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Auto-belays are great, but…
I’ve been a big fan of auto-belays since 2007, when I moved back to Boulder, Colorado, and first began to use them at the Boulder Rock Club. I was working 70- to 90-hour weeks then and slowly getting back to climbing after a long layoff, so the freedom to climb as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, was both amazing and therapeutic. Usually, I’d throw two-hour sessions midday, whipping myself into a sweaty frenzy before heading back into work, where the rest of the day would go much more smoothly once I’d gotten my climb on (sound familiar?). Sometimes I was so overstoker I’d do five or six laps on the same thin-face route in a row, straining my forearms and forcing three or four days of rest. It was just so easy to pop the headphones in and climb and climb and climb!
But there was and is a downside to auto-belay ARC’ing: Even when your gym has a good number of auto-belays, eventually you’ve done the routes so many times that you have them completely dialed. And so they start to lose training value, or you just get straight-up bored of climbing them, or they they get so slick with traffic that they aren’t fun to climb anymore.
This light-up prototype wall may just redefine indoor climbing
App-interfacing LED training boards have become mainstays in rock gyms and at climbers’ homes, but so far they have all been bouldering boards—focused on typically steep, difficult problems that help you build power, finger strength, and/or power-endurance. However, as you can see in the Magnus Midtbø video below, with him and Pete Whittaker, there is now a prototype of an app-driven LED wall that is route height and requires an auto-belay to climb.
The wall so far has climbs from 5a (5.7) to 8b+ (5.14a), all set by a World Cup setter. As the guys learn while playing around on the wall, its vertical/mildly steep angle means the routes, in the higher grades, are slopey and highly technical—as with the 8a (5.13b) Beautiful Days that they try in the video. I, for one, would love to see one of these walls in my local gym someday. I imagine it would be hugely popular, probably so popular the gym would need multiple such walls—or maybe someone could open a gym that is just app-driven auto-belay walls entirely so you could customize your session and not have to share!
Stick through the second half of the video too, when Midtbø and Whittaker hop on an adjustable Kilter Board and try the same problem at ever-increasing angles as it morphs from a casual stroll at 15 degrees to white-knuckle slugfest at 59 degrees—a cool way to build muscle memory as you ramp up the challenge.