Column: Changing hardware on Smith Mountain climbing routes | Discover Central Oregon


One of the most common questions climbers get from other visitors to Smith Rock State Park is, “How do you get that rope up there?” We climb up and, of course, hang the rope! But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Two major categories characterize climbing routes on ropes, traditional and sporty. The first of the two, traditionally, requires placing hardware in existing cracks or other features of the rock if you are using the stone itself to grip and step on it with your hands. The hardware protects climbers from a long fall and is removed either by another climber or by the climber who placed it on the way back to the ground.

The second type of climbing, sport, has bolts with hangers in the rock that a climber then clips the equipment and then the rope into, while also using the rock for hand and foot grips.

In most cases, both types of climbs have an anchor at the top, which consists of two screws with additional hardware that the climber can use to clip in their rope and then lower it. Other climbers can then use this rope to get on and off.

Both types of climbing are widely accepted as standard practice by climbers and land managers. Depending on the type of rock and its features, a climb can be designated as either traditional or athletic. Central Oregon has both styles, but most of the climbs are sport climbing.

The person who first creates the route generally places the hardware themselves.

All hardware degrades after being exposed to elements such as wind, sand, and water over time. Some environments are harsher for the metals than others.

The amount of traffic a given climb receives can also determine how quickly the hardware degrades. On average, the hardware should be replaced about every 30 years. For the safety of all climbers, it is important that the hardware is replaced before it ages or corrodes to the point of failure.

Anyone climbing in central Oregon will benefit from the placement of this hardware. However, only a few climbers have tried to replace it.

One reason for this is that specific knowledge and skills are required to replace hardware. Not to mention it takes time and energy. However, hardware replacement is a grassroots effort and is done entirely on a voluntary basis. These people offer a tremendous advantage to the climbing community, but their efforts often go unnoticed and are not appreciated.

Max Tepfer, who learned to climb in Central Oregon 20 years ago, is one of those volunteers.

He points out that “staying ahead of hardware replacements is important for security, but it also enables us to do so in more sustainable ways. If we wait too long, the screws will corrode to the point where they can no longer be easily removed. In this case, the old hole cannot be reused and we have to drill a new one. “

With the hundreds of routes in Smith Rock, replacing bolts and anchors can be a daunting task. The climbers who replace the hardware prioritize the screws according to the most urgent need. Otherwise, they are sorted by age, which can be seen from the type of hardware used.

Max adds that climbers should always be on the lookout for bolts that need replacing. He says, “The most urgent screws wobble in their hole, even though you try to tighten them with a wrench.”

If you are a climber, you can report a bad bolt to the High Desert Climbers Alliance through their website Click the “Report Bad Hardware” menu link.

While this is hard work and time consuming, Max says he “enjoys the process and it is very gratifying to use my free time to improve a place that has been a transforming part of my life.”

He adds that it enables him to pass on the opportunities climbing offers him to the next generation. Max points out: “Our community forms and gathers in our climbing areas. Climbing bolts and anchors form the foundation of these climbing areas. “