Climbing is inherently a dangerous sport but in the last decade it has become a lot safer with the advent of bolting. Although bolting has the potential to be safe, if the incorrect bolts are used or the correct bolts are placed poorly, then the bolts could be as dangerous as that shaky piece of trad gear you trusted your life on the other weekend. What’s worse is that another climber will come along a year later and think that a bolt is great as it looks good but, unbeknownst to him, it is actually a poor placement. What's also important is the placement position, as there is nothing worse than a great route with oddly placed bolts that cause rope drag and give you heart palpitations. So if you want to place good bolts that your kids can climb on in 20 years, follow the following golden rules:
Only use anchors and hangers supplied by a reputable supplier.
Bolting epics aren't fun so prepare yourself well. Toprope the route and find the best place to clip the bolts. Think about what you are going to do.
Place a good quality anchor that you can be proud of - don't skimp on a few cents for a crappy bolt.
Below are some more detailed recommendations for people wanting to bolt routes in South Africa:
Essentially there are two types of rock that we use for sport climbing in SA. The super hard quartzite sandstone found at the Restaurant, Magaliesburg, Cedarberg, Cape Peninsula, Montagu and Natal, and the soft sandstone found in Swinburne and Harrismith.
Homemade hangers are out! Buy a tested hanger from a reputable supplier. Most hangers in SA are stainless steel which will prevent corrosion and the associated degradation of the hanger, staining of the rock and the hassle of having to have to replace it in a few years’ time.
For the hard quartzite sandstone it is recommended to use a 10mm stainless steel express (expansion stud) anchor that Hilti and U-pat manufacture. These companies recommend a 90mm long anchor but many climbers have used a 70mm long anchor in SA and these have performed well (i.e. no failures!) U-pat give the Mountain Club cool discounts also.
The express anchor should be placed in the following manner:
- Drill the hole - ensure your drill bit isn't too worn on the sides else you won't fit the anchor in the hole! Also drill the hole perpendicular to the rock.
- Clean the hole of most of the dust with a brush or blower - this improves the holding strength.
- Gently tap the bolt in until about 30mm of the thread is left sticking out. Tapping the bolt in with the hanger is cumbersome so leave it off initially. Now bolt on the hanger and finish tapping the anchor all the way in. This will prevent you knocking the anchor in too far so you won't be able to get the hanger on!
- Tighten the bolt to set the expansion sleeve and then slack off totally. Now give the bolt a half turn just to stop the hanger spinning. A stainless steel spring washer with some "Loctite" will prevent the hanger spinning even better.
For the soft sandstone in Swinburne and Harrismith an express anchor is not suitable as the rock is too soft. Here it is recommended to use a glue-in bolt that consists of a stainless steel stud being held in with a high performance epoxy mortar. U-pat recommend a 110mm deep hole with a 10mm stainless steel rod. The soft sandstone allows you to drill the required 12mm, 100mm deep hole. Both Hilti and U-pat manufacture these systems using a capsule or injection gun.
The chemical anchor should be placed in the following manner:
- Drill the 12mm hole perpendicular to the rock.
- Clean the hole of all of the dust with a brush and then a blower. This is essential as a small amount of dust won't allow the glue to bond to the rock and will reduce the anchor's strength substantially.
- For the injected glue, inject the glue at the back of the hole and let the glue gun get pushed out the hole as you inject the glue. This will prevent an air bubble getting trapped at the end of the hole. Experiment with the amount of glue you need but never inject too little. Gently tap the stainless steel rod into the hole. You can tap the anchor in with the hanger on to prevent you inserting the anchor too far. Don't tighten the hanger or climb on the bolt until the following day!
- When tightening the hanger give the bolt a half-turn just to stop the hanger from spinning. A stainless steel spring washer with some "Loctite" will prevent the hanger spinning even better.
For the capsule glue insert the capsule and, using the drill attachment, drill the stainless steel rod in using a counter clockwise direction on the drill. A clockwise direction could cause glue to get forced out of the hole. You can place the hanger with your fingers. Don't tighten the hanger or climb on the bolt until the following day!
Lower-off chains should consist of 2x10mm stainless steel chain links welded into a hanger that has been bolted on at the top of the route. 2 links are used as this prevents your rope running badly through the chains. The chains can become quite worn after many years and if you want to prevent common mode failure then you can load the one chain and use the other as a back-up as shown below:
Here are some other useful tips for bolting routes in general:
- Don't bolt near an edge of an arete or roof as this reduces the strength of the anchor. Keep about 100mm away from all edges.
- Don't bolt near any cracks - even hairline cracks! Keep about 100mm away from all cracks.
- Don't place a bolt above a hand or foot grip as the quick draw will hang over the grip and could prevent you finding that crucial foot hold or missing that whopping dyno!
- Try to keep your bolt line in a straight line to stop rope drag.
- Don't place bolts at the base of a roof as this will create lots of rope drag.
- Try not to place bolts on the slabby section of a bulge as this will cause rope drag.
- The first bolt should be within easy reach. If the route starts on a ledge, then the 1st bolt should be able to be clipped from the ground - even for shorties!
- Bolts 2 and 3 should be close together to prevent a crater if someone messes up!
- Make sure the rope will run easily through the chains - ie don't place the chains on a slab.
- Make sure the rock is solid. Listen for that hollow sound when drilling.