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General Bolting Ethics


Original Post
Lance Lindquist · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 0

I’m wrighting a paper on bolting ethics for school and I’m asking the climbing community what you guys think. Should old unreliable bolts be replaced or left for historical purposes? 

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Maybe it would help you answer the question yourself by rephrasing the question:  "Should unsafe old bolts be left for the unwitting climber to clip, or should they be replaced with newer and safer bolts?"

ViperScale . · · McMurdo Station, AQ · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 240

There is no such thing as general bolting ethics it all depends on where you are.

climberish · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 10

maybe you should start by reading the numerous double digit length threads about bolting.... or not bolting.... or chopping... or replacing bolts.... etc

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 430

Generally, Lance, if the bolt was placed legally and didn't harm other routes when it was done originally, the climbing community likes them "re-bolted" with more modern and stronger hardware.

Bolts placed where they are banned (ie private property or some wilderness areas) are rarely replaced as replacement bolting is often dependent on donations from industry etc for all the hardware. Groups like the ASCA specialize in re-bolting climbs to preserve them but only replace legal bolts.

Billcoe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 835

If you come up on a bolt put in by Kim Schmitz or Dean Caldwell, around here or of that era (or older), the  way that gets dealt with is to leave it if it's at a belay and add the modern one in the best nearby spot. If it's on route,  pull and use the hole for a bigger/modern/stainless replacement if it's a single bolt on route and that is the best location for the bolt. People should have a history lesson, but not at the expense of their lives.  

Franck Vee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 70

Yeah I think general ethics is looking for something that doesn't exist.... a bit crag-specific - some places have no qualms about bolting a 5.9 crack in the first place, while other will scream bloody murder. Some crags are more or less outdoor gyms ("bolt the planet, they said") while others strive to keep rock as natural as possible and may even balk at setting up anchors on trad route if it can be helped...

Related questions - what about huge runouts, like 30m pitches on 2 bolts? There are a number of those, say Smith Rock, and there's a perspective that they should be rebolted as they were first bolted - for historical reasons and not to denature what some pioneer set up 30 years ago. There's a point in there - but then what do you do about some run of the mill sport climb say in Red River, which has/had ground fall potential at the third... do you rebolt to eliminate that ground fall potential? Or do you rebolt intending to keep it as it was setup originally? Maybe the initial bolt placement was just a hack job and should be improved... but then who gets to make the call?

Depends how much you're into that paper or not. But if you're into it, I would encourage you to read about those on some older-school crags, like the Gunks, Yosemite & say Smith Rocks (that I know of - there may be better old-school crags to read about those came to mind). You could then compare that to say Ten Sleep Canyon (which is really at the other end of the spectrum, bolt the planet kind of thing). 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 708

Where I am, there are two areas that I know of with rather ancient bolts. Both went in decades ago, were banned after, but the bolts linger on. There is also alpine stuff out there that is decades old.

Just because it is there does not mean you should assume it's good. Here, you better know the local history and be prepared.

"Ethics" can change.

Best, OLH

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,535
Lance Lindquist wrote:

I’m wrighting a paper on bolting ethics for school and I’m asking the climbing community what you guys think. Should old unreliable bolts be replaced or left for historical purposes? 

Replaced. There's at least two national organizations dedicated to the effort- the American Safe Climbing Association being the most prominent. 

ViperScale . · · McMurdo Station, AQ · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 240

Most areas where I live it is ok to rebolt as long as you don't move bolts. However there was one FA who rebolted his own route and added bolts to it to make it safer and someone came back behind him and cut all his own new bolts so.... we just don't believe in safe routes, we like routes to be runout and at least PG-13.

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 310
Billcoe wrote:
Kyle Elliott · · Everett, WA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 580
King Tut wrote:

Generally, Lance, if the bolt was placed legally and didn't harm other routes when it was done originally, the climbing community likes them "re-bolted" with more modern and stronger hardware.

Bolts placed where they are banned (ie private property or some wilderness areas) are rarely replaced as replacement bolting is often dependent on donations from industry etc for all the hardware. Groups like the ASCA specialize in re-bolting climbs to preserve them but only replace legal bolts.

this. often, re-bolting is good practice and is well-received. 

Bolting (and re-bolting) ethics vary considerably. for instance, one area I climb, bolting is no longer permitted, however almost every route has been retro bolted in the last 10 years and it's made the place a lot safer. Another area I frequent, bolting is allowed, but the locals have strict "leave no trace" ethics and the routes that have been put up have drawn criticism. This has several issues:  

a) visibility (bolts are a "trace") and bolts placed near cracks or pockets where traditional pro might be sufficient

b) maintenance/re-bolting of all of those routes might not happen if the majority of community didn't want them there in the first place. therefore, in the future, these routes have the illusion of being "safe" when they might have seen dozens of freeze/thaw cycles, wind, rain, etc. 


Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 490
Kyle Elliott wrote:

this. often, retro-bolting is good practice and is well-received. 


I´d check whether you mean re-bolting or retro-bolting.........

Rich Farnham · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2002 · Points: 282
Kyle Elliott wrote:

this. often, retro-bolting is good practice and is well-received. 

Bolting (and retro-bolting) ethics vary considerably...

I think you may confusing the terms "retro-bolt" and "re-bolt".  

Re-bolting routes (updating the hardware by replacing bolts in the same hole, or as close as possible, but NOT adding bolts where there weren't any on the FA) is indeed good practice is usually well received.  

Retro-bolting routes (adding bolts to an existing route where there were not any on the FA) is frowned upon, and generally not accepted.  It does occasionally occur, but is typically only well received if there is discussion ahead of time, and the FA party is involved in the discussion.

Kyle Elliott · · Everett, WA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 580

yes, thanks good catch, I started typing it for both lol. re-bolting is well recieved. the first area I mentioned has been retro bolted. the original buttonheads are still there, along with shiny new bolts, but no one has really made a fuss about it. 

post has been edited

cyclestupor · · Woodland Park, Colorado · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 91

Like others have mentioned bolting ethics varies wildly from location to location, and by time period as well.

Maybe instead of writing about a "General" bolting ethic, you could discuss the motives behind each of the sometimes opposing views on bolting.  E.g....

Those who are opposed to retro-bolting may believe that extra bolts are an eye sore and/or believe that climbs should be repeated only in the style of the first assent.  So if the FA ran it out, the climb should remain run-out.  They believe that just because a route is graded 5.10a that doesn't mean it should be climbed by any 5.10 climber, and that it is fine for some climbs to be dangerous.

Those who believe in retro-bolting (not many people) believe that routes should be mostly safe, and therefore if a route isn't safely bolted, and it is in a popular area, and easily accessible, it should be made safe even if that means adding bolts without the FAs permission.

Then there is the historic view point, that the pitons, 1/4" button heads, stove legs, or compressors (just kidding) left from a historic assent should not be removed, because they are of historic value.

I also think that in order to really understand how some of the ethical arguments came about it is important to understand the history of climbing and how ethics evolved.  E.g... Repeat assents leaving pin scars and changing the difficulty of a climb.  The development of nuts & cams meant Pitons and other fixed gear was discouraged.  Bolt chopping wars at Yosemite.  The growth of sport climbing, meant that climbers could push the limits of free climbing, but bolts are now placed at sport crags even when they aren't necessary.  Climbing becoming mainstream, and not perceived as reckless.  Many bolts placed in the 80s & 90s are now corroded and unsafe, so sustainable bolting is emphasized.  Trad climbing is no longer the most widespread form of climbing, and trad ethics are not as well understood by the masses.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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