Tip 4: Rope Care


Avoiding Perlon Disasters

Ropes are our security and lifeline. This high tech tool is essential for success, for survival. Do you know your rope or the one you are climbing on?

I went out for a day at the crags with a new acquaintance. He pulled out of his pack the most ugly, dirty, sheath frayed line I had ever seen. I begged out on any ascents, went bouldering. Do you know the technical specs on your line (number of falls held when new, impact force)?

When I started my climbing career, over twenty years ago, my mentor was an engineer and fascinated with rope physics, handling characteristics, and how this tool will keep him -- me -- alive. Early on I was indoctrinated with the importance of kern-mantle characteristics and how to know the inner workings. Below I will summarize a few important points. Hopefully this will help you avoid perlon (or any medical) entanglements.

Today there is no shortage of information on climbing ropes. The Internet is chock full of articles or beta by "experts" on the subject. Open any of several talk rooms about equipment and you can hear these highly opinionated "pro's" spout their knowledge on which rope to buy. BEWARE! Always consider the rope specification info first, before you believe anything they say! I recommend learning about rope characteristics (which one to buy) only from reputable sources such as rope manufacturer catalogues, Rock & Ice or Climbing magazine. OK, so what to look for?

Basic questions are a good start if you are going to tie into another's rope: Who are you climbing with and what is their safety standards? (I once climbed with a fellow notorious for long -- thirty plus feet -- lead falls. We used a new rope). What does the rope you are going to use look like? (Sheath extremely worn, more so in various places where you can see the core; the line is unevenly stiff and supple are not good signs). Where is that rope stored? (In the back of a VW bus, just above the battery? Battery acid is death to a rope).

How does that person seem to take care of their line? (Lay it in the dirt or keep it on a rope bag). How old is the rope and how often used? (Fives years and used every weekend; too many climb miles on that line!). How do the ends look? (Sheath pulling away from core.) Don't be paranoid if the rope looks questionable, just ask these few questions, and know by reading what safe answers should be (the parameters of a safe climbing rope).

I am not going to get into specific rope data here, I'll let you dig these facts and figures out of the respectable information sources (such as how long a rope should last if well taken care of and climbed on, safely, several times a month). I will continue to mention what my mentor taught a twenty year-old kid about any climbing rope.

All ropes have a retirement age, and this endpoint is based on the who-what-where-how-why formula, plus the recommendation of the manufacturer. Any substantial trauma experienced by the rope (high factor fall – close to equal amount of rope from belayer to protection point and from climber to protection, a swinging fall over a sharp edge, rock impact on rope) needs to be considered. On long falls or multiple short falls, take a break and change the working end of the rope to let that end recover (a rope is like a nylon spring). Tape one end different from the other so you can tell them apart. Completing an El Cap big wall (and all previous climbs) may be enough to consider retiring the line (ascenders are hard on the sheath).

Do you know how to feel your rope for damage? Begin by knowing what your rope feels like when new. How flexible is it? (Wimpy loose to semi stiff when new) As you put pitches on that line and begin to scuff up the sheath, the rope will somewhat change its feel. (Sheath wear is actually a good thing as the broken filaments or threads act to protect the sheath in whole, and this gives the rope a grippy surface for your belays.) At the end of climbs or the day, get in the habit of massaging your perlon, inch by inch, squeezing and twisting, looking for more sheath wear in areas. Put a bight on a section; see how there is a small hole in that tight loop? If you know what your rope feels like and looks like, any aberration will be apparent.

See a bad spot? Does that section feel more soft and squishy than sections above and below? Put a bight on that section. No hole in the loop? Bad signs for sure! My mentor and I took an old rope, retired. We put a section over a sharp rock and smacked it hard (HARD) with a piton hammer. We studied the sheath, and saw the wound clearly. Then we dissected the sheath away and saw the damage to the strength bearing core of the rope. The ruptured core was ugly and weakened tremendously. I recommend this experiment, but only on a retired rope! When I taught for Outward Bound, etc, I would take a damaged section of rope on climbing trips to demonstrate to students what to look for.

How to cut away a bad section of rope? You will need a small knife, athletic tape, and a lighter in case the end sheath came loose from the core. Suppose you are on a classic long ridge route on Mt. Stewart, near Leavenworth, WA, a boulder damages your lead line significantly. You've got to shorten up. Use the athletic tape on the good side of the rope wound and use a couple of tight wraps. Take the knife and cut through the middle of the tape. This technique will prevent the sheath and core from a mushroom of loose nylon.

Take your lighter and first burn the end. Don't burn yourself. Get the exposed end very hot and almost to the point of a candle. When the nylon is beginning to drip, take the end to a smooth rock and roll the blob into a neat black scab. To do a better job of surgery, take the tape off the good rope and repeat the process about a quarter to half inch up the side of the rope, but you only have to get this section hot. This last procedure will help weld the sheath to the core. Re-tape the end if necessary. Finish the climb.

David Sweetland has worked for Discovery Expeditions, Sea & Summit, Summit Adventures, Outward Bound, and now works Sport Rock (indoor climbing structures) and reps for www.rockshoes.com.

L I V I N G - T I P: Relationship Care
Calvin Landrus

Language That Preserves Relationship

King Solomon of ancient Israel said this in the Bible, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) He emphasized the importance of strength in unity of relationship.

In most endeavors of life including most climbing situations, relationships are key to success. Bill Hybels, pastor of the largest church in America – Willow Creek Community, has taught teams how to talk about tough issues without damaging the people involved. I will share them with you, and I hope you will develop some key phrases for your own use.

When you hear an idea that sounds crazy at first, say, "Help me understand." This keeps the focus on the idea without making a premature judgment about the validity of the idea. It also keeps us from making light of what another person really believes will be helpful.

When someone is being dogmatic about an issue, say, "Can I push back on that a little bit?" This phrase reminds everyone that all ideas are open to discussion, and that it isn't fair to the team to shut down the discussion.

When presenting a big risk or a radical idea, say, "Give me an umbrella of mercy here." In other words, "Don't laugh out loud." An idea deserves to be heard without immediately shooting it out of the sky.

When there's a general uneasiness in the meeting, say, "There's an elephant in the room." We've all been in those meetings where we sensed some tension and everyone pretended it wasn't there. This phrase gives permission to acknowledge that tension, which then opens the door to address and resolve it.

When someone is whining, blaming, or rehashing the obvious, say, "Can we get on the solution side of this problem?" I'm always amazed at people who think that seeing a problem that is obvious to everyone is some kind of gift. Once the problem has been identified, the only discussions worth pursuing are those that can lead to resolving the problem.

When you need to speak hard truth, say, "With your permission, I'd like to give you the last ten percent." This phrase is built on the premise that the first ninety percent of what we need to tell one another is easy. It is the last ten percent that is usually left unsaid because it is so hard to say. Asking for permission to share the hard part puts the responsibility for growth on the shoulders of the person who will receive the last ten percent. They then have the option of receiving it, or saying, "Now is not a good time for me emotionally. Can we do it another time?" Either way, everyone knows there is unfinished business, and healthy relationships are strengthened as we "speak the truth in love" to one another.

After a difficult meeting, say "Are we alright with each other?" We've all been in situations where we got a little too passionate about an issue, or phrased responses in ways that were too strong and inadvertently wounded people around us. This phrase reminds us that relationships are primary. To reach every one of our goals and lose our friendships in the process would be a hollow victory. Caring about the answer to this question insures we all reach the goal line together.

One time while trying the Triple Direct route on El Cap in Yosemite, my partner and I had great momentum. We had gotten a third up the wall with effort that seemed way easier than we expected. But as we woke-up after our first night on the wall (after climbing, fixing and hauling to Mammoth Ledges), a few clouds moved in – not really sure of their seriousness. We had a sporadic discussion as we packed-up. My friend urged to go down while I voted for staying put and watching the weather…bail only when it was clear it was warranted. (There had been no rain, and we had fixed lines all the way to the ground.)

However, my partner wanted down. I asked him to explain why, but he couldn’t. He repeated that he wanted to go down immediately. I realized that it was time to descend. Less than half way down, the weather cleared up. Once on ground, I shared some intense feelings of frustration about what had just happened. Our relationship was on the verge of falling apart.

But I also knew that my relationship with him was much more important than any stupid climb. Later that day, I came back to him to touch bases. I explained that my friendship with him was more important than my climbing goals – El Cap isn’t going away anytime soon. We finished the trip well and remain friends to this day. My language preserved our relationship.

Continue the discussion at the Where Climbers Gather Forums.

Date Posted - 12.20.13

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