Climbing Bolts – a Troubled Past

Climbing Bolts — To bolt or not bolt, that is the question. Before the invention of the climbing bolt, rock climbing was done mainly in areas where climbing routes could be protected with gear or top roped. Bolts were first seen on big wall routes. Bolts were used to protect smooth sections of the cliff where there were not enough cracks to place proper trad gear.

Bad press
Right from the get-go bolts were frowned upon, chopped off, and spoken out against. Considered cheating in the worst degree, the fathers and grandfathers of climbing wrote articles in climbing magazines against them. They went about making sure no bolts were placed in popular climbing areas. Elite climbers viewed the rock as not needing anything permanently fixed, and rightly so because, in their opinion, the climbing routes being done at that time didn’t necessarily need them.

Bolts and cheating
Traditional climbers use technical hardware, such as cams, stoppers and hexes, to safeguard against falls on a route. Where protection is not available some people believe the climber should climb past it and risk the fall. If they are not skilled enough or gutsy enough to climb past the questionable section, some people are again of the opinion that the climber shouldn’t be on the route in the first place.

The Solution
Bolts allow a climber to safely climb sections of rock that would otherwise be unsafe to climb on. Since climbing ethics mandate that the first person who climbs a route can make the route however they want, they get to decide if bolts are necessary or not. Most route developers are nice enough to put bolts (if needed) in places that would safeguard a potentially dangerous fall.

Today, climbing bolts are generally accepted by most climbers. Even though bolts have a controversial history, most of the climbing community has now embraced them. You’ll find them in many rock climbing areas today. In all reality, bolts have many advantages that traditional hardware cannot fulfill. They are very convenient, providing protection to climbs that would never have been possible before like climbs on the roofs of caves and walls that don’t have cracks for trad gear.

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