Five things we learned from rebolting Horseshoe

Posted by Rob Dyer on 08/11/2017
Main Wall and the Toilet Sector (in the foreground) towards the end of the project
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The mammoth project of re-equipping the routes on BMC land at Horseshoe Quarry has just finished. With a huge number of bolts replaced, loose rock removed and funds raised by you lovely lot, we’ve hopefully improved the experience for visitors to this ever popular sport crag. A huge thank you goes out to everyone who donated to the Horseshoe Heroes crowdfunder – we couldn’t have done it without you!

Horseshoe Quarry Rebolting: All in the numbers

  • 121+ person days were taken.
  • 114 routes have been re-equipped.
  • 19 routes unfortunately decommissioned (due to unstable or shattered rock) and a significant amount of loose rock removed. (See the bottom of this article of a full list of decommissioned routes). 
  • 930 old bolts have been removed.
  • 900 new bolts installed (fewer new bolts due to the decommissioned routes).
  • 508 incredibly generous people donated.
  • £16,205 was given over 42 days to help fund the project. 

Prizes are being sent out this week, except the sculptures which are still being made and will take longer. If you still havent bought a Horseshoe Heroes t-shirt but would like one, they will be available on our stand at Kendal Moutain Festival next week and on our online shop soon.

Most routes have had 1-3 extra bolts added to their total and all lower offs on routes on BMC owned land are now standardised with a double maillon and ring setup. The previously rebolted routes from eight years ago weren’t re-equipped as they were still in good condition but the lower offs were changed to the new standard of two rings. A new lower-off simulator has also been added to the large boulder below The Dust Bunnies on Main Wall to allow new sport climbers to practice rethreading rings before getting on the sharp end.

The route Due Care and Attention has seen significant scaling (which has allowed subsequent rebolting) and smaller amounts of scaling has also taken place on many other routes over the course of the project. This means that on this route in particular and potentially others where crucial holds could have been lost, the moves may be significantly different than before and a completely different grade to the current guidebook. We hope to produce an updated online topo for Horseshoe which will reflect these changes in the coming months.

Top tips and lessons learned:

1. Safer, but still not ‘safe’

If we could only highlight one thing following the project, it is this: whilst the work carried out by this project has undoubtedly improved the crag considerably, it has not removed objective danger altogether and the crag cannot be considered ‘safe’. The crag has significant areas of blast shattered rock and is of course still subject to ongoing weathering, so visitors need to treat the crag with the respect that any old quarry deserves. Horseshoe is a venue where loose rock will always be a feature and it is worth giving serious consideration to strategies for avoiding injury by falling rock. Wearing a helmet, belaying to the side of routes out of the fall line and moving away from the base of the crag if having a break are just some of the things worth considering at Horseshoe and other quarried sport venues.

WATCH: How to use Horseshoe Quarry on BMC TV

2. Crag contrasts

There is now a significant difference between the bolts installed on BMC owned land compared to the remaining land. Re-equipped BMC owned routes run from Mr Cellulite’s Arete rightwards on the lower tier and from In the Jailhouse rightwards on the upper tier. Whilst bolting on these routes is now relatively standardised with good quality stainless glue in’s, regularly spaced and with identical lower off setups across the board, this is not the case for the remainder of the quarry. Fixed equipment of widely varying quality, vintage and spacing is in place on these routes, as well as the potential for loose rock. Anyone climbing at Horseshoe should be aware of the difference between the two sections of the quarry.

3. Corroded time-bombs


Surprise! Out with the old time-bombs and in with the new. (Clockwise from top left: snapped expansion bolt; staple with uncured resin; expansion bolt which pulled out intact with minimal force; the new stainless glue-in bolts and lower offs; blown rock caused by tension from expansion bolt; shallow placement with lightweight aluminium hanger)

The old bolts have thrown up quite a few surprises throughout the project as they have been removed. Bolts that appear to have been placed in good quality rock, showing minimal corrosion have failed surprisingly easily and in some cases have been relying on very shallow placements or uncured resin. On the other hand bolts that look very corroded and old have been difficult to remove, being much stronger than initially thought. Of course there were plenty of corroded time bombs in poor rock that were very easy to remove and good looking specimens that were solid too, but it’s a good reminder that visual assessment alone isn’t always a sure fire method of checking fixed gear. More information on spotting bad bolts, can be found in this article.

WATCH: How to check an expansion bolt on BMC TV

4. Assess is best

The new glue in bolts are very good quality, but changes can happen over time so don’t blindly trust them without giving some consideration to what might happen if one failed. As mentioned, over time weathering could cause the rock they are placed in to destabilise or new pockets to form below the surface from water ingress. As with any fixed equipment, (whether bolts, pegs, tat or stuck trad gear), get into the habit of assessing what might happen if one of your anchors were to fail. In many cases, other lower runners provide a backup but don’t assume this to be the case. Especially, relying on a single bolt to lower from with no backup is not recommended.

WATCH: How to check a glue in bolt on BMC TV

5. Top rope heroes use their own gear

Please don’t top rope directly through lower off rings and use your own quickdraws or screwgates instead – not only at Horseshoe but any venue with lower offs. Doing this helps to keep lower offs in good condition much longer than if they have weighted ropes repeatedly wearing them. With the new lower off simulator now installed, even beginners can be taught to re-thread the lower off on the ground in safety, meaning a more experienced leader doesn’t have to reclimb the route to retrieve their gear once finished with a route.

Local bolt funds – the heart and soul of re-equipping:

Don’t forget that local bolt funds around the country are carrying out this kind of essential re-bolting work all the time. It may seem like they have loads of people helping them, but most are run by a very small number of dedicated individuals working tirelessly to replace old, questionable bolts for the benefit of the rest of us.

The failure of a number of old staples on Portland earlier this year has only served to highlight how important this work is and across the country volunteers are working their socks off to replace old relics with shiny new bolts. If you’re a sport climber, here are a few ways you can help these groups of local heroes to continue their great work.

Donate to the bolt fund anywhere you regularly sport climb. Re-equipping routes costs a lot of money and without donations, work can’t take place. The funds need a regular income not only to buy bolts, resin and lower offs but also the equipment needed to place them – drills, static ropes, drill bits, glue guns and more. Links to donate to all the UK bolt funds can be found here.

Get trained up yourself. Many bolt funds are in desperate need of new regular volunteers to train up and carry out their work. Many hands make light work and without lots of folk to help out, only a limited amount of bolts can be placed. If you can commit some of your spare time, why not learn a new skill and improve the climbing in your local area?

Got limited spare time? Even if you can’t commit to regular rebolting work, most bolt funds will be able to put ad hoc volunteer time to great use on work days with non-technical but essential work – get in touch with you bolt fund to see if you can help out on any work days coming up.

Crowdfunding advice:

If you want to raise money for your local bolt fund, our resident crowdfunding guru Jon Chittenden has a few handy tips to help you with your fundraiser having masterminded the crowdfunding elements of both Horseshoe Heroes and Mend Our Mountains behind the scenes…

Be specific about where the money will be spent. People will be a lot more willing to donate their cash if they know exactly what their money will be spent on. Announcing a fundraiser for a specific project on a specific crag will be much more effective than asking for a general donation to a bolt fund. For the Horseshoe Heroes fundraiser, donors could choose where their money went. They could either donate a number of bolts, lower offs or even adopt an entire route.

Set a target. A target can keep the fundraisers motivated and create a common goal and urgency for donors. According to JustGiving, pages with a set target achieve 46% than ones without.

Update progress. It’s important to keep the fundraising project as tangible as possible to everyone involved – even if a donor isn’t local, it’s possible to keep an active interest in the project by frequent progress updates. Use multiple communication channels such as email, social media platforms and BMC area meetings to reach as many people as possible.

Allow your donors to buy into the project. Whether it’s soft toys from WWF or Poppies from the British Legion, people want to feel part of a cause and mementoes are a good way of achieving this. With Horseshoe Heroes, donors could buy a Horseshoe Hero t-shirt, get a certificate for adopting a route or even purchase a part of Horseshoe Quarry with a bespoke sculpture made from old bolts and lower offs.

Involve people in any way you can. Sometimes companies might want to donate gifts or rewards over money, and individuals might want to donate their time. All of this is valuable and although we couldn’t achieve the scale of work at Horseshoe with volunteers, many smaller scale projects are ideal targets for volunteer work days – if you can make use of somebody’s time then do it. This video from the Dorset Bolt Fund shows 18 incredible volunteers helping with rebolting!

The history of bolting and development at Horseshoe

When considering the history and background to HQ, it is worth remembering the modus operandi of its original developers, how it came to become popular over a long period in time, its quarrying history as well as its bolting history: it was never originally how it is today! Gary Gibson, one of the main route developers at Horseshoe Quarry gives us a potted history of the crag and how it has changed over the last 30 years or so...

  • Although interest had been shown in the quarry by one or two individuals, it wasn’t until the early Eighties, in fact 1984, that routes were added to the Main Wall. Chris Jackson was the first with Legal Action a route that at the time relied purely on peg runners.
  • Over the next couple of years the Main Wall was rediscovered by a group of Sheffield-based climbers who, whilst trying to keep it a closely guarded secret, added a smattering of routes some of which had the ‘odd’ bolt placed here and there. The style was minimalist bolting and the routes may also have had one or two pegs as well as requiring trad gear.
  • As news slowly seeped out, other climbers came on board, adding routes on the Upper Tier and on the wings. Very few were bolted and one or two had bolt lower offs but these were very few and far between.
  • All of these bolts were the 8mm self-drilling bolt which went to a depth of about 2.5 cm! No rotary hammer drills were available at the time or more like the climbers doing the routes couldn’t afford them.
  • The history of other activity in the quarry is chequered. In the late Eighties the quarry was invaded by ‘New Age Travellers’ who set up camp in the quarry. When the owners finally got rid of the ‘inhabitants’ they used to make regular checks on the quarry asking climbers to leave as a matter of principle – they had a duty of care to the quarry under the 1954 Mines and Quarries Act. Rarely did they escort people off; they were just ‘covering their backs’.
  • In the early Nineties and with the advent of battery operated drills, other routes began to be added, all quite matter of fact and the odd lower-off was added here and there: climbers really appreciated this and its was to set a clear trend for the future. These bolts were mostly M10x100mm through bolts, none of which were stainless steel although some of the hangers placed were – galvanic corrosion not being fully appreciated by climbers at the time.
  • As the Nineties began to draw to a close the main wall was re-equipped by a local climber using stainless steel staples, used to replace all of the ‘old’ gear on the main wall and make it into a complete sports crag complete with lower-offs. Using staples, which were ‘home-made’ was seen as good practice at the time and had been used in considerable amount in other areas of the country most notably Portland and South Wales.
  • As Foot and Mouth struck in 2001 and as many crags were restricted, Horseshoe became a focus of attention and many new routes were added, setting a trend for a complete review of the whole crag. Again all bolting done at the time was seen as best-practice although some of the rock that was climbed left a lot to be desired.
  • In 2003 a further review of some of the in-situ gear and replacing it where it was considered to be dangerous was undertaken by a local activist. This included bolts which had been subject to excessive wear and tear or bolts which mixed different metal grades and would be subjected to ‘galvanic’ corrosion. This again involved 316 stainless steel replacement staples which was seen to be good practice at the time. Every bolt was tested afterwards to ensure the glue had set – all this for over 300 staples.
  • From 2007 onwards, the BMC began testing and research into bolt types and performance. One of the findings was that staples were not as reliable as previously hoped. This formed one reason for the BMC, now the owner of the quarry, to take upon itself the process of replacing all of the existing gear and descaling the crag of loose rock as required.

Decommissioned routes list:

Left Hand Walls:

  • The Mexicon takes Lexicon
  • Exceeding the Speed Limit
  • Mind Your Head
  • Desperate Housewives
  • Collared
  • Spare Rib
  • Eddie McStiff
  • Pelvic Thrust
  • The Hippy, Hippy Shakes
  • Austin Powers
  • He Seems So Sumo

Main Wall:

  • The Long Walk

Upper Tier:

  • In the Jailhouse
  • Po Lazarus
  • Ma Marmalade
  • Slam the Jam
  • Jam Slice
  • Don’t Try This at Home
  • Dinky Toy

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1) Anonymous
16/11/2017
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed
2) Anonymous User
06/12/2017
Hi, is it correct that 19 routes are decommisioned? I counted over 30 routes but perhaps hangers have now been reinstated e.g.. on Blue Sunday?
3) Anonymous
23/02/2018
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