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Three From the Ice Pond

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And what can be done about it.

lover's-leap-carl

Carl Bullock clips some funky bolts in Lover’s Leap, CA.

There’s been a lot of press over the last couple of years given to the state of bolts in the United States, specifically in regards to how many of the first sport climbing areas are reaching that point where the original bolts are nearing the end of their presumed lifespan. Massive efforts have been undertaken (and are ongoing) to rebolt our beloved crags, with donations from places like the ASCA (American Safe Climbing Association) and Anchor Replacement Fund (a joint effort by the Access Fund and American Alpine Club) helping to ease the financial burden of upgrading the aging hardware.

From time to time, you see threads pop up on internet forums asking about what kinds of bolts to use for certain areas, and of course many people recommended stainless, though there are always a few who claim plated steel is fine in dry environments, like the Utah desert. The stainless disciples will have none of it, even though the cost of using stainless can be substantially higher, depending on what bolts are being used.

And this gets to the real problem with bolts in America. Right now, in most places, developers are paying for this stuff out of their own pocket. In a country that idolizes places like Wal Mart and Costco, is it any wonder that we approach the crags with the same what’s-the-lowest-price-I-can-get mindset?

For the sake of comparison, let’s say I have a sweet twelve bolt sport climb I want to put up. I need fourteen total, including two for the anchors, and let’s not even worry about the quicklinks, chains, lowering ‘biners, etc. If the rock is hard, I can use stainless wedge bolts, the cheapest stainless option available. Hilti KB3’s are $3.42 for a 3/8″ x 3” bolt. (For Fixe wedge, you’ll pay about $5). Stainless hangers are about $3 each, so this set up would cost me around $90. If we are talking about softer rock and have to use stainless Powers ½” x 2 ¾”, you are looking at $7.90 per bolt. So for the same route, the cost would be around $153. Plated hardware for the same climb would run around $62, almost $100 cheaper. And that’s just one route. Put together the numbers for an entire new crag, and you can see where this goes very quickly. (I didn’t mention glue-ins at all, which I don’t think should be used in choss when bolting a route for the first time. Many will probably disagree with me on that, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The Real Problem with Bolts in America

Hilti KB3, an affordable stainless option for hard rock.

The financial incentive to go with plated is significant, and then there is the elephant in the room, which we’re not really supposed to talk about and which I might rile some feathers by mentioning here, but all the cards need to be on the table with this debate. Why bolt with stainless when you can use plated for a fraction of the cost and then the ASCA, ARF, or whoever will provide stainless to fix it in 10-20 years? Play now, pay later, it’s the American dream!

The Real Problem with Bolts in America

Stainless 5-piece powers. Pricier than sushi in Aspen.

So what’s the solution? A friend of mine has talked about the need for organizations that would be able to supply developers with good hardware from the outset, and in my opinion, that’s the only way this situation will change. That, or making plated steel illegal, but we can’t even give up assault weapons or high capacity magazines, so plated steel probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. To my knowledge, this approach has been tried in places like Rifle and the Red River Gorge, the latter offering perhaps the most promising model in the Red River Gorge Fixed Gear Initiative. One of the things this organization does is “offer both stainless steel expansion bolts and glue ins to developers at a reduced price that allows continued development with more sustainable materials.” They aren’t fully subsidizing it, which could be another way this could work, but taking some of the bite out of the cost out of stainless is a major step in the right direction.

There are certainly some concerns that would need to be addressed doing it this way, but it would basically be what the ASCA is already doing, just the first time around so it could be done right. These could be nonprofit organizations, funded by climbing companies, local organizations, etc. who would get the tax write off of for donating to these nonprofits, as well as the goodwill of the community from supporting route developers.

Recently we were climbing in Maple Canyon and met some guys that were putting up new routes. They mentioned how much one new multipitch cost them, and I said that amount was cheap for stainless. They said it was actually plated steel, but I didn’t chastise them. These guys were working hard to develop new climbing, and doing the best they could. And until the financial burden of new routes is assumed by the community as a whole, this will likely continue to be the status quo.

For my own part, I use stainless wedge bolts for most of what I do. They work well in the rock types we have around here (mostly harder stone, except for the F-Pan), and can now be removed thanks to the ingenious tools being developed by an industrious few. If we had more soft rock I’d be in a tougher spot, as stainless Powers are absurdly expensive for one person to afford.

What do you think, are organizations like this a real possibility? How would it work, nationally like the ASCA, or at the local level like the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition?

Read more http://www.splitterchoss.com/2016/07/20/the-real-problem-with-bolts-in-america/

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