Joe Brown removes bolts from retro-bolted line in Dinorwig Quarries

Veteran rock star Joe Brown (now in his 80s) has removed a number of bolts from one of his routes in the Dinorwig slate quarries. It turns out that the route had been retro-bolted, not once, but twice!

On the face of it this sounds like a classic case of an old school traditionalist taking a symbolic stand against the spread of bolts. The truth is less controversial but still interesting nonetheless as it does illustrate the ethical parameters within which we all climb.

To understand how it all happened it is best to go back to 2002, a time when the slate quarries were considerably quieter than they have been since the 2006/7 re-equipping campaign and the arrival last autumn of the new Llanberis Slate guide. Back then anybody wandering into the quarries was unlikely to meet any other climbers, especially if they strayed away from Vivian, Bus Stop or the Rainbow Slab area.

Joe had started picking off a few lines on the Skyline buttress in Australia Upper with his good friend Jim Lyon. After establishing a VS and HVS in early February, Joe and Jim returned at the end of the month and climbed Antiquity VS 4c

This was written up on the Pete’s Eats website with the following description:

Start up Act Naturally to a grass ledge at 7 metres. Traverse left onto the crest of the buttress. Climb direct passing 2 protection pegs. Finish up the bay on the left.

Somehow (perhaps because of the grading anomaly; a VS route seemed unlikely through such bold and open territory) this then changed in the production of the first Llanberis Slate script in 2006 to:

Antiquity VS 4c [26.2.02]

From the ledge half way up Act Naturally, make a traverse out left, rising slightly past two pegs to finish up Menhir.

During the re-equipping campaign the pegs were replaced with bolts and a new bolt was added to protect the upper groove – it was felt to be about E1 5a with the bolts.

Unaware of the confusion over the line Chris Davies innocently added some sportingly placed bolts and climbed The Skyline Club, an E2 5b/c which dissects what, at the time, was thought to be the line of Antiquity.

“Last year, after the Llanberis Slate guide was produced Joe called me and expressed his dismay at how his route had been changed and to explain how the description in the guide was incorrect. Joe made it clear that he wasn’t against the new wave of sport routes; in fact he had enjoyed many of the new clip ups and felt very positive about the rejuvenation of the quarries. He was upset though that one of the last first ascents he had done had been retroed.”

“Joe said he would go with his friend Davey Howard-Jones and remove the bolts and restore the route to its original form – this week that is exactly what has happened.”

Said Si Panton, guide editor.

“Yesterday the unnecessary bolts were removed and the route is now exactly as originally climbed. The so called direct finish is in fact part of the original route.

“There are two pegs in the route, one of which is the original and one a replacement. The latter is stainless steel. Apart from this protection there are a number of runners including a large flake near the first peg.

“The reason for starting up ‘Act Naturally’ was to access a runner to protect the initial section.”

“As requested I will be leaving the bolt hangers at the Joe Brown shop for collection by Chris Davies.”

Explained Joe today.

The Skyline Club remains unclimbed in its current condition – the grade is unknown.

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