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Partner robdotcalm


Apr 2, 2008, 5:38 PM
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Failure to clip auto-belay. Fall
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ďAccidents donít exist before they happen,Ē wise words from a Polish climbing partner.

ďtoday, most climbers probably climb in a gymÖ For those climbers, the risk of falling off the side of a cliff to their death is exactly zero. So I can confidently say that the risk of that particular event for that large portion of climbers, has definitely shrunk from a non-zero quantity to a zero quantityĒ. By cracklover

The irony of this last comment makes my neck hurt even more. You donít need a cliff to fall off of to be in trouble.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ACCIDENT: Early on Tuesday afternoon 04 March, I was climbing at a local gym using an auto-belay. I had been climbing for about 45 minutes. I was up about 20í when I fell. I hit the deck. On this last climb, I had not clipped into the auto-belay.

CONSEQUENCES: I was aware of the start of the fall but do not remember anything after that. When I hit the padded floor, I was rendered unconscious. I was in an alcove by myself. When I came to (Iím not sure how longóat the most a couple of minutes), I yelled for help. I remember some of the staff members rushing to my side and calling 911. Donít remember much after that until the EMTs arrived, and I was immobilized and put in a gurney. I donít recall the ambulance ride but pretty much remember most everything after getting to the hospital. The x-rays indicated small compression fractures in T7, T8, T11. The emergency room doctor was sure there was more and ordered a CT scan of the neck. He was right, a significant compression fracture in C7 and thatís where it really hurt. He put me in a cervical brace, said I should see an orthopedist or neurosurgeon the next day, and prescribed pain-killers and muscle relaxants. I saw an orthopedist the next day. More x-rays were taken of my neck in various postures. He said the fractures were stable, and I would not need pinning or a cast, but that I would need to be in a cervical collar for a couple of months. His opinion was confirmed by a colleague, who also happens to be a climber. Had a follow-up appointment today, 02 April. Healing is coming along OK. The pain in the neck is tolerable in the day but disturbing at night unless I medicate. I now need to wear the cervical collar only when Iím being active. Iím walking a couple of miles most days and doing trivially light weight lifting. The back doesnít really hurt in the thoracic area but it tires quickly. After walking 2 miles without a pack, it feels as tired as if I had walked 15 miles with a heavy pack. I also have a bruised sternum that makes sneezing painful. The left elbow and left scapula are also mildly painful.

ANALYSIS: My first thought after the accident was, What is there to say? Why even write a post on it? If youíre using an auto-belay, clip into it. End of advice. Also, I found it hard to imagine anyone else would do something so stupid.

However, talking to other climbers, from e-mails, and reviewing earlier threads in rockclimbing.com, e.g., auto-belay accidents Iíve learnt that not clipping into the auto-belay is a common source of accidents in gyms. Many people have made this mistake and not been harmed. Others have suffered injuries.

My reason for this post is that some readers might learn the cheap way how to avoid this accident and to emphasize that there is a unique aspect to an auto-belay that can cause one to do the unimaginable (at least I couldnít imagine it): not clipping in before starting up. Itís clear from my own experience and that of others that there is something in the nature of gym climbing that deadens the brain of otherwise conscientious and safe climbers. Iíve now climbed for 37 years and aside from a bouldering fall that was bad for the knee havenít had anything more than some scratches and a sprained ankle to show for it.

SUGGESTIONS: Any of the following 3 actions would greatly reduce the possibility of forgetting to clip into the auto-belay. The first two were told to me in the past month by well-known climbing guides who always take these actions before using an auto-belay. Both of them have had the experience of climbing to the top of the wall without being tied into an auto-belay. Both were able to climb down safely. Fortunately one realized the problem just before he started to lean back at the top. Remember, if these techniques are to work they must be used every time before starting to climb. That is the key. They are especially important if youíre doing laps, because thatís where the habit can develop of not always checking to see if you are clipped in.

1. Always clip in while sitting down. 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 youíve clipped the auto-lock carabiner into your harness. As soon as you come down, unclip the draw from auto-lock carabiner even if youíre doing laps.

3. When starting up a route, climb just a few feet and then lower off to make sure that youíre 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.

This last advice was given by none other than me. auto-belay precaution How did I come to ignore my own good advice? Explained below.

DISCUSSION: Until this spring, most of my gym climbing did not involve using an auto-belay. I either went with partners or bouldered or took one or two of my grandchildren. And for the most part I did not indulge that much in gym climbing. On the days, I would take the grandkids, I started using the auto-belay, since the grandchildren are too small to belay me. I would only get a few routes climbed since I couldnít leave the kids unattended for very long. After reading about the auto-belay failure auto-belay accidents, I started the safety precaution No. 3 mentioned above mostly to make sure the device was working.

This spring, I started taking care of a grandson on Tuesdays after school. During the winter, I had been in my weight-lifting mode, where I donít climb at all. As the spring started, I came down with a flu, which dragged on for almost a month. As I started recuperating, I decided that doing laps on moderate routes on auto-belay would be a good way to recover endurance. Time wise this worked out perfectly just before picking up the grandson. I mixed in the auto-belayed climbing with some traverse bouldering. These regular Tuesday encounters with the auto-belay habituated me to its use and decreased the apprehension and alertness I had when I was only using it a little bit. I wasnít always careful about carrying out step 3 above. As you can read, from the many first-person episodes in auto-belay accidents laps, bouldering and frequent use is a common way to delude oneself into thinking one is clipped in. I read this thread two years ago, so why did that lesson not sink in? As time went on I forgot about the not clipping in part. I realized I could clip in badly, e.g., having an open gate stuck on the belay loop, clipping into a gear loop, but it seemed incomprehensible that I would not clip into the device and that if I had not done it that I would not notice its absence after a few feet of climbing. However, my experience was exactly that of the previous postersómixing laps with bouldering, unclipping, studying a route from the ground and then taking off without tying in. The people that Iíve talked to since the accident who have taken off without tying in, all pretty much say the same thing. So whatís needed is an action that one always performs before climbing, hence the 3 string-on-the-finger techniques above.

Cheers,
Rob.calm


boymeetsrock


Apr 2, 2008, 6:09 PM
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Hope the healing goes well for you Rob!!

Thanks for the trick.

-Boy


gblauer
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Apr 2, 2008, 6:35 PM
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Rob, Thanks for posting. I hope you recover quickly! Get well soon! Gail


Partner j_ung


Apr 2, 2008, 7:39 PM
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Damn, Rob! Glad you're going to be okay. I've never used an auto-belay, but I think, if I ever do, I'm going to use your advice. I especially like #2.


moose_droppings


Apr 2, 2008, 8:26 PM
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Its a gut wrenching feeling knowing it can happen to anyone. Thanks for the points on remembering.
Hope you get back to 100% soon


shockabuku


Apr 2, 2008, 8:46 PM
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Rob,

Heal well.

You're now the second person I've heard from first hand about not tying in on the auto-belay. I think I should start using your reminders.


majid_sabet


Apr 2, 2008, 9:09 PM
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Very good report Rob and I am glade you posted it.I used auto belay for over three years in my gym and I never missed clipping it but, every time I was up 5 feet , I tested the belay mechanisms just to make sure it functioned.

MS


billcoe_


Apr 3, 2008, 10:52 AM
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robdotcalm wrote:
ďAccidents donít exist before they happen,Ē wise words from a Polish climbing partner.

ďtoday, most climbers probably climb in a gymÖ For those climbers, the risk of falling off the side of a cliff to their death is exactly zero. So I can confidently say that the risk of that particular event for that large portion of climbers, has definitely shrunk from a non-zero quantity to a zero quantityĒ. By cracklover

The irony of this last comment makes my neck hurt even more. You donít need a cliff to fall off of to be in trouble.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ACCIDENT: Early on Tuesday afternoon 04 March, I was climbing at a local gym using an auto-belay. I had been climbing for about 45 minutes. I was up about 20í when I fell. I hit the deck. On this last climb, I had not clipped into the auto-belay.

CONSEQUENCES: I was aware of the start of the fall but do not remember anything after that. When I hit the padded floor, I was rendered unconscious. I was in an alcove by myself. When I came to (Iím not sure how longóat the most a couple of minutes), I yelled for help. I remember some of the staff members rushing to my side and calling 911. Donít remember much after that until the EMTs arrived, and I was immobilized and put in a gurney. I donít recall the ambulance ride but pretty much remember most everything after getting to the hospital. The x-rays indicated small compression fractures in T7, T8, T11. The emergency room doctor was sure there was more and ordered a CT scan of the neck. He was right, a significant compression fracture in C7 and thatís where it really hurt. He put me in a cervical brace, said I should see an orthopedist or neurosurgeon the next day, and prescribed pain-killers and muscle relaxants. I saw an orthopedist the next day. More x-rays were taken of my neck in various postures. He said the fractures were stable, and I would not need pinning or a cast, but that I would need to be in a cervical collar for a couple of months. His opinion was confirmed by a colleague, who also happens to be a climber. Had a follow-up appointment today, 02 April. Healing is coming along OK. The pain in the neck is tolerable in the day but disturbing at night unless I medicate. I now need to wear the cervical collar only when Iím being active. Iím walking a couple of miles most days and doing trivially light weight lifting. The back doesnít really hurt in the thoracic area but it tires quickly. After walking 2 miles without a pack, it feels as tired as if I had walked 15 miles with a heavy pack. I also have a bruised sternum that makes sneezing painful. The left elbow and left scapula are also mildly painful.

ANALYSIS: My first thought after the accident was, What is there to say? Why even write a post on it? If youíre using an auto-belay, clip into it. End of advice. Also, I found it hard to imagine anyone else would do something so stupid.

However, talking to other climbers, from e-mails, and reviewing earlier threads in rockclimbing.com, e.g., auto-belay accidents Iíve learnt that not clipping into the auto-belay is a common source of accidents in gyms. Many people have made this mistake and not been harmed. Others have suffered injuries.

My reason for this post is that some readers might learn the cheap way how to avoid this accident and to emphasize that there is a unique aspect to an auto-belay that can cause one to do the unimaginable (at least I couldnít imagine it): not clipping in before starting up. Itís clear from my own experience and that of others that there is something in the nature of gym climbing that deadens the brain of otherwise conscientious and safe climbers. Iíve now climbed for 37 years and aside from a bouldering fall that was bad for the knee havenít had anything more than some scratches and a sprained ankle to show for it.

SUGGESTIONS: Any of the following 3 actions would greatly reduce the possibility of forgetting to clip into the auto-belay. The first two were told to me in the past month by well-known climbing guides who always take these actions before using an auto-belay. Both of them have had the experience of climbing to the top of the wall without being tied into an auto-belay. Both were able to climb down safely. Fortunately one realized the problem just before he started to lean back at the top. Remember, if these techniques are to work they must be used every time before starting to climb. That is the key. They are especially important if youíre doing laps, because thatís where the habit can develop of not always checking to see if you are clipped in.

1. Always clip in while sitting down. 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 youíve clipped the auto-lock carabiner into your harness. As soon as you come down, unclip the draw from auto-lock carabiner even if youíre doing laps.

3. When starting up a route, climb just a few feet and then lower off to make sure that youíre 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.

This last advice was given by none other than me. auto-belay precaution How did I come to ignore my own good advice? Explained below.

DISCUSSION: Until this spring, most of my gym climbing did not involve using an auto-belay. I either went with partners or bouldered or took one or two of my grandchildren. And for the most part I did not indulge that much in gym climbing. On the days, I would take the grandkids, I started using the auto-belay, since the grandchildren are too small to belay me. I would only get a few routes climbed since I couldnít leave the kids unattended for very long. After reading about the auto-belay failure auto-belay accidents, I started the safety precaution No. 3 mentioned above mostly to make sure the device was working.

This spring, I started taking care of a grandson on Tuesdays after school. During the winter, I had been in my weight-lifting mode, where I donít climb at all. As the spring started, I came down with a flu, which dragged on for almost a month. As I started recuperating, I decided that doing laps on moderate routes on auto-belay would be a good way to recover endurance. Time wise this worked out perfectly just before picking up the grandson. I mixed in the auto-belayed climbing with some traverse bouldering. These regular Tuesday encounters with the auto-belay habituated me to its use and decreased the apprehension and alertness I had when I was only using it a little bit. I wasnít always careful about carrying out step 3 above. As you can read, from the many first-person episodes in auto-belay accidents laps, bouldering and frequent use is a common way to delude oneself into thinking one is clipped in. I read this thread two years ago, so why did that lesson not sink in? As time went on I forgot about the not clipping in part. I realized I could clip in badly, e.g., having an open gate stuck on the belay loop, clipping into a gear loop, but it seemed incomprehensible that I would not clip into the device and that if I had not done it that I would not notice its absence after a few feet of climbing. However, my experience was exactly that of the previous postersómixing laps with bouldering, unclipping, studying a route from the ground and then taking off without tying in. The people that Iíve talked to since the accident who have taken off without tying in, all pretty much say the same thing. So whatís needed is an action that one always performs before climbing, hence the 3 string-on-the-finger techniques above.

Cheers,
Rob.calm

Damn.


Gmburns2000


Apr 3, 2008, 11:21 AM
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#3 is something that I actually do when on self belay. I set routes at the gym that I climb at, and we use grigris to self belay while setting. Before I ever haul up, I always pull my rope up so that I can just sit back and let the cam take hold. It's a good check just to make sure.

Hope the healing continues to go well.


spikeddem


Apr 3, 2008, 12:08 PM
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Now, I know this is a common problem. Yet, I don't understand how it can happen to people that have climbed on AB. Isn't it noticeable that there is a complete lack of an upwards pull? (Just curious, not critical.)


Partner robdotcalm


Apr 3, 2008, 12:27 PM
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spikeddem wrote:
Now, I know this is a common problem. Yet, I don't understand how it can happen to people that have climbed on AB. Isn't it noticeable that there is a complete lack of an upwards pull? (Just curious, not critical.)

I don't understand either. If I did, this accident wouldn't have happened. My guess is that it's displacement, thinking about something else, like studying the route or deciding on one more lap, etc. As I stated, one of the reasons this happened to me is that it seemed so inconceivable.

Cheers,
Rob.calm


reg


Apr 3, 2008, 12:28 PM
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that REALLY bites dude (or "TRBD") and you'd ah known what i ment right?
but i digress. sorry about the hurt - thanks for the tips - get well soon - R Wink


gogounou


Apr 3, 2008, 12:37 PM
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Damn.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery, and much thanks for a useful post.

Jay


dingus


Apr 3, 2008, 12:48 PM
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robdotcalm wrote:
spikeddem wrote:
Now, I know this is a common problem. Yet, I don't understand how it can happen to people that have climbed on AB. Isn't it noticeable that there is a complete lack of an upwards pull? (Just curious, not critical.)

I don't understand either. If I did, this accident wouldn't have happened. My guess is that it's displacement, thinking about something else, like studying the route or deciding on one more lap, etc. As I stated, one of the reasons this happened to me is that it seemed so inconceivable.

Cheers,
Rob.calm

I came very close to the BIG DIVE one day when I failed to properly reassemble my clip-in top rope setup after going to fetch a jug of water. I actuallky fell on a (for me) hard route after coming completely disconnected from the TR setup, some 60 feet over large talus.

I was a knot freak ever after.

Despite this new-found caution I started up an auto-belay route in our gym without attaching myself to the damn thing.

The route is so easy there was no chance of falling. Which meant I would have pitched off at the top when I leaned back to lower off.

My at the time 10-year old daughter said,

"Hey Pop, aren't you forgetting something?"

Inattention, pure and simple, BOTH TIMES. Not under the influence, not yakking with other folks, just simple INATTENTION.

Its something we all have to continually reinforce, with ourselves and others, over and over and over and over.

When a climber or climbing team becomes too experienced or too cool to check each other's knots at the start of every climb or every rap....

THAT is when INATTENTION will creep in to kill.

Its happened to the very best in our sport as well.

My friend Brutus at times works with equipment and in (I think chlorine gas if memory serves) environments where a single mistake can kill you. He often compares the climbing enviroment to this. In industrial settings protocols and 'must-do' checks are established to help avoid the CREEP of lax attutides.

When on a wall climb with Brutus and Em, these habits are continually reinforced. We check each other, all the time, as friends who'd like to live and climb another day, not because we think the others are fumbling fucktards bound to make a mistake.

Know why?

WE'RE ALL BOUND TO MAKES THESE MISTAKES.

When soloing the angel on your shoulder and the Paranoid in your head has to insist on making these checks!

Glad you've lived for another day dude!
Cheers
DMT


rmsusa


Apr 3, 2008, 2:16 PM
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In reply to:
When on a wall climb with Brutus and Em, these habits are continually reinforced. We check each other, all the time, as friends who'd like to live and climb another day, not because we think the others are fumbling fucktards bound to make a mistake.

Know why?

WE'RE ALL BOUND TO MAKES THESE MISTAKES.

Boy, ain't that the truth. I'm a hang glider pilot. That community has a really strong "look out for all of us" ethic. Everybody asks for checks from everybody else and everybody gets unsolicited checks from everybody else. Despite that, there are two kinds of pilots: Those that have launched without hooking in to the glider and those that will eventually do it. I've done it myself (no real injuries). The guy who helped me launch was the national safety director. Hang gliding is a group activity and a whole bunch of people missed something important that day.

Look out for your buddies and for everyone around you. Speak up and help everyone be safe. Some climbers may hate you for it, but so what. It's not stupidity that does it and routines/checks only work for a while. It's just friggin' human nature. We ALL screw up sometimes.


maldaly


Apr 3, 2008, 2:49 PM
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Call me paranoid but here's a drill I go through before stepping off the ground, starting any pitch or beginning a rappel.


I say to myself: CB black or CBBLAK

Check
Buckles - Threaded right? Waistbelt snug? Belay loop in good shape?
Belay - Am I on belay? Is the belayer paying attention? Is the belayer's rig attached correctly?
Landing - If you're rappelling, can you see both ends of the rope on the ground? If not, tie knots.
Anchors - Anchors solid? Is the belayer tied in if it's appropriate?
Knots - Tied completely? Correctly?

Don't know why every guide service/gym/AMGA hasn't begun to use this nemonic or something like it when they waste all that time on SEReNE anchor building. Waaaaay more accidents have happened because of inatention to one of the above than because an anchor wasn't equalized.

Flame me for that last statement if you will if you will but, Climb Safe...
Mal


Partner robdotcalm


Apr 3, 2008, 2:53 PM
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dingus wrote ęDespite this new-found caution I started up an auto-belay route in our gym without attaching myself to the damn thing.

The route is so easy there was no chance of falling. Which meant I would have pitched off at the top when I leaned back to lower off.

My at the time 10-year old daughter said,

"Hey Pop, aren't you forgetting something?" Ľ

Now if I had just had my 10-year old grandson with me, he probably would have caught the oversight. I spent a lot of time thinking about that after the accident.


ęI came very close to the BIG DIVE one day when I failed to properly reassemble my clip-in top rope setup after going to fetch a jug of water. I actuallky fell on a (for me) hard route after coming completely disconnected from the TR setup, some 60 feet over large talus. Ľ

In 1994, a good friend of mine had just returned to Colorado after some significant climbing in Alaska. As he was setting up a toprope on a 25 ft. cliff, he fell and was fatally injured. This was another thing I thought a lot about after my fall.

Thanks Dingus and everyone else for the support of my recovery.
Cheers,
Rob.calm
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(This post was edited by robdotcalm on Apr 3, 2008, 3:13 PM)


dingus


Apr 3, 2008, 3:22 PM
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Rob.calm I know exactly what it feels like to break one's neck and I live with the results every day.

Heal well but be aggressive! Don't let it hold you back old man!

Cheers
DMT


Dry_Hands


Apr 3, 2008, 4:19 PM
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Can I ask a quick question?

At my gym, the autobelay is clipped into anchors in the ground about 12 feet away from the climbing wall. Is this true for the gym you fell at?

Sometimes it's clipped into an anchor on the wall about 4 feet off the ground. I'm curious if it's easier to forget to clip in if it's in front of you and you see it anchored to wall...or if it's behind you while climbing and the tether is well behind your head and out of your visual field ...sorry if this seems stupid (cause I know either way people can forget)...

Just another variable I'm curious about. Heal well!


Partner robdotcalm


Apr 3, 2008, 4:44 PM
Post #20 of 31 (23824 views)
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Re: [Dry_Hands] Failure to clip auto-belay. Fall [In reply to]
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Dry_Hands wrote:
Can I ask a quick question?

At my gym, the autobelay is clipped into anchors in the ground about 12 feet away from the climbing wall. Is this true for the gym you fell at?

Sometimes it's clipped into an anchor on the wall about 4 feet off the ground. I'm curious if it's easier to forget to clip in if it's in front of you and you see it anchored to wall...or if it's behind you while climbing and the tether is well behind your head and out of your visual field ...sorry if this seems stupid (cause I know either way people can forget)...

Just another variable I'm curious about. Heal well!

The auto-belay was attached to a sling hooked to the floor just to the side of the climbing wall. Normally after clipping in, one would slide the top of the device to a position above the climb.

Cheers,
Rob.calm


Dry_Hands


Apr 3, 2008, 5:35 PM
Post #21 of 31 (23796 views)
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Re: [robdotcalm] Failure to clip auto-belay. Fall [In reply to]
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I didn't even think about sliding AB's. I've never seen that. The few I've seen are chained into one area...no movement at all.

Learn something new everyday.


Partner angry


Apr 3, 2008, 7:11 PM
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Re: [Dry_Hands] Failure to clip auto-belay. Fall [In reply to]
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The thing that is so poignant with this particular accident is not that it happened, but to who it happened to.

Rob is a veteran climber, guidebook author, and someone I've met personally. It's easy to read about an accident across the internet and say "idiot made an idiot mistake".

Think of the older climbers you know who you absolutely look up to. Maybe not the best but the totally solid old guy that you look at and just pray you are as good as him when you get that old. That guy is Rob. If it can happen to him it can happen to you.

Not that I'm calling you old Rob, but if the shoe fits...

Get better soon.


shockabuku


Apr 3, 2008, 8:40 PM
Post #23 of 31 (23706 views)
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Re: [robdotcalm] Failure to clip auto-belay. Fall [In reply to]
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Dang Rob, I didn't realize who you were until I read Angry's post. I climbed with you once at Vedawau probably around spring/summer of 2001. I was then, and am again, a grad student at CSU.

If you don't mind me asking, where did your accident happen?

Best wishes.


(This post was edited by shockabuku on Apr 3, 2008, 8:41 PM)


roguetrooper


Apr 4, 2008, 10:23 AM
Post #24 of 31 (23598 views)
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Re: [robdotcalm] Failure to clip auto-belay. Fall [In reply to]
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I manage a gym and we require ALL climbers, regardless of age or experience to get verbal confirmation from another person, either experienced climber/adult/staff member, that they are "clipped in" or "safe" before ascending on the "auto belay".
What ever the reason, complacency, distraction, excitement or just a brain fart, human infalibility will happen.
When on "the ropes" we SHOULD check each others systems, and I say should because we all know or have seen a climber leave the ground before the climber and belayer perfom their "buddy checks" (re: Lynn Hill, unfortunate example).
A useful addition to the gym environment, the downside to the "auto belay" is that it is an autonomous system, you don't require/have a partner to perform these crutial checks.
I wish you a full recovery and speedy rehabilitation.


Partner cracklover


Feb 20, 2009, 2:14 PM
Post #25 of 31 (5914 views)
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Re: [robdotcalm] Failure to clip auto-belay. Fall [In reply to]
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Hey Rob,

I didn't see this thread before. Sorry I was such a pain in the neck right when you didn't need it!

Hope that by now, a year after the accident, you're all healed up. And I'll take your advice to heart, especially if I ever use those auto-belays.

Cheers,

GO

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