Why We Rebolt: Climbers Replace Hardware in California Blog Feature

By: Max Stuart

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Why We Rebolt: Climbers Replace Hardware in California

Climbing Community

Sunday morning provides crisp, fall air sifting through the madrone and oak trees as they shade the Tafoni Sandstone in Castle Rock State Park (CRSP). The costume party last night only contributes to my excitement, despite the lack of sleep. Rebolting has been so intriguing to me after years of seeing so much antiquated rock protection. I was overwhelmed at the opportunity to contribute to some local climbing areas.

That morning, we set out with the Bay Area Climbers Coaltion (BACC) and gear provided by the American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) to update some of the old bolts that protect the California Ridge area.Rebolting may sound so simple--you just go out there with the right tools and make it happen, right? Well, not exactly.

For years the California State Park system has prohibited climbers from retrofiting climbs with updated gear, due, in part, to liability. If the California State Park system allowed rebolting then, hypothetically, this would open them up to litigation because they would be considered the regulating entity. Fortunately, the BACC now has an agreement with CRSP for bolt replacement, as long as they stay within the parameters. This entails no NEW route development, but allows old bolt replacement at a bolt for bolt ratio.

While unloading the heavy tools, static rope and glue-in bolts from my pack, reality sets in that it’s finally happening. Years of anticipation buzz in my mind. Collectively our group of three people have over 60 years of climbing experience, however I’ve only contributed 10 of those years. I also have zero hands-on experience bolting. The concepts are there in my mind from reading the ASCA website ASCA website  and information I have gleaned through conversation with previous climbing mentors, but the day where I can put them into action has arrived.

As the day gets under way I watch and learn the standards of bolt removal and replacement. My goal is to absorb as much knowledge as possible and help out where and when I can. Being on the top of the Cal Ridge outcrop while looking out across the Santa Cruz Mountains towards the ocean isn’t half bad on a day like this. Plus, I have access to all the snacks while Elmar and Justin work down on the climbs below. Call me the snack supervisor with access to the finest the Trader Joes has to offer.

After Elmar and Justin pulled the old bolts on Mullah and Ayatollah, Elmar asked if I wanted to help with gluing or placing the new bolt in the hole. The process of gluing bolts into place is time sensitive and is best done with two people to conserve glue. One person administers the two-part epoxy to the bolt hole while the other twists the shiny new stainless steel bolt into the hole and also cleans up any excess glue. Then on to the next bolt hole further down on the climb. Immediately stoked, I agree to be the glue job guy.

We use glue-in stainless steel bolts because eventually expansion bolts on soft Tafoni sandstone become compromised. Many a sandstone climber has clipped their quickdraw into a bolt hanger that is spinning freely and maybe thought to themselves, ‘not a good time to take the fall.’ Not exactly confidence inspiring. On the other hand, modern glue-in bolts, assuming they are fixed to the rock with the best practices, build supreme confidence when clipped.

The climb California Five Eleven A  is one of those climbs we re-equipped with new glue-in bolts. The start of the climb begins with a sandy horizontal roof boulder problem, which can feel extra exposed if you don’t trust the bolt in the roof. While dangling over the sandy ledges with your fingertips, even the lizards will be jealous of the security that those new shiny bolts provide.

We conducted our rebolting service on a Sunday, which affected the many groups hoping to climb at California Ridge that day. To my surprise, every group that came by hoping to climb was grateful for our rebolting endeavor and didn’t seem to care that we had taken control of the crag. Clearly this is not ideal, so we plan to work during the weekdays as much as possible when the crowds are much lighter. Nevertheless, I’m stoked we got out there to make some change.

This day is a sign of great things to come for the safety of our sport. Entities like the BACC and ASCA wouldn’t be around without the overwhelming support from our climbing communities throughout the States. The sport of climbing is exploding rapidly with new climbers excited to climb outside on a daily basis.

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