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How Safe are Fixed Pins?  
How Safe are Fixed Pins?

by Aram Attarian, Chair Carolina Climbers’ Coalition
Over the past couple of years members of the Carolina Climber’s Coalition have systematically replaced over 300 bolts and fixed pins throughout climbing areas in North Carolina. Stone Mountain, Pilot Mountain, and Crowder’s Mountain State Parks have received most of the attention. Looking Glass Rock, Table Rock and Ship Rock have also received some attention.

The primary goal of the rebolting project were to replace existing bolts and fixed pins with 1/2" stainless steel Petzl Long Life Bolts (protection bolts) and 1/2" Fixe ring anchors at all belay/rappel stations. Top rope anchors were also installed in some areas to mitigate damage to trees being used for anchors. These modern fixed anchors add consistency to the protection available, require little maintenance, and introduce a stronger bolt designed specifically for rock climbing. The addition of new belay/rappel/top rope anchors should reduce environmental and social impacts by eliminating the need to place slings around trees and leave unsightly rap slings on bolts or at belay stations.

Fixed pins were also removed. Some of the fixed pins were over 30 years old, and represented a variety of types, materials, and manufacturers. Pitons are seldom used in modern free climbing, but were used quite frequently by climbers prior to the 1970s when "clean climbing" techniques and equipment were introduced. Some of these fixed pins are still in use and should be of concern to climbers . . . . .

As we removed fixed pins we began to notice that while the piton eye was intact and in good condition, the blade on every piton showed signs of serious damage and deterioration. Damage can be attributed to the age of the pin and the action of rain and weather on the blade. This was a real eye-opener for all of us involved in the project. We had been clipping these bolts for years without any real consideration to their integrity. The blade on each pin was so badly damaged that none would have held a fall . . . One pin was so badly rusted that the blade crumbled while being handled. The blade of another had the consistency of a potato chip! It was doubtful any of the pins removed would have held a fall!

Like bolts, pitons do not last forever and should be inspected and replaced on a periodic basis. Although a pin may look "good" on the outside, it may be badly damaged on the inside. Consider removing old fixed pins since it may be possible to protect the move or set up an anchor using modern, clean protection. If this isn’t possible remove the suspect pin and replace it with another pin or bolt (consider checking with the first ascentionist and get their permission before replacing with a bolt).

Climbers, before clipping any fixed pin consider the following:

    • Always visually and manually inspect the pin before clipping into it:
      • check the eye for cracks, is it broken, or badly rusted?
      • is the pin over-driven?
      • is the pin loose enough t o remove by hand?
      • is it bent?
    • And consider the following:
      • Loose or marginal pins can be checked by attaching a sling and giving a few good jerks (make sure you’re clipped in when you do this).
      • Ideally, the pin should be fixed perpendicular to the direction of pull.
      • When possible back-up all suspect pins.