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Bolt Failures

Original Post
Eliot Augusto · · Boulder, CO · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 60

I was just reading a big thread on supertopo, and it got me thinking about bolt failures. I was doing a Fixed Hardware Assessment Program in Boulder Canyon, and of the people I asked none of them could provide a first or third hand account of a real bolt failures. I also am thinking more about the bolts in good rock, not pitons smashed into a rock or the mank found on top of desert towers hammered into the mud. I'm asking because the internet is intent on telling me that bolt failures are going to be the death of me, along with every other aspect of climbing. What stories do you have of a bolt actually failing, something you are 100% sure happened? What were the circumstances leading up to and after the bolt failing? Was the bolt even vaguely reasonable by modern standards(not a 3/8" x 1" Buttonhead with homemade aluminium hangers)?

I can only think of one video I saw. The guy was climbing a horizontal route, not a roof exactly, think a lateral boulder traverse that is just high enough to need a rope. It was in a weaker variety of sandstone, and the person who bolted the route didn't do it right. One of the anchor bolts was 2 inches or so from the edge of the roof at the end. When the climber weighted it after a desperate clip, the anchor bolt tore out the rock. The bolt was completely encased in rock, so arguably it was the rock that failed or the bolter. From the look of the bolt, and the little bit of glue visible, it looked new and glued correctly. All in all though, the bolt failed.

Max Supertramp · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 65

first: If videos count...

second: "the person who bolted didn't do it right...." is not a one-off, unfortunately.  

third:  I am certain that most Home Depot bolts were made by happy, complacent human beings at the factory TIanjing.  

never seen one shear though, and I am a big human. 

J Squared · · santa barbara, CA · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 0

honnold has a bolt break on the first climb in

but you know... africa.. 

kalockwood · · SLC, UT · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 200
Max Tepfer · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 1,635

I had a bolt break on me in perfect granite and took a 60' fall as a result.  I'd TR'd the pitch with friends a few days before and remember noting that the bolts looked skinny, (pretty sure it was a 1/4" expansion bolt) but the hanger wasn't spinning and there weren't any signs of corrosion visible when I clipped it.  Of the 6 people or so who worked the pitch that day, I think I was the only one who expressed concern.  While dangling on the end of the rope, I have vague memories of the stud looking slightly corroded. (it pulled right out of the rock and was still in the hanger when I came to a stop, but fell out while I was pulling back up to my belayer)

Garrett R. · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2008 · Points: 40

J Squared wrote:

honnold has a bolt break on the first climb in

but you know... africa.. 

I think (minimal reference provided in the video) that it got creamed by rock fall and the hanger broke as a result? 

Trevor. · · Boise, ID · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 849

I've replaced a few 3/8 bolts in good rock that were on the verge of failure, one of which probably wouldn't have supported body weight. Both were 30+ years old and poorly installed. 

Jason Halladay · · Los Alamos, NM · Joined Oct 2005 · Points: 11,829

J Squared wrote:

honnold has a bolt break on the first climb in

but you know... africa.. 

It's a hanger failure at 3:17 in that video. Is that what you're referring to? (Thanks for the video link, hadn't seen that one before.) 

The only bolt failures I know of personally aren't the bolts breaking but pulling out of the rock. Three instances I know of are in my local area. First was some whack-ass homemade glue-in job consisting of threaded 3/8" rod glued into the rock. Not surprisingly, one of these pulled straight out a couple years after it was placed. It made it easy for me to drill the hole to 1/2" and put a real bolt in there. 

Second and third instances were 3/8" wedge bolts placed in softer rhyolite rock. Both pulled out, eventually. The first one had some assistance by me after I noticed it wiggling in the hole pretty badly. The second one was the first bolt on a route near a river and the bolt had been used as an anchor in a tyrolean traverse setup to get across the river. Thankfully it didn't pull out while someone was on the tyrolean but its weakened state was noticed later by a climber and pulled out by hand. 

Alex (spellstrike) Palmiter · · Duluth · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 23

here's an example of bolts & anchors that absolutely not should not be trusted with your life that was in my local area recently. 

dave custer · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 880
ViperScale . · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 240

Have seen some in person (bolt failures without a crack in the hanger) but don't have pictures of video.

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348

There have been several accounts on the injury and accident section of this forum of bolts failing, even in at least one case a glue-in bolt. In more than one case the climber was killed as a result of the bolt failing. I've had bolts pull on me because they were too loose. In one case, the bolt pulled out as I was being lowered. In the two other cases I yanked the bolt out by hand with a quickdraw. Two of the bolts were lose Fixe Triplex bolts installed in a 1/2" hole (wrong...). The third was a 1/2" x 3.75" Power Bolt that was loosely installed in soft sandstone in Red Rocks.

I can think of two cases where a climber lowered off a bolt and it failed while he was lowering. In one of those cases the climber died. There was a case not too long ago of a glue-in bolt in a rap station in Red Rocks failing because the epoxy did not cure. That’s not the first time that’s happened either. There are several other examples floating around on the forum.

Interestingly enough, I have also whiped on bolts more than 1000 times and I have never pulled one on a fall. I've also caught thousands of lead falls and I have never witnessed a bolt failing on a fall, either while I was belaying or someone else was belaying. I know of cases where bolts have failed on a fall, I've just never seen it happen in person. Failing under bodyweight, while lowering or rappelling? That I can think of several cases where that's happened though.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,091

i broke a bittonhead just clipping a quickdraw into it. that sucked, but could have been worse.

i climbed an obscure route the other day (putterman's pinkies), and one of the anchor bolts had fallen out and was just hanging by the tat.  it was a long 3/8 bolt that was probably a spinner to begin with.

that being said, as many bolts and climbers as there are out there, it is surprising that it isnt more common.

Perin Blanchard · · Orem, UT · Joined Oct 2005 · Points: 8,300

I'm "second-hand" aware of only a single failure. It was a relatively new, local 5.12 route and the crux wedge bolt pulled out when a friend fell on it.

From examining the bolt, and talking to the route developer, it appears that paint had gummed up the threads and caused the bolt to have appeared to have fully tightened down when it had not. The developer was in the habit (as were others) of assembling the bolt and hangers at the crag and then painting them together on the ground shortly before installation. No one does that around here since then.

Greg Barnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,788

 I was doing a Fixed Hardware Assessment Program in Boulder Canyon, and of the people I asked none of them could provide a first or third hand account of a real bolt failures. 

That's not particularly surprising, as in general most climbing in the Front Range is relatively "new" - namely on bolts that were 3/8" to begin with, as opposed to 1/4". It's pretty rare to find modern bolts breaking - I think most of the recent accounts are of rock failure (and/or installation issues). There was a case in the '90s in Pinnacles where a 3/8" 5-piece slowly unscrewed as people dogged on it for years, finally pulling out when only a couple threads held it in, leading to a serious injury (on Feed the Beast on the Monolith).

Anyway, most of the bolts getting replaced on the Front Range in the past few years would be considered fine in California since there are so many 1/4" there that even a really rusted 3/8" doesn't raise many alarms (even if it should).

Quarter-inch bolts, and any steel bolts in aggressive seaside environments like Thailand, have been breaking on people for decades, loads of people (including myself) have multiple first hand accounts of those. Wall climbers frequently snapped 1/4" while hauling. There are several accounts of modern stainless steel sport bolts breaking from SCC from the northern California seaside crags in recent years.

But for modern sport climbing era (3/8" or larger) bolts breaking, the only thing that pops to mind (aside from rock breaking out, and seaside SCC) is multiple broken 3/8" split-shaft bolts in Cochise - these are the same basic design as 1/4" or 5/16" buttonheads, and it appears to be some sort of stress fracturing upon installation (or sometime thereafter). This is the same cause as the 5/16" bolt failure that led to a death at Owens recently (5/16" buttonheads with good stainless hangers are hard to distinguish from larger bolts particularly at a distance). These broken bolts are fractured most of the way through before breaking (so after the bolt snaps, you see that there was rust across most of the break, with only a little bit of metal holding the bolt on). Unfortunately there's no way to tell if a 3/8" thread-head bolt is a wedge/stud bolt, a split-shaft, or any of another dozen designs (most are wedge/stud).

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 347

I know of 2 bolt failures due to rock quality/poor placement decisions here in RRG. 

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735

DrRockso wrote:

I know of 2 bolt failures due to rock quality/poor placement decisions here in RRG. 

more than 2, surely?

All draws and no Brain at the Gallery, 2017.
Psycho Billy Cadillac, Muir Valley, ~2012.
Sand at Roadside, maybe 2008?
Convicted at the Lode, don't remember when, maybe 2008-2010?

Those are just off the top of my head.

There was also this one at the New:

Some of the above were bad rock, or improper bolting, but I think the thought on Convicted was that it was originally well placed, but it was the first bolt that saw probably 1000s of harsh falls before it failed, years later?

Then there are somewhat-related failures where the rock wasn't a problem, the hole-drilling was fine, and the bolt was fine, too, but the 5-piece bolt, new, got loosened and pulled out.

e.g. On thin Ice, Portal, Miller Fork, 2017.

I think the same thing also happened on Kaleidoscope at Drive-by, maybe is ~2011

mcarizona · · Flag · Joined Feb 2007 · Points: 180

Once I was leading in Mexico:  El Diente, outside of Guadalajara.  Actually the route name was something to do with 'sensual woman'.  Anyway, I got up a ways, maybe the 3rd clip and the hole in the homemade hanger wouldn't fit my biner!  I tried to downclimb to a safe jumping distance and nobody got hurt.  We found the 5.8 to get up the back of the tooth after that.


Aaron Felder · · Norman, OK · Joined Dec 2016 · Points: 0

J Squared wrote:

honnold has a bolt break on the first climb in

but you know... africa.. 

This just sent me down such a long, sweaty-handed, rabbit hole 

Robert Hall · · North Conway, NH · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 13,870
dnoB ekiM · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 2,925
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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