Forgetting to clip auto belay – an interview
In 2019, experienced Glasgow-based climber Sam, took a fall from an auto belay after not clipping in at The Prop Store in Maryhill.
TCA thought it was important to bring this issue to the fore by inviting Sam to share her story. Our hope is that this will act as a tangible reminder to all climbers, whether brand new or highly experienced to climb in a more mindful and safe manner.
Talking about issues can help
Since this video was released we have had an incredible reaction. As we write in March 2021, the video has received over 51k views on YouTube and almost 10k on Facebook. Inevitably we are still hearing from some climbers that this could never happen to them. Accidents stats suggest otherwise. Be wary of being over-confident.
“Accidents in climbing need to be talked about, when mistakes are made the outcomes can get pretty scary” Raiemie
“You’re so brave to publish this honest account… Thank you for sharing what must be hard for others to recognise in themselves. We’re all human and I know “it” could easily happen to me without my friends spotting such a mistake.” Steve Moore
“I am glad they didn’t get more badly hurt by this. Also I’m glad this video was made as it really does help us all to remember to be safe when climbing.” KR
“It happened to me also already but lucky I realized that I forgot to clip in half way up the wall and I could climb down again.” Ralf Ries
“Saw this happen to a guy several years ago. He was an experienced climber but he forgot to clip in and fell 30 or 40 feet onto a padded floor and broke his back.” Travisaurus
“It does seem like something that would be hard to have happen; but it did happen to my friend who is a very experienced climber. It is just a good reminder to double-check, most accidents are just mistakes that in hindsight seem like they shouldn’t have happened.” Miles Kane
Visit the video on YouTube to see more reactions
The auto belay 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.
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”
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.”
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)
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.
You can follow conversations about this issue on the UKC article comments and on their forum.