Make routes safer without picking up a drill

by Jason Haas

Donate money and report bad bolts
Tighten spinners and replace non-bolt anchors

Donate money and report bad bolts

Climbers without the time or expertise to replace bolts themselves can still support the effort to make routes safer by donating money and reporting bad bolts.

Adequate funds can ensure that routes are re-equipped with the best possible hardware and remove the temptation for people to use sub-standard equipment to save money.

If your local climbing organization (LCO) replaces bolts, consider giving money to them. For example, the New River Alliance of Climbers in West Virginia and the Boulder Climbing Community in Colorado both have programs specifically for bolt replacement. See if there is an LCO in your area and get in touch with them.

If your LCO doesn’t do bolt replacement directly, or there isn’t an LCO to begin with, consider donating to a national program, such as the American Safe Climbing Association. The ASCA provides free hardware to skilled bolters throughout the country to replace bolts at their local crags. They have a wealth of information on re-bolting as well and often have the contact information for the re-bolters in your area.

In addition to donating money, consider reporting bad bolts to someone who can do something about it. Send an email to your local re-bolter, contact your LCO, or contribute to a national database such as www.badbolts.com. However, do not simply post a comment under the route on a site like mountainproject.com as re-bolters do not have an easy way to filter for those comments and it would be difficult to stay current related to bolt quality in a particular area.

Tighten spinners and replace non-bolt anchors

A small, adjustable crescent wrench weighs next to nothing and is worth keeping in your pack. When climbers come across a spinner, they typically hand tighten the bolt back down, which doesn’t provide enough torque to keep it tight for long. A better method is to make it snug with the crescent wrench. Tighten bolts a little beyond “hand tight,” being careful not to over-tighten them.

Along with a wrench, it’s also worth carrying a couple of stainless steel quick links and/or rings to replace worn anchors. Because the edge of most hangers is too sharp for a rope to pass directly over, some sort of chain or quick link set up is often added to the anchor bolts to protect the rope. While extra chains are sometimes needed to make the anchor easier to clip or so that the rope will clear a lip, it’s better to use a single quick link paired with a 11mm rappel ring.

This kind of anchor setup has a couple of advantages. It’s lower profile than using a long chain because it requires less material, which also means it’s typically cheaper. Second, the end of the chain is stationary, while the rap ring is free to spin, which allows the wear on the metal from pulling ropes to be spread throughout the ring instead of being concentrated in the bottom of the chain link.

Using a quick link/ring combo also has an advantage over a single or double ring welded through the hanger because it allows for the rappel ring to be replaced without replacing the hanger. This is both cheaper and less intimidating for many climbers.

To replace old chain or quick links, use the adjustable crescent wrench to untwist the link. Typically you can’t do this by hand because developers tend to tighten them with a wrench to keep people from taking them, as well as they tend to be more difficult to unscrew as they age and rust.

Most of the older chain and quick links out there are plated steel. The surface corrosion of a plated steel link or chain on a stainless steel hanger is minimal, but it can still confuse climbers about how old or safe the anchor is. While the stainless anchor may have been updated rather recently and be perfectly safe, the plated chain may age and corrode at a quick enough pace that another climber may think they need to replace the whole anchor setup rather than just the chain.

Stainless steel quick links, preferably 3/8-inch in diameter and paired with a stainless steel 11 millimeter welded ring, are preferable.

Replacing webbing anchors—often slung around trees, chockstones or fixed gear to make rappel stations—is another way to improve the safety of climbs without a drill. When climbing routes with webbing anchors, on the ascent or descent, carry a knife and some extra webbing. Cut old webbing and replace it with a single new piece rather than simply adding to a nest of tat.


Also, be wary of any webbing tied directly to bolts, especially in an American Death Triangle configuration, which is extremely dangerous, and shown in the AMGA video linked above.

Visual impact of webbing anchors can be an access concern for land managers, so it’s good to use rock or muted-colored webbing, such as black, brown or olive green. Avoid bright, vibrant-colored webbing unless it’s out of sight of nearby hikers. Also, if the webbing was on a pair of anchor bolts, consider using the quick link and ring combo mentioned above as it has greater strength, smaller visual impact, and will need replacing much less frequently.