When to Retire a Climbing Rope

climb-113942_640You don’t want to mess around with an old climbing rope. There’s no point in seeing just how much life you can squeeze out of it. Sure, ropes can be a little pricey, but when your life is at stake the price tag is inconsequential. But how do you know when to retire a climbing rope?

Part of the trouble in knowing when you should retire your rope comes from the way ropes are rated. The UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme or International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) has an in depth test which determines how many serious falls a rope can handle with a minimal chance of failure.

While they’re more scientific about what qualifies as a UIAA fall, it’s basically a big, epic, high impact, “I’ll need a marlin spike to get this knot out” fall. A rope might be rated for 15 UIAA falls, but how do you know if the lead fall your friend just took on your rope counts as a UIAA fall?

The truth is you can’t. You’re not climbing in a laboratory with controlled conditions, sensors, and monitors. There’s no way to accurately measure the impact force, or the stress that was just put on your rope. Plus, falls aren’t the only factor when it comes to the durability of your rope.

Rope sheaths can fray or wear down from dragging over sharp rocks or old caribiners. The storage conditions of a rope are also important. The humidity, temperature, and exposure to sunlight all affect a rope’s lifespan.

Some rope companies will tell you to replace dynamic climbing rope after 2 years regardless of how many falls you’ve taken. Others will say that 5 years is the maximum for dynamic rope. This adds further complications to knowing when to retire a rope.

The reality of it is, each rope is going to be different. Your rope could last you 3 seasons or it could last much longer. Be sure to frequently check and regularly maintain your rope.

Invest in a mat to keep your rope safe at the crag. Even a thin layer of nylon can keep your rope clean and free from dragging on rocks. Consider purchasing rope wash to prevent accelerated wear and tear. When it comes to storing your rope, keep it in a cool dry location out of direct sunlight.

Also, check your rope before and after use to make sure the core is intact and the sheath is in good condition.

And if you feel uncomfortable with your rope, it’s probably time to retire it. Trust your judgement. If you think that your rope has had it even though you only bought it a couple of years ago, don’t try your luck. Have someone knowledgeable check the rope, or just play it safe and retire it. Climbing is great fun, but it’s not worth getting hurt over.

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