Organizing Bolt Replacement

Categories: Tips

As climbing bolts around the United States begin to age, more and more LCOs are tackling bolt replacement. Learning how to replace a climbing bolt correctly and with the least impact—or supporting others’ efforts to replace bolts—is critical to sustaining crags and maintaining access. Accidents caused by bolt and anchor failures could endanger access, just as replacing bolts without regard for the best practices in a particular area can endanger it. Here are some tips for organizing bolt replacement at your home crag.

Get funds for hardware. The climbing community is stepping up to support bolt replacement. Set up a donation form on your website to raise funds for new hardware. PayPal or other services offer easy platforms for accepting donations. Don’t forget that Access Fund offers funding through our Anchor Replacement Grant Program, as does American Safe Climbing Association.

Manage risk and stay safe. Protect your volunteers and your organization by making sure volunteers have extensive experience placing bolts and anchors, and that everyone signs a waiver. Keep people away from the work area in case someone drops a tool or there's rock fall. Use only the most corrosion-resistant metal, like stainless steel or titanium, and follow manufacturer's guidelines. If you're paying for the replacement work, insurance and worker's comp coverage are highly recommended.

Follow local ethics and policies. Ensure that your work is fully supported by sticking to the land manager's policies and the local climbing ethic. Consult with your LCO, land manager, and/or Access Fund before you begin work. Remember that you can only use a hand drill in Wilderness, even for replacement. A good rule of thumb is like-for-like replacement of fixed anchors. Adding new climbing bolts where none existed before may get you in trouble. On the other hand, a new top-anchor or belay station may be a welcome addition. Bottom line: Always vet your bolting and anchor replacements with the climbing community and local land manager.

Don't put in junk! Use only stainless steel hardware or titanium in the most highly corrosive environments, like coastal areas. Never mix metals, as it accelerates corrosion. Ideally, place a 1/2" bolt for strength and replaceability. Softer rock may require a glue-in bolt. Consult your LCO and Access Fund’s resource site for hardware standards.

Reuse the old hole. Nothing's worse than clipping a new bolt and seeing three old bent studs sticking out nearby. We can't keep placing new bolts next to old ones—it’s ugly and lazy and damages the rock. Sustainable bolting and rebolting is the future, and it’s easier and faster than ever. New methods and technology make it feasible to remove just about any kind of bolt and pop a new, longer-lasting climbing bolt in the same spot. When you can't reuse the hole, cut or hammer it flush to the rock and patch it so future climbers won't even notice.

Keep a record. It's essential to track your work so that climbing anchors can be monitored and future volunteers know what you've done. Make an ongoing record of what routes and anchors have been replaced and when, as well as what kind of bolts were installed. Some LCOs publish these records on their website, alongside a place for local climbers to report a bad climbing bolt. Badbolts.com is also a useful bolt maintenance database worth checking out.