Today I came across this climbing.com article which was really well written and featured a very important topic. http://www.climbing.com/climber/built-to-last/
I know a couple of people who put up bolts and developed routes. They happen to be worried about safety and genuinely put a lot of thought into trying to bolt right. However, for many people money is tight and it can be hard to resist urges to take the cheaper route. Also, though they were safety conscious, it is true that there was no test, training, or course they had to go through to put up the bolts. It is for the most part not regulated.
Let’s think about something else. These people and many other climbers who bolt, do put in the money, do the best job they can, think about safety, and really do a professional job. However, even if they research bolting well, they might not be experts on the weather the area faces or how the rock works. They might not be a materials expert either. They might not be knowledgeable about what will corrode the material and if the rock quality will keep the bolt secure for as long as they anticipate. Another concern is that bolting materials are not designed to last forever. Even if they are placed by a professional and everything is done right, they only have so long of a quality span. The climber who placed them, isn’t necessarily going to keep coming back and replacing them.
Though the climbers I have known to bolt have thought about safety, I’m sure there are those handful out there that put up a route so they can get it without necessarily worrying about how many people will climb it in the future. You can set up something that will be secure for your project. That doesn’t mean it will last through fifty years of repeated climbs.
There are a lot of ways bolts can harmlessly become dangerous. They get old, they get rusty, they get weak, they may be poorly placed, they may be cheaply created, etc. One thing this article pointed out that I didn’t realize is that you can’t always tell by looking at them. I and I’m sure others knew to avoid rusty looking bolts and anchors and to be weary of ones that looked to be in poor shape. However, bolts can be new but not be put in well enough or done correctly.
It really is important to check out the bolts and anchors. The article suggests that the future looks brighter. Bolts will be done more professionally and the practices will be more regulated. However, the article also points out that even among professionals there are still aspects up for debate. There are still things uncertain. Also the life span is pretty short and with all the climbing areas, there might not be a guarantee your area will be updated as quickly as you need it to be.
I would recommend rappelling down before climbing to check out the bolts. Make sure they are in good shape , look right, and feel stable. Again, you might not be able to see all the damage but at least it is better than not doing anything. You could be aware of these issues to make sure you are going about the right practice when bolting, climbing areas that are safe, and are more knowledgeable about what to notice. You’ll at least know what areas to be cautious of what types of corrosion. I strongly encourage reading this article. It is also important to use all safety precautions when climbing.
A lot of climbers can get lazy about certain practices, but you really never know what could happen. In the stories shared, the climbers were saved by being clipped into other areas or by being caught by at least one of the bolts. So imagine you are in scenario two were the closest two bolts broke, but one held and it was just enough to keep the climber above ground. What if that one bolt that was strong enough was a bolt you skipped or a quick draw you back clipped? It seems unlikely all of those things would go wrong, but don’t you feel better knowing you at least did everything right and gave yourself the best chances? What if the top anchor has two bolts but you only clipped into one to set up your rappel, and that broke? Making sure you are attached to both bolts will give you better odds.
There is so much in climbing that we can’t predict and can’t necessarily protect ourselves from. It is important to do all the things we can do to make sure we are taking out as much human error as possible. Things can still go wrong, of course. However, it might be less things. It also might be that the things you did do are just enough to save your life.
Please, check out the article and always climb safely.