As climbers, we largely breathed a sigh of relief after clipping a bolt on a route. Bolts mean safety, we tell ourselves. Bolts let us screw up our courage and keep pushing higher. Bolts let us travel up lines that we otherwise can’t protect and let us take falls we otherwise wouldn’t hazard.
But bolts can—and do—fail. The examples of bolt catastrophes are mercifully rare, but they happen: rusty bolts break, corroded hangers crack, bolts installed in incorrectly sized holes pull out and over-tightened bolts snap. As the huge number of bolts placed during ‘80s and ‘90s when sport climbing exploded onto the scene begin to reach their 20th or 30th birthdays, the stories of failure are sure to increase.
Learning how to replace a bolt correctly and with the least impact—or supporting others’ efforts to replace bolts—is also critical to sustaining crags and to maintaining access. Accidents caused by bolt failures could endanger access, just as replacing bolts without regard for the best practices in a particular area can endanger it.
Access Fund's policy position regarding the placement, maintenance, and management of fixed anchors for technical climbing. This policy was developed in partnership with the American Alpine Club.
Learning how to evaluate bolts instead of blindly trusting them is a critical skill for any climber, and it could save your life. This content includes: the state of bolts in America, how to determine if you can trust a bolt, and identifying bad hangers.
Climbers without the time or expertise to replace bolts themselves can still support the effort to make routes safer by donating money, reporting bad bolts, and tightening spinners and replacing non-bolt anchors.
Learn how to re-use holes and remove wedge bolts, sleeve bolts, buttonhead and star drive bolts, and other misc bolts.