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Managing Ropes on Snowy Ice Climbs   

Tagged in: Gear, Ice Climbing, Safety
by Bryan Ferguson
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Wet ropes are a bummer! 

Rope loses 1/3 of its strength and much of its shock absorbing capability when wet. Water squeegees out of the belay/rappel device all over the climber. Wet ropes are heavy and hard to handle. Wet ropes become useless when they freeze solid.

A quick note on dry treatments:
There continues to be a lot of discussion regarding the value of dry treatment on ropes. Certainly your preference, dry treated or not dry treated, will be in the back of your mind as you consider these strategies. So, it's not my intent to sway your opinion either way. I will say that we stopped buying dry treated ropes a long time ago. We now use untreated ropes for all our ice climbing trips, including our annual four days of ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park. Sometimes the ropes get wet but overall, we have had excellent success keeping ropes dry all day by using these five interventions.

So, weather your rope is dry treated or not, here are five pointers that will help keep your ropes dry and you and your climbing partners happy on those snowy ice climbs.

Rock Climbing Photo: Snowy rope

Snowy rope

Use a newer rope
Dry treated or not, new ropes are far less prone to wicking moisture from the snow into the rope.

Keep the rope inside your pack
Especially if it is snowing or if you are bushwhacking through snowy trees and brush.

Air-cool your rope
Don't toss a rope straight from your pack onto the snow or ice. Allow your ropes to cool to the air temperature by hanging them in the shade from a tree branch or anchor or by placing them on a dry rock. On cold winter days, the dry mountain air is usually colder than the snow temperatures. If your rope is colder than the snow, it won't melt the snow.

Use a tarp
Stack your rope on a tarp when practical. Otherwise, stomp an area in the snow to accommodate your rope.

Allow your ropes to dry over-night
If you are going home or back to the hotel for the evening, uncoil your ropes and spread the strands across the floor to give the rope the best possible chance of totally drying overnight. If you are camping this can be a real challenge. In a tent or in a building, the key here is to keep the ropes as dry as possible rather than trying to dry them later.

So, you did all of the above and your ropes still got wet? It’s best to have more than one rope so you can rest one, allowing it to dry, without missing a day of climbing.

Next Topic » Ice Climbing Basics: The Tripod

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