Even indoor climbing comes with inherent risks. Despite the many steps gym owners, instructors and climbers take to maintain their safety, accidents happen in some of the places we least expect.
The nerve racking first fall makes the potential danger obvious. Still, the easy-to-use auto belay quickly becomes the friend of many rope climbers as it provides a safe and accessible way to climb long routes by yourself.
Although climbing gyms have different policies, all share one key instructional ingredient: clip the auto-belay into the belay loop of your harness. While this seems easy enough to remember, the low stress atmosphere of that comes from practiced auto-belay use can allow complacency.
As such, a small misstep with the auto belay can put the climber high up on a wall without any protection. Fortunately, there are staff around to ensure that this danger does not get out of control. If you find yourself on the wall and you have not clipped in. Communicate to other climbers and staff so that you can get help. This may mean yelling. Hold on and remain calm as staff come to assist you.
Most auto-belay related accidents occur by people forgetting to clip in or by incompletely clipping in. Make sure that the carabiner is locked, your harness is double backed, and the carabiner is looping through your belay loop. If you are not climbing, remain aware of your surroundings and ensure that no one is auto belaying above you.
Although a small mistake may seem easy to make on an auto-belay, even experienced climbers can forget to properly tie in. When a climber is new to tying in, they have a sense of urgency regarding the correct expression of the action. When a person becomes conditioned to roped climbing, it becomes easier to forget to check that the knot is tied correctly.
Naturally, tying a correct figure eight with whichever prescribed back up your gym recommends comes easy to the experienced climber. Still, having your partner check your knot each time you get on the wall is a necessity. Inexperienced climbers think only beginners check their knots, but instead, checking your knot is mark of experience. Long-time climbers have seen the consequences of poorly executed knots.
One common mistake with tying in comes from not following the eight knot and simply threading the rope through the harness. Another comes from only tying into the bottom loop of the harness. Yes, tying into the bottom loop can be enough to catch you, but it will flip you upside down. This can cause head injury should your head hit the wall. As most indoor climbers do not wear helmets, hitting your head on a lead fall can have consequences.
Always check your set up as well as your partner’s.
This often happens to experienced climbers that either do not think their partner will fall, or do not consider the risks of indoor climbing. An inattentive belayer can come in many forms. They may not notice a person has z-clipped, or perhaps they will fail to notice a back clip. An inattentive belayer may have too much slack out or not notice a skipped clip.
In top roping, too much slack can mean an uncomfortable fall on a static line. Maintaining focus and presence during belaying is essential to better supporting your partner. Finally, inattentive belaying can be less catastrophic. It can mean forgetting to check your partner’s harness, or it can mean giving a hard catch. A hard catch on slab can hurt and a bunch of loose slack can make an inconvenient series of pulls to return to the top.
In the end each of these risks persist in the indoor climbing setting but they are all preventable. Taking your time and remembering your instruction will keep you safe.