/ ARTICLE: When You Forget to Attach to the Autobelay: No-Clip Falls

Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.
UKC Articles 29 Nov 2019
Auto belays have simplified route climbing, but safe use of them relies on us giving our full attention. A new video released by The Climbing Academy (TCA) Glasgow highlights a worrying trend in indoor climbing accidents: people are forgetting to clip into the auto belay tape and are effectively soloing auto belay lines. The more fortunate have realised their mistake and downclimbed, while others have miraculously been spared of serious consequences by a low fall. In a few cases globally, people have fallen to their death.

Read more
Report
Toerag 29 Nov 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Solution - connect the autobelay to ultrasonic movement detectors in the wall at 10 feet. If the detectors go off without the autobelay taking in, generate a warning. Install a second set of detectors at 15 feet which electrify the holds instead of generating a warning .

Report
Lizard Ollie 30 Nov 2019
In reply to Toerag:

Maybe some other solutions to preventing this could be:

a) increasing the size of the triangle barrier to cover more of the wall and make it harder to climb without having first clipped in.

b) set the routes so that all the starting holds (feet particularly) begin in a line behind the triangle barrier and then spread out a bit higher, again making it difficult enough to start climbing that people will remove the barrier and (hopefully) clip in while doing so.

The latter has the benefit of no additional cost other than maybe messing up the flow of routes.

Ollie

Post edited at 12:12
Report
masa-alpin 30 Nov 2019
In reply to Toerag:

Yes, I too vote for that sort of measure, which would be technical possible and desirable – well, not sure about the electifying bit but an alarm that does not rely on sound solely is desirable.

Report
Luke90 30 Nov 2019
In reply to Lizard Ollie:

Those are both mentioned in the article as steps TCA are planning or have already taken.

Report
David Riley 30 Nov 2019

Illuminated "Don't climb" sign on the wall until clip detected ?

Post edited at 12:32
Report
Jamie Wakeham 30 Nov 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

I wonder how effective a white line painted horizontally across the wall, at about 10 feet up, with 'Have you clipped in?' written along it, would be?  Might be enough of a reminder to cause people to check?

Report
Lizard Ollie 30 Nov 2019
In reply to Luke90:

So it does, my mistake. Mind was all over the place while reading obviously

Report
gimmergimmer 30 Nov 2019
In reply to Lizard Ollie:

I'm capable of serious carelessness. But I do find this mistake difficult to understand. Would you not hear the autobelay whizzing up before you start? Or do they mean just setting off to solo? 

Post edited at 18:03
Report
Fruit 30 Nov 2019
In reply to Toerag:

Darwin Award 🥇 

Report
Johnlenham 30 Nov 2019
In reply to gimmergimmer:

Yeah a few of us have discussed this and can't for the life of us work out how the hell you do this.

Either:

youve literally climbed  4ft over the safety mat, right over the cable right in your way and went off on your merry way, oblivious to the cable not basically yanking you up the wall 

OR

You've walked over the clip mat and the clip/rope is at the roof and youve just jumped on and ignored all logic and reason and solod away. 

Not quite sure how you can engineer your way around human stupidity tho

Report
peppermill 30 Nov 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Ah come on guys, never underestimate the completely mental things that people can do when they're tired or not eaten enough(not tying knots in the end of your ab rope, clipping anchors properly etc), even if they're otherwise pretty switched on. 

My personal best so far is standing outside my front door pressing unlock button on my car keys and wondering why it wouldn't open......

Report
Toerag 30 Nov 2019
In reply to gimmergimmer:

> I'm capable of serious carelessness. But I do find this mistake difficult to understand. Would you not hear the autobelay whizzing up before you start? Or do they mean just setting off to solo? 


Just setting off solo.

Report
Timmd 01 Dec 2019
In reply to peppermill:

Exactly, our brains are much more fallible than we'd like to think. I've tried to unlock my back door with my switch card before, and once remembered a friend's birthday but not my Dad's when they both share the same day (!)*. 

When one thinks of climbers like Lynn Hill putting her rope through her harness but neglecting to actually tie in while sports climbing in France, I think that shows that even the best of climbers can make basic mistakes, somebody could go to clip into the autobelay and then have somebody distract them, and not realise they haven't done before climbing.

* I did remember both on the actual day however.

Post edited at 01:19
Report
nikoid 01 Dec 2019
In reply to peppermill:

Exactly. I used to say who are all these dumbo's who stick their fingers in lawnmower blades-until I did it.

Report
alx 01 Dec 2019
In reply to Toerag:

This is far too complex. What they need is downward facing spikes sticking out of the wall that retract once it senses that the autobelay is in use for a couple of feet. 🤣🤣

Report
Cusco 01 Dec 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

A very experienced friend of mine who has been using the autos for years recently managed not to clip into the auto at all, despite the huge orange triangle covering the starting footholds and him not hearing and feeling the auto working as he went up.

Apparently, he managed to solo a 30 foot 6c and was about to lean back before a passing sharp eyed member of staff saw his error and shouted at him not to move and raced up the adjoining auto with other auto clipped to his harness for my friend.

When I found out later and quizzed my friend in detail, I was incredulous that it had happened, could happen and that my friend hadn't spotted it at all.

As a result of that incident, I now always check and double check that I've clipped in before setting off. And before I let go (whether at the top or on the route) I always check that the clip is through my belay loop. 

Checking and double checking whilst on the ground is the best form of prevention, not alarms, flashing lights, even more signs, white lines four feet up or downward or upward spikes.

Report
gooberman-hill 01 Dec 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

These things happen to all of us.

I remember reading somewhere (regarding driving) that everyone makes about one mistake every half hour.

So when climbing, it is always good to put in lots of double checks and backups, so when that one mistake happens, you have at least one backup system.

Steve

Report
Timmd 01 Dec 2019
In reply to gooberman-hill:

That's interesting to know, because I've noticed I make periodic mistakes while cycling. I almost try to get into a state of watching myself doing things - try and focus what it is that I'm thinking about and if I'm processing what's around me. 'Am I thinking about this truck, this person, this corner...' because our minds can seem to tend to slip into neutral.

I'm not sure if or how much it helps...

Post edited at 17:00
Report
DubyaJamesDubya 02 Dec 2019
In reply to Johnlenham:

> Yeah a few of us have discussed this and can't for the life of us work out how the hell you do this.

> Either:

> youve literally climbed  4ft over the safety mat, right over the cable right in your way and went off on your merry way, oblivious to the cable not basically yanking you up the wall 

> OR

> You've walked over the clip mat and the clip/rope is at the roof and youve just jumped on and ignored all logic and reason and solod away. 

> Not quite sure how you can engineer your way around human stupidity tho

Since the entire article is about exactly this your failure to understand is irrelevant. Calling it stupidity isn't very helpful either given that the causes are the same thing that lead to plane crashes and all manner of accidents/mistakes.

Report
Southvillain 02 Dec 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

I use auto-belays all the time and whilst I can't ever envisage setting off without clipping in, other things that do (now) make me d-check include making sure the crab gate has closed properly. The auto-belays get a fair battering and those spring-loaded twist-open crabs can get `sticky'/knackered over time. I climbed once and, after being lowered, went to unclip to discover the gate had not completely shut. So I now d-check the gates each time.

PS. I've seen people, esp. beginners, go to clip into some odd places, e.g. top or bottom (not belay) loop, leg loops etc...

Report
Dave Garnett 02 Dec 2019
In reply to Toerag:

> Just setting off solo.

Really?  I'm glad others are puzzled by what this is all about because I'm baffled.

I'm as prone to the occasional moment of absent mindedness as anyone, and I'm sure I could get distracted halfway through tying a knot, but I find it impossible not to notice that I'm soloing.  There's just something about it that attracts my attention.

Report
In reply to DubyaJamesDubya:

> Since the entire article is about exactly this your failure to understand is irrelevant. Calling it stupidity isn't very helpful either given that the causes are the same thing that lead to plane crashes and all manner of accidents/mistakes.

But it is a stupid mistake to make! (much like trying to land a plane without landing gear or driving the wrong way down the motorway) it defys common sense and regarless of the outcome its still a stupid mistake.

i dropped a clanger at the crag myself the other day, clipped myself into the anchor using the rope-loop and then began untying the rope to switch leads. its a really daft thing to do but as people have said we are all capable of making these mistakes.

I understand the point of the article and I'm all for designing out human stupidity with better safety measures but lets not pretend that an accidental ground up solo is anything but stupid!

Report
tom_in_edinburgh 02 Dec 2019
In reply to Dave Garnett:

> I'm as prone to the occasional moment of absent mindedness as anyone, and I'm sure I could get distracted halfway through tying a knot, but I find it impossible not to notice that I'm soloing.  There's just something about it that attracts my attention.

So you are doing laps working on endurance so you're intending to get tired.  There's three or four autobelays next to each other.  You've run out of routes on the one you are on and notice the next one is free and decide to swap.  You've been doing laps so you've got used to just setting off again without needing to clip. 

Something distracts you between unclipping from the line you are on and starting off on the next one over.     When you turn back to the wall the line you want is empty with the blue triangle lying in the floor - it looks the exact same as the line you've been doing laps on looked.   Actually, there's another climber on it but high enough up to be out of sight unless you looked up.   You start climbing.

Post edited at 09:54
Report
Dave Garnett 02 Dec 2019
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh:

>  You start climbing.

Nope, I'm still not getting this.  You're toproping, right?  With a rope in front of your nose and between your arms?  Not not, apparently.

I'm not arguing with the apparent facts but to me they are inexplicable and I've really no idea what you could possibly say to someone that would be more effective than their instinctive fear of death by falling. 

Report
tom_in_edinburgh 02 Dec 2019
In reply to Dave Garnett:

Combination of tiredness from doing endurance and repetition if you've done a bunch of laps.  You just get used to being on autobelay and forget about it.

It is a low probability event but autobelays lend themselves to lots of repetitions.  Even a very small chance of error will result in occasional accidents.

Post edited at 10:10
Report
Jamie Wakeham 02 Dec 2019
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

Perhaps stupid is one correct way of describing it, but not a terribly useful one. 

It's been referenced earlier in the thread, but a salient point is this: if Lynn Hill can f*ck this up, then so can you or I.

Report
DubyaJamesDubya 02 Dec 2019
In reply to paul_the_northerner:

> I understand the point of the article and I'm all for designing out human stupidity with better safety measures but lets not pretend that an accidental ground up solo is anything but stupid!

Stupidity implies lack of intelligence of those making the mistakes, thus enhancing the 'it won't happen to mentality' that has led us to where we are. 

You might say it is the human brain is badly wired since it has been shown that any repeated task (even safety critical ones) tend to drop into the 'subconscious' level of operation. This is a great way to free up mental capacity (not having to concentrate on the minutiae of a task means you can concentrate on the bigger picture) unfortunately the small thing (clipping a carabiner) is sometimes the most critical.

Given that this process is almost impossible to prevent it is understandable that this sort of thing happens and we should (as suggested above) work at trying to stop it rather than dismissing it as 'stupid'.

Report
Timothy 02 Dec 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Please don't kid yourselves that it cannot/will not happen to you. I have a reputation for caution (read cowardice) coupled with a healthy respect for heights, and double or triple check everything, but this still happened to me. There were the same common causes as the article suggests; complete focus on a route, repetitive attempts unclipping and re-clipping, mental/physical fatigue, no one else around to notice, and I found myself halfway up the wall wondering what the cord was that was now in the way of the crux foothold. It was in the days before the flap that now covers the starting footholds. We can all make mistakes, they are usually picked up by your partner check. I still cannot believe that I did it, was so blind to the obvious. The lack of safety net (figurative) that your partner usually provides is the biggest issue with auto-belays when the consequences are so potentially high. Call it stupidity if you want, certainly a momentary stupidity, but if you are not willing to accept that everyone is occasionally possible of such feats then you are more likely to make them.

I was partly prompted to write this after seeing an advert for the BMC near-miss reporting that is currently going on.

Post edited at 12:34
Report
Rog Wilko 02 Dec 2019
In reply to Dave Garnett:

> Really?  I'm glad others are puzzled by what this is all about because I'm baffled.

I reckon with a few minutes thought I could list a couple of dozen other possible errors of omission or commission which I feel I might much more easily do at the climbing wall. And as for setting off driving on the wrong side of the road on the continent, to which I confessed a few weeks back - a surprisingly large number of responders claimed it was something they could not possibly do. Much easier to do that than goof up in the way described here. (IMHO)

Report
gimmergimmer 02 Dec 2019
In reply to Rog Wilko:

I must admit that I have been so terrified of auto-belays that i'm more worried that people will see my obsessive checking of my carabiner link. However, I'm now becoming ing more used to them I may become careless. 

Report
henwardian 03 Dec 2019
In reply to DubyaJamesDubya:

> You might say it is the human brain is badly wired since it has been shown that any repeated task (even safety critical ones) tend to drop into the 'subconscious' level of operation.

THIS

And this is why measures like "put more signs on the wall", "draw a white line across the wall with big warning letters at x feet up", "have a flashy lit-up notice" etc. etc. are completely ineffective. All of these measures work for exactly the length of time it takes for your brain to relegate them "background thing that is always there" status.

Warnings only continue to work if they occur exactly when something is done/not done, e.g. the bing, bing, bing your car makes when you don't put your seatbelt on before starting it up - the noise only starts if you make a mistake and it only stops when you remedy the mistake. So the person who suggested an alarm at 10 feet if you haven't clipped in has got it right - a warning that happens only if a mistake is made and in enough time to fix the mistake without undue danger.

As others pointed out, "stupid" is not a useful way of thinking about this because while we might commonly refer to actions that were regulated by the subconscious as "stupid", the word infers that if we were a bit more intelligent or sensible, these mistakes would not be made and that simply isn't true.

For the record:

- Yes I've started off with a partially tied knot before.

- Yes I've started off on the wrong side of the road before, usually happens once or twice a year I'd guess and probably equally split between EU roads and UK roads thankfully it almost always only lasts a few seconds.

Report
GrahamD 03 Dec 2019
In reply to gimmergimmer:

> I'm capable of serious carelessness. But I do find this mistake difficult to understand. Would you not hear the autobelay whizzing up before you start? Or do they mean just setting off to solo? 

The lady from our club who I visited in hospital a few years ago with a broken back, after falling at a wall, had set off solo and simply stepped off when she reached the top.

Report
Offwidth 03 Dec 2019
In reply to Dave Garnett:

So many experienced climbers have made similar mistakes in attaching themselves to the system (in ability terms, from Lynn Hill downwards ) that it must have dawned on you that a combination of familiarity, fatigue and distraction can lead to such 'thoughtless' mistakes.

Sam if we ever meet indoors I'll buy you a coffee for making this important little film. You will have reduced the risk of similar accidents and possibly a death from those who pay attention. It's sad, but accident anaylsis shows that experienced climbers don't learn so well about the risk of such basic errors and how to avoid them.

Post edited at 12:37
Report
The Wild Dodo 03 Dec 2019
In reply to peppermill:

Yep - I've used my work photo copier access/security pass to try and swipe my car to unlock it!

Report
Jamie Wakeham 03 Dec 2019
In reply to henwardian:

> And this is why measures like "put more signs on the wall", "draw a white line across the wall with big warning letters at x feet up", "have a flashy lit-up notice" etc. etc. are completely ineffective... So the person who suggested an alarm at 10 feet if you haven't clipped in has got it right - a warning that happens only if a mistake is made and in enough time to fix the mistake without undue danger.

Understood and agreed.

However, the thing about the alarm is that it's going to be complicated to implement, which means it'll be both expensive and prone to failures.  The visual reminder painted on the wall would be possible to implement in an afternoon for pennies, and would be better than nothing.

Report
Toerag 03 Dec 2019
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

No more complicated than reversing beepers on your car, and still cheaper than the consequences of someone decking out. If someone ends up a vegetable needing 24/7 care you're looking at £15million+ in lifetime costs.

Report
galpinos 03 Dec 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

I certainly took more care than usual clipping into the autobelay this weekend and I'm terrified of the things already!

Report
nikoid 03 Dec 2019
In reply to Toerag:

I have reversed into things in spite of having reversing sensors. I'm prepared to accept I may be stupid but a possible corollary is that a "non clipping in alarm" may not have the desired effect.

Report
tom_in_edinburgh 03 Dec 2019
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

> However, the thing about the alarm is that it's going to be complicated to implement, which means it'll be both expensive and prone to failures. 

I think it could be possible to do something using an embedded computer with a neural network accelerator card and a camera placed to get a good view of the autobelay lines.   The image processing to detect a human shape some distance off the ground without the tape from the autobelay attached should be possible these days.  If it detects this situation it could have an audible or visual alarm.

Might be an interesting project for a MSc student

Report
Ridge 03 Dec 2019
In reply to Timothy:

Not an auto belay, but I seconded a route at Leeds Wall many years ago, retrieving my mates quick draws as I went, unclip, rack, unclip, rack.. until I got to the top, held onto the jug and then unclipped the rope from the belay krab at the top..

It was just the slight downward tug as the rope dropped down and weighted my harness that made me think “What?” (Rapidly followed by “F*CK!!) just before I automatically shouted to my belayer to take before stepping off the wall...

I wouldn't have believed anyone would be that “stupid” until I almost did it.

Report
Luke90 03 Dec 2019
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh:

>> However, the thing about the alarm is that it's going to be complicated to implement, which means it'll be both expensive and prone to failures. 

> I think it could be possible to do something using an embedded computer with a neural network accelerator card and a camera placed to get a good view of the autobelay lines.

Yep, that definitely sounds like it would meet Jamie's criteria of expensive and failure prone

Seriously, Awesome Walls Sheffield (probably one of the best walls in the UK) can't even manage a small functional stopwatch for their speed wall. They have an enormous metal contraption that almost always appears to be broken. How many walls are going to successfully implement this and keep it running smoothly over time?

Report
Dave Garnett 03 Dec 2019
In reply to Offwidth:

> So many experienced climbers have made similar mistakes in attaching themselves to the system (in ability terms, from Lynn Hill downwards ) that it must have dawned on you that a combination of familiarity, fatigue and distraction can lead to such 'thoughtless' mistakes.

Sure, Steve, I agree.  I completely get how Lynn Hill’s accident happened, I’ve known several people lead difficult pitches not properly tied in and got away with it and one person who made a careless mistake  toproping who didn’t.  I know someone who set off abseiling from a tree at the top of Tremadoc with 10’ of rope on one side and 140’ on the other.  I know of an instance where someone about to abseil clipped into the wrong end of the rope and fell the length of the rope (more than one pitch up, fortunately). I’ve known two people fall the height of a crag when they were expecting to be lowered but their belayer thought they were going to abseil (one got away with it, one didn’t).

I stand corrected about the danger here.  I can’t argue that it’s impossible; it’s clearly already happened, and more than once.  Maybe it’s because I rarely use autobelays and when I do I’m scared to death that it will drop me even if I am clipped in that I find difficult to imagine being so relaxed that I would forget.  I haven’t used them for doing laps but do know how your fear and then your attention fade away if you repeat something often enough.

But still, wow.

Post edited at 20:11
Report
Offwidth 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Dave Garnett:

I could agree in the sense of human psychology and risk ... wow!!  In the case of autobelay incident its only multiplying the risk of the connection error and the extra risk of not noticing the tape is moving. When the climber is not paying proper attention both clearly become much more likely. The issue is important from the number of incidents. 

We have all sorts of daft arguments on this site about overblown risk (especially about soloing) and yet the consequencies of our common psychology in risk is too often ignored or dangerously misunderstood, from the climbing wall to the big wall

"Most Yosemite victims are experienced climbers, 60% have been climbing for three years or more, lead at least 5.10, are in good condition, and climb frequently."

"at least 80% of the fatalities and many injuries, were easily preventable. In case after case, ignorance, a casual attitude, and/or some form of distraction proved to be the most dangerous aspects of the sport."

https://www.friendsofyosar.org/climbing

Report
earlsdonwhu 04 Dec 2019
In reply to Southvillain:

Or clip into your chalk bag belt/ string only.

Report
Thomas Martin 09:45 Mon
In reply to UKC 

I worked at a large commercial centre for four years. 

Every more serious incident we had seemed to involve auto belays. Fundamentally the perception is that there a well engineered price of kit that we trust.

(They are) but this inherent confidence on them breeds carelessness and without a  second i.e your partner to second guess you, people do some totally mad stuff. It's not the system that at fault or walls it's the people, all of us no one is immune. So people in general need to treat them with respect just as if they setting off on any climb not "just a few laps on the auto belays". Engineering controls may help but in a lot of cases people will find a way to circumnavigate them. Lots of the things I saw were down to momentery lapses like the one in this article, but some were down to pure stupidity that was a conscious choice. And that's harder to fix. 

Report
In reply to UKC Articles:

We long-time solved the problem putting gates instead of the triangle barriers. You don't clip? You just don't reach the wall. 

Report

Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.