Recently the new Salt Pump gym opened nearby and they have auto belays. I was initially excited because lately at my regular gym picking up loose change (my code for extra climbing partners) has been hard. Well, I don’t look hard for loose change so maybe its my own fault. Regardless, I was excited for the autos. I am not sure why but there seems been a stigma around using auto belays (aka autobots) them. It often seems as though you can’t be a hardened climber if you rock autobots. Well I think that is trash and here is why.
Before we dive in to what I think, lets talk about these auto belays. Also, when I say lets talk, I really mean that I am just going to tell you what they are instead of assuming you already know. They are awesome, first. An Auto belay is a device set at the top of a gym climbing route with a line that feeds down to the bottom where a climber starts. When the climber starts the route they attach the line to their harness (usually) and begin to climb. As they advance the device takes in the extra slack automatically until the climber reaches the top of the route. Once finished, the climber leans back as normal and has a one meter free fall to engage the device by centrifugal force which then breaks the decent. Tada!
Finding other people who rock climb is hard. Unless you’re a junkie chances are the majority of your friends are not into climbing more than twice a year. So most of them lack hand strength and over all stamina to climb more than a few routes. Showing up and finding a partner isn’t realistic for an awkward 33 year old either. Most people seem to go when they already have a partner. Cutting in on a pair of climbers you don’t know gets usually a passive response.
Auto belays avoid the whole issue because you can just show up and get a session in without waiting for a partners schedule to line up. Usually the routes are limited to one easy and one hard route per auto belay but with three belays you can get a solid pump with plenty of variability. That way, you can get some vertical gravity resistance on a taller wall than bouldering with more resistance than horizontal traversing for practice.
As for down sides, there are none. These devices are safe as long as you remember to clip in. They are also usually available since most people show up with partners. So if you don’t like them too friggin’ bad you nerd.