Rope


Contents

Your first rope

Get a 200' Imlay Canyon Fire.

Definitions

Rope
A group of yarns, plies, fibers or strands that are twisted or braided together into a larger and stronger form. (Definition from Wikipedia). All canyoneering ropes are kernmantle rope.
Kernmantle Rope
A rope that has both a core and a sheath. All canyoneering ropes are kernmantle ropes. Kern means core and mantle means sheath in German.
Core
The inner part of a kernmantle rope. It provides the tensile strength and is protected by the sheath.
Sheath
The outer part of a kernmantle rope. It protects the core.
Static Rope
Kernmantle rope that does not stretch a lot when loaded. Great for rappelling. All canyoneering ropes are static. The other kind of kernmantle rope is dynamic rope.
Dynamic Rope
Kernmantle rope that is designed to stretch when loaded. Bad for rappelling. The only time a dynamic rope is applicable in canyoneering is for a safety tether to help with fall factor. Canyoneers use Static Rope.
Elongation
The amount a rope stretches when loaded with a specified amount of force. Static rope minimizes elongation.
Skinny Rope
Refers to rope that has a small diameter. Most of the time it refers to rope with a diameter of 8mm but I've also heard it used on any rope that's less than 9mm.
Fat Rope
A rope that has a large diameter - I'd say at least 9.5mm.
Fast Rope
Misnomer for skinny rope. Fast implies that with the same friction setting on a rappel device, there will be less friction overall.
Slow Rope
Misnomer for a fat rope. Slow implies that with the same friction setting on a rappel device, there will be more friction overall.

Length

Your first rope should be a 200'er. That length will get you into almost all the canyons. People say as you descend canyons you will core shot your rope so you can cut it and get smaller lengths eventually.

For those of us who don't core shot all our ropes we can buy shorter fixed lengths or spool ends for much cheaper.

The length of your second rope and beyond should be easier for you to decide. My second and third ropes were another 200' and a 120'.

My first rope was a 200'. As birthdays and Christmases occurred, I now have these lengths: 330', 300', 3x200', 150', 120', 90', 75', 65'.

I have found that the closer the rope is to about 100', the more likely I will use it. I use my the short ropes all the time.

Rope Qualities that Matter

Length is important but is largely independent from the type of rope a canyoneer will use. The attributes you should care about are cost, durability, weight, and stretch. Let's talk about why each one matters.

Cost

Unless you're one of the 1% or own your own rope company, cost will probably matter. As a general rule, cost is determined by the rope material. And rope material (which I cover in a bit) determines weight and durability. So the more expensive it is, the lighter and/or more durable it will be.

Sterling Canyon Lux and BlueWater Canyon Extreme - the two most costly canyoneering ropes

Durability

I like to define durability as how bad can someone treat the rope before it is irreparably broken. The more durable it is the less you have to baby it and the more you can concentrate on other aspects of canyoneering, such as enjoying yourself.

Sterling C-IV - one of the most durable canyoneering ropes

Weight

Heavier ropes means more work which often means a slower and more miserable ascents. Weight also means how heavy the rope is when wet, sandy, or muddy, which is almost never measured.

Imlay Canyonero - the heaviest rope I own
BlueWater Canyon Extreme - the lightest rope I own

Stretch

In my opinion this is the least important of the important attributes. How much does the rope stretch when you rappel on it? Less stretch is better. This is absolutely not the same as elongation, which is one of the attributes I describe below.

When you rappel on a stretchy rope here's what happens. The farther down you rappel the stretchier it gets. You'll realize that when you apply enough friction to stop the rope from going through your descender you will continue to go down a few more feet before the rope stretches enough to stop you. Kind of annoying but if you are careful it won't be a problem. Then you release the brake a little so you can start descending again. You'll start to go down again but at the same time the rope will unstretch and zip through your hand. This is a very scary sensation because you won't be in complete control. So you'll tightly grab the rope again and hope to stop. But you won't. The rope will now need to stretch out again before stopping you so you'll descend another 10 feet before stopping - hopefully you won't slip or anything. And this will continue until you make it to the bottom of the rappel. Super-duper annoying.

Sterling C-IV - one of the most stretchy canyoneering-specific ropes
Imlay Canyon Fire - one of the least stretchy canyoneering-specific ropes

Common Rope Attributes

This is a list of all the rope attributes I collect and how they affect each of the main four attributes defined above.

Diameter

The diameter of a rope affects weight and durability. All other things equal, the narrower a rope the lighter it is. However, it also means the rope is easier to cut and has less material that protects the core. Pretty straight forward. Skinny ropes often use more durable materials to make up for the lack of material.

As a side note, narrower ropes also require more friction on the rappel device. This is not an important factor for choosing a rope so I won't cover it here but I will cover this more in detail whenever I write an article on rappel devices.

Imlay Canyonero has a diameter of 9.2mm
Sterling Canyon Lux has a diameter of 8.0mm

Sheath Material

Sheath material affects cost, durability, and weight. The materials used for the sheath are Nylon, Polyester, Technora, or a blend of Polyester and Technora. Nylon is inexpensive but weak, heavy, and holds a lot of water. Technora is expensive but durable and light. Polyester requires a bit of an explanation.

Technora sheath of a Sterling C-IV. Technora on canyoneering rope is always this tan color. The orange and black tracers are probably polyester.
Blended Technora/polyester sheath. The Technora is tan and the rest is polyester

Some Polyester ropes have the sheath woven really tightly and densely. This provides some really good advantages and a couple of drawbacks when compared to Polyester ropes that aren't woven tightly.

The advantages of a tightly woven Polyester sheath rope are that it makes the rope more hydrophobic and more durable (and I think more static but I'm not 100% sure on that). The disadvantages are that it is heavier and that over time the rope becomes very wiry.

Tightly woven polyester sheath on the Imlay Canyon Fire

The advantages of a loosely woven Polyester sheath rope is that it's "supple" as you expect a rope to be. The disadvantage is that it is extremely weak and will probably have to be retired around the same time as the densely woven rope starts to get wiry. When I hear someone describe a Polyester rope "supple" it's a red flag for me.

One more disadvantage that's worth mentioning: toggles were designed to be used with wiry ropes. I have heard of instances where supple ropes bind too tight so that the toggles cannot be released which results in a stuck rope.

Loosely woven sheath on the Sterling Canyon Prime. Can you tell the difference between the thread tightness on this and the above picture? I can't.

Unfortunately there's no way to tell by looking at a product page which type of Polyester weave it is. I do know for a fact that all Imlay ropes and the BlueWater Canyonator are densely woven. I know the On Rope Canyoneering C.S.T. and Sterling Canyon Prime ropes are "supple".

Just like diameter, sheath material also affects how much friction should be used when rappelling. Technora is generally more slippery than Nylon and Polyester so more friction should be used.

Core Material

Core material affects cost, weight, and stretch. The materials used for the core are Nylon, Polypropylene, Polyester, and Dyneema/Spectra. Nylon is inexpensive but uniquely terrible in every other attribute - heavy, stretchy, and loves to hold onto water like a sponge. Polypropylene is better since it's hydrophobic but it's still unacceptably stretchy. Polyester is inexpensive, heavy, static, and hydrophobic. Dyneema is expensive, light, static, and hydrophobic.

Weight

A slightly deceptive measurement. This is the weight of the rope when new. It doesn't account for how much water a rope holds when wet or how much dirt it will carry inside its fibers for eternity. However, aside from these problems it is actually one of the most useful pieces of information.

Elongation

Elongation should affect how much stretch a rope has. However, from a practical standpoint I consider this information worthless. Elongation is better thought of as a snapshot that only says, "This rope, when new, clean, and dry, weighted this much, will stretch this amount". So how do we parse this information? Let's take a look at two of my favorite ropes and compare their elongation.

  • Imlay Canyon Fire has an elongation of 1.2% @ 390 lbs. This means that when new, clean, dry, and with 390 lbs of weight tied to it the Imlay Canyon Fire will stretch 1.2%. This rope is amazingly static when wet or dry, new or old, under all circumstances.
  • Sterling C-IV has an elongation of 2% @ 300 lbs. This means that when new, clean, dry and with 300 lbs of weight tied to it the Sterling C-IV will stretch 2%. In actuality this rope is like rappelling on a rubber band. When I was describing the horrors of rappelling on a stretchy rope, this was the rope I was imagining. My first time on a C-IV I thought it was a dynamic climbing rope.quiz

I guess the information I'm trying to convey here is that, from a practical standpoint, these numbers don't provide any value to any of the 4 important rope attributes. The more reliable way to determine a rope's stretch is to look at its core material. Nylon and Polypropylene are stretchy and Polyester and Dyneema are not.

Tensile Strength

Tensile strength does not contribute to cost, durability, weight, or stretch. When one thinks of tensile strength they typically assume it means ultimate breaking strength. However, some manufacturers only publish average breaking strength.

This number is extremely important to manufacturers because they must make their rope strong enough for canyoneering. For us canyoneers, though, it doesn't really matter because if a rope is manufactured as a canyoneering rope, this implies that the rope is sufficiently strong for all canyoneering activities.

I couldn't imagine going canyoneering and refusing to use a canyoneering rope out of fear that it would not be strong enough to hold me.

Sheath Percentage

Sheath percentage affects durability. Sheath percentage is what percentage of the material that makes up the rope is part of the sheath, rather than the core. Typical kernmantle rope is about 50%. Few manufacturers provide this information and it is more of a marketing gimmick than anything.

Inspecting

The short answer is look for anything that looks or feels different than normal. Here's a list that came with a BlueWater rope I once got.

  • Abrasion/Fraying
    The core is exposed or more than half of the outer sheath yarns are abraded. Fraying indicates broken or damaged sheath bundles which is an indication of abrasion or overloading.
  • Sheath Glazing
    Glazing and/or glossy marks or hard, stiff areas signify heat damage. Typically this is the result of contact with a descender that has become overheated in a fast rappel.
  • Uniformity of Diameter
    A lack of uniformity in diameter or size indicates core damage. This is noted by a depression in the diameter of the rope, lumpiness of the rope or exposed core strands protruding from the rope.
  • Discoloration
    A change in the rope's original color is an indication of chemical damage or exposure to the elements of nature including Ultraviolet radiation.
  • Flexibility
    Inconsistency in texture of the rope can be an indication of excessive wear. This is most noted as soft or stiff areas of the rope.
  • Exposed core fibers
    Exposed core fibers indicate severe sheath damage and possible core damage.
  • Age
    Exposed core fibers indicate severe sheath damage and possible core damage.
  • Loss of Faith
    If you feel uncomfortable for any reason or suspect there may be a problem with the rope it must be retired and destroyed.

Ideally after each person rappels you should inspect the rope. That's basically impossible, though, so maybe give it a quick inspection as you stuff it back into the bag and then a deeper inspection after each trip? I typically do a detailed inspection after I get home. I pull each rope out of its bag to let it dry. I then inspect it closely as I stuff it back into its bag for storage.

Rope wear log

My rope wear log. See it or message me for your own copy.

I have an inspection log for that has the following information:

  • Date
    The date the rope was used.
  • Rope
    The rope that was used. For example "200' Canyonero" for my 200' Canyonero.
  • Inspector
    Person who does the rope inspection.
  • Location
    Either the canyon I descended or the area where we practiced.
  • Temperature
    One of "Cold", "Cool", "Warm", or "Hot".
  • Weather
    One of "Clear", "Scattered Clouds", "Partly Cloudy", "Overcast", "Rain", "Snow", or "NA". Yes, I have logged both "Rain" and "Snow". If it rains at all I use "Rain". Otherwise I just use whatever it was most of the time. I use "NA" for lead climbing at my local climbing gym.
  • Time in sun
    Amount of time it was exposed to sunlight.
  • Number of rappels
    Number of rappels we used this rope in the canyon.
  • Number of canyoneers
    Number of canyoneers who went on the trip.
  • Number of falls
    Number of times someone significantly loaded the rope. Not too applicable for rappelling but I do log whenever someone loses control and has to be caught.
  • Severity of falls
    A sentence or paragraph describing the fall(s) that took place.
  • Inspection results
    One column for each of the Inspection items listed above. The allowed values are "Pass" or "Fail".
  • Notes
    A sentence or paragraph with any pertinent notes. This is where I write about anything that failed inspection as well as non-critical rope-end problems such as sheath slippage or missing heat shrink tubes.

Rope Quiz

Take the Rope quiz

22 questions

I currently don't track anything about this so it is for your entertainment only


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