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BOB GAINES, 49 AND A LIFER at Joshua Tree, has authored 500- plus Cali climbs. Raised with the state’s minimalist ethic, Gaines knows well the challenges of bolting and, running his guide service (verticaladventures.com), is also keenly aware of the need for safe crags. “Usually, when I go out with fellow guides or instructors, we’re shocked” by the old hardware, says Gaines. “[We have] a higher safety standard, and we just don’t see it . . . among the general climber population.” Since 2003, Gaines et al. have worked with the Anchor Replacement Initiative and American Safe Climbing Association at J-Tree, Idyllwild, and Yosemite, helping climbers keep the ground out of California’s “ground-up” equation.
Have you replaced any of your original bolts? My career spans back to the ‘70s, so a lot of routes that I put up, like, in Yosemite and Idyllwild, were little quarter-inch bolts on lead. So I’ve gone back and replaced bolts on my routes, yes. Now the standard is 3/8”, and that’s the big change.
How have the older bolts held up? In J-Tree, it’s a dry climate and most of the bolts have held up for 20 or 25 years. In Yosemite, with more of a cold, winter climate, you see a little more corrosion. But the only problems I’ve seen with 1980s bolts [when climbers started using mostly 3/8”] are the bad SMC hangers. One model was about as thin as a dime, and another as thick as a quarter. The thinner one we’d call the SMC Death Hanger it actually caused an accident in Yosemite, where it failed under body weight. Now I use all stainless steel (which could last 50 to 100 years). But even these bolts aren’t going to last forever. . . .
What should J-Tree visitors look out for? No. 1: a quarter-inch bolt should be suspect J-Tree’s not very dense granite. Also, beware rusty hangers and cracks around the bolt.
Where are the worst J-Tree anchors you’ve replaced? Harlequin (5.10d R), a 1974 Tobin Sorenson runout classic on Saddle Rock. The quarter-inch bolts came out as easily as nails from wood.