Ascender Safety 101

       Ascending Rappel Ropes 101

       Autoblock Misuse (ATC-Guide)

       Avalanche Safety

       Belay School - Why Dynamic Matters

       Can A Hot Belay Device Melt My Slings?

       Carabiner Off-Axis and Tri/Quad-Axial Loading

       Choosing the Right Carabiner

       Common Belay Screw-ups

       Connecting Two Slings Together

       Daisy Chain Dangers

       Dangers of Rope Worn Carabiners

       Dangers of Worn Lowering Anchors

       Do Ropes Need to Rest Between Falls

       Draws in a Gym

       Extending a Cam Sling

       Fall Factors Explained

       Full Strength Haul Loops

       Gear Doesn't Last Forever—Crampons

       Gear Doesn't Last Forever—Ice Tool Picks

       Gear Doesn't Last Forever—Slings & Draws

       Girth Hitching a Stopper

       How Sketchy Is a Sharp-Edged Carabiner?

       How Strong are Himalayan Fixed Lines?

       How Strong is the Spinner Leash?

       How To Belay, Part 1

       How To Extend a Rappel Device

       Knot Passing 101

       Rappelling - Climbing's Diciest Business

       Re-Slinging Cams

       Rethinking the Double-Loop Bowline

       Retiring Old Ropes

       Sharpie for Marking the Middle of a Rope?

       Sling Strength In Three Anchor Configurations

       Spectra versus Nylon

       Spotting for Bouldering

       Surviving Bad Weather on El Cap

       The Dangers of Modifying Your Gear

       The Dangers of Short Static Falls

       The Electric Harness Acid Test

       The Skinny on Super Light Ropes

       Top Roping is Not So Safe

       To Screamer Or Not To Screamer

       Via Ferrata

       Weakness of Nose-hooked Carabiners

       What is the Safest Rappel Knot?

       Worn Belay Loops and Retiring a Harness

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Climb Safe: Retiring Old Ropes

By Kolin Powick

The following article is courtesy of Black Diamond Equipment.

Broken test samples.We've all seen it at the cliffs, and I'm a major offender myself—climbing on old ratty ropes. Yeah, ropes are expensive and that's the main reason people push their ropes to the limit—trying to squeeze every last ounce of use out of them until they become a dog leash or door mat. I'm not going to lie—I get sweet deals on cords, but still, I don't like to be wasteful and usually end up climbing on my ropes a little too long.

Ropes can develop a sentimental value to some people—maybe it's the cord you sent the "proj" with, or had a great trip up a Valley wall with—so you just don't want to retire it. I had such a case—a special 9.4mm. I kept climbing and climbing and climbing on it. It was beat. It started out as a 70 m, then after endless days of constant whippers, it became a 65 m, then 60 m, then 55 m. I just didn't want to see it go.

So one weekend I was taking REPEATED MONSTER whippers off the VERY LAST move of one of the many nemesis routes of mine. I had to skip the last clip because I'm too weak to clip it—and go for a huge chuck to the finishing bucket. I would sail onto the end of my trusty 9.4 mm time and time again. The last 10 ft or so of the cord were absolutely throttled—at the end of that weekend, it was time to say goodbye.

Of course, I brought it into the lab and figured I'd do some testing.

Rope Testing Setup

I decided just to test the ultimate tensile strength of the rope in different areas, and compare it to a brand new rope of the same model and make. We didn't do anything fancy—just a figure 8 on each end, and pulled to failure in the tensile tester. We were just doing this quick and dirty for comparison's and curiosity's sake.

When tested like this, breakage at the knot is almost always the failure mode—and remember—figure eight knots can reduce the strength of a rope somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30%.



The first test we did was a piece from one of the totally worn-out ends. It broke at around 6 kN—and NOT at the knot.

Yowsa, I had just been whipping all over the place on that cord—and it broke at 6 kN, and NOT at the knot—scary stuff. Though the sporto falls I was taking were super soft (my wife was belaying and is light, and I am fat)—chances are the tension seen in the rope wasn't anywhere near 6 kN, but if I had gotten slammed hard, low to the ground, etc??? It's definitely possible to see these kinds of loads in the field.

We decided to do more tests on my cord—on the ends, and in the middle, as well as on a brand new 9.4 mm for comparison purposes. In all subsequent tests, the sample broke at the knot as expected, but we still saw some frighteningly low values. 


                                     New 9.4 mm                     KP's 9.4 mm middle            KP's 9.4 mm end   
                         15.6 kN 9 kN 6 kN*
                         13.8 kN 9.8 kN 8 kN
    7.7 kN

                                                                                                  *broke in the middle of the test sample  


We tracked down another beat 9.4 mm from one of the QA guys—and put it through the ringer as well:


                                     New 9.4 mm                Used 9.4 mm middle          Used 9.4 mm end
                              12.9 kN 11.9 kN 8 kN
                              13.6 kN 11.9 kN 9.8 kN
  11.6 kN 8.6 kN 


Still curious and given the results we'd seen—the boys in the lab and I decided to do the same with some other tattered ropes that were around. We did similar tests with more Beal ropes as well as Sterling, Edelweiss, Mammut, etc. We found very similar results:

  • The worn out, frayed, end pieces of any rope we tested were consistently significantly weaker than the middle sections of the same cord.
  • We DID manage to find other samples that broke in the middle (as opposed to at the knot) and at relatively low loads—less than 7kN.
  • The end pieces, and middle pieces were consistently weaker than a section of a brand new cord.


Bottom Line
  • Ropes, like all climbing gear, don't last forever—the ends of your rope take a beating—be wary of super frayed, worn, puffed out, beat up tattered cords. Yes, ropes aren't cheap, but they're also your lifeline—literally—so take care of them.
  • For me the most important thing is to train harder and get stronger, so I won't be whipping in the first place.


Kolin Powick (KP) is a mechanical engineer hailing from Calgary, Canada. He has over 20 years of experience in the engineering field and served as Black Diamond’s Director of Quality for over 11 years. He is currently their Climbing Category Director. If you have a technical question for KP, please email him at and he will TRY to respond.

To help make more climbers safer climbers, Rock and Ice has teamed up with Black Diamond Equipment to present the information here. 

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