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Autobelay Death in Texas


Original Post
Chris treggE · · Madison, Beersconsin · Joined May 2007 · Points: 9,592
Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,455

It's very common with auto-belays that people forget to clip in (no joke!). It happens at almost every gym that has them, although rarely results in death. There are now safe guards available and the best seems to be as simple as a gate that the auto-belay clips into that blocks the start of the climb. So, you have to unclip the carabiner from the gate, attach it to the climber, and then lower the gate in order to climb.

csproul · · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 325
Trad Nanny wrote:It's very common with auto-belays that people forget to clip in (no joke!). It happens at almost every gym that has them, although rarely results in death. There are now safe guards available and the best seems to be as simple as a gate that the auto-belay clips into that blocks the start of the climb. So, you have to unclip the carabiner from the gate, attach it to the climber, and then lower the gate in order to climb.
I also think that there are accidents in which the climber does clip in, but gets the gate hung up on the belay loop and the gate does not close, allowing the biner to slip off when weighted. I have caught this on myself a couple of times, but have always caught it before climbing and made sure it was completely closed.
Jake D. · · Northeast · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 365
csproul wrote: I also think that there are accidents in which the climber does clip in, but gets the gate hung up on the belay loop and the gate does not close, allowing the biner to slip off when weighted. I have caught this on myself a couple of times, but have always caught it before climbing and made sure it was completely closed.
they don't mean the gate on the carabiner.. there are setups that physically block the route. we have pieces of fabric that cover the bottom of the route.
csproul · · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 325
Jake D. wrote: they don't mean the gate on the carabiner.. there are setups that physically block the route. we have pieces of fabric that cover the bottom of the route.
Yeah, I get that. And that will certainly prevent you from forgetting to clip in entirely. But that will not help if you don't get the biner clipped in all the way, something that I have observed more than once.
Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 877

Very unfortunate. But, it happens. Just happened near here a few weeks ago. I heard the climber didn't clip in at all.

M Sprague · · New England · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 4,999

I hate those bloody things. A gym loaded with them is a bad sign to me. That is one of the reasons I will drive to Boston, Worcester or even NH to go to a gym rather than to the one in RI pictured above, which is about 20 minutes from me (along with bad route setting and a funky toyland feeling in general).

William Thiry · · Las Vegas · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 45

I like the auto-belay - they have allowed me miles of climbing when my partners are unavailable - but over the years I have twice forgotten to clip in. The first time I noticed when I was 20 feet up and was able to downclimb. The second time I didn't notice and fell 20 feet and luckily landed just right where I did nothing more than bruise the bottom of my feet. In each case it was simply a matter of being so focused on the climbing that I charged up the route forgetting to clip in. I'm very sad that this woman died from the simple mistake.

Alan Doak · · boulder, co · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 115

I saw it happen at the BRC just last week. Some guy totally derped clipping in and started heading up the route. He got to the last bolt before the anchor and fell. They hauled him out in a stretcher, but it looked like he'd be okay.

Sounds to me a bit like forgetting to pull your pants down before sitting on the toilet. Pretty crucial step.

Will S · · Joshua Tree · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,051

I LOVE the autobelays. And our gym finally bought a couple this year. BUT, and this is a big "but", they are being used largely as a "babysitter" for n00bs that don't know how to belay, and children.

I've already kept 3 different folks from bungling the clip-in (which is really, really hard to bungle, and I don't work there - just train). Kids clipping to the wrong place on the harness, or taking off with the gate not closed/with the harness just pinched between gate and biner...stuff like that.

Myself and a few others will warmup or do intervals on them, but babysitting n00bs is what I see most.

It really winds me up, because they are neglecting what has been THE prime instructional activity for gyms to new climbers...teaching them to belay safely. Now they just take their money and, "oh you don't know how to belay? Here's the autobelay".

hikingdrew · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 25

One problem I've encountered with them at the local gym is that chalk will get into the autolock mechanism of the attachment biner and make it stick in the closed but unlocked position. The staff know about it and are supposed to clean and lube them but I always manually lock and check anyway...

Jon Zucco · · Denver, CO · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 245

Yeah, I actually like the autobelays at the ropes gym I go to. They have helped me train more than a few folks how to both lead and lead belay without actually having to do it. it helps them figure out the process without putting themselves or anyone else in danger.

Also, they are a great way to get a few burns in when you are sans partner.

But just like anything else in climbing, you have to use it correctly and pay attention!

Tanya McGowan · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 20

We climb at the gym in Killeen, Texas and the cool staff there told us number 1 accident was from not clipping in. Tragedy...:(

Bruce Pech · · Boulder · Joined Jun 2002 · Points: 410

As the guy who "totally derped clipping in" and cratered 25'or 30' from the last bolt, maybe some details wil help avert future accidents...

First, I've been climbing and ski mountaineering for 46 years and have had my share of misadventures outside. All in all, I've escaped with scrapes, bruises and sprains. But, taking into account all the years I've climbed w/o serious accidents, I consider myself both lucky and a passably safe climber.

In my ~13 years in the gym, my record's similar. I've made only one earlier mistake that I know of -- starting to TR a climb w/o tying in. I realized my error at the third bolt and downclimbed.

This time, though, I was inexcusably careless. I'd just attempted an 11- I'd climbed before and got spit off at a difficult move just below the anchors. The autobelay lowered me, I unclipped, and, irritated w/ myself, stretched out on the mats and tried to suss out the move. In short, I was so peeved and focused on the climb, that, when I was ready to try again, I simply walked over to the wall and began to climb. Clip into the autobelay? What autobelay?

Naturally the hold spit me off again. I barely had time to think "uh oh" before decking. I broke a femur and really trashed an ankle. According to my wife, the first staff member to reach me said I kept muttering "stupid, stupid, stupid." Almost two months later, waiting for surgery to fuse the ankle (it's too badly shattered to reconstruct), I can only reiterate "stupid, stupid, stupid."

The morale? No matter how experienced you are, no matter how focused on the climb you are, THINK!

Steve Bond · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 45

Thanks for the good reminder Bruce. I am about to start climbing again on those and will remember your story.

Woodchuck ATC · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 3,110

Your climbing partner is there to check your knot and tie in; who is checking you when you are just rapidly changing from one auto belay climb to the next? Haste, carelessness. It's too easy to mess it up if you are alone. Try to grab an auto belay climbing partner who will be on the route next to you , thus you can each check in and assure each other. An empty gym on your own is a real problem though.

Bill Czajkowski · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Oct 2008 · Points: 30
Bruce Pech wrote:As the guy who "totally derped clipping in" and cratered 25'or 30' from the last bolt, maybe some details wil help avert future accidents... First, I've been climbing and ski mountaineering for 46 years and have made my share of mistakes outside. All in all, I've escaped with scrapes, bruises and sprains. But, taking into account all the years I've climbed w/o either mistakes or accidents, I consider myself both lucky and a passably safe climber. In my ~13 years in the gym, my record's similar. I've made only one earlier mistake that I know of -- starting to TR a climb w/o tying in. I realized my error at the third bolt and downclimbed. This time, though, I was inexcusably careless. I'd just attempted an 11- I'd climbed before and got spit off at a difficult move just below the anchors. The autobelay lowered me, I unclipped, and, irritated w/ myself, stretched out on the mats and tried to suss out the move. In short, I was so peeved and focused on the climb, that, when I was ready to try again, I simply walked over to the wall and began to climb. Clip into the autobelay? What autobelay? Naturally the hold spit me off again. I barely had time to think "uh oh" before decking. I broke a femur and really trashed an ankle. According to my wife, the first staff member to reach me said I kept muttering "stupid, stupid, stupid." Almost two months later, waiting for surgery to fuse the ankle (it's too badly shattered to reconstruct), I can only reiterate "stupid, stupid, stupid." The morale? No matter how experienced you are, no matter how focused on the climb you are, THINK!
Unfortunately it probably won't help. I climbed with Rob Kelman (once) in ~2001. Some years later he made the same mistake at the BRC and broke his back. I remember reading the posts pretty clearly and thinking - geez, if he can make that mistake anybody probably could. I better be really careful around those things.

But it's a complacency issue. You use them for a while, there's no partner to naturally prompt you to check them, and thereby yourself, and so the longer you climb on them the more routine you get about it. Sit down, put on your shoes, clip in, chalk up, go. The next day sit down, put on your shoes, chalk up, go.

It's happened to me twice now. The first time I realized it about 20 feet up, just prior to the end of my first warm-up climb, and just a couple of seconds prior to someone pointing it out to me. I downclimbed and was fine. Pretty freaked out.

Then maybe two months later I did it again. Again on a warm-up (maybe I don't see much threat there) and realized it at about bouldering top out height.

It requires a level of attentiveness that is difficult to maintain all the time.
Mitch Musci · · Estes Park, CO · Joined Apr 2002 · Points: 1,070
Bill Czajkowski wrote:It requires a level of attentiveness that is difficult to maintain all the time.
I disagree. I understand that this complacency has happened to novices and experts...but I do not think the concept of paying attention to your belay, whether it is a rope tied to your hard points, or a biner clipped to your belay loop, is difficult to maintain.

This is not me saying "this would never happen to me, I would never make this mistake." It all comes down to your level of focus and self preservation. A climber who is completely and solely focused on a climb is a dangerous one, for we all know that keeping the big picture in mind is what keeps us alive.

This concept is not easy, but it is also not difficult. It just takes effort.
rob.calm · · Loveland, CO · Joined May 2002 · Points: 630

Five years ago I decked in the gym for failing to clip-in when using an auto-belay. I fractured 4 vertebrae. Fortunately, I healed well enough to start climbing 6 months later. See link below.

Like others in this thread, I had been climbing laps while working on some hard moves. I unclipped, walked away from the climb and when I came back started up without clipping in.

What makes it easy to not clip in is that it’s just one thing. If there are several things to do, it’s much harder to overlook. Here are my suggestions (none of them are original with me) to prevent this type of accident.

1. Either clip in while sitting down, or sit down after clipping in. Even if doing laps always sit down and check that you are tied in before starting back up.

2. Have a trad draw on your harness. After clipping into the auto-belay, clip one end of the draw into the auto-lock carabiner. The sole purpose of this action is to be a reminder that you’ve clipped the auto-lock carabiner into your harness. As soon as you come down, unclip the draw from auto-lock carabiner even if you’re doing laps.

3. When starting up a route, climb just a few feet and then lower off to make sure that you’re clipped into the auto-belay. This also provides evidence that the auto-belay is working properly. If doing laps, repeat the procedure before starting up again.

Rob.calm

Failure to clip-in;sb=post_latest_reply;so=ASC;forum_view=forum_view_collapsed;;page=unread#unread

Layne Hunton · · Springfield, MO · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 426
Jon Zucco wrote:They have helped me train more than a few folks how to both lead and lead belay without actually having to do it. it helps them figure out the process without putting themselves or anyone else in danger.
This can also be done quite easily with a toprope setup, just be on the toprope belay and let the lead rope drag behind.
Peter D. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 25

This is a most unfortunate accident. I use an auto belay a lot to do laps, down-climb routes, work on endurance etc. The auto belay devices are attached to a tether so you have to unclip from that and clip into your harness or the auto belay retracts to the ceiling. Which really pisses off the staff. I can see getting the gate stuck on something or some malfunction that way might happen, but to simply not clip in, particularly for an experienced climber. This really comes down to not paying attention!

Whether you are being belayed by a partner or using an auto belay you HAVE TO TIE IN, PERIOD. When climbing with a partner I check my knot before asking my partner to check it, that way the responsibility is mine. I've screwed up and only tied thru the leg loops not both leg and waist loop, my wife saw and corrected my mistake. Ad then ribbed me about it endlessly.

When using an auto belay, a simple double check after you clip in, grab the webbing above the carabiner and jerk test it so it pulls tight on your harness. Or as was suggested go up a few feet and fall.

Obviously these accidents are happening all too often, but a little common sense and paying attention goes a long way. I remember hearing of a very prominent climber getting distracted while tying in, she had tied 1/2 the figure 8 threaded the rope threw the tie in loops of her harness when someone called to her. She was distracted enough to forget to finish tying the rest of the figure 8 and started climbing, no one checked her harness or knot. She had climb up a bit when the rope drag pulled the free end out her harness, fortunately she could grab a draw and clip into the bolt she was near.

It's really simple, even get a little OCD about it and triple check that you have clipped in properly.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Injuries and Accidents
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