Bolts… why not

Bolting is unsustainable

For the following reasons bolting is unsustainable;

  • It causes significant irreversible damage to the rock
  • The ‘Decades’ of use we get out of a bolt placement is minute compared with the entire future of climbing (How many hundreds of years?)
  • It rapidly speeds up destruction of crags through higher volumes in traffic and a greater intensity of use
  • It ruins potential for new clean lines and therefore having a destructive nature on the traditional aspect of climbing. It is worth mentioning that no other protection practice has such a destructive effect on the enjoyment of other aspects of the sport.

Bolts are not necessary most of the time

The majority of bolts are on relatively easy climbs; perhaps not so much in the UK, but certainly in countries which have adopted wide spread bolting.

On these routes it is almost always possible to use natural protection instead, often ‘bolt-only’ climbers think the routes are ‘unprotectable’ when it is far from the truth. This often stems from the fact that they have not had the opportunity to learn how to place gear and therefore do not know when it is good – coupled with the fact that they are never looking for it

Yes, there are hard bolted routes – where is it hard to imagine anyone ever climbing it using natural protection. But they said this in the 1980’s and were proven wrong, for this generation this is unlikely to be any different. At any rate, the ‘elite’ end of sport climbing does a very small proportion of the physical damage done to the rock.

Bolts are aesthetically unappealing

A scattering of man made shiny items with or without a pasting of glue around it on some of our most dramatic natural features is not exactly pretty. Other people enjoy these environments and bolting it up will detract from its beauty for others. Of course this could apply to chalk, but at least chalk generally washes off in the rain and is very unlikely to cause anything like the irreparable damage bolts cause.

In some areas people might start to realise the mess bolts make, maybe not now, but in the future and use it as an argument to stop people climbing and destroying these often very ancient rock structures.


11 responses to “Bolts… why not

  1. Your comments are asinine and your logic flawed. I love to trad climb as much as the next guy but come on buddy, bolting is not the evil you make it out to be. Lighten up.

    • Sure it is not ‘evil’ and at no point have I suggested that it is, the points I make are based around the longevity of the rock and reducing negative impact on others. I agree there is a place for bolts, but they have rather over-spilled in many countries to be everywhere and anywhere.

      I am sure you can agree that this is hardly responsible bolting practice, nor is it conducive to providing people with the full and emotionally varied experience climbing can be. By restricting choice for beginners in entire regions, or indeed countries, they are led in to a climbing world where the only way is to climb bolts, and effectively lose the option to climb using natural protection; there is no one to teach them, no one to suggest it is safe.

      Recently I was climbing in Germany and sadly every crag in the area was bolted so I had to climb using natural protection over the bolts. I was promtly by told by one of the locals that there is no gear on the cliff and it is unprotected.

      The crag had lots of protection, but as he in his many years of climbing, never had the opportunity or reason to learn traditional climbing, he just assumed that the bolts were there because there was no other option. This is a typical example of how people easily become blind sided to thinking bolts are the only way, become unlikely to question bolting as a practice and lose out on wholly rewarding aspects of climbing.

  2. Andre, totaly agree well said.

  3. The argument about easy routes flaws.

    “Easy routes” can be “easily protected” by people CONFIDENT with removable protection and CONFIDENT with their climbing level, so that they can pay attention to the proper installation of gears. Have you ever seen any beginner sweating before reaching a bolt on an easy route? Do you imagine the same climber trying to properly insert a friend?

    Climbing level and confidence are quite related. So, we need a higher degree of protection in easy routes than on difficult ones.

    Of course, you could forbid bolting and beginners also could practice in artificial urban schools before being able to manage with the additional subjective level that free climbing adds.

    Of course, there would be less climbers. That can be good or bad. Maybe you couln’t find cheap material at shops if few people climbed…

    • Sounds reasonable – but you will be glad to know that with easier climbs you almost certainly do get a higher level of protection – more features almost always equals more protection. Its pretty marvelous in how it works. Trad climbing really is not all that complicated and just as you wouldn’t suggest a couple of novices go out and climbs with no experience for bolt climbing; one would not suggest the same for trad.

      Cheap material at shops is a rather consumerist and superficial reason to justify bolting. If there were more trad climbers, if people in most of europe were within a hundred miles of a decent non-bolted crag – perhaps there would be cheaper trad gear too?

    • Billy, I’m sorry but your argument is also flawed. Banning bolting wouldn’t confine beginners to “artificial urban schools”. Most trad climbing beginners don’t learn indoors – there wouldn’t be much point as you can’t learn to place protection safely on a climbing wall. You can learn to safely place trad gear, and gain confidence in using it, on scrambling routes or bouldering pitches where there is virtually no risk of taking a serious fall. Your ability (in both climbing and placing protection) and confidence should grow together. In my experience, greater risks are taken by over-confident bolt-only climbers who progress from top-roping at a climbing wall to leading bolted routes without developing the basic rope and rock skills to assess whether the bolts can be trusted or what to do if something goes wrong.

  4. I agree that bolting should be minimised, but I don’t think that it should be ‘stopped’. Sport climbing is a different kind of climbing to trad climbing: It allows for more dynamic moves, and confidence climbing at the very edge of your ability without that nagging fear of gear failing. How many ‘very hard’ climbs out there are also ‘safe’ climbs? – with good gear must come easier climbing!

    Of course, bolts dammage rock. But this dammage can be limited: placing good stainless steel p-type bolts can give excellent strength, minimal corrosion, and they are also less visible. We must realise that any climbing must dammage rock: routes become polished, holds become broken, cams get stuck. Other than aesthetics, are bolts really causing that much more dammage?

    On a more personal note, I consider myself a dedicated climber, but I can’t afford a trad rack and probably won’t be able to for a while (I am a student). Sport climbing is much more accessible to those climbers who are starting out: it requires less expense, less training and it is surely also less dangerous (though this is perhaps also a conentious issue).

    Overall I would argue that sport climbing deserves attention, and routes should be bolted. I do however see the need to minimise this practice, ensuring that sport climbs are placed mainly in areas were trad routes would be inappropriate (not much good protection, for example). Ideally, we should also avoid placing sport routes in areas of exceptional natural beauty, or wilderness areas. Of course, this may still lead to great controvosy when considering individual crags, but I would think that some kind of middle ground can be reached which gives the best overall experience for everyone. To preach that bolting should stop altogether is a great injustice: even if there are climbers who do not partake in sport climbing, it is a fundemental part of the sport that cannot just be ignored!

  5. How can one climb a face with no cracks or horns or other features and protect it without bolts? Crack protection damages cracks too. Anti bolters are anti climbing zealots. There is no reason other then desire to control and ego to ban bolts. They are very hard to see unless you are looking right at them. They do minimal damage to a tiny portion of rock. In hundreds of years the rock will wear down and fall naturally. They are required to climb face routes with some safety. They are far less damaging then roads, trails and other man made items in natural areas. There is nothing wrong with bolts. If you don’t to see them, don’t go to bolted areas and don’t climb bolted routes.

  6. As a hiker, long before I was interested in climbing I found a rock ledge along a trail. This ledge was rounded granite so it was comfortable to sit on with my legs dangling over the edge. The view was a wide expansive valley with the fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean. I sat and ate lunch and enjoyed the view.
    Two years later I was walking that same trail and was looking forward to having lunch on that ledge. When I got there I found two (maybe more, it’s been awhile) bolts in the rock. I tried to find a place to sit (bolt between legs, legs between bolts, etc.) but there was no good place to sit without one of the bolts sticking into me. I found out from climbing friends that it was probably someone setting up top-rope style climbing.
    Is there justification for that? Am I SOL because I wanted to sit and enjoy the view but someone else wanted protection to climb?

  7. Hi, I am a new climbing passionate. I have a question I can’t find answer.
    I saw many videos of “first ascent”, sometimes calling about 9a grade, and all of the wall was “bolted”, sorry I am not English and I don’t know the right words. However, this climbers was making the first wall ascent using the bolts already installed on the face. My question is: who and how are the bolts installed? Maybe someone arrived on the peak with an helicopter and then descendig with a rope? Or aren’t really the videos about the first ascents because there was a “free climbing” phase before in whick they put the bolt?
    Thank you very much for your response.

  8. Everyone here has some pretty solid reasoning to drive home their point. I most likely don’t. For me it’s simple. Defacing nature, in any capacity or quantity is bad. If a route is too difficult, grow stronger. Doesn’t get more simple than that. How many climbs were deemed impossible several decades ago? Now they are being climbed more and more. Just because you believe a climb is impossible doesn’t mean it actually is. If no matter what you can’t climb it…then you can’t climb it. I am all for putting a stop to bolting. However, who the hell am I to stop someone’s sport or passion? If you want to bolt then bolt. But the problem is that so many people are bolting everywhere. Why? To reach the top easier? Safer? Let’s not get greedy. I’m of the mindset that climbing is man in his purest form. Body and rock. But to contradict myself, I do use gear to help get to the top. But in my mind, if I have to bolt, then I’m not strong enough. Maybe we’re just not meant to reach those heights yet. I believe in progress but not at the cost of nature. We have the rest of society already on that.

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