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Rope for Sandy Location

Hi Folks, I'm wanting to get anyone's experience with climbing/rappelling on very sandy surfaces. I live in Mobile Alabama and only enjoy traditional climbing and rappelling by traveling north a few hundred miles. We do have several nearby locations particularly for rappelling, but they are all natural earth escarpments of clay and very sandy plateaus.

I'm very hesitant to pitch $200+ of "real" (UIAA certified) rope down the cliff! I have considered buying used rope? Logged out rope? Not too thrilled about either! I am considering 7/16" yacht braid??? At 30-40 bucks and it's rated at 6,000 lbs +/- depending on brand. It's softer and a lot more open braid so I know it will collect sand fast but it seems it would wash out easy too. I have played with it a little in the privacy of my backyard and it behaves OK in belay devices.  At that price I can replace it after a dozen or so uses. There is one rappel in Mississippi about 600 feet with many of these sandy plateaus, and I sure want to get to the bottom!

Anyone have any experience or better ideas?


It isn't all that far to Little River, which has some excellent climbing, or even over into Georgia to Stone Mountain. I used to go over there when I lived in Jackson, MS (although northwestern Arkansas is better). Where is this 600 foot rappel in MS? Vicksburg has dirt cliffs, but not that tall. And for most of the state, that high a rappel would put you below sea level.

Anyway, to answer your question - based on more than a few years of climbing, and being an avid reader of each year's edition of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, I would strongly advise you to forget about the alternatives you mention. No way I would personally buy someone else's used or logged-out rope. You won't know the history of the rope - how it was used, any major falls, how it was stored. Rope loses strength just sitting in storage. Even a few years ago, the UIAA and CE tests were showing that in 4 years in proper storage conditions, rope loses half its strength. Advances in the materials and technology have allowed some companies to get that up to 7 years.

If you are using the rope only for rappelling, a static line designed for rappelling is a good choice, and it is much cheaper than a dynamic. But if you are going to use it for climbing, even top-roping, you definitely should spring for the extra bucks for a dynamic rope.

You are worried about $200? What is your life worth? That rope is literally your life-line. $200 is a pretty cheap life and disability insurance premium. As for substituting yacht line, keep in mind that rope is designed and manufactured for a particular use. The kinds of things a yacht or any marine line is used for are very different from climbing uses. You quote a static strength. Climbing rope is tested and certified to hold falls, with a limit on the maximum load it will put on the falling climber. It is called "dynamic" because the elasticity is deliberately designed in to provide that maximum load on the climber. If you are going to use the rope for climbing, you need to look at the other parameters of the rope's performance.

Static lines designed for rappelling (and as tag lines and for hauling) are different from static lines for marine use. They are still static (actually they have some minimal stretch), but the wear characteristics are different for the different conditions encountered. But static rappel lines are not intended for use as climbing ropes. If you fall on a static line, you subject yourself and the anchors to a shock load, which has resulted in serious injury in way too many cases. You can rappel on a dynamic climbing rope, and in fact much use of dynamic ropes is the rappel down from a completed climb.

Climbing ropes, both dynamic climbing ropes and static rappel lines, are often subjected to sandy and dirty conditions, especially in much of the Western US. "Dry" ropes are called that because they are intended to minimize absorption of water. But a side effect is that the collection of sand and dirt is also reduced. Not eliminated, of course, but reduced. You can (and should) clean your ropes periodically. On the SuperTopo website, you can find discussions of the best ways to clean ropes.

Anyway, do yourself a favor and buy a new rope which is designed for your intended use. Taking the cheap way out is just asking for trouble. I speak from having started out with a manila rope bought at the local hardware store.

If teh surace edge of teh repel below the anchor is problematic, you can get a sleeve to protect the rope at that point from the sharp edge. Other than that, you cannot get more great advice about this than what BillS has provided. I watched an episode of I SHOULDNT BE ALIVE where a guy used rope to assist him down a very steep area to a beach. It was improperly tied and was not climbing rope. He had no harness. Just lowered himself bare handed. He was trying to pull his injured body up the rope to save his life and it came off. Not a risk I would take. Proper rope. Proper Anchors, and proper knots with a good solid harness. Nothing less.

Welcome to Trailspace, Rankin

Bill has far more experience and knowledge than I do, so he can offer both broader and more specific advice, but from where I am at, he's right on the money. Sport and pit ropes are designed and engineered to handle and perform perfectly in the conditions you speak of. Of course, you must use safe and proper practices and equipment for the rope to perform the way it is intended. You need to have proper harnesses, rope pads, hardware and anchors, additional cordage and webbing, etc. Most important is the knowledge and training to use all of that effectively. 

To address concerns about the durability of technical ropes, here is an eye opening report by one of the foremost authorities on Caving, Rescue, and North American rope techniques. Bruce Smith is co-author of the veritable bible on the subject, "On Rope."


Though climbing and pit ropes are design to be durable and functional on rock and in mud, this does not mean they cannot be damaged. Neglect and misuse can render a rope unsafe, so getting the education for use and handling is paramount. 

Well Bill, in your defence, everyone in the US used manilla rope then right? 


Look at this rope:


REI has a decent dynamic rope for $99.95.  Its even new! LOL.

Unless you ABSOLUTELY KNOW that all you will do is rappel I would not buy a static rope.  You can climb and rap on a decent $100 single dynamic rope. DO NOT buy a double or half rope for now, these require advanced techniques.

For now, a 60 meter rope in the 9-10.5mm range will do you fine.  Look around and you will find one for around $100, give or take $20.

To be tevhnical, I am a certified Competent Person/Inspector Trainer for industrial fall protection.  Our guidelines state that age of equipment (harnesses and lanyards) is irrelevant as long as it passes a thorough inspection.

Though I'd never buy/use a used rope except for toproping, I do not think that mere age is a factor any longer in rope safety. Still, was it exposed to solvents or acid? Can you tell? A competent person might be able to but acid damage is practically invisible. Its easier with industrial fall protection because we use more webbing which is very easy to inspect. 

Beale says 15 years max life:

This article claims that rope breaking, according to the UIAA is not really a factor alongside climber and belayer skill:

Another article from the UIAA mentions that its more of the rope's abuse rather than its age that affects it. It mentions a 30 year old rope that did not fail:

my two cents.


Thanks Guys,

I will take the advice and dedicate one static rope I already use to the sandy locations. It is a New England MKIII, and has a very tight mantle. It is only a few years old. I'll buy something new for the mountains! I think it would keep out sand well particularly where not bent as at a belay.

Back when I first rapped the location is MS (30 years ago), we were using a three strand twisted. It was not bought by me but most everyone in the group used this type. The first time I used a core mantle was there but one of the shear walls. Most of the site amounts to long runs down a steep incline.

I'm wondering if the others knew, or at least thought the three strand would clean up better? I've never personally thought of three strand for climbing or rappelling these days but the Army does it all the time.


In fact, most of the guys did a "Ranger style" belt with a side mounted loop and a carabiner with three to four turns on the spine only. I did this too but quickly bought a conventional harness mostly because I found real hard to untie a mule knot on one side after a stop!

Though kernamantle ropes were around 30 years ago, the laid ropes you used at the time were likely Goldline, which was the prevalent climbing line through the 70s. As with most conversions to a  new standard, it was well into the 80s before modern kernmantles had nearly completely eliminated laid rope from use.  I am curious of the source for your statement that the Army currently uses laid ropes, am pretty certain the military uses kernmantle ropes, and have for some time. 

The carabiner wrap rappel you mention has indeed been used by the military and sport rope users over time, it is not a recommended method except for emergency use and there is NO other viable option. This is because the mechanics of the biner-wrap make opportunities for failure of both the rope and biner quite high.

Regarding harnesses, there are additional imperative reason, other than comfort, to only use a rope harness for emergencies. The narrow width of a rope can cause severe injury in the event of a shock, and even just from extended use, especially to soft tissue and organs. Additionally, if you became stranded on repel, hanging stationary using a rope or webbing sling cuts off circulation and can even be fatal.  There are so many wonderful knots, the use of proper knots would eliminate any difficulty in untying your rigging. 


Thanks for the references. Interesting that Beal (which used to be distributed by BD in this country) says 15 years, which contradicts what BD said when they were the distributors. Most important thing about all 3 articles (the other 2 which I had seen before) is that the most important points are usage and proper storage. It is common to wear out a rope in a single big wall climb and to wear out a rope in a season. In the climbing gym that one of the Scout councils that I run training sessions for, the ropes are worn out in a year, and in commercial gyms that are heavily patronized here in the SFBay Area, some replace them every couple of months.

On the storage, all too many people just toss the ropes in the trunk of the car, heedless of whatever else is in the trunk. As the UIAA article notes, acid damage is often unseen, and too many cars have the trunk (boot, to the Brits) in close proximity to the battery. In Rankin's case, sand in the rope can cause a lot of abrasion, especially if it gets through the sheath and into the core, where the wear is unnoticed (though it can be detected IF you learn how to check the rope and do so every time it is used, both before and after the climbing/rappelling session.

On your comment on static ropes, it sounds like Rankin uses the ropes primarily for rappelling. Static rappel ropes tend to keep the mud and sand out better than dynamics, plus are a lot cheaper. For the summer camp programs, we dedicate ropes to rappel usage, hence use static lines for that use. They do last longer than when we used dynamics for everything, but the whole set of ropes at summer camp are worn significantly by the end of the season (roughly 1400-1500 kids go through the program).

The main reason for the strong comment on "don't buy a used rope" is, plain and simple, you have no idea how the previous owner used or stored the rope, or whether there were any significant events, like hard falls or (shudder!) cars being towed out of the ditch.

As for your comment:

Well Bill, in your defence, everyone in the US used manilla rope then right?

No, when I started climbing, the changeover to synthetic ropes was well along. But manila from the hardware store was what a group of 12-year-olds could afford. Luckily, we were quickly taken under the wing of some horrified "real climbers" very quickly. OTOH, some of my climbing partners a few years later literally started out with clothesline ("Clothesline? What's that? You mean people actually dried their wash on a rope and not in a drier? You guys must have been really poor!")


As Caleb says, the laid ropes were almost certainly Goldline (Columbia) or Plymouth nylon (white). And the carabiner wrap was used a lot, but only by the military. I would disagree about when the kern-mantle took over, but maybe that's just out here on the Left Coast. Kern-mantle was almost exclusively used by 1970 out here.

A far better hitch to use for rappelling and belays, if you do not have a purpose-made belay device (e.g., an emergency like someone dropping their device or during a self-rescue situation) is the munter hitch (though if you are climbing in the Dolomites, you better call it an Italian hitch). The munter is easily muled if you have to lock things off. I am more than a bit surprised when you mention having to struggle to undo a mule knot. The big advantage of a mule is that it is one of the few knots that can be easily tied and undone under load. Are you sure you had a real mule knot? It would make no difference whether it was on the front on your carabiner with a munter or a belay device on your belay loop on your harness or on a side harness, if done properly.

If you not have a purpose-made climbing harness, I highly recommend you get one, a sized one preferably, not a "one size fits all" type. As Caleb says, tied harnesses, whether rope or tubular sling, are problematic. Tied as a swami belt (which we used to use) is especially problematic, and as mentioned, have caused a number of deaths. Though I would add that another problem is that they are really hard to check to be sure they are tied properly.

When I started climbing, it was with Goldline and I only took one small fall on it. Because it was not dynamic rope, we also used what was called  a dynamic belay, in which the theory was held that the belayer would gradually hold the fall. Even if that worked, the fall was hard. Dynamic ropes changed all that. Kernmantle ropes will get sand and grit in them, but if cleaned regularly, the dirt usually doesn't get into the core. A laid rope will get dirt into the important part, as there is no sheath to protect it. They can be cleaned in the washer and most of the sediment removed. As Bill said, how much is your life worth? I would not buy a used rope, nor do I loan out ropes, because I would never know the history. I also regularly check for skinny spots in the rope, as the core can partially fail, leaving an OK looking sheath.

As Gonzan said, 'biner brakes are only for emergency use, as they can put a lot of loading on the gates. Also they are complicated(gates need to be reversed), and require ovals to work. And really, a figure 8 belay device is cheap and effectively accomplishes the same thing in a simpler form.

For climbing, except in aid, your rope is your redundancy in case you peel. Rappelling is inherently more dangerous as there is only the rope between you and a cemetery.

As Gonzan said above, commercial harnesses have been a real plus for comfort. When I started, we tied swami's and then Chouinard made padded swamis, but we used ape seats or just Dr. Dulfer's method for rappelling. Really scary, the latter, IMHO. Commercial harnesses made it so much more comfortable to hang, including the much maligned, but loved by me, Whillans Harness. 

Buy yourself a GOOD, NEW rope, a GOOD, NEW harness, and make sure your anchors are doubled or at least, if single, totally bombproof.

Stay safe and welcome to Trailspace.

Bill S said:

I would disagree about when the kern-mantle took over, but maybe that's just out here on the Left Coast. Kern-mantle was almost exclusively used by 1970 out here.

 I'm sure you've got a more accurate idea of when the transition happened, as you were there, and I was but a babe in arms :)

I knew the kernantle ropes were around prior to the 60s & 70s, but I wasn't sure precisely when they gained predominance, and probably overstated how long the laid stuff hung around in use.  

Thanks Guys,

I do own and use modern ropes, I have a static and one dynamic. The dynamic is only 150 feet, but I got it just to do a little more climbing. I mostly just rappel. I also use a new harness too. And a helmet, that's far from 30 years ago.

My only question was just me being cheep,,,, thinking about saving money in the sand! Hate the idea of tossing good gear in the dirt just for a few trips down the hill. LOL

I did however start out with guys from Camp Shelby. I think they were more versed on military methods back then.

Not too sure what the military use today,

The old rappel belts I spoke of were about 1 1/2" wide and had the loop on right side only!

Today I'm very comfortable using a "real" harness and an ATC is still my favoriate. 8's work for me too but I like a plain old ATC.

("Clothesline? What's that? You mean people actually dried their wash on a rope and not in a drier? You guys must have been really poor!") Joe Brown started with clothesline, and survived to become one of the best climbers of his generation. Although Chouinard can take the credit for artificial nuts, Brown reputedly drilled machine nuts before Yvon. I would support that, as I know that many English climbers(the poor ones) of the period, would get to the bottom of a local gritstone or scottish crag and fill their pockets with a bunch of appropriately sized stones. That was climbing on the cheap! Before the days of Friends, etc. I wasn't above doing the same if I didn't have an appropriately sized nut, or pin on my rack.

I first got introduced to nuts the first year I went climbing in Europe (1964). Machine nuts had been around for a few years among the Brits by then. I got a plastic nut (still have it, made of Delrin) while there, plus some original Clogs (the aluminum version made by Brown). Some of us who were over there that year started climbing with them late that summer when we got back to the States. For some reason, they didn't get made here for another couple years, though Chouinard was certainly familiar with them (he had been climbing in Europe for a while). The Dolt (Bill Feuer) made the first ones here, followed by Chouinard and some folks in Colorado. In SoCal, a large fraction of the climbers had shifted to them, as had a number of Yosemite climbers by 1970, though a lot of the books say Chouinard didn't start making them until '70 or '71. Somehow the dates usually quoted don't jibe with the dates on photos I took during the late '60s.

And yes, we did (and still do) use pebbles and rocks with slings, as we were taught by the climbers around Llanberis Pass, on Clogy.


Aren't there SS cable and descender device solutions suitable for this application?  More expensive initially, but it should last longer and be cheaper in the long run.


Erich, it interests me that you mention dynamic belay.  My belayer is my teen daughter and when she isn't attached to the ground while belaying me (she always is when its at all possible) I get a dynamic belay if I slip because she is so much lighter than I.  This can be a little sketchy if I am near the ground.

Haha. I'll bet she doesn't like getting yanked to the first point of protection! Maybe it's time she had a facetious invention a partner and I devised once, The Quick Draw Off Belay Knife.

December 3, 2020
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