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Aging Anchors - The Risks and Issues

Three decades ago, North American climbing went through a radical shift. Rather than climbing crack systems and placing removable protection, climbers started climbing blank looking faces and protecting them with fixed hardware. Now those anchors and bolts are aging. Some of those anchors have the potential to fail. ‘Aging anchors’ in the US and Canada may become an issue that affects climber safety, enjoyment and access for the foreseeable future.

October 26 2022

Rock climbing


© Caleb Timmerman 

At Petzl, we want to proactively bring awareness to the inherent risks associated with aging anchors. As a community, if we know where we are coming from and where we want to go — we can work together to get there. 

What we hope to explore in this three-part series is: 

Part 1: Aging Anchors – The Risks and Issues
Part 2: Aging Anchors - Behind the Scenes
Part 3: Aging Anchors - REBOLT TRIP 


What are Aging Anchors?

Because we will be using this term and a few others throughout this series, we should define them:

Aging Anchors
Fixed hardware that is compromised and potentially dangerous to climbers.

Fixed Hardware
Generally, bolts, hangers, or chains that are permanently installed into the rock as a means of protection while leading, lowering, anchoring or rappelling. 

When we talk about fixed hardware, we’re mostly talking about bolts. While other components of fixed hardware—chains, hangers, and rap rings—can become compromised, they often (but not always) tend to show more obvious signs of wear easily visible to the keen observer. 

Bolts can be different. 

Bolts are made of a myriad of materials (plated steel, stainless steel, titanium), and they are placed in all types of different rock (granite, limestone, sandstone), making them potentially vulnerable to corrosion and loosening that can be difficult to see without close inspection. That’s why aging anchors are possibly dangerous.  

The Risk of Aging Anchors

These bolts serve as protection — climbers rely on bolts and rarely think about how old they are or whether or not they are potentially compromised. Failure to inspect bolts and the security of the rock could possibly lead to unexpected falls, injuries or death.    For these reasons, it’s important to understand if, why, and when, they may fail.  

Bolts follow a natural aging process — a process that can be sped up by faulty installation, poor maintenance, natural corrosion or rust. While we use the term fixed hardware, these anchors 
could become compromised and will eventually need to be replaced. 

The influx of bolts placed in the 80’s and 90’s are now thirty to forty years old. Because of this advanced aging, climbers and activists are noticing an uptick in bolts that potentially need to be replaced. Combined with the rapid growth in the number of outdoor climbers and environmental factors, it’s conceivable that these older bolts could be more susceptible to failure. So, it’s important to understand why, and how they could fail. 

Aging Anchors. Rifle Mountain Park. © Michael Schneiter 

The Need for Replacement 


“ ...bolts can — and do — fail. The examples of bolt catastrophes are mercifully rare, but they happen: rusty bolts break, corroded hangers crack, bolts installed in incorrectly sized holes pull out and over-tightened bolts snap. 

(Access Fund, 2015) 


Bolting was embraced during the latter decades of the 20th century as a means to protect climbers. At that time, climbers and developers didn’t have enough experience to understand the longevity of the anchors, nor was there a defined standard or set of best practices for installing them in varying rock types or environments. Climbers bolted routes with whatever equipment they could afford. At the time, this practice was not only acceptable, but often the only option. These ‘acceptable’ anchors are getting older and they no longer adhere to the current standards for fixed hardware set by the climbing community. 


“As the huge number of bolts placed during ‘80s and ‘90s when sport climbing exploded onto the scene begin to reach their 20th or 30th birthdays  the stories of failure are sure to increase.”

(Access Fund, 2015) 


Bolts placed 10, 20, or 30 years ago and are now aging and potentially ready to fail.

But even bolts that were placed recently can fail because a major contributing factor to bolt failures is bolt placement. 

Which begs the question: why do bolts fail? There are numerous reasons.  Some of them include: 

  • Placed in bad or compromised rock 
  • Mixing bolt and hanger materials (plated vs. stainless steel) 
  • Metal corrosion (normal aging or improper materials) 
  • Overtightening (leads to ‘spinners’) 
  • Under drilling or failing to properly clean out bolt hole (compromises bolt integrity) 
  • Bad glue installation (not enough drying time, bad glue mix) 

And the list goes on. Those who place bolts and develop routes are almost never compensated for their work  — they voluntarily fund new routes and bolt replacement right out of their own pockets. Bolting requires no license or training. We never know for sure that the person who bolted a route had prior knowledge of the best practices for bolting in that rock or had the financial means to afford the highest quality anchors. 

But there is another issue that contributes to potential risks of aging anchors.  

The exploding popularity of outdoor climbing. 

The popularity of outdoor climbing has increased exponentially. With more climbers than ever transitioning outdoors, fixed hardware is seeing more traffic than ever. That comes with its own challenges. 


Always check the fixed hardware you are clipping into.© Michael Schneiter

Knowing that bolts are placed by human beings and that there are also inevitable environmental risk factors, it is every climber's individual responsibility to conduct their own risk assessment before clipping into fixed hardware. Often, those who put up routes don’t maintain them forever — people move away, other life priorities come up. Crags are generally maintained by volunteers, long after the first ascenionist’s involvement. The local climbing communities must take it upon themselves to maintain the integrity of the fixed hardware.

Moving Forward 


“ The first and best line of defense for protecting climbing areas is almost always the local climbers who are familiar with the area and the issues.” 

(Access Fund, 2022) 

Communities are the Key

Climbing access and aging anchors cannot be the project of one person. There are climbers who work tirelessly to maintain our crags, but as a whole, the climbing community is stronger than any one individual. 


Keeping the community stoke alive in the Southeast. © Caleb Timmerman

What can the community do about aging anchors? 

  1. Pay attention to the condition of aging fixed anchors at local areas.
  2. Encourage climbers to help protect and secure the future of that area.
  3. Donate time or money to organizations like the Access Fund, American Safe Climbing Association and local climbing organizations (LCO’s) that are working to replace bolts. 

 Replacing old bolts is the ideal option, but comes with a unique set of questions and challenges:

  • How many bolts actually need to be replaced? 
  • Are these bolts on public or private land? What type of relationships do we have with those land managers? Do we have permission to be on that land?
  • Who has the authority to replace these bolts? 
  • How much is it going to cost and who’s going to pay for it? 
  • Are people trained and willing to do this kind of work? If not, how do we train them? 
  • How do we work with LCO’s to address specific community needs?
  • Should routes be bolted identical to the original layout or updated to account for increased safety or other risk factors? 

Petzl doesn’t have the answers to all these questions. But we are working on ways we can be helpful. Petzl has been helping people mitigate the risks associated with exploring the vertical environment for over thirty years and we want to share that expertise with the climbing community. 

Petzl Is Taking Action

That’s why Petzl is introducing the first ever REBOLT TRIP in North America. REBOLT TRIP is a service-oriented initiative focused on raising funds, educating, and equipping volunteers with the tools they need to maintain and replace aging anchors.

This year Petzl is teaming up with the Southeastern Climber's Coalition and the Acess Fund to help with anchor management programs in the Southeast. On November 12th, Petzl and High Point Climbing & Fitness will host the REBOLT CHATTANOOGA Carnival Fundraiser to raise money for the SCC. Buy tickets to play climber games, buy drinks, and enter for a chance to participate in the PRO-AM COMP with Michaela Kiersch and Dru Mack. All proceeds from the carnival — raffles, games, merch, etc. — will go towards supporting the SCC.

The week following the carnival, Petzl will help rebolt thirty routes (roughly 300 bolts) at the Foster Falls and Denny Cove crags over the course of five days. In addition to providing fixed hardware, the Access Fund’s Conservation Team will be leading efforts to coordinate local trail restoration work at Woodcock Cove, contributing to other aspects of local climbing area maintenance

Help us fight aging anchors in the Southeast by visiting

Part Two: Aging Anchors - Unsung Heroes
In part 2 of our Aging Anchors series, we will be interviewing some of the climbers and developers behind the scenes, quietly maintaining our crags — adding and replacing bolts on some of your favorite climbs. 

Clipping Bolts at Denny Cove. One of the crags that will be part of REBOLT TRIP 2022. © Caleb Timmerman


Disclaimer:  Petzl does not represent or guarantee that climbing environments with fixed Petzl hardware are safe and free of risk.  Before climbing with any fixed hardware, every climber must conduct their own safety risk inspection and assessment for hazards, including without limitation, product wear and tear; faulty installation; insufficient or improper maintenance; unstable or deteriorated rock; broken, corroded, used, worn-out products; and appropriate product selection. You are responsible for your own actions and decisions when climbing.  Failure to conduct proper inspections and to use Petzl products according to Petzl technical information and instructions for use may result in severe injury or death. See Petzl product technical information found on

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