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Bolting controversy at Diabaig

Tuesday 22nd January 2019, 4:08pm

Updated: 25/1/2019

Mountaineering Scotland was recently contacted by members concerned by the placement of bolts on the main cliff at Diabaig, on the coast near Torridon, asking what our position is regarding this action.

Now we're consulting with climbers to ascertain opinion on the matter.

Diabaig is an accessible, documented, low-level crag in the north-west Highlands, near Torridon. The situation is that existing in situ trad anchors for abseiling were removed and bolt belay stations were placed instead. We understand the bolts used are new Petzl Coeur 12mm expansion bolts with Petzl hangers, steel maillons and stainless steel abseil rings.

We have considered this issue with reference to the “Climbing in Scotland Statement 2013” which includes advice regarding bolting and best practice. This statement was widely consulted upon in the climbing community, prior to adoption by the MCofS Board in 2013.

The specific points in the Climbing Statement that are relevant in this case are:

-          Mountaineering Scotland endorses the widely accepted view that adventurous bolt-free climbing remains the primary ethic for all Scottish climbs

-          Bolts are unacceptable to the majority of Scottish climbers on established (documented) mountain cliffs and sea cliffs, in both summer and winter

-          Established (documented) ‘traditional’ and sport venues would be expected to remain in their documented style

-          retro-bolting (the addition of bolts to established climbs without them) would only be considered with the agreement of the first ascensionist and after wide consultation with interested climbers at local and national level

-          Mountain and sea cliffs with a wild, remote character (also reflected in their surrounding environment) and adventurous nature are not suitable locations for bolts, either for the development of routes or their limited use in order to facilitate easy retreat: self-rescue and descent without fixed equipment are all part of the adventurous nature of traditional climbs

In considering the action taken at Diabaig against these points, the current position statement would not support the installation of bolts on the cliff. As Diabaig is an existing documented trad venue, with a wild character, and the bolting was undertaken without any prior consultation with the climbing community the installation of bolts, for whatever purpose, would be considered unacceptable.

Consideration should also be given to the need for the replacement of the old in-situ protection. The current policy encourages a ‘pure ascent’ of a climb without in-situ protection. We consider this to be a recommended ethic in adventure climbing which is reflected in the current statement. Abseil points are part and parcel of this and although they may be justified if there is a safety issue in descending, the case for this has not been made at Diabaig.

Mountaineering Scotland strives to represent the climbing community’s views rather than prescribe their climbing activities and we work to facilitate where we can, offering guidelines for climbers to subscribe to. These guidelines allow climbers to make informed decisions about our sport and allow the climbing world to self-regulate and we understand that there will be a range of differing opinions on this issue.

We can offer assistance to aid consultation and, in this case, we can provide a means for consultation through our communications channels, with the offer of a short SurveyMonkey poll on whether climbers support the actions at Diabaig.  We can then collate a collective response and advise on the community’s views.

The consultation poll can be found here and will remain open until 18th February:

Do the consultation poll

The main cliff at Diabaig. Photo by Kev Howett.