Climbing on Carrots
25 Aug 2017
Blue Mountains climbing: striking orange sandstone, soft blue haze hanging in the valley, breathtaking views, funky moves and . . . what’s that hunk of metal sticking out of the rock?
Image credit: jive-assanchors.com
If you’re new to climbing you might not have come across a carrot bolt yet, but they were once ubiquitous across the Blue Mountains. While you can find ring bolts, fixed hangers and U bolts all around the world, carrots are a local specialty.
Nowadays carrots are generally only found on adventurous mixed routes, so you might be surprised to come across them at accessible crags with moderate routes like the Sunbath at Medlow Bath, and Mt York.
While leading or top-roping on bolts always requires experience, judgment and local knowledge, carrots call for even more caution.
A little piece of history . . .
Carrots are machine bolts with a hexagonal head. Depending on how old they are they might be rusty and corroded (probably mild steel) or silver and shiny (stainless steel).
The low visual impact and low cost of carrots made them a popular option for local bolters in the early days of route development in the Blue Mountains. Today, with the increasing popularity and convenience of ring bolts, carrots are less common. When you come across one you are looking at a little piece of Australian climbing history.
Traditionally, carrots were placed in the rock by drilling a slightly-too-small-hole, grinding the tip of a mild steel bolt to a point and bashing the bolt into the hole with a hammer (the softer metal would conform to the hole and ‘hold’). These are called bash-ins. Nowadays most new ones are inserted into a drilled hole with glue and use harder metals.
How to clip carrots
When you come across carrots on the cliff, all you’ll see is the hexagonal head sticking out. To use them you’ll need removable bolt plates (also called bolt brackets or bolt hangers). Bolt plates come in different shapes and sizes to fit over different sized carrots, and two different orientations: 75 degree (below left) and 90 degree (below right).
Bolt plates. Image credit: climbing.co.za
It’s a good idea to get a few of each style and learning how to place them efficiently. You can buy bolt plates at most climbing shops in Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
Once you have placed the plate over the carrot, you clip your quickdraw through the big hole in the plate. Most climbers flip the carabiner upside down, like in the image below, to reduce the risk of the biner gate getting snagged on the plate.
Image credit: blog.trango.com
Clipping the right carabiner
It’s critical that you use a regular profile solid gate carabiner when clipping carrots, not a wire gate or small profile one.
The gate on a wire gate is too narrow so it won’t lock the bolt plate onto the bolt. As a result, the bolt plate can lift straight off the carrot bolt. You can read a more in-depth analysis of different carabiner styles and their effectiveness on carrot bolts here.
INCORRECT CARABINER. Image credit: Mike Law
In the past it was common to see Blue Mountains climbers using quickdraws with solid gate biners on the top and wire gates on the bottom. This is to ensure that you always clip the same carabiner through the bolt plate, with the rope going through the wire gate. Over time steel edge of a bolt plate can chip away at the smooth basket of your carabiner. This won’t necessarily affect its strength, but with regular use the rough burrs on the surface can damage your rope. So if you’re climbing on carrots regularly you might want to think about rigging your draws with a solid gate carabiner at the top and a wire gate at the bottom.
You’ll find carrots from all eras across the Blue Mountains, from the 1950s or 60s to ones placed in the past few years. While it is relatively rare to hear about serious accidents resulting from carrots failing, this is probably because local climbers make wise, informed decisions about when to clip and climb.
If in doubt, speak to locals or retreat.
Using the guidebook to check if a bolt has carrots on it
In Simon Carter’s 2015 Blue Mountains Climbing guide book, look for routes tagged red or blue with a bolt plate symbol next to them. Fully bolted sport routes are red, mixed climbs are blue and traditional routes are black.
Storing your bolt plates
Most climbers keep bolt plates in their chalk bag. This makes them easy to grab when you’re ready to clip. Others like to rack them on a carabiner. This can be more fiddly, but it saves you from getting a handful of chalk every time you need a bolt plate. Either way, it’s worth carrying a few more bolt plates than you’ll need because they are slippery suckers and often get dropped.
There are some ‘dodgy’ ways to use carrots if you have the misfortune to drop all of your bolt plates. Ask a local – and use at your own risk!
Carrots are complex and, like all bolts, their history is generally unknown. Seek local knowledge and exercise caution!
If you have any questions about carrot bolts, please get in touch.