Girl Bolting - Interview with Colette McInerney
Colette McInerney, aka pro climber Joe Kinder’s better half, has recently taken up a drill and joined the boys in developing new routes the hard way. Not too many girls are known for putting up new routes, especially those that require aid climbing with power tools, so I emailed Colette to ask her a few questions about why she started bolting and what it is like. She was hesitant, as she is very new to bolting and doesn’t want to take away from the girls who have done more, but she agreed to share her early experiences with the rest of us who are curious about just what it would take to put up our own routes.
CFH: Thanks for talking with us Colette! So, what inspired you to start bolting?
CM: I wrote a piece about the bolters in the St George area a couple of years ago. I guess I’ve always been a little fascinated by the people that bolt, and why they do it. My boyfriend Joe was definitely a big catalyst. He has been bolting a ton the last few years. He was always messing with me and telling me how “easy” it is to try and convince me to just try it. We also knew we were coming back to an area where we had climbed a lot and we were looking for some new potential for routes. I knew if we embarked on any of these new walls, I was going to have to learn how to bolt or I’d just be sitting around.
CFH: What was your first bolting experience like?
CM: Since I’ve really have only had first experiences, it’s pretty fresh in my mind. It was like many things you do for the first time, intimidating, and then more doable than you pictured. Then there were some unwelcomed hard things about it, and finally it was really rewarding in the end.
Colette lookin’ fashionable, as usual. You can read her fashion column in Urban Climber.
CFH: Isn’t that drill heavy?
CM: Ha, yes! But actually Joe has a couple of really light drills (Bosch 36V, Dewalt 24V), so they are probably lighter than some drills used in the past. I could hold it with one hand, but then again I’m pretty strong (haha) [ed. no, really, Colette is pretty strong. She has climbed routes up to mid 5.13]. The hammering and bolt tightening proved more difficult than the actual drilling for me. Turns out I’m pretty uncoordinated when it comes to hammer/nail/eye/hand coordination. I was always whacking my hands on stuff! Your knuckles get really crunked up.
CFH: Ouch. Sounds…fun? So how did you pick your route?
CM: The one in Ely had an obvious tufa feature half way up the route, so it was an aesthetically obvious pick. The other was a line on a face in a newer area. I knew it was would an easy for a first line to bolt, considering it wasn’t too steep and I could rap off a neighboring routes anchors. I actually didn’t know if it would be any good. It was really cool to see it comes together and be a great line.
Colette up high prepping her new route.
CFH: So do you clean it before or after you bolt?
CM: You can clean a bit while you’re bolting, as you’re getting an idea of where the route will go and how it will climb, like knocking off little crozzlies. But I did the majority of cleaning after I got all the bolts in. You still don’t know exactly were the route will go until you’re climbing on it.
CFH: Makes sense. So you could put the bolts in the wrong place by accident then. I guess having a lot of climbing experience would help because you’d have an easier time seeing the line. Did you bolt on lead or rap the line first?
CM: I did both the when Joe was teaching me. We set up a mini top rope system so I could understand rap bolting, then afterwards I put a few bolts in on lead. I was using removable bolts when I was lead bolting which I’m guessing are a little easier than lead bolting on gear or hooks or something, scary! My next route I did all rap bolting because it wasn’t too steep and I had an anchor already in place.
CFH: How do you choose where to put the bolts? Do you search for clipping positions? Or do you just guess based on distance from bolt to bolt and the approximate line you want to take?
CM: Yeah that’s definitely a hard part and something I’m sure you get better at over time. It’s kind of a guessing game for sure. I mean, you try to get an idea of where you’ll clip from but sometimes the route looks like it could go two different ways. Sometimes holds you thought you would use you don’t even touch. It definitely made me think more about judging other people’s routes. At that stage in the development everything is in the air. I think it’s the bolters responsibility to make changes to the route afterwards if something needs to be fixed or a bolt should be moved because it’s dangerous or in a really bad spot. But I can understand how bolters are like “well that clipping stance is fine,” because not every bolt will be in a perfect place.
Colette chillin’ with some coffee
CFH: It seems like it’d be a pretty hard job. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you criticize, huh? Do you feel safe climbing on bolts you placed? Is there some added mental security or insecurity from climbing on your own bolts?
CM: I feel pretty safe on bolts in general. It isn’t often you hear about bolts just snapping off routes. Usually that kind of gear is obviously corroded to the eye. I think putting in bolts, if anything, reemphasizes the durability of hardware you’re putting in the wall. I could maybe see myself scrutinizing bolts placements in the future more, and feeling safer depending on the type of bolt used. But putting in the bolt itself isn’t so technical, those things aren’t going anywhere.
CFH: That’s comforting to hear. Beforehand, did you practice placing bolts and using the drill? Where and how?
CM: Yes, I practiced on a more chossy cliff in Ely, NV where I wasn’t afraid to mess up some nice Ceuse line on the wall. We set up a top rope system on some older abandoned anchors and I bolted a couple of holes top down. I wasn’t too high off the ground so Joe could easily coach me through the process.
CFH: What should people do if they’d like to learn to bolt and don’t have someone to teach them?
CM: Well I think you need someone to teach you on some level. My advice would be to find out who is bolting in your community and at least have a conversation with them about the basics of bolting and the best kind of hardware to use. I think the people who bolt in most communities are open to answering questions about bolting and making sure people who are interested are doing it the right way.
CFH: Makes sense. And it sounds like a cool job. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
CM: Yeah, I’d like to make a full disclosure about my bolting experience. I’ve only bolted like one route in my whole life, so I’m definitely no bolting guru. There are a lot of people that have been bolting for a long time and don’t get much recognition. When I did a short piece on FFA’s I asked some of the women why more women didn’t bolt, and I got a variety of answers, from the fact that the drill was too heavy to the idea that most women didn’t necessarily identify with that branch of the climbing community. Mainly I think it’s a numbers game. There are a ton of men who have never put in a bolt, and with the male to female ratio it’s not surprising more women haven’t bolted. Not to mention the fact I think most men start bolting is because they climb themselves out of areas and bolting is the only way out. These days I have a lifetime of climbing in most areas, there’s not much need for me to bolt. Most people don’t wake up like I want to go bolt today, they do it because they don’t have anything to climb on.
CFH: Ha ha. Thanks Colette!