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Bolting Policy

Issued January 2001


Invariably in KZN the land on which popular crags lie is privately owned. Therefore it is incumbent on persons wishing to initiate bolting to first of all direct their enquiries to the relevant landowners or custodians of the land. However, the ethics of mountaineering and traditional climbing, which are widely held within the climbing community, require the MCSA to take a stand on bolting and make recommendations in this regard. In addition, the MCSA is the "custodian" of certain crags and has a vested interest in them, for example, in the form of rights of access.

Notwithstanding its interests, the MCSA does not wish to act as the official "watchdog" or responsible authority for bolting in KwaZulu Natal, nor to be held responsible for bolting in the region. The MCSA therefore offers the following policy for consideration:

1. General principles for bolting

1.1 Bolts should be placed so as to minimise the impact on the character of a route.

1.2 Bolts should be placed by competent individuals.

1.3 The materials and techniques used should enable the greatest strength and longest possible lifespan of the bolts, based on technical information available at the time.

1.4 Safety factors being equal, bolts should be placed in such a way to minimise any negative aesthetic impact.

1.5 In cases where there is any doubt as to whether or not to place bolts, consensus should be obtained within the climbing community before the bolts are placed.

2. Replacing Bolts

2.1 The re-placing of old bolts which are no longer safe is an established and accepted practice which should continue as safety dictates.

3. Retro-Bolting

3.1 Retro-bolting of traditional routes should not be tolerated. The sanctity of KZN’s traditional routes must be protected since they are a valuable part of our climbing heritage which should not be lost to our own and future generations.

3.2 The retro-bolting of sport routes should similarly be discouraged except under exceptional circumstances, and then only with the consent of the first ascensionist ,if contactable, or after consensus has been obtained within the climbing community.

3.3 The replacement of old pegs with bolts at traditional climbing venues is appropriate only under the following conditions:

3.3.1 There is no alternative point of natural protection nearby.
3.3.2 The pegs being replaced are critical to the safety of the route.
3.3.4 The bolts are placed as close as possible to the old pegs so as retain the original character of the route (preferably within 30cm).
3.3.5 Consensus is obtained within the climbing community before the bolts are placed.

4. New Routes

4.1 In respect of new routes, it should be at the discretion of the first ascensionist to decide whether or not to bolt a route.

4.2 Where the new route is at a traditional climbing venue:

4.2.1 Any bolts placed should not affect the character of adjacent routes in any way. If there is any uncertainty, consensus should first be obtained within the climbing community.

4.2.2 Notwithstanding the above, we suggest that a route only be made a sport route where there is insufficient traditional protection.


Drafted July 2006
Amended October 2011

Note: This policy will guide the MCSA in the use of fixed protection throughout the high Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal. This should include currently unprotected areas outside of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site such as the Mnweni area.

The Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Section stands firmly for the conservation of Wilderness areas, including mountain areas and especially the Drakensberg. The MCSA KZN has a long and proud track record in this regard and a long standing and positive working relationship with Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo), and its predecessors, on many issues including Mountain Rescue and Conservation. There is also a long and rich heritage of mountain and rock climbing in the Drakensberg dating back to the early 1930s.

Amongst the first recreational users of the Drakensberg were mountaineers and climbers. From the early days, the use of fixed protection in the form of pegs by these climbers was necessary for safety. Since then the development of removable protection has made climbing easier under some circumstances, however, such removable protection cannot be used in all instances. There are therefore still pegs in place on many routes in the Drakensberg and their existence is essential for the safety of the routes concerned. Similarly the use of fixed protection is necessary in establishing certain new routes where removable forms of protection cannot be used.

The goal of the MCSA in presenting this policy is to strike a balance between preserving the unique Wilderness character of the Drakensberg and closing the door to adventure and the possibility of opening bold new routes.

Background to Discussion on Fixed Protection in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World heritage Site

“The Wilderness resource encompasses two central concepts namely; naturalness and solitude” (Wilderness Management Plan, 2011).

“Fixed climbing safety anchors are necessary tools which are allowed by the American Wilderness Act of 1964. They are considered substantially unnoticed ‘imprints of man’s work’ that climbers periodically must use and leave in place to protect the climber while ascending and / or descending a route” (American Alpine Club Policy on Fixed Anchors in Wilderness, 1999).

MCSA is committed to supporting both of the above principles. It is thus committed to low impact and safe use of this unique resource. Based on these commitments the MCSA has worked with the Wilderness Steering Committee to clarify a policy on fixed protection that meets the needs and responsibilities of both Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the MCSA.

It is in this spirit of engagement that the MCSA offer to work together with Ezemvelo in assessing any suggested placement of fixed protection. This includes recognition of the requirement to undertake a scoping process where appropriate, as outlined in this document.

Definition of removable protection

Removable protection is defined as mechanical camming devices (“friends”), wire stoppers, slings and other such devices. They are typically inserted into the rock by the first climber (the leader) and removed by the last member of a climbing party, thereby leaving nothing behind in the rock. Suitable placements for removable protection devices are not always available, hence there is a need to use fixed protection on some routes. With regard to abseil points, climbing parties will be encouraged to remove old abseil tape from previous parties.

Definition of fixed protection

Fixed protection is defined as pegs and bolts. Pegs are hammered into natural weaknesses in the rock whilst bolts are inserted into pre-drilled holes. These forms of protection are usually left in place and are generally used as a last resort due to the extra expense and effort required for their use. Pegs are regarded as a traditional form of protection and have been utilised since the early days of climbing in the Drakensberg. They have been utilised on a very limited basis and mainly as emergency protection when there is no other safe alternative. Bolts have been used more recently (mainly in the last 10 years). They have also been used on a very limited basis and mainly on routes that have sustained sections with no removable protection and peg placements available.

Use of fixed protection

The use of fixed protection in the Drakensberg is supported by the MCSA KZN for the following reasons and subject to the stated conditions.

Reasons for the support of fixed protection:
  • Fixed protection is essential for the safety of climbers who are an existing and long established user group of the area.
  • Fixed protection is already in place and has been for many decades.
  • Fixed protection has gone unnoticed for decades by all except climbers themselves. It is placed in the high berg and is therefore invisible to most user groups.
  • Fixed protection has no significant negative environmental impact.
  • Climbers and the fixed protection they use have one of the lowest impacts of all user groups in the Drakensberg.
  • Notwithstanding the above, the use of fixed protection in the Drakensberg, especially bolts, is extremely rare and is unlikely to increase given the arduous access.
  • The MCSA KZN and the Climbing Community already regulates itself in terms of a stringent code of ethics.
Conditions for the use of fixed protection:
  • The Drakensberg is considered a traditional climbing area and this tradition will be firmly protected by the MCSA.
  • Fixed protection should not be placed on any rock face that is accessible or visible to user groups other than climbers so as to interfere with their enjoyment of the Wilderness and other areas.
  • Fixed protection should only be used as a means of last resort where removable protection does not enable safe passage.
  • Where fixed protection is used, pegs should be the first choice and may be placed at the climber’s discretion, provided that they are not visible to other user groups (see above).
  • Where pegs cannot be used or are unsafe then bolts can be utilised (subject to the specific conditions below).
  • The retro-bolting of traditional routes will not be tolerated (and there is no recorded case of this having occurred).
MCSA bolting policy

The MCSA has an existing bolting policy (available from the MCSA KZN as a separate document), which clearly indicates the club’s position on bolting in traditional areas (including the Drakensberg). Guided by that policy the following general principles for bolting in the Drakensberg are presented:
  • There are cases when the placing of bolts is necessary to make a route safer or to supplement removable protection when it is necessary.
  • It is permissible to place bolts in order to reduce the number of unsafe and / or unsightly abseil points.
  • Bolts should be placed so as to minimise the impact on the character of a route.
  • Bolts should only be placed by competent and experienced climbers.
  • The materials and techniques used should enable the greatest strength and longest possible lifespan of the bolts, based on technical information available at the time. Currently, the suggested option is stainless steel anchors (with a matt finish) with a chemical (epoxy) bond. The suggested minimum depth of placement is 90 mm. Drilling of holes for bolts should preferably be done using a motorized drill, due to the nature of the rock hand drills are not encouraged. At all times consideration must be given to the impact of excessive noise on wildlife and other mountain users.
  • Only hangers with a matt finish and colour that blends with the surrounding rock may be used.
  • Safety factors being equal, bolts should be placed in such a way as to minimise any negative aesthetic impact.
  • Where a new route is not feasible without bolting an entire pitch, a scoping process must be undertaken. Any 50 m of climbing requiring more than 5 bolts should be considered as a bolted pitch. Bolt stations should be limited to 2 bolts. Bolt stations, whether containing 1 or 2 bolts, will be counted as one bolt for the purpose of assessing the number of bolts in 50 m. The scoping process is two tiered with the first screen provided by the MCSA KZN. Where necessary the matter will be referred to the Ezemvelo Wilderness Steering Committee / Park Mmanagement Committee and the Ezemvelo Development Committee for final decision, with a recommendation from the MCSA. The aim is to streamline routine matters (where the need for fixed protection is clearly acceptable within the guidelines) whilst providing a mechanism to prevent possible detrimental impacts due to climbing in the Drakensberg.
  • In cases where there is any doubt as to whether or not to place bolts, an approach should be made to the MCSA KZN for advice, before the bolts are placed.

Given the nature and location of climbing areas in the Drakensberg, it will be very difficult to police and monitor the use of fixed protection in the Drakensberg if it were to be prohibited in Wilderness areas. The suggested participative approach provides a more effective means of control while allowing the freedom to enjoy the Drakensberg by those who seek its solitude and the grand adventure of climbing. With this freedom comes a moral and ethical responsibility on the part of the climbing community to treat the mountains in a responsible and respectful manner. This is based on a commitment to support the principles of: naturalness and solitude espoused in the Wilderness Management Plan, while at the same time recognising a commitment to the safety of people using these unique areas.