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#12251 - 08/07/12 04:08 PM Retro Bolting in the Rockies
iceadmin/Will Gadd Offline

Registered: 11/01/07
Posts: 381
There was long thread recently about the East Ridge of Temple getting retro-bolted. Parks Canada did most--but not all--of the bolting, and posted their rationale on the same thread. I've pasted their statement below.

I closed the Temple thread as the bolting is quite a lot more widespread than just Temple; perhaps having a more open and possibly less aggro new thread will provoke some good discussion.

Personally, I don't think I know enough about who is doing the bolting and why on what routes to really form an opinion on the subject yet. I now know who bolted Temple, but was the bolting on Babel, Castle, etc. also Parks Canada? The ethics discussions are one thing, but in general around here there's a tradition of sharing what you've done on new and existing routes with the community. A lot of the retro-bolting hasn't been shared at all; the bolts just appear, mostly on commonly guided routes. This lack of transparency and lack of communication about the reasons for doing the bolting puts those doing the bolting in the shadows. It's just not honest and upfront with the climbing community, and I think that's what bothers me more than the actual bolting.

We'll all have opinions on what Parks Canada (and the "mystery bolters" ) did on Temple, and on other routes. To me it's not black and white even if generally I'm not for wholesale retrofitting of long-established routes. However, I'm not going to chop the bolts and am against that idea, I've seldom seen chopping result in anything good for the rock.


-Will Gadd
From Parks Canada’s Visitor Safety Team:

Parks Canada is responsible for placing eight ring bolt stations and one protection bolt on the East Ridge of Mt. Temple last season (2011). Three stations were placed on the Big Step and five stations were placed in the Black Towers gully. In a previous season, climbers unknown to Parks Canada placed between two and four bolts, and a number of pitons in random locations in the Black Towers gully. These were most likely placed to facilitate anchors in locations where gear placements were minimal.

For decades Parks Canada has made enhancements to anchors on popular alpine routes throughout the Mountain National Parks, usually in the wake of a serious accident, an emerging pattern of rescues, or significantly increased traffic on the route. These actions are always discussed among park rescue teams beforehand, and are done in the best interests of mountain safety.

In some cases where updating of anchors took place, there was a noticeable downturn in accidents and rescues, both of which are in the interests of Parks Canada. We are aware that the biggest tangible benefits of anchor replacement are not necessarily the strength of the anchors themselves, but that fixed and well located stations facilitate easier routefinding, more protected belays and faster ascents - all of which increase safety. At the same time, we are aware that the downside of fixed stations is that they may lure less experienced climbers into places they should not go, they may further increase traffic on the route, and that the seriousness and adventure value of the route is significantly reduced.

It is always a balancing act between safety and respect for the traditional values of alpinism, and for that reason Parks Canada takes a very serious approach to these matters. In recognizing the broad cross-section of people who use the backcountry, we understand that not all climbers will support our decisions to improve their safety. Therefore, only select routes are considered for anchor improvement on a case-by-case basis.

Our Program
Our Visitor Safety program engages in two equally important roles to achieve our mandate of reducing the frequency and severity of mountain accidents; these roles are Prevention and Search & Rescue. Prevention is our ongoing work to educate people, provide information and improve mountain safety in order to avoid the need for Search & Rescue. Search & Rescue is what happens when Prevention fails.

Some examples of Prevention work for climbers are: avalanche bulletins, avalanche terrain ratings for waterfall ice climbs, ongoing public consultation with our Visitor Safety Specialists, public posting of photos and mountain conditions reports, scrambler and climber’s guides to Mt. Temple, Cascade, Rundle and Sir Donald, and anchor improvement projects as described above – to name a few.

We do all of this to lessen the chance that we will be called upon to rescue people in distress, and to hopefully make for a more informed and enjoyable day out in the national park.
However, despite these efforts many climbers do run into trouble and that is why we maintain a professional search & rescue team, staffed by highly trained climbers and mountain guides. In undertaking technical rescue, our staff are regularly placed in high risk situations due to the unfortunate locations that climbers can find themselves in. While we are trained for this, we want to avoid this and therefore if we can help to steer people in the right direction, we will do so.

Rationale for Mt. Temple
The East Ridge of Mt. Temple has become a very popular route. Accidents and rescues, recurring on an annual basis, have prompted Parks Canada to re-examine these occurrences. Prior to last summer’s anchor replacement job, our staff responded to the East Ridge (again), and conducted a complex rescue operation to retrieve two climbers in the Black Towers. This incident in particular prompted discussion among the park rescue team, and it was decided that it was appropriate to install anchors for the following reasons:

1. Climbers will be less likely to climb up the wrong gully in the Black Towers
2. Well located anchors will offer better protection from the rockfall that results from multiple parties on the route
3. Fixed anchors will facilitate faster ascents subsequently making them safer
4. Fixed anchors will enable the route to accommodate multiple parties in a safer manner

We respect that not everyone will agree with our decision to install fixed stations on the East Ridge of Temple. There have been many valid points expressed on this forum, and we thank everyone for their frank opinions. We ask now that you please respect our work, and do not remove those anchors from Mt. Temple. Indeed, they have changed the character of the route forever, of that we will all agree - but times change; highly popular climbing routes naturally evolve and mature into established classics travelled by many.

Parks Canada’s Visitor Safety Team


Edited by iceadmin (08/07/12 04:15 PM)

#12254 - 08/08/12 01:23 PM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: iceadmin/Will Gadd]
grzegorztos Offline

Registered: 07/16/09
Posts: 5
Hi all.
Number of my friends and I have initiated a movement toward forming an organization/association that could represent our climbing community. This group of directors representing all of us could for example, take care of the above issues under the radar, and trust me, under the radar is where we need to stay. We don't want to have land managers decide our fate. In my opinion we can do better then that.
Keep also in mind that all land managers don't want to deal with individuals but with organizations and at this point we have no one to represent us.
I look forward to hearing your opinions and suggestions.
I hope that what we are trying to do will be well received and supported.
Greg Tos

#12261 - 08/11/12 01:36 PM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: grzegorztos]
Mark Klassen Offline

Registered: 05/05/12
Posts: 7
The issue of not knowing who is doing what is real, but I think that a lot of the retro-bolting (I prefer the term "updating") that has been done in the past has had significant discussion and thought applied to it. TABVAR has had guidelines for updating routes for some time (posted at and those guidelines reflect the evolution that has occurred in the community over the past 30 years.

I think most climbers here agree with the spirit of those guidelines but where it gets grey is in the actual application of it, and some routes seem to be off-limits for some climbers whereas in other areas it is open season on bolting. It's hard for everyone on all sides of the debate to understand what is acceptable and what is not.

Although discussion about updating routes is occurring, not everyone can be included because there is no forum for it. I realize that there is Gravsports, but as you have seen from the recent unmoderated thread that occurred about Temple it is not the most productive place to have a debate.

I fully support Greg and his ideas about having an organization that represents climbers of all persuasions so that consensus can be formed in a positive manner and this consensus can be communicated to land managers in the hope that we can work together to create a positive climbing experience for everyone. Whether this is a new organization or we work with an existing one is up for debate, but I think as climbers we need to be more pro-active in how we manage our activity. Otherwise we are going to screw it up for everyone in the future.


Mark Klassen

#12263 - 08/11/12 09:36 PM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: grzegorztos]
Grant P Online   content

WI 10

Registered: 11/10/07
Posts: 1026
Loc: Calgary
A new organization? What do we have TABVAR and CASA for? Wouldn't it be smarter to engage existing organizations instead of reinventing the wheel. Burnout is an issue for both these organizations because climbers apathy leaves few willing to become actively involved. Having been active in access for ten years or more, I've seen how apathetic our "community" can be.

As for Temple, while I see wisdom in Parks Canada's rationale, I have to agree with those who have expressed a desire to have the decision making process be a little more open and inclusive of the community at large prior to taking action. It would be nice for this situation to be a learning situation rather than posturing and confrontational. Our local SAR teams are outstanding, I doubt anyone would disagree or be ungrateful for them having our backs. I certainly appreciate them. I think we all want to find the right balance, and more interaction seems the way to achieve that balance.

#12270 - 08/13/12 10:38 AM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: Grant P]
gmcdougall Offline

Registered: 11/22/07
Posts: 101
At the end of the day, the East Ridge is a trade route. Who cares?
Parks Canada is the land managers with a mandate for supporting the Parks and making them accesible. Just as if Parks wants to they could say no climbing the East Ridge of Temple or eliminating a trail head.
Pins, bolts or fixed gear what is really the different? A bolt costs less than 5$ and a pin about 12$. A bolt is much more permanent and safe if installed correctly. And a climber still clips one just the same. I seem to remember the black towers gullies also had piton anchors, which where shit. The pitons could be moved by hand and they should have been tested by climbers using them with a hammer.

I may feel different if someone else went and bolted the route, but because it is Parks it is within their mandate and I believe they trump the first ascentionists.

If you don't like it dont buy a parks pass and don't go to the park.

Anyways this conversation and the Cerro Torre controversy has led me to pack up the hilti, 10 batteries a stack(boxes and boxes) of bolts and some rebar and put a bolt ladder/via ferrata up the North face of Twins tower with anchors every 30 Meters, just so you don't have to carry a second rope in there for retreat.I am sure this will piss the majority of the self righteous off.However before I hump the massive load over Wooley shoulder (damn you parks and your helicopter rules) I may try to climb some more of the routes Mark listed. It seems there may be plenty of adventure left after all.

#12274 - 08/14/12 12:54 PM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: Grant P]
grzegorztos Offline

Registered: 07/16/09
Posts: 5
Hi Grant. to answer your question, TABVAR looks after sport climbing only, we look after retrofitting of sport routes and we try to help with new routing. CASA is an accesses group ready to deal with road side issues like parking, trail accesses ect.
As you see we need an organization with much broader mandate. TABVAR would possibly represent the sport climbing part of the community but we also need to find representatives from all other disciplines of climbing.
Stay tuned.
Greg Tos

#12276 - 08/14/12 03:12 PM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: grzegorztos]
Mike J Barter Offline


Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 164
Loc: Banff AB
I seem to recall this sort of thing happening before. Didn't Auger and crew at a film fest some 15 or 20 years ago declare Yamnuska off limits and everything "game On". I don't think that lasted more then a few hours.
I don't see your org/assoc. working to well.
perhaps it's the wording "my friends and I" You already out vote me cause I'm not one of your friends so I am likely to ignore whatever you and your friends have to say, I may even bolt the unbolt-able just to spite you. What if I disagree with you and your friends opinion? Then what are you going to do?
"Our climbing community" I somehow get the feeling your climbing community and my climbing community may not even be closely related.
" land managers don't want to deal with individuals but with organizations" Guess personally I prefer dealing with individuals. So Parks is going to base it's safety mandate on the consciences that 12 guys make in some star chamber in Calgary?

Playing the advocate here a bit.

What about those places where "I" know a pin needs to be replaced. How about that spot that has high traffic and NEEDS updating in my opinion. One of the reasons I avoid Assoc. like Tabvar and such is I don't want to be answerable to a governing body or sit in on some meeting drinking beer and slagging so and so.
Like I say maybe it's it's the way you worded it but I am already turned off.

Joe McKay
Homeless mountain guide living in the alleys of Banff.

#12277 - 08/14/12 03:29 PM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: iceadmin/Will Gadd]
iceadmin/Will Gadd Offline

Registered: 11/01/07
Posts: 381
Thanks for keeping the discussion on the topic reasonable. I generally don' moderate much on here, but I want this discussion to be useful so I'll moderate more aggressively if need be (several people suggested that, thanks).

The first thing I'd like to see is for more ownership taken about who has done what. Parks made what I think is a reasonable case for their actions on Temple; it shouldn't take threats of chopping etc. to get some information up in a public place. If someone won't own up to what they have bolted then obviously they don't want to be publicly associated with it, and that's wrong. Stand up for what you do/have done. Public outing is another way to go, but that's more confrontational and will probably result in less good discussion.

I suspect there's something lazy and wrong with the incredible quantity of retro-bolting that I'm seeing on "classic" guided routes, but I'm open to a discussion about it, and in the end a few bolts in a really big mountain are not going to change my view of the mountains. I'd just like the bolt-fairy action to undergo a little discussion, preferably involving the people actually doing the bolting. I do find it ironic that some Canadians are chopping bolts in Patagonia, while route that have been done for decades here without 'em are sprouting bolts like our mountains have the measles or something.

#12278 - 08/14/12 06:53 PM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: iceadmin/Will Gadd]
Mike J Barter Offline


Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 164
Loc: Banff AB
I was thinking about this a bit and began wondering “what if”? What if we just let it go nuts out there and eventually somebody will do something so outrageous that it draws the attention of Ottawa and there becomes some sort of anti instillation legislation and becomes law that there be no more permeant instillation hence forth. Whats that saying “curse to live in interesting times”. Would that really be a bad thing? Person would have to be pretty committed to place a protection bolt or replace a chain station and face a $10,000 fine. Course this might be overlooked if it was required. Seeing that Public Safety NP is not in the business of law enforcement they may be legally obliged to report that offense to a branch of the service that does law enforcement. This is where the Ninja’s come in. There will be Ninja’s. There will be those who practice the dark art. Course they will always have an alibi, No drill or bolting kits around the house. Swore they gave it up when the anti bolting legislation came into effect. You’ll never catch them but the routes will be taken care of. The trade routes at least. Most of the good ones are done now. So what would it matter if the anti instillation legislation came in to effect tomorrow.
The most interesting thing would to find out who that guy is that went to far. The one who caused the anti instillation legislation to take effect. You would forever be known as “that guy”. Your children would be known as “that guys children”. You can forget about them ever taking up climbing. Not a tittle I envy anybody. But still, hmmm.
Do I want to live in interesting times? Do I want to be “That Guy”. Do I want some dedicated soul willing to face the rathe of the Federal Government for something he/she believes in so strongly they are willing to go “deep cover”, bolting my routes for me.
When I think about it maybe we should grid bolt the Mother Fucker by the time the law steps in we may be able to sport clip North Twin and rap the route in a day. Seriously! It would be great!
I see no downside to a ban on all bolting. We are at a pretty good place I think and it is the right mix of adventure and sport There is plenty for folks to learn on. Ice anchors take care of themselves.
The fact is perhaps those of us who feel the way I do should push for a anti instillation legislation in the National Parks. I win twice really. I get to see my park stay the way it is now for the rest of my life and I get to be “That Guy”.
Homeless mountain guide living in the alleys of Banff.

#12279 - 08/15/12 08:51 AM Re: Retro Bolting in the Rockies [Re: iceadmin/Will Gadd]
Josh Briggs Offline

Registered: 11/11/07
Posts: 20
Loc: Canada
I disagree that “a little more discussion” should occur when bolts are placed by Parks Canada. Others have stated considerably more vociferously than Mr. Gadd that Parks should have consulted with the climbing community beforehand.

They should not have, nor should they do so in the future.

The visitor safety teams act in accordance with a mandate to promote visitor safety with the parks. The teams are hired for their expertise and it is one of their responsibilities to take actions that improve mountain safety for visitors.

As the teams are acting in accordance with the mandate to appropriately manage the national parks, there is no requirement or expectation that they would consult with the climbing community before doing their job. Other public safety organizations—police, fire, conservation—only consult with stakeholder groups insofar as such a consultation will help them to achieve their overall mandate.

Greg Tos, Mark Klassen, Will Gadd, and Joe McKay all have ample skill, expertise, and credibility to contribute to such a discussion, yet their strongly differing viewpoints illustrate the fractious nature of the climbing community. This discussion on bolting is proving to be equally fractious. A consultative process beforehand would not be a productive way for the VS teams to achieve their operational goals.

While some here assert their right as a taxpayer to have been consulted prior to action being taken on public lands, I, as a taxpayer, am not paying the salaries of full mountain guides with decades of rescue experience to have them consult with Joe-weekend-climber (or Jill-professional-climber / Jack-guide-climber) before taking action that they deem necessary.

Those would believe that they should be involved in the consultative process on the basis of their “rights as a taxpayer” need to realize that what they really want is to be consulted personally, NOT for all taxpayers to be consulted. Should the discussion be opened to all taxpayers who have a “right” to be consulted, the results would not be good for the climbing community—a foolhardy group involved in risk-taking activity at the health-care and rescue expense of other taxpayers in the eyes of most Canadians.

There has been a distinct “us vs. them” flavor to this discussion. That isn’t the reality. The general public has a dim view of those involved in backcountry activity and little patience for choices that will increase risk—see the comments following any news article on a backcountry accident for an illustration. The visitor safety specialists are all members of the climbing community and want sustainable access to backcountry adventure. Sometimes achieving this will require actions that reduce access or adventure in certain areas or time periods to reduce publicly visible rescue responses, which, in addition to being tragedies for those involved, increase the possibility of public or political pressure to limit access to backcountry adventure for all of us.

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