Rock Climbing: Bolting
Do any of the experienced climbers have anything that they would like to add or change?
Installation of fixed anchors implies a strong responsibility; which you should only take if you have suitable experience. The information given here is not to be taken as the be all and end all of bolting facts. This is advice only and the authors and sources are not responsible for inaccuracies, mistakes or accidents caused by using this information. Never assume that the person(s) selling the product (or other climbers) are giving the right advice. Read the product manuals and contact the manufacturer if there are any doubts.
Climbing and bolting is dangerous; there are systems in place to reduce the risks of the associated dangers when climbing and bolting. It is up to you to decide which system is the best to use. As always you climb and bolt AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Before placing bolts in a cliff you should first practice at home or on ground level. Find a piece of stone, a boulder or use your garages cement foundation as a test block. Practice drilling, notching, placing and removing an example of the different types of anchors before deciding on a system that you will use.
Remember – do not trust the guys in the bolt shops to tell you the right information, especially the guys from Speedex, ACE or the other constructions shops selling Chinese made anchors. They have no idea about dynamic loads related to climbing and will recommend equipment that is not suitable.
This guide will steer you towards brands that people have been using successfully for years in around the world. (Hilti, SMC, Petzl..) – it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to read the technical manuals for the product and follow the instructions exactly. Contact Brian Coones at email@example.com or +971 55 7708629 if you need more information about bolting in the UAE or Oman.
ROUTE BOLTING ETHICS
Lead by example
Make sure to clean up after yourself (make others clean the climbing areas as well). Let’s keep our climbing areas clean.
Follow safe climbing and bolting techniques, practices and procedures.
Before you drill, do a lot of climbing in the area; think hard about whether your potential line will enhance or detract. Don’t bolt something now that you might be embarrassed about later. Decide whether the route follows an aesthetic line. A route should flow together into an obvious set of moves.
If you are establishing a new area ask yourself: How many routes can I put here? Will there be grades for all skill levels? What is the approach like? What direction does the cliff(s) face?
If you have been climbing outside for less than four years, or if you have climbed in fewer than five different areas, you should think about getting some broader experience or at least good mentorship with experienced climbers/bolters, before drilling and bolting new routes.
Routes that contain natural protection (Trad) are usually left as such. Bolted cracks are extremely rare and are very much frowned upon in most areas of the world. If you can place gear than leave the climb in its natural state please do so. You may not be able to climb the line placing gear but other future climbers certainly will. Leave trad challenges for the future.
Consult the local guide book to ensure that new lines will not intersect existing ones or that you are not bolting an existing trad line. Many guidebooks are out dated (especially the UAE Guidebook), try to look for updates online. Make sure new lines are a few meters apart. If they are too close they can interfere with each other.
Do not bolt unless you want crowds to someday arrive. Remember, bolts bring guidebooks which bring crowds who will stomp the place to death and turn it into such a hellhole that you will never want to go back to. If the area is a tranquil backwater than try and leave some of its original charm intact by limiting the effects of bolting.
Climbing is for everyone. If you want to keep a climbing area secret while you are bolting it for safety or until you finish a project it is understandable. If you are bolting a secret crag to only be kept for yourself and your close friends then you need to rethink your ethics and set the ego aside. Climbing is for everyone.
Unfinished routes and projects should be marked with red tape or ribbon on the first bolt to indicate that the line is not yet open by the person working on it. Add your contact info on the tape so those looking for information can contact you. If you come across routes marked red be respectful and stay off of them until they are finished.
- Keep in mind that climbing gear is designed for climbing, not for window washing or rap-bolting and rap-scrubbing. Fatalities have been caused by a rhythmic brushing motion abrading ropes (pad the edge!). Wear a helmet; especially if you are below – rocks fly right and left on virgin routes.
- Abseil down route and remove ANY loose rock, sand dirt.. with hammer, crowbar and brush approximately 1 meter to the left and right of the proposed line. This takes time and is very important. Some routes may need a few good cleanings.
- Bring a rack of natural gear (cams, nuts, hooks…) to keep yourself close to the wall. If the route is overhung use natural placements, including skyhooks, to ‘aid’ down the route. You also might want to buy some removable bolts. If local ethics allow reinforce loose important holds with glue. An adjustable daisy chain with a hook on it is a very useful tool.
- If possible, top-rope the route to find good clipping stances and holds. Routes are almost always bolted better if you climb it first.
- Mark approximate location of bolts with an arc of colored chalk making sure the clip is possible for vertically challenge (short) people.
- The first ten meters is the most dangerous area. If the first bolt is 3m up, and the second is 4.5m up, most people will deck out if they fall clipping the second bolt. Solution? Put the first few bolts closer together. Or put the first bolt a bit higher and people will either climb up to it a bit more cautiously (people rarely fall off death routes) or use a stick clip.
- Decide whether the route requires a lower off; most routes in the UAE DO! If the end has a loose or vegetated top-out, a bad walk down or the climb is very steep then a lower-off is recommended. If the crag already has routes with lower-offs then it is a good idea to continue the trend. Make sure the lower-of is replaceable (chains, removable rings, mallions…)when parts begin to wear.
- Choose bolt type depending on route angle, difficulty and rock type.
- Work downwards using a Gri-Gri, STOP, RIG, ID etc. and two daisy chains (adjustable daisies are the best) for holding your body in when using sky-hooks and natural gear. A person holding the end of rope on the ground can be very useful to swing the bolter into the rock on overhangs. Learning to aid is handy when bolting steep routes.
- You can also work up using ascending gear Croll, Jumar Handle etc.
- When access from above is not possible bolting is possible ground up on lead or aid climbing. Bolting on lead has increased risk will climbing with heavy gear on uncleaned routes. If you take a lead fall while bolting ground up your equipment may swing in to you causing injury or you maybe impaled with a drill bit.
- If possible work on two static ropes one working line and a second line with a shunt or ropeman for safety.
- Tap rock with hammer to find solid rock for bolt placement. Do not bolt hollow sounding rock. Place the bolt a minimum of 6in (15cm) from any fault line (i.e. crack in rock or edge).
- Before drilling a hole place the hanger against the rock to test if proposed placement of the hanger is flush against rock surface. If it is not use the hammer to flatten the surface, the hanger should even, flush and have as much conact as possible
- Before drilling a hole, hold a quickdraw against the rock to test if proposed bolt placement will force carabiner over sharp edge or open the gate of the carabiner.
- Use tape on the drill bit to indicate the depth required for the bolt. If placing expansion bolts, be sure to drill deeper than bolt required so that the bolts can be easily hammered in or recessed and patched down the track when your classic is rebolted with chemical anchors.
- Start drilling slowly paying attention to create a straight hole which is perpendicular to the rock surface. Take care not to fracture the edges around the hole (drill slowly to start).
- Once hole is running straight increase drill speed to maximum. Drill in a little then pull out to clean out the hole. The excessive dust in the hole can cause added friction and abrasiveness making the hole lager especially in soft rock.
- For ringbolts you must drill a notch to recess the ring. Drill a 20mm deep hole below and parallel with the first hole. Now drill vertically up and down to remove the rock between the two holes. Test the bolt in the notch to make sure it fits properly.
- Blow out the dust with a long tube, bike pump or specific blower (these are best). Use a plastic hole brush (test tube brush) to scrub out the excess dust. Keep blowing and brushing until the hole is spotless especially with chemical anchors. Yes, this takes time!
- Clean up any dust that has spread over the cliff during drilling. These big white stains can be visible for miles and will not wash away under roofs.
- Most expansion bolts require hammering in. Be careful aligning the bolt with the hole. If you end up smashing the bolt hard with full blows of the hammer then something is wrong. If possible extract the bolt and re-drill the hole before it becomes mangled. Or drill a new hole and start over.
- You should fix mistakes (empty holes) with epoxy putty such as Selly’s Knead-It which applies like Blu-Tac and hardens like rock. Camoflague it with appropriately coloured dirt or sand. Similar products can be found in any hardware store. Buy some and be prepared.
- If possible use a torque wrench to work out the correct amount of tightening (see manual for torque setings). If you can’t bring the torque wrench to the crag then practice at home on similar rock to find out what sort of pressure to use. If you tighten too hard you can break the head off the bolt – or more dangerously tighten to a point just before failure. 12mm Ramset Dynabolts require twice as much torque as the 10mm variety so make sure you read the exact brand specifications.
- If the hole is too short and the bolt does not sit flush then remove it and re-drill. An easy way to remove sleeve bolts is using needle-nose pliers which can grip the sleeve and extract it after the bolt is removed. To remove the loose cone at the base of the hole screw the bolt in without the sleeve and pull it out.
- Test the bolt by clipping it into a chain of quickdraws or sling and pulling and jumping up and down on it. TEST YOUR WORK! Flick the weight side to side to see if the hanger will slip. On routes with a potential left to right fall the bolt will eventually unscrew itself. It will be plainly obvious when this begins to start occurring. Consider a glue-in ringbolt or U-bolt in this case.
Glue-in capsules (only applicable to machine style bolts or threaded rod)
- Check to make sure the bolt you are going to place sits flush with the back of the hole before gluing. If the bolt will have no fixed hanger then make sure a removable bolt hanger can be placed easily over the head.
- Place capsule in hole. If the route is overhung than use a little blue-tac on the end of the capsule to keep it in place. Hilti HVU Capsules will hold themselves in without assistance.
- Place bolt into hex head socket on end of drill. Make sure drill is in ‘hammer’ mode and drill the bolt slowly through the capsule – breaking it up and mixing it around the shaft.
- Wipe away any excess glue with a cotton rag.
- Leave the bolt for the prescribed curing period (usually overnight to be safe). PUT A NOTICE ON THE FIRST BOLT in high traffic areas.
- Test the bolt before use by loading shear (down) and tension (out) with a quickdraw chain or daisy chain whilst on toprope. Test to see if a hanger will fit over the bolt head.
Glue-in caulking gun (Receommended – suitable for all glue-in bolt types)
- Often the glue-in bolts you have purchased will have machine oil on them from the manufacturing process. They need to be clean for the glue to bond to them, so wash them in hot water and detergent before going bolting.
- No matter how you do it this will be a messy business. Wear old clothes, use old ropes and bring a ‘spoodge’ bag to deposit excess glue and nozzles.
- Clear gear from underneath the climb so falling glue does not stick together your climbing rack!
- Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the glue. A face mask is recommended for extended periods of gluing.
- You should choose the best glue you can. Epoxy based glues are twice as strong as polyester based glues and are therefore recommended. Epoxy also lasts longer. Polyester glues have been found to degrade over time turning to powder and eventually allowing the bolt to be pulled out by hand. This has happened in the Blue Mountains, Queensland, and in Thailand. A very good glue we can recommend is Hilti RE-500. The most extreme and corrosive environment in the world for bolts is Thailand, and this is the glue that has been tested and approved here.
- Clean all the holes before starting to glue. This is where some people screw up. The holes for glue-ins must be absolutely spotless. It will take about two minutes to clean each hole. Remember, if there is any dust in the hole, the glue will not bond to the rock in that spot. Do it right!
- The glue in the nozzle will dry quickly and you will only have a few minutes between uses (with polyester glue, significantly longer with epoxy) before it will be too hard to use.
- Squeeze two trigger fulls of glue into a ziplock bag before starting. The bag can be checked later to see if the glue cured properly. Check visually that two separate colours of glue (components) are going into the nozzle.
- Work out beforehand how many trigger pulls of glue is required for each bolt (usually 1-2). Apply this amount to hole starting at deepest point and slowly pulling out to fill hole with minimal air pockets.
- Wipe excess glue off the end of the nozzle and smear the entire shaft of the bolt with this glue. This will help the glue in the hole bond with the bolt shaft.
- Insert the bolt slowly with a spinning motion. A few turns should remove any air pockets that have built up. Push hard against the back of the hole. Enough glue should flow out from around the bolt that you will need to clean it up with a cotton rag. Make sure the notch on the ringbolt hole is completely filled. Wipe away all ugly excess glue and smooth down the glue around the hole for a nice finish.
- When placing a ringbolt under roof you will need to hold the ring in position whilst drying. Wedge a little piece of stick into the entrance of the hole between the bolt and rock. This should keep the bolt from creeping from the hole. A U-bolt is much better as its two legs generally press against the sides of their holes and will keep it in place while the glue dries.
- Leave the bolt for the prescribed curing period (usually overnight to be safe). PUT A NOTICE ON THE FIRST BOLT in high traffic areas.
- Test the bolt before use by loading shear (down) and tension (out) with a quickdraw chain or daisy chain whilst on toprope. Jab the glue around the hole to ensure it’s rock solid.
Rap Anchors and Top ChainsRap anchors should be absolutely bomber, unobtrusive and user friendly. Equalise the two or more bolts so that no single anchor is taking all the force. Position anchors in an easy to reach location so climbers don’t have to do anything dangerous and un-roped to reach them. In sensitive wilderness areas try and use one rap point for multiple routes.
Lower-off and belay anchors need to be replaceable. Repetitive use as top-rope anchors and abseil stations wears out the metal of the anchor and eventually it needs replacement. When installing rap anchors in high use areas it is advised to use stainless steel mallions or shackles on the rings or U’s so they can be unscrewed and replaced in the future. Locktight the mallions closed so thieves cannot steal them easily. Wire the mallion onto the anchor so it cannot spin upside down and be unscrewed with rope pulling.
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