“We call it Catch-and-Hold Belay. It’s the world’s first auto belay that can ‘take,’ or catch-and-hold a climber,” says Jenna Ovett, Head Rush Technologies Director of Marketing. “It’s a more authentic climbing experience and helps climbers of all abilities reach the top by allowing for periodic rests.”
An auto belay that doesn’t immediately lower its climber to the ground is new, and very exciting, technology in the gym-climbing scene. At Übergrippen Indoor Climbing Crag in Denver (one of Head Rush Technologies’ research and development partners) the team set up one of the first TRUBLUE iQ+ auto belay systems. Immediately they received stares and questions from climbers in the gym. Seeing it in action for the first time is something to behold. A climber called from the training area upstairs “Wait, does this mean you can project routes on an auto belay?” Yes it does.
The original TRUBLUE Auto Belay came out in 2010. TRUBLUE sets themselves apart with their magnetic, non-contact braking, which responds to every climber individually, providing consistent, smooth descents regardless of weight. You’ll find that original TRUBLUE in gyms all over the world, but with the new model, the team at Head Rush decided to look to the future.
They added a rotating internal shaft, and an array of complex gears—the planetary gear train, driven by a sun shaft, rotates through the planets to the ring gear. Like a clock, this mechanism is precise, meaning you can count its movement and convert that number into descent speed.
In addition to this rotating shaft, the team also made the auto belay smaller, lighter, and more durable by incorporating wider webbing and replaceable components that see the most abuse, such as the mount guard and an integral back bumper. Now, more than ever, it can take on the physical abuse that climbing gyms subject auto belays to every day.
Finally they added the ESP32, a feature-rich microcontroller with wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity to the TRUBLUE iQ+ model.
So what can you do with magnetic braking, a planetary gear train, an onboard computer, and an auxiliary braking system? For starters, you can catch a climber mid-fall, hold them, and allow them to keep climbing, just like a human belayer.
Paraclimbing champion and North Face athlete Maureen Beck sums up the benefits for equity in the sport “The TRUBLUE iQ+ is an amazing tool for paraclimbers because athletes with different abilities climb at different speeds. Being able to take breaks on an auto belay is going to be so helpful, especially for blind climbers who are always stopping to hunt for holds. Right now, if they let go, they have to start all over again, and they’re kind of at a loss. But with the TRUBLUE iQ+, they can stop, feel for a hold and continue on their way, which is huge. And to be able to do that without a belayer gives our disabled athletes even more independence to be just a climber.”
Here’s how a climber uses Catch-and-Hold belay:
Step 1: Before climbing, assess your harness. Make sure you’re double-backed and ready to climb. Unlatch the webbing from the belay gate, and lock the carabiner into your belay loop. Pull down on the auto belay webbing, ensuring that the webbing retracts. Don’t climb if the webbing doesn’t retract. Finally, double check that the carabiner gate is locked.
Step 2: Touch the TRUBLUE button near the starting holds to activate Catch-and-Hold belay. You’ll notice a pulsing blue light. This means Catch-and-Hold mode is ready. If not activated, TRUBLUE iQ+ functions as a normal auto belay.
Step 3: Climb on! During your climb, if you fall, Catch-and-Hold will activate. Look down at the on button, and the light will be solid blue while holding you, then begin to flash rapidly when time is running low. Each auto belay can be programmed by the gym to hold the climber for 15, 20, or 30 seconds. Continue climbing any time before the device releases, and the Catch-and-Hold mode will be reset. You can do this — fall, hang and resume climbing — an unlimited number of times so long as the hang time does not exceed the preset time programmed by the gym. If you wish to lower to the ground, simply wait for Catch-and-Hold to release.
Step 4: You made it to the top of the route! Let go of the wall, and Catch-and-Hold will keep you there until the timer runs out—or press the touch-sensitive off button to be lowered down immediately.