Everything you wanted to know about rope replacement

About a month ago there was an injury at Red River Gorge when a climbing rope was accidentally cut by a worn carabiner. There has been quite a bit of useful commentary on the accident. If you haven’t already, you can read about it here and also about Black Diamond’s testing on the dangers of rope worn carabiners here.

This injury got me thinking about available information on gear retirement. A simple web search for “when to retire climbing gear” will yield numerous results from the internet’s vast legions of “experts.” Most of the information that comes up is comprised of unsubstantiated personal opinions and a lot of the advice is conflicting. In order to clarify what information is really out there I compiled a list of some manufacturer recommendations for gear testing and retirement. This research originated from my own questions and from not being satisfied with the answers available. Some manufacturers give better information than others and some recommendations are so buried and difficult to find that you would think it’s not an important issue. I hope that by compiling this information, you can profit from my curiosity.

This post is the first in a series of where to find information about checking your Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). In this article I will cover climbing ropes. In future articles I will cover:

· Harnesses

· Quickdraws, Carabiners, Daisychains and Slings

The major take away message across all manufacturers is when in doubt, throw it out.

The catch all answer to “when should I retire my rope?” is always that “it depends on use.” Your rope is perhaps your most vital piece of gear. In order to ensure your safety, you never want to use a rope that has been compromised, but what exactly constitutes compromise? Things to look out for include excessive wear to the sheath and loss of core integrity. Both of these problems can be easily identified by proper rope inspection (more info below). As long as you continue to monitor your rope and care for it properly, it should keep you safe for years to come, though most manufacturer’s agree that any rope should be retired after 10 years, regardless of use. Another helpful overview was detailed by the British Mountaineering Council Technical Committee who remind us that ropes don’t break out of the blue, though they can get cut.

Our Experience

We recently retired our Edelweiss Axis 10.3 and here is its history:

· Purchased in March 2008

· March 2008-January 2010: used for weekend climbing with extensive top roping and few lead falls.

· February-March 2010: used 4-5 times per week for two months while sport climbing with regular lead falls.

· Stored in humid conditions with no use two months

· June–August 2010: used 1-2 times per week with regular lead falls.

· August 2010: retired

I estimate approximately 150 days of climbing over three years, maybe more maybe less. I haven’t kept a rope journal but I think it is pretty accurate. What we saw that made us uncomfortable was a flat spot about 5 meters from one end and a lot of fuzziness on both ends of the rope. The flat spot wasn’t as bad as what you see in the links below but it was enough for us to be concerned. The fuzziness was probably not a safety issue but did affect rope handling.If we were at home I would have cut off the end and used it for top roping. I wish I had pictures to add but the rope has since been disposed of.

Interestingly the Edelweiss website is the most difficult to navigate and I was unable to find any manufacturer recommendations for rope retirement specifics. It might be on there but not in English.

Manufacturer Recommendations

A good starting point for climbers at all levels of experience is Mammut’s website. In one document it has all the information necessary for you to become acquainted with just about everything related to climbing ropes. It is particularly useful if you have never purchased a rope before and need to sift through the types of ropes available, recommendations based on the climbing you intend on doing, and help deciding what rope to buy. The site also clearly identifies testing procedures and definitions so you can better understand what all the safety ratings mean. Not to mention care, maintenance and handling instructions.

Click here to see Mammut’s rope recommendations. (PDF link)

Sterling rope has some great information about the rope making process and a cool video of some pro climbers at the factory. You can watch the video here. If you want to know what Sterling recommends for their ropes click here.

Beal is another rope maker that has a lot of information about understanding what the specifications of each rope actually mean for use. One nice feature of Beal ropes is the product registration site. With most manufacturers recommending ropes be retired at 10 years regardless of use it’s hard to know how long it has been sitting in inventory waiting to be sold. Beal takes care of that guess work and tells you everything you need to know. Upon entering the code on the end of your rope it tells you the manufacturing date, store it was sold to, and all of your ropes specs. This includes their suggested end of life dates for the type of climbing you do. They also have an absolute must retire by date.

Here is a link to the pdf of the registration info from our new Beal rope from the Beal registration site.

Perhaps the most useful of all is this pdf from Beal that has pictures of what retirement worthy wear and tear on a rope actually looks like. The image below is a snapshot from that file.

Petzl is another PPE manufacturer that takes safety information seriously. If you have a Petzl rope or any Petzl gear you can click through here for video tutorials of appropriate testing for your equipment. This applies to any brand really and the videos are short and informative including photos of equipment that should be retired. If you have any doubt on the proper way to check gear and what problem signs to look for click through to your gear in question for your answer.

Bluewater has a real down to earth description for their ropes. One question I wish was covered by more rope makers is the use of pens to mark the middle of your rope. Googling this phrase gives you debates all over the board. From “highly dangerous” to “It’s fiiiine.” We used a regular non-toxic Sharpie for our Edelweiss and we could see no difference over the life of the rope. Bluewater covers washing your rope, marking with pens (water soluble fabric pens OK!) , UV degradation and rope life.

My favorite is their bit about rope life:

“The answer to this is the same for a new car. You can total it right off the lot or you can get years of service from it. It all depends upon the user. Our recommendation is 5 years max for dynamic ropes and 10 years max for low elongation/ static ropes.

You can read all of their rope recommendations here.

One of the best things I found during my research was this article about a bunch of climbers/ academics who did their own UIAA style test on a section of their climbing rope. The test description and commentary are awesome. I especially like the title “Bozos destroy trusted climbing rope for curiosity value and safety lesson.” Definitely worth a read because of the more extreme circumstances they put the rope under and it STILL withstands 4 falls before breaking.

There are other manufacturers out there and it is important to educate yourself on the specifics of the rope you have purchased. This is just a summary of useful information I found and is not exhaustive. If you know of any other helpful sources of information, please leave them in the comments section. Remember to check your rope often and when in doubt throw it out (or retire it to some other, non-safety related use).

3 Responses to “Everything you wanted to know about rope replacement”

  1. News & Notes – 11/03/2010 | ClimbingNarc.com said:

    […] Everything you wanted to know about rope replacement. […]

    November 3rd, 2010 at 7:39 am

  2. Lance said:

    Kyle, well done. I own Rescue Response Gear and we are asked this question dozens of times each year. Again well done, well said and well researched.


    November 4th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

  3. When should I replace my climbing harness | RollGlobal said:

    […] of three articles I will be doing on gear replacement. You can read about when to replace your climbing rope here and keep your eye out for the next article on quickdraws, carabiners, webbing and slings.I feel […]

    November 15th, 2010 at 8:32 am

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