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Weekend Whipper: Climber Rips Gear—Wait, Was That a Bolt?

That could have been a lot worse.

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Many of us go sport climbing to enjoy the pure the movement of climbing: no awkward ground falls (bouldering); no ripping cams (trad climbing); no screaming barfies. But that was not so for one climber, while attempting Essence (5.10c) at the New River Gorge’s Cotton Club Wall, who ripped a bomber-looking bolt on a steep (and otherwise safe) looking sport climb.

Chase Miller and his friend Patrick were trading burns on Essence before the bolt failure. Miller onsighted the route, floating past the unknowingly suspect bolt. Then Patrick had a go and whipped onto it. He rested for a minute before whipping again, and ripped out the hanger and bolt.

What the hell happened? we wondered. Miller had the same question. He brought the hardware to a local gear shop and the employees pointed out that this type of bolt had no business being fallen on. “There wasn’t an expansion sleeve [on the bolt] or anything,” Miller told Climbing. “Just a six-inch bolt with about an inch of thread. At the crux. In a dead horizontal bolt placement.”

Climbing bolt lays on ground after it failed
The bolt, post-whip. (Photo: Reddit user 1m-done)

Climbing’s own Duane Raleigh had a different conclusion: “It looks like a 3/8 or 1/2 inch Rawl or Powers five piece. It’s missing the expansion tip/cone, which could be stuck in the back of the hole.” In an ideal world, obviously, the expansion cone shouldn’t come off. Raleigh hypothesized that the bolt was improperly placed: “Maybe the setter reversed the ratchet for some reason and this unscrewed the cone. I bet the cone and the missing expansion sleeve are still in the hole.”

“What most people don’t realize is that a longer bolt isn’t necessarily any stronger than a shorter bolt,” Raleigh continued. “The bolt fails by pulling out, which is determined only by the expansion cone and the end of the sleeve that expands. Some people use longer bolts thinking they are stronger, but longer is stronger only if the rock at the end of a deeper hole is stronger than the rock at the end of a shorter hole.”

Happy Friday, and be safe out there this weekend.

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