“Thou shall not penetrate virgin rock without feeling guilty.”
The Bolting Bible
The Book of Bolting Ethics
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. We believe that if someone is going to spend their time and money to bolt something, 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?
This book is in a blog format. The main blog points to all 17 chapters, and at the end of each chapter, it points you to the next. A downloadable pdf is available HERE.
Since this is called the Bolting Bible, let's start with the ethics of bolting. Ethics take into account how it affects everyone. Can we, or should we bolt anything and anywhere? What bolts should be used? Is an area already bolted but needs fixing? Should YOU be bolting permanent anchors everyone trusts their lives to? And unless you had a 10-day approach to the area, there is probably some local community that has an opinion about new bolts. All these questions need to be answered before you create holes and install permanent human objects in rocks that have been around for a long time and affect more than just yourself.
Know an area well before putting in a metal version of graffiti. Many bolters get the same dopamine response as graffiti artists after seeing something in public that they created. The feeling will be there, and that is fine, just make sure you are not installing bolts just for that feeling and that it is helpful, legal, and ethical.
Follow The Legal Tree
Who owns the land??? Is it the federal government, or the state, or is it privately owned? What rules do they have in place currently and what's considered a gray area and what is super OK enough.
National parks in the USA are trying to protect the land. They are usually very beautiful areas and they want to allow people to enjoy them but not destroy them. Different parks have different rules but all of them have the rule: "no use of power tools". Each NPS area has different rules. Yosemite's WEBSITE says:
"Drilling protection bolts for climbing is permitted in Yosemite as long as it is done by hand. Motorized power drills are prohibited. The National Park Service does not inspect, maintain, or repair bolts and other climbing equipment anywhere in the park.
Beyond this simple rule, there is a strong community bolting ethic in Yosemite. If you plan to bolt a new route or alter an existing one, talk with local climbers who are familiar with Yosemite’s route history and traditions before permanently altering the cliff face. No one wants to see the rock damaged by bolts being placed and chopped."
Mammoth Caves NPS on the other hand has a permitted system to bolt and a full plan of why and how has to be submitted. Every area has different levels of traffic, needs for protection, and contexts in which rules must exist.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) land is a bit more cowboy and has very little oversight but that again depends on the area. However, 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. If this happens, technically all current and future bolts are illegal and that's just a mess. READ ACCESS FUND'S ARTICLE ABOUT IT HERE. It's a double whammy when wilderness is inside of NPS land. Some areas are managed by multiple organizations or sets of rules.
When you get to a country-wide level, the rules are general at the top and specific at the spot. There is usually some vague law that allows the boots on the ground to "interpret" when, where and who can bolt. Make sure you know your area first!
State Parks such as Mount Diablo State Park in California, or Lory State Park in Fort Collins, CO are two examples of state-managed areas that will have their own laws about permanent anchors. See Mountain Project's full LIST. Auburn Quarry was completely shut down for years until CRAGS (Climbing Resource Advocates for Greater Sacramento), the Access Fund, and local climbers worked together to get the ban lifted so climbing could legally resume in the Quarry. The state isn't worried about the bolts specifically at Auburn as much as they don't want people getting hurt and minimizing the impact on the area. But the people who worked hard to get access do care about the bolting there. Know your area first!
Some climbing and highline areas are within city limits like Pittsburg which has sanctioned urban climbing and highlining but is fragile. Most of the climbing in and around Squamish falls under Provincial oversight. The Smoke Bluffs, however, are within Squamish city limits and are managed by their Council. Adding to the mix are the crags the indigenous Squamish Nation supervises. Wow, talk about complicated land use issues! Know your area first!
Privately owned can be a blessing or a curse. Liability is usually the biggest concern for a land owner but if that is mitigated with waivers, signage, and insurance then what parameters do they have for that rock? Index in Washington is owned by the Washington Climbing Coalition in an effort to protect it as a climbing area and it's set up as a "do it at your own risk" area. Any bolting would have to be approved by them as they own and manage that land.
There are countries where these sports are so new that have no rules or are just starting to develop them. There are areas so remote that rules couldn't be enforced. New caves are being discovered and explored so bolting falls between the cracks (get it?). Just because there are no rules, you can follow the spirit of the laws that do exist in similar places which is to really consider impact.
Bolt It And They Will Come
If you choose to bolt and it is ethically and legally ok to do so, then thank you for taking your time and money to do it. Please consider these questions before doing your project:
What if this becomes a popular spot, what impact will that have on the road, the trail, and the locals?
Does this location deserve a permanent anchor?
Will this be repeated and is it a benefit to the community?
If bolts are required for a temporary project, can you use removable bolts instead.
Are there good spots for bolts to be placed? What is the quality of rock like?
Can you strategically place bolts to minimize no fall zones for climber routes?
Can you strategically place bolts to prevent ropes from rubbing in caves?
Can you strategically place highline bolts so they can’t be seen by those not using them?
Can you strategically place bolts in wet canyons so high flow doesn't damage them with debris?
Can you use trad gear or natural anchors to minimize bolting or do bolts holistically impact the area less?
At this location, are there already enough other climbing routes, highlines, access points to this cave, or other anchors to rappel the canyon? Will this area benefit from your bolts or are you just doing it for your ego?
Within climbing, highlining, caving and canyoning, there is a community and culture for each one. Then specific areas have their own culture. For example, Yosemite bolting culture (beyond rules and ethics) is very different from Moab culture. Yosemite has a lot of history and a lot of people sharing that space so it creates a “who are you to be bolting” environment where as Moab is a much bigger space and therefore is cowboy central.
IF YOU should be bolting, and IF that area could benefit from bolts and IF it's legal, then expect some criticisms. Boltah Downunder has a video that summarizes this perfectly. Here is a shortened transcript of the intro. Please read this in an Aussie accent...
Are you keen to put up a new climb?
Do you thirst for all the glory involved?
Do you want to hear the cries of adulation like:
Who bolted that piece of crap?
We climbed that back in the nineties!
But that's an old trad line!
Why aren't their more bolts?
What are there so many bolts?
Why is that bolt over there?
Well, then all you need is... heaps of shit, lots of money and tons of free time.
Culture isn't just about adding bolts, but replacing them. Culture gives a lot of "ownership" to the first person who installed the bolts. The positive to that is you don't have it changing all the time based on the opinions of the week creating swiss cheese in the rock. The downside is sometimes things are corroding or not placed well because it was their first time going up the rock or down the canyon.
Snake Dike on Half Dome has sparse bolts not because they wanted to show off, but because it's a lot of work to hand drill everything you need for 800 feet of climbing in 1 day. But once a climb is done it's that way forever. The bolts were upsized since the original ascent (rebolting) but the placements stayed original (it's retro-bolting if they changed it) and people get hurt too often on Snake Dike like ANNA PARSONS because it's so popular and quite sketchy.
You can hear an OG bolter's opinion about "ownership rights" in this VIDEO. I don't fully agree with what is said but it's important to hear what people think. For better or for worse, culture says don't even change bolts without asking permission from the original installers and if you want to change WHERE the bolts are you definitely need to ask permission. If the bolts or placements are sketchy enough, you can overirde this cultural rule if you can get a large enough consensus from the community (not just your 3 friends). Don't change stuff without really considering all these things.
The rumor going around is in Washington state, a group of volunteers was replacing some sketchy rusty bolts on a climb and the old guy, who installed them ages ago, found out and removed all of them. They asked him why and he said, "because you didn't ask me permission". They moved on to other areas that he didn't establish. What planet gives someone ownership on public land over the hardware they installed without permission??? Shame on his ego for killing the stoke to keep that area maintained.
For many areas (NOT ALL!), you don’t need a degree, license, permit, blueprint, or anything to go change a beautiful area forever with a bolt that people you don’t know are going to trust their lives to... until… it gets replaced or someone dies. It's amazing things are as good and self-regulated as they are and it has to do with the cultures that get built around them. Sometimes if a culture is too aggressive instead of educating, it can lead some to pirate bolt, or do whatever they want however they want with disregard to the “rules”. If you feel strongly about something, try education, not aggression.
Case Study - The Lost Arrow Spire
A great example of mixed emotions of a rebolting project was when a group of 7 of us re-bolted the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite. It’s an iconic rock in an iconic place and the bolts are used by both climbers and highliners. The question is who is going rebolt something like this when bolting in Yosemite is 50% red tape and 50% cowboy. This was one of our most popular bolting EPISODE. Get lost in the comments if you dare.
YOU are the #1 risk of any bolt failing.
It is a huge responsibility to install a bolt that other people will literally depend their lives on. It is practically impossible to inspect a bolt in the wild after it is installed so we just “hope” it was put in correctly when we show up to trust our life to it. Realize what kind of role you are playing and respect the responsibility. Educate yourself and please please practice. This VIDEO shows bolts being pulled out with body weight after someone died using them in the area!
Practice at home in your concrete. If you practice on a rock, be sure it is in an area no one will ever see. Don’t make areas we all share your testing grounds. If your first thought was, “I don’t want an ugly hole at my house,” then you are well on your way to really understanding the issue some people have about bolts being in our beautiful shared public lands. Spend the money on a tube of glue to understand how it mixes and to make sure you have the right caulk gun. Install a glue in at home to understand how that shit gets everywhere. Pull it out before it cures and clean off the bolt with goof-off if you don’t want a bolt in your yard for the next 50 years. Spend the time hand drilling one bolt in your backyard to understand what is involved and how to make sure the hole stays straight. Install a mechanical bolt with a torque wrench at home and with a normal wrench so you know how tight to make it in the field if hiking in a torque wrench is not practical. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Many people share about their bolting epics. It's because they didn't practice.
95% of the problems you will encounter can be solved at home if you practice A-Z.
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.
"Tragedy of the Commons" says that in an open shared system without rules, it is human nature to act independently to their own self interest and contrary to the common good of all users. In a bolting context, someone might put in cheap bolts because they are broke, even though it creates a ton of work a few years later to fix. Some bolt for the glory of establishing something, though it didn't need bolts. Some bolt in a weird use case that no one else knows how to use them. Try to bolt in a way that helps with access, and helps the most people.
If a route can be climbed with trad gear, then it ought to be. If a highline can be rigged by wrapping boulders or trees, it ought to be. If a cave can be explored wrapping features (as long as it doesn't damage them) then maybe it's better. If a canyon can be ghosted all the way down the maybe it's better. There is no hard rule that covers every situation. Sometimes bolts are better if that trad route is deadly or the highline anchor risks failing. It could be way safer rigging "alpine style" in a cave so the rope doesn't rub any rocks. In canyons, if a bunch of grooves are being dug into the sandstone by the frequent ropes going over it, then maybe bolts are better. Think holistically before bolting, sometimes they are the best solution, sometimes they are not. Let's keep this world looking as nice as possible, we don’t exactly have a Plan B.
You can always go back to the main part of the BOLTING BIBLE HERE
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