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Gear Guy

Money for Dry Rope?

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“Is a dry rope better than a standard if you climb at a humid crag? I’ll never get my rope wet, but the humidity here is 99.999 percent all the time.”

I can count on two fingers the times I’ve had to rock climb on a wet rope. The most recent was in 1981 when Jimmy and The Roach and I got caught in a two-day hailstorm on the Nose.

I don’t think dry treatments existed back then, and if they did, they were experimental. When we topped out on El Cap our 11mm must have gained five pounds.

As they say, dry treatments have come a long ways, baby, urged on, perhaps, by a recent UIAA certification that limits water absorption to five percent. To compare, an untreated rope would make a serviceable kitchen sponge, absorbing up to 60 percent of its weight. Not all dry-treated ropes are yet certified, but many are and other companies are working on it. You’ll want to read each manufacturer’s rope specs and get up to speed on how their various models are treated.

In your case, whatever swamp you climb in, you will find a dry-treated rope as essential as chalk.

I do think that “dry” for rope treatments isn’t quite the right word. Certainly if you rock climb in the rain the adjective applies, but who does that on purpose more than once? Rather, dry treatments are most useful when it isn’t raining by making a rope supple, improving handling, reducing friction, repelling dirt and increasing longevity. A dry treatment on your rope is like fabric softener for your clothes, or conditioner for your hair. To your question, yes, a dry-treated rope is worth the extra coin.

Of course, ice climbers, alpinists and mountaineers will find a dry-treated rope as necessary as butterfly bandages and a headlamp. Just yesterday I was ice climbing and spray from the falls blasted the rope. The rope stiffened up in a few spots, but remained usable because it was dry treated. Sans dry treatment it would have become a frozen cable, unable to pass through a belay device and impossible to knot. We can look to Toni Kurtz for an example of what can happen when you have trouble knotting frozen ropes. Next!

This Gear Guy question appeared in Rock and Ice issue 248 (February 2018).

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