Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Bit About Ropes

Having a productive blogging day today it seems. Some of you millions of followers may be looking at getting a new rope / first rope, and you might be a little confused by all the options. So here's a little opinion on ropes and what to look at.

"Should I drop the big bucks on a sweet dry-treated rope?" 

ah the grand myth of the dry-treatment!

the big question is this: will you be ice-climbing with this rope?
or similarly: is the area where you climb known for it's insane wetness?

if you are not going to be climbing on a wet rope on a regular basis, you do not need the try treatment and are just spending unnecessary money.

focus on the dynamic and static elongation, and the impact force (this will give you an idea of the durability but also the comfort of the rope for climbing - stretchier tends to be more comfortable but a little less durable, high impact forces = harsh on the body/gear)

"OK but what about the fall rating for the rope?"

UIAA falls are generally a useless measurement so pay no heed. You will never take repeated falls over factor 1 in such quick succession as to test this capability of your rope.

"What about diameter?"

Unless you are leading backcountry 5.12, don't look at anything thinner than a 9.8. if you're only gym/sport climbing, go for a 10.1 - you'll get way more life out of your rope. Thinner ropes are always less durable, and do you REALLY need those weight savings if you're only lugging the thing a couple hundred metres from the parking lot?

"So how do I distinguish between all the offerings?"

go to a store and feel the ropes - is there a significant disconnect between the core and the sheath? i.e. can you compress the rope in a big way and really easily feel the core? if you can, that rope will generally be more likely to get core slippage later in life.

in north america, this is what i generally find:

- New England Ropes/Maxim: low core slippage, higher impact force, good durability. advantage: very inexpensive for a good rope.

- Beal: too spongy feeling for me, lots of space between core and sheath (except in the new glued unicore ropes). I have heard, though, lots of good things about Beal - especially for ice climbing.

- Edelrid: great bang-for-your-buck, very stretchy, durability so-so. good hand but not as smooth as others when belaying.

- Mammut: pricey but amazing, great balance of stretch and durability, hard to find a not-dry rope though.

- Sterling: amazing ropes, durability is great, great balance between stretch and durability. something for everyone.

- Petzl: they seem to have solved their durability problems, a little softer in the hand, quite stretchy, overall pretty good value.

My recommendation is Sterling....but I am probably biased.

Core training

Unless you are crushing V7+ roofs, your weakest muscles are most likely your core.

As a climber this is ironic because climbing involves so much core strength, but I would argue your core is one of the hardest things to improve upon through everyday climbing (unless you do nothing but roofs). To this point, I would like to introduce you to a great exercise that should help to rock that core into shape, which should in turn greatly improve your climbing.

Remember that your core is essentially all the muscles in your trunk excluding the arms and legs - we're talking back, chest, lower back, abs, glutes, groin - all of 'em.

The best whole-core exercises that I've come across was recommended by Will Gadd - he called them "knee-to-elbows". They go a little something like this:

- Find something to grab (ideally a chinup bar, could be rock rings, a hangboard, just give yourself room in all directions) and dead-hang in pullup position (palms facing forward), shoulder-width apart.

- Now pull up until your elbow is somewhere between 160-degrees and 140-degrees (i.e. want the muscles engaged).

- Curl your knees and stomach slowly upwards to touch your elbows in a nice smooth arc, and back down again. Make sure both stages are fully controlled. This is the primary component of the exercise.

- Ensure that as you do these you are taking care to not swing, and keep your arms as stable as possible. essentially your goal is to keep your shoulders as still as possible and rotate around that axis.

- You should feel this everywhere, but especially your mid/lower back (generally the weakest part of your core)...if you don't feel it, either you have the core of a V7+ roof climber, or your technique is a little off.

- Don't be surprised if you cannot do very many of these before failure when you first start, but stick with it and you will find improvement very quickly. For the sake of training, I would say find your 1-set failure limit and back the reps off by 1/2 to pack more sets in, or else do pyramids up to your limit. Gadd defines a "strong" core as being able to do 15 in a row, so consider working towards that.

Supplementary reading: Core strength stuff from Will Gadd