Retro-bolting at Kaputar
Since the first climbs were done in Mount Kaputar National Park in the 1960s, it has been a predominantly trad climbing area. Until about ten years ago, most of the hundreds of established climbs were protected entirely with natural gear. A small number of climbs had one or two bolts, and a few independent, fully bolt-protected climbs had been done. The 80m north face of The Governor has been regarded as one of the premier trad crags in Australia, with more than 80 multi-pitch climbs, many of very high quality, mostly established in ground-up style and with only a few bolts in total (and often at the technical limit of the climbers).
Since about 2005, more bolt-protected climbs have been established, particularly on Euglah and then Mt Lindesay, then The Governor. At first these were independent of established trad climbs and on otherwise unprotectable rock. But over the past few years other climbers have been retro-bolting over the top of existing climbs. This practice began on Mt Lindesay and then extended onto the Governor.
On Lindesay, about 200 bolts were placed, most of which retro-bolt or impact on at least 20 existing climbs. Bolts were very close together and some bolted lines were only one metre apart. Many bolts were placed beside good placements for removable gear. Numerous chains were also installed at the cliff-top, and the climb grades were painted in large letters along the bottom. Some of the bolts were found to be dangerous – either glue-ins on which the glue never cured (and which pulled out by hand) or dangerously short ‘studs’.
These were not assessable without removing them. Some of the retro-bolted Lindesay climbs are on the bold side, while others are very well protected with natural gear.
On The Governor, at least 60 bolts were been placed which either retro-bolt existing climbs, or squeeze up very close to them. Natural lines on The Governor’s columnar structure tend be only a couple of metres apart, so any new bolted climbs will impact on adjacent trad routes. Eight climbs have been impacted, including the popular moderate classic Clandestiny, and it's start that gives access to five other climbs. Additional chain anchors have been installed at the cliff-top. Some of the new Governor bolts have also been found to be dangerous, including a chain anchor with un-cured glue.
The retro-bolting on both Mt Lindesay and The Governor was visually intrusive, using large stainless ring bolts or shiny stainless brackets.
The people who have done this retro-bolting are not known to have consulted with first ascensionists, other Kaputar climbers or NPWS. Some first ascensionists and other climbers are angry.
A number of climbers who love the special qualities of Kaputar climbing became very concerned about this trend and joined together to take action. The objectives are to restore The Governor to a premier trad-only crag (i.e. no sport routes), and to remove impacts on pre-existing routes on Mt Lindesay (retro-bolting etc). Most of the offending new bolts have now been removed and patched on both cliffs and the remainder will be removed shortly. Painted grades have been cleaned off. This has taken lot of work, time and expense by a bunch of people. If any of the bolts removed from these climbs are replaced, they will also be removed. Any new retro-bolting will also be removed.
Why have we taken this action?
Because we believe the following:
Trad climbing at Kaputar
Trad climbing at Kaputar requires judgment and skill. Important skills include route-finding, down-climbing (when necessary) and finding and using natural gear placements - which are often small wires or cams/nuts in unexpected places. Kaputar is a good place to learn and apply these skills because it offers trad climbs at a wide range of grades.
Protection is often very good but not always obvious from below. Poor protection is usually mentioned in route descriptions, and/or allowed for in the grading (i.e. increased grade for poor protection). Bold routes on Mt Lindesay can be easily top-roped. Route descriptions on thecrag.com will be amended where necessary to assist safe climbing on climbs that were previously retro-bolted. But climbers should always be wary of attempting trad climbs that are close to the limit of their ability.
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