bags they use for the lighter belayers.

alooker - on 18 Mar 2014
In reply to Lone Rider:

You can't be serious?!
h13gga on 18 Mar 2014 - []
In reply to Lone Rider:

I think you might be telling a little fib there mate. There isn't a climbing wall in the world that would let you do that!
Cameron94 on 19 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:

To be fair to Lonerider Inverness doesn't have dedicated instructors so it wouldn't be too far beyond the realms of possibility to set up a self belay and do a few routes without questions being asked.

Although I've never heard of a wall allowing it.
alooker - on 20 Mar 2014
In reply to Cameron94:

Never mind the wall allowing it, I reckon you'd have to have a death wish to anchor to one of those weight bags - you reckon a bag of old bolts or sand is going to stop you decking out if you take a bit of a fall? You'd never belay direct off one even for top roping.

Unless I've missed something here, you're tying off the rope to an unrated bag that is easy to lift and move around and hoping it's going to stop a fall? You'd be better off tying off to the first bolt!
Cameron94 on 20 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:

I interpreted that as he used the sand bag to keep the rope under tension thus allowing the shunt to move smoothly.

If I go out climbing on my own with the shunt then I get my anchors at the top of the route and then use my rucksack to keep the rope taught.

I assume he uses the chains at the top of the wall for his belay. Which leaves me wondering how he gets a single strand from the chains if he's on his own.
Hugh Mongous - on 20 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:
I got ticked off at the Inverness wall for climbing using a twin rope system whilst leading with 8mm rope. But I can see how you could get away with 'dodgy' stuff when it's quiet.
Post edited at 15:41
Lone Rider - on 21 Mar 2014
In reply to h13gga:

There was until yesterday. The previous technical advisor ask me to show him how it works before he could allow me to climb there on a regular basis. So tied off to three sand bags I had to lead up the wall and then fall off at some point. It all went fine so he advised the staff that it was okay. Climbed like that for a couple visits.

Went in yesterday only to be told that new advisor wasn't allowing things like that so had to boulder instead.

Now have some letters to write to technical advisor and wall manager as this device is designed for leading and is used throughout the world.

So no porky pies there!
Oceanrower - on 21 Mar 2014
In reply to Lone Rider:
The old technical advisor should be sacked and never, NEVER, let near a climbing wall again.
Post edited at 19:45
Lone Rider - on 21 Mar 2014
In reply to Oceanrower:

So explain what the issue with using a device specifically designed for self belay at a climbing wall as instructed than anywhere else?
Just would like to know.
Oceanrower - on 21 Mar 2014
In reply to Lone Rider:
Well, I'll start with the ground anchor you're using. Any anchoring in an indoor climbing wall should be rated for 8kn (800kg in general terms) for 10 seconds. 3 belay bags doesn't even come close to satisfying that requirement.

Solo climbing? This is so far out of the remit of the ABC (and BMC) that I can't even find a mention of it. Even on a top rope, no reputable wall would allow it. On lead, if you had an accident the insurance company would not even countenance a claim. If you managed to black out (possible if you've managed to slam into a wall hard enough to dislocate something) will the staff know how to get you down? Bet not. Do you trust them to lower you safely, whilst unconcious, on an unfamiliar device?

Plus, it's bloody inconsiderate. Even if you think you're safe, the wall staff will forever be fielding complaints from other punters or having to watch out for people possibly less well equiped than you trying it on a shunt or something equivalent (well, if he can, why can't I?)

Have you noticed that route setters always have a second back up line when setting off ropes? There's a reason for this and it's not just to haul the bag up!

i am pretty sure that any wall that condoned this would lose it's ABC accreditation in pretty quick order. And any wall adviser that recommended this should, in my opinion, be out of a job and, indeed, the industry.

Have you wondered why the old advisor was replaced?

I leave you with a quote from the Soloist instruction manual.

Falling while climbing solo is extremely dangerous. Any solo belay method should be regarded as a last resort that may allow you to survive the fall, but no system, including the Soloist, can guarantee your safety in a fall. Your first rule while climbing must be: Don’t Fall.

P.s. Graeme Alderson, Dave Douglas or anyone else in the 'trade', please feel free to correct me!
Post edited at 21:47
NeilOMalley - on 22 Mar 2014
In reply to Oceanrower:

You make a sound argument for indoor climbing.
Andy S - on 22 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:

Do near-misses count?
nate on 22 Mar 2014
In reply to Andy S:

Hi Andy,

Yes any info would be useful, I have had contact from a bunch of people (thank you!) and near misses are great to learn from.

To the other posters, I am not talking about shunting or self belay and I would agree with the new TA about the roped solo antics, I am very surprised they let you.

Lone Rider - on 23 Mar 2014
In reply to Oceanrower:

Thanks Oceanrower, just wanted to hear why not, the staff just said that I am not allowed but no explanation. A reply similar to yours would have satisfied my curiosity.
h13gga on 23 Mar 2014 -
In reply to nate:

There was an incident a few years back when I was climbing at Newcastle Climbing Centre (the church) where a guy who had "apparently" not clipped in properly had reached the top of his climb using an auto-belay device and when he sat back to activate the device he fell from the top breaking a leg and also his hip/back. Not 100% sure of his injuries as it was it long time ago and It not openly spoke about, not because there was anything to hide but of the fact that staff were quite upset about seeing it happen.......which is understandable.
Andy S - on 24 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:

I don't have first-hand knowledge of it (as it wasn't me), but I was working at a wall and a colleague climbed to the top of a route, was about to let go descend on the autobelay and he realised at the very last moment (he'd even started putting his weight back) that he wasn't clipped-in! He'd simply forgotten to clip-in and soloed all the way to the top of the route! Obviously he got a bit of a fright. He managed to successfully down-climb the route.
nate on 25 Mar 2014
In reply to Andy S:

Thanks, all for the input, this post is finishing Friday (I had to pay to post it) but it was great to hear what folks have experienced.

Overall from the research there has been two main themes:
Human Error (not clipping in / clipping to wrong bit)
Maintenance Issues

I am speaking with EP about increasing the size of the barrier at the bottom of routes which the AB attaches to so that it is not possible to climb around. If your wall does not have a barrier tell them they need one!

Some basic good practice with AB:
User: Function check before each use (Krab and line), keep landing area clear, keep objects off your harness, check attachment again every time before climbing, no dynos and descend without swinging

Wall: Install barriers, mark a landing zone, display instructions for use, install reminders to check harness, mount and maintain in accordance with the recommendations (lines have snapped and devices fail due to poor maintenance), remove entrapment features, review setting, have a rescue plan, consider helmet use (eg entrapment).

If anyone wishes to chat about this please email me: /
Chris Huntington - on 25 Mar 2014
In reply to h13gga:

I heard about the incident at Newcastle Climbing Centre (church) too, my mate works in theatres and the injuries were consistent with what you have said.

I heard he hadn't clipped in, and had realised when he got to the top of his route, but was so beasted he was unable to downclimb or hang on until help came.

Again though that was just the rumour I heard.

I chatted to an instructor about the auto belays and they said the brand they use at the centre in Newcastle have never failed.
Helen Heanes - on 27 Mar 2014
In reply to nate:

Hello Nate
There was a UKC thread in jan / Feb this year about the Quay in Exeter, which in the later comments had some examples of auto belay incidents.

Clarenceclimb on 28 Mar 2014 -
In reply to nate:

Now I start to be afraid of using them...
Lone Rider - on 12 Jun 2014
In reply to alooker:

Just to say that it wasn't one bag but four which amounts to an over weight climber!

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