Bolting for sport climbing

Bolting for sport climbing

It must be stressed that taking the decision to attach bolts into the rock for climbing places a great responsibility on the individual or group that carries it out - both on a moral level and, potentially, on a legal level too.

The key reason for placing fixed gear on a route is to reduce all danger involved in an ascent. Climbers will be trusting their lives to the gear as they find it en-route. By definition, a sport climb is one where the climber should be free from all worries about falling and is able to concentrate fully on the difficulty the climb poses. This requires that the fixed protection is correctly placed in good rock, at intervals of two to three metres, ending in a solidly-fixed double, or triple-fixed, lower off. Sounds easy, doesn't it!


There has been very heated debate within the climbing community about the validity of bolting in Britain

Reasons to place fixed gear:
  • The first ascent, where the route has not been climbed before.
  • To re-gear old, partial or full, sport climbs of corroded gear, in a like-for-like fashion.
  • To retro-bolt old, partial or full, sport climbs (plus certain traditional climbs), with a completely fixed protection system.
Each of these scenarios poses difficult ethical questions (see Ethics). Sport climbing arose only in the late 1970s from a desire by the leading climbers of the day to push technical limits. But this has filtered down and there are now legitimate areas where easy routes can be done with fixed gear.

Where to bolt

boltThere has been a very heated and controversial debate within the climbing community about the validity of bolting, as the majority of crags in Britain have been developed traditionally using removable, hand-placed gear. Guidelines for sport zones have been established through local area meetings and national forums, and these are available from the national body, the BMC (see below), as well as being noted in up-to-date area guidebooks. It is essential these zones and rules be adhered to, in order to ensure that sport climbs do not encroach onto traditional zones.

For most areas in the UK each crag has a recognised 'status'. As a rule of thumb, mountain crags, gritstone, sandstone, granite and most sea cliffs are not available for sport climbing. Sport climbing usually occurs in quarries, often slate or limestone, and in other specifically designated zones (but note that this is a great generalisation and every location needs qualification).

BMC (British Mountaineering Council) Policy

The BMC policy does not state exactly where bolting should or should not take place but leaves the decision up to the individual, expecting the individual to take account of the publicly-agreed consensus view when making a judgement.

'The BMC strongly supports the approach to climbing based on leader placed protection which makes use of natural rock features. The BMC believes that care and concern for the crag and mountain environments is of paramount importance.

The BMC is firmly-opposed to retrospective-bolting

The BMC accepts that in exceptional circumstances, agreed by the BMC, fixed equipment may be utilised for lower-off or abseil points to avoid environmental damage or maintain access.

It is the policy of the BMC that the use of bolts and other drilled equipment is only legitimate on certain agreed quarried crags and agreed sections of certain limestone crags. Lists of agreed locations will be maintained by the local area committees.

The BMC is firmly-opposed to retrospective bolting (i.e. changing the character of a route by placing fixed equipment where none was previously used). Climbs should only be re-equipped on a basis of common consent established at open forums.'

Search advice