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Bolt Failure at The Steeple

For quite a while I've been worrying about the bolts on Gospel Express and Quassimodo at The Steeple.
degraded climbing bolt

For quite a while I’ve been worrying about the bolts on Gospel Express and Quassimodo at The Steeple.  These routes were some of the first to be put up by the likes of Roger Nattrass and Ed Feb way back in 1996.  They are certainly the most popular lines at the crag.

Last year around this time it was mentioned on the forum that the top chains of Gospel Express and Quassimodo were wearing a bit thin.  I went and added a maillon to each top anchor so that the wear would stop on the one chain which was great until someone stole the maillons.  Roger Nattrass saw this and kindly dropped off a new set of top anchor for the route.  Thank you Roger!

Then in August I went and removed the bottom hanger from Gospel Express took a picture and posted it in the forum.  As you can see below it doesn’t look very pretty!

Bottom bolt of Gospel Express showing a fair amount of corrosion

A couple of weeks later I opened ‘Elbow Grease‘ and by chance met Geoffrey who said he would be willing to sponsor new bolts and hangers for Gospel Express.

As an experiment to see how long the bolts on these two routes would last I was keen to keep the existing top anchors in place and back them up with fresh bolts.  A forum discussion (see link above) ensued and the poor state of the bolts were questioned.   Not wanting to replace / drill holes for no good reason I went to have another look at the bolts yesterday afternoon.

I climbed to the second bolt on Gospel Express, clipped the second bolt, hung on it and proceeded to remove the bolt again this time brushing the rusty dust and corrosion away with a steel brush and then a small nylon brush.  The bolt stud now looked even worse and I was happy to have my Sky Hook for backup!

I then started to loosen the bottom bolt of Quassimodo and almost immediately something felt strange, as if I was turning the spanner in a direction that it shouldn’t be going.  Another twist with my fingers and the bolt gently dropped out!

Bottom bolt of Quassimodo which broke yesterday.  The nut is fused to the bolt stud
Bottom bolt of Quassimodo – note how the bolt has corroded from the outside going inward
The other half of the bolt still in the hole

Now here is where I get a bit investigative on the situation (or Mr Lab Rat as Andy calls it)
Please bear in mind I am no engineer and that my facts may in fact not be facts 🙂

Gospel Express Quassimodo
  • Bolt type:  Mild/Carbon Steel
  • Hanger type: Lucky – unsure of metal
  • Washer – No
  • Rock steepness – slab (less than 90′) – water can easily settle in the hole
  • Bolt type:  Mild/Carbon Steel
  • Hanger type: Vektor – Stainless Steel
  • Washer – Yes
  • Rock steepness – slab (less than 90′) – water can easily settle in the hole


  • When I loosened the nut on Gospel Express, it gave a small amount of resistance but the nut turned and I was able to remove the nut.
  • When I attempted to loosen the nut on Quassimodo it didn’t budge and the bolt broke.  I did not muscle the bolt off!! That is to say that very little strength was used to snap the bolt off and it happened almost immediately.
  • Afterwards I went back to Gospel Express and overtightened the bottom nut.  Nothing happened.

After the break I spoke to Roger and asked him about the two routes.   He confirmed that both routes were bolted with mild (Carbon) steel bolts and that Gospel Express was bolted a few of months before Quassimodo.

So, same bolts different hangers and the one route had washers on the bolts.  But the one with the washer broke.  Why??

A theory I have which has been discussed by many is that a washer creates a chemical reaction between the three metals increasing the speed of corrosion.  And that to avoid this chemical reaction a rubber washer should be placed between (on) the bolt stud and hanger.
Anyone out there who can professionally confirm this theory??

One theory from a Metolgist who is a rock climber is that Carbon bolts are better than Stainless Steel bolts because at least you can see when they are coming to the end of their lives… with Stainless Steel ones, you only know they’re bad once they’ve broken!
Anyone out there who can professionally confirm this theory??

 A technical study of the bolt was performed by a couple of engineers – Click here to read Quasimodo Bolt Corrosion Investigation

The Good News:

I am happy to report that before I posted Mokganjetsi (Willem Boshoff) offered to pay for new bolts.
Geoffrey O’Connell is paying for new bolts and hangers on Gospel Express.
Big up to these guys!

Climb ZA is providing the drill and drill bits.

We (Myself and Geoffrey) are planning to rebolt this two routes on Friday/Saturday.  ARF are loaning us their grinder to remove the bolts.
Where ever possible we will drill deep enough into the rock so that the bolts can one day be knocked all the way in and hidden away (keep the place pristine 😉

If anyone is keen to pitch in for new top anchors (see below) please contact me – they would make the turn around times on these routes much quicker / convenient !

Stylin quick top anchors!!

And the moral of the story… there is always one!

Never trust a single bolt!!!!

Justin holding the broken bolt (ripped it off with his bare hands) – Check out my Sky Hook for backup!






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10 years ago

Hey Justin,
Because everyone is going to be thinking what does this guy know about “rusting” when they read this, here is my back ground. I am a structural and façade engineer who deals with corrosion prevention on a daily basis. But in truth you don’t want an engineer opinion on these sorts of issues you want a material scientist.

As for your theory about washers affecting the rate of corrosion you are right. But it is very unlikely that that is what happened here. The information you have given on the metals does not stack up in favour of the argument and from the photos the deposition and corrosion areas don’t match where the anode and cathode would be. If you would like to read about dissimilar metal corrosion and how it is dealt with, find a copy of the British standard BS PD 6484. But in all honesty it would be a waste of time for a route bolter to read this very boring standard.

My opinion of what has failed this bolt is stress accelerated corrosion of the anchor. The routes were bolted on 1996. This means that the anchors are mostly turned not forged, so internal stresses and surface defects are common and thus more susceptible to corrosion (please don’t get the idea that turned anchor are bad, they are not). This anchor has failed in the shank were the tensile stress is at its greatest. If you look at the photo called “Bottom bolt of Quassimodo – note how the bolt has corroded from the outside going inward” you can see that the centroid of the touched shear lines are not at the center of the anchor. This meant that at the time of failure one side of the anchor was weaker that the other. You can also see some greening on the shear face this is a sign of the constituent metals of the anchor oxidizing. Which mean the corrosion was penetrating into the shack of the anchor. There are many different form of corrosion at work where but as I said, my opinion is that it is the stress accelerated corrosion that has failed the anchor in the end. If this is true then the anchor has in effect reacted with itself and the idea that the “bolt has corroded from the outside going inward” is not correct.

For an uncoated mild steal blot to survive in this environment for 15 years is not bad. This failure is a very poor example of how over tightening a nut is a bad thing and increases the risk and rate of corrosion. DON”T OVER TIGHTEN THE NUTS.

The idea of a rubber waster is not a good one. The purpose of the washer is firstly to allow for easier removal of the nut after tightening but the reason it is important in climbing anchors is to protect the hanger from being damaged by the nut. Hangers rarely fail and when they do it tends to be due to fatigue. Fatigue failures start at a points of discontinuity or a stress concentrations like where the edges of a nut eats into a hanger when there is no washer. This is a very big over simplification but the basic message is use a washer.

I am not going to get into the discussion about whether stainless steel anchors are better than Mild steel because there are pros and cons ether way. But I will say that if you know what to look for the evidence of Stainless steel corrosion is as visible as for mild steel.

Justin, I hope this helps. Good luck retro-bolting and thanks for helping maintain our crags.

Chrz Greg

10 years ago

Very interesting. Thanks very much Greg.

Update: Quassimodo will be getting a pair of ‘Stylin quick top anchors!!’ – Thanks to Willem

10 years ago

Justin your back-up = sky hook? Not a good example of a safe back up. Take some nuts and cams next time. A beginner seeing that photo can be very misled.

Robert Breyer
Robert Breyer
10 years ago

Montagu needs an ARF-type initiative.
We at CityROCK will do our share to make this happen. To start with, we will donate a set of those fancy clip-in anchors for Gospel Express (since Willem has already donated one for Q). We will also match all private individual contributions for three months if you Justin or the MCSA set up a properly managed initiative (and a fund).
We collectively have to fix this before someone gets seriously hurt or dies.
– Robert

10 years ago

Snort: You’re right. A sky hook is a poor backup. I was actually clipped into two bolts.. but then the one bolt broke and by chance I happened to have the hook !! 🙂

Robert / CityROCK:
Thank you very much! The fancy clip in’s are much appreciated.

Bolting Fund:

We (Climb ZA) are going to setup a bolting fund.
Persons will be able to donate money and suggest what they would like the funds to be put towards.

– New Routes
– Re bolting of older routes
– Path Clearing

10 years ago

Gospel Express & Quassimodo have been re-bolted. Details on Monday 🙂

10 years ago

Awesome! Thanks for all the missions guys. Really appreciate it. Put the details of the fund on the home page so that we can access it. Definitely a worthy cause to donate towards!

Shaun Thomson
Shaun Thomson
10 years ago

Awesome! and a HUGE thanks 🙂

Keith James
Keith James
10 years ago

Justin, you are a prince! Your contribution to the development of the Montagu climbing scene in general is noted and much appreciated.

The specific re-vamp of these two routes (both stellar, in their grade range) is another index of your community-mindedness. Obvious thanks too, to the sponsors of the kit.

10 years ago

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a pleasure. Big thanks to those involved. I’ve detailed the costs of the various items so that you can get an idea of the costs that go into making sport climbing possible and safe.
And it don’t come cheap!

Geoffrey O’Connell for sponsoring new bolts and hangers for Gospel Express (R550.00)
Willem Boshoff for new bolts and ‘quick clip’ anchors on Quassimodo (R508.00)
CityROCK for the ‘quick clip’ anchors on Gospel Express (R184.00)
Justin Lawson (Climb ZA) for use of drill (+/- R7000), the drilling and drill bit (R175 per bit)
ARF for use of their angle grinder (+/- R5000)

The re-bolting took about 10 hours most of this time went into the actual bolting which involved me deliberating and finding the best placement for the new bolts.
Geoffrey and Wikus removed the old bolt studs. We still need to go back and make the holes/studs look pretty.
Most of the bolts on Quassimodo broke off about 1cm deep while most of the bolts on Gospel Express were cut with the grinder.

I drilled all the new bolt holes extra deep so that these bolts can be hidden one day by being hammered all the way in.

I hope everyone is happy with the new bolt placements, so far the feedback I have received has been positive. One noticeable difference, is the height of the first bolt on Quassimodo. It’s about an extra 30cm higher up and has changed the start of the route somewhat. Instead of starting alongside Gospel Express, you now start on the easy corner to an easy clip high up (+/- 3 meters of the deck) and then you move out onto the face.

Quassimodo has ‘quick clip’ lower offs now (you no longer need to untie at the top). As soon as the set for Gospel Express arrive, I will install them.
I have left the top anchors of Gospel Express in place and added a new bolt above to form a triangle (I moved the one lower off onto the new bolt for the time being). When I have the new lower offs I will configure the lower offs so that they run off all three bolts.

All in all, a good weekends work 🙂

I know there are a few other routes around town that could do with new anchors. Bolting is a rather a timeous & expensive endeavour. Rebolting often takes longer than bolting the first time round since the best placements have already been used.

General Costs:
Each 316 Hilti mechanical bolt including Petzl hanger cost about R50, the drill bits are R175 and last for around 20 holes. Top anchor cost +- R200.
This comes to around R700 – R1000 per route on hardware alone!

Anyone who want to support the cause can deposit donations into the account below – I’ve opened this savings account specifically for bolting in and around Montagu. I will keep a spreadsheet record of what was received by whom as well as outgoing expenditures.
Please email me the deposit slip & you are also welcome to include suggestions of whether you would like the funds to go to re-bolting or new routes.
Climb ZA’s emphasis right now is to bolt “lower grade” routes at easily accessible crags as this grows the sport.

Bank: Standard Bank
Account Name: Lawson
Account Number: 07 616 676 7
Account Type: Pure Save
Branch: Constantia
Branch Code: 051001


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