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Topic - Failures of stainless steel bolts on sea side crags

Peter Herold - on 03 Jun 2012
From http://www.sardiniaclimb.com/NuovoScEng/ListaNewsEn.html

"27/05/2012- TAKE CARE! Following two cases of expansion and glue-in bolts in good condition breaking, probably due to galvanic currents, you should never lower off just one bolt or nor belay yourself on just one bolt while threading a belay. When abseiling, you should never abseil off just one anchor point if the anchors are not joined together. The instances of failure have occurred next to the sea, but it has not yet been possible to establish the precise cause of the problem. Provided people pay extra attention and follow these suggestions, we can avoid bad accidents and keep climbing in relative safety in marine environments."

A communication published by the Sardinian branch of the Italian Alpine Club (if anyone wants a copy email me, it's in Italian) updates this and reports similar breakages of STAINLESS STEEL bolts in marine environments in the USA, Thailand, Caiman Islands, Calanques and (in a Remy brothers report just circulated) in Kalymnos. The Kalymnos cases were due to the steel having less chrome than stainless steel should have, but we have learned that fully certified stainless steel can corrode much faster than people thought in marine environments: analysis of the Sardinian bolts from Bidiriscottai, Cala Gonone and Masua showed the cause was "pitting" corrosion in stainless steels meeting certification standards.

We're talking of two cases among thousands of bolts, but everyone here wants to alert people to this risk, which you minimise by following the advice above particularly on sea side crags (I hope you do this anyway on all crags!): never lower off just one bolt or nor belay yourself on just one bolt while threading a belay. The leader should thread the belay, not the second. When abseiling, you should never abseil off just one anchor point if the anchors are not joined together.

As an immediate step to increase safety, at French stances (two offset eye bolts) at sea side crags a piece of kevlar will be used to join the bolts so that they back each other up even if people don't follow the rules above. You could consider leaving one yourself -:) In the longer term, hot-dipped galvanised bolts with min 25 microns of zinc coating will be used by the sea instead of stainless steel bolts.

Please circulate this info as widely as possible to your climbing friends.

Peter peter@peteranne.it
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