Welsh Slate Re-Bolting Report

In the last few months the sound of drills has returned to the Welsh slate quarries. Thankfully, it´s for the benefits of climbers as a local group has put a serious amount of work into rebolting and general maintenance around the famous quarries. We asked one of the main protagonists, Mark Reeves, to tell us why? “When approached by planetFear to write a short piece on the re-equipping of the slate quarries there were a few questions I was specifically asked to address. Why we choose to undertake this work? What it involves? What it will achieve? The first question of why carry out the work in the first place is a relatively simple one. Although I was not responsible for the overall concept of starting a fund for re-equipping, that was the brain-child of Chris Parkin, who has been involved with climbing in the quarries from the early boom years of the 1980´s. As the publisher of the last Slate guide, his generous offer to give the remaining guides away to anyone donating more than £5 to the fund, was the start of a thrust in publicising the fund, through magazines, internet, climbing wall and shops.Set up around August the fund has already made £850 through donations from guidebooks, as well as people handing over cash, and a few smaller fund raising ideas, whereby the old hangers have been made available for key rings at the Beacon Climbing Centre for any small donation, as well as a plan to auction off the bolts from Raped By Affection on Ebay.What this money has done is provide drills, drill bits, spanners, wrenches, hammer, bolts and hangers; basically all the equipment needed for re-equipping routes and removing hangers. All told there has been over 300 bolts placed now on over 60 routes, which includes more than 170 bolt runners and around 70 lower off, belays or abseil bolts.I became involved in the process after it was set up, when all the equipment was available. In part because as one of the authors of the new guide it would allow me to examine many of the routes whilst re-equipping them, but also because at the start of the project I was, and to a certain extent still am, off work due to a back injury. Which despite not stopping me climbing, the inflammation caused by any exercise requires me to rest for two days for every one that I work.

California Wall, a classic wall where the plan is to replace fixed gear and not alter the routes. ph Mark Reeves

This meant that I had the time to spend in the quarries re-equipping, and in total I have probably spent nearly 30 days or part days re-equipping routes in the quarries. It isn´t easy work either as any of the people involved will tell you. A rucsac full of drills, bolts, hammers, hangers, spanners, torque wrench, mole grips and abseil rope, along with a harness, sling, small rack, quick draws and screw gates, all have to be carried to the top of the route or wall you need to equip.Gripping abseils over sharp slate edges, climber fully ladened with the majority of the contents of the rucsac. Then drill a hole, clean hole, place bolt, hammer bolt, attach hanger, hammer hanger flush with wall, tighten up bolt with torque wrench and continue down to the next. Typically tying off to the first bolt down the wall to stop the rope cutting through on the razors edge.Then of course you have to remove the old bolt, so it is get the smaller socket set out and work hard against years of rust, and occasional bits of resin to help protect the thread. Then it is down to the next hole to repeat the process all over again. Generally the task is thankless, as a few people will criticise your work and ask for justification. Although it is the minority of people, their comments ring in my ears everytime I shoulder the drill.

Off the Beaten Track, E3 5c. Previously a ridiculously bold route on friable rock. ph Mark Reeves

The reason this project was started was because many of the bolts are 8mm caving hangers that have been in place for twenty years or more. The idea was to re-equip these, and whilst the project was going replace as many as possible with 12mm thick 100mm long stainless steel bolts and hangers. In the main, the classic routes have been equipped bolt for bolt with careful consideration of where they are placed.In the esoteric areas there has been a move to retro-bolting some of the routes to make them more popular. As well as replacing pegs with bolts to help the sustainability of the fixed gear in the quarries. I could argue just as strongly as to why some routes were retro-bolted as I could argue against it. This is not the place for debate though.It is the place to inform you and you can see a complete and up to date list of routes that have been re-equipped on my website www.markreevesclimbing.com, where it gives some of the rationale behind the retro-bolting of some routes.Initially the idea wasn´t to alter routes, but the sheer number of great routes that have seen few ascents if any in the last ten years has highlighted the fact that it would have been a waste time and resources for those involved with the project to simply place two bolts high in a slab to have no one clip them for the next twenty years. It is hoped that by the time the majority of areas have been re-equipped there will be a revival in the quarries, something that has already been noticed by a few locals and visitors alike. Bolt Fund DetailsDonations since September 2006: over £175 through the post from all parts of the UK, and an amazing £694.50 at the local climbing walls and shops – totalling £869.50Can we break the £1000 by Christmas? – The work will go on if the cash still flows ? all donations will be put to good use. The Slate fund has announced that no donation will go to waste and the limestone will be targeted next!. To date the fund has purchased 500 12mm Stainless Steel Bolts but still need more cash for more hangers and drill bits.Recently the folk down at the Castle Climbing Wall in London have been given a box of books for donators to grab and some books are still to be found in the following North Wales locations: Llanberis: V12 outdoor, Joe Brown, Beacon Climbing Centre Betws-y-Coed: Rock Bottom Bangor: The Great Arete Angelsey: Indifatigable Climbing Wall Additionally you can send donations through the post to: NW Slate Llysfaen, Lon Brynteg, Llandegfan, Menai Bridge, LL59 5NU cheques payable to N W Slate (add £1.50pp to your donation of £5 or more to be sent a free guidebook). Big thanks to all the workers: Mark Reeves, John Radcliffe, Gareth Hughes, Ioan Doyle, Mark Dickens, Pete Robins, Lee Roberts, James McHaffie, Simon Lake, Malcolm ´Mills´ Davies, Rob Wilson, Jack Geldard plus Gravity Magazine, UKClimbing and the local shops and climbing Walls for all the support and help” planetFear are proud to support this worthwhile cause and have donated £50 towards the project.