Thailand Bolting Workshop

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Come join the fun mid June in Khao Yoi, South of Bangkok, where I will be running a 2 day workshop covering bolt installation and a number of tensile pull tests to demonstrate key aspects of bolt performance. The workshop also includes a technical presentation and a number of practical activities performed by attendees.

Details can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1940135279393780/

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Sampling life

The UIAA embarked upon a comprehensive study last year that involves chemical sampling of rock faces with the objective of identifying any impact of present chemistry on the corrosion of fixed protection. This work is performed by volunteers and supported by a technical specialist who receives the samples upon which laboratory analysis is conducted.

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UIAA Chemical sampling conducted in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand last month.

The various corrosion mechanisms (eg pitting, crevice) that affect bolts are understood, with more detailed investigative work on Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) performed by Tomas Prosek and others in recent years however an unknown is why certain climbing regions are notably aggressive towards fixed hardware and others are relatively benign. Tonsai, in Southern Thailand, is recognised as requiring only certified titanium glue-in fixings due to SCC and most understand that to be solely the fact that it is a coastal limestone sport climbing area in the tropics. Why then does Long Dong, a sandstone sport climbing area in Taiwan also suffer from aggressive SCC? Entirely different geology, tropical yes but certainly not covered in significant quantities of jungle foliage and yet bolts have failed just as badly. The answer must be related to the particular presence of chemical precursors that promote faster rates of corrosion.

The rate at which bolts have corroded at different crags within the same region is so far supported by conclusions drawn from samples analysed to date and whilst this remains a work in progress (and not yet for public release) it is encouraging. The goal being to really define fixing specification for a given crag to a level of detail past the historical minimum of 304L.

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UIAA Chemical sampling below Hourglass Crack F6a, Technical Wall, Tung Lung Chau, Hong Kong.

Route Development in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Late December and an arrival into familiar surroundings to develop more new routes for Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures with 1,200 glue-in bolts.

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Lots of premium Bolt Products glue-in bolts from Jim @ Bolt Products plus a few ladder rungs.

Only a few weeks into drilling pretty much everything in sight and CMRCA host their first Northern Thailand climbing RockFest and Thailand premier of Reel Rock #12. A strong turn out by community non climbing locals who derive income from visiting climbers, visiting climbers and the locals who climb themselves created a festive atmosphere that provided just the backdrop for acknowledging area activists and contributors from the past 15 years who have ensured Crazy Horse is one of the most carefully developed sport crags in the world. Adopting a ‘Golden Bolt’ award, CMRCA Founders Kat and Josh Morris presented awards to Kraisak Boonthip (Pi Tom) and myself for significant contributions toward establishing Crazy horse as it is today. Local longtime climber (and a developer himself) Jens Glasgow added to the Golden Bolt (24K Gold plated) with a fantastic leather drill bit pouch – no more melted Hilti drill bit containers.

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With good cool weather, equipping progressed in earnest yielding fantastic new additions such as The Darkness Beckons, a wild 5 pitch new route in the Anxiety State Crisis Cave. Equipping the 80m line required multiple static lines, mid air rope to rope transfers and trickery such as threading ropes through holes with bamboo to work position after transferring ropes. The result, at F6a+ complete with a caving squeeze and wild exposure must rank in country as one of the most nutty multi pitches to do.

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Looking up into the roof Aven of the Anxiety State Crisis cave and a mass of rigging. The 4th pitch traverses the lip of the roof and disappears into the darkness before emerging from a cave crawl and final 5th pitch.

Friends visited which led to harder additions to the area. Baz Durston (ex British Team Comp Climber) came out of retirement to swiftly tick a hard F7c extension to one of my F7b+ routes and narrowly missed the FA of a hard F8a on the Aircon Wall which was ultimately bagged by Alex Deschamps from Canada. The ultimate prize; a project equipped and called Bristol Fashion on the Anthill has so far repulsed all prospective attempts, the consensus being a minimum of F8b+ which would result in the hardest climb in Thailand outside of Tonsai.

In-between days of drilling and glueing, chemical sampling was completed as part of my volunteer work for the UIAA Anchor Working Group with the results populating data gaps on the current data trend. The results further reinforced the current understanding of what precursors are required to enable corrosion, not least underscoring why Chiang Mai does not suffer the Stress Corrosion Cracking issues synonymous with the South.

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UIAA Chemical sampling conducted at 6 sectors, seen here underway at the Heart Wall.

Finding time to do anything other than equip new lines is difficult in a target rich environment however in March CMRCA hosted their first C.R.A.G talk of which I was the first guest speaker and gave a presentation on new route development, bolts and an update on progress made at Crazy Horse.

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This led to a bolting clinic in which attendees were given an introduction to bolt installation, equipment and placing practice anchors themselves. The day concluded with actual pull testing of different glue-in bolts.

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Image: Ray Kam

The clinic led onto follow up training with Ray Kam from Canada, who went home with a  number of foundation skills during the course of 2 days and having bolted and sent the FA of his own new route.

 

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A happy customer! Ray Kay having been through the process over 2 days which ended with his own new route.

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Hotspotting in the parking lot, the CMRCA Crag Database is updated with his FA live.

Back to bolting and climbing continued during March with more cave climbs and additions in the F7’s.

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Image: Alex Deschamps.

As the high season closes, bolting continues despite the summer heat with the following stats below:

41 Days drilling and glueing

1,118 glue-in bolts installed

Yielding over 70 new routes, some of which are multi pitch.

 

 

Legacies and Motivations

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Enjoying the sea breeze whilst re-bolting with Titan Climbing titanium glue-in bolts in Hong Kong (Donna Kwok).

New routing is a particular habit…it can become an obsession, fraught with paranoia in equal measure but for sure, the motivation behind a single developer has long lasting consequences for the general climbing public. One aspect is that pleasing everyone is typically impossible; someone will always criticise something! For some regions the effort and funding behind equipping can go unnoticed by the broader climbing community.

In many ways we are experiencing an interesting phase in sport route development. The complexity of issues concerning corrosion are becoming better understood, improved fixings are available and the cost of installation has dropped over the past couple of decades.

The motivations for bolting largely have not however and this raises interesting and at times confrontational points of view as to how routes should be bolted. Developers often ‘fall into’ one of the common styles:

A minimal style – self funded and solely interested in an FA using the least amount of gear. Not bothered if the climb remains unrepeated or not.

Elitist – equips to suit their ability so ‘easy’ routes are often poorly or dangerously equipped for anyone else attempting the climb at their ability limit.

Equipped for the grade – F6a or F8a, what run outs? Well bolted regardless of funding and route difficulty.

Having equipped in many different countries it is always interesting to correlate climbing ethics / traditions and circumstances (is there a BIG uphill approach involved?!)  with how sport routes have been bolted. I’ve long suspected that the infamous run outs of Ceuse have more to do with Patrick Erdlinger’s extent of self funds at the time and the big hill up which he had to carry a sack full of heavy metal, rather than an intentional desire to have routes which can involve big falls, the ‘Ceuse style’ as one guide describes. He was also a highly talented climber so that may have had something to do with bolt spacings on ‘lower graded’ routes too!

Also the recognition of what sport climbing entails versus traditional climbing. In other words, run outs or potentially loose rock and bad gear are all aspects that traditionally protected climbs may feature and this is very much an accepted part of what this style of climbing involves.

Sport climbing however is focused purely on abject difficulty, such that the consequences of falling should in theory be reduced to the lowest level of practical risk encountered. Obviously this cannot be achieved by poorly equipped sport routes where the consequences of a fall could be hitting ledges / the ground / or falling misaligned with subsequent rock face impact.

Since most development is conducted by self funded individuals, fixing cost is a major consideration as to how many bolts are placed and the specification of the fixings used. Where they are placed is very much an expression of the developer’s opinion on what sport climbing is supposed to offer and reflects the most basic aspect of do they view the rock as a resource for others (and thus equips as such) or a more individual experience with no particular thought given to climbers trying the climb a decade later.

For self funded climbers, it’s a discipline not to bolt when insufficient funds are available to purchase the ‘right’ specification of fixing. Equally it’s a case of offering to support such individuals financially in installing a particular specification rather than just criticising their choices. This is where a major shift is needed within the climbing public; development costs for sport climbing areas needs to be formerly supported through Bolt Funds or access fees. This ensures developers have the ‘right’ tools and that climbers can fall rest assured it won’t result in a failed fixing.

Correspondingly bolt funds must use the best fixing (material, type etc) for the area the donations are intended otherwise it becomes hard to defend otherwise when public funding is involved. For individual developers, this becomes a reflection of their longterm consideration in what legacy they wish to create and recognising that rock is a finite resource.

 

 

Bolts, bolts, boing

Clip it, stick it, what’s the drama?

Many moons ago the fixing options available to developers bolting routes were limited yet this was a time of morphing away from the genesis of pure trad’ to some fixed gear and later full blown sport routes.

Typically caving bolts were the only fixing available for climbers to use however we climb in different times now and so developers should and can use plenty of rated (EN959 / UIAA 123) fixings.

There is value in climbers learning to recognise rated hardware just as they would not use traditional equipment not rated for rock anchor purposes.

The inherent issue with sport climbing is the total reliance on assumed fixings that will hold in the event of falls.

This can be a dangerous assumption.

Fixe PLX and Petzl HCR – Worth the hype?

For a number of years, decades even, the choice of material for fixed rock anchors (bolts) was pretty much limited to stainless steel grades 304 or 316.

With the development of climbing areas within highly corrosive environments, so to has been the development in both anchor technology and climber knowledge concerning corrosion and its various mechanisms as they apply to rock climbing anchors.

Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) and the alarming rapidity with which anchors are rendered dangerous has gripped the community on a global scale and driven the development of titanium resin bonded anchors as a direct result. The investigation of SCC in Southern Thailand has had an impact within the materials engineering world by raising awareness that SCC can occur outside of the conditions traditionally believed to be the required norms.

The well known efforts of the Thaitanium Project (http://thaitaniumproject.com) and Titan Climbing (http://titanclimbing.com) have led to a full range of titanium products that compliment the high quality stainless steel products from Bolt Products (http://bolt-products.com).

Climbers equipping new routes have the choice of an excellent range of stainless steel products for normal use and equally titanium where SCC / harsh corrosion is affecting hardware. With Fixe introducing their PLX range and Petzl with an ‘HCR’ product line, what are the benefits and are those products anything better?

Fixe PLX

  • The Fixe PLX range is based on duplex stainless steel grade 2304, although may contain a blend of other duplex stainless steels.
  • Duplex stainless steels have good resistance to SCC however remain affected by pitting and crevice corrosion, both types of corrosion that can act as initiator mechanisms whereby SCC develops at a later stage.

Petzl ‘HCR’

  • Stainless steel grade 926 expansion bolt and a 904L grade stainless steel hanger
  • 926 grade stainless steel should contain a minimum of 6% Molybdenum and generically is described as a high corrosion resistant steel.

UIAA studies underway intend to determine a range of materials as matched to a set of environmental conditions since simply stating something is corrosion resistant is meaningless without equally specifying the corrosion it is supposed to resist. The use of the term HCR is misleading in that regard.

Duplex steel has high resistance to SCC and high quality steels in the 6% Molybdenum range resist SCC so where does that leave climbers trying to ascertain the relevance of these new products against what already exists on the market? Two considerations foremost in mind is the cost of the fixing and known performance in real world climbing applications. Looking at pricing online with no discounts applied:

  • 304 Grade Stainless Steel glue-in bolt (Bolt Products) – $5.00 (inc $1 for adhesive)
  • 316 Grade Stainless Steel glue-in bolt (Bolt Products) – $5.21 (inc $1 for adhesive)
  • Fixe PLX (MEC Online)                                                     – $11.60
  • Titanium glue-in bolt (Titan Climbing)                         – $13.12 (inc $1.28 for adhesive)
  • Petzl ‘HCR’  (Petzl Online)                                                – $36.00

Pricing

316 grade stainless steel is a cost effective option in areas not affected by SCC.

Fixe’s PLX hardware is roughly around the same price band of Titan Climbing’s titanium hardware but the Petzl ‘HCR’ is quoted at an astronomical US$ 36 (pack of 20 list price).

Performance

316 and Titanium already has proven use in a variety of regions with varying degrees of corrosion. Where SCC is occurring, a titanium bolt glued in with pure epoxy is currently considered the best form of fixed protection.

Fixe have just initiated a batch recall for their PLX bolts in response to severe corrosion affecting hangers. The reasons for this are not currently in the public domain but this does highlight the issue facing developers when new products are launched to either build in company liability where the product line was only 316 based or perhaps to counter titanium based products. Without a ‘track record’ developers take the risk in installing hardware only to find it won’t last some 5, 10 years or longer, later.

Technical materials knowledge within the oil and gas industry says 6% Moly’ steels will resists SCC however the UIAA is yet to issue a guideline to climbers to this effect. The fundamental issue facing the use of Petzl’s ‘HCR’ range however is cost and it is simply too expensive unless the unit price is reduced to become competitive with titanium glue-ins. The drawbacks associated with using bolt ins however are not eliminated.

Ultimately when the track record of certified titanium glue-in bolts is considered, the advantages this type of fixing offers, and the pricing for a known SCC resistant material, why switch to duplex 2304.

 

Thailand Bolting Trip – Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp

A successful visit to the Nam Pha Pa Yai camp a couple of hours North of Bangkok to bolt new routes and enjoy the riverside climbing featuring unique zipline access.

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As always, lots of hardware…but a balanced load

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The zip line access across the river.

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Great quality rock and plenty of new lines to equip. Gluing in Bolt Products 8mm * 80mm marine grade stainless steel bolts with Hilti RE500 pure epoxy adhesive.

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Glue-in bolts are great for traverse anchors; no loose hangers or need for linking hardware either, just tie direct!