Bolts belong among so-called fixed protection. Above all they are represented by two types, expansion bolts and glue-in bolts. A third, somewhat different group are sandstone rings. Bolts are placed into holes which are drilled into the rock. If they are placed well, bolts rank among the most solid protection points possible. Nonetheless a number of people, mostly those espousing the classic concept of mountaineering, admonish bolts for their lesser sporting value. The significant overuse of bolts is mostly criticised because it is considered an unfair overpowering of the rock by technology, not human performance. While you can drill bolts, and therefore you are not in any way limited and bound to natural rock shapes (cracks, such as is the case with pitons), it nonetheless does not mean that it is wise to drill a bolt anywhere you like. On one hand you have to take into consideration the state of the mineral at the spot of intended drilling. The rock in such a spot must be compact, firm, and the surface of the rock must be flat with no protrusions. There can also not be any bolt drilled too close to the edge of the rock, whether it is the edge of an overhang, a rock corner, etc. The distance from the edge should be a minimum of 15 cm, or up to half a meter with sandstone.
Since sandstone is a soft mineral, and therefore the shank of a sandstone ring is larger in size, it is clear that its placement in the rock is not a short term matter, as is for example the case with hammering rock pitons into a crack. Placing a ring into a sandstone is work that requires time, equipment, and skill.
Equipment necessary for placing sandstone rings (so-called hardware) must be carried in a small hauling sack. Often a normal bag of the “messenger” type is enough. Of course, the weight of such a bag is considerable, and you cannot expect that a leader could reasonably climb with one. The matter is resolved in such a manner that the leader climbs without the bag, and during climbing is usually belayed with rope that is placed into intermediate protection points. In addition to this, however, she also pulls a thin but strong accessory cord along with her which does not run through the intermediate protection and which she uses at the proper time to pull the bag with the hardware to her. It is best to have a long accessory cord, and to fasten the bag to the middle of the cord in such a way that one strand should also head downward toward the belayer on the ground. By pulling on the lower section of the cord, the belayer can thereby distance the bag from the rock, and thereby keep the bag from catching on the rock and becoming wedged in any gaps during hauling. If the belayer is no longer on the ground, but can already be found in a belay station below on the face, you should proceed in a similar way, whereas the bag with the hardware will hang near the belayer at the station at the time when it is not being used.
After the leader finishes climbing to the spot where she deems it appropriate to place a ring, as the rock no longer offers the option of quality protection due to its relief, where the complexities of climbing are now quite significant and a fall would be dangerous, it is necessary to embark on the actual placement of the ring. In the olden days it was a rule on sandstone that the ring must be placed from a position of free climbing. With the growth of the complexity of navigated ascents this rule was shown to be too strict, and as a result it is at present possible and acceptable to place a ring from a seated position in slings, or even from a “borek”, a tubular centre drill with a serrated edge. In the event of sitting into a sling this consists of protection (usually a small gap or thin rock tunnel) near the place of the intended placement of the ring that can hold the weight of one person but that cannot be assumed to sustain a fall into the rope as intermediate protection (e.g. like a belay station). In the case of a centre drill (a device called a “borek” in the Czech Republic), the climber drills it into the rock from a free climbing position. The centre drill is a thin and short (approx 8 cm) metal shaft whose point is equipped with a screw thread, for a handle a thin upright mounted rod on the opposite end usually serves. In the soft sandstone often two centre drills are placed and connected with a sling so the load of the sitting climber may be distributed. From the perspective of rules for climbing on sandstone the use of Friend or sky-hook for sitting while drilling a ring has not been made entirely clear (do not confuse this with their use as intermediate protection, this is categorically forbidden and also would be dangerous on such a soft mineral as sandstone). Nonetheless for simple sitting these devices are sometimes used in contemporary times for first ascents on sandstone. The criterion for deciding what devices to use should always be the rock and its damage. The less the rock will be damaged, the better. There is no a priori damaging or good method of protection when placing rings, there is only a good or bad outcome. A person must think about what she is doing, what she is causing, and orient her behaviour to what will damage the rock the least. Regardless of what method of sitting into the rope is selected, it is necessary in all cases to be responsible and to begin drilling the actual hole for the ring near to the point of protection in which you are sitting. The deviation is maybe thus max. 30 cm, ideally to the side or down. It is definitely bad and unsporting to pull oneself upward from provisional protection and try to place the ring as high as possible, and thereby ease climbing a complex point. The ring must be placed in such a manner that other climbers when repeating the ascent can manage to safely clip a carabiner into it from a free climbing position.
Expansion bolts on non-sandstone cliffs
Certain expansion bolts, primarily those which are designed for hard minerals, are relatively short, therefore also relatively light. At the same time a tamponnaire with a mounted drill in this case is not large or unbearably heavy. It is therefore possible to have it hanging on the seat harness when climbing, along with several bolts. The process and tactics thereby acquire a character like climbing with regular rock pitons. These bolts are often used only on a one-off basis, however, and are intended for more difficult ascents in very high to extremely high altitude mountains.
In lower mountains and rocks it is necessary to use more robust bolts or glue-in bolts, because if a cliff is not to be destroyed with continuous drilling it is necessary to carry out the placement of the fixed protection devices only once, and in a manner of sufficient quality to ensure its lifespan in the terrain will be as long as possible.
More in e-book.
Mountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling
Available for download from Apple iTunes (in the Books section).
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Another possibility is Google Play. This version is a simplified (as PDF).
Mountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling
Available for download from Google Play.