Monday, January 17, 2011

New Rope Technology

In 2001, I was climbing a big wall in Zion National Park with two of our former guides.  Prodigal Son is an "easy" aid route that ascends the Northeast Face of Angels Landing.  As it was late in the Fall and it was getting dark early, we elected to fix the first aid pitches and then complete the ascent to the top on the following day.

On the second day of the climb we made our way to the base of the wall in the dark.  The approach was not pleasant.  We had to forge the freezing Virgin River at 5am.  And then we each began to jug the fixed lines with mechanical ascenders.

For some reason, I was the last person to climb the ropes.  As I climbed up the second rope, dawn was breaking and it was much easier to see.  And what I saw was terrifying...

Near the top of the second line, there was a hint of white peaking through a seriously damaged rope sheath.  The line was core shot.  And I was below the damage!

I quickly climbed through the damaged section of rope and clipped into the anchor.  Safe.

Three of us climbed up that rope on jumars.  The bouncing motion of our movement and the dynamic nature of the rope caused it to repeatedly rub on the sandstone, allowing the coarse stone to saw through the sheath.

Ultimately, we finished the wall.  But that particular incident has stuck with me for years.  Indeed, it has made me extremely cautious while aid climbing and constantly concerned about sharp edges while free climbing.

Recently the rope manufacturer Beal, revealed a new technology that they are calling Uni Core.  The concept is that the core and the sheath are integrated and that it will be much harder for rope damage to have a catastrophic effect.

The following video is pretty convincing: 

Certainly the catastrophic effect of the knife on the rope would have been mitigated by knots in the rope.  Aid climbers on jumars are taught to knot the rope as they climb for just such a possibility.  And indeed, in my situation back in Zion, had the sheath completely come apart, I would have been shaken up, but okay.  I had placed knots in the rope.

I haven't used one of these ropes yet and have no idea how well they handle.  But as this is a major jump in rope safety, I thought it important to discuss it here.

To learn more about Uni Core and the new Beal Rope, click here.

To read a discussion on these new ropes, read the thread at

--Jason D. Martin


Alexandre Buisse said...

Is the issue with edges really that the sheath may fail (in which case a knot would stop you) or that the core will be cut cleanly (and your only chance not to deck is if it is also fixed at the bottom, which is usually not the case when following aid pitches)?

BEAL Staff said...

Thanks for the interest you show to our new technology !
This video exists in English :

Do not forget to watch our lastest Corporate VIdeo :

Anonymous said...

If ascending with ascenders you'll still hit the deck even with a fixed bottom end of rope.