Can Rusty Rap Anchors Damage My Rope?

Can rust that rubs off on the rope damage your cord?

I have a brand-new rope that I took to the Red River Gorge. I have been climbing for years and typically rappel but had to lower from a particular route on rusty rings. Now my rope is streaked with rust marks. Is rust harmful to ropes?

—Ben Lathrobe


Basically, your rope got slightly dirty. Rust is iron oxide, caused by the corrosion of iron or steel, and is one of the most abundant metallic oxides in soil. In simple terms, reddish soil is rusty because of its iron oxide content—the very rock at the RRG is red for the same reason.

The rust on those lowering rings is no more harmful to your nylon rope than the dirt you pitched your rope in at the base of the route. If the rust stain on your rope is rubbing off on your clothes or hands and that bothers you, or it bothers you for no reason, wash the rope. A swish in warm water and a scrub with a nylon brush might be all it takes. If that doesn’t suffice, use a rope-safe soap such as Nikwax’s Tech Wash or Edelweiss’s Rope Wash. Personally, I’d live with the stain, but I also wear a white shirt to eat spaghetti.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t slap your wrists for lowering off rappel rings, causing needless wear, etc. But you know this, obviously, and yours was some strange emergency situation. Actually, I don’t care. Rings require threading, a common source of fatal accidents when done wrong. If I had my way, rings would be banned and replaced with steel carabiners so you could clip and lower without untying or ever getting off belay. Lives would be saved. Gear Guy has spoken!


Feature Image by Howcheng.

This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 258 (July 2019).

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