Ropes

Practical Tips

Uncoiling – the first time

In conventional production (not «Lap Coiled») the rope is coiled, tangle free, on drums. It is also delivered in the same coiled condition. During its first use it must be uncoiled again, otherwise annoying tangles develop. To uncoil: open the rope cord and put both lower arms through the rope coils in opposing directions. Maintaining constant pressure – twist your lower arms outwards around each other, so that the ends of the rope drop to the floor. Take care that the second end doesn’t wind itself around a wrist and prevent the turning action. After uncoiling the rope, it can be run through by hand, meter by meter, two or three times, and shaken gently in order to remove any twists. Afterwards, it is ready to be transported or stored in a rope bag. Carrying out the uncoiling procedure over a rope bag, or at home, protects the rope, from the outset, against unnecessary contamination.

Rope Bags

When sport climbing a rope bag is the best means to transport and protect the rope from dirt and keep it ready for use. One end of the rope is tied to the rope bag loop and then the loose rope can be stacked on the open tarp. The top end can now run freely to the lead climber. For carrying, the rope end is tied to the second loop of the tarp. An additional benefit of the bag is that if the free end of the rope is tied to the tarp, it can’t slip through the belay device by mistake when lowering—unfortunately this is a frequent cause of climbing accidents.

Rope management at the belay stance

Particularly with waterfalls, but also on alpine climbs, and in windy conditions, it’s important that the rope coils don’t hang down below the belay stance because they can get snagged on blocks or icicles. Experienced climbers lay the rope in alternate coils right and left over their belay rope, thigh, or foot and so always have good rope control. If the same leader continues to climb the next pitch then the rope taken in must first be completely restacked so that it runs out clean off upwards

Recovery period after a fall

After sport climbing falls the rope benefits from a rest phase. After a hard shock loading the rope should «enjoy» a recovery period and, if possible, the rope end should be alternated. In this way, the manmade fibers stretched by the fall can rejuvenate – thus, clearly increasing the rope’s life span. The rope can also be saved if you don’t stay hanging from the rope after a fall. Instead, attach yourself directly to a bolt.

Rope routing

Skillful rope routing reduces friction on the rope and your nerves. If possible, the rope should not run over sharp, rough edges, through cracks, or behind rocks, where it can get stuck, heavily worn, and in the case of a fall, can break. Intelligently placed protection can keep it away from loose rock and wet, or damp places. Widely spread protection points can be compensated for by using long runners. Even if the rope route can’t be made sufficiently straight, double rope technique can be used – particularly with «naturally protected» routes, as often found in England and the USA.

Short roping

For short, easy sections, with no danger of falling, the rope can be carried in coils over the shoulder. For that purpose, each climbing partner puts as many coils as is comfortable over their shoulder and fixes the complete bundle of coils with a cross hitch, a figure eight knot and additionally a screw gate carabiner at the tie point. If this is not done, the coils can, in a fall, tighten and strangle the climber. To remove the rope, one coil after another is taken from the shoulder, so that no tangles or knots form. Climbing difficult sections simultaneously with a «short rope» technique is possible for mountain guides, within a limited range of application. This is lethal for non-professionals. For you this means: belay correctly or climb rope free.

Rappelling

If the rope is not well coiled for throwing, knots can easily form. When rappelling in broken terrain with loose rock rappelling can cause rock fall or in high winds, throwing the ropes will likely cause them to blow around and get snagged. To avoid this, or in an awkward descent route, it can make more sense to lower your climbing partner. If, in an emergency, a Munter hitch has to be used for rappelling, the ropes should be routed in parallel to avoid tangles.

Three Person Rope Teams

Longer routes are sometimes climbed in three person teams, whereby one leader belays two seconds at the same time. If two single ropes are used, the leader must never clip both ropes into the same protection point, otherwise a dangerously high impact force can develop. For three person rope teams half ropes can be used, but never twin ropes.

Taking Rope In

The rope which is taken in should be lain on the cliff side of the anchor point in order to avoid trapping the rope’s end between the ring and the rock face.

Coiling

Coiling allows the rope to be transported without a rope bag. In order to avoid tangles the «Lap Coiling» method is recommended. Whether the doubled rope is coiled from the middle or from the ends, or as a single strand from one end; or whether you collect the rope coils in one hand, over your neck, or over your thigh whilst kneeling doesn’t matter. But, it is crucial that the rope is coiled in coils, which hang down alternately left and right, and not in loops. Do not twist out any twists that develop! When the whole rope is coiled, hold it in the middle and wrap one or two arm lengths of rope around it a few times. Pull one rope coil through the «eye» which has formed and, over the «head» of the rope and tighten. If you use this method with two rope ends, you can wear the rope like a backpack. When using the rope again, you can prevent a «bird’s nest» forming if you lay the individual coils down and stack the rope prior to climbing.

Life span - time to replace

Even some ancient ropes can still hold a «short» sport climbing fall, whilst in comparison, a brand new rope can break over a sharp edge. Therefore, the lifespan of a rope is difficult to define. It depends on the type and the length of use, on shock loading and other influences that weaken the rope. In the end, with the private user, it’s a personal safety decision. At the latest, if you no longer have confidence in your old, furry, unmanageable rope you should «down grade» it to top roping only. For commercial users keeping a rope log is recommended.

Independent of frequency of use, a rope should be disposed of if:

  1. The rope came in contact with chemicals, particularly acids.
  2. The sheath is damaged and the core is visible.
  3. The sheath is extremely worn, or particularly fuzzy.
  4. The sheath has slipped noticeably
  5. Strong deformations are present (stiffness, nicks, sponginess).
  6. The rope was subjected to extreme loads (e.g. heavy falls, clearly over fall factor 1).
  7. The rope is extremely dirty (grease, oil, tar).
  8. Heat, abrasion, or friction burns have caused damage.

The following table gives reference values for the usability of the rope:

Frequency of UseApproximate Life Span
Never used10 years maximum
Rarely used: twice per yearup to 7 years
Occasionally used: once per monthup to 5 years
Regularly used: several times per monthup to 3 years
Frequently used: each weekup to 1 year
Constantly used: almost dailyless than 1 year

Avoiding Rope Damage

Each usage reduces the life span of your rope. At some time even the best rope will reach a point when its safety reserve is too low. Before this, it will usually already have lost so much practical comfort that you will have discarded it. Extreme loading can make a rope either completely, or partially useless. Naturally, if the damage is only limited to a section near the end of the rope, it can be cut off – in this case you should remember, in future, that the center marking is no longer accurate. In order to decide by how much the safety reserves of the rope have been reduced, you should be able to evaluate the danger of various factors.

Chemical Damage

The few well known rope breakages today, are – apart from sharp edge falls – the result of chemical damage by acid. Sulphuric acid from car batteries, in particular, attacks the rope’s plastic filaments and can dissolve them. The fact that this damage cannot be detected from the outside is especially dangerous. Sheath discolouration may be barely perceptible, although the basic core can be destroyed. Therefore, ropes should be never stored near chemicals.It is difficult to estimate the potential damage of solvents; therefore the middle of a rope should never be marked with felttip pen or similar. Although a danger may be improbable, it should never be ignored

Shock Loading

Short, sport climbing falls only minimally damage a rope; it can withstand hundreds of them. If the rope end becomes stiff or rough you can cut off the damaged section. Also, bigger falls of ten or fifteen meters don’t have to mean the end for the rope, assuming a dynamic belay technique has been used. fall factor and impact force are critical for the well being of a rope. A longer fall with fall factor over 1, which is not gently braked, can clearly reduce a rope’s safety reserve. Even then it may still hold simple sport climbing falls, but can, however, break with edge loading, even over a less sharp edge, when compared with a new rope. Under no circumstance should it be used in alpine terrain or in climbing areas with rough edges. Safety oriented climbers will replace a rope after such a «heavy» fall.

Mechanical Damage

Sharp rock edges, falling rock, or a blow from an ice axe can fatally damage a rope. If the sheath is damaged so that the core is visible, or if the core filaments are also cut, you should discard the rope. Take particular care with single ropes, where there is no second strand to give redundancy.

Practical tip: When top-rope practicing on steep ice it occasionally happens that the ice axe hits the rope, with a semi-tube pick the rope can be severed. For safety, the end of the rope can be double tied in when climbing on a single rope: attach a two meter long overhand loop, with a second overhand knot and screw gate carabiner to the harness.The old rule «don’t step on the rope» still applies, although it is only likely to be damaged in an abnormal situation. However, dirt can still be forced into the rope core and affect it.

Friction

Friction against rock, and carabiners, wear the rope’s sheath along the whole length of the rope. The greater the load and the sharper the rock - the greater the wear on the rope. The load from the weight of a body when rappelling, or lowering, damages the rope more than leading and seconding without loading the rope. For reference: rappelling reduces the life span of a rope by a factor of two to three compared with normal climbing. Lowering and top roping accelerates aging by a factor of five to ten. Friction causes the small fibers in the sheath to break causing it to become rougher and fuzzy. This can make handling more difficult and increase water absorption by the rope. If the sheath is so thin that it tears in places, or allows the core to appear, the rope should be replaced.

Practical tip: The wear from abrasion in a slingshot top rope can be reduced by using two carabiners. If the anchor is set back from the edge, it should be extended by using long lengths of static rope or webbing so that the rope doesn’t run over the edge of the rock.

Friction burns

An extreme form of damage caused by friction is the friction burn. This is likely to happen when one rope rubs on another, a belay device holds an extreme fall, or if two ropes are both routed through the same anchor point, by mistake. Melting is recognisable by glassy, transparent charred, or dark colored changes to the sheath. In these places the rope is somewhat stiffer, more difficult to handle and suffers from reduced performance. With more serious friction damage, the rope should be replaced.Unnecessarily fast rappelling can cause the figure eight to become so hot that the rope melts at some points, thereby reducing its strength just at this point. Therefore, when rappelling, moderate speed makes sense.Take care in popular areas: If two teams are forced to use the same anchor then under no circumstances should the ropes use the same carabiner, so one rope cannot burn through the other. At the main anchor each team must make its own belay. You should make sure that the ropes don’t cross.

Contamination

Dirt in ropes is mostly a handling problem. It makes them stiffer and stickier. If the rope is extremely dirty, e.g. from oil, grease or tar, and cannot be cleaned by washing, for aesthetic reasons alone, it may be worth considering replacing it. Particularly dangerous contamination is caused by granite dust and sand because the quartz crystals can erode- the core fibers inside the rope – reducing the strength of the rope, especially if the rope is used for rappelling or lowering. Irregular sheath thickness and soft spots can indicate this type of damage.

Wet Ropes

When a rope is wet it is heavier and more difficult to use. If it freezes, its performance decreases. Frozen ropes may only hold half as many standard falls as dry rope, and a stiff frozen «cable» is torture to force through a descending device. Dangerous situations for freezing moisture are: glaciers softened by the sun, sudden changes in weather and wet spots on ice falls.

UV Radiation

UV radiation from the sun causes colors to fade and accelerates aging. However, the radiation to which a climbing rope is subjected in use has a negligible effect on strength, though the fibers do lose elasticity and the rope becomes stiffer. More dubious are the completely bleached rope rappel slings that can be found on some routes, though even these will normally hold a standard static load. However, caution is required if there are signs of chafing or friction burns.

Tangles

Tangles are spiral formed twists. A rope that is badly tangled is difficult to use, and when rappelling there is the danger that the strands tangle around each other. Some ropes have a natural tendency to tangle more than others; this often increases with age. However, tangles are often caused by handling mistakes. If a rope is coiled in a ring form (i.e. «mountaineers coil») it forces tangles to form. Rope can be twisted by lowering at an angle over well defined edges or by cross-wise positioned carabiners. Careful handling helps avoid this annoyance.

Practical tip: Pay attention to clean, kink free rope handling, and when taking-in use the «Lap-Coiling» method. With the Munter hitch, keep both ropes absolutely parallel! In order to get tangles out of the rope it is best to let it hang freely. Repeated stacking, pulling the rope over a gentle, dull edge, can help to remove tangles.

Rope Care

Rope Care

Every climbing rope is designed to be used, and wears during use. However, wear differs depending upon the type of use. The rope wears least, if it isn’t loaded, as with a classic ascent and descent without a fall. In this case only the sheath is chafed by friction on rock or ice, which after many years will become worn out. Heavy loading, due to awkward routing, or hauling over edges, increases abrasion and causes wear. Lowering, as when top roping, substantially increases wear. When rappelling, moderate speed is «healthier» for the rope than a fast, jerky descent.

Control

At regular intervals, or after unusual usage (rock fall, stepping on with crampons, bigger falls) you should carefully examine your rope. To do this, run the rope through your hands meter by meter and feel for bulges, hard spots and other irregularities, and look for obvious damage to the sheath. Where there are larger physical irregularities and thin or open places on the sheath, the rope should be replaced. If in doubt a good dealer will give you information about severity of the damage.

Washing – even in the machine

Dirt reduces performance and worsens the rope’s handling characteristics. If a rope becomes dirty, you can wash it either in hand warm water in the bathtub or in a normal household washing machine. Occasional washing maintains good handling and increases the life span of the rope. A mild synthetic detergent is the most suitable for this. For machine wash, the same instructions for wool should be used to take best care of the rope. Please never centrifuge and tumbledry! To dry it – lay it out in a cool, dark place, rather than hang it up.

Storage

In order to slow rope aging, the rope should be stored in a cool dark place.
Most importantly, ropes must be kept away from chemicals, particularly acids (i.e. car batteries).