How to Buy a Rope?

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing climbing at Cascade Canyon with a Sterling Evolution Helix bicolour 9.5mm © Randy Gaetano

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing climbing at Cascade Canyon with a Sterling Evolution Helix bicolour 9.5mm © Randy Gaetano

Buying a rope is one of the more complicated decisions you will make when it comes to climbing gear. To help you decide, I’ve put together my two cents on the top things to consider when it comes to making a rope purchase.

1) What Diameter?

For single-pitch climbing I recommend a 9.8mm.

A thicker diameter rope is more durable and has increased abrasion and cutting resistance. A 9.8 mm will take the abuse of high-volume, single pitch climbing and hold up better if the rock where you climb is sharp.

For multi-pitch climbing you’ll want something skinnier like 9.2mm. Whether you’re leading or belaying, you’ll appreciate less weight hanging from your harness.

2) What Length?

The industry standard climbing rope length is 60 meters, just shy of 200 feet.

If the climbs are longer, like in the Ouray Ice Park, I recommend 70 meters (232 feet).

Lately, I’ve found it’s convenient to have an 80m rope. 80 meters often eliminates the need for 2 ropes on a multi-pitch descent.

3) What Features?

A bi-pattern is great for multi-pitch climbing. It saves tons of time and energy when you know where the middle of the rope is.

Dry treatments prevent ropes from absorbing moisture.

A wet rope is less strong, heavy and can freeze stiff.

I highly recommend splurging for a dry treatment if you’re an ice climber or you live in a wet place like the Pacific Northwest or the wild woods of the East coast.

4) Still not sure?

Get started with Sterling’s Evolution Velocity (9.8mm, 60m). The Velocity is a great first rope for mainly single pitch cragging. It’s also a great workhorse for top roping.

Go a little skinnier with the Sterling Evolution Helix (9.5mm, 60m or 70m) for a great all around rope on both single and multi-pitch.

Go big with the Sterling Evolution Aero (9.2mm, 70m or 80m, bi-pattern). This will be your “sending’ rope and it will get you up and down most multi-pitch climbs.

5) Add a rope bag to your shopping cart to keep that new cord of yours in tiptop condition over its lifetime!

Voluntary Simplicity and the Art of Packing

From the ocean to the mountains in one pair of pants! Kitty Calhoun working a new route in Kauai, Hawaii.

From the ocean to the mountains in one pair of pants! Kitty Calhoun working a new route in Kauai, Hawaii.

“No. No, you don’t need that either.” I said to my son, Grady, as he packed for a multi-day, rock climbing trip.

“You mean you only take one pair of pants, one T-shirt, one long sleeve, a sweater and a rain jacket?” he asked.

“Yep, and a toothbrush.” I said. “Just make sure your clothes are synthetic so they dry faster. Don’t bring more than you need. Your focus should be on your experience, not your excess baggage.”

I learned the tenets of voluntary simplicity from my dad. Now I’m passing them on to my boy.

I look for multi-functionality in most of my clothing. I keep things basic.

The first time I wore my RPS pants, I was on my way to Kauai, Hawaii with Grady and Jay, my husband. It was snowing in SLC when I boarded the plane.

On Kauai, we found some rock and began working a new route. Ordinarily it would’ve been too hot to climb in long pants but I needed protection from the sharp limestone for a crucial knee bar. I wore my RPS pants as I climbed out over the ocean.

The fabric on the RPS pants is light and has a modest stretch, which allowed me to focus on the task at hand.

A couple of weeks ago, true to my dad, I packed ONLY my RPS pants, my Capilene Daily T, my Capilene long-sleeve, my Micro-puff, and my Alpine Houdini jacket to teach a climbing clinic in Bishop, California.

As I drove through the desert, a friend called and asked if I would like to go skiing the next morning.

“That would be fun, but I don’t have any ski gear or clothes,” I said. My mind raced through everything I would need and I quipped, “I mean you have to look good to play good. At least that’s the advice on Friday Night Lights.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.

The next morning, my friend announced that the temps would be in the single digits as he handed me his worn-out ski clothes.

“Thanks, but all I need is your long johns. I’ve got pants.” I held up my RPS pants.

I got boots, skis and a free lift ticket and we were off.

I was looking good and skiing pretty good too. I suggested we ski in the trees so that my friend could get photos of me ripping it up.

He obliged and positioned himself just behind a small sapling.

The problem was that I had to make a tight turn between him and the tree. Despite appearances, I didn’t have the skills. I plowed straight into him with full speed. His iphone, gloves and poles went flying. After picking up our “yard sale,” I brushed the snow off my RPS pants—no harm done except a bruised ego.

I probably won’t tell Grady about the crash;

But, I won’t miss the opportunity to tell him he doesn’t need me to buy him the ski pants he’s been coveting because his RPS rock pants will work just fine.

Everything I needed for my trip to Bishop.


Kitty's favourite GU flavours

Kitty’s favourite GU flavours

My most difficult ski tours have been approaches to winter alpine objectives—breaking trail for miles through deep snow toward majestic peaks that beckon with the satisfaction of a challenging route.

When I was younger, I commonly packed nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies for these long days out in the mountains. As a result, my energy levels spiked and crashed according to my Chips Ahoy intake, each cookie giving me decreasing returns.

Over the years, I learned that in terms of success and safety, proper nutrition in the backcountry is just as important as proper gear.

I’ve lived the truth in renowned climbing trainer and author, Erik Horst’s statement that “Most climbers can realize a 10-20% improvement in performance, recovery, concentration, and energy through thoughtful diet.”

Most significantly, I know that when I’m tired and low on energy I’m more likely to make judgment errors, which I can’t afford, especially if I’m navigating in avalanche terrain. My brain needs calories to process the information it’s taking in.

I need to stay focused and calm. I can’t be hangry.

This is why I take planned fuel breaks.

One of the ways I plan my breaks is with nature’s cues. For example, when the sun sets and the temperature drops, I stop, pull on another layer, rip open a GU and start to sip some hydration mix.

I’ve been using GU instead of chocolate chip cookies for about 20 years now. Actually, truth alert, I still eat chocolate chip cookies but not nearly as many. And, I supplement the cookies with timely gel intake and hydration mix. This makes all the difference. My energy levels stay even. I stay focused. And, I feel way better the next day, ready to do it all again.

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

petzl sirocco helmetThe Petzl Sirocco Helmet has been updated and is better than ever. It features top, side and rear impact zone protection which makes it the go to helmet for rock, alpine and general mountaineering.

It covers more of your head, has a lower profile than it’s predecessor and weighs 170 grams, which is slightly more than the weight of your smartphone. In fact it’s so light you may forget that you are wearing a helmet at all.

Read more about why this is going to be your new go to helmet for all your mountain adventures.


The Most Essential Climbing Gear

When heading out to climb, many of us do a simple gear check. Helmet, Harness, shoes, rope, draws? Check. But remember, the most essential climbing gear, your chalk bag. Yes, that is right, your chalk bag is the most essential climbing gear pieces you will ever own. Many think of this equipment as a mere fashion accessory and you can definitely tell a lot about a person by their choice of chalk bag. But it is a much more than that.

This essential climbing gear can make or break your success that day. That’s why we’ve partnered with Krieg Climbing to make our very own Chicks Chalkbags. If you attend one of our trips, you’ll walk away with one of these bad ass chalk bags to call your very own. The Krieg Chalkbag is the perfect balance of style, volume and size. Here are a few tips to be sure you are using this piece of gear to it’s fullest potential.

essential climbing gear1. Secure the bag to your body with a belt.

You will notice that most chalk bags are sold with a belt, not a carabiner. The belt is to be used to attach the bag around your waist. There are many advantages to using a belt: 1. The belt allows you to freely move the chalk bag. 2. The belt allows you to slide the chalk bag  around if you are in a chimney or an odd stance.

Wearing a chalk bag on a carabiner is not ideal. The carabiner attachment will often position the bag incorrectly on your harness and the carabiner fixes the bag in one place. To be sure to get the maximum efficiency in your systems, wear the bag on a belt.


2. Make sure the bag is open and full of chalk before leaving the ground.
essential climbing gearThe opening of the bag should be big enough to easily dunk your hand into the chalk.  When you are climbing, actually coat your hands in chalk until your palms and fingers are white. Just putting chalk onto your finger tips is not enough. We at Chicks prefer Friction Labs chalk because it is not cakey and the different formulas give us a variety when we are in the gym or on real rock.

On really hot days, I also use liquid chalk as a baselayer to keep away the slimy feeling. Then as I climb, the loose chalk provides the extra that I need to grab the small holds.  When you return to the ground, don’t forget to close your chalk bag. This will help you keep the gym and the crag a little cleaner.

3. Chalk wisely.

essential climbing gearThe act of chalking your hands, is more than simply drying your sweaty palms. Chalking is a time to rest, relax and plan ahead when on a route. Chalking up can be calming and even meditative when trying to keep it together in the crux. I personally find that the more I chalk, the bigger the holds feel.

Feel free to chalk as much as needed, however please remember when you are finished with the route to brush off the holds that you caked with chalk. An old toothbrush works wonders to restore the friction on a hold. Also scrub away any tick marks that you made. This is a courtesy to the next climber and will also keep the route in better shape.

To learn more about the small nuances that will make a huge difference to your climbing, check out a Chicks Rock Clinic this summer. Even if you have been climbing for years, our certified female climbing guides have something to share with you. Climbing is a life time sport, it is impossible to climb everything and learn everything there is to know in a lifetime.

Chicks Tech Tip: Build A Solid T-Slot Snow Anchor

The last time I guided Denali my team came upon a crevasse rescue effort by another party that could have gone dreadfully wrong. From hundreds of yards away we could see two climbers pulling against a snow anchor with their backs towards to the lip of the crevasse their partner had fallen into. Unbeknownst to them, they were multiplying the forces on their anchor and only adding friction to their pulling efforts. With two of them pulling on the rope against the anchor it could have potentially failed, which would have been catastrophic. Fortunately we got to them quickly and pulled the climber out in less than 15 minutes. Snow is a weak link. Stack the odds in your favor with the following tips to build solid anchors in snow. In a crevasse rescue scenario this will increase your safety margin tenfold.

The snow picket is a standard piece of equipment for traveling on glaciers or steep snow climbs where anchor building for belays is likely. In glaciated terrain if traveling with only a single partner, it’s a very good idea for both climbers to carry a picket. With a rope team of 3 or more, one picket per team will suffice as there will be ice axes available for anchors if need be. How many to bring? It depends. I remember the Denali climb mentioned above “fixing” the traverse across Denali Pass with 17 pickets in my pack! Obviously there are many factors to consider when deciding how many pickets to bring and the right answer usually “it depends”.

Materials commonly used to construct a solid snow anchor include; one 18’ Sterling 5.9mm PowerCord, 2-3 locking carabiners, one snow picket and a quality ice axe with an adze. A light “racing” style ice axe is not designed to be used as an anchor. I’ve seen them bent in half. Yates makes a cable picket that is superior to the standard expedition picket but for simplicity we will focus on the basic kit to build an “equalized” two-piece snow anchor. Why two piece? Because redundancy is always a good idea unless you are absolutely certain the condition of the snow is ideal and can withstand the greatest possible load it may have to endure.

Unless the snow is bullet-proof, building a T-Slot anchor will be the strongest method in virtually all spring/summer conditions. A vertically oriented picket will only work if you can pound it in with 15+ extremely hard blows.  If ever in doubt, default to the trusted T-slot. Depth of the slot depends on the resistance of the snow. With very firm snow 10” deep may suffice but with softer snow, go more than 14 -18” or more. If you can’t make a snowball with the snow, deeper is better. The swath for your sling should be cut as narrow as possible with the axe pick or shaft, not the adze. Avoid disturbing any snow on the load size of the T to keep it as strong as possible.

Clove hitch a 48” Sterling Dyneema sling around the middle of the picket. Shown here is the Yates Expedition Picket. Their Cable version is more versatile and eliminates the 48” sling.
Horizontal picket for snow anchor
Place the picket horizontally at the bottom of the T slot, tight against the load wall, with the 48” sling resting in the slot toward the load or crevasse. It’s crucial that the forward/sling swath is the same depth as the main slot to prevent it from pulling the picket up under load.
snow anchor buried

Use snow from the backside of the slot to bury the picket, stomping it down firmly. This is process increases the strength of the anchor (age hardening is the term commonly used). In very firm snow this may not be necessary, but is advised.
snow anchor master point

Tying a small master point in the sling adds redundancy and makes it easier to back up your initial anchor with a second anchor as will be shown. Digging a trench below the master point reduces friction on your hauling system and makes a cleaner working space. This master point is tied in an overhand on a bight with a loop for the tail. This loop will be the attachment to the second anchor and make it easy to equalize with a block and tackle system.
Snow anchor master point
Attach a locking carabiner to the master point and transfer the load from your harness to the master point in the event of a crevasse fall or simply use a clove hitch if you are pitched climbing to clip into the master point with the climbing rope. With pitched climbing, be sure to extend yourself well below (6-8’) the master point so as not to put any upward force on the anchor.  Typically with pitched climbing we belay off our body (belay loop or hip belay), enabling us to make the belay more dynamic, which places less force directly on the anchor. If belaying directly off the anchor it must be absolutely bombproof. In a crevasse rescue scenario, all of this must be built while you are holding the weight of the fallen climber in self-arrest (or a knotted rope has jammed against the lip). Holding the weight of your partner is assumed in this article and not covered, nor are skills such as how to tie in to the rope and carry extra coils needed to execute a crevasse rescue.

In a crevasse rescue situation, the next step may be going to the lip of the crevasse to communicate with your partner and pad the lip. Before you descend to your partner (if necessary) or start hauling you need to enhance the anchor with a second T-Slot, equalizing it to the main anchor. Your ice axe may be the only tool available if you do not have two pickets.  Dig another T-slot, ideally directly behind the primary anchor, back at least 2 feet, taking care not to disturb the snow between anchors.
snow anchors

Find the balance point of your ice axe. It will be closer to the head of the axe rather than the middle with the mass of the pick and adze.
Balance point for snow anchor
This is where the 18’ Sterling PowerCord comes into action. To maximize usable length, use it as a single strand with an 8-10” overhand on a bight tied on one end. Make a clove hitch on this bight and slip it over the shaft of the axe, snugging it up on the center of balance point.
Serling powercord snow anchor
Place the axe with the pick down firmly in your second T-Slot with the cordelette laid in the slot towards the crevasse.
Bury axe snow anchor

Bury the axe with snow from behind the T-Slot and stomp it down to strengthen the anchor. Tie an overhand on a bight in the cordelette above the first T-Slot clipping a locking carabiner in it.
Snow Anchor

You can now equalize both T-Slots using a block and tackle from this carabiner with the single strand cordelette to a second locking carabiner on the primary anchor, clipped into the small bight behind the master point.
Equalize snow anchor
Simply clip the single strand in a circular loop between both carabiners, at least twice to make a block and tackle. Take care to keep the strands tidy (not crossing or twisting them) to reduce friction. Pull tension through the block and tackle so both anchors share the load. Tie it off with a mule hitch or slip knot and secure it with an overhand on a bight.
Snow anchor
Snow anchor
You should now have a bombproof, inline anchor capable of withstanding potential forces you generate extricating your partner. You have to be 100% confident in your anchor system.
Final Snow Anchor

This article is the first in a series explaining how to use Sterling Rope’s new Pico Crevasse Rescue Kit. Stay tuned in future newsletters for more.

Many other key details are beyond the scope of this article. Rappelling into the crevasse with your first aid and skills to use it, or position your partner upright with a chest harness are real possibilities. Ascending the rope to climb back out of the crevasse with your partner’s pack is another essential skill. You may need to knock considerable snow off an overhanging crevasse lip before doing either. There are many competencies that are assumed before you venture onto glacial terrain and attempt crevasse rescue. If you lack them, get up to speed on one of our Alpine Programs in 2017 to buff out your skill sets so you’re ready to get out in the mountains safely with your partners.

On Belay?? The GriGri Mistake

By Monica Esposito

I loaded my Grigri backwards and felt like a complete fool.  Now, I can recognize this mistake as a win because the only consequence of my mistake was the realization of my own stupidity. In climbing, an act of stupidity could actually kill someone.

Monica_on belayI went to Rifle Mountain State Park this past April. A perfect storm of distraction and excitement started me off on the wrong foot that day. One of the first warm spring days of sport climbing outside and I was excited. I’ll admit, I was nervous that day, I needed to get myself psyched to lead and I wanted to climb well. I wasn’t thinking about the basics and checking systems like I always do. I have probably loaded a Grigri hundreds of times in my years of climbing and it should be second nature. But, as I loaded my device I was also chatting with a couple of friends nearby and I did not notice I had loaded the Grigri backwards (the climbers side of the rope was threaded into the brake side).

Before my husband was about to lead our morning warm up climb, we peeked at each others harnesses briefly but my husband forgot to check my device as I was checking his knot. Normally, I would have demonstrated I was locked and loaded properly, why was this morning any different? As my husband ascended up the climb, I was thinking how strange it felt feeding the rope and how my hand positioning seemed awkward. But, yet I still had not comprehended that it had been loaded backwards… I was chalking up the awkwardness to one of my first days outside for the spring season, just feeling a little rusty? He hadn’t yet had any weight on the rope; so the mistake wasn’t discovered until he yelled, “take” at the top of the climb. As I started to try to take in slack and felt the device catching, the whole feel of braking seemed wrong. It was difficult to actually brake because the brake end of the rope was lying on the wrong side of the device!

My husband had tied in direct to the anchor with a quick draw once he recognized I was fumbling. The friends (whom I had been chatting with nearby only moments before) also happened to be trained AMGA guides, so while I was still fumbling with the rope and looking completely confused, one of the friends jumped in and took over as a rescue belay. My husband then unclipped from the anchor, weighted the rope and was lowered to the ground safely. All the while, I am literally still standing there dumbfounded.

MonicaI cannot imagine what could have happened if he had taken a big fall. I suppose there is some amount of friction in an improperly loaded Grigri and I did have my left hand on the brake end of the rope, but I wouldn’t say I have any faith that a big fall could have been properly arrested with that faulty setup. I could have potentially dropped my husband 50 feet and it will bother me for the rest of my climbing years ahead. We didn’t check each others systems like we normally would have; otherwise the mistake would have been caught before he had left the ground. I hope that by telling my tale, a little voice in your head reminds you to check your knot and check your systems! Whether you’re climbing at the gym, at your favorite crag or climbing El Cap, it shouldn’t matter.

Monica Esposito lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and is a long time Chicks Alumni.

Chicks Gear Review: Petzl Nomic

Petzl NomicRock climbing is my first love, but now that I’m a Chicks owner, I’m doing my damnedest to transform myself into a bad ass ice climber. What I’ve learned is that gear really matters. It’s an investment in my personal security and I want the best gear I can get my hands on. After doing a quick poll of my peers, male and female alike, what tool came out on top? The Petzl Nomic was the hands down winner.

Why is this the first tool of choice of so many ice climbers? It’s the one tool that can climb ice, rock and hard packed snow, so no matter what your  medium of choice is, this tool will be able to handle the job. If you’re new to the whole ice climbing thing like me and you’re not sure, then you can’t go wrong with the Nomic.

The Nomics are thoughtfully designed and it’s the details that set it apart from other ice tools on the market. First you’ll notice the aggressively curved shaft. This allows the tool to clear bulges in vertical ice/rock easily and puts your body into a restful stance so you can conserve energy and hold on all the way to the top.

Speaking of holding on, this tool rests in the palm of your hand with the ergonomically molded handles. This allows you to grab the handle in a variety of positions, so you can match hands, swap tools from one hand to the other, and never worry about dropping the tool. You’ll look like a pro when you shoulder it, match hands on the second position and reach again for your next placement.

The picks are tapered down to perfection, so they penetrate the ice easier and hook on the smallest dime edges with security. The weight of the Nomic is light enough for dry tooling and mixed climbing, but if you need to add a little heft to your swing, you can add weights to the heads to take your dainty swing into burl-mode without expending any extra energy.

There are so many ice climbing tools on the market and deciding on which one to buy is about as tough as choosing what dress to wear on Saturday night. The Nomic is the equivalent of that little black dress that is perfect for every occasion. Do yourself a favor and choose the one tool that does it all. I have a personal philosophy that if you’re going to buy something, buy the top of line and you won’t regret it. One swing of the Nomic and I promise you will have no regrets and that’s what life is all about.

Chicks Gear Review: Asolo 6B+ GV

Written by: Karen Bockel

The Asolo Women's 6B+ GV - Karen's go-to alpine boot.

The Asolo Women’s 6B+ GV – Karen’s go-to alpine boot.

If ice climbing in the Alpine is your thing, then look no further! The Asolo Women’s 6B+ GV is a rare boot that can do it all on a long adventure in the mountains.

With just enough rocker in the sole, as well as specific shock absorbing materials in the midsole, approaching the climb feels comfortable and easy on the feet. The boot soles grip well on rocky slopes, giving you a secure stance.  Most importantly, the Asolo 6B weighs in at a less then a kilo, these boots don’t slow you down, keeping you fresh and ready for the challenge.

When you arrive at the snow, fear not. These boots keep your feet warm and dry with Gore-Tex insulation.  The comfortable yet secure fit allows enough ankle flex to use perfect French Technique on steep snow and ice.  And then for the highlight, climbing pitch after pitch of vertical blue ice:  This is where the 6B+ really shines.  The rigid sole holds the crampons on securely, delivering great power when you are kicking your feet into the ice.  Snug lacing below the ankle and a women-specific last provide precision and efficiency, making every kick a score.  Bliss!  These are my boots of choice when I am walking to the dance.

Karen Bockel is an AMGA Certifies Rock and Ski Guide and a new proud owner of Chicks.

Karen enjoying ice in her Asolos!

Karen enjoying ice in her Asolos!


How to Choose a Rope

Written by: Angela Hawse

Selecting the right rope any given day is as important for me as shoe selection.   As a Sterling Athlete Team member, I have the benefit of having as many as 12 ropes at any given time in my quiver.  I know this is a luxury most don’t have, unless you are a Mountain Guide.  If your budget only allows for one, two or even three, I have a few tips on rope choice that may help you choose.  The abundance of ropes on the market and the many games we play can make it difficult.  An informed choice when shopping for the right cord for your style of climbing and your goals will definitely give you better results.

Diane Kearns, Elaina Arenz and Angela Hawse in the Adamants after descending in a storm.  A stuck rope on the descent resulted in having to cut the rope.  The choice to take two ropes on this committing route was a good one.

Diane Kearns, Elaina Arenz and Angela Hawse in the Adamants after descending in a storm. A stuck rope on the descent resulted in having to cut the rope. The choice to take two ropes on this committing route was a good one.

Most climbers purchase ropes based on price, weight and diameter.  Not necessarily in that order and, of course, pretty colors come into play as well.  UIAA and EN/CE standards thankfully make it possible to trust all the critical details, but knowing just a tad more can help you pick the right rope without geeking out too much on the specs.  Let’s have a look…

Dynamic – For the purposes of our discussion, I’ll refer exclusively to dynamic single ropes.  Stretch in a climbing rope is what makes it suited to catch a fall, absorb energy and reduce the impact force on our body, our protection and our belayer.  Single ropes make up 80% of my quiver and I use them 95% of the time.  Details on UIAA/EN/CE ratings are abundant on the web, so I’ll focus on the qualities we’re interested in for each category and a few techniques manufacturers are using to increase performance.  They can generally be identified in the following categories.  I’ll refer to specific Sterling Ropes for the best in class, but you can generalize across different brands, which all have their own representatives.

Workhorse Ropes – 9.8 – 10.4mm cords that weigh in at more than 60 grams per meter.  If the majority of your climbing is top roping, big walls, working hard projects on course rock, this is your best choice for durability and a lot of climbing.  This is your burly marathon rope that will outlast all others.  It will take more falls, resist more abuse and sharp edges than any other rope.

These are two Sterling Ropes in my arsenal I recommend:  The iconic 9.8mm Evolution Velocity. It weighs in at 62 g/m and has a sheath that will outlast the rubber on your shoes.  It’s by far my go-to cord in the workhorse category.  The 10.1mm Marathon Pro is a close contender at 63 g/m and my go to rope for lots of top roping, big wall projects or cragging in Joshua Tree.

Ridgway gals enjoying dog days and top roping action at Red Rocks Canyon.

Ridgway gals enjoying dog days and top roping action at Red Rocks Canyon.

All-Around Ropes – 9.4 – 9.7mm cords that weigh in between 57 – 60 grams per meter.  These make up 55% of my fleet.  Durability is excellent, weight is reasonable and stretch is manageable.  These are your versatility masters for sport, trad, multi-pitch, ice climbing, alpine mountaineering and a reasonable amount of top rope action.  The lower the diameter, generally the lower the weight meaning when I’m 165 feet out and pulling up to clip, the less I feel the heft of the cord.  A workhorse adds to your pump here, indeed.

Sterling’s 9.4mm Fusion Ion R has been my go to rope as long as I can remember.  Weighing in at 57 g/m it’s light enough for long alpine routes where it’s durability matters.  It’s the workhorse in its class with a sheath that endures mileage.  The new competition in Sterling’s line is the 9.5mm Evolution Helix weighing in at 59 g/m.  Have a close look at this one if you are looking for one rope that does it all.  With a burly 41% sheath to core weight ratio and lighter core construction, this rope gets my vote for best in category for it’s remarkably good handling qualities, reasonable weight and durability.  It has a softer hand than the Ion R, which many prefer.

Chicks Guide and owner Elaina Arenz on Fantasy in the New River Gorge.

Chicks Guide and owner Elaina Arenz on Fantasy in the New River Gorge.

Skinny Bitches – 8.5 – 9.2mm cords that weigh in as low as 48 grams per meter and up to 56 g/m.  These little beauties make up 30% of my quiver.  Ideally suited for alpine climbing, long multi-pitch routes, on-sights, sends, and ice they some have problems for everyday use.  They are definitely sexy, but fortunately the price point beckons buyer beware.  For more money you get less falls, less action.  Less material overall compromises longevity no matter how you break it down. Low friction means your belayer better be on their game giving you a lead belay (see Best Belay Ever). High stretch demands diligence with a tight rope for your partner above ledges or the ground and a bigger whip than often anticipated on lead.  Low durability is often a harsh reality when that unanticipated core shot shows up on the scene.  All combined with a high price tag makes these specialty cords less versatile, but as good as gold when you really need them, especially if you are carrying them very far on your back.

Sterling’s Fusion Nano IX is my favorite in class.  This little beauty got a face lift in sheath construction and went on a diet, from a 9.2 down to a 9.0mm this year, weighing in at 52 g/m.  Durability has improved, it has a tighter weave and resists water and friction better than its predecessor.  Sterling’s new Evolution Aero 9.2mm is worth a good look if durability is your main concern.

It’s putting up solid competition, but I’ve simply had too many good times with the Nano to let it win me over.  The Aero shares many qualities of the new Helix, boasting a 41% sheath to core weight ratio and impressive handling characteristics.  At 56 g/m it’s a good balance of weight and durability for a skinny bitch.

Sterling Team Member Brittany Griffith sending in Indian Creek.

Sterling Team Member Brittany Griffith sending in Indian Creek.

At the skinniest end of the scale, weight reduction can be as much as 3 lbs. for a 60m rope when compared to the fattest of the all-arounders.  That, combined with low friction over rock, through carabiners and belay devices adds to the appeal of skinny ropes in our fight against gravity.

Despite the downsides of skinny ropes, they seem to be hot sellers and manufacturers are responding to the demand with considerable and varied improvements in technology.  If you’re paying close attention, you’ve picked up on the fact that while a rope diameters have gotten smaller, weight reduction has not necessarily decreased proportionately.  Improvements in technology have enabled manufacturers to produce skinnier cords using nearly the same amount of material that fatter cords enjoy.  So, if reduced weight is a key criteria for choosing a skinny bitch, you should pay particular attention to the gram/meter details. Buyer beware.

We could get all jiggy on the particulars of diameters.  If you’ve shopped for skinny cords or had your hands on a number of them, you know the interpretation of diameter is all across the board.  If the rope manufacturer has purchased an EN 892 standard (UIAA standards are free, easily accessed on the web), the rope diameter is one of the easiest tests in the control, albeit human error does contribute to inconsistency.  Sterling Rope has purchased an EN standard and my rope Guru, Jim Ewing, gave me a simple explanation to help decipher what that means.  In Europe (EU), UIAA certification is not a requirement, anywhere.  Any product sold in the EU must have a CE mark, which means it must comply with the EN standard.  In the US, there are no such requirements. You could essentially purchase a rope that does not meet industry accepted practices.  Buyer beware.  If you find a rope that has the CE standard but no UIAA, it’s as good as gold.  If you are more confused than when you started reading this, pose your question on the comments section of our blog.

Back to weight.  Weight is a relationship of core to sheath ratios, obviously affected by  diameter.  While ropes are getting skinnier, an increase in sheath proportion doesn’t reduce the weight with respect to diameter.  Remember, advances in technology mean your skinny bitch may have as much actual material in her as her big-boned sister.

What does increase with increased weight, however is durability which is directly related your investment.  If reduced weight is what you are looking for, pay close attention to the grams/meter specs.  If durability is your goal, the same formula applies.  I suggest directly comparing the specs on the two new Sterling Ropes I suggested above; Fusion Ion R vs. Evolution Helix and the Fusion Nano IX vs. Evolution Aero to get a better grip on new skinny rope technology.

Sterling’s two new cords in the Evolution series, the 9.2mm Aero and the 9.5mm Helix.

Sterling’s two new cords in the Evolution series, the 9.2mm Aero and the 9.5mm Helix.

The last criteria in rope selection is length.  Many subscribe to 70 is the new 60.  Age maybe, but with ropes this is a major factor for my daily rope selection and a 70m is usually not the winner.  Surely for specific routes, it is.  An additional 10 meters adds 1lb. 4+oz to the weight to an all-arounder, not to mention the coiling effort.  60m is my go-to, but there are many days I grab a 50m and even a 40m for longer alpine objectives.  With good beta, a specific rope length on any given route can help cut the amount of time you pull in cord, reducing your effort considerably, as well as the weight on your back.

Another critical detail that needs utmost attention with rope choice is your belay device.  Choose one that is specified by the manufacturer to work with your rope’s diameter.  A V-shaped groove is going to help with the catch, especially important with skinny cords.  I’m a huge fan of the Edelrid Mega Jul and the Mammut Smart.  My clients belay me on these and my partners who don’t mind entertaining me, see the merits as well.  Petzl’s Gri-Gri is fabulous in the right hands.  I’m an avid glove user.  Don’t let your guard down, skinny ropes are hard to hold and friction is your friend for a safe belay.

Dry Treatment or not?  Yes. The added cost is worth it.  Your rope will last longer, you will experience less rope drag and when it does rain or you are climbing ice, the payoff is immediate.  Bicolor or middle mark?  Yes. If you are doing technical descents or top roping, this will save you minutes which add up to hours in a long day.  Half ropes vs. Twin is another topic all together.  If you’re interested give a shout to our comments section below and we’ll dive into the nuances of choosing these ropes, with a more in-depth look at impact force, which is something that must be understood when you delve into more advanced climbing techniques.

Angela Hawse enjoying a beautiful day with a perfect rope.

Angela Hawse enjoying a beautiful day with a perfect rope.


Angela Hawse has been a Chicks Guide for 16 years and is a new owner of this stoked Sisterhood.  Shes an AMGA/IFMGA licensed Mountain Guide and an Instructor Team Lead for the AMGA.  She proudly represents Marmot, Sterling Rope, SCARPA, Julbo and Metolius Climbing.