let’s measure more and speculate less

Whoops! Ibiza… luckily the belay anchor held

I’ve lost the photo credit for this great shot. If it is yours and you want to be credited, or you don’t want me to use it, please contact me at email below.

Nobody believes in this SCC thing, until it happens to them. I certainly didn’t, until I encountered my first example in Railay, Thailand. It is amazing how back-climbing suddenly looks like a great life choice once your brain processes the fact that none of the bolts below you can be trusted.

Going back maybe twenty years, scary stories began to circulate with respect to stainless steel bolts installed in sea cliffs. They were scary because, so the story went, quite respectable looking bolts were snapping at a point just below the rock surface, and doing so under no more than body-weight.

Climbers are used to assessing risk, and making judgement calls concerning their own safety, and thus, when accidents do occur, they tend to dismiss the cause as being a mistake they themselves would never make. So it was with this phenomenon. People kept on climbing feeling confident they could tell a safe bolt from an unsafe one. When bolts failed it was because some installer had messed-up in some way.

However, when literally hundreds of bolts started failing at Railay and Tonsai the narrative changed. A bad guy called SCC stepped onto the stage, and though loudly denounced, was not banished. Indeed he proved very difficult to banish, and it was not until someone invoked the magic of titanium did he bow-out.

There was a theory that “hot, tropical jungle juice” made the limestone cliffs of Railay and Tonsai exceptionally corrosive, and the bogey man of SCC was not going to arise in more temperate climates. They said that he liked the Thai holiday vibe too much to visit the cooler parts of the world.

Time, as it tends to do, stepped in to separate hope from reality. Similar bolt failures began to occur at other locations around the world – not tropical, not always limestone. Voices began to be raised to say that all maritime crags should be bolted using magic material A or magic material B, in fact, anything but A2/304. Other voices asserted that they had 304 installed for over 20 years without failure, but, but ….. As is to be expected the discussions were more heated than they were informed.

We can continue to tell stories, and scare the younger generation with tales of corrosive jungle juice that will melt your bolts before your very eyes should you dare venture onto the beautiful, tropical karst of SE Asia, or we can give up the story-telling for some hard science. Hard science demands data, and it is the gathering and analysis of data that is the purpose of this blog.

This project would not exist if it were not for the enthusiastic support of Alan Jarvis of UIAA Safe Com, and the financial support they have provided over the past two years. The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and should not be construed as official guidance or opinion from UIAA