Rebolting routes – interview with Projekt OSP

rebolting routes in Črni kal @ photo by Katja Jemec

We have a new problematic issue to publish on our site: rebolting of existing routes in Istria. We got in contact with Slovenian Projekt OSP and have had an interesting interview with them. Three main Projekt OSP members Štefan Wraber, Jurij Ravnik and Rajko Zajc have given their answers to our questions.

From our point of view, first we have to thank and congratulate Projekt OSP for this outstanding work of rebolting hundreds of routes, replacing hundreds of anchors and thousands of bolts in Črni kal, Osp and Mišja peč. Nobody is saying thanks to Projekt OSP and it is even harder to donate some money to them, but of course it’s easy to complain. As we are listening this complains by lots of local climbers all the time, we will mention a few of them in this article. We do agree with some of them, but mainly we feel thankful to Projekt OSP for doing an enormous job by rebolting the crags in Slovenian part of Istria.

What is Projekt OSP? How long has it existet? How does it work? And what are their goals?

Štefan Wraber: “Projekt O.S.P. (acronym for Opremimo slovenska plezališča equipping Slovenian crags) was established in 2017 as a fundation for natural crags in Slovenia. Our main goal was to start raising donations to pay bolters for their work. Secondary goals include crags maintenance and sustainable development. We raise awareness, post stories, organize events, sell merch to raise money for our goals. We organize and manage the work on the rocks through yearly plan, we buy and store the equipment and we try to keep a good relationship with the owners, locals, local communities. We act as a part of the Alpine association of Slovenia.”

How many bolters are there in Projekt OSP and how many are active? How do they get paid? What do you have to do to become a bolter?

Jurij Ravnik: “There are over 100 bolters in Slovenia and most of them are part of Projekt OSP. In the last 5 years we made 4 courses for bolting so the number is growing and we also try to keep the old bolters up to date with new standards and techniques. The number of active bolters is much smaller of course. A lot of people are only interested in bolting their local crags or their specific projects or have limited time, so there are about 30 bolters who are active all over Slovenia. Also, as is understandable, there is much less interest for rebolting (compared to making new routes), which represents about half of our work.

You become a bolter by completing the bolting course and then getting some experience by working along someone more experienced. You can also come to one of our bolting weekends where many bolters work together on same project and you can learn a lot from others. For those who already know how to bolt it’s the same process, joining bolting weekends or working with someone experienced to show you still know how to do everything properly, then your status is ‘reactivated’.

Bolters can get the equipment from Projekt OSP and are also paid for their work based on bolts drilled (and also depending if it was expansion or glue-in; new route or rebolting; overhang or slab etc.). The payment is between 2-7€ per bolt depending on these circumstances and of course limited by the donations we get. If there are enough donations, we can pay for all the work if not we prioritize payment according to the yearly plan or the urgency of the work. If works similar for travel expenses and some other work. For group weekend boltings everybody gets the same fee, regardless what they do and usually they also get a nice dinner. At the moment the money is still somewhat symbolic, also to encourage people to bolt some necessary things (like rebolting), but it’s not something you could do professionally. We hope it will change in the future. But as of now, a lot of work is still fueled by enthusiasm and love for climbing and this hard and responsible work is still quite underpaid.”

Years ago there was an unwritten rule: “You should always ask author the route before rebolting, replacing a bolt, adding a bolt or doing anything in their route!” This rule seems to be vanishing. What is your opinion of adding bolts and even anchors to existing routes, changing the lines etc?

Jurij Ravnik: “The idea of asking author’s permission is actually fairly new. Most of the biggest areas with old routes (like Kotečnik, Črni Kal and similar) where old hand made bolts were placed far apart by mountaineers, were rebolted without asking the authors and without problems.

I personally feel the rocks don’t belong to anybody (in climbing sense) and it is a privilege and responsibility of the author to create a new route somewhere. Once she/he is finished the line and name of the route are fixed and should not be changed. But unlike the mountains (where a certain character and history of the routes need to be preserved), the essence of sport climbing is its safety. So, if the route is not bolted nicely, I feel it is no problem to change the positions to better ones, of course without changing the line or damaging/affecting he route in any way.

I do not like the idea of needing “balls” to climb some old route. You can do that in mountains or in trad. The bolts in hard routes are more spaced for practical reasons (friction, hard sections, higher climbing level) and there’s nothing wrong with that if they are safe. But to hear complaints that some route is worse now because of additional bolt, because you’re not scared enough, sounds a bit silly to me. Especially the bolt positions should be better thought of in easier routes for beginners. If some author did a bad job in this regard, we should correct it, no matter what he/she thinks.

That said, we do try to ask authors, if we know them, and discuss things with them. This goes especially in some local crags where authorship is better known. We also have a lot of discussions about our standards among ourselves where the best Slovenian bolters participate. Even at specific rebolting, it is rarely a decision of one person. Usually when you feel you need to change something, you discuss it with other bolters and even climbers if they know the route. It is a process and of course mistakes are made but I am confident that routes are mostly better after they are rebolted.

Regarding adding anchors or changing lines it should always be done after discussing the author, if it is possible to find him/her. But even then, it should have a really good reason, otherwise it is better left as it is.”

What is an example of a safe route for you? How much should the distances between bolts be in modern routes? Are you following those rules by some international standard? It seems like the routes in Slovenia are much more closely bolted than for example routes in France or Spain. Do you think this is OK?

Štefan Wraber: “There is no established standard for bolts to be placed. It is impossible. Safety is always a primal goal, but debates run hot in this regard. What is a safe distance? 1m, 3m, 5m? Depends. And it is up to a guy on a rope holding a drill to deduct and decide, and he has to have weaker and shorter climbers in mind, not the strongest one. It is not about the distance, rather how well it climbs, how it clips and how safe/dangerous it is. Everything else aside, we can’t forget, that there is way more people engaged in rock climbing than 20 years ago, less experienced climbers, more kids and at a younger age. Yes, with more general population safety standards rise. Especially on easier routes. Imagine a beginner clipping the bolt with 2m distance below his feet on a 5b route. Imagine a 10-year-old kid clipping the same bolt. It might have been acceptable some time ago but surely it is not today. 5m fall on such terrain can end very badly in this case. Do we want this? As for the harder routes, especially overhanging, I see no problem with bigger runouts. But, personally I see the thrill of sport climbing in searching for the way up the rock face, not in having balls to climb a 10m runout. That is for trad climbing and big walls. So reasonable bolting that provides safe climbing is paramount. But yes, harder routes should have more space between the bolts. We can take Mišja peč, Ceüse and Rodellar. Yes, France has bigger runouts, but Spain doesn’t. And I have been sport climbing in the Dolomites recently, there has been 17 qd on a 38m route. Too much? For me such general comparison is pointless.”

Many local climbers argue that you are leaving the old bolts in the routes. Where is the reason?

Rajko Zajc: “I do agree that too many times and too long after rebolting the old bolts remain in the route. It disturbs me as well. Why does it happen? Because we are rebolting routes with glued-in bolts which we can’t clip, we have to wait that glue dries out and that takes a couple of days. But after the route is rebolted nobody cares to come back and take them out as this work is not extra paid. Well, I don’t know, I can say for myself, that the routes I have rebolted (Veper lady, Nočna kronika, Pikova dama, Klobasa,…), I also took the old bolts out. Anyways it’s a bit odd to complain about that, it’s the same as you would complain why there are not all the quickdraws in the route. Everyone that has problems with this old bolts can instead of complaining about that, take the screw and take them out. For that work you really don’t need to be a bolter.

Have you been in conversation with local climbers?

Jurij Ravnik: “Of course, we talk to most local climbers. It is a small community and we know each other well anyway. Sometimes in small local crags it is necessary to engage local climbing community, who will take care of the crag after we are finished. Elsewhere I think we are very open forum and anybody can always contact us in many ways to tell us their thoughts. We feel a functional crag needs participation of local climbers anyway, but they have to also be engaged and responsible. When people just complain but would not even take their trash or contribute in any way, it’s a bit strange to me.

I think more than local climbers it is important to talk to local population. This is showing more and more in the recent years, sadly in form of bad experiences and conflicts. It takes a lot of effort, understanding and empathy to work on this, but sometimes it keeps a crag running for everyone and is not easily seen like a fresh new bolt. “

In Mišja peč there are fixed quickdraws in almost all the routes. It looks ugly and it is also very dangerous for “gym rats” as they don’t check what are they clipping. What is your point of view about that?

Štefan Wraber: “As it is with almost all harder crags anywhere. A lot of people complain but they use it nevertheless. It is convenient and helpful, especially in more overhanging routes. And it saves the time of taking the qd out, which is helpful in frequented crags. It looks ugly? Well, trad climbers would argue that bolts and anchors are ugly. And environmentalists would say that climbers on the wall are ugly. Point of perspective. Such labels are nonsense. It is the way things are and we cannot reverse it. We can take all the qd’s from Mišja peč, but there will be new ones in one season. As for the danger I completely agree. Alu qd’s are not suitable for permanent placing. That is why I have strongly advocated that we start buying permadraws, suitable to hang in there and take the falling for a longer time. We have started in Mišja peč, first at the crux, changing some scary old gear. And we have changed more than 200 old qd’s in Slovenia. Our opinion is that if there are qd’s, they should be safe.”

Is the climbing area valued by the number of the routes or by the number of king lines? It feels really crazy to us to squeeze in between two routes another one. You grab the same holds just with the other hand and you clip different bolts. You can’t call it an onsight and if someone occupies that route, in fact occupies three routes at once. So, is it really worth bolting a route like that? Your opinion?

Jurij Ravnik: “A part of the value of the crag is its popularity, which is a mix of many factors, like number of routes, their subjective beauty (‘king lines’), rock and gear quality, approach, crowds, scenic value, history, infrastructure, soft grades etc. This in term will affect the impact of climbing for the area (more popularity=bigger impact), which is coupled with sensitivity of the area (close to village, nature protection). So, to decide which crag needs more focus is a delicate balance of many things. It is also tied a bit to availability and interest of bolters in the region. So basically, for us all the crags are important and some small and not very popular crag may even need more attention than a big one (maybe it has more issues, bad gear, nature protection). And in long term, an accident or conflict in any area is bad for climbing community regardless where it happens.

Regarding squeezing routes, I can give you my personal opinion as in this issue I respect every bolter’s personal view. We all climbed routes that we felt were ‘stupid’ and shouldn’t be bolted, yet someone still put a lot of work in them and some climbers may find them great or challenging. I have been known to squeeze some routes in my time (with my own gear and not getting paid for it). For all those, I believe I made a really nice new contribution and they are climbed often even though they may share a couple of holds with the neighbors. I don’t see this as a problem as 90% of the routes are independent and I am not affecting existing routes in any way. It is just another option that someone might find fun and challenging.

I don’t understand ‘someone occupying three routes at once’ argument (or similar ones). If the route didn’t exist, that someone would still occupy 100% of the routes there. And it is even more problematic with shared anchors or starts/finishes with variations than a few shared holds. Is it worth to bolt? If I feel it will add a beautiful new route, then I think it is. It does however require some common sense and experience in what you’re doing and I agree that things can go too far if we don’t talk about them, like with many other issues. We actually like to promote the idea to make a small mental plan of routes when making a new crag, to avoid this issue. It just doesn’t work in old areas.”

What about routes with chipped holds? Do you support bolting routes with chipped holds? What are your ethics considering that?

Rajko Zajc: “No we don’t support making artificial holds in natural routes at all. Our guidelines are if the route developer judges that the route needs an artificial hold, this route should not be bolted at all. He can still bolt the route if he really insists but has to leave it in natural way for future generations.

What about climbing area Skedenj near Sežana? We heard it will open soon. Is it true? Will it be official climbing area or still a secret one? Can you tell us a bit about that.

Jurij Ravnik: “Dealing with conflicts is a whole other area we work on. This is usually a very intense, stressful and dragged out process to get things right, which we do in free time. Skedenj is a very important crag, but it is a cave with nature protection and issues with some locals. We are trying to communicate with all parties and institutions to get all the necessary paperwork and open it. We don’t really believe in secret spots. A crag may be kept secret for a short while, as it is still developed, but after that, the only way to make it functional is to sort out things with owners, nature protection, cultural heritage and many others. If you can’t solve these problems, you will only create a time bomb that will go off sometime in the future. And I think it is highly unethical to reserve a crag just for yourself and block others based on some criteria that you create. We all prefer to not have crowds at the crag, but if we all made secret spots, and some exclusive invite-only clubs, it would make climbing much poorer. It also goes against the spirit of climbing itself. So, we hope to solve the Skedenj issues in the right way and open it for everyone who would like to climb there.”

Projekt OSP likes to be compared with French Green spit organisation. Are you planning to organize some climbing party like they did? We really like their concept with education courses about climbing ethics for climbers, getting funds by buying a beer for rebolting and all the participants getting free shovles to hide their poo in a climbing area.

Štefan Wraber: “Yes, Greenspits were sort of inspiration when we were conceiving our idea. Their work is great and it seems they have fun doing it. For us, we have to go through some organizational challenges and we have to find some more people willing to work with us. Then, we can surely start organizing seminars events and parties again. With beer and shovels, of course.”

Jurij Ravnik: “About many issues you are writing in this article I want to add a few thoughts. There will always be criticism about our work. It is normal in sport with such passionate participants. It is also welcome for us to help us reevaluate our way of working. I really don’t mind criticism and we do make mistakes from time to time, so it can make us better. What I don’t like as much is that people are very quick to discredit everything based on one situation. One wrongly placed bolt (out of 1000s) for example, does not mean the bolter is shit, that Projekt OSP is shit. It does not mean we are sloppy or lazy, that we only do it for money. With the amount of hard and often unpaid work we do, such criticism seems overly cynical, often even coming from people who feel entitled to everything just because they have been climbing for 20 years. We’re happy to get suggestions what to rebolt, but to scold us like we’re stupid for rebolting a route X instead of Y, while we’re working hard on a Sunday afternoon, seems just silly to me. It is usually coming from people with very limited perspective about bolting and area management, with very narrow views and who rarely contribute to the common good, or who feel they did everything already because they changed for free one biner 10 years ago.

What I want to say is, please, let us know about your opinions and issues, but you can do it in a civil and friendly way. You can support us while being critical about some issues. We also welcome anyone who would like to contribute with work and ideas. We have regular bolter meetings and decisions and standards are subjects to a lot of talk and consensus. But also, according with times, some people may have to change the way they view crags: some routes have to be safer, local population has to be considered, nature protection is our absolute duty. Maybe 20 years ago this was not an issue, but climbing has grown up and so must also the climbing community. And if you feel you don’t need to contribute something with donation, at least try to behave as good as possible, respect other climbers and locals, respect the rules and prohibitions, take your trash and don’t add to problems.

We appreciate this interview as well as not all support is just money. There are many initiatives, new crags, ideas, education we are working on, but in the end, we are a small group of people working voluntarily in our free time, so it takes time to get some things done and it is good to know it is supported in the community.“

Thanks for all the answers and keep up with the good work.

Don’t forget to donate on projektosp.si!

As usual, feel free to share and comment on this post with your questions about Projekt OSP if you care of our beloved climbing areas.