On Friday, January 2, 24-year-old Australian climber Nick Kaczorowski was killed after falling on a multi-pitch bolted route in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Nick Kaz and Andrew Pare, his Canadian partner, were climbing Bunny Bucket Buttress, a moderate nine-pitch route up a huge sandstone buttress in Grose Valley. After five pitches, the pair got off route by following a line of shiny new bolts that headed up right. This newer route, ironically called Last Chance for Happy End, was established in December, 2007 by a couple Croatian climbers who were attempting to establish a new route on every continent that calendar year.
However, their inexperience at placing bolts in the soft sandstone in the Blue Mountains directly led to this tragedy. Famed Australian climbing photographer Simon Carter analyzed the accident immediately after its occurance by rappelling down the 270-meter-long route and reporting his findings on his blog. What he discovered was stunning—virtually every bolt on the route was dangerous. He easily pulled many of the bolts out by hand.
Last Saturday, February 1, Carter, along with Mike Law and Andy Richardson, with the support of the national park rangers, rappelled the entire route and removed all the bolts. Simon wrote on his blog, “We first tested every nut for tightness and found about 90% of the nuts could easily be loosened by fingers alone. Out of the approximately 45 bolts removed we only had difficulty removing three. One came out with one gentle tug, some required three tugs, some took more…. In my opinion, I’ve been climbing for 25 years and I think this is the most appallingly bad job of bolting that I’ve ever seen. If they had tightened the nuts then they would have known.”
The accident happened near the top of the climb. Andrew Pare set up a belay from a single bolt above a ledge and brought Nick Kaz up to him. Nick then headed up the next pitch and climbed to a bolt. The next rock section appeared very difficult and much harder than what they had climbed below, so Nick, using a stick from the ledge below, attempted to clip the next higher bolt with a quickdraw attached to the stick. He rested his weight on the bolt while he tried to clip and it pulled out. As Nick fell, his rope sliced on a sharp edge and he continued falling to the cliff-base. The belay bolt was later removed by Simon Carter “with two gentle tugs on a quickdraw.”
Climbing is dangerous. We all know that. We climb at our own risk. We use our own good judgement to make decisions that keep us alive. Still the two men who originally placed all these bolts bear some responsibility for their failure.
As climbers we often implicitly trust fixed gear like bolts. The ones on this climb were, however, totally inadequate for the job. The bolts were 8mm x 78mm wedge bolts made in Italy. These bolts would be fine in granite or limestone, but for sandstone—no. The Blue Mountains sandstone, like that in the western United States, is very soft and requires either large sleeve bolts or glue-in bolts. When bolted routes are established, especially from a rappel rope as this one was, then the climber placing the bolts needs to think about not only the permanent alteration of the rock caused by drilling holes for bolts but also of the climbers who will come later and use his bolts for their safety.
As Simon Carter wrote, “I’m having trouble getting past thinking that the bolting on this route was more than a little irresponsible. For a visiting European climber the lure of acres of unclimbed rock must be great, but I think it exceptionally poor form to visit an area, totally ignore the local ethic and what you are told by the locals, spend days placing bad bolts, and then bugger off again without providing a proper warning.”
Read more about this accident and view a video on Simon Carter’s News Blog.
What do you think? Go to the Climbing Forum here on About.com and write your thoughts down.
Photograph above: The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, about 25 kilometers from the accident scene and in a different valley, are one of Australia’s most famous natural landmarks..
Photograph © Stewart M. Green