Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The American Safe Climbing Association and the Anchor Replacement Inititive

It was 2006 and I was preparing for the American Mountain Guides Association Rock Guides Exam. At that time I was trying to climb as many long routes in Red Rock Canyon as possible in order to be as prepared as I could be. One of the prep routes was a fantastic thirteen-pitch 5.9 called the Birdhunter Buttress.

The thirty-something year-old route had one big problem though. It was a heavily bolted route. The bolts were homemade. The bolts were rusted out. And the bolts were only 1/4 inch. In other words, the route was somewhat terrifying.

But there was something else about the route that stuck out. It was an absolutely stunning line.
The problem was that people couldn't safely climb it. The bolts -- and there were a lot of them -- were way too sketchy. Shortly thereafter, I let everyone know that I was looking for partners to work on rebolting the route. And not surprisingly, it didn't take long to find some people who were interested.

The problem was the number of bolts. We needed to replace dozens and dozens of them on the line. The combination of bolt and a hanger costs approximately $6 each. Rebolting such a long line was going to be incredibly expensive. And that's where the American Safe Climbing Association came in.The ASCA is an all volunteer non-profit organization run by the guidebook authors, Greg Barnes and Chris McNamara. The group's goal is to replace old and dangerous bolts with new and no-so-dangerous bolts. To date, the ASCA is responsible for the replacement of over 6000 bolts throughout the United States.

Our mission to rebolt the Birdhunter Buttress was a success primarily because of the fact that the ASCA was able to donate new stainless steel bolts and hangers to our project. And while the route has not become the ubber-classic that I thought it might become, it is certainly seeing a lot more traffic these days.

Since we were in designated wilderness, our rebolting effort on the Birdhunter Buttress
was done completely with hand drills.

The Anchor Replacement Initiative is a corporate sponsored entity that has a similar mission. ARI is not an official non-profit organization like the ASCA, but instead is an initiative that was founded by Climbing Magazine, The North Face and Petzl. The group has been donating bolts to individuals and organizations that are engaged in rebolting efforts throughout the country.

AAI guides have become somewhat involved in rebolting efforts, primarily through the ASCA. I've worked on a handful of routes in Red Rock Canyon, and AAI guide Scott Massey has also done a good amount of work in Red Rock as well as on some crags near Bellingham.

A rusted out bolt on "The Boatlaunch Wall" in Bellingham

Bad bolts are everywhere. They are so common that they are considered a danger that you have to be willing to face anytime anywhere. It's ironic that so many people who start trad climbing after spending a number of years on sport routes have a hard time trusting their traditional gear. It's ironic because, most of the time you have absolutely no idea who put in a bolt or if they knew what they were doing when they placed it. I would gladly trust one of my cams over almost any bolt.

The great value of the ASCA and the ARI is that the individuals who are responsible for replacing bolts generally have some expertise in boltcraft and aren't just placing bolts to get their names in guidebooks.

This rusted out bolt was removed from the Red Rock classic sport climb,
Rebel without a Pause (5.11a)

This blurry photo shows an anchor chain that has been seriously damaged from individuals lowering directly off the bottom link. Always lower off your own gear to keep this from happening to your anchors.

AAI Guide Scott Massey works on rebolting a classic sport route.

If you climb on bolts, then you should seriously consider donating to the ASCA. Like the Access Fund, this is a fundamental organization to the the safety and protection of climbing areas throughout the United States.

--Jason D. Martin

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