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Climbing Rope: Care and Maintenance Tips

Renuka Savant
The climbing rope can be easily regarded as the single most valuable safety equipment for a climber. A good mountaineer will never refrain from stressing on the importance of caring for a climbing rope. Here are some pointers that will help you do the same.
Your climbing rope is, by far, the most important piece of equipment that you use; yes, it is more important than your crampons too. Being slack in your rope maintenance routine can only spell disaster. There are several factors to be considered when you set out on a hike, and ensuring that you have a perfect climbing rope tops the list. If you happen to be a rookie climber, this is where you learn the ropes.

Care and Maintenance for Climbing Ropes

Your rope is bound to undergo wear and tear as per your usage. Not paying attention to the signs of damage or failing to maintain your rope could put you on the highway to heaven, so do watch out for the following signs, whenever you decide to embark upon a new trip.

Inspect It

Always remember to check the state of your rope prior to and after every climb. Obvious signs of damage are clearly visible, like frayed rope threads or a worn-out sheath. Boring as it may seem, you should never skip this routine.
A manual check like this will also reveal any other indications of deeper damage. If you happen to see the core at any place beneath the frayed fibers, it is time to buy a new one. You need to keep in mind the falls you've taken during a climb, do check that end which has taken the impact.
The rope might not have lost its elasticity, but you will possibly find it frayed. How does a good rope behave? It has to fall in a flow, and should never have any rough twists or sharp bends.
✔ Do This
: Run your fingers along the rope to actually feel any signs of roughness. Your rope might look good to the eye, but getting a feel of it will give you the accurate status.
✗ Don't do This
: Ignoring your instincts while examining your rope is a strict no-no. As a climber, you are the best person to judge the scale of damage, and decide the course of action to follow.

Cleanse It

Dirt leads to deterioration, so never pack your rope once you are back from your expedition. Dirt along with dust are abrasive, and spell damage. Handwash it with a mild soap solution and air dry it. A machine wash may stretch your rope, rendering it useless.
Even if you aren't able to clean it thoroughly in the first wash, repeat the sequence till it gets clean, but don't put it in the machine. This will also help you get rid of any aluminum that deposits on your rope, if you keep using carabiners. No more black hands now!
✔ Do This
: Mild and detergent-free soaps are an absolute must. Harsh detergents may clean your rope faster, but the chemicals are detrimental to the rope life.
✗ Don't do This
: Drying your rope in the sunlight means exposing it to UV rays, it will make the fibers hard. You will end up with an unyielding rope.

Pack It

Specific storage bags meant for storing climbing ropes are available, and they are a must-have. Rope fibers are made of nylon, that makes them durable; however, there are certain things like acids and alkali compounds, harsh chemicals, bleaching agents, UV rays, etc., that will destroy it.
Ensure that your rope is completely dry. Coiling it using the butterfly technique will not twist it too badly. You can now store it safely inside your rope bag. If you don't happen to have one, hanging a coiled rope on a peg is the next best thing.
✔ Do This
: The ideal place to store your rope should be cool, dry and far away from sunlight. Occasional climbers must make periodic checks.
✗ Don't do This
: Tired as you might be after a climb, do not dump your rope in the garage unceremoniously. Your rope will not appreciate laziness.

Manage It

Every climber has his/her own style of using the equipment, but when it comes to handling the climbing rope, a little care goes a long way.
A good climber is the one who always looks out for the smoothest surface on a cliff, as he/she understands what sharp edges do to a rope. You must keep switching the ends after every climb so that the same one doesn't keep fraying because of the impact.
✔ Do This:
Dirt tarps prevent dirt accumulation on your rope to a great extent. Use them!
✗ Don't do This:
Never step on the rope and always warn others from doing so, as all the stamping will fray it.

Dispose it

It is imperative that you maintain detailed records of your falls and other damage caused to your rope in a notebook. It will come in handy to ascertain the time to make a new purchase. If you feel that the damage is limited to an end, you can cut it off and seal it for further use. Just because your rope looks pristine, it doesn't mean it is safe to use. Following manufacturer's instructions about rope life limitations is necessary.
✔ Do This:
When in doubt, always take advice from a senior climber. Judging rope strength can be tricky.
✗ Don't do This:
Never try to test the limit of your rope's endurance. This doesn't need further explanation.
Not adhering to climbing rope care advice won't necessarily kill you, but there is an adage which says something like being safe is better than being sorry. You could be a master of rope climbing techniques, but even an expert bows down to the demands of his/her rope every single time.