Bolting Considerations

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XMod
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Bolting Considerations

Post by XMod »

A lot of routes I have climbed could have been equipped better (many of my own included). So here are some thoughts gleaned from 30 years of bolting about refining your choice of what routes you bolt and where exactly the bolts should go. I will try to describe how I think you can take bolt placement to the next level and thus am skipping over the basics like rock quality, free running of the rope etc.

We fall at hard moves and cruxes, we hardly ever fall at rests while hanging on a fat jug. It is therefore utterly pointless to simply place bolts at each good hold or stance. Ideally you want the bolt to be directly above your harness (at about face level or above) when you are in the middle of the hard moves. Additionally it is ideal to have the bolt placed such that if you grab the draw and pull up you can reach the next good hold past the hard move. You can test this by hanging on the next hold and marking where your shoulder is (obviously tall climbers need to consider the reach of shorter people). So that is the ideal scenario, whilst this hardly ever manifests itself in reality, it is still the gold standard to which you should aim. Bolting in this manner makes the route a pleasure to work and climb. You can yard up the route easily to place draws and more importantly, you will be hanging in exactly the right place (off a particular bolt) to work out the beta of a hard move.

As the perfect scenario rarely presents itself, one needs to mitigate how far you tweak things to suit the ideal. Each clip must still be reasonable to clip safely, it is bad practice to create dicey clips just to force an ideal placement for working a route. If the crux starts a few moves up from a rest then perhaps placing a bolt at the rest at waist height, in addition to a higher bolt in the crux that may be a bit difficult to clip, is a good option. Think redundancy and safety. Do not worry about placing two or three bolts in rapid succession if that satisfies the need for safety and workability of the route. Aesthetics, whilst a nicety, are not something you should pay too much attention to, bolting is a purely pragmatic thing - protecting the hard moves and making the route easily workable should be your primary focus (NO I am NOT advocating grid bolting - obviously you want to aim at the minimum bolts that do the job properly). One other problem is long cruxy sequences where it is impossible to stop and clip - in this case consider placing a working bolt that will help climbers work the moves properly but might not be clipped during redpoint attempts - leaving these sections as run-outs truly sucks as they make the route utterly impossible to work properly especially if the next bolt is beyond the reach of a stick-clip. Again aesthetics are secondary to functionality - don't be cheap and skimp on bolts.

DON"T BOLT FAR ABOVE YOUR GRADE!! The harder a route is, the more critical the bolt placement becomes. A bolt placed 10cm off the ideal spot on a hard line will make the route really difficult to work. It should be exactly above your tie in point in the middle of the hard move such that you can swing through the move to the next hold and practice the movement properly. If you cannot do the moves on your project at all you will have no idea where the bolt should go. Which brings up another major point - PLEASE top-rope that sucker to death before placing all the bolts, figure out the best beta before you equip the line fully. Yes, I know that on severely overhanging routes you may need to place some bolts simply to get on the rock at all (Try hard to find trad placements, on severely overhanging caves without natural gear rig two ropes from the top of the crag to the bottom, in a triangle under tension and tie slings between the two ropes - you can use this as a kind of hammock to stand on to reach the rock, both to check out the moves and place bolts. Tie the ropes to intermediate gear if needed - anything other than grid bolting!). This is yet another reason to avoid projects that are way above your pay-grade or experience in bolting. With years of experience you will be better equipped to suss out the ideal placement and less likely to misplace these initial bolts. Feel free to move bolts, if the ones you placed to get at the rock are incorrectly placed, once you have figured out better beta. Drilling these initial holes deeper than the length of the bolt will allow you to sink the stud into the hole and seal over the hole with glue or epoxy putty (make pretty - yes aesthetics are nice - just less important than proper bolting).

That's all my fuzzy brain can conjure right now. The days of adventure bolting and run-outs for the sake of thrills are hopefully far behind us at this point. That kind of bolting only really works on multipitch routes anyway and it still suck balls if the hard moves are not protected properly or if the run-outs are so huge that it makes falling a dangerous prospect (get your kicks doing trad - don't inflict your thrill seeking on others who may follow). Simply placing bolts at rests is sloppy and crap bolting - stop doing it! Let's try to make a good job of what we are doing when bolting. It makes the absolute world of difference to how much your route will be enjoyed by people in the future if it is easy to work and redpoint and those bolts are going to be there for a very long time after you have had your fun opening the route.
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Neil
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by Neil »

Hi

I like the part about bolting too far above one's grade, I have made mistakes and left with extra unsightly studs. So I place one or two to align the rope to try lots on top rope first.

The other item of discussion is placement relating to the crux. I am not one for bolting a climb which is a demonstration of one's ego, with very far apart bolts, however I would tend to bolt so that the climber cannot pull through the crux, the bolt by the knees when they on the crux to at feet or just below before the next clip after the clip. I feel that if you give that little extra challenge so the leader has to actually fall a bit on the crux, the enjoyment and feel of achievement is higher. Unfortunately you get climbers who dog up and hang and then send and claim an ascent, where in my mind you have to climb the whole climb without any weight on gear or rope to claim the ascent. I try bolt so that the climb has to be actually climbed to get up.

Any views on chopping bad or out of place bolts, I have used a steel chisel, notched either side and broken it off, then tapped the stud back in below the surface and filled with some filler such as drill dust or sand and epoxy. This may be different with glue in bolts.
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by XMod »

Your style of bolting is one of the types I am against! (LOL) but at least your approach shows that you are thinking about what you are doing and is nowhere near as bad as the 'just put the clips at the rests' method, which is a really dumb and sloppy approach that shows the bolter put very little thought or effort into the job. Your chosen style practically guarantees that a climber, for whom that grade is very much a redpoint challenge, will struggle unnecessarily on your routes. To my mind this implies that you are imposing an unnecessary level of difficulty of ascent on people who will come after you. Let's be realistically clear on one thing - when you bolt a route you are (or really should be) doing it for other people. The bolts will be there for a very long time after you have had your fun. You do not own the rock nor the route nor even the bolts once you have chosen to place them permanently in the rockface. The only thing that belongs to a route developer is the title of "Bolted By" and the title and honour of the "First Ascent" if you open the route - this, along with the creative process, should be enough satisfaction.

Every route and indeed bolt placement is unique - as I stated above the ideal scenario rarely presents itself. I do feel however that it is what we should be striving for. Considerately bolted routes aid a speedy and safe ascent. They promote advancement through the grades and hence raise the level of climbing of the whole community more quickly and efficiently. They are also a WHOLE lot more enjoyable to work on as projects (the process of figuring out beta is quick, efficient and pain free) than routes that make progress difficult, which typically involve a lot of frustration and greater wear and tear on both your body and equipment - not to mention your belayer's patience!

I get the idea of creating flowing routes where the movement should be impeded as little as possible by clips and I am most certainly NOT advocating grid bolting or over-bolting - such routes are crap to climb (stop-start, stop-start - yuk!). Yes, there are occasionally lines that involve long sequences of relatively dynamic movement where there is little chance to stop and attain a stable position for clipping - a run-out style of bolting is ideal for this type of route. However these routes are rare in typical South African rock and that style is better suited to multi-pitch routes.

Climbers are hyper individualistic so I guess everyone will have their own approach to bolting. To me, sport climbing is simply about movement and trying to attain the greatest difficulty you can manage. Danger and unnecessary difficulty due to particular bolting practices should not feature into the picture - they detract from the primary goal of pushing your body to it's limits. One can either aid that goal through carefully thought through bolt placement or hinder it by placing them to (artificially) create more of a challenge or worse - danger.

Please note that I am writing this post simply to make people think a bit more about what they are doing, not dictate to people how they should run their lives (as if climbers would listen anyway - LOL!!!). Do also note, however, that these ideas were reached through many, many years of route development and of being strongly critical of my own, often failed, attempts at creating great routes. Anyways - just my thoughts - the subject has been on mind for quite a while so am writing it down for others to ponder.
wesleywt
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by wesleywt »

Hi guys, for a great example of wonderful bolting with airy spacing of bolts is Skinny Legs in Oudtshoorn. It is the closest you can get to a Suirana route in South Africa. However, spacing bolts far apart to satisfy the ego of the bolter can lead to people avoiding your routes like I avoid Hellfire. Part of developing as a climber is to try routes you have no business on. Making it hard to work the route will hamper the progress of someone trying to break into the grade. Also, grades below 20 should never be spaced out, especially in areas frequented by beginners. Those type of routes also prevents climbers from progressing as they fear the 20+ routes will be worse.
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by XMod »

Exactly my feelings Wesley. Good news for you is that we are about to go and do a lot of ARF work at Hellfire and will be addressing most of the problems the place suffers from by eliminating the unnecessary danger many of the routes present. The place was bolted in the very early days when we were still learning the trade and had completely different ideas about climbing, using as few bolts as possible etc. [There are three routes we won't be touching (they are too far removed from the safe ideal and fixing them would entail reducing them to over-bolted 'clip-ups' - not what we want) so there will still be some spice there for people who want that sort of thing].

Bolting above your grade - yes you do want to stretch your abilities - BUT not too far. One example I can think of is a 30 I bolted in Kalk Bay at a time when I was only pushing onto 25's. The one move (a dyno into an undercling with a fast, accurate foot catch required - ie the your hand movement is 'blind' as you are concentrating on your foot being accurate) would be a MILLION times easier to rehearse if the bolt had literally been 6cm closer to the target hand hold. On moves like that getting into the target position is vital to creating engrams of the body position (and so being able to do the move). Where the bolts is now you come up those frustrating 6cm short. Being a dyno you are airborne, so there is no way of stopping mid move other than hanging on a bolt. This is a prime example of how critical bolt placement becomes in the upper grades - it takes a LOT of sussing out to figure it out correctly. Bolt above your grade if you like but PLEASE consult with better climbers if the grade is far above anything you have managed before. The result will be much better.

Oudtshoorn is an exception (limestone not sandstone which typically creates short intense crux moves), Milner is another - multi-pitch and mostly on sidepulls were stopping is often impossible or very difficult.
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by XMod »

Re: removing bolts -
The lazy way is to use a battery powered angle grinder with a cutting disc fitted. Cut all round the bolt to a shallow depth (saves battery power - they chomp through batteries if you try to cut all the way through) and tap back forth to work stress the metal and snap the bolt (don't hit the rock!!!). Clean off the protruding stud end with the grinder and tap into the hole as best you can with a center punch. Cover over the hole mouth with glue and work some dust the same colour as the rock into the glue surface. Almost invisible if done well. Drawback - the grinders are very expensive - get your club to buy one.

The best way is to completely remove the bolt and either cover up or re-use the hole. You need a bolt extractor to do this. Check this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5y-I7KqdDsA&t=1s
and this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja47Z-NVC1A

I would say rather avoid using a chisel as you risk slipping and permanently scarring the rock - still, scoring the bolt with a chisel or hacksaw is better than simply bashing the stud back and forth with a hammer which will almost certainly entail klapping the rock and leaving permanent marks - ugly (been there done that - kak!)
Last edited by XMod on Fri Sep 04, 2020 6:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by Chris F »

Neil wrote: Fri Sep 04, 2020 1:53 pm Unfortunately you get climbers who dog up and hang and then send and claim an ascent, where in my mind you have to climb the whole climb without any weight on gear or rope to claim the ascent.
Surely that's in everyone's mind?
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Re: Bolting Considerations

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Chris F wrote: Fri Sep 04, 2020 4:46 pm
Neil wrote: Fri Sep 04, 2020 1:53 pm Unfortunately you get climbers who dog up and hang and then send and claim an ascent, where in my mind you have to climb the whole climb without any weight on gear or rope to claim the ascent.
Surely that's in everyone's mind?
That is purely a matter of style. You can't claim a redpoint without a clean ground-up ascent. In Redpointing the number of falls on prior attempts, how much you dogged or indeed any other tactics you used to arrive at a point where you can send the route free, are completely irrelevant. The only factor of note in redpointing is how quickly you get to the sending part - surely it makes sense to aid that with considerate bolting rather than hinder it with bolting that forces more work? I do not hesitate to reach for the clipstick if it's going to speed up how fast I figure out the beta. I want to send and move on to more routes! There is no such thing as cheating in the redpoint game - other than claiming an ascent when you didn't free climb it (which is just straight up lying).

If someone wants to be strict with their own ethics and start from the ground after each fall, they can still do that no matter how the bolts are arranged.
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by Neil »

Hi Xmod

I think you misunderstanding me, I do not promote ego bolting of climbs that are dangerous and unpleasant to climb. It is just from what I see above you may be making the mistake of making the climbs too soft, perhaps I am reading this wrong. When my brother any I started bolting in the early 1990 we made this mistake. Not only did we get a lot of criticism but we also in my opinion spoilt a lot of climbs by over bolting. Other route developers also produced lines which were in fact dangerous and just an expression of their ego. There is a middle ground where one must produce a route which has the correct mix of adventure and safety. Placing a convenient bolt at your head just before each crux is not much different from top roping the climb. We used to do this, but 30 years later, and nearly 300 climbs bolted later with over 30 of them multi pitch we have learnt a better way.
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by XMod »

No I think I understand where you are coming from and I disagree entirely that your approach is a "better way". Maybe it feels better to you to climb like that as you want the commitment, but that sensation is something you have artificially created. Your approach sounds ideally suited to pure on-sight climbing but for redpointing it kinda sux. Other people might want to redpoint - maybe they just want to break into that grade, maybe they have chosen that route as their big-time redpoint project. You can't know what someone else will be motivated by in a future time. (PS multi-pitch is another kettle of fish completely - I am talking about routes at the regular popular sport crags).

Just to explain my side of things: I am NOT promoting overbolting - a climb can still be quite airy with well spaced bolts provided they are placed where they are needed - ie: at the hard moves = where people will fall.
Hypothetical ideal bolting spacing: 1st bolts as high as safely possible, 2nd bolt 1m above the first, 3rd bolt 1.5m above the 2nd, 4th bolt 2m above the 3rd, 5th onward at about 3m intervals. The closely spaced bolts lower down stop you decking if you botch a clip and fall with the slack as well as create redundancy where it's most needed - close to the ground. Thereafter 3m per bolt is not overbolted, in fact it's quite airy feeling yet not too radically run-out. Obviously the rock will dictate the true layout in reality. As I said before the ideal scenario probably does not exist in nature.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a bolt being above your head as you do the crux - having it there makes the route safe (danger should NOT feature in Sport climbing). Bolts placed in this way will not make the route "soft" - the grade won't change, all they do is make it more pleasant and safe to climb and can also hugely help in working out the moves. Sport climbing is purely about doing hard moves - it's gymnastics on rock. The choice of placement can either aid progress toward performing our little gymnastic stunts or it can hinder that progress. Your approach of not making a route workable and forcing people to physically work out the move on lead, hinders progress toward a redpoint. The extra difficulty people experience in completing your routes has been added artificially by you by placing the bolts purposefully low.

I'm repeating myself here. I wouldn't listen to those people telling you your routes are soft - they are probably the same people who create dangerous routes to satisfy some narcissistic urge for admiration. When we bolt we should be doing it for the community at large not as an ego boost. I've seen people get terrified on poorly bolted and/or run-out routes - they never return to the crag. I've also counted a whole bunch of hospital visits caused by those same routes - not on!!

Anyway - I hope some people will take my thoughts to heart and give a lot more thought to how their placements will protect AND aid the working of, hard moves. Yes it means more work on a line before drilling. It is taking things up a level in terms of the forethought you put into your work before permanently altering the rock face. I strongly suggest that those wanting thrills and committing moves take up trad climbing - there, there is all the commitment and fear you can handle and then some.
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Re: Bolting Considerations

Post by NatureBoi »

wesleywt wrote: Fri Sep 04, 2020 2:57 pm Hi guys, for a great example of wonderful bolting with airy spacing of bolts is Skinny Legs in Oudtshoorn. It is the closest you can get to a Suirana route in South Africa. However, spacing bolts far apart to satisfy the ego of the bolter can lead to people avoiding your routes like I avoid Hellfire. Part of developing as a climber is to try routes you have no business on. Making it hard to work the route will hamper the progress of someone trying to break into the grade. Also, grades below 20 should never be spaced out, especially in areas frequented by beginners. Those type of routes also prevents climbers from progressing as they fear the 20+ routes will be worse.
I've not done skinny legs, but the more overhanging and higher up you are the more you can space the bolts apart, esp over easy parts of the whole climb. I'd go 2-3m. 3m is quite a lot (scary) when I've done it myself.
As a guide: Bolt-1:2.8m; Bolt-2: 0.9m; Bolt-3: 1.4m; Bolt-4: 1.9m; Bolt-5: 2.7m; Bolt-6: 3m ; This is quite conservative compared to other guides I have seen. Sometimes the guide is useless. All route dependant.
# 1 priority is the safest fall. You don't wanna hit ledges or big edges. Clipping at the waist is safest but most people don't do that.
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