ARF: Saving Lives One Bolt at a Time

Find out what goes into the invaluable work done by the heroes of the Anchor Replacement Fund...

You’re at the crag for some sport climbing – it’s going to be a good day. Your gear is all in good nick, you know how to use it and you’ve done your checks – you are completely safe… but can you say the same for the bolts?

Most of the routes we climb in South Africa were bolted decades ago using expansion (also known as mechanical) bolts. Some were mild steel, galvanized to protect them from the elements. Other bolters chose the supposedly longer-lasting stainless steel variety. Everyone knows that galvanized steel has a finite life expectancy and, much to everyone’s surprise, even the stainless variety started failing. This was analyzed and it was discovered that some sulphur impurities had formed weak points in the steel, causing stress corrosion cracking (SCC).

SCC is a nasty type of corrosion that occurs when stainless steel is exposed to a corrosive environment (like the Cape’s salty sea air) and tensile stress (like the permanent tension on the bolt resulting from climbers over-torquing bolts to prevent hanger spin). 

The most dangerous thing about SCC is that it’s often not visible from the outside, so a bolt that looks perfectly fine could be filled with tiny holes and fractures. This means that the majority of the bolts in the Western Cape (specifically those at crags near the ocean) are in bad shape. At least, they would be if ARF wasn’t around!

A bolt can look alright from the outside…
Even though it’s been fully corroded through.


ARF, which stands for Anchor Replacement Fund, is a project funded by the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) Cape Town section that facilitates the removal and replacement of old, compromised bolts with brand-spanking-new glue-ins.  

At the core of this invaluable project are the volunteers that donate their free time to dangle in a harness all day and make sure we can enjoy sending safely. It’s brutal work that quite literally saves lives, and they do it without the expectation of praise. We had a chat with some of the key players in ARF – Andy Davies, Brian Watts and Cormac Tooze – to find out more about the work they do and how the community can help.


ARF all started when several bolt failures prompted Andy Davies to set out on a mission to replace as many of the old, unreliable bolts in the Western Cape as he could. With a background in mechanical engineering, he understood that SCC was the problem, and so he reached out to the MCSA, businesses and the climbing community looking for donations to sponsor the project.

The people came through and approximately R35,000 was raised, which was used to purchase 800 glue-in bolts and 200 lower-off rings. At the beginning of 2006, the real work began. Andy set out with his friend Ben Bohm and together they employed a tag-team type approach to rebolting:

“I remember him and I, we went up to the crag and I would run up the route and check where all the bolts should be, because we also wanted to improve the bolt placements. And then I would run up the route to drill and clean, then he’d run up and he would glue, glue, glue. And that was quite crazy.

Then we’d also have work meets, we’d get a whole lot of people and a whole lot of drills and we’d just try and do as much as possible in one day.”

Over a few years, with the help of many volunteers, ARF managed to go through all of their supplies and rebolt routes at the Mine, the Hole and the Silvermine crags. They then moved into phase two, which started with 500 new bolts and 110 new lower-off rings, and included the rebolting of Peer’s Cave, Skoorsteenskop, and more routes at Silvermine. 

Since then, ARF has continued to be well supported by the community, with Andy eventually passing on the torch, which is now held by Cormac. As it stands, ARF has replaced around 90% of the SCC-susceptible bolts in the Cape Peninsula and has started to extend beyond the Western Cape. For 2023, they are expanding to include old bolts in the Cederberg and Montagu. While these areas are not close to the sea and hence the bolts don’t suffer from SCC, the bolts at these crags can be up to 30 years old and are just worn out and in need of replacement.  

You can read more about the history of ARF here.

Andy rebolting Route 66 (27) at the Hole.
A great day spent ARFing with friends at the Mine.


As mentioned above, ARF uses glue-in bolts to replace old mechanical bolts. While expansion bolts work well when made with the right materials and installed properly, glue-in bolts are stronger and last longer.

Mechanical bolts are kept in place by an expanding mechanism that wedges the bolt into the rock, and they also require a nut and hanger which need to be tightened to keep them from spinning. A glue-in bolt, on the other hand, is a single piece of stainless steel in a P shape that is held in place by an incredibly strong epoxy glue which creates an air- and watertight seal around the bolt inside the rock. This means that the tensile stress on the bolt is reduced, and the bolt inside the rock is protected from the elements.

Glue-in bolts can also become corroded in a corrosive environment such as the coast, but the damage will be visible so it can be addressed before it becomes a problem. They are also much kinder on quickdraws than traditional mechanical hangers.

An expansion bolt and hanger.
A glue-in bolt with included lower-off rings.
Old, incredibly corroded lower-off rings with mechanical bolts. Photo by Cormac Tooze.
Brand new glue-ins and rings added by ARF. Photo by Cormac Tooze.


Unfortunately, the process to install glue-in bolts is one heck of a hassle, especially compared to the relatively quick and easy installation of mechanicals, which includes drilling a hole, adding the bolt, hanger and nut, and tightening it all up.

Glue-in bolts are installed with a two-part epoxy mix of the highest safety standard that requires precision and patience. Firstly, you need to drill a hole of the correct size at the right angle in the rock, after which you need to repeatedly brush and blow the hole to remove any dust and give the glue a clean surface to adhere to.

After drilling and cleaning all the holes, you need to go back up to glue in the bolts. It’s important to insert exactly the right amount of glue into each hole – enough to completely enclose the bolt within the rock with some leftover to seal the entrance, but not so much that it spills everywhere and gets all over you and the crag. You also have to make sure that the glue is mixed correctly so that it sets solid within the right timeframe, although a two-tube glue gun that automatically mixes up the glue for you can make the job a whole lot easier. Once the glue is in, you twist in the bolt, wipe off the excess glue to make everything nice and clean, and move on to the next one.

Unlike mechanicals, glue-in bolts need a while to set before you can hang on them, so you can’t use a bolt you’ve just placed to access the next one. With all the work involved, you can generally rebolt two 20 to 30 meter sport climbing routes in a day. 

One done, many more to go!


It goes without saying that ARFing is tough, messy work, but that’s not to say it can’t be a ton of fun, especially when your mates are glueing up a storm next to you. Plus, it’s all worth it knowing that the bolts you’re placing will be steadily catching whips for the next sixty years. 

We’re sure there are some type-two-fun folks reading this right now who are itching to get hands on a glue gun and make a contribution to the cause. Luckily, ARF is always happy to have volunteers, even if you’re a complete bolting noob.

Cormac sums it up perfectly: “It’s all just getting out there and doing the work and meeting people.” There is no big secret to becoming part of climbing history – if you want in, all you’ve got to do is ask. 

And being willing to get your hands dirty can introduce you to some true pillars of South African climbing; of his start with ARF, Brian says “I remember clearly my first ARF mission was at Lower Silvermine, and I met some huge legends of climbing there, so that helped me decide to volunteer more time to ARF.”

Brian sharing the trad psych. Photo by Cormac Tooze.
Brian in ARFing action. Photo by Cormac Tooze.

So, if you want to make a difference and meet some local legends, email Cormac at to join the fun.

We also recommend joining the MCSA so that you can keep up to date with all of their projects and upcoming meets – to join the Cape Town section, click here. To join a different section, click here and choose your location.

If you can’t volunteer your time, you can always make a donation to the fund via the MCSA’s bank details below – just make sure to include “ARF” in the reference:

Bank: Standard Bank
Branch: Cape Town
Branch Code: 020009
Account No: 071556060


Thank you to the following people for getting involved with ARF in one way or another over the years for the good of the community – we are so grateful for your hard work!

Andy Davies, Ben Bohm, Cormac Tooze, Brian Watts, Nicole Van Rooye, Alan Davie, Guy Holwill, Douw Steyn, Mike Scott, Trevor Smuts, James Parks, Myburgh Van Zijl, Andrew Caddie, Paul Prozesky, Willem Boshof, Catherine Scott, Jon Craik, Hilton Davies, Theo Elliot, Ricky de Agrela, Kevin Dingle, Matthew Bickell, Lee de Smidt, Renate Sinovich, Sean Maasch, Greg Hart, Malcolm Gowans, Steve Koehorst, Justin Lawson, Warren Gans, Charles Bowker, Robert Breyer, and many more.

(If you know someone whose name should be on this list, email!)

Cormac looking very happy with a drill.


Thanks to the magnificent work of Andy, Ben, Cormac, Brian and many more incredible volunteers, a huge number of classic routes in the Cape Peninsula have been ARFed with brand-new bolts that will last a lifetime. 

It’s pretty easy to tell if a route has been ARFed because you can see that it has shiny glue-ins instead of old mechanicals, but as a guide here are the crags that have been partially or fully ARFed so far:

• Skoorsteenskop
• Lakeside Pinnacle
• The Hole
• Silvermine (Lower, Main, Blaze of Glory, Fawlty Towers)
• Kleinmond
• Truitjieskraal
• Oudtshoorn
• Surfside
• Trappieskop
• Rocklands (Cedar Rouge, Bukkertraube)
• Peer’s Cave
• The Mine

Note that there may be some routes at these crags that have not been ARFed for one reason or another. To see which routes have been ARFed, you can also look for the yellow smiley faces next to the route names in Tony Louren’s Western Cape Rock guidebook.  

Along with replacing bolts on sport routes, ARF has also replaced and added abseil anchors on Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, put up new path signage when needed, and generally kept the climbing community up-to-date with safety issues and bolt failures.

If you would like a route to be ARFed, or if you notice some sketchy bolts, send an email to, and let the community know by making a post on our Alerts sub-forum here.

Also, be aware that a bolt failure was recently reported on Too Pumped to Come (26) at The Mine and the route has not yet been rebolted. 

Photo by Cormac Tooze.

ARF has done a tremendous amount of work over the years which has undoubtedly saved lives, and we can’t thank them enough. The best way to show our gratitude is to get involved and ensure that the torch continues to be passed on. 

So, enjoy clipping those bomber glue-ins, and consider using some of your time to do some ARFing yourself!