The array of modern ropes on offer in the climbing market today is larger than it has ever been, and the diversity of brands and specific qualities of individual ropes has broadened radically. This expansion has led to a point where careful consideration of the needs of the climber have to be matched with the almost overwhelming tables of statistics and well rehearsed brochure claims of the products and their endorsers.
All of this can be bypassed of course - some will just proclaim a rope to be a rope and I must put my hand up to having had a foot in this camp in the past - but as with many other bits of climbing hardware such as ultra lightweight carabiners and redesigned cams and nuts it is now advisable for all climbers to look more insightfully into what is on offer and glean the benefits of up-to-date design, materials and manufacturing processes.
So it was with this in my mind that I set about assessing three very different climbing ropes: a high end performance 'skinny' sport rope, a mid range workhorse single rope and a premium set of two ropes that are rated for twin, double and single use.
The Sterling Nano (in the Fusion series) is not a rope that will go unnoticed - its solid purple colour (the rope tested) immediately distinguishes it from others around. The Nano is a very skinny rope: its 9.2mm diameter looking and feeling at the lower limit of what most would consider to be acceptable for a sport rope without eating into the confidence that must be put into it to actually do what it is supposed to do! (The Nano is also rated for use as half/double rope). This is not a beginners' rope or indeed a rope for heavy use at the crag or the wall. It's a high end performance rope that will be of greatest appeal to sport climbers onsighting or redpointing at their limit, where weight and the reduction of drag in the system will possibly make all the difference between success and failure - particularly on very long and or circuitous lines.
"...of greatest appeal to sport climbers onsighting or redpointing at their limit..."
In use, the feel and handling of the rope is good - the construction of the rope is such that it has a slightly stiff feel that makes for easy manipulation through the belay device and aids a positive pick-up and clipping manoeuver, reducing the chances of a fumble clip. As with all skinny single ropes the choice of belay device is critical (not many auto/semi-locking belay devices at present are rated to accommodate a 9.2mm rope), however I found that the slightly textured look and feel of the Nano comes into its own, reducing the slippy nature of the rope when new and giving a little more control when lowering using a belay plate or auto/semi-locking belay device.
When onsighting or redpointing the Nano really is - as its name alludes - very small (in weight) and for those who require a long 70m or 80m line and are going on flights where baggage weight is tight then the Nano is about as good as it is going to get. As for longevity, it is not possible for me to say definitively but after a couple of months of use and two sport climbing holidays it shows all the signs of going the distance when used for what it is devised.
The Ambition is one of the mid-range single ropes of the Tendon brand and the one that I have been using is the 10mm version. The Ambition comes in a very traditional, predominantly bright red colour that looks pretty classy and is unlikely to be overlooked when packing up at the end of wall session! It's a rope for many uses from heavy climbing wall days to straightforward trad climbs as well as for all forms of sport climbing. The Ambition is a rope designed for heavy duty usage, I have climbed with it both indoors and outdoors over a couple of months and it shows no signs of significant wear which bodes well, as this is a rope that many will be looking to invest in expecting good performance but most of all a rope that will last.
"...most will purchase this rope for use as a sport climbing rope for use inside and outside but the Ambition would also make a very good single trad rope..."
The sheath of the Ambition is very nicely finished and the weave is such that a good compromise has been reached between suppleness and robustness. The rope is easily knotted and, when used with a auto/semi-locking belay device or belay plate, the feed is easily regulated both when letting the rope in and out for the leader or lowering-off. Whilst most will purchase this rope for use as a sport climbing rope for use inside and outside, the Ambition would also make a very good single trad rope. Although not commonly employed in this country in this age nevertheless this will be of interest on long straight crack pitches or for those looking to move quickly on routes below their leading limits. The Tendon Ambition 10mm is a rope that most definitely does what it proclaims and within its class is a serious contender that is also competitively priced.
The Edelrid Swifts (along with a limited number of other ropes on the market such as the Beal Joker, the Millet Absolute Pro/ and the Mammut Serenity) are a very modern take on what is likely to become a popular innovation in the coming years. The Edelrid Swifts are marketed as two 8.9mm ropes (mine are 60m) that are rated for use as twin, double and individually as single ropes. This triple rating presented me with a specification that I had never considered the technical implications of in my 35 years of climbing. I discovered that the triple rating is quite an achievement with regard to the manufacturing process that allows the ropes to be rated within the limits of tests required. I learnt a lot about what these tests actually mean with regard to forces generated and the effects on marginal gear placements, and would recommend a quick cramming of the info available - its is a sobering lesson on the benefits of in some cases less-is-more.
"...This triple rating presented me with a specification that I had never considered the technical implications of in my 35 years of climbing..."
The Edelrid Swifts are Wolves in Sheeps' clothing, their colour combo of a light yellowy green and what is essentially black, conceals a pair of impeccable ropes whose handling and construction are second to none in my experience. In use in a traditional setting as double ropes they performed very well with no sign of twisting when feeding through the belay plate and they ran smoothly over the rock surface and knotted well on the belays at stances. In an Alpine setting they would also be excellent as twin lines whilst also adding confidence if a switch to doubles was found to be necessary. However it was the convenience of being able to use one of the ropes as a single rated rope in certain circumstances that impressed me. In this role it performed admirably although I would perhaps caution against using it for heavy use in this mode as its robustness in the longer-term was not tested. The Swifts whilst costly are a superb concept that for any traveling all-round climber would be a very enticing purchase - I have already been asked by one of my climbing partners if he can borrow them for a trip to do some sport and trad abroad and they will most certainly be the only ropes I will need for my trip to the Alps in the summer for high level mountaineering and low level trad and sport cragging.
Mark is a climbing writer and photographer who has travelled to crags near and far for 35+ years. Mark started out climbing at school with friends on the sea cliffs and inland crags of Devon. At 18 he packed up his flares and Whillans harness, tied back his long black hair (where did it go!) and headed for the North, living between the Peak and Dales before moving on to the Lakes for work where he was based for around 20 years. During the 90's, Mark with his then partner Emma traveled extensively spending 1995 to 2000 in a van in the States, Canada, Europe, OZ and New Zealand. The last decade has been a transient one hopping between the Lakes, North Wales, Devon and Lancs, with trips away mainly on guidebook (Rockfax) work or for articles to places such as Sardinia, Finale, Ceuse, El Chorro, Lofoten, Mallorca and Turkey.
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