San Diego is plagued with outdated and dangerous climbing anchors. Most of San Diego’s climbing areas were established in excess of 30 years ago and are in desperate need of updating. Due to insurance and liability reasons, ACSD regrets that it cannot, itself, engage in climbing anchor replacement. We would, however, like to recognize and report some good deeds that have been accomplished lately. Some members of the climbing community have received new hardware from the American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) and have been replacing old bolts and hangers where necessary. So far this year approximately 40 old anchors have been replaced at Mt. Woodson. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Part of ACSDs mission is to promote safe climbing. Therefore, we will engage in fundraising efforts to donate to the ASCA so they can further their much needed work and continue to support the efforts of local climbers willing to do the work necessary to keep others safe!
If you come across what appear to be unsafe anchors while climbing, please let us know so we can spread the word by posting the information on our web site. Though nothing stated anywhere on ACSD's web site relieves any climbers of complete responsibility for their own safety, here are a few tips offered by a local climber who has been helping with the bolt replacement:
Any 1/4” bolt is a time bomb. Most come out by simply tapping a knife blade piton between it and the rock.
The 5/16” bolts that have been removed were sound. However many were installed with Leeper, Leeper look-alike, or SMC hangers – none of which are safe. The thin steel has a tendency to crack where the steel was bent, especially the older, thinner ones (there are 3 generations of Leeper hangers).
Some safety tips:
- Do not belay or top rope off a single 1/4” bolt or one of these older hangers.
- Do not count on one of these to keep you off the ground lead climbing.
- Do not trust an aluminum hanger, one swing of a hammer will break one off.
There are many newer (1980’s) shiny stainless steel SMC and Kong hangers out there. These hangers are good, but the 5/16” bolts typically used with these hangers are not as strong as the 3/8” and 1/2” anchors used today. These bolts may also be much more rusted and corroded then the shiny hanger indicates, especially inside the hole where it is not visible.
Over the past 10 years many Mt. Woodson bolts have been replaced with solid stainless steel Metolius hangers but non-stainless Rawl 5-piece bolts. Although these anchors are solid now, there are potential problems with this type of replacement:
- The shiny stainless hanger misleads the climber of the actual condition of the bolt.
- Stainless steel in contact with regular steel causes the regular steel to corrode at a faster rate due to galvanic corrosion.
Some of these bolts also may have been over-torqued when installed. That, combined with the weakening of the rust has prevented many of these bolts from being removed without snapping off inside the hole, rendering the hole useless. The hole must then be camouflaged and a new hole drilled next to it. To correct this I have been removing the stainless steel hangers and replacing them with regular steel, as well as applying anti-seize compound to the threads so it will be removable when replacement is necessary.
For more information about bolts, check out the ASCA's Education page.