A beginners guide to bolting

Seen an awesome overlooked line while out climbing, but not sure how to go about bolting it? To get those new to bolting started, provided below are some suggestions on how to go about equipping a route. Rather than focus heavily on technical aspects, we have tried to provide a practical guide to the steps involved. So hopefully this information accelerates your learning curve, helps to minimise frustrations and also decreases the risk to yourself as well as to those who will climb your routes in the future. These notes are predominately focused on Blue Mountains sandstone and are derived from the (arguably questionable) wisdom of a number of experienced bolters, all of whom have certainly made mistakes in the past and learnt a number of lessons the hard way. You should also consult other local climbers in your area to help ensure that any fixed gear you place is of a sufficiently high quality to withstand many decades of use. Please be aware that bolting can be dangerous and the information provided here is no substitute for common sense and personal responsibility. This article is divided into 4 sections that describe safety, the equipment required, how to bolt and a brief mention of where to bolt.

Safety

First up, you should be aware that there are risks associated with bolting, but that they can be mitigated by the use of appropriate procedures and safety equipment. In particular, our experiences have taught us that you should consider the following options:

Equipment

It is reasonably expensive to get set up for bolting, so it is a good idea to borrow as many items as possible for your first bolting excursions. If you then become hooked, you will have already tested items such as a drill before you shell out the cash.Bolting gear

Above: a selection of the equipment (described below) that is required to ensure you have a "fun" day out bolting. A useful accessory that is not shown in this picture is thick skin, no matter how much effort you put in there will always be someone who complains!

Twist shackleAbove: twist shackle in place.



Threading Above: using a button die to apply thread while the first weld cools.



Threading Above: threading is easy with a low speed, high torque drill and a homemade adaptor.



Unbent rod Bending bolt Partly bent Half bent Bent bolt Previous 5 images: bolt bender in action.



V bolt Above: "V" bolt for use in ceilings.



Aiding inAbove: aiding into a steep new line.



Aid bolt with ringboltAbove: aid bolt with threaded ring.



Drilled bolt holeAbove: notched hole ready to accept a ring.



Bolt in holeAbove: testing that the ring fits.

Bolting

Equipping a new route can be separated into 4 basic steps, aiding, drilling, gluing and cleaning.

  1. Aiding. Finding the top of the desired line can be an epic in itself, so keep an eye out for landmarks that you will be able to identify from the top when you are scoping the route. A GPS can come in handy, although trees and cliffs are likely to degrade the accuracy of your signal - being out by only 5 to 10m equates to being an epic when abseiling through steep scrub! Sometimes you might be able to rap the line to check it out, but if it is steep you will probably need to aid your way down to confirm if (and where) it goes. Attach your rope to multiple independent anchors such as trees and coach screws. Generally you will require a rope protector at the lip of the cliff. If you are nervous, it is a good idea to tie a backup knot below you, part way down the rap rope. Don't worry, almost everyone gets scared going over the lip when it is undercut. As you descend, be careful not to knock off loose rocks onto any leftover rope lying on the ground- its an all too easy way to shorten your rope prematurely. To protect yourself, you should remove loose rock as you go, especially pieces that your rope may rub against. Be mindful of anyone else who could be walking underneath. Place aid bolts as required, if in doubt place one, it will normally save time and frustration in the long term by making it easier to drill, glue and clean. Be careful not to place aid bolts in loose or hollow rocks, you are going to be hanging off it and levering out on it! A tap with the hammer will soon tell you if it is hollow. Holes for aid bolts are best drilled so that they are near perpendicular to the rock face, otherwise you risk them shearing out if placed at a shallow angle. With a new drill bit just drill the hole, with worn out bits you will need to wiggle the drill to widen it so that the hole can accommodate the coach screw. Once the bolt is screwed in and the hanger and biner attached, clip into it directly so that you can unweight the rap rope and then clip it through. If the rope is running over an edge above the aid bolt, it is a good idea to tie the rap rope to the aid biner, rather than just clipping it through. If a steep or traversing line, repeat ad nauseam until at ground level, trying to place aid bolts in positions that will assist you to place the permanent bolts, as well as letting you scope out and clean/test the holds.
  2. Drilling. After a well deserved rest at ground level, jumar back up the rope drilling out the 12 mm holes for the rings/U bolts. Take the rings/U bolts up with you, so that you can test they fit in each hole and leave one at each (eg. clip to aid bolt). By starting at the bottom, it will be a lot easier to work out the correct spacing for the bolts. As a guide, place extra bolts near the ground and above ledges and trees, but you can then run it out where it is safe to do so. Try to put the bolts in reach- remember that other people may not be as tall or as strong as you. Avoid placing bolts near cracks and seams or directly above the lip of a roof, about 400 mm is a good distance from such features. Try to keep in mind rope drag and if the rope and quickdraw will be rubbing when you choose the position of bolts, in particular avoid creating situations where the biners on the quickdraw can rub and open their gates. It is imperative to test for hollow rock before drilling, it is very surprising how often solid-looking rock can sound hollow when tested with a hammer. Glue-in bolts are strongest when placed perpendicular to the rock surface. For ringbolts, you must drill out a notch so that the head of the bolt is keyed into the rock to resist twisting forces (see images on right). This will also place the weld beneath the surface, where it will be incased in glue and protected from corrosion. U bolts have their own problems, in that you must take the time and care required to drill parallel holes that are correctly spaced- test with the U bolt a couple of times as you are drilling the second hole. Otherwise you will end up hammering the bolt into the hole when gluing, which means that the bolt will be much weaker as it will (or will not) be held in by rubble instead of the intended glue! As you go, clean each hole thoroughly so that it is ready to be glued, first with the blower, then the hole brush and finally with the blower again. It is extremely important to clean the holes adequately, gluing your bolt to loose sand will not result in a strong fixture! Avoid drilling holes in positions where the aid rope will rub against the bolt and thereby disturb the glue when you get to the gluing stage. When deciding where the anchors will go, try to minimise how much the climbing rope will rub against the rock when lowering. If using U bolts for anchors, make sure they are not placed in such a way that the threaded rope will slide to the back and rubs a groove into the glue/rock, dramatically shortening their lifespan.
  3. Gluing. Gluing is normally a little messy, so it is a good idea if the clothes you are wearing, as well as the biners and other equipment that you use are old discards that you won't mind getting covered in glue. Most people find it simplest and more convenient to glue from the top down (where you will probably be anyway after finishing drilling). Don't place the nozzle into the hole until you are sure that the glue coming out has mixed correctly, this is where a glue with components that are clearly two different colours makes life a lot easier. It is a good idea to also leave a dab of the first mixed glue on the rock somewhere nearby, so that you can check later that it has cured. Make sure your nozzle reaches all the way into the back of the hole, or else you will get air pockets. If placing extra long bolts or pins (especially with 10 mm holes), you will need to lengthen the nozzle with a piece of plastic tubing so that the glue is placed at the bottom of the hole to avoid air pockets. To minimise difficulties created by the extra friction of the glue passing through the tubing, use the shortest piece of tubing possible and one that has a diameter close to the maximum that will fit into the hole. The holes need to be about two thirds filled for ringbolts and about half filled for U bolts, enough so that there is a small excess of glue squeezed out at the surface after placing the bolt. Ringbolts need to be spun around as many times as possible to coat the thread/texture thoroughly as they are inserted. Because this is not possible for U bolts, it is essential that their legs first be "buttered up" by rubbing glue into the thread/texture before inserting them into the glue-filled holes. Make sure that ring bolt welds are completely covered to protect them from corrosion. Move as quickly as possible between bolts to prevent the glue going off in the nozzle. Glue goes off a lot quicker in higher temperatures, so keep your glue out of the sun if possible and try not to use it on hot days or in direct sunlight. Keep in mind that bolt failure can result from placing a bolt in a hole that contains partially cured glue. To avoid glue leaking from the cartridge between holes, turn off the tap on the glue cartridge, or relieve the pressure on the glue gun. If switching cartridges midway, but using the same nozzle, be very careful to make sure that the new glue is again mixing properly. If the rock is wet, be aware that very few glues can be used in moist conditions, so you will probably need to wait for your holes to dry out before gluing.
  4. Cleaning. Almost done. All you need to do now on your way back up to the top is to remove the aid bolts as you go and clean off the drill dust and any sand from the holds (a large scrubbing brush comes in handy at this stage). Also remove any remaining loose rock that a climber, or their rope, might dislodge onto those below. Some people also like to use a hammer to comfortise any sharp edges, it's a personal choice. If cleaning straight away, be careful not to disturb the bolts until the glue has cured. On steep routes, it is often a lot easier to come back when the glue has cured so that you can clip into the new bolts. Curing times should be printed on the glue cartridge. Don't forget to leave a tag on the first bolt if you want to mark the route as a project.

Where to bolt

For those wishing to bolt in the Blue Mountains, much of the area lies within the Blue Mountains National Park. Bolting is generally accepted at established climbing sites and new areas that fall outside of zones gazetted as wilderness areas. If in doubt, consult with the local park ranger. Be sensible and avoid areas that have cultural significance, are highly frequented by the general public, or which expose people or property to the danger of rockfall. The reality is that more than 90% of cliffs will not receive much attention as we are all too lazy to walk that far! If cliffs are on private land, obviously you will need to consult with the landowner before getting started.

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