Posted by Danger on
Sep 8th, 2015
photo – Xiaoman
In light of the recent incident where both anchor bolts of big drum broke on lower, many climbers at Long Dong are extremely concerned about whether it’s still safe to climb at Long Dong and how to do so safely.
The answer is that it’s still possible to climb at Long Dong at an acceptable degree of risk by using available online resources and good judgement.
Since 2009, a number of stainless steel bolts made of 304 grade stainless steel have failed at unacceptable loads with the latest incident being the anchor bolts of Big Drum breaking on lowering.
While suitable for inland climbing areas, 304SS, as its known in the industry, is not recommended for seaside environments and rapidly corrodes when exposed to saltwater.
Besides 304SS, a higher grade of steel rated for marine environments known as 316SS is also used extensively at Long Dong and thus far no 316SS bolt has failed even with over a decade of use. It is known that all stainless steels will degrade over time, but at the moment the general consensus is that higher grade 316SS bolts at Long Dong are at an acceptable safety level right now.
Besides stainless steel bolts, titanium, a very corrosion resistant metal, is starting to be used at Long Dong. While the plan is to rebolt all aging bolts with it, so far only a few anchor bolts have been rebolted with titanium and the majority of bolts are still stainless steel.
Is Sport Climbing Still Safe at Long Dong?
The online resources are currently available for every Long Dong climber to educate themselves on route safety status and climb on routes at an acceptable safety level for themselves.
I Climb Trad. I Don’t Need to Care About the Bolts.
There are a few trad walk offs, but unless you want to leave gear behind on each climb, most of the trad lines at Long Dong require using bolted anchors.
In addition, while some trad climbs have new anchors, many of the most classic lines have older, more questionable anchor bolts and you would be very wise to educate yourself on their status and take necessary precautions.
photo – Wanyi Shih
How Do I Stay Safe?
The number one thing you can do to keep yourself safe is to educate yourself on route safety status.
1. Check routes on Climbio
The easiest way to do so is through an online tool called Climbio.
Updated by local and foreign climbers, Climbio’s Long Dong section contains the latest route safety status and also lets you know about changes in route types — for instance sport routes that are debolted and are now considered trad climbs, or formerly trad climbs(with old bolts) that were rebolted and are now considered sport climbs.
The main Long Dong Page shows some bolt information. To access the route info, click on ”Region” on the left side, then click on the region you want to climb, such as Backdoor.
The detailed route list shows warning signs on routes. Red warnings are considered dangerous and should absolutely not be climbed. Yellow warnings are considered very questionable and should only be climbed with extra precautions such as backing up bolts with trad gear.
Climbio is a great tool but it doesn’t show all the details of every single route. There may be times when you want to find out more about a certain route. For instance why is Rodeo Clown considered questionable?
In these cases you can take a look at Guidebook+, which is a route information database maintaining route changes since the Guidebook was published in 2012.
Looking at GB+ we can see that Rodeo Clown’s anchors are “Petzl Collinox” bolts which are 304SS and considered dangerous.
Being Extra Conservative
You may or may not agree with Climbio’s assessment of safety, which assumes that all 316SS bolts are safe regardless of age. If you want to be extra, super conservative, you can take it a step further and only climb on bolts bolted within the last five years. By going to Climbio’s bolt dashboard at http://www.climbio.org/longdong#/bolt
You can see which routes are bolted with which bolts(If you want to understand the bolt codenames, click on “Home”).
The bolts are color coded and bolts colored green are considered very safe as they are both 316SS, and bolted within the last five years.
As a reminder, while the bolt dashboard will tell you bolting info, it will not tell you about loose rock or other safety issues, so you will still need to check the regional route list to see if there are any other warnings in play.
So you’ve read up on bolt status and are heading out to Long Dong. Some of the routes you want to climb have bomber bolts, but some of them are slightly questionable. What can you do to lower your risk at the crag?
Back bolts up with trad gear
Simple and self explanatory.
A trad climbing staple, bounce tests are where you weight a bolt by bouncing yourself up and down on it. The force generated in a bounce is higher than a “take”, lower or rappel, so theoretically any bolt or anchor that passes the bounce test shouldn’t fail on lower or rappel.
You should only do a bounce test on a questionable bolt when there is a backup of some kind such as a piece of trad gear or another bolt.
The Petzl Prussik Lower-off Trick
Petzl has illustrated an innovative method of lowering off with a weight-bearing prussik that minimizes the fall taken if the top anchor bolts fail. While originally designed for bailing off routes, this method also applies to sport routes where the anchors are questionable.
We recommend practicing this before relying on it as there are a number of nuances to this technique.
For more information about corrosion at seaside crags check out “Built to Last”
For more information about the rebolting process at Long Dong check out the latest announcement from the rebolt team.