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Climbing Ropes

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Ropes and Webbing

Buying a rope designed for climbing is very important. Balance the relative importance of various features according to the type of climbing activity the rope will be used for. Ropes that are rated at thousands of pounds (but not designed for climbing) may not be adequate. When shopping for a new rope, keep in mind the following demands that climbing has on ropes:
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Rope Types

Single Climbing Ropes
Single ropes are designed to be 'life dependent'. 'Life dependent' is a common term used in climbing which indicates if a certain device is designed (and strong enough) to protect your life. 'Non-Life dependent' items include cords for holding your gear etc.

Single dynamic climbing ropes typically cost between 100 USD and 200 USD and generally measure 9-11 mm.

Double Rope System (aka Half Ropes)
Double Rope Systems is when you use two ropes and clip them on independent pieces of protection. Double Rope Systems are primarily used to reduce drag. They are also popular for alpine use where two ropes may be required to descend a route.

Double Rope Systems use thinner ropes (generally between 8 and 9 mm). Double Rope Systems are more expensive than single rope systems. The belay technique required for double rope systems is more technical than single ropes.

Twin Rope System
Though this system is rare, twin ropes involve clipping two thinner ropes into each piece of protection.

Twin Rope Systems use thinner ropes (generally between 8 and 9 mm). Twin ropes require more expense and more complex belay technique than single ropes.

Rope Characteristics

Dynamic versus Static
If you are purchasing a rope for general climbing use (top rope, lead climbing etc.) you must have a dynamic climbing rope. Dynamic ropes are designed to absorb the energy of a falling climber, and are usually used as belaying ropes. When a climber falls, the rope stretches, reducing the maximum force experienced by the climber, the belayer, and the equipment.

Static ropes are more durable and resistant to abrasion and cutting than dynamic ropes, but they lack the necessary protection against shock loads produced in a leader fall. Static ropes are designed for rappelling, rescue purposes and technical climbing situations (i.e. Big Walls). If you take a fall on a static rope you risk injury or death (due to high forces). Logic: Force = mass * acceleration => Force = mass * ((change in velocity) / time) => a dynamic rope increases 'time' and therefore decreases force.

Dry versus Non-Dry
Soggy ropes are heavier and less able to absorb falls. In cold conditions, absorbed water can freeze and make a rope weak and unmanageable.

Dry-treated ropes last longer than non-dry ropes and are easier to handle when wet. However, they are not completely waterproof, and treatments do wear off over time. (Wash-in products are available for re-waterproofing your rope).

Non-dry ropes are less expensive and ideal for use in dry conditions.

Single climbing ropes are typically between 9mm - 11mm in diameter. 'Single Ropes' are progressively becoming thinner and lighter due to progress in technology. ‘Half Ropes’ and ‘Twin Ropes’ vary between 8mm and a little over 9mm.

The correlation between weight and diameter is a loose one, so if your concern is weight, look at weight, not diameter.

Weight is typically listed as total weight or weight per meter. These days light ropes weigh in at less than 60 grams while heavier ropes can be as much as 80 grams. Keep in mind that a thinner diameter rope is not necessarily lighter. Climbing ropes are often created denser to decrease the diameter.

Single climbing ropes are typically between 50 meters and 70 meters. Talk to your local gear store (or local climbers) about the ideal length for your area. A 60 meter rope is ideal for most areas.

Choose a rope length depending on the types of routes you typically climb.
Longer ropes allow longer pitches and rappels; however, shorter ropes weigh less and take up less space.

UIAA Falls
'UIAA Falls' is a standardized rating that every climbing rope receives from the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme), which has established standard testing procedures to measure how a rope reacts to severe falls. This concept is confusing to most new climbers. If your rope is rated at 8 'UIAA Falls' it may withstand (a lot) more than 8 falls*. 'UIAA Falls' create a worst case scenario and repeats it until rope failure. Details are available at the UIAA website.

*One fall can do core damage to a rope. Always inspect your rope.

UIAA falls are calculated with an 80 kg (176 lbs) weight for single ropes and a 55 kg (122 lbs) for half and twin ropes.

Impact Force
'Impact Force' is measured in kilonewtons. 'Impact Force' is the amount of force the climber can receive after taking a fall (worst case scenario). Low maximum impact force means the rope (not the climber or the protection) absorbs more of the energy generated in a fall. However, such ropes stretch more, increasing your chances of hitting the ground or a ledge.

Static Elongation
Static elongation is the stretch of a rope when weighted with an 80 kg load (176 lbs). Ropes with low static elongation stretch less (useful in aid climbing). Higher static elongation means ropes have more stretch (cushioning the impact of a fall).

Parts of a Rope
There are two main parts of a climbing rope.
This is the external layer of the climbing ropes. The mantle or sheath is designed to protect the kern or 'core' of the rope. Different than climbing ropes developed 10 years ago, the sheath currently is designed to be weight bearing. Therefore having a cut sheath decreases the overall strength of the climbing rope (as opposed to old climbing ropes where it would mainly decrease durability).

The kern or 'core' of a climbing rope is a series of strands inside the climbing rope that provide the majority of the rope's strength and dynamic characteristics. A 'core shot' is slang for damage to a section of the kern. A rope is only as strong as its weakest point. 'Core shots' can occur when the rope is weighted over an edge.

Rope Marks & Patterns

Middle Mark
This is typically a black mark in the middle of the climbing rope. This is extremely useful when finding the middle of the rope (i.e. while rappelling). You can mark your own using a piece of tape or sewing string (wrap it around the middle of rope). Many markers (including sharpies) can weaken your rope.

How to find the middle of your rope
Finding the middle of the rope in the dark

Well actually there are a bizarre number of reasons why you can't find the middle of a rope by just looking at it. The piece of tape fell off, the ink faded, you are beginning to hallucinate due to exhaustion or you just can't seem to spot the gray spot on your rope (it happens). I still wonder why rope companies haven't made the rope yet that has arrows every feet pointing towards the middle and a huge multicolor florescent mark in the middle that does not fade (we send people to the moon, can't we stop the middle marker from fading?). And for extra credit do something at both 20ft marks so you don't miss that owe *beep* length of rope where you are forced to learn what simul-climbing is on demand.

So why do you need to know where the middle of the rope is?

When you are rappelling you want to make sure you have the same amount of ropes on both sides so you can rappel as far as possible. If the route has permanent anchors and you don't know where the middle of the rope is, you have a good chance of running into one of the backup knots (please use backup knots) before you get to the anchor. This really sucks.

How to find the middle of the rope 'Manually'?

First of all be paranoid. Tie a 'figure-eight on a bight' somewhere in the rope (anywhere but near the ends) and clip your rope to the anchor in case you drop it. Place one end of the rope through the anchor. Put both ends of the rope together (holding them in one hand). Now begin pulling both sides of the rope at the same time. Continue this until both sides are taught against the anchor. By doing this you know that there is exactly the same amount of rope on either side of the anchor.

Start rappelling, find the next anchor. Clip in. Backup the rope. Pull the rope and repeat the process.

How to mark the middle of your rope
Avoid using tape or sharpies. I like to use sewing thread because it will not harm the rope. 8 to 10 tight turns will normally do the trick. The thread will pass through the belay device just fine. If the thread wears out or slips just replace it. The most important issue is that this method will not harm the rope at all.

20 foot marks
This is typically a set of black marks 20 feet from both ends of the rope. This is useful when you are climbing long pitches and need to warn your climber when they are running low on rope.

Bicolor ropes have a change in pattern or in color halfway along the rope. This is particularly useful in sport climbing or single pitch climbing where the leader will be lowered off of a top anchor to the ground. The change in pattern alerts the belayer when the halfway point is reached, so they won't come up short or lower their partner off the end of the rope by accident.

Inspecting Ropes for Damage
Inspecting a climbing rope for damage is not a simple process to describe. Knowing the history of your climbing rope is critical. The durability of a rope depends on how often you use it and how often you fall.

Do not buy used climbing ropes. Exposing your ropes to acids, certain chemicals, urine and other items can retire your rope. Extensive sun exposure also decreases the strength of a rope. Water will temporarily decrease the overall strength of your climbing rope (while it is wet). Sandy environments also can decrease the life of a rope due to sand being trapped in core of the rope.

All climbing ropes' sheaths will lightly fray due to abrasion, but you do want to look for sheath damage, such as cuts, that compromise the rope's abilities.

The core of a rope can be inspected by pinching a bend of rope, between your fingers. If you feel a spot where the rope seems to 'flatten' you may have core damage. Continue pinching the rope until you have checked each section of the rope.

The ends of the rope (where you tie-in) typically receive the most wear. Therefore some climbers cut off the ends of their rope on occasion.
Climbing Rope Life
The life of a climbing rope is a very popular question. The short answer is that it depends on how you use your rope, how careful you are with it, how durable of a rope you purchased and how often you fall on it. Always inspect your rope for damage and if there is any doubt about the safety of a climbing rope retire it.

Even if your rope shows no visible signs of wear, consider these basic guidelines for rope retirement:

- Occasional Use (every other weekend or so) — Replace after three to four years

- Consistent Weekend Climbing — Replace after one to two years

- Sport Climbing — Repeated, short falls can be very hard on a rope. Replace about every six months up to a year.

- Hard Falls — Replace your rope after ANY hard fall. Also replace it if it has flat or soft spots, becomes stiff or shows sheath damage.

- In Doubt? — If you're not sure, replace it!

Rope bag
Rope Bags provide protection from the elements when storing and carrying climbing ropes. Most rope bags convert into a tarp. This provides you with a clean area to place the rope while belaying.

Wash Rope
You can wash your rope in a washing machine. To avoid doing damage to your rope, put your rope in a pillow case and tie it shut prior to washing your rope. Make sure you wash your rope using the 'cold' setting. Consult your climbing rope company regarding acceptable detergents / washing machines.

Contributors: marks
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