It’s no secret that Ed and I have been hooked on bouldering since the day we met. So it may come as a surprise that it took me this long (9 months) to try my first auto-belay and become hooked on the idea of big wall climbing.
Bouldering was easy. Not in the technical sense of the word, but in the fact that it required very little equipment and didn’t really test my relationship with heights.
When Ed first suggested we try big wall climbing, I tried to swerve it by saying that bouldering was all I really wanted to do, the truth was I was scared of the ropes and the fact that his life would be in my hands when I belayed him, that extra layer of complexity just didn’t appeal to me and I was worried I would lose the freedom I felt with bouldering. That being said, it didn’t stop me impulsively buying a harness that I had no intention of using.
The conversation didn’t arise again until we visited Reading Climbing Centre and I watched as Ed’s eyes lit up when he caught sight of the top rope and lead climbing routes, I felt my stomach flutter but thankfully they had the perfect compromise for me, or those who don’t know how to belay or want to big wall climb alone – auto belay machines.
An auto-belay machine works a bit like a seatbelt, you clip your harness into it on the ground and as you climb the rope contracts into the machine, if you fall from the wall it takes hold of the rope and then slowly lowers you safely to the ground.
For the most part the climbing was easier than bouldering and instead of testing my technical ability I was instead testing my endurance – my poor forearms didn’t know what hit them, scaling routes more than 4 times the length of their usual bouldering walls.
Putting my trust in an inconspicuous little box at the top of the wall took some getting used to and learning to let go was harder than the climb up, but once I learnt to trust the belay machine, I was hooked and soon found myself enjoying the nice little ride back down to the mats below.
For those trying big wall climbing for the first time, or who want a fuss free experience,. an auto-belay machine is the perfect compromise, but be warned… you’ll love it and will either be wanting one installed on the side of your house or planning how to fill your car with rope, harnesses and gear and then organising your first big wall climbing trip 🙈