Forgetting to clip auto belay – an interview

Experienced Glasgow-based climber Sam, recently took a fall from an auto belay after not clipping in at The Prop Store in Maryhill. We are aware that accidents do happen and we know that many operators are concerned by this. The Climbing Academy therefore thought it was important to bring this issue to the fore by talking to Sam and sharing her story. Our hope is that this will act as a tangible reminder to all climbers, whether brand new or highly experienced to try to climb in a more mindful and safe manner.

The accident – a perfect storm of conditions

Sam, who started climbing 15 years ago with her daughter, had been climbing constantly on auto belay for around an hour, on the day of her accident.  It was a very busy day, she had a lot on her mind, but didn’t think that would impact on her climbing. As she started to feel tired and prepared to leave, she saw another climber complete a move that had previously alluded her. Her husband had stepped away to get a drink of water, so, on her own, she headed back. “Without thinking, I headed towards the wall. I was absolutely focussed on that move. I started to climb, without clipping in.”

Having successfully made the move, Sam slipped on another hold around 15-20 feet off the ground and landed on her back, winded and shaken. She counts herself lucky not to have made it to the top. 

The impact

Physically and mentally, Sam has been affected by the fall. She felt a deep pain in her sternum, at the time. Having been sent home after a subsequent MRI and x-ray; a follow-up letter identified that a fragment of bone had been chipped in her neck. She experienced general stiffness and bruising and had some trouble moving her arm up, but thankfully no more treatment is required for the neck.

After 10 weeks off physical exercise, coming to terms with the damage to her body and her confidence, she did return to climbing.

It could happen to anyone

Sam is a not a new climber, she is not an irresponsible person “I am always the one taking care of people, always checking people…so that was a shock. For the people that I have introduced to climbing, they were shocked. If you can do it, it can happen to anyone”.

Words of wisdom

Making the brave choice to speak out, Sam offers invaluable words of advice:  “If you’re with someone, always check each other. Always, always check. You are never silly to check. You can’t be too careful. There’s no such thing. If you’re by yourself, maybe have a mantra or a system that you go through. Don’t climb if you are really not in the right place, physically or mentally.”

Many experienced climbers are so comfortable with the sport that they may become blase at times. If you feel like you are one of those people, please remember this “Check, double check, each other, yourself. Think about what you’re about to do. You’re about to leave the ground and maybe climb to a great height. You could be 20-30 feet up, or even just 10 feet. It could be fatal.”

Moving forward – climbing safely  

Thankfully this experience has not put Sam off climbing. Even after everything that happened, she is still able to say “It’s the most fun. Never stop climbing. It’s so good for you – spirit and body. Never stop climbing, just do it carefully.”

By sharing the words of a survivor and showing just how easily this can happen, our desire is to prevent further accidents. Think of Sam, think of yourself and think of the safety of others when using auto belay. Pay attention to safety messaging displayed on walls or communicated by instructors or friends at climbing centres. 

Stay safe.


TCA and Auto Belay 

TCA reviews all accidents and takes action where possible. Even though all liability in this instance was admitted by the climber, after Sam’s auto belay accident we reviewed and changed the following: 

– Location of auto belays
– Size and location of safety triangles
– Erected additional safety signs with fresh designs reminding climbers to clip
– Route setters were advised to keep initial footholds behind the triangles
– Writing and sharing safety content on our website, enews and social (including this article)

We work hard to cover all the bases but are always interested in your thoughts. Feel free to email any additional safety suggestions or observations to TCA Director Rob.

We plan to introduce even more measures over time that will – along with this video – remind climbers that they have to focus on what they are doing and take responsibility. We encourage all users to look out for one another and ask them not to be afraid to let other customers know there is an issue. We advise solo climbers to take extra care and time. As with all procedures in our centres, TCA will closely monitor auto belay usage and adapt further if necessary.


We run auto belay inductions on request at The Prop Store. Please enquire with staff at the reception desk or by phone 0141 429 6331. Learn important rules for using the auto belay systems safely and gain experience in the company of a skilled instructor.

Spreading Awareness

You can follow conversations about this issue on the UKC article comments and on their forum.

Thanks to Sheila Farrell McCarron for use of an auto belay image