1ST OF 2 PARTS
Many questions were already in my head before my first bolting experience in Cebu:
Am I equipped to do it – in terms of both equipment and technical skill? Do I have the right gear? How do I know where to place a bolt? What happens if I drill a hole in the wrong spot?
So I was only relieved that Kuya Mackie took me under his wing (and not Miel, who would surely have lost his patience with me).
The experience was both a fulfilling and challenging undertaking, to the say the least, but one that just spurred my curiosity even further:
I wonder how early bolters learned the process? Do other crag developers have the same bolting considerations as Mackie? Do they follow the same protocol and checklists? How do I know which method is the BEST?
And true enough, the Internet presented a mountain of techniques and approaches. From the kind of drill, bolt, hanger, and anchor, down to social, environmental and ethical considerations, there was a lot of prescriptive text to dive into.
What wasn't there (that I was hoping to find) was an overarching manual carrying the gospel truth about bolting. Blogs and articles came in the form of one person’s opinion, or a whole community’s standpoint on bolting.
Which made me realize, despite how so much has been bolted around the world, crag development is still principally an uncontrolled activity. And if we’re not careful about how we develop our own, it’s not unlikely that we can end up with ugly lines, unsustainable sites, and last but not least, dangerous routes.
In an effort be a more educated (and hopefully, a smarter) crag developer, Climb Philippines touched base with Simon Sandoval to share his experiences. Simon is a talented and well-rounded climber, having done trad, sport and multi-pitch climbs around the world. He has represented the country in Sport Climbing competitions, and for a time headed the Sport Climbing Association of the Philippines, Inc. (SCAPI).
Probably lesser known, he is also one of the earliest bolters in the country, contributing a lot in Wawa, Montalban, as well as other provinces. We find that his narration is a must-read for those interested in some local sport climbing history – enjoy!
My first bolting experience, or at least one of the first, was helping Bubut Tan-Torres bolt “Haiku” on Banzai Wall in Montalban. This was in late 1996 or early 1997. I was one of the assistants of Bubut; along with Gax and Gilson, we would follow the Sensei along to the base of the wall and do whatever he asked – usually involved belaying (although Bubut was a master soloist, so I suspect he asked us to do that for a laugh), running down to Aling Norma’s to get more water and Snaku (the snack of winners), or recharge a drill battery pack. Gax and I were inspired to follow Bubut around (and secretly we wanted to climb all of his routes as he completed them – which we did with some success).
We learned that bolting was not a haphazard task of drilling holes and installing hangers. Bubut mainly bolted from the ground up, and carefully would select where to place the next hanger – based on a climber’s clipping position, route direction, natural protection options, fall potential, and climber’s reach. Often, he would ask Gax or I to climb parts of the route and simulate where we could reach to clip the next candidate hanger placement. This method was not the fastest, but gave the routes a natural flow and sometimes resulted in longer run-outs, as Bubut expected you to place nuts or cams when it was safe to do so.
Only after many such outings of being the “runner” or “sample climber,” did Bubut allow us to drill our own hole. He was right next to us, and would watch carefully and give feedback as we worked. It was very much an apprenticeship that we worked through. Establishing new routes was a lot of fun – it was exploring and discovering new lines. Soon after, Gilson chipped in to buy a drill. And then, along with a new recruit, Nana, we set our sights on new lines.
Bubut had a new hobby that took his full attention – and so we asked for his blessing to re-bolt all of his lines as he had used a lot of M10s, which are mainly intended for body-weight caving placements. A few years later, we had a new “runner” who joined us to help out – Mackie, and soon after, he took the reigns and became the main route developer in IloIlo, Cebu, and many other parts of the country.
Many of the challenges (to bolting) remain the same: Access to the climbing area, loose rock, differences in opinion as to bolting style and location, and cost of hangers and bolts. The new generation will surely face similar issues and it has been refreshing to see that these have been overcome with creativity and patience. The difference I see with the new generation is the wealth of information on best practices, materials and experience that the
new generation can use to leapfrog the hurdles we experienced earlier on.
To be continued...
Read Part 2 here!