The one about the heavier climber…

Belaying an XL – Tips for Lightweight Climbers

Source: Belaying an XL – Tips for Lightweight Climbers 

One of the top questions new participants regularly ask me is this, “What if my bf/gf (Heaven forbid…) / partner / husband / wife (..again…) / friend / brother / sister (insert other names) is heavier than me? Can i belay him/her?”

My answer is usually Yes because there is no official guideline around the world now that states what is the “safe” weight difference. At most, they would usually give a “recommendation”. Hence there is nothing really stopping you from belaying your XXL sized climber. But come on, let’s face it, no one wants to fall and be lowered down half the wall because of a light belayer who himself/herself gets pulled halfway up the wall as well until the both of you can literally shake hands…. So this article is really quite useful to share what are some of the alternatives or tricks in the belayer’s bags that can be used at the right moment.

I usually teach about the the sandbags that you can get at most gyms as counterweights for the especially light belayers and i use the opportunity to teach them about the “assistant belayer” as well who helps back up the brake line and doubles up as an anchor man as well.

But there are other options as well. Something new on the market is the Elderid Ohm that is covered in the article. Cool piece of kit that can be purchased and it gives the belayer as well as the climber lots of confidence. But it costs a lot and it’s an additional piece of kit that the lead climber has to carry. Takes some training and familiarisation to get it right also. So those are the things i try to share with the participants.

Then there is the physics lesson that i will deliver. Basically the idea is simple. I ask the participants to share (for those who have been belaying a heavier climber so far) on their experiences. “When the heavy climber falls, where do you get pulled? Do you fly upwards vertically like a cartoon superman? Or do you get slammed into the wall horizontally?”

Most of the time the answer will be horizontally. I will then invoke their memories of those secondary school physics lessons and i say a silent thank you to my physics tutors for teaching me something i never thought i would ever have to use….angle

So basically, when a climber falls, he generates an Impact Force vertically downwards. He will also pull on the rope attached to the belayer which creates another force diagonally upwards towards the anchors. All these forces added together creates a resultant force which is the horizontal force that the belayer feels pulling him/her towards the wall every time a heavier climber falls on belay.

Now my Physics tutor also taught me one more thing, and that is the greater the angle is from the climber’s end of the rope to the belayer’s end of the rope, the larger the resultant force will be. Hence i will then follow up with a question, to keep things interactive with the class,

“So knowing that the angle at the top determines the force the belayer feels, when you are belaying a heavier climber, should you stand nearer or further away from the wall?”

The answer will usually be a unanimous “nearer”! I would then encourage my participants to try it out in their next practice where they should stand when they belay. In this way, they get to experience the effects of positioning rather than just listen to theory.

One thing to note, make sure they do not over do it like standing >5m away from the walls and if the floors are slippery have them remove their socks. It’s an interactive way to learn but we got to take care of safety as well.

So there you go, some ways to answer the inevitable question. Just try not to look at the bigger sized participants in the eyes every time you say “fat”…

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If you ever need a reason to wear a helmet…

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One of my climbing students climbing in Nam Pha Pha Yai was belaying at a relatively new route when this sharp chunk of rock fell onto his head. Can’t imagine what would have been the result if he had neglected to wear his helmet that day. Think you should only wear your helmet when climbing? Think again.

A good reminder to always bring your brain bucket along and use it.

Good picture to use to reinforce this point in class. Full post here:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FNamphapayaiClimberCamp%2Fposts%2F1560426997335935&width=500

The LONG one about the three letter dirty word in gyms today that starts with ‘A’ and ends with ‘BD’ bypassing ‘C’…

16864536_10154990433310768_8823555492208082897_n(Photo Source : Author’s own. IKR… Ironically it’s because of stoopid behavior like taking a photo whilst belaying that leads to accidents. But i never said i was a Saint…)

ATC vs ABD*

 

*The author would like to point out that technically “ATC” is a model name but it is used interchangably often enough in sunny Singapore with “tubular device” that i shall continue to smear the good name of Black Diamond by referring to all tubular devices in this controversy as “ATC”. That’s how rambling i can get, sure you want to read more? I’m just getting warmed up….

 

The greatest debate to every stir up our climbing community so far. I have been keeping silent so far because of two reasons. One, because people tend to get carried away by emotions so I wanted to let things settle down a bit first. Two, because I was collecting my thoughts. My thoughts as a climber, as an instructor, as an outdoor educator, as a part-time-freelance-gym staff. It’s a complex topic, not complicated. Just two devices but already we see two camps forming for and against the new changes. I guess I’m finally ready to throw in my 2-cents worth into the debate and share what I think. But wait, for the record I have already been talking about this before this whole thing started, so that makes me way cooler… (The one about the non-mechanical belaying devices…) Back then there were hints and rumours that the gyms were heading there but nothing concrete was revealed.

 

For the uninitiated, as a background, three gyms in Singapore – OS, CC and CA, who make up the lion share of the market already, have announced that they will not be allowing non-assisted belay devices like tubular devices and Fig. 8’s (what planet are you from???) come 1 April 2017. Instead they will allow only Assisted Belay Devices (ABD) and climbers will likely have to go through another round of verifications with the gyms to “recertify” themselves at the gyms.

 

Standing on the gyms’ side, they have always placed their customers safety as their priority. And I believe this move is mainly motivated by the many accidents that have happened at the gyms in the recent years from unsafe belaying practices. (Face it, we have all heard of them…) They have resorted to this move purely to build a fail-safe environment for all. If they can totally put a stop to the risk, why not do so rather than risk having an accident. Besides being bad for business, it puts a great stress on the staff having to respond to these situations. (Just ask the gym staff who is the first responder to an incident…) Having an ABD prevents even that split second of distraction from escalating into a disaster. It prevents a belayer’s sudden bout of sickness from escalating into a disaster. It prevents a newbie’s inexperience at catching a big fall from escalating into a disaster, and many more. So that’s the main reason for the ban. It’s all about creating a safe environment for you and me to climb, and for that I am thankful for the foresight of the gyms.

 

And in the other corner… In the other camp, a bevy of climbers have taken offence to this move by the gyms. Some brayed for a boycott, someone created a petition out there, but mainly climbers were lamenting about the lose of a freedom of choice in something as simple as a belay device. And it certainly did not help that certain representatives of the gyms were creating a PR-disaster of their own by responding to every remark with defensive, abrasive comments of their own. Certainly a PR case-study on “how not to implement an unpopular policy”, but that’s another thing by itself. So climbers were certainly up in arms all week voicing their concerns to this draconian rule. It was funny to see some people saying “we won’t support them anymore” only to have others pointing out to them that “dude they are like the majority of the climbing industry… I hope you like bouldering…” There were also genuine concerns voiced out about the increase in cost now that climbers will need to purchase new devices and get themselves verified again. To be fair, the gyms have responded swiftly with a range of measures to cushion the impacts from cheaper deals on ABDs to announcing free workshops and verifications. All these didn’t seem to satisfy this camp much because they were still fixated on their autonomy to choose a belay device that works for them. It was satisfying to see the climbing community finally stir and speak up. It was not letting the Big 3 get away with it so easily. How dare you tell me what’s good for me!

 

So where do I stand in all this? Every long drive in the past week, every shower, every long run, I thought about it, weighing the many pros and cons in my mind. As I have said, it’s a complex issue. And sometimes when I see an inconsiderate or emotional comment, I felt like just yelling out. I remember a Youtube video I saw called “If Gandhi took a Yoga class” (if you have time watch it….laugh until die). In a way I felt like that Gandhi in the Yoga class when everyone didn’t understand him. I’m not saying that I’m like the guru or the know-it-all in the sport but I felt frustrated that many are so emotional about things that they do not see it the way I do. I penned down my thoughts, sorting it out, mindmaps, logic diagram and all and finally I am ready to write it down.

 

My views as an instructor? I’m firstly sad to see that a skill might potentially be lost to a new generation of climbers. The skill I am referring to is the cardinal rule of belaying, that you never ever let go of your brake hand. I remember as a new instructor, Bx said this once in her class and I have used this line in my own classes ever since, “…if you cannot remember anything I said in the class all day, the only thing I want you to remember from today’s class is that you must never, ever let go of your brake hand. Coz your buddy’s life literally depends on it.” This I call the sacred trust between the belayer and the climber. We might potentially lose this message as we rely on the ABD’s to provide that security. And to have such a sacred trust being replaced by a mere hunk of metal felt almost insulting to me. It saddened me that in future, younger climbers might point to an ATC and tell their friend that that device is unsafe to use. When in reality, the older generation will know that it is safe to use, just that we – the climbing community on the behest of the three gyms, decided that it is considered “unsafe” and ban it from use. “Is this how knowledge should be created?” I questioned myself.

 

From an instructor’s perspective, I also felt that there is no such thing as a zero risk environment as hard as the gyms are working to create it. We might be solving the problem of belaying today, but ABD’s can create their own set of problems as well. Complicated rigging, extra step to lower, specific rope diameters needed, climber must be of a certain weight, these are just some examples of problems I am aware of when using ABD’s. Are we complicating a very simple device such that we are solving one problem (letting go of the brake hand) but creating another problem (rigging the device wrongly)? Besides, one thing my mentors always remind me to do is to never underestimate the human propensity for stupidity. We might add a safer belay device but what’s to stop climbers from wearing the harness wrongly or tying in wrongly? Then what? We start introducing auto-locking carabiners, auto-locking buckles? We start climbing with two ropes and two belayers in case one set fails??? When will the list end? The more complex we make the system, the more the propensity for error.

 

In the first place, isn’t climbing inherently dangerous? It’s printed in most climbing books on the second page. To me, that’s one attraction of climbing. From an outdoor educator’s perspective, risk is necessary for learning to take place. We always refer to the Comfort Zone Theory. You learn best when you are pushed out of the comfort zone. Then what’s the role of an instructor? I believe the instructor’s job is to create a safety net for the learner to fail-safely. If the learner can fail safely, he learns. The trick is to discover how far out do you deploy your safety net? So if I am able to impress upon the participants in my course how important it is to never let go of the brake hand, I can cast my safety net wide to let them make mistakes by building in dry-run/practices/rehearsals during my course before they do the actual climb. When they do an actual climb, I stand near the belayer holding on to the brake line to correct and assist and to provide the additional layer of safety. When they are out climbing independently, they learn from me that there is nothing embarrassing about approaching the gym staff if they are unsure of how to use a certain device or to refresh on how to tie a knot. These are the safety nets I can cast out as an instructor to help my learners learn. Why do all these? Because climbing IS risky. And as outdoor enthusiasts, as adventure seekers, we are all dicing around with risk every time we do an activity. The key to these activities is to manage the risk either using your skills, your judgement, your gut and admitably a bit of luck. If you succeed, the rewards are tremendous, but everyone should know that if you mess it up, the consequences can be as mild as just an ego check or you might end up paying the ultimate price. That’s the attraction of adventure to me, I don’t need someone to babysit me because I spend time training, perfecting my skills to do what I want to do. If you want to be safe all the time, take up a different activity like chess or stamp collecting, this climbing thingy is just not for you. We need to teach climbers to manage the risk, not to put an end to it. And that’s where the instructor comes in. Granted that the quality of instruction today is not at its best, but that’s what some of us are trying to put right again today. And we need all your support. But again, that’s a story for another day…

 

So should we just accept the ban on tubular devices and move on with life. Is this really an evolution for the climbing scene in Singapore? I am still undecided. I guess like the few still on the fence, I see it’s benefits but yet I still want to have the benefit of choice. I, for one am terrible at lead belaying with a grigri so I use my ATC more often to lead belay. But when I top rope, I usually opt for my grigri as the top roping areas are usually crowded with belayers and most of beginners. So it’s always helpful to have a device that can lock up whilst you give a hand or some pointers to a newbie next to you. I want to be able to make the call myself which is better for which situation. Sometimes when the gym ropes get “fat” after they have been used for awhile, the ABD tends to jam and hinder the belayer from belaying. In this case it’s more helpful to give them a tubular device that lessens the amount of friction till it’s manageable for the belayer to concentrate on his belay technique. Will an experienced climber be able to make that call in future? Are we building in another hazard in this case, will the gym change the ropes immediately to a new rope when my device jams? Just an example I can think of now to illustrate my point.

 

I guess what I would like to hear in this situation is what steps the gyms have taken before they came to this draconian conclusion that a new device is in order to solve all our belaying nightmares. One thing I would really like to see is evidence of all these accidents that they speak about. So far whenever an accident happens, the gyms tend to keep it hush-hush. It makes sense from a business competition point of view. But I question how many of these accidents happen yearly and how many of them are actually related to a tubular device or a climber letting go of his brake hand? If the gyms can make this data more transparent, then perhaps it will convince climbers like me that the ABD is really a necessity. However it seems like the gyms are more concerned about giving analogies of motorcars and descriptions of fallacies than to really give climbers what we need to understand the situation. Neglecting the “Why” before the “How” once again… Maybe now that the heat has died down a bit, they can focus on getting the word out on “why” this had to be done so that we can convince the heart and the mind for the change.

 

Next, I would also question what are the gyms already doing currently to manage the risks at the gyms. There has definitely been a great improvement in how the gyms are managed today from the early days of climbing in Singapore where a counter staff will just pass you some ratty old rental gear, collect your money and then sit back behind the counter to play handphone. Gym staff nowadays are required to do regular patrols around the gym to spot any unsafe practices. I hear more checks over the counter to verify whether a new climber to the gym knows how to belay or not and rather than leaving the clueless newbie to his friends to take care of him, I hear the counter staff advising them what they should or should not be doing more often than not nowadays. I think these are good practices but I question their efficacy to “make the gym a safer place” at times.

 

My first contention will be to question whether does the gym staff actually have the ability or the competency to check on climbers when they do their patrol. Yes, granted most gyms require their staff to have at least a SNCS Level 2 certificate to work, but how many of them are regular lead climbers or even just climb regularly? Bouldering doesn’t count coz well…you dun use gears… Do they know what to look out for when they do their safety patrols? A recent experience I had at one of the gym left me bewildered. I spotted 3 climbers in the span of 30mins with their harnesses’ leg loops not double-backed and the 2 staff observing them did not even notice it. So my question is, are all the gym staff capable of observing your safety? Coming from an instructor of many years, I dare say this is a skill that takes many years of observation to pick up. You can’t spot an error if you don’t know it’s an error. If the gym staff hardly ever lead climb or belay after getting their Level 2 certs, I highly doubt they have the ability to competently spot errors or even know whether that is an error or not. Don’t believe me? (I haven’t tried this yet) Let’s try randomly approaching one of the gym staff and ask them what they are looking out for? Ask them whether they are able to tell which belayer is “dangerous”? What are the signs he/she is looking out for specifically to make the call? I am not trying to create troubles here for the gyms, but I half suspect this might be the situation on the ground. (Pls dun throw me out from the gyms…just my observation and conversations with the staff) If the level of checks put in place is redundant or simply ineffective, then it is just giving everyone a false sense of security until an incident happens.

 

My next observation is about location, location, location! My observation is that many of these counters are located too far away from the walls such that the staff are unable to effectively supervise the belaying or climbing at the climbing wall. Most of the staff’s activity takes place at the counters. Except for the occasional patrol around the gym floors, the majority of the staff are usually busy at the counter signing in new climbers or issuing rental equipment or handling enquires from customers. Staff at the counters are usually unable to effectively monitor the happenings at the climbing walls, all except a few gyms in Singapore who decisively (or some would say “so happened to”…) placed their counters right in front of the climbing wall. Someone joked that if the swimming pool is able to hire a lifeguard that sits at poolside just to watch the people swimming, why can’t the climbing gym do the same. As silly as it sounds, that might actually be a doable solution. If we are all about a mindset change now, why not change our mental model about how a climbing gym should be operated? If it works for the swimming pool and they can afford to hire a staff to do that simply because it effectively improves safety, why not consider doing that at the gyms? But I digress, my main contention here is that wherever the gym staff are spending stationed for most of their shifts are ineffective at supervising the climbers at the wall. It might not be their main job or their only job, but again I question whether is enough being done to supervise climbers at the walls itself. It’s a question of location, not competence or attitude of the staff this time.

 

So what exactly is the root of the problem here? I feel that more accidents at the gyms is a true problem but this is from my own personal observation and anecdotal evidences I have been hearing. I have only met one climber who was the unfortunate victim of a 15m fall with very “impressive” x-ray photos to show for (and who totally ruined my dinner…), and I have only seen one photo of a victim being restrained (in case of spinal injuries) sent to me by a concerned climber who witnessed the fall. I am convinced that the threat is real, that climbers are getting more accident prone these days and by co-relating it to the level of instruction I am seeing in the weekly climbing courses, I can only posit that the root of the problem could be the quality of the instruction new climbers are given nowadays. It also doesn’t help that the national organization has been silent all these years on training matters (and not surprisingly in the recent controversy). Apart from briefly saying that they will leave training issues “to the commercial gyms to regulate”, little or nothing has been done for the instructors development. So I guess we really do not blame the gyms for resorting to this method because that is one of the few ways they can keep the accident numbers from going down. Some gyms have already gone to the extent of using only a closed pool of instructors so that they can control the quality of instruction. I think this is a great idea because at least in this way there is some form of quality control rather than no control at all. My worry is the renegade instructor out there who are running independently with nothing to benchmark themselves against and with no one to police over them that might be doing more harm than good. The impacts here are not just in the course but can spread downstream to the gyms themselves. Hence although by introducing the ABD, we do go away with a safer environment for all to climb, but in the long run, it might eventually be the instructor community that suffers. Because in my opinion as an instructor, if we are really in the business of education, we should never allow ourselves to restrict or limit knowledge to a learner. The learner should be exposed to a breadth of information and an instructor helps him process it to turn it into knowledge. As an instructor, the ATC is not unsafe, my trainees just need to be more aware of its limitations when they use it. And it is up to me to build in practices to drive home this point. I will also be glad to introduce to them an ABD and share with them the benefits it brings especially if you are accident prone or you are tired or it is a very crowded day at the gym. I would rather my trainees take their training up to a higher level from just knowing how to use the device to being able to make a judgement call which device is better for which situation. Granted it will not work for all (eg. School kids) but that will be where the experience of the instructor will be called into play. When to introduce it, who to introduce it to? Does a Sec 1 kid need to know how to use the ABD proficiently? Can I spend more time on ABD’s rather than ATC’s? Can I warn them to use an ABD more often until they get better at belaying? These are all the considerations an instructor can do and admittedly, sadly it is not being emphasized in our instructor training today. Rather we are still fixated on teaching our trainee instructors topics like “escape from system” or “prussiking”… hard skills that can be picked up from any other book or the internet. And in the process, we tend to neglect the soft skills which will take an experienced coach to mentor and to teach and a proper OJT programme to complement it,  where the trainee instructor is given room to practice and learn. So you see, the root of the problem is not in the device but the quality of our instructors today.

 

And that’s why I am spending my time doing this blog, and running this COP and trying to engage SMF further to do more for the instructor development. I think it is a part that is not just stagnating but is literally regressing. We can continue to point the blame at the SMF but nothing much is going to be done because their hands are full as well. So that’s why I am trying to get the ground to chip in and help our own instructor community. How or even how much to do is something that I cannot alone decide. Hence we need your voices and we need all the help we can get. If you have an idea, or you think you can contribute in some ways, please approach me and let’s talk about it to see how we can operationalize the idea. There’s really no point lamenting and complaining about the current situation because nothing will be done if we don’t do it ourselves. I hope that once we pass this ATC vs ABD debate, we can see the importance an instructor plays in the climbing community, not just in teaching the classes but how much our actions can have a consequence on the bigger picture.

 

Ok that was a wall of text… And I might have digressed. But these are my thoughts. And I hope I have summarized the whole saga a bit and thrown in my 2-cents worth to stir some of your thoughts. Comment (I’m sure there will be coz not everyone will agree), but please keep things civil.

 

Peaceful Vibes!
Adrian

 

Post Note : I just wanted to point out a few good blogs i have seen on people weighing in on the issue. I thought they made some very valid points that can help in our understanding of the issue. Go read if my rantings haven’t already given you a headache…

https://medium.com/@Freddie.wee.yh/am-i-really-on-belay-2efa19179f4c#.iuwongvnv 

http://shan.mp/2016/Fail-Safe/ 

http://climbcentral.sg/2017/02/why-the-change/

http://medium.com/@bryankym/about-a-belay-5864c0b7113c#.k79ri4qnj

View story at Medium.com

Belay-Loop Myth

I see people belaying with their carabiner clipped around both tie-in points on their harnesses instead of clipped to the belay loop. Is the technique they are using safe?

Source: Belay-Loop Myth


Another good resource here. This is a common question climbers tend to ask. Especially when we see the older generation doing the clip both waistbelt and legloops method. I must admit i use to do that and i was taught that. But that was like eons ago…time to move on. Technology has improved so much that that think strip of nylon can take almost 2 tons of weight. Human stupidity and complacency however has not evolved much…

The one about the Trango Cinch guinea pig…

So just a few weekends ago i was asked to conduct a class to introduce the Trango Cinch into the SNCS Level 1 syllabus. The gym manager did inform me that i would be the first instructor to introduce this and she would appreciate it if i could give her feedback about it. I had a good session with a good above average performing class of adults. Here’s my experience to share.

cinch

(Photo Source : http://www.alpinist.com/media/web12x/cinch.jpg)  

I decided to introduce the cinch only after they have had a chance to practice belaying with the regular tubular device (in this case it was an ATC). By this time the participants had already belayed with the tubular device at least twice and they were starting to master the basics of handling it, namely :

  • How to rig?
  • How to check that it is rigged correctly? Right hander, left hander.
  • How to do the five step belay?
  • How to catch a fall?
  • How to lower a climber?

I decided to introduce it as a separate device because i have always believed in focusing on one skill set at a time. Introducing two different devices creates too much information for the learner to take note off and the information they are suppose to retain for the first device will be lost once i go into the second device. Hence i decided to introduce it only after they had spent some time working with the tubular devices first. Then came the break and that was where introduced the cinch (note that i have already briefly described how it works and its camming abilities in the morning “theory” session liaoz). So i went through the same list as above.

This time i added in one more safety check which i thought was very important to share here. Now the cinch and most (if all) assisted belay devices (ABD) are notoriously complicated to rig up. Rig the climber and brake ends wrongly only and it gets dangerous especially if the user has a tendancy to foolishly let go of the brake hand with a false confidence that the ABD will catch. So it is very important that the learners rig it correctly. Hence i introduced a “pull check” after the rigging the device coupled with the squeeze check on the carabiner. This involves just tugging on the guide end of the rope (the end leading to the climber) and to check that the device catches (“bites”). If you got it the wrong way round, the rope will simply run through the device and you’ll know you got it wrong. I thought this was a very important step to include. So please consider including it.

Belaying-wise it was a breeze for a climbing instructor because the assisted braking capabilities of the device puts our minds at ease. (In fact i am even toying around with the idea of introducing the cinch first followed by the ATC in future classes) I simply asked the class to belay as per normal but this time inform me and my assistant when they are about to lower so that we could come over and supervise the lowering part.

Now the thing i didn’t like about the cinch was that the lowering of a climber was totally counter-intuitive from what the learners have been conditioned to do all afternoon with the tubular device. You see when you lower with an ATC, one just has to concentrate on letting the rope slip pass both hands on the brake line. So the master hand is in control of the lowering of the climber. Now with the cinch, there is a need to pull open the lever with the non-master hand (in this case my left hand). The master hand remains on the brake hand but now the non-master hand is in control of the climber because you need to pull down (and sometimes you have to pull very hard!) to release the climber. Now, your master hand on the brake line becomes more of a support in case you release too fast. The focus will be purely on the lever, which is totally opposite of what we just spent the whole afternoon trying to learn. I asked a few of my pax what they thought of it, and they all said they didn’t like it coz the lever just did not feel safe enough to pull down on it. I am thinking it’s more because they were conditioned to control the lowering with their brake hand but now the device forces you to focus on the non-master hand which causes the discomfort.

So from this experience, i have two pieces of advice to give for instructors conducting with ABDs:

  1. Include the Pull Check coz the consequences of rigging the device wrongly can be fatal.
  2. Make sure you demarcate clearly when you are using the tubular (non-locking) devices and when you are using the ABD. My concern here is that some pax (being new) might forget or get confused which is the locking and which is the non-locking one. My worry is that they might accidentally take their hands off the brake line when they are using the non-lockers. So i guess instructors have to pay extra attention to them or keep reminding everyone which devices they are using and their characteristics.

Yeah, so this is my feedback. I am in two minds about introducing ABDs as i had shared previously in another post. But i guess we just got to work out the kinks in the first few sessions. I dunno if the Trango Cinch is the best ABD to introduce here as i would rather go for the Mammut SMART or the Elderid Mega Jul or the Clickup for example because these devices are really more similar to the tubular devices that we have to introduce for SNCS Level 1. Something for gym owners to consider perhaps?

Hope this helps. Belay safe!

PS. One more tip, you will find that it is easier to release a Cinch if you hold the lever with your thumb on the hole (the one without the carabiner) whilst forcing the lever down with the palm at the base of your fingers. I heard from some climbers that it is an ergonomic design feature of the cinch whereby you get the most efficiency when releasing the cam and yet at the same time it forces your hand to be at a safe angle when pulling on the lever. Anyone can verify this? It really doesn’t work well if you dun put your thumb there…

Introducing the ABD into our Level 1 courses…

PSA : Just a note for instructors intending to teach at Onsight and Climb Asia. They will be introducing assisted belay devices in their level 1 courses from Nov onwards. For more info, please contact the respective gym managers.


Dear Instructors,

Starting from this weekend, our SNCS Level 1 courses will include a new topic – the use of Assisted Breaking Devices. 
At Climb Asia, the TRANGO Cinch will be provided for use during the lessons. Although the proficient use of any ABDs is not part of the assessment/ passing requirement, do dedicate some time during the course to introduce the ABDs, and to allow the participants to try their hands on the Cinch. 
Please also refer to our attached info sheet for your reference. Should you require any clarification or assistance, please feel free to contact me or Syahirah.
Any feedback on the introduction of this topic is welcome too.
Thank you!
Best Regards,

Candy Wong
Programmes Manager
 
Tel : 62927701
Fax : 62922281
Climb Asia Pte Ltd
60 Tessensohn Road c/o Civil Service Club
Singapore 217664

Dear Instructors,

We hope you have familiarised yourself with the Mammut Smart, Assisted Braking Device (ABD for short). From November onwards, all SNCS 1 courses, will include the use of the Mammut Smart, together with the Petzl Verso.

Please note that our standard phrase for referring to such devices (Edelrid Megajul, CT Click Up, etc), is ASSISTED BRAKING DEVICE (ABD).

Please see our attached infographic that is designed to help with your MOI.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please email derek@onsight.com.sg.

We hope for your support, in making our climbing community safer for everyone.
Thanks!

Ben Toh
OS Manager

Dear Instructors.

Based on experience from the past few Level 1 courses, when teaching belaying, please teach both the tubular belay device and the Mammut SMART Assisted Braking Device AT THE SAME TIME.

We have enough SMART devices so u can let half practice with the tubular and the other half with the SMART and changeover on and off. Please ensure that participants are proficient with both devices at the end of the course.
As for passing, ONLY tubular is required.

Thank you and please do not hesitate to give feedback

GS
Onsight


From my own personal experience with the devices, it takes a bit getting used to. So kudos to the gyms for providing these devices for instructors to try out and familiarise themselves with it at the gyms. Rather than juz force feeding it, i was glad to see that there were resources created to help instructors include this in their lessons and to introduce a gradual roll out. At least there was an effort to inform everyone and get everyone prepared before taking the step. Considerate actions like that make a new policy much easier to bear. Please continue to feedback to the gym managers on your experiences teaching ABD to level 1 pax so that we can help improve the system.

The one about the non-mechanical belaying devices…

109808653_medium_6130ae(Photo Source : https://www.mountainproject.com/v/109808653 )

So over the long wkend, i received a note that one of the climbing gyms has decided to move ahead to introduce non-mechanical assisted braking devices eg. Mammut SMART belay, Climbing Technology Click Up, Edelrid Mega Jul, in their Level 1 courses at the gym. I had a chat with the gym owner once and he did share with me the rationale why the gym is pushing for it. We had a good discussion over their pros and cons (ok mostly pros) and why it will be good to introduce them not just in the courses but to see them being used more often in the gyms. I was really glad to hear about such innovations because such devices can really up the safety factor in belaying. Say what we want, but there is always the potential for human error to creep in no matter how experienced we are. These devices help to keep the risk to a bare minimum. My opinion was that there was no harm introducing them to new climbers at an early stage so that they get familiar with them and build up good habits using them. I am more than happy to include them in my courses especially with the gym’s support not just to supply us with the gear but to help us get familiar with it. If you are not familiar with non-mechanical assisted belay devices, here’s a good simple article that i found : http://www.climbing.com/gear/catch-this-a-close-look-at-assisted-braking-belay-devices/ They cover both mechanical and non-mechanical devices. 

As we spoke i also began to voice my concerns over whether will climbers eventually start to see these assisted belay devices as a norm in the gym. My greatest worry was that there will come a day when i will be belaying in the gym with my good old ATC and some young punk will come up to me and call me out for doing something unsafe. All because he has never seen an ATC before. I can just imagine the conversation (in the future),

Young Punk (YP) : “Hey Uncle, do you know that that device that  you are using is not safe?

Me : *resisting all my natural instincts to stab him in his jugular vein for calling me Uncle* “Why is it not safe?

YP : “Because it does not have any braking assistance. What if you let go of your brake hand accidentally?”

Me: “Well in my time (yes i know this is not helping to bring my age down…), we were all trained to use this ATC and the belayer simply had to learn NEVER to let go of the brake hand no matter what happens. It’s a sacred trust between the climber and the belayer and no matter what happens, my brake hand will always remain on the brake line. So as much as i appreciate your concern, this device is safe to use in the gym with a trained belayer thank you.

YP : “Yes, you are trained but what if the unexpected happens? You lose concentration for a moment and the climber falls. The climber dislodges a tile that hits you on your brake hand. So many things can go wrong. Why not just use an assisted belay device so that you will be 100% safe? I disagree that we should leave it to “trust”, as if “trust” will take care of us all. Gravity will still happen with or without trust. So i think it is still best to belay using an assisted belay device. Here, you can use mine.

Me, “Really dude, i’m good with my ATC. I’m more familiar with it anyway. And besides, no device is 100% safe. Btw you really shouldn’t talk to a belayer when he is belaying…

I can just imagine how the conversation will continue when we go into ethics, moral dilemma, rules & regulations, star wars vs star trek, pikachu vs ratata…. I guess that’s what makes this conversation important. On one hand i am happy to see a step taken in the right direction to reduce the risk in climbing, but the traditional aspects in me still wants to keep the old skool, romantic notions of climbing. Where to rope up with your buddy was way more than just a 5 min climb. Where by belaying, you promise to always hang on to that line even if he fell a thousand times and not leave it to a mere device to catch him. Will we even need a belayer in future? (Check out this blog : http://www.climbingpsych.com/2011/02/belayer-relationship.html )These thoughts swivelled through my mind as i talked with BT that evening. Until he said something that made some sense to my undecided mind,

“Do you remember in the old days we made use of stitch plates and Fig. 8’s to belay? Why did we stop? Because a whole new generation of devices came along – the tubular devices like your ATC’s. Are we now seeing another new generation of devices being introduced? Maybe this will be the new norm?”

So this is progress. The price of progress. I was swayed a little but the conundrum still existed in my mind. As a climber, i was all in for the safety. But as an instructor, i still felt that it was my duty to teach. Perhaps until the day that BT described really arrives where the tubular becomes obsolete then perhaps i will feel more comfortable to leave out the good ole non-assisted belay devices. Till the day comes where the market is flooded with these devices, i hope we can all have the good sense not to make so drastic a distinction between safe and dangerous. Let’s not forget that these assisted braking devices are safe, but you can never remove the human capacity for stupidity. You solve the belaying problem but all it takes is for the same idiot to rig up the device wrongly or attach his carabiner wrongly or the knot is tied wrongly or harness never double and that’s it. At the end of the day, perhaps it is the belayer’s mentality, the approach to belaying, the regard for the importance of belaying that we should be concerned about? Always check regardless of what expensive device you have there. We are humans…and that makes us vulnerable.

These are the conversations that we should be having as a climbing instructor community. Thank you for engaging the community to move a step forward in the face of inactivity.

Peaceful Vibes!
AdrC