Addressing the Problem of Aging Bolts

Most climbing areas in the United States have bolts and other forms of fixed anchors to provide protection on routes or simply a straightforward means of descending without damaging cliff-top vegetation. Many of these bolts were installed decades ago, using subpar materials that were not meant to withstand the test of time.

Photo courtesy of Jason Haas

So far, examples of bolt catastrophes have been mercifully rare, but they happen—rusty bolts break, corroded hangers crack, bolts installed in incorrectly sized holes pull out, and over-tightened bolts snap. As the huge number of bolts placed during the ’80s and ’90s begin to reach their 20th or 30th birthdays, the stories of failure are sure to increase.

Access Fund has begun to dedicate programming and resources to help local climbing communities address the problem of aging bolts. In 2016 we launched a series of educational content and videos to provide the most up-to-date information on bolt replacement techniques and tools. And our Anchor Replacement Fund, administered in partnership with American Alpine Club, helps fund bolt replacement initiatives.

We’ve also been working alongside innovative members of the climbing community—Geir Hundal of Tucson, Arizona, and Greg German of Boulder, Colorado—to improve bolt removal devices. Today, we are manufacturing and distributing, free of charge, the Hurley Jr. and Hurley Sr. devices. These simple-to-use, lightweight devices have brought sustainable bolt replacement within reach of a much broader audience, and the response from the community has been enthusiastic, with tools flying off the shelves.

With local climbing organizations, land managers, and volunteers motivated and ready to tackle the problem of aging bolts, Access Fund recognized that in-person trainings were the next step in elevating bolt replacement standards across the country. So, in 2017, we teamed up with Petzl to launch a new series of workshops called Bolt Trip: Vertical Stewardship.

Photo courtesy of Shawn Willsey

These workshops are designed to bring land managers and bolt replacement volunteers together to share best practices for sustainable bolt replacement. Last year, we hosted two Bolt Trips, one at Mohonk Preserve in New York and one in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This spring, we took the Bolt Trip to Tucson, Arizona for a special workshop tailored to federal land managers, as well as to Breaks Interstate Park on the Virginia-Kentucky border. We'll bring the workshop to Salt Lake City this fall (October 12-14).

Access Fund is committed to empowering local communities to manage and address the problem of aging bolts. Stay tuned as we continue to expand our bolt replacement programming.