I mostly toprope, either with my buddy belaying me or I toprope self-belay using a Micro Traxion. Would it be best for me to use a static or dynamic rope?
This issue’s Accident Prevention (page 18) highlights the danger of toproping on a dynamic rope—rope stretch can let you bounce off a ledge or deck when you are near the ground. I have personal experience with this: Last year I fell on a route I had dialed. I was toprope self-belaying using a Micro Traxion and with rope stretch and a bit of slack I hit a sloping ledge. A twanged ankle derailed me from climbing for a season.
A static rope won’t stretch and would have prevented my incident, but a static presents a problem of equal portent: Unless you keep all slack out of the system, a fall will cause a shock load. This can be negligible if the fall is just a few inches, but a shock load can be spine jarring if the fall is several feet.
Tipping the balance slightly in favor of a static rope is its durability. Statics are tough as bullwhips. They’ll last and are less likely to get core shot running over an edge, a hazard in toproping as the rope often bends over the top of the crag or route to a distant anchor.
Heavier climbers, or “big ole boys,” will especially appreciate a static’s lack of springiness. The heavier you are, naturally the more you’ll stretch a dynamic. Individuals who use the last holes in their belts are at particular risk.
I’ve used and still use both a static and a dynamic rope for TR-ing, but I’m most happy when I’m on a dynamic. I can miss a dyno and not worry about getting an unauthorized chiropractic adjustment, or, if I don’t mind the slack and some develops, I don’t have to panic grab a bolt, clip in and pull out the slack. I can deal with rope stretch, and I’m more careful after my ledge-bounce incident.
Another option has availed itself, a rope that is neither fully static nor a true dynamic. I’m speaking of the relatively new breed of “gym” rope. These creatures, designed to slither around in indoor cages and be treated like underappreciated service workers, are for toproping only, but take into account that not every belayer has a laser focus, and slack will happen. That is, the rope will stretch just enough to keep your gold teeth from coming out, but not so much you’ll lose significant ground when you take, or deck when you are near the ground. Gear Guy has spoken!
This Gear Guy question appeared in Rock and Ice issue 249 (April 2018).
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