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December 11, 2012

The Future of Fixed Anchors

Currently, there is no recognized consensus among the American climbing community concerning best practices for placing and replacing bolts. Thus, land managers often make arbitrary decisions concerning bolts that significantly affect climbing access at new and renowned climbing areas across the country. For decades, climbing pioneers developed routes largely in a vacuum under the radar without restriction using a variety of bolting methods and technologies adapted from the construction industry.

Bolting has generated controversy since sport climbing began in the U.S. Initially, the “bolt wars” consisted primarily of in-fighting between climbers over style and requisite level of risk. Today, land managers are more aware of climbing activities and increasingly use their legal authority to regulate how climbing areas are used, developed, and maintained. However, most land managers are not climbers and lack the personal experience with climbing or route development to make knowledgeable decisions regarding climbing management, especially best bolting practices.

Since the late 1980’s, bolting bans, restrictions, and fines have been on the rise. Formal climbing management plans and associated bolting standards are fast becoming the norm. Clearly, developing a sport route has impacts which are only magnified if the route becomes popular. Given the fact that sport climbing is here to stay and is only increasing in popularity, the regulation of bolting hardware and techniques is a central policy issue confronting land managers and climbers alike. The Access Fund’s recent Future of Fixed Anchors Conference called on some of the most prolific and knowledgeable first ascentionists and re-bolters to start discussing best practices. The goal of the conference was to discuss how best to maximize safety and sustainability while minimizing the environmental impact of bolts.

FFA Image
Over the weekend of November 16-18, approximately 80 route developers, advocates, and industry representatives met in Vegas to discuss bolting best practices. Saturday was filled with presentations and panel discussions covering a range of topics including: european bolting standards; federal policies relating to fixed anchors; how to organize and fund re-bolting initiatives; metallurgy 101; and hardware specifications, and bolt placement/removal techniques. Sunday was the demo day where attendees got the chance to view and share different methods of placing and removing bolts. Although this was just the beginning of the conversation, a few important lessons were gleaned from the Conference.

  1. The “Golden Era” of bolting totally under the radar is at an end.
  2. Mixing metals (i.e. stainless with non-stainless or aluminum) causes galvanic corrosion and should be avoided.
  3. Stainless steel lasts longer and is generally preferable in all but the most arid climates. The downside to stainless is the cost and possibility of over-torqueing which can compromise strength. The Europeans have accepted stainless steel as the standard whereas the US does not yet have such a consensus.
  4. In solid rock, modern properly-placed 3/8” mechanical bolts are typically sufficient. In medium density rock, modern properly-placed 1/2" mechanical bolts are typically sufficient. In soft rock, glue-ins are typically the best option, but longer mechanical bolts can be effective.
  5. Maintaining bolts is an expensive, thankless job that requires organization, funding and knowledgeable volunteers.
  6. Developing positive relationships with land mangers is the single most important way to protect climbing access.

The Future of Fixed Anchors Conference was a huge success, but more work still needs to be done. The group’s consensus was that another conference is needed to further the discussion and the Access Fund is already planning the next one. We are building a stand-alone website that will be crowd-sourced by climbers and industry representatives to share bolting information and instructional videos. The Access Fund would like to thank the Conference’s sponsors (Liberty Mountain, Petzl, Black Diamond, ClimbTech, and New Belgium Brewery) and attendees who at their own expense traveled from across the country to participate in this important effort.

Stay tuned for more information and contact R.D. Pascoe at rd@accessfund.org with questions.

FFA

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