The story started on a friday over two weeks ago when I was CC’d into an email from a local climber who had found a worrying bolt and he had removed it with his hands. The handful of people in that email circle were asked by the BMC Access Officer not to say anything publicly until he got the chance to speak to First Hydro and we checked & clarify the situation. The Access officer tweeted the bolts are ‘worrying’ on the slate today, I thought I better ‘clarify’ what I think the issues are, the BMC will undoubtedly release a statement as will the NWBF, but as questions are already appearing on twitter, this is me putting my head above the parapet with an answer.
After a weekend of email tennis, I took it upon myself as someone who was involved in the re-equipping on the quarries 6 years ago and someone who used to consider themselves something of a modern slatehead, to do some initial checks and have closer a look at the problem. This has turned into 7 days pull testing bolts at various points in the quarries and gathering data.
These initial tests made it clear that firstly the one bolt pulled out by hand appears to be an isolated case, but there was a problem with mainly 10mm bolts in lower offs pulling out below the force that we tested them as holding 6/7 years ago in a test bed of bolts in Bus Stop quarry.
What seems to happen is first the wear caused by weighting and unweighting lower offs in the soft rock of Slate makes the bolt stud starts to move from side to side. Then eventually as they wear even more a very limited number of studs have started to move in and out. Most bolts that moved in and out held around 5kn of direct outward pull or around 500kg, those which move from side to side held over 7kn direct outwards pull.
I personally believe wear and tear of heavy usages combined with soft rock is the cause as I have only found two lead climbing bolts with the same issue compare to several more in lower offs. Those lead bolt might be below the crux so ‘fallen on’ most often causing the same problem, but I am not too familiar with the routes where I replaced a lead bolt.
When I started pulling these bolts for the testing, with great support from the North Wales Bolt Fund, I have also managed in the main to get the bolt out and then replace them the same day with a resined in anchor. I have also added a second lower off anchor to a few routes that only had one.
If you want to know exactly what I have been doing for the last two weeks then there is a list of the routes that I think needs checking along with any actions I have implemented so far. The list came from UKClimbing/Rockfax logbook database, who within hours of asking very generously produced a list of the 100 or so most popular routes on the slate. You can help the process by checking the lower off bolts/lead bolts for side ways movement or in and out movement and e-mailing me your results, I can then update the list. I might consider coding up a fixed gear reporting system at some point, but maybe UKC/Rockfax or even the BMC are probably better placed to do this?
So I think the take home message is the bolts are ‘worrying’ but in the bolts I have pulled (10+) only one failed below 5kn and that moved in and out alarmingly. Other bolts that move in and out still held 5kn. All of these tests were direct outwards pull not the kind of sheer pull that happens when the climber falls or lower offs. Making them even less likely to fail. The bolts that were questionable have nearly all been found on the extremely popular sport routes.
So remember to check your bolts, and if they do move in and out reduced any direct outward pressure on the bolt. Report it and hopefully someone will get round to sorting it as soon as they can. Just remember there are no bolting pixies, if it is replaced it is done so by volunteers so don’t expect instant results. If you want instant results then maybe volunteer yourself, I am more than happy to help train people up in how to remove and replace bolts.
What we are trying to do at present is slowly replace at least one bolt in a lower off with expansion bolts for a resin bolt and then bring the two bolts to a single point steel ring with chain and maillion. It is costing the North Wales Bolt Fund around £20-30 per lower off to carry out this remedial work and the BMC has just stopped funding its better bolts campaign. As such now is a good time to delve into your pockets and give generously to the North Wales Bolt Fund for there work here and along the coast on the Limestone around Llandudno.
I am busy trying to give as much time as I can to a fairly expansive project, and the North Wales Climbs guidebook I helped author is giving £1 for the first 1500 books sold to the NWBF. I think we are close to selling that many already so another way you can donate a similar sum is to buy your copy direct from the Rockfax website. In doing so you not only help the bolt fund but it also allow me to have more ‘days off’ to do the much needed work.
Although just as beneficial is to get in contact with either myself or the NWBF and share your support and maybe help out in the actual replacement and/or removal of the bolts. Even if you don’t want to do any actual bolting work then there is a list here of routes that need checking and even a hand carrying the equipment to the crag and a belay to get up to some lower off is pretty helpful.
Essentially the situation can be summed up as:
- heavy use and the soft rock of Slate has reduced the pull strength of some bolts in lower offs and even fewer lead bolts.
- That reduction in our test has shown it is not life-threatening.
- We are however taking action to check, test and replace some 10mm expansion bolts with resin.
- We need your support to both check, fund and help replace lower offs.