Bouldering techniques - spotting
Although crash pads have made a significant improvement in safety good spotting still remains a vital aspect of bouldering. Essentially spotting is paying attention to the person climbing and anticipating their trajectory should they fall so that when they do so you are able to 'guide' them to a safe landing.
The spotter's task
The spotter's job is to ensure that the climber's first point of contact with the mat or the ground is their feet
A good spotter will reduce the likelihood of injury by ensuring that the falling climber does not land awkwardly. The primary concerns are to protect the climber's head and spine from impact with the ground although other areas of the body are equally prone to injury - which is one of the reasons that crash mats have become so popular. The spotter's job is to ensure that the climber's first point of contact with the mat or the ground is their feet, and that the climber does not then over balance. In part this is achieved through absorbing some of the falling climber's weight to lessen the momentum that often results in people over balancing upon landing.
The nature of a problem influences how a climber should be spotted.
On low, steep problems the best 'spot' is gained by covering the landing area with mats. However higher overhangs may require a spotter to alter a climber's fall so that their feet touch the ground before the body. This is best achieved by the spotter 'catching' the climber just below the armpits. Falls from roofs are often the most awkward as commonly the hands lose contact first and the natural fall is then head first. In such cases the spotter must 'catch' the climber above his (or her) centre of gravity. To do this, stand slightly behind the climber rather than directly under them. Don't stand too close but allow sufficient clearance in case the climber cuts loose from the footholds, as any contact with the spotter invalidates the ascent.
Lower angle problems tend to result in 'sliding falls' and these bring different hazards. Such falls may require the spotter to direct the falling climber away from ledges or other features that would otherwise over balance the climber during their fall. It is the spotter's duty to ensure that the boulderer remains upright - outstretched limbs (particularly arms, wrists and hands) are very prone to injuries on impact with the ground. Catch the climber about the hips or slightly higher, and guide them to the ground. Avoid catching the climber too low or pushing them into the rock, and be aware of flailing arms or legs.
Use more than one spotter if this is likely. It means swinging round like an opening door, which usually makes you fall off at the end of the swing.
Barndooring is likely here
Team spotting is normally employed on highball problems or where trajectories must be altered. Highball problems are dealt with elsewhere but it is suffice to say that the climber should accept that there is a height ceiling beyond which spotting becomes virtually impossible in the conventional sense.
Team spotting is often used in situations where the natural trajectory must be altered to avoid hazards and so two or more spotters are employed to 'balance' the landing boulderer.
Team spotting brings with it combined responsibility, each spotter must remain vigilant and be aware of their role within the team especially as team spots are usually only called for in the most threatening situations. Although rare, an extension of this technique is having a spotter for the spotter. This method is normally employed where the impact of a falling climber may knock the initial spotter towards a potential hazard such as a drop or jumble of boulders, so the first spotter is 'fielded' by a second.
- Think about the likely fall trajectories and stand in the appropriate place
- You may need to move mid-problem, so pay attention.
- Watch the climber's back - this is where you'll catch them and it also gives a better indication that they're about to fall - rather than watching their feet or fingers.
- Concentrate and stay alert when spotting.
- Always be ready to 'catch' the falling climber.
- Do not assume that someone will automatically spot you and ask before spotting someone else, as they may prefer not to have anyone watching them.
- The spotter's job is only completed when the climber is safely back on the ground.
- Topping out is frequently more difficult than it appears from the ground and such falls are often the most awkward, especially from mantle shelves or high rockovers.
- Good spotting reduces the risks attached with bouldering falls, but it does not remove them. However, having confidence in your spotters will give the climber the confidence to fully commit to problems and help them to achieve their personal goals.