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Failed Bolt: The Flatirons, Slab, Undertow


Original Post
evan h · · Denver, CO · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 320

All,

Please note that the third bolt on Undertow pulled out with very little force yesterday. My partner first noticed the loose hanger and stud sticking out of the rock by several mm’s when leading up the pitch, and called take to test the bolt. The bolt held, but after we both climbed the pitch again, the bolt was pulled by the tension on the rope when he called take at the anchors.

We made a note in chalk on a block at the base of the route, but without the bolt, you are looking at decking potential on 5.11 moves. 

I’ll also note that this was a second generation 5-piece bolt, placed within an inch of the original hole. The sleeve and presumably the cone are still in the hole, but I wonder if drilling so close to the original hole compromised the integrity of the new hole.

I’d be happy to get up there and replace this myself, but I’m not familiar with the permitting process for replacement in the Flatirons and won’t have time this weekend.

Check your fixed gear folks! We’re very lucky neither of us whipped on that bolt!

Flatirons Climbing Council · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 22

The process for the replacement of existing, unsafe fixed hardware is managed by Open Space and Mountain Parks. To submit an application, either stop by the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage at Chautauqua Park and pick up a Notification for Bolt Replacement Form or it can be downloaded as an MS-Word Doc or PDF from the Open Space and Mountain Parks website and emailed in. Turnaround on applications is typically very quick, generally same day.

Flatirons Climbing Council · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 22
Gregger Man · · Broomfield, CO · Joined Aug 2004 · Points: 1,285

If the cone and sleeve are still in the hole, the bolt simply came unscrewed. The nearby hole wouldn't have caused that (although 1 inch is too close unless the original hole was a very short 1/4" bolt and the new one was much longer.)

The good news is that if you still have the original bolt you can screw it back in and it will be fine. In order to get it up to the appropriate torque you need a torque wrench and you need to know whether it is stainless or plated, 3/8" or 1/2".  

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 356

Everyone should carry a wrench,  sounds like the bolt literally kept on spinning until it spun out of the cone and fell out, when it just needed tightened down. 

evan h · · Denver, CO · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 320

Ok good to know. I thought this might be the case, but I didn't want to try screwing it back in and have an accident on my conscience if it failed again. And most importantly, I didn't have a wrench (which I actually used to carry on a regular basis). My partner has the bolt, so we can try and arrange something to get it back up there in the near future. Luckily the crag is pretty much out of season at the moment.

Gregger Man · · Broomfield, CO · Joined Aug 2004 · Points: 1,285

Get your partner to see if a magnet sticks to it- if it doesn't, it is a stainless bolt. 3/8" 5-piece bolt will have a 1/2" hex head, and a 1/2" 5-piece bolt will have a 9/16" hex head. 

If it is both stainless and 3/8", I would get a torque wrench. 12 ft/lbs of torque is easy to exceed if you aren't careful.

If it is plated and 3/8" or stainless and 1/2", take a short 6" crescent wrench and tighten it down pretty hard. You won't easily exceed 25 ft/lbs with a short wrench.

If it is plated and 1/2" you can really lean on the short wrench without worrying about overdoing it.  

With all 5-piece bolts it has been shown that loosening and re-torquing a few times will seat the cone further into the sleeve where it will stay in tension. The original installation of this bolt was probably done without a torque wrench, or perhaps it has just caught a lot of falls. Glue-in bolts are sometimes a better choice for a traversing crux bolt that turns the hanger in a fall.


John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 577

If this is the second time an expansion bolt has come loose/been replaced, perhaps there's some hidden reason (re: Gregger Man's post).

I'd recommend replacing it with a glue-in before there's so many holes in the rock that you can't clip the bolt from the best stance, especially with ground-fall potential.

Josh Janes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2001 · Points: 8,820

Another thing to note is that if the bolt simply unscrewed and the cone and sleeve are still in the hole, there may be a spacer(s) that you may need to locate and replace. It's possible that you have these with the bolt, or that they too are still in the hole with the cone and sleeve, or that when the bolt pulled out the spacer(s) pulled out and fell to the ground - it would be unlikely that you'd see this happen. 

In any case, posting a photo of the parts you have next to a ruler might help others tell you the length and diameter of the bolt which would also allow others to tell you if you should be looking for spacer(s) and specifically what types to look for. The spacer may not be essential to the ultimate strength of the bolt, but it would still be a good idea to replace it if possible.


Gregger Man · · Broomfield, CO · Joined Aug 2004 · Points: 1,285

The spacer Josh is talking about is probably still in the hole, but if it is gone you will run out of thread before the cone snugs up in the sleeve.

The design of a 5-piece is still pretty solid. As long as the cone is screwed onto the bolt and in the sleeve, the bolt will withstand a pretty good axial pull (even if it is never brought up to torque). If you were to screw in the old bolt without the spacer, you would tighten it until you ran out of thread and the bolt would keep spinning with space between the bolt head and the hanger. Although that would suck and it would bend the bolt if you fell on it, it would _probably_ still hold. Lots of surface area for the wedging action.

(The 1/2" bolt in the photo is assembled out of order) 

Sam Lightner, Jr. · · Lander, WY · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 2,370

Another case of it unscrewing and no one bothering to simply screw it back in? If we can't get this to be handled by individual climbers, we are in real trouble. 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 768
Sam Lightner, Jr. wrote:

Another case of it unscrewing and no one bothering to simply screw it back in? If we can't get this to be handled by individual climbers, we are in real trouble. 

Some nut tools have a hole to accommodate a nut. Is that sufficient for us run of the mill climbers, just to keep the thing together until someone can get to it? Personally, if the answer is yes, I'll replace my nut tool, or, perhaps carry a small crescent wrench? 1/2" isn't like you have to haul a pipe wrench.

Best, Helen

EDIT to add: nice job getting this information out! Thanks, all.

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 356

The nut tool can work in a pinch but is often hard to get on due to protrusions in the rock and won't get anywhere near the torque spec. Best to just carry a wrench, something like this would be good https://www.amazon.com/Stanley-Proto-J1218HASD-Combination-Wrench/dp/B001HWHWIS/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1513452656&sr=8-11&keywords=9%2F16+6+point+box+wrench I'm sure you can find a better deal, just showing an example. 6 point is preferred over 12 point, though you're unlikely to strip the bolt head even with a 12 point on a small wrench. A crescent wrench is ok too though not as easy to use, but good to carry if you plan on replacing quicklinks. 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 768
DrRockso wrote:

The nut tool can work in a pinch but is often hard to get on due to protrusions in the rock and won't get anywhere near the torque spec. Best to just carry a wrench, something like this would be good https://www.amazon.com/Stanley-Proto-J1218HASD-Combination-Wrench/dp/B001HWHWIS/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1513452656&sr=8-11&keywords=9%2F16+6+point+box+wrench I'm sure you can find a better deal, just showing an example. 6 point is preferred over 12 point, though you're unlikely to strip the bolt head even with a 12 point on a small wrench. A crescent wrench is ok too though not as easy to use, but good to carry if you plan on replacing quicklinks. 

I was thinking if there could be more than one size. Personally, I hate crescent wrenches, but that's what it comes down to, sometimes. Good point on the quicklinks. I'm not prepared to do any of this, but any of us really should be. It isn't exactly asking a lot to tighten something that's loose. It should be a given.

Best, Helen

Sam Lightner, Jr. · · Lander, WY · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 2,370

There are very small, like 4 inch long, crescent wrenches. They fit 9/16 and 1/2 inch 5 pieces. This is such a common occurrence that they should be in every climbers pack.  

Mikey Schaefer · · Redmond, OR · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 246

I see so many loose 5 piece bolts and wedge bolts and I am always amazed that other climbers don't notice it or do anything about it.  Just boggles my mind that people clip bolts without looking at them first.  If I am sport climbing a wrench is almost always in my bag and should be standard for a serious sport climber.

evan h · · Denver, CO · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 320

It's a 3/8 inch bolt, but can't comment on plated or stainless as I don't have it. It looked less than 3.5" as I recall. Josh/Greg, if you're talking about the blue spacer on a standard 5-piece, I'm assuming that's in the hole, as the upper sleeve would be gone too, correct? I could still see the sleeve at the edge of the hole. Below is a photo of what came out with the quickdraw -- essentially the stud and hanger. 

Regarding carrying a wrench, I agree. This is probably an easy fix but I think we (me) benefit from the discussion. I've done a bit of bolting, but I wouldn't be confident that simply re-screwing it wouldn't be masking another problem, especially when I saw the proximity to the old hole. The reality is that I'd say a very low percentage of climbers carry a wrench, and even fewer would be comfortable screwing back in a bolt that had popped out from the pull of a rope.

 

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 356

The idea is to tighten them back down before they fall out. :) See something, do something about it,  inform yourself if you don't feel comfortable.  You're totally right about this being a good thread to bring up the discussion.

I find in my area 99% of the bolt heads are 9/16th. If you are in an area with varying bolt head sizes a double sided wrench or crescent would be a better bet. We are occasionally seeing the 5/8" head which is standard on the new plated powers bolts, though most of our loosening problems are coming from Stainless.  Also to the uniformed what we call the half inch 5 peice bolt (fits a half inch hole) has a 3/8" internal bolt.

Josh Janes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2001 · Points: 8,820
evan h wrote:

Josh/Greg, if you're talking about the blue spacer on a standard 5-piece, I'm assuming that's in the hole, as the upper sleeve would be gone too, correct? I could still see the sleeve at the edge of the hole.

The spacer configuration depends on the length and diameter of the bolt. Shorter bolts often don't have a metal spacer and only have the blue ring. But if you saw metal right up to the edge of the hole/surface of the rock that's probably a good indication that all spacers are still in the hole: You're probably good to go just putting the stud, washer, hanger back in and screwing it town.

Pinklebear · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2006 · Points: 3,130

Myself and Owen Silver did the replacement work on Undertow about 6 years ago -- those are all SS 1/2" bolts, and it sounds like it just needs to be screwed back in and tigthened down. If not, I have some glue-ins (but no glue) I'd be happy to donate.

The new bolt should have been more than 1" from the old hole -- I always try to move them 3" away at least, but maybe bobbled it this time? If so, sorry, and sorry that this equipment failure happened. With a 9/16 socket wrench, you should be able to tigthen it back down.


Sandy Crimp · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2013 · Points: 15
Pinklebear wrote:

Myself and Owen Silver did the replacement work on Undertow about 6 years ago -- those are all SS 1/2" ....::, and sorry that this equipment failure happened. With a 9/16 socket wrench, you should...


Very kind comments of you Pinkle...but don’t apologize for the “equipment failure”!  This was not an equipment failure.  A bolt loosened (which is going to happen!) and the climber failed to correct it or even have a basic clue of how to address the situation.  The thread name “bolt failure” is wrong.  This was a climber failure!   

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Colorado
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