A Cautionary Tale About Bad Bolting

A Cautionary Tale About Bad Bolting

Well known Australian photographer Simon Carter has an interesting post on his new blog about a fatal sport climbing accident that occurred recently in Australia’s Blue Mountains. I highly recommend reading the entire post as Carter goes into great detail, but I will attempt a brief recap here. 

The gist of the accident is that the climber, Nick Kaczorowski, was on a multi-pitch sport route when he found that he had deviated from the proper bolt line onto an unknown line of bolts.  Unable to climb a blank section of rock, he went in direct to a bolt in order to attempt to stick clip the next bolt.  This would allow Kaczorowski to aid past the difficult section and continue up the pitch.  As he did this, the bolt he was clipped into pulled clean out of the wall causing him to fall.  As he fell past his belayer, his rope was cut on a sharp edge running along the base of the belay ledge causing him to fall to his death. 

Obviously all climbing accidents are a sobering reminder that we can all be more careful, but the fascinating part of this accident story is the issue of how this particular route was bolted.  I think it is safe to say that many of us that sport climb often place near blind faith in bolts of whose origin we have no idea.  We tend to assume that in general bolts are pretty bomber.  Unfortunately, in the case of Kaczorowski’s accident this proved not to be the case when Simon Carter went back and examined the bolts at the accident site:

So next I decided to test the first bolt, the one that they had belayed off. This time I clipped a quick draw to it, and with my hand, gave it two gentle tugs outwards before it popped out. Sickened, I put the bolt back in and attached a warning sign to this bolt (written on piece of wood) as a temporary measure until all the bolts on this route can be removed.

The fact that these bolts were so poorly placed begs the question of how the belayer was not also pulled off the wall:

Later I was wondering: if this belay bolt was also so bad, then why are we not looking at a double fatality here — with the belay bolt failing and the belayer getting pulled off? It is likely that the bolt held long enough because, since the belay bolt was three meters above the belay ledge, the load on the bolt was mostly downwards, not outwards, so it held long enough that the rope was severed before it was fully loaded.

Apparently the route in question had been bolted by visiting climbers who were either not finished with the route or were not aware that the Blue Mountains sandstone generally requires glue in bolts instead of expansion bolts.  Obviously all climbers assume any risk involved with climbing of any kind, but this accident raises an interesting question of whether or not someone could be held responsible for potentially negligent bolting:

Still, I’m having trouble getting past thinking that the bolting on this route was more than a little irresponsible.  For a visiting European climber the lure of acres of unclimbed rock must be great, but I think it exceptionally poor form to visit an area, totally ignore the local ethic and what you are told by the locals, spend days placing bad bolts, and then bugger off again without providing a proper warning.

(Via the blog OnTheSharpEnd)

Posted In: Sport Climbing
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15 Responses to A Cautionary Tale About Bad Bolting

  1. Philly Cheese January 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    Sickening is right. Thanks for the heads up so we can all learn from this. Hell, the sight of a bolt while thrutching on the sharp end usually calms me down. We are all responsible for checking anything we use as protection.

    This tragic accident could have happened to me. But right now I’m thinking about these damned fools who bolted this thing. I bet they never climbed the route (how could they, anyway?!), yet left the shitty bolts there for someone else…Serious shit right there.

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  2. Narc January 23, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    Someone on Carter’s site also mentioned the responsibility of a climber to check bolts before trusting them. While I wholeheartedly agree, how many people really stop to inspect every bolt on every sport climb they do? I think if you are someone taking the time to leave behind bolts, there is some level of expectation that you are leaving behind something that can be safely used by other parties.

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  3. john cocktosin January 23, 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    Why are Euro’s so sketch?

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    • Miffed Euro January 24, 2009 at 10:56 am #

      I’m as shocked as you are about this accident. Now keep your stupid Euro-US feud that i have nothing to do with to yourself, we’re not all the same you know.

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      • chris January 25, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

        no kidding. get out more.

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  4. Philly Cheese January 23, 2009 at 2:42 pm #

    I agree with you Narc about the expectations of safety, but as long as people can bolt without any supervision or hindrance, stuff like this will happen. This accident definitely opens up a legal discussion on a first ascensionist’s responsibility in setting up bolted climbs. Bolts are synonymous with safe and sturdy. I know I hardly check the bolts I clip in a route(except anchor bolts, which I inspect everytime). What the hell are bolts good for if they aren’t safe?

    I heard a story of a climber putting up fake hangers down south a few years back. Anybody hear of this or know how it went down?

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  5. Narc January 23, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    Agreed. One idea apparently floated after this accident in Australia was some sort of governing board for bolting which was immediately rejected.

    I think this just reinforces the need for a strong climbing community that will self-police itself and work toward replacing sketchy bolts a la Team Suck at the Red or the nationwide ARI.

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    • Jonathan Whitfield January 23, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

      The idea wasnt being floated around, it was just some dodgy journo’s trying to sensationalise, and I guess capitalise, on a death. ‘Climbers Reject Regulation’ was the title for the article on the accident in the local newspaper. And thats the extent the idea was floated.

      This is a big reminder for visiting climbers to respect and understand local ethics (ie. bolting ethics) as they have usually evolved that way for a reason. Nick was well known and liked, and he is missed by the entire Australian Climbing community.

      We dont know the people who put in the bolts, but they would have definatly known they were against the ethics of the area, and that they were crap, (being able to be pulled out with less than body weight) as aparanty the nuts wouldnt tighten.

      As angered as I am by the incident, I feel sad for the people who bolted it, as they will have Nicks death on their concience for the rest of their lives.

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  6. Luke January 23, 2009 at 2:50 pm #

    The New River Gorge Fake Bolt Incident:
    http://www.wirednut.com/blog/archive/2007/07/fake_bolts_spro.php

    Another instance of bad bolting in Red Rocks:
    http://www.mountainproject.com/v/nevada/red_rock/calico_basin/105938048

    Pretty tragic accident. Having both a “new” shiny bolt pull out and having the rope cut in once accident is out of this world. Those are two things that I generally deem impossible.

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  7. Philly Cheese January 23, 2009 at 3:09 pm #

    I think the ARI rocks. Much respect to climbers keeping routes safe for other climbers!

    We have to watch out for each others’ backs out there folks.

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  8. Mike January 25, 2009 at 10:29 am #

    Super sad and disheartening to hear a story like this. As an avid route developer, it frustrates me when people don’t properly establish routes. Americans can be just as guilty as Europeans such as in a recent local episode when a climber established a number of climbs and never tightened down the bolts, creating a potentially dangerous situation given the rock type, similar to this case. This case also highlights the need to use bolts proper to the rock type and area. It is simply dangerous to do otherwise because those who follow depend on those bolts in the future.

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  9. Gianluca January 29, 2009 at 6:23 am #

    Absurd and beyond the word “ethic”. Ethic is deciding wheter to bolt or not. Then if someone decides to bolt, how to do it becomes a matter of safety…

    it is also weird, because, for instance, where I used to live until few months ago (an area with two different rock types) it’s quite common knowledge in the community that some kind of bolts are ok no matter what the rock type, some others on the contrary are bomber only on some formations (in that case it is short stem bolts being ok on granite but not on limestone).

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  10. Volker January 31, 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    In the end its bolting that sucks, for the rock and the people. As tragic as this accident is and as shameful as placing a row of improper placed bolts at all, if you climb you accept ALL the risk.

    I’m a trad climber and laugh at all these sports guys believing in the safety of bolts. Improperly placed or not, rock becomes loose as well as bolts do. Check what you’re doing. Back up the stuff you do.
    Some things you won’t find out until to late. That’s life.

    A stone can be bomber for the 2 guys in front of you and rip off size of a truck engine in your hands. Why? Doesn’t matter, generally that is how erosion works. Sent me flying 4m head first following, being a near miss of a definetely fatal neck breaking grounder. Was hard to cope with.

    Inspection by the climbers would have shown these bolts to be loose.

    In most areas the first bolters have been locals.
    That’s history of climbing. Many new routes are opened by visitors, because they try things the locals never thought of.

    Leave a warning sign on the bolts? Impossible.
    In that sense every bolt outside of a gym has such a sign leaving the factory. They get no regular technical inspections. Acctually it depends on the gym how much they are required to inspect them and how they care for actually doing it.

    It’s shiny new? My girl waitnessed a guy in Italy hearing a loud crack, being to late to 3 bolts tying him to a large piece of rock coming of dragging him to death. The bolts didn’t fail.

    Don’t look for safety were there is none.
    That’s what my sailing teacher taught me.
    Good lesson, but people of believing themselves being civilized don’t understand natural life and death responsibility any more.
    Go and change views that prove wrong or suffer their consequences.

    Storys about improper bolts are frequent.
    Sad fact is somebodys got to get hurt before people find out.

    In the end that won’t stop people from climbing.
    The ones that quit their dangerous addiction to it are the lucky ones.

    This will never be safe, no matter what you do.
    In the end you’re dying for that adrenaline rush in your dull life,
    trying ever more challenging tours. Taking up Trad is a live saving attitude compared to believing in bolts. What keeps you from living it?
    Leave the illusions behind.

    Then you’ll have the means to at least back up questionable things, instead of having to go direct and use a stick to clip to something you can’t even see and inspect, trust your life on a single bolt belay on uninspected bolts…

    This is a list of things leading to death. The guy coming home from that cut rope didn’t deserve it, he got incredibly lucky. The leader was as stupid as the bolter.

    Someday I’ll die due to my own share of stupidity.
    That’s human.

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    • Dennis February 28, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

      You are so right, I watched for years guys ‘fall off’ with apparent impunity onto well placed bolts that is, until the umpteenth climber falls onto it for a rest and a ‘shake-out’ and out it comes. These bolters want to try placing some ‘real protection’. And leave the rock alone…

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  11. Capt_mulch February 14, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    Have a look at the youtube video of Mike Law pulling out the rest of the bolts in the climb.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQt4AbQmJjE

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