Spring Cleaning – Climbing Gear
The days have started to get longer and warmer, the snow is beginning to melt, and the general feeling of spring is in the air. For climbers, this marks the beginning of the new season. Weekends, afternoons, and every other possible time there is, will soon be spent at the crag sending, or, as is more often the case for many of us, failing to send. When you do take that inevitable whip, you want to be focusing first on proper body positioning for the fall, and then on how your beta could be improved the next time around, not on whether your gear will do its job of catching you. Right now, before the season is in full swing, is therefore the perfect time to inspect all the climbing gear in your inventory. You want to make sure that everything looks, feels, and behaves as it should, and to get rid of anything that’s safety is even marginally questionable. Remember, all climbing gear fails eventually, and since you are entrusting your life to these items every time you rope up, it is always better to err on the side of caution.
Taking care of your rope begins at the crag. You should always flake it onto a rope bag or tarp, avoid stepping on it, which can grind dirt into the rope exacerbating fraying, keep it covered and out of the sun when not in use, and regularly switch which end you are climbing on to keep wear more uniform. Following these best practices will help to elongate your rope’s life. Still, every rope is ultimately retired, and all ropes should be checked regularly to ensure that any dangerous issues are caught before they become a real problem. Throughout the season the easiest way to check your rope is when you’re flaking or wrapping it before and after climbing.
Your rope should also be checked during the spring cleaning process. This is an opportunity to really look it over, so take your time. Run it through your hands, looking and feeling for signs of damage such as fraying, discoloration, flat sports, stiffness, and bunching. Also, carefully inspect for core shots by bending the rope in half at any point where you think there may be something wrong. An intact core will stop the two halves of the rope from touching. If they do touch, you have a core shot, and the rope needs to be cut or replaced. If you do decide to continue using your rope after cutting it, make sure to measure the new length before climbing on it.
To avoid unnecessary wear, ropes should be washed infrequently. Still, a good, thorough cleaning is both good for the rope and good for you moral, and this time of year, when you are already going through all your gear, is a great time to do it. Daisy chain your rope, then put it in a pillowcase in the washing machine. After washing, hang it to dry.
Carabiners or “biners” are critical to your safety on the rock and need to be replaced periodically. They are also some of the cheapest climbing gear, so there is no excuse for keeping a sketchy one on your rack. As you inspect your biners, look for gates that won’t shut, excessive wear, and bends, dings, and sharp points.
If you encounter the first issue, it is possible that the carabiner just needs to be cleaned, especially if it has a locking mechanism. Wash it in a citrus-based bike cleaner, then air dry. If the gate still sticks, that biner should be scrapped.
When looking at damage from wear, remember that some is normal. However, it is not worth climbing on any biner with abrasion marks that have begun to create a visible indent. Any other damage besides scratches is not safe. Bends and dings compromise the safety rating the biner received at production, and sharp bits may catch or cut the rope as your climb.
With so many moving parts, it’s easy for cams to get quite dirty. Dirt inside their spring mechanism can make them stick, so it is important to keep them well lubricated and as dirt free as possible. To clean your cams, place the mechanical end in a boiling pot of water, making sure to keep the webbing safely in the air. Next, remove all dirt from the axels and springs with a pipe cleaner and rag. Finally, lube your cams with a “dry” oil. Metolius makes specialized lube for cams, but bike lube, like Tri-Flow, can also work.
Any dented or bent cams may be compromised in terms of strength, and even if it appears to be working correctly should probably be replaced. The slings on cams also need to be replaced periodically. Inspect them for fading and have them redone after five years, at most.
Nuts should be inspected for burrs and frays along the wire. Small frays can be filed or clipped, but any larger loose wires will necessitate the retirement of that piece. This is especially true if the loose wire is near the head.
The lifespan of a harness varies, however the rule of thumb is to replace it at the five-year mark if not sooner. When you inspect your harness, look for any holes, burns, fading, and frays in the material, and any wear or damage to the buckles. If you find any of these things, it’s time to buy a new harness. You should also invest in a new harness after taking any particularly bad falls, even if the damage is not readily visible.
Keeping your harness clean will help elongate its life. Make sure to remove any dirt after a day of particularly grimy climbing. If your harness needs a more thorough clean, hand wash it with gentle soap, and let it air dry.
The rule of thumb for slings is the same as other soft goods – even if not obviously damaged, replace after five years. If you can’t remember when you bought a sling, many have the manufacturing date listed on the tag. If there is any fraying, cuts, or discoloration and fading on a sling, retire it. This also goes for dogbones, which is the name for the webbing found on a quickdraw.