When you consider what a climbing rope protects—your life—it's easy to understand why it deserves pampering. A new rope is extremely strong, but abusive treatment can soon destroy it.
Stepping on a rope is a common form of abuse that grinds sharp particles into and through the sheath. Over time, the particles act like tiny knives that slice the rope's nylon filaments. Stepping on the rope creates even more damage if it happens to be trapped between a sharp edge and your boot. Be doubly careful about keeping off the rope when you're wearing crampons. The havoc these metallic points can wreak is obvious, though not always visible. Crampons can damage the core of a rope without leaving any visible gash on the sheath.
Nonetheless, the sheath gives the best picture of the rope's overall condition. If a crampon wound, excessive abrasion, rockfall, or a sharp edge leaves the sheath looking tattered, the rope's integrity should be seriously questioned. Often the damaged portion of the sheath is near an end and cutting off a small segment of the rope solves the problem. But if the damaged section is closer to the center, retire the rope.
If no obvious blemishes scar the sheath, it's harder to decidc when to retire the rope. Its actual condition depends on many factors including frequency of use, the care it has received, the num ber of falls it has endured, and how old it is. Following are some general guidelines to help you decide when to retire your rope:
• A rope used daily should be retired within a year.
• A rope used during most weekends should give about two years of service.
• An occasionally used rope should be retired after four years (nylon deteriorates over time).
• After one very severe fall, it may be wise to replace your rope. A new rope may be certified to take five falls, but if your rope is not new, consider all the other factors affecting its condition.
These guidelines assume proper cleaning and storage. A rope should be washed frequently with tepid water and a gentle detergent. Wash it by hand or in a side-loading machine (ropes can get caught under the agitator in top-loading machines). Rinse the rope several times in fresh water, and then hang it to dry in a shady area.
Before storing any rope, be sure it is completely dry. Remove all knots, coil the rope loosely, and store it in a cool, dry area away from sunlight, battery acid, and other strong chemicals.
Get in the habit of inspecting your rope frequently. Is the sheath clean? If not, wash the rope. Are the ends of the rope fraying or unraveling? If so, fuse them with a small flame. Are the ends and middle of the rope well-marked for easy detection? If not, mark them according to the manufacturer's guidelines.
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