In search of a lightweight set of half ropes, I have recently been testing out the Tendon Master 7.8mm ropes. I have used them on recent climbs in the European Alps such as the long north faces of Dent Blanche, Aiguille du Jardin, and water-ice climbing in the Haute-Maurienne, and I found them to perform excellently on these particular climbs. If you are looking for a new light, compact double rope setup, read on.
The 7.8mm ropes are rated as a twin and half rope. However, since the thinner the rope generally the more the elongation, with ropes on the skinner end of the double-rated spectrum I often find myself using this rope as a twin rope more when the climbing is tough and I have good protection. This will increase the force on the protection in a fall but you won’t fall quite as far, which is more a mental factor than anything. On easier ground I feel comfortable using this rope as a half rope to reduce rope drag, especially on ice climbs.
Which factors should influence your decision of which length to select? The choice of length often depends on the chosen purpose for the rope, and the area where you climb. In some areas, abseils & fixed belays in the alpine and on multi-pitches are set up for 50m ropes which allows a 20m rope saving to be made, and less rope to pull up after each pitch. However, you risk being caught out short more often. Also, if the ropes need to be cut due to a fray, your 40 or so metre ropes are almost useless.
I opted for a set of 50m ropes this time for the specific use of predominantly snow/ice alpine climbs where weight is crucial. They are also great for ice climbing where rope wear is minimal, and the odd extra v-thread on descent is not usually an issue.
In my opinion this rope is best suited to alpine ice & mixed routes, and water-ice climbing.
I used this pair of ropes last October while climbing the 1000m long north face of Dent Blanche in Switzerland, which was almost all alpine ice. The big advantage of taking a skinnier rope on climbs like this is the ease of belaying – these ropes run so easily through a device they basically belay themselves. Even though we simul-climbed this face, there were still many belays, and on long days you want to save as much energy as possible, because when the climbing is rapid, trying to belay quickly with a thick rope can be energy sapping.
When simul climbing, it was no problem to climb with the full 50m of rope out between us, rather than having to take in coils, since the ropes were so light-weight. A thinner rope also has the advantage of producing less rope drag.
Another good application for this light rope could be as a pull-cord for climbs where a single rope is preferred but full length abseils are required. Of course, a specialised 6mm pull-cord is lighter for this purpose, but most climbers are on limited budgets, so a rope with multiple uses is always handy.
For harder, technical mixed climbing I would prefer a slightly thicker cord such as the Master 8.4mm, due to the extra abrasion involved with rock. Dragging these thin ropes on many long rocky pitches will wear them out quicker than your wallet would hope. The elongation in the 7.8mm rope makes abseiling in rocky terrain less desirable due to more rubbing over edges. On adventurous abseiling involving pendulums across a face with the rope weighted, you will surely be glad for a thicker cord.
By no means should you fear any sort of mixed routes with these ropes – just be aware that they will not last as long in this type of terrain.
For alpine and trad rock climbing in the summer months, the Lowe 8.4mm or Master 8.5mm would be your best choice.
So, with a lighter rope comes the cost of less durability – but this is the trade-off for the significant weight saving you gain.
Weight comparison for various length / diameter combinations
Reducing both the length and also diameter of your ropes can produce significant weight savings for alpine climbing.
|Tendon Master 7.8mm||1.9||2.3||2.7|
|Tendon Lowe 8.4mm||2.1||2.5||2.9|
|Tendon Master 8.5mm||2.3||2.8||3.2|
You can see from this table that the overall weight saving between your typical set of 60m 8.5mm ropes versus a set of lighter 50m 7.8mm is then 1.8kg. Combine this with the additional energy saved from easier belaying, flaking, and coiling, it all adds up.
When selecting your next rope, consider whether a lighter setup might actually satisfy your needs for the climbs you are targeting. Increasing your chances of success in alpine climbing comes from a combination of many small changes, in your training, diet, strategy, and your equipment.