Home Forums Accidents, near-misses and mishaps When to Retire a Rope

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  • #3367 Reply
    CAWA Safety and Training


    Report (winter 97/98) from the president of the UIAA safety commission, Pitt Schubert. His considerable experience of investigating dynamic climbing ropes produced some of the following findings….

    1. Ropes cannot break in the tie in knot, or at the running belay.

    2. Any rope can break when loaded over a sharp edge. It is not possible to produce a rope that is strong enough not to break when loaded over a sharp edge, however, the maximum chance for survival is with a new rope.

    3. Use of twin rope has cut down on breakages.

    4. There have been no known rope failures in sport climbing

    5. Car battery acid damages ropes and cannot visibly be detected. In Germany there have been at three known cases where this has happened.

    6.Petrol and Diesel do not damage ropes, even when left overnight to soak! WD40 caused no damage either.

    7. Coke (the drinking variety) was not found to compromise the strength of a rope.

    8. Autan (insect repellent), although damaging to plastic, was not found to damage ropes…in fact strength was slightly increased.

    9. Sea water did not affect the strength of ropes.

    10. Ropes soaked overnight in urine had their strength reduced by 30%, however, only when loaded over a sharp edge would this matter.

    11. UV radiation does NOT damage ropes. Nylon is UV stabilised and only the colour will be lost.

    12. Standing on a rope loaded over a right-angled metal edge with three times body weight did not reduce a ropes strength.

    13. Standing on a rope in the snow with crampons did no damage. Neither did standing on it on rock with a 75kg body weight.In a further test Crampon points were forced right through the rope with no strength reduction/damage occurring!

    14. The strength of frozen and wet ropes was reduced,but again, unless the rope is loaded over a sharp edge it would not matter.

    15. The suggested lifespan of 10 years which has been given for ropes is to help the user determine lifespan . However, after contact with ICI it was found that although after 10 years there was a measurable degradation in nylon (not just in ropes, but all nylon textiles) ageing itself would not cause a rope to break, unless it was loaded over a sharp edge.

    16. Top roping damaged ropes, but the damage was visible and could be felt, as was damage from stonefall.

    >> From Trad-girl website

    The *standard* that many rope companies go by is as follows: retire after:

    -6 months to 1 year – if used heavily, i.e. – guiding or lead climbing almost daily

    -up to 2 years – if used on a semi-regular basis, i.e. every weekend or every other weekend

    -up to 4 years – if used only occasionally, i.e. – every few months/several times a year, etc.

    Of course, after any *major* fall, a rope becomes suspect and should be retired, especially if over a sharp edge.

    You should regularly examine your rope for irregularities, sheath damage, core damage and soft spots.

    #3368 Reply
    Alert Consumer

    Climbers should note that many Perth gear shops have EXTREMELY low turnover when it comes to climbing ropes. There are several shops selling “new” ropes that were manufactured in 2001 !!!! That makes them potentially 4 years old before they have even been used.

    To tell a ropes age look on the label – it will have some sort of ID number and the key also on the label will allow you to determine it’s age.

    #3369 Reply

    Good post Glenn (assuming it was you). More of these would be good.

    #3370 Reply

    from reading this it seems that it is really difficult to damage a rope to the point where it fails due to normal climbing usage… but we should remain vigilant and constantly check our ropes for any undue signs of wear and tear..

    i would say that commercial groups would use the guide presented more for a insurance concern then from any real concern that the rope would fail…(anyone care to confirm or elaborate on this point)

    but we all need to maintain all our gear…i recently chopped 4m off my rope as i thought i detected a worn spot..which may have been core damage…upon inspecting the end where i cut…it appears there was no damage and the move was unnessessary…but i’d rather take this step then either climb on a rope i didnt trust ..or trust the rope and have it possibly fail if it really was damaged..

    #3371 Reply

    and i forgot to add..i second dinahs point and would agree that more articles and discussions like this about safety issues in general and the gear we use would be very useful..

    #3372 Reply

    REgarding the supposed indestructability of ropes. On rap points on mountains where short lengths of rope have been used to abseil off; with exposure to sunlight these become so brittle they can be crumbled between the fingers(shaded rap points are usually in better condition). Also ropes are rated to UIAA falls of factor around 1.7. They usually come in around 8 or 9, and after that they really do break.

    #3373 Reply
    John Knight

    A few posts back got my interest. A rope that’s been sitting in a shop for a number of years, is it likely to be weakened? It isn’t being subjected to the degredation that simply being outside usually creates on most objects and it’s made out of synthetic materials.

    Therefore, d othey still ‘rot’ in a shop, and if so, how? Do nylon and other materials like it rot?

    #3374 Reply

    sorry i didnt clarify my post, i was referring to rope being retired unessessarily due to concerns over wear… when from that post it seems that they are dificult to damage from general use..

    i wasnt referring to damage from actual falls… and everyone should take heed of the recommended fall factor given

    #3375 Reply

    I found the comment that “nylon does not degrade by UV as it is UV-stabilised” interesting. I have seen may old faded and stiff slings, used for rapping off, and they always made me queasy. Is it possible that even UV-stabilised nylon degrades (maybe just more slowly)? With my bare hands I have easily ripped-up into tiny pieces flysheet of a tent after it was in the sun for 6 months (now why would they NOT stabilise a tent flysheet?). Does anybody else have any info on this, i.e. testing of old lowerfoff slings and such?

    As far as old ropes go, I find that cutting the ends off prolongs life – the ends get the brunt of the wear. So my 50m ropes often end up just 30m long, plenty for gym and Perth use.

    #3376 Reply

    I agree with Ross:

    Many a dodgy old sling has torn under body weight (I can never forget one in particular at the lip of the great roof on El Cap…).

    I wonder about the context of the UV stabilisation comment. Perhaps they are referring to “modern” UV resistent nylons used within the recommended life-span of a rope (i.e. <= 4 years = minimal UV damage). It seems incredible that ropes to not degrade at all under UV light.

    #3377 Reply

    so in the light of the present discussion…how old is everyones rope?

    how long do the climbers of perth keep there ropes for?

    #3378 Reply

    Came across this old article and thought I should add in an important point in the discusion of rope life when lead climbing… We all know the rope won’t break but the most important factor in traditional climbing and winter climbing (where runners are often dubious) is the impact force on the gear when you fall.

    Nice new rope = minimum impact loading so the gear holds. Old rope = much higher impact on the gear meaning the gear may get pulled out and result in you falling further or worst case scenario you hit the deck!

    Also note that using two half ropes reduces the loading further. I always lead climb on two 8mm half ropes and once fell a long way onto a friend in a very dodgy icy crack and it amazingly held. I’m sure the reason was the fact it was a half rope plus the ropes were new!

    On a final note if you use your rope for abseiling a lot or descending off long routes then this reduces the life of the rope rapidly. Same goes for indoor climbing.

    #3379 Reply

    Rob: How does climbing indoors degrade the rope quicker than outdoors? I don’t get the logic with that statement, but I’m open to your reasoning.

    #3380 Reply

    Trevor, the reason is due to being lowered by your partner and loading the rope with body weight whilst running it through the top runner. Doing this route after route affects the life of the rope. A good lead rope is one that has rarely been loaded which preseves maximum elasticity.

    #3381 Reply

    I’ve noticed that using a rope in a gym does a lot more damage to the rope than climbing on rock.

    I think this is due to several reasons:

    1) I fall a lot more in gyms than on rock, and this causes rope damage. I find gym climb grades to be generally a lot harder compared to rock. I struggle up a grade 20 in a gym, but can usually flash a 20 on rock. A few reasons for this – most leads in a gym are very overhanging, but many climbs on rock are not; on gym walls there is usually very little friction, while on rock there is usually still good friction and a lot of small features even on a seeminging blank face.

    2) I think falls in the gym often shock-load the rope more. Often there is less rope out as the climbs in gyms are often very short – in many cases, there is a overhang at 2 – 3 metres (eg at Rockface) above the deck and a fall puts a lot of stress on the short bit of rope that’s out. With more rope out on longer climbs (eg the roof on ‘Wire Flake’, WCH,) there is more length of rope over which the forces can be absorbed, ie, often less energy per metre needs be absorbed. Also on rock, as I mentioned above, more often than not, the rock is not overhanging and falls often tend to be more slides than just a sudden drop. This also helps decrease shock-loading (although it may increase skin wear and tear!)

    3) Leading on rock, I can place gear and slings to try and minimise things like rope drag and tyhe rope going over sharp corners. In a gym, the quickdraws are there and often not in a good location (such as some of the roof sections at RF) and rope drag over the sharp corner can be pretty bad. A fall can put a lot of stress on the section where the rope is.

    4) In a few hours at a gym I might do 10 hard (for me!) leads over all the sharp corners and take 10 falls. On rock I might do 4 leads and not fall.

    5) I think lowering off in the gyms is also more damaging for the ropes. This is also largely due, I think, to the many sharp corners and bends that the rope has to go over and through as compared to on rock. On ‘Urban Ethics’ (what’s that – about 25 m and a 22?) there is nothing but the lower-off at the top and a fairly gentle edge at the top. Even on a 10 m 16 in a gym, there may be 2 or 3 90 degree corners plus other sharp bends.

    I never take my expensive good ropes (9.2 mm Joker etc) to the gyms – only my older and cheap 10.2 mm.

    There are other reasons to I think, but

    #157733 Reply

    Agree with all 5 reasons, but to add is that the gym’s rope is generally rapped off the top from the same direction, this stiffens the rope again causing more wear, due to the stiffness. A gym I used to go to used to swap ends of the rope on a daily basis to reduce this, it does help I believe.
    Things are a bit more “real” on real rock, in a gym it is a comfortable environment, more likely to take big, and more often falls.
    The other point I would make is the hardware often used in s gyms, is failproof for dummies, the style has more friction naturally, and how often outdoors do you bottom belay using a pulley at the top? I know I either lead and belay from the bottom, or belay from above, way more than using pulleys etc.

    My thoughts on age of rope, love some other feedback/thoughts, but the whole 6months, 2years, 4 years, and 10 years for a ropes, I would think is the causious time period set by maufacturing for legal/insurance purposes. The more I read of the standards, and particularly European (which we closely follow) thoughts are that it is far more dependant on the treatment of the rope, is it kept in the back sunroom high temps, second hand light, inthe boot of a car/back seat, or in a rope bag in air con etc, and what sort of use it gets. All of this can be seen or felt in the condition of the rope. Well I suppose except for some acid affects. The most popular acid burn to ropes, other than industial use is leaking battery’s….

    Rope over sharp edges under load can be shown by getting an old rope, load it up with the weight of a person, and see how easily you can cut the rope with a sharp knife.

    The 3 biggest killers of ropes are major falls, sharp edges under load, and acid. All of these are major concern and most of us are anal about this stuff.

    Old but good discussion.

    #157741 Reply
    Ross Weiter

    I use the “look and feel test”. If rope (sheath) looks good and (the core) feels solid, it is good enough for me. Conversely, if severe fraying or “soft spots” are detected I cut it and chuck the damaged part. Consequently I have several “short ropes” for Darlington and the gyms! IMHO this condition-monitoring based approach is more rigorous than any time limits.

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