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Bolting Bible - Book of Ethics

When and Where Should We Bolt

The Bolting Bible

The Book of Bolting Ethics

“Thou shall not penetrate virgin rock without feeling guilty.”

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 over arching blog we call a text book. 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 chapter we'll point you to the next.



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.

Wild West

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?