New route development is a service to the community. Those responsible for new routes volunteer countless hours and often personal resources so that others may enjoy the fruits of their labor. To all those who have contributed, or are considering contributing, your time, vision and hard work in the development of a new route, thank you. We literally couldn’t (sport) climb without you.
When climbers started developing sport routes in the Jackson Hole area in the 1980s, it’s unlikely they could have foreseen the eventual explosion in popularity climbing would enjoy—or that, nearly 40 years later, climbers would still be clipping the same bolts. Now that the pursuit has matured, it is our collective responsibility to ensure the fixed gear on these routes is maintained, and that they meet or exceed modern anchor standards. In addition, it’s imperative that new routes be put up in a way that serves future generations of climbers well, as any route put up today will be climbed by numerous climbers for decades to come.
This document seeks to share the insights of local developers in an outline of some of the “best practices” for route development in the Jackson Hole area. It is informed by input from the Access Fund and American Safe Climbing Association, as well as best-practice guidelines developed by numerous other climbing communities around the country. It is not intended to “tell folks what to do,” but rather to provide a list of factors to carefully consider before taking out the drill so that future generations may enjoy your contributions too.
High-level points are as follows:
- Respect land-management regulations
- Protect the resource, including flora and fauna
- Control for erosion
- Consider the experience of others throughout the route-development process
- Use the most appropriate, durable hardware possible
- Before altering a route, contact its developer
- Please don’t ever chip or chisel
Best-Practice Documents from Other Communities:
- Best Practices for Development and Rebolting in the Bighorn Mountains and Bighorn Basin—Bighorn Climbers’ Coalition
- Best Practices Guide For Rock Climbing Route Development in the Squamish Area Provincial Parks—BC Parks
- Route Building 101: A How-To Guide—The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers
- Fixed Anchor Maintenance Program—Salt Lake Climbers’ Association
- Best Practices for Climbing and Climbing Management on the Bighorn National Forest—USDA
Best-Practice Documents from National Climbing Organizations:
- BEST PRACTICES FOR BOLT PLACEMENT—Access Fund
- A Guide to Climbing Issues and the Production of a Climbing Management Plan. Compiled by Aram Attarian, Ph.D. and Jason Keith, Access Fund Policy Director
Additional information may be found below.
Land Management Agencies
Before developing a new route, consult the land-management regulations for the area under consideration.. Regulations differ for new-route development within Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest, designated Wilderness areas, and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. For example, the use of a power drill is prohibited within a Wilderness boundary (i.e., GTNP). Fortunately it is relatively easy to identify the jurisdiction within which your intended route falls with free internet mapping services such as caltopo.com.
Please check with the appropriate land management agency regarding their current regulations before developing a route. Route development that fails to adhere to land-management regulations today may adversely affect route development in the future.
- National Park Service
- Grand Teton National Park regulations may be found here.
- Please note that Blacktail Butte is within Grand Teton National Park boundaries. The use of motorized drills requires a Special Use Permit, which entails a cost of $200. See here.
- Additional information on Special Use Permits may be found here.
- Bridger-Teton National Forest Wilderness Regulations
- Bureau of Land Management Restrictions and Opportunities
Flora and Fauna
Contacting the land management agency will also give you the information you need about the potential to disturb flora and fauna near your new route. Peregrine falcons, which are an endangered species, are a particular concern in Teton County. Under no circumstance would it be considered prudent to develop a new route on a cliff where a nesting pair of falcons reside. Not only is this contrary to our responsibility to protect these birds, but it is an invitation for more widespread closures of the land for recreational use.
- CLIMBING AND RAPTORS: A Handbook for Adaptive Raptor Management —Access Fund
- Impacts of rock climbing on cliff vegetation: A methods review and best practices —Laura M. Boggess,Georgia R. Harrison,Giovanna Bishop
Approaches, Belay Stances & Erosion
Before establishing a route in a new area, give serious consideration to the approach climbers will take to access the route, as well as how generations of activity will affect the belay area. It should be assumed that once a new route is developed, word will get out, and climbers will come. Avoid erosion problems by developing a clear plan for the approach, as well as for the staging and belay areas. Choose an approach that follows durable surfaces and avoids going straight up the fall line (low-angle approaches can cause significantly less erosion than approaches that access a route directly). Utilize durable surfaces for belay stances whenever possible.
Most of the rock available for new route development in Teton County contains loose sections. The best route developers thoroughly clean a new route of loose elements, including fragile pieces of rock. Not only will this make the route more enjoyable, but it will avoid injuries from unexpected broken holds.
Assume that any new route will be climbed by generations of climbers. Prior to developing a route, review relevant land-management regulations to avoid any actions that are prohibited (e.g., route cleaning may be prohibited where federally-listed threatened, endangered, and sensitive species occur).Then,safely remove elements that pose a threat to future climbers and belayers.
There is a fine but clear line between cleaning and chipping. While cleaning a route in the interests of safety and aesthetics will inevitably change its nature, it is widely considered unacceptable to alter or create a hold in the interest of making a move or a route easier.
Not all steel is the same—not even stainless steel. All steel will eventually corrode, but #316 stainless steel is the most durable and the most resistant to corrosion. While #304 stainless steel is a bit cheaper, and still highly resistant to corrosion, it isn’t as good as #316. Though it is more expensive, #316 holds up well in wet environments and will last the longest in any environment, including ours. Anyone who has put in the time, expense and considerable labor of replacing dangerously corroded bolts will greatly appreciate the use of #316..
While the use of plated-steel bolts—an economical option—was common in early sport routes, numerous factors, including rapid corrosion once the zinc coating wore off, ushered in the current preference for stainless steel. It is often difficult or impossible to determine the level of corrosion of a plated-steel bolt inside its hole when viewing it from the surface. A plated-steel bolt might last for decades, or become unreliable after only a few years. Plated steel bolts are cheap, but there is simply no place for them in a modern sport route.
Types of Bolts
In soft, porous rock such as the varieties of limestone found in Teton County, glue-in bolts are by far the longest lasting, strongest and preferred bolt option. The glue wicks into the pores of the rock and provides great strength. In addition, the epoxy completely covers the portion of the bolt that is in the hole, effectively eliminating unseen corrosion.
The downside is that glue-in bolts are more difficult to use and require more skill and experience to place correctly. Seek instruction or a mentor prior to placing any bolts, including glue-in bolts.
All bolts will eventually corrode. When a route requires rebolting, removable bolts will permit easy removal and replacement using the same hole, minimizing both effort and expense.
While a ½” inch sleeve bolt, or a ⅜” double wedge bolt will provide a secure anchor for years, their eventual and inevitable replacement will be problematic. It is difficult to get all of the steel out of the hole in order for it to be filled with a glue-in. As a result, the bolt will likely be chopped, requiring the drilling of a new hole. We owe it to the next generation to ensure that any hole drilled in our limited resource of rock will be of use for as long as possible.
For hard rock types such as granite, glue-in bolts are great, but lose many of their advantages over the easier-to-place mechanical bolts. If you choose to use a mechanical bolt, a removable product such as the Fixe Triplex is still the preferred option due to the ease of reusing the hole when the inevitable forces of nature cause the original bolt to need replacement. A ⅜” double wedge provides a perfectly adequate anchor in granite as well, but has the same replacement disadvantages.
- Access Fund Fixed Anchors Resource Page
- Bolt Types—Safer Cliffs Australia
Glue-in bolts have another significant advantage: it is not necessary to purchase additional hangers. Hangers for mechanical bolts should be of the same grade of steel as the bolt. Mismatched metals (between the bolt and the hanger) increase the likelihood of premature corrosion of the bolt.
It should go without saying that there is simply no excuse for a home-made or chain-link and washer-hanger bolt in a modern route—the local community is working hard to replace the relics that still exist.
Top anchors should consist of two bolts for redundancy. Ideally, these will be equalized to distribute the load evenly. While there are many appropriate anchor types (including rings, chains, quick links, and mussi hooks), there are a few factors to consider when choosing which to use.
First, as top-roping through the anchors causes rapid wear, an anchor should easily and safely facilitate toproping from two quickdraws.
Anchor wear is inevitable, as the last climber generally lowers off the anchor and then pulls the rope. Quick links, or a chain/mussi hook attached to the bolt with a quick link, allows for easy replacement of the rope-bearing equipment without the replacement of the entire bolt.
Finally, the top anchor should be set up so that climbers can lower off of it without kinking the rope To achieve this, place a string of two quick links, or a quick link and an odd number of chain links, to each bolt, which ensures that the plane of the rope-bearing opening is perpendicular to the rock surface. (If the anchors are too far apart and the rope creates two 90- degree angles, the rope will kink on lowering.) Mussi hooks or other drop in anchors should have the rope-bearing opening perpendicular to the rock as well.
There are no fixed rules regarding the spacing of bolts on a sport route. Bold routes and conservatively bolted routes both have their places in a climbing area’s ecosystem. That said, please consider the following when deciding the route’s nature:
First and foremost, route developers should recognize that hundreds if not thousands of climbers will climb their routes. When we place bolts on public lands, we have a responsibility to do so with others in mind. Though there is certainly a place for bold routes, it is widely considered poor form for a 5.12 climber to bolt a dangerous and/or runout 5.9.
The most dangerous point on a sport climb occurs while clipping the second or third bolt: climbers pull up slack to clip, and unknowingly risk a groundfall while doing so.
To counteract this, a responsible route developer will make the distance between the first and second bolt and the second and third bolt smaller than the distance between the first bolt and the ground. The same strategy applies to the first few bolts above a ledge on a route with ledge-fall potential
Though often difficult to achieve, the ideal route will have bolts that are relatively comfortable to clip for both the 5’2” climber and the 6’4” climber. The longest fall potential occurs when a climber is clipping a bolt. Whether the route developer is on the short or tall end of the height spectrum, it is responsible to consider how the other end of the spectrum will experience the clip.
- Installation Videos from Fixe
- BMC Guide to Bolting
- INSTALLING MECHANICAL ANCHORS—American Safe Climbing Association
- Installation—Climbing Bolt Supplies
- Bolting Top Down vs Ground Up—Climbing Bolt Supplies
- The Eight Unfortunate Truths of Route Development—Splitter Choss
- The Art of Development—Climbing Magazine
- What It Takes To Develop A New Climbing Route—REI
- 5 Ways to Climb as a Better Conservationist—Save Mount Diablo
- Top 10 Climbing Best Practices—Common Climber
- INSTALLING MECHANICAL ANCHORS—American Safe Climbing Association
- How to check an expansion bolt—British Mountaineering Council
- How to Bolt a Route by Adam Ondra—Moja Gear
- Route Development and Sustainable Bolting in Idaho—Moja Gear
- FixeHardware Bolting Series & Product Videos:
- Bolting Considerations for Rockclimbing
- Bolt Selection
- Fixe Wedge Bolt Installation
- Fixe Triplex Bolt Installation
- Power Bolt (AKA Rawl 5-Piece) Installation
- Fixe Glue-In Bolt Installation Techniques
We hope the theme of this document is clear: developing new routes in the Jackson Hole area is a contribution to the community, one for which generations of climbers will be grateful. Develop a route as if people will be climbing it long after you’ve left this Earth. Protect the resources; control for erosion; consider the experience of others throughout the route-development process; and use the most appropriate, durable hardware in every hole. This and future generations will thank you.