Anybody who has used a rope when climbing understands how important it is for safety. I consider that ensuring that your ropes are in good condition is a priority and they need to be checked regularly as part of your standard safety checking. Beginner climbers are at the greatest risk of slipping or falling and this is where a rope will play a very important role.I believe that checking a rope is a simple process and should be part of an ongoing routine. However, if you discover that a rope has been damaged, and it is not at the ends, then it should be retired. But cutting a rope is an option if the damage is at the end. I want to ensure that you understand the right way to go about cutting a rope. Safety should always be a primary consideration when climbing.
How to check a rope for damage
This video from team BMC in the UK shows you how to do this easily and effectively
Trimming the ends of your rope
Usually the last 10 feet of your rope will be experiencing the greatest amount of activity and will often start to change as a result of this. There may be frayed ends or the rope itself may be changing in appearance. Cutting a rope to remove these damaged end pieces will ensure that you are only using good quality rope for climbing.
If the woven sheath on either end of the rope looks damaged, even if the threads just look fuzzy, then you will need to trim it. It is important to remember that if you trim a rope it will be shorter and you may also need to change the marking for the central point on the rope if you have trimmed off different lengths at either end.
How to trim a rope
If you have identified that one end or both of the ends of your climbing rope are showing signs of wear or damage then you will need to trim those pieces off. There is a simple method for cutting a rope.
You will require:
1. sports or electrical tape,
2. a black marking pen,
3. a sharp knife, and
4. a gas lighter.
Step 1 – Assess the damage
You will need to carefully assess how far the damage has spread along the length of the rope and where the rope starts to look in good condition. It is important to undertake this inspection thoroughly.
Step 2 – Mark the cutting point
Mark the point on the rope with the black marking pen where the condition of the rope is excellent as this will be where you will be making the cut. If both ends of the rope are damaged then it could be worth simply measuring the same distance at either end of the rope as long as you remove all the damaged area. This means you do not need to remeasure where the center of the rope is located.
Step 3 – Tightly wrap the rope
Identify the mark on the rope and then using the tape wrap a 4-inch section (2 inches on either side of the mark). It must be wrapped evenly and tightly.
Step 4 – Cut the rope
Use your sharp knife to cut the rope in the center of the wrapped section. You may want to mark the center of the wrapped area just to confirm that you will cut in the right spot. It is important to ensure that the knife is sharp or cutting the rope will be difficult and could be uneven. You may heat the blade knife to help make the cutting easier. Be careful when you are cutting to limit how much the rope rolls as this could affect how clean your cut is. Also, be focused on safety as you do not want the knife to slip when you apply pressure to the rope which could cause you to cut yourself.
Step 5 – Discard damaged rope
Remove and dispose of the damaged section of rope. You will only need to work on the undamaged rope section.
Step 6 – Seal the end
Use the gas flame to melt the end of the rope. Ensure that you are only applying the flame to the very end of the rope and not any of the protective sheath further up. You will see that there are fibers inside the rope and there is also material in the protective sheath. You need to melt the end of these fibers together to make sure the rope will not unravel at some time in the future. Take your time to do this properly. The rope will release some fumes while you do this so try to do it in a well-ventilated area.
Step 7 – Remove the tape
Undo the protective tape on the end of the rope and discard it. Be careful while doing this as you do not want to damage the rope sheath.
Step 8 – Inspect the end
Carefully inspect the new end of your rope to check that the ends have been properly melted together. If they have not you should reapply the gas flame until you are confident the end of the rope is properly sealed.
Step 9 – Remeasure the midpoint
If you have trimmed only one end of the rope you will have to remeasure the center and mark it with the black marking pen and a piece of tightly wrapped tape
You will need to make sure that you remember that the rope has been trimmed and will be shorter than when you used it before. You may need to tag it initially just to remind yourself of this.
Video showing how to trim the ends of your climbing rope
This video from Backcountry.com in the US shows you a process for checking and trimming your ropes.
If there is an emergency where you need to cut a rope and you do not have a knife, or you are out in the field and you do not have access to any additional equipment, then you will need to use a simpler method. This involves:
Identifying the point where you need to make the cut
Stretching the rope as tight as possible over a very hard surface, preferably a flat rock surface.
Hammering the point of the rope where you need to make the cut. This will usually require some very firm blows and you need to ensure you are striking the same point. It could take you up to 20 strikes to break the rope. This will not give you a clean cut and the rope should only be used short term.
Another method is to follow step one and two then:
Wrap a Dyneema cord around the rope and then pull the ends quickly back and forward. The protective sheath on the rope will break and then it will cut through the fibers. You will still not have a clean cut but the rope will be useable for a short period of time.
Remember to always check your equipment regularly. Use this simple list and instructions for cutting a rope when you need to. And remember to always climb safely. Did you enjoy this tutorial or find it useful? Let me know your thoughts by writing in the comments section. I hope that this information has given you enough to understand more about cutting a rope.
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