Many people have told me over the years how they thought that rock climbing was a purely selfish pursuit. While I agree that climbing does not create jobs, medicine, or clean water for all off the underprivileged children of the world (bless their little hearts), there is no way that I could agree that it is purely selfish. I have spent too many of my rest days spotting or belaying friends on their projects to think that this is only about me. True, I do give these belays knowing that I will in turn have favors owed to me, opening up the argument about the existence of altruism, but who wants to have that boring conversation. If we were to just pretend for a minute that selfless acts do exist in the world, then it is obvious that the climbing world is full of examples of people giving time, energy, and money to the benefit of everyone around them.
People spend countless man hours cleaning up their local crags. Trail maintenance alone is a never ending battle of down in the dirt, thankless work. When I started to realize how much work goes into establishing new problems/routes, let alone new areas, I really began to be in awe of how much work had been put into all of the crags that I enjoy.
Last summer I decided that I wanted to give back to the climbing community that had so freely given so much to me over the years. The method that I chose was one that would also allow me to learn a new skill set: bolting. I had wanted to learn how to place a bolt for years, so I decided that I could buy some hardware and donate a little bit of time to replace a few sketchy bolts that were lurking in the shadows of Yosemite Valley. Wanting to steer clear of drama, my target was simply to replace (not add) bolts that were already existing on some routes (usually anchors) that were accepted as being a benefit and not a detriment to the climb. In other words, don’t worry, I am not going to put the bolt back on Serenity Crack that keeps getting chopped and rebolted.
When I discussed this goal of mine with some friends at work, the response was positive. I was instantly surrounded by three eager climbers, rubbing their sweating hands, rattling off names of climbs with sketchy anchors. A couple of co-workers had already spent a bit of time replacing anchors and they promised to take me under their wing and show me how to safely reach my goal. It was decided that over the next few months the four of us would go to several crags on our common goal of making Yosemite climbs a little bit safer. John, the elder statesmen, was most familiar with the valley (after climbing there for multiple decades) and was most useful in picking good, but underused, climbs which were the most likely to not have the newest hardware on them. We would all meet up in the morning (since we all work at night) and head out to the predetermined area. After leading the target climb one of us would get to work while the others did some of the nearby climbs. Sometimes we’d set up fixed lines in order to mini-traxion the better climbs over and over. In this way we could rotate between bolting and climbing, making it a nice mix of work and play.
While we may never know if our efforts have made any difference at all, it was clear from the beginning that there were safety concerns with many of the anchors. Our first endeavor lead us to a conglomerate of faded slings and tat that was deteriorating before our eyes. The anchor was a fixed nut and a fixed hex backing up a slung chock stone. When we cut away all of the old, worn webbing from the chock stone, we ended up pulling out the chock stone itself! The only thing holding the rock in place was the nest of webbing.
The work itself was difficult at times, especially because the use of power tools is prohibited in designated wilderness areas. All of the bolts had to be drilled by hand, a long process in Yosemite granite. Each time we would attempt to remove the old bolts and re-drill the existing bolt holes (to the correct size) in order to do as little damage to the rock and keep the appearance as natural as possible, but this was not always possible. A friend at the local gear shop did a great job of manufacturing a set of tuning forks out of pitons, in order to remove the old bolts with as much ease as possible. While I was surprised at one especially stubborn button-head, most of the bolts slipped out with relative ease, further strengthening the idea that they did indeed need to be replaced.
Ours was only a small ripple in the ocean of effort that goes into preserving a bright climbing future in Yosemite. The American Safe Climbing Association and Yosemite Facelift have done more for the valley than we could hope to do in a lifetime, but it still felt good to walk away from a climb knowing that there was now a beefy anchor there thanks to our efforts.