CARING FOR YOUR CLIMBING ROPE:
Rule No. 1:
Your rope is your lifeline; treat it with love, care, attention, and respect!
Rule No. 2:
Inspect your cord often and replace it regularly. When you start into the crux sequence of your climb, you don't want to have any doubt about your rope. So, if in doubt, replace your rope. If for no other reason, do it for peace of mind. It's worth the few extra bucks.
Remember, climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. Climbing ropes are extensively tested and, under proper conditions of use, are therefore very unlikely to fail. However, ropes can and do cut over sharp edges, and. if improperly used or stored, may fail. Repeated or big falls, age, heat, excessive sunlight, wear and tear, dirt, abrasion, sharp edges, and other factors all work against the strength of your rope and shorten its safe lifetime.
Always read and follow the instructions of the manufacturer that come with your rope on how to use and care for the particular rope that you purchase and climb with. If you need more information, it can be found on the website of each manufacturer (see the "Manufacturers" tab on our homepage for the links). The general information provided below will help you appreciate the basics.
Be Kind to Your Climbing Rope:
Think about it. Your rope is a thin lifeline. Use it with care, caution, attention, and respect. Do your best to be kind to your rope by recognizing, and avoiding, the type of situations during use than can hurt your rope. Be mindful of sharp rock edges and avoid running your rope over them, whether or lead, while toproping, or during a rappel. Avoid unnecessary penduluming on the rope, which runs the weighted rope over all kinds of sharp edges and abrades the rope. Use a directional when appropriate. When possible, rappel from anchors instead of having your partner lower you. This not only avoids wear on your rope, both from running over rock edges or bulges, and from running through the anchors, but is kinder to the fixed anchors as well, prolonging their lifetime. Avoid situations where your rope runs against another rope or itself (such as toproping or lowering with a twisted rope) or against other nylon; these situations can dangerously heat up and weaken your rope. Give your rope a chance to "rest" after a fall, and switch ends for the next lead. Don't stand on your rope and don't let others do it either! In short, be mindful during use of your rope and pay it the attention it deserves.
Storing your Climbing Rope:
Most manufacturers suggest storing your rope in a cool, dry place, out of direct or intense sunlight, and away from contact with dirt and dust, or any type of chemicals. Keeping the rope off the ground (or in a cabinet) where critters like mice can't munch on it is also a good idea. Storing your rope in a rope bag, uncoiled, or coiled in a backpackers/butterfly coil helps avoid putting twist into the rope. When using your cord out at the crags, use a rope bags with a wide fold-out tarp, or use a drop-cloth, to keep your rope off the dirt and grit, and help keep it clean.
Inspect Your Climbing Rope Often:
You rope is an amazingly strong and durable piece of equipment, but it is not fail-proof. It is your responsibility to regularly inspect the thin line that will be keeping you off the deck. Don't get lazy or apathetic about frequently looking over your rope to be sure it is free of serious damage and is still safe for use! The best habit is to closely inspect your rope each time you take it out of its bag for the first climb of the day. It doesn't take much time, and can be done while the leader gears up. A minimal habit is to inspect your rope every couple of times out, and always after any incident (such as rockfall, or a fall or pendulum over a sharp edge) that you think may have hurt the rope. Take the rope in you hands, and inspect it visually foot-by-foot, while at the same time inspecting it by touch with your hands. Look for obvious cuts, areas of extensive sheath abrasion or "fuzzy" spots, places where you can see the core of the rope (white), or obvious distortions in the rope shape that do not seem normal. Feel for '"soft spots" that can indicate internal damage to the core of the rope, and if you detect anything suspicious, take a closer look visually, bending the rope into a loop and twisting the rope at the soft spot to see if the ropes distorts or does not bend in a normal manner. When in doubt, suspect the worst. Ask a more experienced climber to take a look. Err on the safe side. If the suspicious spot or damage is near the end of the rope, cut it out. The remainder of the rope can still have some useful life. If the damage or suspect spot is in the middle of the rope, retire it. It's worth the peace of mind, as well as many more years of future, safe, enjoyable climbing, to just buy a new one!
Falls on your Climbing Rope:
Dynamic climbing ropes are designed to catch and stop falls, at a reasonable level of impact force to the climber, by absorbing the fall energy via stretch. Over time, repeated falls on the rope (or even single big falls) can decrease the rope's ability to absorb the energy of future falls, thus the useful remaining life of the rope is shortened. Nearly all dynamic climbing ropes are tested for their ability to stop falls and are given a UIAA "number of falls" rating (see How to Choose a Rope tab on our homepage) that provides an indication of how many "typical" falls can safely be absorbed by the cord. However, just be a rope is rated, let's say, for 12 falls, does not necessarily mean that you should keep using your rope until it has taken 12 falls. To the contrary, most manufacturers recommend retiring your rope immediately after a big fall (such as a "Factor 2 fall" (which means a fall where the ratio of the distance fell to length of rope out is 2, such as when a leader falls after leaving a belay and has put no gear in, so falls twice the distance he/she has climbed from the belay). This is a reasonable and safe practice. Multiple "routine" falls such as you might take while working your bolted redpoint project at the local crag can also take their toll on your rope. As noted above, a single fall where the rope runs over a rock bulge or rough edge can put a lot more abuse on the rope than a similar fall into clean air. There is, therefore, no magic way to determine when your rope has "had enough falls" and needs to be retired. Being aware of the number of falls your rope is rated for, and keeping track of the number of significant falls your rope has taken, is a good starting point. Following the guidance provided by the manufacturer of your rope is also important and useful. Ultimately, it comes down to a gut feeling that your rope has had a good life, served you well, caught some nice falls, and needs to be retired, replaced, and/or dedicated to your dog as a new leash.
Abuse adds Up:
Appreciate the fact that, as strong as your rope is when you first buy it, as soon as you start using it, a host of factors begin taking their toll on it, and over time the strength, safety, and useful lifetime of the cord will diminish. Falls, dirt, grit, abrasion, sunlight, age, toproping, heat and other factors conspire to shorten the life of your rope. Sand and grit get into the core over time and create wear or damage that you can't see. In other words, general abuse and wear and tear on your cord add up! Accordingly, don't rely on a single factor, such as how the cord looks or feels, or how many falls it has taken, in determining that's it is or is not retirement time for your rope. Remember that abuse on your rope is an additive process, so aim to replace your rope sooner rather than pushing the use of the rope to the limit.
Marking Your Climbing Rope:
Don't do it! Recent tests by the UIAA and some rope manufacturers confirmed a long-standing rumor that marking ropes with rope pens (even so-called "enviro-friendly pens) dangerously weakens the rope. The test showed that such rope-pen marking reduced the strength of ropes by up to 50%! Don't mark your rope. Instead, look for a rope that is factory-marked in the center with black dye, or is a bi-color or tri-color rope having a change in sheath weave pattern at the center. If you select a rope without a factory-marked center, just enjoy it as is and don't use a marker on it! For more information see the UIAA website.
Washing Your Climbing Rope:
Many manufacturers suggest washing your rope from time to time to remove the buildup of grit and dirt on the surface that can damage the sheath and/or get into the core. These manufacturers suggest machine-washing the rope on a delicate cycle (cold or warm) with a mild detergent (such as Woolite) that is bleach-free. Hand-washing also works. Either way, the rope should be air-dried, rather than placed in a drying machine. It is also helpful to wipe grime off your rope more frequently using a wet towel. This helps get rid of the accumulation of dirt from the day's use at your favorite crag, and keeps the rope clean and ready for use the next time out.
Replacing Your Climbing Rope:
When is it time to retire your rope and buy a new one? There is no single, simple answer, as the right time will depend on many different factors, both subjective and objective, as outlined above. As a starting point, it is a good rule to replace your rope anytime you've lost trust or faith in it, or your gut tells you it has had enough abuse and is time for retirement, or you don't like the "feel" of the rope anymore. Perhaps you'll just retire your old lead line and start using it as a rappel line only or as a leash for your dog. Objectively, big falls, repeated falls, cuts, soft-spots, significant sheath abrasion, and old age are all factors that probably mean it's time to replace your rope. Most manufacturers generally suggest that you replace your rope every six months to three years, depending on frequency of use. Climbers getting out on their cord many days a week and putting a lot of abuse on it, should probably replace them every six months if not sooner, while the weekend warrior or occasional user might get two or even three years of use out of their ropes. Most manufacturers suggest a rope be replaced after it has caught a big fall (such as a Factor 2 fall) or has taken multiple or many significant falls. Remember, the number of falls that a rope is rated for is only a guideline. It does not necessarily mean that you should keep climbing on your rope because you think it "has a few falls left" in it. Err on the safe side! A rope should also be replaced anytime it has a cut (e.g. you can see the core of the rope), or is heavily worn or abraded, or is soft (soft spots in a rope can indicate damage to the core - you can usually detect them by touch, or by bending or twisting the rope at a particular point and looking for unusual rope curvature or handling) or has a loose or sliding sheath. If the cut, soft spot, or abrasion point is near the end of the rope, it can often be cut off, and the rest of the rope safely used for a while longer, if it is otherwise in good shape and "young."
Once again, always read and follow the instructions of the manufacturer that come with your rope on how to use and care for the particular rope that you purchase and climb with. If you need more information, it can be found on the website of each manufacturer (see the "Manufacturers" tab on our homepage for the links). Remember, your rope is the single most important piece of climbing gear you use. Act accordingly and err on the safe side when it comes to replacing it.