If you’ve been climbing long enough you’ve probably heard a story about rapping off a sketchy anchor or clipping a spinning bolt. The American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) wants that to stop and has made it its mission to replace bolts worldwide. Since 2010, Planet Granite has committed to matching up to $20,000 for donations to the ASCA annually.
But what exactly does the ASCA do? We sat down with Director Greg Barnes, to get a little history on the organization.
In 1994, Greg Barnes was getting his PhD in Biology when some friends invited him to go climbing in Yosemite Valley. It was an invitation that changed his life. Shortly after that experience he quit to become, in his words, a Valley dirtbag. “At least I had enough credits for a Masters in Biology,” laughs Barnes.
In those days, he notes, anything you climbed in the Valley required rapping off rusty quarter inch bolts. So when Chris McNamara approached him about replacing some of those anchors, he heartily agreed.
“It was pretty simple,” he remembers, “I didn’t want to die on the way down. Plus, I was a climbing bum so I had a lot of time.”
And thus, began Barnes’ early days of volunteering for the American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA), a non-profit organization dedicated to replacing unsafe anchors and reducing the environmental impacts of climbing.
The ASCA’s impact on our sport cannot be underestimated. Since 1998 the ASCA has replaced more than 12,000 bolts nationwide. In 2013, an army of volunteer rebolters worked in 19 states and two countries, including Thailand and Mexico. This year, the ASCA has supplied almost 1600 bolts to crags in California and Oregon, the two states where Planet Granite members reside. Since its founding Planet Granite has supported the ASCA through its community donation program PG Gives Back. In the last five years Planet Granite has helped raise more than $140,000 for the ASCA through direct donations and matching fundraisers.
So just how does the ASCA operate?
First off, it depends entirely on volunteers that understand the ethics of the local crags. “Generally speaking most of the rebolters are well-established climbers. They are guidebook authors, professional climbers, route developers, local guides, etc.,” explains Barnes, who is now the ASCA’s Director.
These rebolters contact Barnes about certain crags and ask him for a specific number of bolts. The ASCA then ships the hardware to the local organization doing the work. For instance, this year, volunteers at Smith Rock have been cranking! Barnes has already sent 150 bolts their way.
It is NOT easy work. “At Smith you’re talking about severely overhung routes. The only way to even get to some of them is with a tension traverse. You have to haul a power drill, glue, supplies, an extra rope, etc. It can take a really long time.” And if you think this is just about updating old, obscure routes. Think again. Take a look at what a rebolter at Smith found last month on one of the most popular 5.13’s in the area. Would you lower off of that?
Or consider the support the ASCA has offered in Thailand. “It’s an insane amount of work,” notes Barnes. “The bolts are just breaking left and right on overhung sport climbs. The bolts we have to use, titanium glue-ins, are REALLY expensive. But the volunteer organization doing it there, the Thaitanium Project is doing a great job and we just keep sending them the bolts they need.”
At the end of the day, the work of the ASCA is a labor of love BY climbers, FOR climbers.
“Bolts definitely break and this helps save lives,” says Barnes.
If you have experience bolting and see a need in your area, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.