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Bolting for Canyoning

Wet or dry, keep your slots well protected

The Bolting Bible

The Book of Canyoning

Welcome to our free course as our way of contributing to the bolting community. It's nice to understand what you are clipping and trusting with your life, even if you never plan on installing or removing bolts. Also, if someone is going to spend their time and money to bolt something, I assume, they probably want to do it as good as possible. Hopefully, the Bolting Bible gives you the tools you need to do a great job. Get it?

Our courses are A-Z content in blog format, glued together with an overarching blog we call a textbook. A blog format is easy to read, easy to update, and easy to translate. Be sure to begin at the TEXTBOOK and at the end of each episode we'll point you to the next.


A huge thanks to Brent Roth & Adolfo Isassi for contributing so much information to this section


Is Bolting Allowed?

Bolting in wilderness areas falls in a gray area currently and legislation is trying to include bolts in the definition of "installations," which currently are things like buildings, fences, and pipelines which are illegal to have in wilderness areas. Different areas have different rules, so just make sure you can legally-ish install a bolt before you do it.

Should YOU Bolt That Canyon?

Do you know what you are doing? Have you practiced in your backyard (more than 3x) or gone with people who know what they are doing?

Are you from the area and will be a steward of maintaining those bolts? There are micro-communities and micro-cultures around every groove in the earth.

Learn who is who and what they think AND WHY they think what they think to holistically make bolting decisions. Sometimes supporting the people doing the work already is going to achieve better results. Sometimes people have good intentions and want to control everything and everyone but nothing happens so you just have to do your own thing, but do it with as little ego as you can, as much information as you can learn and think as big picture as possible before changing stuff that has been around for a gazillion years and everyone wants to enjoy.

To Bolt or NOT To Bolt

Cool. It's legal, and it won't piss off too many people, and will help the community at large. Now let's make sure we stop long enough to ask, does it need bolting? Assuming people want to descend a canyon what are the options?

Ghosting by Adolfo Isassi

Grooves not only leave impact but get gear stuck

It is great if you can rappel and leave nothing behind. Not every place has something you can wrap your rope around like a tree or boulder but if that's an option, should everyone just “ghost”?

Retrievable Rigging and Retrievable Anchors, together known as “ghosting” have become a point of pride in some SW canyoneering circles. These are great techniques for explorations, first descents, and low visitation routes, in areas where natural anchor opportunities are scant. But their level of risk and required training is just not scalable for high visitation.

For a remote location, an A/B rated route getting descended a handful of times a year, with canyon sections where there are only slick walls and sand, probably yes, ghosting is still the right answer.

As a route gets popular and gets more traffic, the intended “Leave No Trace” principle behind ghosting techniques, starts to lose its effect. With enough traffic, even ghosting techniques start to leave traces. There are some spots that get grooves in the sandstone from rappelling with sandbags and pulling the rope down that might benefit from having bolts a bit higher up that reduce the scarring on the rock.

These popular routes might start to deserve a few carefully placed bolts with low environmental impact in mind, and offering safer visit for people without ghosting skills.

Consider “ghosting” as a micro-community and micro-culture that deserves consideration when making bolting decisions. You should weigh this consideration against the lowest possible Environmental Impact and Safety for the current levels of visitation. Which in turn, requires that you are very familiar with the dynamics of the area.

This isn't pro ghost or pro bolt, but just considerations you need to look at before bolting.

Natural Anchors

If there is a tree, why not just put some webbing and rappel rings on it? There is totally a time a place for that but it looks pretty manky after just a season or two, people get sketched by it so they add webbing and starts to look unsightly. And if debris from a running canyon gets caught in it, that's just creating more plastic trash in the beautiful places we are trying to play in. Are two stainless unlinked bolts that could last for many many years less impact than a clump of webbing?

Rope grooves
The grooves in the rock are cut by ropes. Once the groove is deep enough, blocking devices will get stuck. Definitely not leave no trace.

A good example of natural anchors