Bolters: heroes in the shadow

April 25, 2020

You arrive in a place in the middle of nowhere; you look around and see a beautiful rock wall. Your climber-brain immediately thinks: wow, that could make a great crag. You then look closely, and you see the familiar spark of shiny metal: THE CRAG IS BOLTED!!! Has this ever happened to you?

This has happened to me in the most random places and always gets me curious: who bolted this place? How long ago? Was it a local or a foreign climber? Did they do it just to have a new climbing site for themselves, or was it part of a bigger project?  

Whatever the situation or the reason, I always thought of bolters as mystical figures with immense power. They can transform an anonymous place into a place you dream of at night - good or bad dreams depending on the level of frustration with your current project. They can turn a sleepy fisherman island (on the edge of becoming a ghost town) into a buzzing area where new local B&Bs and restaurants pop-up every month: that’s what happened for example to Kalymnos. And of course, with great power comes great responsibility. 

Bernardo “Berni” Rivadossi is a 9a (5.15) Italian climber very active with his association Graffiti climbers to develop climbing in his beautiful home region, Val Camonica.
“First, I bolted hard routes in Val Camonica for myself, cause the alternative was to travel for hundreds of kilometers to try projects for my level. But I also bolt a lot of easier routes: if I find beautiful lines I fall in love with them, and I bolt them, even if they are not for me. I tried to fill the void here in Val Camonica and with my buddies from Graffiti Climber: we believe that climbing is also away to develop and sustain our stunning region."

But who are these bolters? 

I had the immense pleasure of chatting with many of them over the past few months to launch my project, Mapo Tapo - a venture with the goal of supporting underdeveloped crags where climbing can make a difference for the local community.

Here is my very personal take on the portrait of a typical bolter - if anything like a “typical” bolter exists: 

A bolter is an artist; the rock is their canvas.

They often have the vision to see lines where others would not. As a climber, you see cleaned rock faces with spits, and it’s evident that it is a route. But before there may be trees, vines, or just dirt covering the cracks and the veins that make the line so clear to climbers.

Kelsey Gray is an Alaskan bolter who traveled and climbed around the world for the past 10 years in all 5 continents. Author of several climbing books, including The Alaska Rock Climbing Guide.
“Putting up a new route is about a lot more than finding a great line. It’s about exploring new places, putting in the extra effort and energy as well ask expanding this sport that we love. That is why I enjoy putting up new routes in Alaska. Bolting a new line hours from the car on virgin granite in a beautiful alpine environment just can’t be beat.”

And it is not only about seeing the lines but also about understanding what the accepted practices in route development in the region are, clicking with the local climbers and with the local community, mingling with them, and finding buddies to ensure the development and maintenance of the routes.

Simone Pedeferri, one of the most prolific Italian bolters, opened thousands of routes all over the world and created from scratch the now-worldwide-famous Val di Mello climbing area.
I passed by Frascineto, in southern Italy, saw immense potential for development. I was there for only a day, so I took a piece of paper and drew a map of the future climbing area, with the lines and the number of routes I saw per crag, just like that, a simple sketch. I gave it to the local climbers as a gift; I want to see the area thrive

A bolter is big-hearted.

Most often, they finance the development of the area with their own means. This is true for bolts and equipment, but also for the time and effort they put into the work. Sometimes they get small sponsorships from local climbing shops, associations, or public entities, but these contributions rarely cover the sheer amount of work.

Ulric is a Canadian climber and main bolter of the stunning Mexican climbing area of El Salto, where now athletes of the calibre of Sasha Digiulian and Fery Rodriguez shoot videos.
“I left with my van from Canada with a thousand bolts. I didn’t ask anything to anyone; I bootstrapped all of them, just went down to Mexico, and started developing the area. I was completely alone in El Salto; I had to wait for the weekend to find climbing buddies among the locals coming from Monterrey: I bolted so much because, well, what else would you do during the week?”

For many of them, being the first ascendant of new beautiful hard is priceless, and it pays off for the effort, but let’s not forget that most of them “spend” bolts and energy to develop also easy routes to boost the success of the area. And that is pure generosity, especially when there is still room for development in the “amazing overhanging cave just around the corner.”

Davide “Cata” Catalano is an Italian boulderer. After having climbed around the world for a while, he settled in Sicilian countryside where he is now actively developing new routes and the beautiful boulder area of the Scorace forest.
Sicily is such an unexplored paradise: I’d love to make the locals understand the potential of sport tourism here in the countryside. Climbers, if you want to challenge yourself on new projects and support the birth of a 100% Italian diamond, come to Sicily! And in the meantime...FATEVI SALIRE LA VOGLIA!

A bolter is a wanderer, a stray.

Bolters are explorers in search of the next Eldorado; they love the thrill of discovery and the accomplishment of “opening” a new area. When they hear about a place with potential or get contacted by fellow climbers to go and help out somewhere, they are ready to go. Adventure is what they are looking for, even if this means living in a van alone, sleeping in primary-school gyms, eating rice meals over and over because all their money went to bolts.

Massimo “Max” Faletti is an Italian climber, bolter and UIAGM IFMGA mountain guide. He is very active in promoting responsible behavior among climbers and tourists and to promote his beautiful region, Trentino. Find more on sunnyclimb.com
“We are dots in the universe. We live in a paradise called Earth, which we are gradually transforming into a garbage dump. I’ve always been active to explore, promote and develop wisely our region. Development goes well beyond bolting, it is a matter of education.”

Bolters are the last bastion of the romantic idea of wild climbers. Once, a wise bolter told me, “Nowadays, life doesn’t let you be a stray climber anymore" [Simone Pedeferri] [La vita non permette più di essere arrampicatori randagi]".

Hard truth.

But as adventurer climbers, entirely in love with the feeling that clipping a carabiner in an uncrowded route give us, we simply cannot let this happen. We need to make sure to preserve this magic, letting these artists get ready to bolt their next undiscovered rock canvas.

And this what Mapo Tapo is all about.

We want to find a place for this wanderer lifestyle in the XXI century. We want to unleash the potential of these heroes in the shadow, prolonging their dynasty. We want to develop new climbing areas around the world and turn climbing into a force for good for local communities.

In the end, this is what life is all about: helping each other while doing something you love.

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