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.