A report by James Herrera
Bolting is not fun !! You’re dangling off a cliff, wearing the crappiest clothes, carrying around 10 kgs of gear which includes a cordless drill, a glue gun, glue, bolts, brushes and a pump. Its hot, you’re sweaty, you study the line and mark good spots where to place a bolt. Then you set about drilling the rock, cleaning the holes, applying resin, placing the bolt, and wiping off excess resin, trying to waste as little as possible. And if you’re bolting a sea cliff, if you think you’re done when you place the last bolt, you’re wrong …. you still have to jumar back up … carrying all the gear with you in the process. But at the end of the day, you’re happy you created something that you and other climbers can enjoy.
In 2007, two British mountain guides found and bolted a beautiful 5 pitch route on a sea cliff in Wied il- Hallelin, limits of Zurrieq. Since then, many climbers have enjoyed ‘Plunder’, and personally, I think it’s one of the most enjoyable routes on the Island. With the hardest pitch graded at F6c, the route has a little bit of everything, from good holds to tiny crimps, exposed traverses and tricky moves on delicate edges. Unfortunately at the time, the mountain guides used stainless steel bolts which were not marine graded. Due to the recent failure of such bolts on one other route (coincidentally also bolted by the British mountain guides using the same type of bolts), it was decided that all routes which were bolted with similar bolts were to be re-bolted. Having the old bolts in place made the entire process much easier, but still it was not a simple undertaking.
The re-bolting process was carried out over two days. On the first day, holes were drilled and bolts glued in on the 5th pitch, and for the final belay station. Holes were also drilled for the third and fourth pitch, as well as their belay stations, before the drill battery failed me. Once the drilling was over, I proceeded to try and remove the old bolts from the route. Being expansion bolts, one would think that a spanner would do the trick. Unfortunately the marine environment partly corroded the nut and the bolt, fusing them together, and most of the nuts couldn’t be unscrewed, and will have to be removed with alternative methods.
On the second day, Kyle Bonnici offered a helping hand, and this made the re-bolting process quicker. While I finished drilling the first and second pitch, abseil points and remaining belay stances, Kyle glued in the bolts. New marine-grade 316 stainless steel chains with rings replaced the old abseil points. Two “sea water” graded belay bolts were glued in at the start of the first pitch, because even though there was a ledge, clipping into these bolts would make the belayer safer and more secure. Three more “sea water” graded stainless steel bolts were then glued in to the start of the first pitch, as this area of rock takes the worst battering from the waves.
“Sea-water” graded bolts have a guaranteed life span of 50 years, so they should last for quite a while. The rest of the bolts used were marine grade 316 stainless steel. Once all the new bolts had been installed, we removed as many of the old bolts as possible, to clean the route. The final struggle was jumaring back up to the top of the cliff, and after 8 hours working in the sun, it was the hardest part of the entire re-bolting process. Whilst working our way up the cliff, we noticed a large loose flake just above the belay station for the 3rd pitch. We thought best to remove it, and with the slightest of pulls, Kyle brought the thing down. Must have been the size of a 52″ TV !! And we have it all on tape 😉
The re-bolting of this route was quite an undertaking, and included:
- 2 x 316 Stainless Steel chain lower offs
- 38 x 316 Stainless Steel Bolts
- 2 x Sea water graded Stainless Steel Belay Bolts
- 3 x Sea water graded Stainless Steel Bolts
- 3 x Hilti Chemical Anchor Resin
- 23 Man Hours of work
All materials and hardware were generously supplied by the Malta Climbing Club, for a total cost of about € 300. Hopefully fellow climbers will appreciate the investment and work involved to maintain such routes, and will contribute more generously to the bolting fund so that we can continue to maintain and upgrade our routes, as well as develop new ones.
Check out James’ blog here.