NEWS: The British Bolt Wars by Mick Ward

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 Michael Ryan 25 Sep 2006
"Let's also not take our history for granted, for those who take their history for granted tend to lose it very quickly indeed. We may think that bolts on Stanage and Cloggy are unimaginable, that we know where to draw the line. But we've had pegs on Stanage and bolts on Cloggy and only determined action got rid of them. "

Mick Ward argues that the Harpur Hill affair wasn't just about a bunch of old beardies banging on about some dodgy doings in a manky quarry.
 robw007 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -
Nice article - a timely reminder of what is at stake and a great description of how working together benefits everyone.
 Marc C 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan - Stirring stuff - Churchill would be proud (we'll fight those continentals with their bolt-guns in the quarries, on the edges, in the mountains")! One comment I would take issue with, though -"Ours is a tiny island...we have no El Cap, no Walker Spur".
Have you never been up to Lumbutts?
Yorkspud 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Marc C:
One comment I would take issue with, though -"Ours is a tiny island...we have no El Cap, no Walker Spur".
> Have you never been up to Lumbutts?

Or the crag behind Hebden station even.
 Marc C 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Yorkspud: Lumbutts is El Cap, the crag behind Hebden station is Verdon?
 Chris the Tall 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -
Really interesting article, would be good to see some of the other stuff written around then too.

Times change, attitudes change. The defenders of the faith believed that if they didn't make a stand it would only be a mmater of time before Stanage was bolted. Is this really credible?

15 years on and sport climbing is more popular than ever (indoors, outdoors and abroad), climbers are probably more risk-adverse than ever, so surely the barbarians ought to be attacking grit with their bolt guns....

Most of the routes that were stripped of their bolts have now been re-bolted, and many more added. Whenever I've been there, the place is reasonably popular - I guess an average of 7 or 8 parties, but I've never seen anyone climbing the trad routes. Have the bolters destroyed a trad crag, or saved a fine crag from neglect ?
 Fiend 25 Sep 2006
An interesting article and well worth reminding people of.

When I started climbing, the Harpur Hill issue, and Ken Wilson (including the infamous Mick Ryan interview of, which seems to have traumatised the interviewer into the haphazard state we see today) were THE big issues and all quite bizarre to a young, new, climber. It was quite a poignant experience to go to Harpur as an experienced climber, enjoy the sport climbing there, and think of what I'd first read about.

It's also somewhat amusing looking at some of the more vitriolic anti-bolting sentiments at the time, and to see just how well the situation has stabilised in the Peaks - the rules are clear and the wedge has distinct end to it - just beyond the thin end!

Although, I'm not sure how well the issue has stabilised elsewhere, with Portland and South East Wales being the spiritual home of retrobolting, and as for Scotland they all seem confused what's allowed up there...
 GrahamD 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Fiend:

Remember also that Pembroke could have easily swung over for a while.
 John Alcock 25 Sep 2006
In reply to GrahamD:
I agree with you. The removal of bolts from Pembroke was a pivotal moment. Virtually all the lines have been reclimbed without bolts now. The next stage should be to strip all of Pembroke's pegs (including I confess one of mine). Many new route activists there have now stopped using pegs. I wish everyone would. It seems utterly selfish for new routers to get the glory of doing a new line with a string of pegs for protection, knowing that in a couple of years the climb will be far more dangerous for subsequent ascentionists. To me they've stolen the dreams of the next generation of bolder climbers.
 ArnaudG 25 Sep 2006
In reply to John Alcock:

I've been pondering about the use of pegs recently. A good few routes I aspire to have crucial pegs for protection. Most of them will be decades old and probably not trustworthy. Is there not a decision to be made by whoever's competent? Either put a good decent bold instead of the peg, something that will stand for 20 years then the route will be leadable in the style of the FA, or take the peg out and get a young stud to lead it without protection and regrade it accordingly. This may lead to some E5 5bs but at least there won't be the great number of lower extremes that are today unclimbable at this grade simply because the only gear is a peg which is 30 years old and completly rotten.

 Shaw Brown 25 Sep 2006
In reply to ArnaudG:

I think you are spot on with your thoughts. I can think of lots of routes in my area that are slowly getting more dangerous due to rotting pegs. As you say they either should never of been placed or a stainless bolt fixed, this is particularly true in quarries. On a positive note it is amazing how many routes in the Lakes, which have rotting (or deceased) pegs, have good alternative nut placements. Kippling groove springs to mind.
 co1ps 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan - A thought provoking article. I never really paid much attention to the sports climbing argy bargy, being far more interested in trad routes at the time. However in retrospect I think the bolting of Harpur Hill saved a relatively manky quarry from falling into obscurity. The couple of visits Ive made this summer has seen the crag relatively busy and we ticked some 'good' sports routes (the guide does remind everone that this isn't the south of France.) Does make you wonder though....during the last visit I made to Pic Tor in Matlock I was surprised by the apparent neglect. Now I've led all the routes on the crag trad style over the years, but it seems that it would get a new lease of life by being tidied up with bolts. would this really be the end of the world?
yoghourt 25 Sep 2006
In reply to co1ps: No. It wouldn't be the end of anything. Unless I caught you doing it! In which case it would be the end of you!! I live just up the road, you see. It's my local crag. It's polished enough already, thanks, without spineless sports climbers making it worse. I jest, of course. But only a little.

I have no problem with people making bolt-routes. I don't want to climb them, but that's just me. And anyone who does want to climb them should do so. There's room for both. And it's true to say that, in some ways, bolts are a better way of protecting routes from an environmental perspective than traditional gear, especially when you have a generation of indoor-trained, musclebound thugs attempting to transfer their indoors-learned stuff to fragile outdoor venues. (I'll elaborate on this point after the onslaught from the vexed and perplexed neckless climbing wall habituees.) It's also true to say that bolts make climbing a safe thing. Which means anyone can do it. Which ain't necessarily a good thing.

In the final analysis, a shiny bolt, however much an affront to whatever dignity the Ken Wilson's of this world have, (sorry, Ken), is nothing compared to the hideous tat that defiles our crags and has been left by 'trad' (hate that expression) climbers. And guess what, kids? You don't have to clip them!!
 Bob 25 Sep 2006
In reply to yoghourt:

> In the final analysis, a shiny bolt, however much an affront to whatever dignity the Ken Wilson's of this world have, (sorry, Ken), is nothing compared to the hideous tat that defiles our crags and has been left by 'trad' (hate that expression) climbers. And guess what, kids? You don't have to clip them!!

If there's one part of your argument that doesn't hold water it is the above: If there is a bolt there then people will clip it, even Ken Wilson does!


 Pekkie 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -

An excellent balanced argument from Mick Ward. Just two thoughts though. Ernest Hemingway (in Death in the Afternoon) argued that there are only three true sports: motor racing, bull-fighting and mountain climbing. The reason being that participants regularly risk their lives (especially Top Gear presenters these days). All the rest are games. So isn't sports climbing a misnomer? It's the risk that adds the spice to trad/classic climbing - even though most of us are happy to clip bolts - and can't remember the routes afterwards.
The second thought is: I once arrived at a crag to the sight and sound of someone with a big mouth encouraging a very gripped girl to finsih soloing a route. I noticed that he had no intention of soling it himself. It turned out to be Ken Wilson. And his inclusion of a list of first solos at the end of Extreme Rock when he clearly would never dream of soloing any of them also left a funny taste in the mouth.
 Chris the Tall 25 Sep 2006
In reply to yoghourt:
Is Pic Tor still shut ?

Have they cut down the trees ?

Don't suppose the threads are in Silenus are they - sounds like you wouldn't approve anyway, but from memory it would be difficult to thread them on the lead
 Enty 25 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -
12 years on I still don't get it. How does bolting a manky quarry lead to bolting Stanage?

I still don't understand why Harpur Hill was any different to Horseshoe, Castle Inn etc

What about natural crags? Gordale, trad, sport, trad sport, trad, sport depending on what took the first ascencionists fancy.

hypocracy at its worst

The Ent

 andybirtwistle 28 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -
Interesting but I wonder whether we have lost the plot. I was in exactly the same camp in those days.We thought that the flood gates would open and I swore to take my ice axe(winter climbed then) to anyone who put a bolt in Northumberland sandstone.In retrospect maybe it did make a difference but as with the Iraq war who can tell?
What we have now is not very satisfactory.Yes there are bolt routes but most of them are still for folk operating at 7a or above.Ok we have easier stuff at places like Harpur Hill and Horseshoe but their popularity only goes to show how popular sport climbing for the masses is these days.And why not? Why should only "hard men" have the safety of bolts? We all go to walls these days,we all go abroad to sport climb on our holidays.Its not just the weather is it?We go because the rock's good the weather's good and the climbings safe. I used to queue up at High Tor and Dovedale to do routes.I live down here now and despite what the guidebooks say about popularity Ive been to these places loads of times in great weather and seen hardly anyone! Folk are voting with their feet and the old classic limestone crags are overgrown and mostly empty. Now Im not advocating bolting all limestone but come on the quarries are deadly places at times (been to Intake recently where Gary's "classic" routes are rubble!)We have missed the boat.It sailed off into the wide blue yonder while we were acquainting ourselves with the new age bouldering,going on holiday to Spain, and whining on about how bold we were. Lets get real eh?
Witkacy 28 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -

Not interested in 'bolt wars' but this is a good point:

"Why don’t we use the Continental term ‘classical’? It’s so much lovelier than ‘Trad’, which has a horribly naff ring to it."
 GrahamD 28 Sep 2006
In reply to andybirtwistle:

What crags / venues in the UK would you consider better off bolted ? I mean where the nature of the rock allows for it and where the climbing would be better for it ?
 andybirtwistle 29 Sep 2006
In reply to GrahamD:
Putting me on the spot Graham? Truth is I don't know but in my opinion flying the "trad flag" for a place like Harpur Hill isn't the way to go.I don't think anyone's after the Grit or Pembroke.Of course Mick's article has to be read in a historical context but we are really talking about limestone here.I climbed a lot on Yorkshire limestone in the past, Kilnsey,Blue etc.All natural crags where some old routes have been retro-bolted and many new routes(most far too hard for me) put up with bolts; but I remember well the "Frankie" debacle in which Martin B was making his stand. I did a number of routes pre-bolting which scared the pants off me with rotten pegs and tat.In my mind a peg is just a crap bolt. Both are great for the first few ascents but the guy who comes along 15 years later to do a "classic" is in far more danger,and how many folk are going to spend time abing down and replacing stuff?.
Trouble is we made a stand back then and as I said things have moved on.We accept bolting on natural crags like Norber and Giggleswick which have become the new middle grade Mecca's for young and old today.We happily embrace bolting quarries such as Horseshoe but other quarries have both gear and bolts and some have no bolts. Horseshoe is particulary interesting as these days you queue up there and Stoney(quarried)is barren, not like 25 years ago! In my mind we don't have a policy that makes practical sense.What has evolved is a sort of mishmash stalemate,traditional and bolt routes side by side both in quarries and on natural crags. Some may say that's the ideal situation but I don't think so.
To some extent we champion the ethics and style of a bygone age(mostly admirable but some of which was very dodgy) and hope that the new generation will too. We also accept that foriegn holidays, climbing walls, bouldering and mats have changed minds and attitudes and that climbing has become safer and sportier for the majority? So we try to accomodate both styles. In many ways it doesnt matter because climbers will climb where they want to and ignore the places they dont allowing nature to reclaim them which is a pity as there are a lot of good routes out there. I'm talking limestone here,and the status quo if left will resolve itself.
I'm nowhere near alone in these thoughts,on the contrary, but of course a lot of folk are going to keep their mouths shut in public.What I DO know is that when a few new bolt routes of a reasonable grade go up on a limestone crag or quarry, suddenly everyones back to do them.Our present situation has evolved into the strange mixture it is over a long period of time and its going to continue.
Harpur Hill is an old quarry that has some very good rock and some dreadfully poor stuff as well. Some of the bolted routes are excellent some go up very dodgy rock(which is anothe issue!).Personally dont think traditional routes have any place there but that's only my opinion!
 kipper12 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -

I think you only have to look at the example of Trevor, a small number of modest grade sports routes in the new guide and it is being discovered by more and more people. How can one argue that this is a bad thing.
yoghourt 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan - It strikes me that the most important consideration ought to be the welfare of the rock and not the ego or attitude of the climber. It's certainly the case that pegs, after a while, present themselves as an eyesore, and a potentially dangerous one at that, whereas a bolt will not deteriorate so rapidly. It's also true that replacing a peg causes damage to the rock that is irreversible. Bolts, therefore, are better than pegs.
That said, it's my opinion that bolts necessarily devalue the experience of climbing and ought not to be placed at all. I understand the attraction of 'sport' routes, just as I understand the attraction of football. But that doesn't mean that I approve of it.
 GrahamD 29 Sep 2006
In reply to andybirtwistle:

There is a difficulty, I suspect, in seperating the current trend which seems to be away from trad limestone (except Pembroke)and towards climbing on anonymous non lines simply because they are bolted (I've nailed my colours to the mast a bit there, haven't I ?) - and what actually makes for the best quality climbing.

Putting bolts in now (which is a long term, or even permanent, comittment) just because there is a demand for 'convenience climbs' now is not a good long term policy. The next generation might not want to go outside for a climbing wall like experience. Its something which has to be thought through very carefully, and not as something done to satisfy a current fashion. Where it is done it must undoubtedly enhance the nature of the climb.
 Bob 29 Sep 2006
In reply to GrahamD:

There was a thread here this week about Pregnant Pause at Blacknor on Portland. Now I have done this, and really enjoyed it but for the life of me I cannot remember anything about the climbing on it. Yet naturally protected routes of a similar standard from twenty years earlier are clear as day in my mind.

To andybirtwistle:

I think a good example of bolted and natural (better than trad") routes co-existing is Malham. Admittedly this is on an area by area basis rather than side by side. For the latter, Goredale would appear to work. Even here though there are some (and I stress some) want to retro-bolt things like Face Route! FFS this is one of the routes that heralded the start of hard free climbing on limestone and some numpty wants to sanitise it because it doesn't fit into their ideal of convenient climbing.

I'm not against bolting but I feel that where there are existing natural routes then no bolts should be placed that can be clipped from those routes. This would allow new development but maintain the character of existing routes.

 S Andrew 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Chris the Tall:
> ..I've never seen anyone climbing the trad routes.

We did Coral Seas and Seven Deadly Sins a couple of weeks ago.
SDS was by far the better of the two.
Rest of the place is less than inspiring.

 Al Evans 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Rid Skwerr: Hmmmmm! I dont have a problem with bolt(sport)routes, I think we have achieved a sensible place for them in the UK without destroying our unique (maybe) style of climbing.
I do agree with the person earlier on this thread who suggests that the use of pegs on trad routes often makes a subsequent ascent more dangerous than the first ascent if the pegs are rotten, but isnt this just solved if we develop a habit of replacing pegs from time to time? A classic example that I can think of is Fay at Lower Sharpnose, which desperatly needs the pegs replacing at regular intervals to make it viable. Who does this? How do we stop the repegging being abused? Stainless bolts?
 S Andrew 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Al Evans:
> (In reply to Rid Skwerr) Hmmmmm! I dont have a problem with bolt(sport)routes, I think we have achieved a sensible place for them in the UK without destroying our unique (maybe) style of climbing.

I don't have an intrinsic problem either. And as a snapshot the present balance isn't really problematic. But most comment here's coming from people with at least some pre-sport perspective.

These are not the people increasingly demanding more easy-grade sport routes. Quite simply, where are these routes going to come from?

Incidentally, I'd be reluctant to hang a shower curtain off the middle two bolts on Coral Seas. Still, wire backup is possible.

 ArnaudG 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Al Evans:

Regarding re-pegging. I thought the main argument against that was that to remove the peg you'd damage the placement especially if it's particularly old and rusty. You'll be replacing it by a bigger peg to fit the new placement? Cue London Wall and the Embankments.
Maybe that's a good way to "create" placement for new modern gear (Zeros etc), but is that better worse than putting a good staple or bolt or just leaving the gear out all together and regrading the route?

 John2 29 Sep 2006
In reply to andybirtwistle: 'I don't think anyone's after the Grit or Pembroke'

Not now they're not, but bolting was an issue in Pembroke 15 to 20 years ago. Gibson put in several bolts (including, if I'm not mistaken on the line of Chupacabra, Bransby's E9), and Oxley bolted the line that later became John Dunne's Big Issue.
 Sul 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -

bolt wars? somewhat overdramatic, all this earnest discussion yawn yawn zzzzzzzzzzzz
I would bolt all lowland crags for the wusses and leave the mountain crags as trad for the hard men of old, after all, lowland crags, the routes are so short its not worth getting the rope out
 Bob 29 Sep 2006
In reply to oldbut betterthanyoukids:

"after all, lowland crags, the routes are so short its not worth getting the rope out"

Hmm, High Tor, Off you go then - Supersonic, Castellan, Flakey Wall and the rest are just high-ball problems.

 A Crook 29 Sep 2006
In reply to oldbut betterthanyoukids:

to old butupyourownarse

do sea cliff count as low land crags, they are about as low as you can get
 simon cox 29 Sep 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan -

<It’s hard to convey the sense of paranoia engendered by Harpur Hill. It was climbing’s Dunkirk.>

Never been there (HH), could infill the place for all I care... Bolt Darkinbad the Brightdaylor? now you are talking about treading on peoples dreams...

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