All climbers who frequent the amazing North American walls such as Yosemite Valley, Joshua Tree or Dome Rock share a common problem: the bolts they clip into to protect themselves from falling might have been put there more than 50 years ago. If they are catching a climber from a fall, that means they are liable to break loose.
The anchors, like the rocks in which they are drilled, face harsh weather conditions every year. Running water, erosion due to high winds, frequent freezing and thawing, and the consistent creep of rust all contribute to weaken the metal.
Chris Weidner, a member of the Boulder Climbing Community in Colorado, described the anchors as "ticking time bombs," according to Boulder's Daily Camera.
Park officials in California's Joshua Tree State Park led a "bolting-blitz" last month in which they replaced 62 bolts on routes around the park, according to the Associated Press.
While most bolts available today are made out of steel, a mixture of iron and carbon, some of the bolts placed in the early days are all iron. Because all iron rusts when exposed to oxygen, all climbing anchors have a shelf life of some kind. "The result is a high degree of variability in strength and lifespan of the anchors out there," said the director of research and development at Black Diamond Equipment, according to Climbing Magazine. "It is apparent there is no standard practice or training for placing bolts, and this is a big problem that is compounding daily as more routes are being developed and existing anchors age."
The common mantra in climbing communities says that climbers are responsible for their own safety. This can be next to impossible, however, in situations where a climber must decide to trust an anchor simply by looking at it.