The rope is one of the most critical pieces of equipment in a climber’s arsenal, and in many circumstances the rope (and a few other pieces of equipment) is the only thing preventing you from falling to the ground. For these reasons, it’s essential to have an excellent understanding of how to properly maintain your rope. Every climber should understand how to store and care for their rope, and you should also know when it’s time to retire a climbing rope permanently.
Avoiding damage to your rope will be one of the most important factors for maintaining its longevity. This advice might seem somewhat basic, but simple preventative measures will keep you climbing on the same rope for a more extended period. Here, we hope to introduce you to the basics of rope maintenance and care. We will provide you with some general guidelines for inspecting, storing and retiring your rope. Remember, your life depends on caring for your rope. Don’t take rope maintenance for granted.
Below are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
Avoid Corrosive Material
Avoid bringing your rope into contact with chemicals or potentially corrosive materials. For example, areas that have contact with chemicals or gasoline likely harbor acids that can eat away at the content of your rope. While specific areas might appear convenient for storing your climbing gear (such as tool sheds, basements, and garages), you need to be cognizant of what other tools or material might be stored in that same vicinity that could potentially leave behind corrosive acids. If you’re not careful, chemicals and gasoline can quickly erode and ruin your rope.
Avoid Sharp Edges
While it’s sometimes impossible, you should avoid dragging your rope across edges or hard corners of rock while you’re climbing. Taking a fall onto a hard edge can cause catastrophic damage to the core of your line, while we recognize that sometimes these risks are unavoidable, you should avoid this danger when possible. As a climbing team, and primarily as the lead climber, it’s your responsibility to minimize your ropes exposure to potentially sharp or dangerous edges. Similarly, when choosing an area to toprope or rappel, do your best to avoid sections with significant rope-drag. Top-roping certain routes can be brutal on your rope if it’s coming into contact with a harsh edge.
Don’t Step on the Rope
Stepping on the rope causes small damage to the cord that can accumulate over time. If you stand on the rope, it can cause dirt and small rocks to grind into the sheath. It’s not uncommon to accidentally step on the rope while you’re climbing, but making a habit of standing on the rope can add up. If you’re wearing crampons (small spikes that are worn to traverse ice and glaciers) stepping on the rope can cause catastrophic damage to the sheath. If you have any interest in alpine or ice climbing, it’s especially important to form the habit of avoiding standing on your climbing rope.
Climbing ropes should be stored in a cool, dry space, out of sunlight, and in an area that does not experience extreme seasonal temperature changes. Before storage, make sure that all the knots are removed from your rope, and coil the rope loosely. Do not store your rope in an area that has ever come in contact with corrosive chemicals, such as cleaning materials or petroleum.
Retiring Your Rope
You should regularly examine your rope to make sure that it is still in good working order, and it’s especially important to examine your rope after you’ve taken a significant fall. If there are any apparent abrasion, tears, or unraveled sections of sheath it’s time to retire your rope. Anytime you can see the “core” of your rope. It’s time for it to be permanently retired. Some ropes need to be retired even if there is no obvious damage to their sheath or core. If you feel any “dead space” within the core of your rope (a flat, or mushy feeling), it’s time to hang it up for good.
The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) has general guidelines for retiring ropes that you should keep in mind. Any rope that receives daily use should be retired in less than a year, a cable used on most weekends should be retired after two years of use, and a rope that is only occasionally used should be retired after four years. Retire a rope you feel is compromised for any reason, regardless of how new it is.
After you retire a rope, throw it away or destroy it. Don’t give it away or forget about it in a closet, leaving a lousy rope around is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Tying Everything Together
Every climber needs to make rope maintenance a habit. Don’t be lazy about caring for your rope, taking necessary precautions to care for your rope can go a long way. Avoid sharp edges or extreme rope drag when it’s possible, and never step on your rope. Don’t ever let your rope come into contact with any corrosive material, and avoid dragging it through mud and sand. If your rope has been around longer than four years, or you’re unsure of a ropes climbing history, it needs to be thrown away!