Climbing Rope Inspection and Retirement

Climbing ropes and static ropes are extremely strong and are capable of holding a large number of short falls without major damage. On the other hand, each fall does cause some slight deterioration, and the number of falls that can be taken is finite.

Nylon rope has the following limitations:

  • The melting point is relatively low
  • It is relatively easily cut under tension
  • It is attacked by acids
  • It may lose its elongation over time

The last form of degradation shows no sign. However, if a rope has suffered an excessive number of falls, it shows blackening and severe furring of the sheath.
Use

Ropes used for climbing, caving, abseiling, rescue, or height safety must never be used for anything other than the intended purpose. The rope should not be repeatedly loaded on any one section, as it stretches at each fall and needs time to “relax” before it is loaded again. After a climbing fall the rope should be untied and the other end used for the next attempt. Fixed top-ropes should be turned around every week or so, and any accumulation of surplus sheath at the belay end should be cut off and the end re-melted.

Rope Care

Ropes should be dried at room temperature if they become wet, and stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Standing on ropes must be avoided, as well as contact with sharp edges and snags, as they are relatively soft and can be easily damaged.
Maintenance

Ropes should be kept as clean as possible, so that dirt particles do not work their way into the interior of the rope. They can be washed, either by hand, or by using a tubular rope washer, or in a front-loading washing machine on a gentle cycle (the agitator in a top-loading machine is tough on ropes). Use only mild natural soaps and definitely not a bleach-based detergent. Dry-treatment ropes should be washed in water only.

Climbing Rope Inspection

At the required inspection interval the rope should examined by passing it through the hands metre by metre and checking for the following:

  • severe blackening caused by a large number of falls on one section of the rope;
  • glazing of the sheath caused by the fibres being melted;
  • severe furring of the rope, caused by excessive falls or running the rope across rock edges under tension;
  • powdering of the fibres, caused by chemical attack;
  • excessive sheath slippage, leading to the sheath bunching at the end (due to the sheath of the rope being too loose on the core);
  • soft spots, caused by changes to the internal structure of the core, probably arising from a severe fall;
  • cutting of sheath fibres due to sharp edges, stone-fall, crampon points, or burrs on metal equipment;
  • any sign of the core showing through (rope cores are always white), caused by disruption of the sheath of a loose-sheathed rope, usually in conjunction with fibre damage as above.

Climbing Rope Retirement

Retirement of the rope should be considered if any of the problems above are found. If damage is restricted to one area, the rope can be cut into two pieces. A “dynamic” climbing rope should be retired if the rope is more than five years old. Even unused ropes use part of their elasticity with time, which makes old ropes unsuitable for lead climbing.

In some cases ropes may be retired from lead climbing but reserved for top-roping or abseiling, if it is certain that the usage can be controlled.

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