How to Make Your Climbing Rope Last Longer
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to use a lot of ropes. In that time, I have learned how to destroy them and how to make them last. Since ropes don’t grow on trees and due to the fact that all of us fall more than we like, I want to share with you a few techniques to make your ropes last longer. If you are like me, you use your rope in a variety of ways:
- I use static lines for rappelling, rap bolting, fixing and cleaning new climbs or multi-pitch climbs, for mini tractioning and even for Tyrolean traverses.
- I use my lead lines for top roping, working routes and for red point attempts
Each of these disciplines places a variety of stresses on our ropes and by understanding those stresses, you can do your best to eliminate and increase the lifespan of your rope.
When you are rapping over a sharp edge you are definitely going to stress your line no matter what, but the greatest stress comes from the sliding back and forth over that edge. Whether you are using a static or dynamic rope you have to do your best to stop the lateral sliding of the rope. That motion can saw your line in half no matter how new or thick it is.
So what can you do to lessen the stress?
If you are leaving the line up for a later use and you will be ascending and rappelling on it regularly, you can add a protective removable tube over the edge. Sterling makes the Safeguard rope protector for exactly this purpose. If you don’t want to spend the extra money, you could also use a garden hose cut long ways and leave it attached with a prussic. You can easily remove it while lowering or while ascending. Another possibility is to attach something to the wall over the edge. I have seen carpet, floor mats, duct tape all doing a fine job. Lastly, you can try to move the rope into a notch or crack where it is resting. One final point to remember is that you need to be sure to be using carabiners and belay devices that are not grooved out. This causes extra wear on the rope and leads to damaging your rope. All of these methods will increase the lifespan of your line and keep you safer.
SafeGuard Rope Protector in-use.
Rope wedged around a natural feature to keep it from rubbing.
Carpet wedged between rope and rock to prevent abrasion.
Taped rock where it meets rope to prevent rubbing.
This involves rappelling, ascending and swinging around laterally from side to side a lot. If you put in a lot of natural protection you can keep the rope from grinding against the wall. If there are no places for natural protection then you will want to try to identify where your natural protection or bolts will go before you drill and place them from the top. This way you can clip into them with a quickdraw or carabiner if you are at the top of the wall and find that your rope isn’t hanging where you want it. It is always worth moving it so that you decrease the risk of a big lateral swing. Again, be aware of the edges from your anchor and use the suggested tips from above if necessary. If the pitch is long I will also short fix the rope to the wall in order to eliminate any rope rock rubbing. It is easy to add a short fix (a clove hitch to protection) just above and below a section where extra wear and tear may occur. This also allows you to see the wear from the protection which allows you to assess its safety before ascending or rappelling past.
I never leave any extra line stacked at the bottom of the wall. That is where the rocks fall and I want to avoid that damage. So pull up the extra line to the first anchor and so it is free from rock fall stack and I leave it there. Additionally, I avoid the areas mentioned above and attempt to fix lines in the shortest and straightest path. Ropes are meant to hang plumb (straight down) so rig them in that way. If you are fixing lines in a windy area you have to be concerned about the rope rubbing in mysterious places. This is extremely dangerous because you may be ascending the line and not know what condition it is in. That is when you need to add enough short fixes to eliminate any possible rubbing over corners and edges.
Short fix (clove hitch on draw): with two bolts short fxed to demonstrate how to leave a loop around a small roof or near a place where potential rubbing could occur.
Most, but not all devices have teeth. Every time you hang, rest or fall while mini tracking you dig those teeth into the rope which in turn wears out your line. My suggestion is to keep the rope hanging in a way that prevents your weight from creating a dangerous situation (rubbing against the rock) and use a device that does not have teeth. There are a number of them available. I also only minitrack on static lines. This decreases the stretch that you will get from a dynamic rope (which adds up to wear and tear over time) and keeps you closer to where you rested when you need to.
Use pulleys not just carabiners! Carabiners all have different widths which increase the wear and tear on a rope quickly. If you find that you need to use a Tyrolean traverse often, buy a pulley. It will make your life a ton easier.
Sterling Mini Single Pulley.
This is by-far where most ropes get their use and abuse. First off, use a rope bag and keep dirt off your line. It may not be obvious, but all that dirt shortens the life of your rope. If you get your rope dirty consider washing your rope with Rope Wash and let it completely dry before your nest use. Use large carabineers at the top rope anchor. They normally have the largest diameter and that decreases wear. Most new carabineers are thin and small, these should not be used for top roping.
While leading you can really do some damage. First off, lead with newer carabiners. Old and worn ones can and will core shot a brand new rope even during a short fall. If you are climbing on routes with fixed draws it is your best interest to hang your own draws (even though we know that is a pain in the butt). Work routes with a thicker diameter rope and attempt to red point with your thinner line if you have two. Avoid taking large falls for fun. When you are working a climb, think about the possible sequence and try to identify all options before repeated throwing yourself at the difficulty that lies ahead. Be sure to have your belayer provide soft catches so that you decrease the fall factor each time you whip. Don’t take thin lines on big walls, the edges and variety of terrain that you encounter will lay waste to any thin rope. Rappel off of routes rather than being lowered (I know it takes longer) but it will save the anchors and give your rope a longer life. Lastly, pull the rope through and lead off the other end every time that you lead. Do not lead on the same end of the rope over and over, this wears out the one side which will ultimately lead to you having to cut the rope.
I hope these suggestions improve the life of your rope and add to you and your partner’s safety on the rock!
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