When To Retire Climbing Gear and Ropes

I haven't seen the end of a rope in 10 years. This past week we took a family camping trip to Joshua Tree and the climbing bug bit me again. The quest...

By Rock and Ice | December 15th, 2009

I haven’t seen the end of a rope in 10 years. This past week we took a family camping trip to Joshua Tree and the climbing bug bit me again. The question is, when is gear too old? I still have my rack and two ropes, neither of which has taken any serious falls. One of them has only been used five or six times. For the past decade my gear has been stowed in a garage, sheltered from the elements and not exposed to light or significant humidity (San Diego!). I will carefully inspect every piece of gear. Is there any reason not to assume it is still safe and reliable? Do nuts and cams age? I don’t mind replacing a few items.

Unless your carabiners, cams or nuts are corroded, and it doesn’t sound as if they are, they are as solid as the day you put them in hibernation. The only problem you might have is dealing with the laughter at the crag when you whip out your museum pieces. Gear has evolved a lot in 10 years and your gear will be heavy and clunky compared to what’s available today. Imagine a Flintstone’s mobile next to a Honda hybrid and you get my drift. But your gear should work perfectly fine.

Your ropes are another matter. Maybe they are OK, but there’s no real way to know, short of strapping them into a drop-test tower and breaking them to determine their strength loss over time. Since there isn’t a single recorded instance of a rope ever breaking due to just being old, I’d feel comfortable climbing on your cords. The greater consideration is whether they might have been exposed to chemicals such as battery acid, which are real rope killers and common in a garage-storage situation, and/or wear. Cut up and throw away any rope that might have been contaminated, and run both ropes through your hands to feel for soft spots or other irregularities like bite marks from critters. You said that one of the ropes was barely used and neither had held big falls, so I suspect you are good to go with them.

Bear in mind that those 50-meter ropes, while the standard back in the day, will be too short to lower from the anchors on the newer routes established with 60- or even 70-meter lines. I’d relegate them to toproping and fixing, and get lighter and trimmer modern cords, 10mm or just under and at least 60 meters, for leading.

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