You shouldn't have to turn around on that secret climbing spot you hiked several miles to get to because you can't find an anchor. Hand hammer drill kits, also known as bolt kits, allow rock climbers to drill an emergency anchor directly into the face of a rock. These drills don't rotate like a wood drill. Instead, a chisel tip hammers away at the bottom of the hole you're drilling and chips away at the rock.
Bolt kits are popular for big-wall climbers who regularly head off the beaten path. They're frowned upon for regularly traveled walls, since the bolts become permanent fixtures on an otherwise natural stone face. Bolt kits are also common in areas of softer rock like sandstone, where your cam anchors aren't always reliable. Bolt kits are ideal as emergency protection, since they provide a secure anchor point in areas where you can't correctly place a cam.
Bolt Kit Shakedown
The basic bolt kit contains a hammer, a drill bit holder, drill bits, a round brush and blow tube for cleaning out drill holes, slings and rings for your anchors, and a wrench for your bolts. For harder rock, Jeff Achey of Climbing Magazine suggests taking four 3/8 x 2 1/2-inch stainless wedge bolts, one longer 3/8 x 3 1/2-inch, one 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch sleeve bolt and four hangers. Softer rock like sandstone will need most of the wedge bolts to be replaced with sleeve bolts, and requires three angle pitons of different sizes. Of course, this kit can vary depending on the difficulty of your climb and the height you're covering. Just as with cams, it's important to have a variety of bolts available so you don't get stuck on the wall with the incorrect size.
Drilling an anchor takes practice; be sure to perfect the technique on the ground before you rely on it during a climb. A hand hammer drill works by setting a drill bit inside a drill holder. As you hammer the back of the drill holder, the bit turns 1/4 of a rotation against the rock, chipping away a cylindrical hole that you can use to set a bolt and hanger. Hammer firmly, and keep the sides of your hole uniform as you drill into the rock at a perpendicular angle. Use the blow tube and brush to clean out debris as you go; grit in the hole will make for a loose bolt. It should take you about a half-hour to drill a single bolt hole.
Slide a hanger onto one of your bolts and set it in your hole. If you can set the bolt with your hands, your hole is too large and will need to be re-drilled. You should have to hammer your bolt in for a secure anchor. After you hammer your bolt in, tighten it using your wrench with a few good turns. If your bolt is loose, remember to plug your hole with grit and epoxy. Never leave a loose bolt in the wall, as another climber might mistake it for a solid anchor.
Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.