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Heavy corrosion on plated steel hardware in "semi-arid" climates


Original Post
michalm · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 207

After pulling some 3/8" plated steel (PS) 5-pieces in Upper Dream canyon that were only 2 decades old, I wanted to warn would-be route developers that plated steel is not a sustainable or viable option in the Colorado Rockies. I know that this is not a new insight, but I was surprised at just how corroded PS can become, even in a "semi-arid" environment.
I understand that some route developers believed that a PS 5-piece Power-Bolt can be easily replaced in the future with more sustainable, stainless steel hardware. Except in very dry areas such as the sandstone desert in Moab/Grand Junction and in New Mexico/Arizona, this is simply not the case. Especially when placed near water streaks or areas that see runoff from snowmelt, PS 5-piece bolts can experience extensive corrosion so that sleeves and cones will fuse with the bolt stud. At this point, it becomes extremely difficult to reuse the same hole for sustainable bolt replacement and a few things can happen:
- The bolt is fused with the cone and snaps at the thread in the back of the hole when loosening. This can usually be drilled out to reuse the same hole.
- The bolt is fused with the cone or sleeve and refuses to pull out of the hole. These can sometimes be spun/pulled out with a LOT of effort. I was able to remove one stud by spinning with an impact driver while pulling out on the hanger until the cone disintegrated and could be eventually pulled through the sleeve.
Another bolt was so corroded that it wouldn't spin much or pull out of the sleeve and has to be ground off with a cutoff wheel.

I will include some photos soon of the corroded hardware.

Hopefully you find some of these tips useful for removing the really stubborn bolts.

Please also keep in mind that in limestone areas, PS hardware is more susceptible to corrosion due to carbonic acid from the limestone itself. Furthermore, PS hardware is coated in zinc, which leeches out of the hole onto the rock. This exterminates the biofilms on the surface of the rock that form the beautiful blue/grey varnish that we all like looking at, leaving large white streaks devoid of varnish and microbial life in their place. Go to Lime Kiln on the Arizona Strip, an arid desert climbing area, and see just how extensively PS hardware affects the rock. There are white streaks all over the blue walls.

Bobby Hutton · · Gold Country CA · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 824

Thanks for sharing your experience. I am having some of the same issues. 

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 612

Michalm, just to support your position:  

For several years now the Access Fund has recommended stainless for ALL new routes and rebolting work in most environments.  Plated steel is highly discouraged, there's no excuse for it.   Titanium is recommended for highly corrosive environments.

Taylor Krosbakken · · Duluth, MN · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 446

Why do climbing specific manufacturers/distributors (fixe, climbtech) still offer plated hardware if Access Fund, ASCA, etc. are so against it? Will that likely go away in the near future? It probably should right? 

Boissal . · · Small Lake, UT · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 1,406
Taylor Krosbakken wrote: Why do climbing specific manufacturers/distributors (fixe, climbtech) still offer plated hardware if Access Fund, ASCA, etc. are so against it? Will that likely go away in the near future? It probably should right? 

I doubt gyms would be interested in SS hangers and they probably represent a fairly significant market.

Chase G · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 157
Taylor Krosbakken wrote: Why do climbing specific manufacturers/distributors (fixe, climbtech) still offer plated hardware if Access Fund, ASCA, etc. are so against it? Will that likely go away in the near future? It probably should right? 

Probably because it's cheap so people keep buying it? Yeah it doesn't make sense, literally everyone says the only viable hardware moving forward is 1/2" SS bolts, SS hangers, and SS chain with quicklinks. So why is it literally only 1 company (Fixe) makes 1/2" SS hangers? Where is the disconnect in the industry? Do the other hardware companies not care because climbing is likely a small part of their sales compared to rope access and gyms?

Taylor Krosbakken · · Duluth, MN · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 446
Boissal . wrote:

I doubt gyms would be interested in SS hangers and they probably represent a fairly significant market.

Ok fair point. What about the expansion bolts? And yes Powers is not going to stop making plated steel 5 piece, but should fixe and climbtech offer them? They could also say "for indoor use only" for the plated steel hangers. They probably have more influence than they realize when it comes to this. I could very well be wrong. 

Boissal . · · Small Lake, UT · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 1,406
Taylor Krosbakken wrote:

Ok fair point. What about the expansion bolts? And yes Powers is not going to stop making plated steel 5 piece, but should fixe and climbtech offer them? They could also say "for indoor use only" for the plated steel hangers. They probably have more influence than they realize when it comes to this. I could very well be wrong. 

It would be interesting to get an idea of the proportion of hardware they sell in SS vs PS. The only way to really force the issue would be for the AF, ASCA, etc... to coordinate with them to stop selling PS hardware to anyone who isn't a verified owner of a gym. Barring that I really don't see why a climbing hardware manufacturer would voluntarily abandon one of their cash cows in the name of an unenforceable and non-legally binding standard. The bottom-line will always win and they know that if they stop offering PS developers who continue to use it will find another source... 

Robert Hall · · North Conway, NH · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 16,385

Re' Powers plated 5 piece; it has always been my belief (from where I don't know) that the major market for Powers was/is the construction industry and most bolts are sold for use "indoors", not for climbing gyms but for construction.  Perhaps someone can comment on this.  

Certainly if you go back far enough climbers bought their bolts from the "hardware store": e.g. the "backside" route on the Needle's Eye in the Black Hills, then the " 1/4 inch "Star Dryve In"(?spelling), and 1/4" Buttonheads, then the 1/4 inch with threads-and-nut.   All ( I believe) were/are designed to attach something to cement inside a structure.

Also, some First Ascentionists (especially decades ago when there were, like, 1 /50th the number of climbers) climbed the FA of  a route and put the bolt in "for their own protection", perhaps not even considering when/if the route might ever be done again. Here in NH-ME there are old routes with very "limited" bolts and which are plated bolts with home-made aluminum hangers...you want to see corrosion from THAT bi-metallic pair !  This climber is one of the most respected in the area and, of course, now uses SS hardware, but that was "just the way it was done" 30, 40 years ago, and has allowed (on at least on one semi-popular route) both adding a bolt or two and replacing the old bolts.    

Greg Barnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,823

Powers (Dewalt) already stopped making plated 5-piece a few years ago, they only make stainless now. They have a new design in plated (Power-Bolt+), but it's far weaker.

You can use a 3/8" hole hanger with the standard length 1/2" stainless Power-Bolt aka 5-piece (2.75") by simply removing a small metal spacer ring.

Also Climbtech now makes their hangers with 1/2" (13mm) hole.

Many climbers who put up a large number of first ascents use only plated hardware due to cost. Gyms use plated and have a lot of bolt hangers. 

Taylor Krosbakken · · Duluth, MN · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 446

You are likely correct Robert. Most 5 piece bolts are going into the construction industry and so Powers is not going to stop making them. But what I was saying, is that Climbtech and Fixe shouldnt offer them on there website in the climbing section. and even if they think they need to, should put a warning of some sort. Sure people buy them because they are cheap, but maybe they don't know any better.

As far as back in the day. Ya, there wasn't climbing specific bolt manufacturers and distributors. And you are right, it was just the way it was done. They didn't know any better. But now we do!

Taylor Krosbakken · · Duluth, MN · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 446
Greg Barnes wrote: 
Many climbers who put up a large number of first ascents use only plated hardware due to cost. Gyms use plated and have a lot of bolt hangers. 

Do you think this is an acceptable excuse? or if you can't afford SS, maybe don't put up the route? 

Bobby Hutton · · Gold Country CA · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 824

I agree that is very silly that climbing specific retailers still stock PS bolts. I pulled 35-40 of the PS 5 piece bolts in the last couple months all with SS hangers. The hangers show no corrosion besides some slight staining from the heavily rusted bolts. To reinforce one of the points from the OP, I had a much lower success rate reusing the holes from 5 piece bolts than holes from ps wedge bolts from the same era.
I bought a handful of the PS hangers from Fixe that work great for temporary anchors when I am developing routes.
Team tough also stocks SS 1/2" hangers. 

Greg Barnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,823

Of course it's not an excuse. I have been berating friends and manufacturers to go only stainless for nearly 2 decades. But it's reality - a lot of the folks who put up a ton of routes truly can not afford to buy stainless bolts and put up the same number of routes. So if you go climb their new routes even when the bolts are plated, are you part of the problem?

Taylor Krosbakken · · Duluth, MN · Joined Nov 2008 · Points: 446

Ya I didn't think you would. I know you believe in stainless. Your website stands by this.

Interesting.... yes i suppose you could make that argument. However most climbs in guidebooks or here on MP do not say "bolted with non-SS hardware" so there would be no way to know.  And I know I am preaching to the choir here but,  basically, you could say that the people that use plated hardware are only putting it in for themselves and you don't have to use it. But new routes are a finite resource and if you are going to bother placing hardware it should be SS.

Greg Barnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,823

I've been trying to get people to use stainless for a long time, and 15-20 years ago it was like beating your head against a brick wall to even suggest stainless.

These days, a good number of developers ARE using 100% stainless, so progress is definitely being made. There is growing awareness now that people are seeing some really rusty & sketchy looking bolts at popular sport areas. Much of the rock climbing in the U.S. is in pretty arid climates that don't show obvious rust too quickly (even if the bolts are rusting away inside the hole).

Also, just a suggestion, if you know any dirtbag developers, you might consider helping them out with buying good quality stainless bolts!

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 523

I've been replacing bolts lately in both sandstone and limestone down here in the san jauns and durango, and I've had many similar observations. Lots of sleeves fused to the stud and a few that were very difficult to get the stud out. Most of the bolts were placed in the 90s and early 2000s so between 1 and 3 decades old now. All plated steel, mostly 5 piece bolts with some wedge bolts, a few split shaft bolts and a few lock bolts that i haven't gotten to yet.

In most cases, the stud has not been compromised in strength due to corrosion, but the sleeves and cone have all had surface corrosion. The sleeve, especially, is relatively thin to begin with and so if it gets some surface corrosion, you could be already halfway through the metal, which is concerning to me as far as axial strength. If the bolt will always be loaded in sheer and not axially, then it's mostly a non-issue. In a few cases, I have actually cut through all of the remaining metal when trying to tap threads into the sleeve when pulling, which is quite alarming to me. 

Since a couple years ago, I have stopped placing any non-SS for climbing use, although I have placed a few plated bolts for instructional use and practice. I made the switch after seeing that some of the bolts around here appear (from the outside) to be in poor shape after 1-3 decades in limestone. In sandstone it is not as bad, and there are bolts from the late 70s and 80s that have held up to corrosion better than newer bolts in limestone (although still poor bolts due to small diameters). However, I don't think it is a good general practice to be placing plated steel even in sandstone here in the rockies.

However, I'm not yet convinced that chains and quicklinks need to always be stainless here. I've seen a lot of plated steel chain that perhaps looks kind of ugly from surface corrosion, but has not been affected at all functionally or in strength. Although we get a lot of moisture, we are still classified as an alpine desert climate here in Durango and it seems to evaporate quickly enough so to not cause significant corrosion outside the hole.

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 113

Anyone complaining about PS bolts should be out replacing them and/or donating to ASCA.

;D

michalm · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 207
Harumpfster Boondoggle wrote: Anyone complaining about PS bolts should be out replacing them and/or donating to ASCA.

;D

Most everyone on this thread already is.

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 113

Duh? My post is intended for the lurkers who should be active in the bolt replacing community too!

:)

Greg Barnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,823

Don't fight guys...both of you are regularly out replacing bolts with ASCA hardware!

And Eli, yes I agree stainless hardware for anchor setups is not always needed in arid climates, but it really comes down to the particular anchor. If the anchor gets wet due to a pour-off or spring runoff then it can rust pretty quickly.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Fixed Hardware: Bolts & Anchors
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