Confessions of a zinc-plated bolter


Original Post
John Steiger · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 2,030

Just this past month, I placed easily a dozen new bolts, all 3/8" sleeve bolts, typically 3 1/2" long. I confess, though, like I've been doing since I drilled my first bolt in '76, I used non-stainless or zinc-plated bolts and hangers.

Sure, I was well aware of the increasing buzz that stainless steel is the only responsible choice for route developers because of its superior resistance to corrosion, but I succumbed to other voices, some in my head and some outside, that allowed me to bury it. You've heard most of them too, I bet -- there is no empirical data to show that stainless outlives non-stainless; there is no reason to use stainless in arid environments, like the Wasatch and the Catalinas (Tucson); non-stainless shows rust whereas stainless doesn't, so at least you know that non-stainless has corroded; non-stainless are more easily camouflaged; regardless what they are made of, bolts should be replaced in 20-30 years; glue-ins are the way to go anyway, etc.

But really, the reason I haven't used stainless is because, well, I'm cheap.

Then here comes Jeff Achey's September 26 piece on Climbing Magazine's website, "The Future of Bolting." In short, Jeff reports that the climbing industry and organizations like the Access Fund are on the verge of adopting an international standard that would rule out the use of non-stainless, regardless of the environment, and explains why -- there is enough at least anecdotal data, backed up by basic metallurgy, to conclude that the longevity of stainless is far superior to non-stainless. And there are so many bolts now that replacing them all before their useful life expires is impossible -- hence, placing non-stainless perpetuates an already serious problem.

So now if I want to keep zinc-plated bolting, not only would I need to continue to turn a blind eye to the evidence against non-stainless, I would flout what appears to be international consensus on the point. As one that condemned hang-dogging well into the sport-climbing revolution, that latter factor gives me considerable pause. Norms are important, except apparently for Presidential candidates.

But I'm still not so sure for the kind of bolting I do nowadays, which typically is on obscure crags in obscure climbing areas with subpar rock that are unlikely to see more than a handful ascents in a decade. Does it really make sense to spend about a hundred dollars for a six-bolt chain-anchored route that takes 15 minutes to bushwhack to and is 50 feet long over chossy rock, when I can do it for $50? Particularly when long ago I resigned to use only sleeve bolts because I know they are easy to replace or to remove and patch, assuming someone will care enough about the route to do so? (Yeah, I know, maybe I should think about just not bolting it, but that ain't in my DNA, and the choss does not remain for long).

I suppose I will at least shift to stainless for new routes on popular crags or crags that I suspect will become popular. But I think, just maybe, that I'll continue to use zinc-plated on the choss-fests, at least until the industry stops selling non-stainless hangers. On the other hand, maybe my confession will cleanse me and I'll see the light . . .

When I crack open that box of new, brightly shimmering stainless bolts purchased at industry's cost.

Morgan Patterson · · CT · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 8,332
John Steiger wrote: I suppose I will at least shift to stainless for new routes on popular crags or crags that I suspect will become popular. But I think, just maybe, that I'll continue to use zinc-plated on the choss-fests...
I'll bite... I think that sounds reasonable. If its a one or two and done and, you dont expect others to climb there then why bother bolting? What's wrong with just TR'ing? Doesnt feed the ego/adrenaline rush addiction? From a LNT perspective you're just drilling the rock and leaving metal in these cliff to rot away (ie not get used) once you're gone. Not very stuart-like, more like an american consumer, just use and throw away..who cares whats after me? Have you considered stopping bolting the choss and then save that $50 to buy some SS for the good stuff?

Why not walk away without defacing the rock or leaving metal behind to rot away on the cliff? Your children can have the same fun you had discovering all the climbs. Otherwise it'll just be them discovering how all the cliffs that were drilled and plugged with cheap metal to rust out.

John Steiger wrote: at least until the industry stops selling non-stainless hangers.
This is kinda the ironic part, they wont stop selling them until people like you stop buying them, and you wont stop buying them until they stop selling them. So there's that problem.

P.S. I have and do bolt in my area but have switched over to almost exclusively SS. $3.50 a bolt/hanger for 3/8" 5 piece ain't that expensive.
Mike Lane · · Centennial, CO · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 210

Ultimately the only person you are responsible for is you.
No one ever signed any Social Contract.
Everyone who follows after you makes a decision to proceed or not.
Rusty bolts be part of that equation.
They don't like it, they can change them out.
That way generations stay connected to the areas.

Daniel H. Bryant · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 145
Mike Lane wrote:Ultimately the only person you are responsible for is you. No one ever signed any Social Contract. Everyone who follows after you makes a decision to proceed or not. Rusty bolts be part of that equation. They don't like it, they can change them out. That way generations stay connected to the areas.
+1

@John:
Thanks for putting bolts up in the first place, regardless of the material type.
I've clipped manky ring pitons, and was super happy they were there to be clipped in the first place.

Lastly, you've taken time and money out of your own pocket to put up a route (thank you). Unless the people dictating SS material are reimbursing you for the difference in cost, this is all a non issue.
Tapas · · Utah · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 15

Keep in mind that it's easier to screw up a stainless bolt by over-torquing. You really want a torque wrench that measures in inch-lbs to get an accurate 12 ft-lbs of torque on a 3/8" stainless bolt.

Stainless v Carbon Steel Torque

Bruce Hildenbrand · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2003 · Points: 880

See the photo below. One reason to use stainless is route maintenance. I tried to unscrew these 18 year old Rawl 5-piece bolts to replace the cold shut hangers with Real(TM) hangers, but the bolt and cone on each was rusted in place and they snapped.

bolts

Billcoe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 630

NON STAINLESS BOLTS? YOU ARE AN EVIL EVIL PERSON!!!!!!1111111

Whew, had to get that out of the way before the next 20 posters jumped yer ass Haha.

For myself, I only do stainless wedge anchors/stainless hanger combos anymore. But I have the $cratch to do so. I suggest that putting in Stainless Wedge anchors with zinc plated hangers can be like step 2 of a 12 step program for you. If some rich bitch comes along later, they can easily change out the hangers without f**ing up the rock. (Use the SS nut that came with the wedge anchor).

Here is a photo of that combo, except the person used a steel nut/home made steel hanger as you can see along with the stainless wedge anchor. This was in for @ 20 years in the super wet Columbia River Gorge and had not been climbed on if the 3 inches of wet moss covering it was any indication. The Stainless steel wedge anchor looks brand new at 20 years in an extremely moist non-salt water environment. The steel nut was badly rusted, whereas the hanger didn't look too bad.

The guy I was with, Tim Olsen, had written the guidebooks to the area and sort of remembered the bolt. We had to crawl around for @10 min to find it with Tim muttering, "there's a bolt in here somewhere I'm pretty sure". LOL, all I could see was the green moss. We were both surprised how good it appeared once he dug it out.



Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 100

It's not really a matter of any contention. If you're going to bolt, use SS and that's even more important on obscure routes that will see long spans of time between ascents.

evan h · · Denver, CO · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 205
Morgan Patterson wrote: $3.50 a bolt/hanger for 3/8" 5 piece ain't that expensive.
Source for that deal?
Billcoe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 630

Uhh, suggest using a wedge anchor as well and not a "sleeve anchor". Stronger.
And one more point re: Tapas post above. Most commercial stainless steel wedge anchors recommend 25 ft lbs torque to install. Powers wedge anchors are 25-30. Which suggests that one really needs to check what the hell they are installing and do it per Mfg specs to see if they suggest 12 ft lbs or 25 ft lbs.

Or at least with a hand calibrated Crescent Wrench:-)

http://www.powers.com/pdfs/mechanical/7400.pdf http://www.itwredhead.com/pdfs/submittals/trubolt.pdf

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 100

Of course, Bill had to beat me to it by two minutes. I'd listen to BillCoe - he owns a hi-tech fastener company - he knows bolts.

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,575

you know what John ? Fuck'm..I have done a few f'a's and other than the bolts being in the right place and well done, I cold give a fuck aboutfuture ascents..I did it..if you want to repeat..go for it

I have no responsibility to maintain routes

Andrew Gram · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 3,430
Billcoe wrote:Uhh, suggest using a wedge anchor as well and not a "sleeve anchor". Stronger. And one more point re: Tapas post above. Most commercial stainless steel wedge anchors recommend 25 ft lbs torque to install. Powers wedge anchors are 25-30. Which suggests that one really needs to check what the hell they are installing and do it per Mfg specs to see if they suggest 12 ft lbs or 25 ft lbs. Or at least with a hand calibrated Crescent Wrench:-) http://www.powers.com/pdfs/mechanical/7400.pdf http://www.itwredhead.com/pdfs/submittals/trubolt.pdf
Wedge anchors are only good in hard rock. I love them and use them in granite and quartzite, but they are totally inappropriate for desert sandstone and other soft rock that Utah has in abundance. I've pulled a number of 3/8" wedges out with my fingers in soft rock.

I don't consider the Wasatch arid - lots of those bolts spend a lot of time under snow or with snow melt running over them. I personally would never place anything but stainless in the Wasatch. I will place the last of my plated bolts out in the desert that is arid and where even a plated bolt will likely outlast the hole, but I won't buy any more plated hardware even for the desert. I've sometimes found boxes of 50 stainless powers bolts for around $3 per bolt, and I buy a few boxes whenever I see that deal. Just have to search regularly and keep your eyes open.
Peter Beal · · Boulder Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,690

I've said this elsewhere but go-it-alone bolting will be history soon enough. Bad anchors cost money and time to replace and have no business being installed on public land. If climbers don't care about the quality of hardware being installed then they probably shouldn't be putting up new routes.

jonathan knight · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2006 · Points: 165

John, thanks for your recent contributions here in the Wasatch. I've enjoyed what I've had the chance to sample.

After replacing anchors on the quartzite this season, I look forward to doing some more work on any other type of rock. I'm glad to hear you are contemplating switching to SS. Installing quality hardware with a much longer service life the first time around is appreciated in light of long-term maintenance.

Sam RC · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 0

In Thailand there are routes with titanium bolts at cruxes and for the anchors. You could compromise by using stainless for those and making a point of indicating all of this on mp and where ever else the routes are published.

Micah Klesick · · Vancouver, WA · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 3,834
Daniel H. Bryant wrote: +1 @John: Thanks for putting bolts up in the first place, regardless of the material type. I've clipped manky ring pitons, and was super happy they were there to be clipped in the first place. Lastly, you've taken time and money out of your own pocket to put up a route (thank you). Unless the people dictating SS material are reimbursing you for the difference in cost, this is all a non issue.
Keep in mind those of us that stand by only using SS, well, we also only use stainless steel. We pony up the extra money for our better quality routes, for you, the climber. If anyone should be paying the difference for the extra safety and lifetime of the bolt, its you, the climber, not the guy that is already using the quality materials.
In response to the OP. In the end its your choice. Use quality stuff, or place plated bolts expecting other people to eventually to come in and fix the legacy you've decided to leave (ie. rusty bolts). The solution you mentioned of using cheap stuff on routes you don't expect many others to ever climb, well, that's fairly reasonable. But certainly use SS on routes you expect others to climb.
Tony B · · Around Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 21,745
John Steiger wrote:On the other hand, maybe my confession will cleanse me and I'll see the light . . .
I hope that the next few things I say will help in that regard.

John Steiger wrote: But I'm still not so sure for the kind of bolting I do nowadays, which typically is on obscure crags in obscure climbing areas with subpar rock that are unlikely to see more than a handful ascents in a decade. Does it really make sense to spend about a hundred dollars for a six-bolt chain-anchored route that takes 15 minutes to bushwhack to and is 50 feet long over chossy rock, when I can do it for $50? Particularly when long ago I resigned to use only sleeve bolts because I know they are easy to replace or to remove and patch, assuming someone will care enough about the route to do so?
If you give that it's due consideration, you might come to the conclusion that rarely used routes are at least as necessary to use good bolts on as popular ones. On popular routes, the time and occasion will come often that a bolt is viewed, inspected, and maybe even tested. And that someone of some training/knowledge might encounter it, that word might spread, or even perhaps that a single bolt that is frequently loaded might fail and call attention to the potential for disaster.
But a rarely climbed route might just lurk for 30 years and the first time someone falls from up high, none of the bolts between them and the ground might be sufficient to do their job, which is to arrest a fall.
And that leads to both injury and public access issues.

John Steiger wrote: Does it really make sense to spend about a hundred dollars for a six-bolt chain-anchored route that takes 15 minutes to bushwhack to and is 50 feet long over chossy rock, when I can do it for $50?
Well, the wise guy in me jumps immediately to the question of: "If it isn't worth doing right, then... is it worth doing at all?" There is always the TR, and that's much cheaper still.

John Steiger wrote: On the other hand, maybe my confession will cleanse me and I'll see the light . . . When I crack open that box of new, brightly shimmering stainless bolts purchased at industry's cost.
You know, at least here there are programs for that, whereas the Bolt companies (IE Climbtech) is offering the BCC SS bolts at cost, and we are permitted to purchase for developers who agree to use only SS. Check with your local Access Fund affiliate and see if they can arrange such a thing.
Tony B · · Around Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 21,745
Mike Lane wrote:Ultimately the only person you are responsible for is you. No one ever signed any Social Contract. Everyone who follows after you makes a decision to proceed or not. Rusty bolts be part of that equation.
I'm responsible for me. And I make a decision if, or not, I proceed nightly onto roads. And there may be drink drivers.
Is it my fault if I get hit? No. But it would be nice if people didn't do that, wouldn't it?
I'm not a nanny-stater, but I tell you what... in 30 years, will an educated climber know what each of what kind of markings is or is not SS bolt when that HAS become the standard?
Daniel H. Bryant · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 145

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeOWZLpVK58

Morgan Patterson · · CT · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 8,332
evan h wrote: Source for that deal?
FIXE sale, off sized bolts...
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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