Houdenbek Bolts

I pulled a bolt from a route at Houdenbek recently.  No one was hurt.

The bolt in question was the first bolt of ‘Get Some’ (18) – I was leading and saw it was loose so gave it a tug and it just popped out.  So yeah I skipped that one 🙂  it’s actually fine with that bolt missing I think.

Houdenbek Bolt

The bolt that was pulled out. Photo Micky Wiswedel


In general people should exercise caution when climbing on some of the lower wall sections which have sections of very hollow and loose/sandy rock.  Anything could break and does!  We broke off a number of pieces whilst climbing.  It will get better with time but as its a new crag people need to be safe and perhaps climb with a helmet.
After about the 3rd bolt on each route the rock gets much better and more solid.

The above being said, it is a nice crag and good job on the guys who developed it.  It just needs a bit more cleaning.  And some checking some of the lower bolts.  There seem to be a lot of hangers placed sideways for some reason!?

I’m not saying that the area should be avoided for any reason.  The places is wonderful, but could prove scary for some inexperienced climbers thinking all the bolts and rock are solid.

Just to restate that I’m in no way dissing the developers/bolters or the crag.  The crag is great, with tons of potential.  The owners are awesome and I told them about the bolt.  They were very concerned but I said its not a problem people just need to be wary as the crag is still quite new.

Someone should look at the Houdenbek right section to make it safer.  But apart from that good job on the dudes for finding a new crag.  If anyone wants to sell me a nice second hand drill I’ll go do the fixing myself 🙂

Houdenbek Bolt

A section of the lower wall with some dodgy rock. Photo Micky Wiswedel


48 Responses to Houdenbek Bolts

  1. Gavin May 25, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    might be “dodgy” but that rock sure looks awesome to climb on!

  2. Hallam Payne May 26, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    @Micky, Gavin Peckham down in Empangeni is looking to sell his Hilti. If you want details, gmail me using my full name as one word for the address.

    • Russell Warren May 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

      Hi Mickey. I was the original developer of this crag and if you read the original report of Houdenbek I posted (http://www.climbing.co.za/2011/01/new-crag-at-houdenbek-in-the-koue-bokkeveld/) I emphasised the fact that glue-ins should be used for the lower section of this crag. You will find that the routes bolted by me have glue-in threaded bar as apposed to the expansion bolts used for exactly the reasons that are coming to light now. I have no idea who bolted the lines with expansion bolts at the bottom, but they clearly did not read my recommendation and don’t understand how the expansion bolts work. This is a worrying situation. It would need somebody experienced to go and see which bolts need to be pulled and need to be replaced with glue-ins. Regards Russell Warren

      • Russell Warren May 26, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

        I forgot to mention I live in Durban now so I can’t go and sort it out. I suggest anybody going to climb there read the report I submitted in 2011 regarding loose and flaky rock, helmets etc.

  3. mokganjetsi (Willem B) May 26, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

    Agree Warren. I do respect the bolters’ effort as a service to the community, but there is a responsibility regarding safety. If you do not have the right bolts for the rock you should not be bolting.

  4. Robert Breyer May 26, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    Are we ever going to trust those shiny brand-new expansion bolts at Houdenbek again?
    Maybe expansion bolts should just be banned, pure and simple. Saves us having to fix them now, or in a decade when they are corroded.

    • Cormac May 26, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

      Nothing wrong with expansion bolts in the correct environment.

      Uneducated bolters are to blame.

      Those pictures show rock that looks friable, now Russell backs it up that they are!
      I’m certain that if you tapped around the hole that the bolt pulled from you will find it has a dull sound when tapped.
      Having rebolted routes in the double digits now I have become alarmed with how many bolts are placed in marginal rock.

      How can we make them accountable? I wish there were laws, regulations, standards.

    • Andy Davies May 27, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

      Robert we have had glue-in failures due to incorrect placement. Expansion bolts have served us well and have there place.

  5. Scott May 26, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    There are 30+ routes at Houdenbek and I would say about 5 or 6 are in this looser low rock band that is a bit crumbly. If anyone is at all concerned just dont climb that small percentage but they are damn good routes so…….

    I dont think this is a worrying situation.

    • mokganjetsi (Willem B) May 27, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      Agreed that climbers should inspect rock and bolts and decide for themselves if it’s safe. Unfortunately noobs & newbies abound there tend to be implicit trust that the bolters knew what they were doing – which should be the case! I insist: there is a responsibility for the bolter to use the right bolts or not to bolt the route at all.

    • Cormac May 27, 2015 at 8:55 am #

      That would be difficult to manage.
      Best solution is for the original bolter to return and use a glue-in.

      I don’t condone bolting in sub optimal rock but in this case.
      M10 X 120 mm, 316 Stainless steel threaded bar. Pretty inexpensive, can be purchased at http://www.boltfast.co.za/

      Epoxy Glue: Fisher VS 360S


      You might even be able to reuse old hole using this technique:

    • Andy Davies May 27, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

      Scott I cannot agree with your approach. If you are going to bolt a route, do it properly so that our kids can climb them one day. With that friable rock there is a good chance that someone will fall on those bolts. Lets rather bolt less routes, properly.

  6. Richard Halsey May 27, 2015 at 12:13 am #

    Since I can’t resist, when I last updated the trad guide, there were 58 boltless routes.


    So if you are concerned about the bolts, then there is still good reason to visit this rad spot…

  7. Russell Warren May 27, 2015 at 7:51 am #

    I haven’t seen the new routes yet, but Scott is quite correct in saying it certainly doesn’t apply to all the routes. It is normally quite easy to see the soft and flaky rock, but sometimes the soft rock has a hard shell and then one can easily make a mistake with the bolting. I support Cormac’s view that there is absolutely nothing wrong with expansion bolts in the correct rock and environment, The environment at Houdenbek is very suitable to expansion bolts so we don’t need to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • Cormac May 27, 2015 at 8:58 am #

      Every bolter should have glue-in knowledge and have them at their disposal for circumstances like above.

      It’s just not acceptable, else route should not be bolted.

  8. Robert Breyer May 27, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    hmm. this route wasn’t exactly bolted by a newbie. in fact my guess is bolter has placed several hundred bolts. yet this problem still persists….

    • Cormac May 27, 2015 at 9:38 am #

      That means nothing!

      He’s doing it wrong.
      Just because I do something 100 times times, does not mean I’m doing it right.
      It just means I am more efficient at doing the method I originally started with.

  9. Micky May 27, 2015 at 9:40 am #

    Personally i think the main responsibility is always with the climber. Its up to climbers to asses the danger of a climb wether it be trad, sport, soloing or bouldering. How long can you hold a bolter responsible if you do? 20 years after the bolt placement? Another route is the mixed routes at Depakhuys. Before the new sport guide it was hard to find info on those routes. People were thinking they were the standard Western Cape sport route and freaking out when they found huge run outs and no top anchors. Do we blame the dudes who opened the routes or should the climbers have assessed the route before jumping on?

    That being said i’m happy to head out there and put in some glue-ins if someone wants to show me how to place them and lend me a drill 🙂

    • mokganjetsi (Willem B) May 27, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      I think there is a big difference between natural degeneration of materials / rock and sub-standard bolting practice. The community should not tolerate the latter. There certainly is grey areas, but when something is clearly done in a manner that endangers others (e.g. sub-standard bolts; holes too big; wrong type of bolts) it is the bolter’s responsibility to go fix it or at least put up a clear warning.

      I still think this incident in Australia would have seen the bolters indictable for something like reckless endangerment if the deceased’s family wanted to take it to court:

    • Cormac May 27, 2015 at 10:35 am #

      But this route was bolted recently!
      You are most welcome to use one of the ARF drills, I can give you a tutorial on gluing too, maybe we film it?


  10. henkg May 27, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    Wake up call for sure. How does a non-bolter evaluate a route and the bolts from below? Especially when visiting an area for the first time?

  11. Micky May 27, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

    Well for one you can judge for yourself the rock quality, distance between bolts, age of bolts ie, rust etc. This one was easy to spot it was loose while i was clipping it so i gave it a hard pull. However before that I was very wary of the first 3 or so bolts on the routes to the right of the crag as the rock is softer. So we climbed carefully here, wore helmets etc.

    good news is Scott has lent me his drill as he is away for a few months. Cormac is gonna show how to place some glue-ins and i’ll try get out there as soon as to go replace some of the lower anchors 🙂

  12. Andy Davies May 27, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    I can’t help but notice that the offending bolts is one of those breakable locally made ones.

  13. Andy Davies May 27, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

    I pulled a few expansion bolts out at Adult World in Rocklands [and used glue-ins in those specific places] and replaced the one that pulled at Sandriff. Bolting folk must just beware when drilling into sandy rock. If it looks dodge then rather go for a glue-in.

  14. Russell Warren May 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    To the best of my recollection I used glue-ins on all lower sections of the routes I bolted on the right of the crag. Some of the climbs on the left did not need any glue-ins as the rock was bullet proof. There should be no issue with climbing any of my routes other than using common sense regarding the rock possibly flaking. Climb with a helmet and belayer be awake please. If you look at the bolts carefully you should see a difference in the thread sticking out from the nut and you should see some signs of epoxy.

    • Micky May 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

      yeah saw those glue’d ones Warren, i wont replace those

    • Andy Davies May 27, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

      Ja I saw that Russell – good effort. I agree with wearing a helmet there. I really didn’t feel comfortable climbing and belaying on that rock.

  15. Charles May 28, 2015 at 11:10 pm #

    There is no thing as a perfectly safe “bolt” no matter how well it has been done. The problem with all sport routes and also some trad routes is that there is no backup to the 1st, usually 2nd often the 3rd and, sometimes, even the 4th bolts.

    As a matter of principle there should never be less than 2 protection points between you and the deck. The irony is that lower offs always have two points that are rarely subjected to impact and yet there is, to all intents and purposes, never 2 points between you and the deck until the 4th bolt on hard sport routes.

    On very overhanging routes this can continue much higher to include the whole route!

    This is non-sensical to have only one point between you and serious injury or death. On trad climbing you may not always find a piece as back-up but that is in the nature of that style of climbing. But on sport climbing it is illogical.

    • Micky May 29, 2015 at 9:41 am #

      its sport that comes with risk, that being said there are not that many accidents which is surprising if you spend a day at a beginner crag. It speaks to the safety of the sport how many people do not face serious injury, so i dont think we need to find a whole new system for protecting routes and trying to make it perfectly safe. There is a risk factor and each climber has to calculate that risk for him or herself, its part of what make climbing fun.

  16. Robert Breyer May 29, 2015 at 6:22 am #

    this just in:

  17. Jason Hayden May 29, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    Let me understand this correctly..The above mentioned bolt came loos because of it being placed in soft/crumbly rock? So once the bolt (expansion) was tightened it “broke” some of the surrounding rock and came loos? If this is the case how does glue ins work better? My understanding (I have not used glue ins before) is that glue ins need to also be in stable rock, not crumbly soft rock..even more so for the glue to stick, there needs to be NO dust? Isnt there a risk of the glue ins coming loos as well? I am very new to bolting and need to make sure I am well informed..I def dont want ANY of my bolts to come loos!

    • Micky Jun 1, 2015 at 11:10 am #

      An expansion bolt has a small sleeve that expands and bites a section of the rock to become secured in the rock. If the rock is soft it doesnt bite enough. So i was able to pull it out, without breaking the rock. With a glue-in the glue binds in the pores of the rock. So in order to pull a glue in out you would need to pull out a large section of the rock to which the glue is bound. So in the softer rock this would be more secure.

  18. Greg Hart Jun 2, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    My 2c:
    !. That rock (the sandy stuff in the pic) is definitely NOT suitable for expansion bolts. A very long 250mm+ piece of threadbar (SS) would be much more suitable. I think even the raumer bolts are too short to be secure in such soft rock.

    2. The bolt is an old style of anchor that should not be in use anymore – it looks exactly the same as the ones causing all the problems and needing ARFing – why are people still using those bolts????? NOT good or correct practice!

    3, DONT BOLT CHOSS!!!! 😉

    • BAbycoat Jun 4, 2015 at 10:35 am #

      “I think even the raumer bolts are too short to be secure in such soft rock.”

      What about 12mm x 150mm glue-ins (GP6-150-12A4). Can get custom lengths if you really think 250mm necessary … but some crude physics suggests the cone of failure is proportional to the cube of the depth.


  19. michael Jun 3, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    Irresponsible, ignorant bolting. Bolts pulling like this is unacceptable, and people who place bolts like this should be called out by the community. An anchor should not be able to pull – ever. This is a clear case for glue ins to be used, and a knowledgable bolted would have known this. Just looking at this type of rock it’s plain as day.

    This is what is so scary about the practise of placing bolts. Anyone can go and buy a drill, and with no other knowledge, think they are doing everyone a ‘kindness’. There are real lives on the line. It might seem like a game, but when someone gets killed because of ignorant bolting, it will become very real, very fast. The fact that these bolts are the sub standard SA turned stock equally points to irresponsible bolting. I thought we’d set a standard in SA? Why is this still happening? Come on.

  20. Russell Warren Jun 4, 2015 at 7:28 am #

    As mentioned earlier it is not as obvious everywhere at the crag. Some of the soft rock has a hard shell to it.

  21. BAbycoat Jun 4, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    Hard shell just hides the soft rock from the climber, not the bolter. When you’re drilling, you should feel the difference between the shell and the soft rock. If you can’t feel that difference you shouldn’t be drilling.

    • BAbycoat Jun 4, 2015 at 10:40 am #

      PS – “you” as in “one” … not “you” as in a direct criticism of Mr. Warren, whose efforts in opening the crag are much appreciated.

  22. Warren Gans Jun 4, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    Has anyone heard of bolts pulling out in the Eastern Freestate? I know Swinburne and Harrysmith Sandstone has this classic hardened outer shell and chalk inside, but with the traffic and age of those routes they would be a good case study for us.

    I also think that a bolter (or rebolter) should be responsible for more than just the placement of the bolts, but also ensuring loose rock is removed. After The ARF meet at Lego Land I am no longer interested in climbing at that crag, especially around Eddie due principally to the poor rock quality. The route to the right of it is an accident waiting to happen, and I am keen on either having the bolts removed, or removing the dangerous rock there- the bolts are fine.

    • BAbycoat Jun 5, 2015 at 5:11 am #

      Speak to Andrew Pedley about the Tempest Wall – I think that area has softer rock. In general, if it’s chalky inside then any bolter using expansion bolts is being (grossly?) negligent.

      Loose rock is an objective danger which is obvious to all – let climbers assess the risks. But bolters have a unique perspective on soft rock – especially when it’s behind a hard shell. I believe this gives them special obligations to bolt properly.

  23. Russell Warren Jun 4, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    I think most bolters would remove the obvious loose and flaky stuff, but at a crag of this nature there is likely to be loose stuff for years to come. Common sense and a helmet are essential elements when climbing here or anywhere similar to this. I have to state rather ashamedly that I placed an expansion bolt into this soft rock first before I realised that it required glue ins. In retrospect as Babycoat says I should have known when I drilled the hole.

  24. Michael Jun 5, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    These routes should be treated as suspect and not climbed until the bolts are all fall tested to be deemed safe. If one bolt is removed this easily, then potentially they all could be. The bolts should actually all be chopped and replaced with at decent glue in anchors. At this point the land owner should at least be notified of possible negligent bolting with possible liability. This would be the responsible approach. I know the truth hurts, and egos feel bashed, but real humans are trusting these anchors. How would you feel should someone be injured by this?

  25. Russell Warren Jun 5, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    Which routes Michael? Have you been to the crag? The large majority of the climbs don’t need glue-ins and the ones that I bolted that did require glue-ins got glue-ins. I suggest you get out there and go and assess and tell us which ones should be treated as suspect.

  26. Nic Le Maitre Jun 5, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Fall testing? What is that exactly? And are you volunteering?

    The correct method is called pull testing and you need a couple of fairly expensive and specialized items for that.

    The best would be for all the expansions on the lower part of the crag in the suspect rock to be chopped, knocked into the holes and camouflaged using rock dust, then replaced with glue ins.

  27. Michael Jun 5, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    Tested Nic.

  28. Micky Jun 5, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    Ok lets not blow things out of proportion. Its a new crag and needs to be treated with a bit of caution as ALL new crags do. Some points have been raised as to the quality of the rock on the LOWER band of rock on SOME of the routes. I plan on heading out there after my shoot in DC next week to see if I can start getting some glue in replacements on the bolts that look they need.

    Ultimately its like any other sport crag, judge the safety for yourself as you climb, dont trust anything blindly, you’re stupid if you do. Nobody is out there maliciously trying to place bad bolts. That bolt probably would have held a fall as its not being pulled out on a fall. Anyway, it serves a reminder to be safe at the crags, place in glue-ins when the rock is less than ideal and wear a helmet.

  29. Greg Hart Jun 9, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

    I suggested super-long glue ins as matter of safety. The rock engaged by a bolt is a 45degree cone shape emanating outward from the inside end of the bolt. The longer the bolt the bigger the cone.

    Obviously one needs to make a judgement call as to just how soft the underlying rock (forget the hard patina / exterior for a moment) really is:

    If there is some resistance (ie it takes quite a bit shorter to drill but still takes some work to do) then its kinda medium soft and a regular glue in 100mm is probably ok especially if the patina is thick and hard and there a no cracks present (never bolt near cracks – look carefully, they hide)

    If the drill literally falls into the rock with little or no resistance (after breaking through the patina) then the rock is very suspect and one should think very hard about how much you want to bolt that line. Another indicator of very soft rock is a tendency for dust and loose material to keep coming out of the hole even after three or four cycles of brushing and blowing the hole out. Take a small torch with you (pencil torches are ideal) and shine it into the hole so you can see what’s going on inside – if the hole appears rough and irregular it MUST take glue-ins, no matter how hard you think the rock is.

    200mm plus lengths of 316ss thread bar are a cheap and effective way of making a secure placement in such rock – more cost effective than especially ordering extra length bolts. As the venue is inland there are no issues with using the usual mechanical hanger and nut to complete the placement – just make sure the hangers are good quality and the nut is rated A4 (ss) so as to avoid galvanitic corrosion issues. You will also most likely need extension tubes for the glue dispenser mixers to be able to reach the back of such a deep hole.

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