Take Care of Your Climbing Rope

5 Climbing Rope Care Tips

Mia Axon relies on her rope on the Cobble Roof at Maple Canyon in Utah. Remember that your rope is your lifeline. Treat it well and it will last long. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Your climbing rope won’t last forever. If you follow these five tips, however, you can increase the service and life of your climbing rope.

Don't Step on Your Rope

Besides climbing and lowering, nothing wears out your rope faster than stepping on it, especially if it is lying in sand or on the ground. Besides possibly cutting the sheath on rocks underfoot, stepping on the rope grinds dirt and dust into its sheath and core, which increases unseen internal damage to the rope.

At the cliff base, especially if you have a bunch of newbies with you, impress upon them the importance of not stepping on your rope and damaging their life line. Show some respect brotha!

Use a Rope Bag

Use a good rope bag that unfolds into a spacious tarp for your precious climbing rope to lie on at the base of the cliff. A good rope bag keeps dust and dirt from finding its way inside your climbing rope. Dirt and flecks of rock impairs the strength, safety, and performance of your rope. It wears the rope out faster too. A rope bag increases the life of your climbing rope. Buy one and use it.

Most rope bags also neatly fold up and can be carried over your shoulder with a strap or secured to the top of your pack when you are hiking to the crag. It is especially important to use a rope bag at popular cliffs, like Shelf Road, Joshua Tree National Park, or New River Gorge, where lots of other climbers stand around, leaving fine pulverized dust on the ground, or at sandstone climbing areas like Wall Street near Moab where sand blankets the ground below the routes.

Run Your Rope Freely

Make sure your climbing rope runs freely whenever possible. There’s nothing that will trash a rope like sharp edges or rough corners. If you’re leading a pitch, use lots of slings to keep the rope well away from the cliff face. If you’re toprope climbing, make sure that the master point for the rope is extended well over the edge of the cliff so the rope does not abrade on any horizontal edges.

Also remember that a fall onto a sharp edge can seriously damage or slice through a climbing rope. Read the article Accident Analysis: Climber Falls and Rope Breaks in Eldorado Canyon for a discussion of sharp edges and ropes.

Switch Ends After Falling

If you climb many sport routes, alternate which end of the rope you use to lead and fall on. Avoid taking frequent falls at the same end of a rope if you’re working a project route. Falls stretch the rope out and slowly damage it. Switch ends when you are climbing, which allows the rope to become more elastic and stretchy. Also allow your climbing rope to take a rest if you’ve taken a big whipper or fall on it. Alternating rope ends when sport climbing will prolong its life.

Washing Your Climbing Rope

When your climbing rope gets dirty, you need to wash it. Washing your rope increases its life by getting abrasive dust out of the sheath. Washing also helps the handling of the rope. If you climb a lot, aluminum oxide is deposited on a rope’s sheath from running through aluminum carabiners. Your hands get filthy black from the oxide just from holding the rope while belaying. Regular washing pf your climbing rope helps alleviate that black-hand syndrome and keeps your cord looking new.

How to Wash a Climbing Rope

To wash a rope, put it in a large mesh bag and seal the top with a drawstring. Pop it in the washing machine and wash it in cold water on a long cycle without detergent. Afterwards, take the rope out and drape it loosely in a wash basket and let it air dry in a cool dark place for a few days. Don’t put the rope in sunlight to dry. Some folks use a mild non-detergent soap to wash their rope.