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On big, serious routes (Dreamcatcher, Jumbo Love, etc), who puts the bolts in place and how? Are the bolts there before the "first ascent" or does the first ascender put them in place as he goes? It seems ridiculous that he would be carrying whatever equipment it takes to do that with him.

Who decides how the route will go and where to place the bolts? How could they know before the thing has been climbed whether they're putting them in good places, route-wise? The whole thing seems very confusing to me.

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migrated from Feb 27 '14 at 14:12

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The story about the compressor route on Cerro Torre is interesting when it comes to bolting and route ethics. You can also see the huge compressor which was used by Maestri to bolt the route.… – Wills May 13 '14 at 22:22

1 Answer 1

up vote 14 down vote accepted

What you're talking about is Sport climbing.

Generally these bolts are placed by the person who is creating the climb. They will normally top rope or abseil the climb and work out where they want it to go, then spend a couple of days placing the bolts, while on a top rope. They are drilled and glued into place and this can take a lot of time.

Sometimes the person who places these will do the first ascent, sometimes not, this will often depend on the grade. Some test pieces are made deliberately very hard as a type of challenge to other climbers.

Learning where to put the bolts is a skill unto itself and is more Art than science.

Sometimes traditional routes are bolted. This is very controversial (in the UK at least) as traditional climbing enthusiasts feel this sometimes ruins good traditional routes.

Adam Ondra placing a bolt

Photo of Adam Ondra placing a bolt (notice the various drills and ropes, etc.)

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Nice comprehensive answer! Unfortunately you hit me by some minutes as I was just formulating quite the same, so the upvote goes to you. – Benedikt Bauer Feb 27 '14 at 14:27
I would add that any route bolted outside of existing climbing areas is going to be controversial (i.e. bolt a route up a mountain in a National Park, visible from trails and I wouldn't be surprised if you end up in jail). – Ryley Mar 6 '14 at 21:54
No law against it in the UK. There was an incident where somebody bolted a trad route and some local activists took bolt cutters to the bolts... – Liam Mar 7 '14 at 9:08
I see that Ondra is on lead there. Whether to bolt from the ground up (on lead) or on rappel (or top-rope) will depend on your area. Some places may be too dangerous or the rock too poor to bolt on lead, in others (e.g. Yosemite), rap-bolting is considered cheating. An old AAC journal from 1991 includes the argument "acceptance of rap-bolting would probably give us what France has: a 10-foot by 10-foot grid of bolts." – requiem Aug 9 at 0:40
Liam answers your question very well for the most part. When it comes to deciding where to put the bolts it is up to the person bolting however some areas have a standard spacing which most routes adhere to. The biggest consideration on harder routes is where you will be able to hold on with one hand and clip the rope. There is no point putting a bolt in a location where the holds are so poor that you simply cannot take a hand off to clip the rope in. – Sam Parmenter Aug 10 at 12:28

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