The first signs of corrosion I saw was my second trip to Thailand, the bolts looked funny from the first trip.
-- Sam Lightner, Jr.

In 1991, Americans Sam Lightner Jr. and Mark Newcomb pushed the climbing around the corner to the Low Tide Wall and Par Nag Cave. On their return the following year Sam, some Thai friends and other climbers started noticing that the bolts they placed the season before were looking surprisingly rusted and corroded. Thinking that maybe they got a bad batch of steel the year before they just re-bolted the most corroded looking bolts with new stainless steel expansion bolts thinking this would do the trick.

One-Season Corrosion

Unfortunately, after another season of being installed in the cliffs those bolts also started to corrode. This new corrosion with the stainless steel bolts took Sam and friends by surprise "They were naive to the fact that stainless steel could even corrode yet alone that fast," Sam said. After closer inspection of the bolts all around the peninsula, Sam realized that this problem was not in just a few specific areas but throughout the whole place. Steps were taken to try and re-bolt as many bolts that looked corroded as possible, but in the season of 94/95 the first bolt broke with a fall. "The climber wasn't hurt, but it gave him a big scare and then after that bolts started to break regularly with falls and even with just bodyweight," Sam said.

One of the most surprising discoveries was that, in some cases, the bolts broke on the rock-side of the hanger-- which climbers are unable to see before clipping the bolt. The outer portion of the broken bolts and usually the hanger would sometimes be completely devoid of rust or any signs of corrosion. This left climbers with the theory that you could clip a perfectly shiny, good looking bolt on the outside, which is completely corroded on the inside.

We knew the bolts were corroding fast, but we needed professional help to find a solution to the problem.
-- Tom Cecil

Stumping the Professionals

Because none of us climbers were metallurgists, geologists or climatologists, we were unable to properly deal with this situation. Sam Lightner approached companies like Petzl to see if they could help to solve the problem. But to his surprise, even Petzl couldn't figure out how this problem was occurring. This left the problem to be fixed by the climbers and theories were formed to try and solve it. One theory was that the rock had something to do with the corrosion since some of the bolts were corroding inside of the holes. If the bolts could be covered or shielded some how from ever coming in contact with the rock, this might solve the problem. Enter the stainless steel glue-in bolt.

Glue-in bolts use an epoxy that is placed or pumped into the hole before placement of the bolt. This epoxy will cover or cocoon the bolt inside the hole to hopefully shield the metal from ever making contact with the rock. Unfortunately this technique didn't work, although it did lengthen the life of the bolt. But even the glue-in bolts would eventually succumb to corrosion.

Although this was a blow to the Thailand climbing community, new theories were thought up and more attention was given to this problem. Metallurgists were consulted, climbing companies were called back, climbers bought higher grade steels like surgical A-4 steel, 316L stainless steel and marine-grade steels. But unfortunately none of this seemed to work. The metallurgist said the higher grade steels should have worked, but without years of study and a big bank role, they could not tell us why the bolts were corroding.

Stainless Steel Anchor Ring Warning:

*During the Thaitanium Projects re-bolting of the Cat Wall on Tonsai Beach in early 2013, a stainless steel anchor ring was found to have Stress Corrosion Crack, the same type of corrosion found in the climbing bolts.*

Since the start of the Thaitanium Project a dialog regarding the use of stainless steel anchor rings has been debated. At the time there were no reported cases of stress corrosion cracking (the same type of corrosion found in the climbing bolts) in any of the anchor rings. The popular thought was that the steel rings were not seeing the same levels of corrosive elements as the bolts. There was an effort to reach out to metallurgist and another professionals about the use of these rings and there was very little they could answer for us with out years of research. By 2010 most, if not all of the climbs in Railay Bay already had anchors with the stainless steels rings. The decision was made to continue the use of the anchor ring set up and to keep an eye on it.

During the re-bolting of the Cat Wall in early 2013 the Thaitanium Project found server cracking in one of the routes anchor rings. Not knowing exactly what to think and not wanting to jump to any conclusions, a few photos of the cracked ring were sent to the Thaitanium Project's metallurgy team. It was unclear of the history of where the ring came from and if it was even stainless steel. Also because of the cracks close proximity to the weld, we were unsure if the cracking was from a defect in the welding. It was decided that the rings would be taken to the United States for analysis and tested at a metallograph facility. Serval tests were carried out to see if it was in fact stress corrosion cracking (SCC), what type of steel it was and if the cracking was caused by improper welding.

Unfortunately, the tests confirmed that the anchor ring was made out of stainless steel (SS), the corrosion had nothing to do with the welding and it was SCC. It was everything we didn't want to hear. In fact, in the final report the lab tech said that it was the most cracking in stainless steel she had ever seen! Because the ring was SS and it had nothing to do with the welding meant that the unique combination of elements that cause the devastating corrosion in the bolts is now corroding the anchor rings. Which in turn means that every single ring will need to be changed.

So where do we go from here? Well because of the hard work of the few dedicated folks at the Thaitanium Project we have the resources and the infrastructure to deal with this problem. We are working with Titan Climbing, a new titanium climbing gear manufacture and have already started the production of grade 2 Titanium anchor rings. During the 2014 season saw over a 100 Ti rings placed on over 50 pitches. We will use the same fund raising techniques to pay for the rings as we are doing with the bolts. So if you purchase the DVD, T-shirt or any other swag it will go to help fund the removal and replacement of all stainless steel anchor rings with Titanium.

There are a couple things you can do as well. If you are climbing in Railay Bay or any other area in Southern Thailand and are using anchor rings please take the time to visually inspect the rings for any discoloration (rust) or cracking. If you see anything that looks suspicious, back the rings up with a carabiner and report it to the closest climbing school or on the Thaitanium Project's website. Unfortunately with SCC you can't always see the cracking, this is because the cracking is on the inside of the steel where you will not be able to see any rust. So if you feel it necessary, again back the anchor rings up with a carabiner.

Now I would like to remind everyone that we have just found one ring with SCC. This doesn't mean these rings are going to start falling out of the sky. With that said, it would be wise to use caution when using any Stainless Steel Anchor rings.

Stay safe and clip the red glue!

Josh Lyons - Founder of the Thaitanium Project

Stainless steel anchor rings

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New Titanium anchor ring

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