NZ canyon bolting guideline; need for an Australian version?

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Full name: Tim Vollmer
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NZ canyon bolting guideline; need for an Australian version?

Post by T2 » 10 Sep 2019, 13:39

There seems to have been a recent burst of canyon bolting, based on reports I've seen about new abseil routes, new bolts in canyons, and newly bolted access / exit routes.

I thought it was timely to share the bolting guidelines developed by NZ canyoners which helpfully cover some of the key issues (see below). These guidelines encourage people to think carefully about whether they are allowed to bolt, if so, should a bolt be placed, and if so, how should it be done.

There are many examples of poorly placed bolts in the Blue Mountains, but traditionally not too many in canyons (although there are some very dodgy old ones that clearly fail the "how do we bolt" test).

In the Blue Mountains, poorly placed bolts have been responsible for the death of at least one climber (it is well worth reading about Nick Kaczorowski's tragic fall in the Grose Valley before blindly trusting bolts!)

There are also a number of recent examples of National Parks managers taking a stricter stance when it comes to bolting, most drastically with the closure of large parts of the Grampians to climbing. Here, impact of unauthorised bolts, vegetation clearing, and damage to Indigenous sites have been used to block access to all climbers.

Personally, I also share the concerns of the NZ Alpine Club about indiscriminant bolting diminishing the adventurous nature of our pursuits. If you replace the words "mountaineering" or "climbing" with canyoning this all rings true:
Mountaineering and rock climbing require skilled risk assessment and risk management. To remove the need for sound judgment from the equation is to lessen the experience as a whole. Mountains and crags are places where people can experience nature on its own terms. While specific sites in the mountains and crags can be bolted to reduce risk, safer climbing fundamentally requires that climbers acquire the skills and judgment required to assess risk and make informed decisions. This in turn will make their experiences far more rewarding. These core values must be protected and should not be undermined by creeping acceptance of bolting in the mountains or on rock climbs where good natural protection is available.
There are definitely times when bolts are appropriate from a safety or sustainability standpoint. But having cowboys installing bolts randomly -- in breach of the law and in some cases in damaging or dangerous ways -- can lead to serious negative consequences.

I'm keen to hear what other people think about this topic, whether there is a need for an Australian canyon bolting guideline, and how we can bring together the broad range of views within the canyoning community (along with the views of land managers) to reach a consensus.


Canyon bolting guideline
Reproduced from:

As canyoning in NZ rapidly increases in popularity, it is essential to the safe and responsible development of the sport that a Canyon bolting guideline is adopted.
This document provides guidance for bolting in recreational canyoning situations. For guidance on bolting for commercial canyoning, see the relevant section of the Canyoning Activity Safety Guideline on the Support Adventure website.
This guideline should be read in conjunction with; Anyone considering placing bolts in NZ canyons should ask themselves three questions;
Are we allowed to bolt? Should we bolt? And if so, how do we bolt?

Are we allowed to bolt?
  • Bolting on private land must only take place with the permission of the landowner,
  • On public land, bolting may only be authorised by the Department of Conservation (DOC), in accordance with the relevant conservation management strategy and/or national park plan.
Should we bolt?
Ethical Standards

Planned Bolting:
  • Representative views of the relevant canyoning community and other stakeholders should be sought to determine whether bolting is considered appropriate for a particular canyon or canyoning area.
  • Bolting may be considered appropriate if the benefits of bolting significantly outweigh the potential impacts on the environment and impact on the practise of canyoning in that canyon.
  • Bolted anchors should allow Canyoners to safely descend in close proximity to the water. Canyons where the flow is too high, requiring an excessive numbers of bolts to establish a contrived line clear of the water should not be bolted.
  • Planned bolting should only be conducted after several descents, so the most appropriate anchor locations can be determined.
  • Bolts should only be placed by competent people with experience in the correct bolting techniques.
Emergency Bolting:
  • In the event of unforeseen changes to established anchors, or during the first descent of a canyon, emergency bolts may only be placed as a last resort where no other practical means is available to descend or escape the canyon.
Moral responsibility:
  • Although individual Canyoners must assume all personal risk when using a bolted anchor, those that place the bolts have a moral obligation to ensure anchors are as safe as possible.
  • Bolts that do not meet the legal, ethical or safety standards of this guideline should be removed.
How do we bolt?
Safety Standards

Technical Standards Positioning of Anchors:
The location of an anchor station is critical to maximise safety and anchor longevity and to minimise
environmental impacts.
Anchor stations should be positioned such that;
  • They are easily reached by a canyoner of average skill and height, across a durable surface, in all reasonable flow conditions.
  • They are positioned such that it is difficult for a careless canyoner to shock or incorrectly load the bolts.
  • The bolts are oriented in a way that allows the use of single rope technique, minimises wear on the rope and allows for easy retrieval.
  • They encourage a line of abseil descent which is on a durable surface and minimises the risks of hydraulic danger in all reasonable flow conditions.
  • They are protected from damage in floods by being clear of the anticipated current.

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