International Climbing Group Fights Bolts to Reclaim Adventure


The international federation representing climbers wants to put the balls back in climbing. In September, the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), an association comprised of 82 national climbing member organizations, such as the American Alpine Club and the Alpine Club of Canada, published a position paper that argues that sport climbing is getting a little out of hand, leaving no rock for “adventure climbing.”

“With the advent of the drill and bolt and the surge of interest in sport climbing there is less rock left in its natural state that is suitable for adventure climbing.” the report says. “We are concerned here with the preservation of sufficient rock that will take leader-placed protection so that, in the interests of diversity, climbers will continue to have the choice to climb either sport or adventure routes.”

In 2000, the UIAA published a policy outlining a compromise between bolting and removable protection (cams, stoppers, etc.). Twelve years later, it seems the policy isn’t working like the group thought it would. From the 2012 policy paper:

“In some mountain areas the drill is still used so indiscriminately that climbing with an adventurous spirit is either severely limited or, at worst, no longer possible. In some countries, such as Hungary, all available rock for climbing has been drilled and bolted to make sport climbs.”

Sport (bolt-protected) climbing is young — less than 30 years old in the U.S. and about 35 years old in Europe. But it’s risen in popularity compared to mountaineering and traditional climbing: A 2010 Outdoor Foundation report found that 1.8 million Americans were trad climbers and mountaineers, compared to 4.3 million sport climbers, indoor climbers, and boulderers.

The UIAA, whose stamp of certification appears on all sorts of climbing gear (ropes, cams, carabiners, helmets, harnesses), will now officially push “adventure climbing” along with the help of its member federations: helping fund films and literature that include (non-sport) climbing, helping climbers in developing countries get trad gear directly from manufacturers, and “connecting with initiatives already underway to tackle the problem of keeping rock unbolted.”

Several climbing luminaries endorsed the document and added comments:

“We desperately need agreement between sport and adventure climbers as to which crags should be left in their pristine state – bolt free,” Chris Bonington commented. “It is alarming how many crags, particularly on the Continent, have already been completely bolted up.”

“My opinion – expressed in my recent books – is that climbing is becoming more and more a sport,” Reinhold Messner said. “Adventure climbing on natural rock will remain as an elite activity, based on the activity’s traditions and the intelligence to respect mountains as ancient wild places, where only those who are properly prepared should go. Preserving our approach to the mountains is a way of saving the heritage of wild mountains – and anarchy in the wilderness.”

The full paper can be read here.

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

{ 4 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Andrew Bisharat

    It’s cool that the UIAA has adopted VH1 tactics in order to stay relevant and is doing Greatest Hits countdowns from the 1980s and early 1990s … Sport climbing is getting out of hand? Please …

  • Andrew Bisharat

    OK, so I actually read the UIAA article and whoever wrote it obviously hasn’t climbed in the last 30 years. It’s ridiculously biased and ignorant, doesn’t include any supporting facts about what they are even talking about and makes suspicious, dubious statements like every rock in Hungary is overly bolted (really, every rock?). They cite the Bohemian sandstone, where knots are used for pro, as an example–which is completely ignorant thing to say since bolting was actually invented there in the form of ring bolts. Finally, most injuries and deaths in climbing occur while participants are sport climbing, so to say that it is somehow less risky than trad climbing is just as dumb. The UIAA should stick to stamping ropes and refrain from making these ridiculous declarations that don’t do anything anyway ….

  • Lawrence White

    Brendan- this is a highly misleading article. The UIAA did not approve this position paper at its general assembly in Amsterdam in the Fall.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>