Once you go skinny, it’s hard to go back. No, I’m not talking back-fat and man-boobs, rather—premium climbing ropes. In recent years, I’ve favorably reviewed the Mammut Serenity 8.7mm wondercord and since then I’ve moped every time I’ve had to work with a rope any thicker than 9.2mm. My trusty Serenity finally died (after an alpine course and exam, and two trips to the Cascades!), so I’ve moved on to another skinny rope—the Edelrid Swift Pro Dry, 8.9mm.
At this point, I’ll give full disclosure: my guide company works with Edelrid as a partner, so I’ve received some product free and a generous discount on other gear. As with all my reviews, stuff that isn’t up to par, I simply avoid writing about it. It’s an imperfect solution—rather than slagging on a partner, I avoid hyping any gear that isn’t up to standard. Luckily my partners, Rab, CAMP, and Edelrid, make quality stuff, so it’s usually an easy relationship!
Edelrid invented kernmantle construction in 1953, essentially creating the modern climbing rope and opening up the possibility of long, safe falls. Since then they’ve pushed manufacturing processes to where they are today—skinnier, lighter, and infinitely more durable than even a decade ago.
I’ve only just begun buying Edelrid ropes, but models like their Flycatcher (an impossibly skinny 6.9mm twin rope) and the TouchTec models (ropes with a textured first and last 5m to alert a belayer he’s reaching the end of the rope) are gonna be cool to check out. For now, though, for use at Vetta Mountain Guides, I’ve gone with more workhorse models like the Swift and Topaz.
The first Edelrid rope I received is the Swift ($160-$290, depending on length, bi-pattern, etc.). I got it over two years ago, right at the end of my Mammut Serenity’s lifespan, so it was a nice transition during which to compare the two ropes. Edelrid still crafts its ropes in Germany—and a bit more on this later—so I expected no drop in quality from Swiss-made Mammut cords. Still, though, after reading of so many problems with ropes over the last decade, I had a tiny doubt in the back of my mind. Time would have to tell on the Edelrid Swift.
The Swift made sense for me, given I wanted it for both personal use and guiding. Light weight, with a tried-and-true dry coating, suited my personal needs as well as my work requirements, but especially for guiding, I like the Swift because it’s triple-rated—as a single, half, and twin rope.
Why is this such a big deal? First off, having a triple-rated rope makes tons of sense when working with two guests. Three certifications means I can choose to have clients follow simultaneously (parallel system) or one at a time (in caterpillar mode). Guides, particularly in Europe, often work with half ropes when taking two guests up a climb, so should the guide transition to caterpillar, suddenly she’s leading a pitch on a lone half-rope, rather than a single-rated rope. Maybe reasonable on easy terrain, I’m sure, but it’s not ideal.
It’s also nice having guests follow on a single-rated rope. Whether it’s simply peace-of-mind or liability considerations, either way, I feel better with everybody on a single—safe and sound.
Trailing two ropes adds weight, too. At 52g/m, the Swift ticks one more gram per meter than a Serenity. I recycled my Serenity when it died, so I couldn’t verify, but the ropes are pretty darn close in terms of weight. (I think Beal currently claims the skinniest, lightest single in the rope—the Opera, at 8.5mm and 48g/meter—but I’ve not played with it yet.)
Trailing two Swifts is ideal when working. The weight is totally reasonable, and their “feel” and handling properties minimize rope drag when clipping both cords through pieces. Typically when trailing two ropes, guides take a belay on a single strand, to reduce forces in the event of a fall, but clip both ropes through gear so followers are protected from pendulum potential. I like having the option of taking a belay on both strands, though, if climbing on sharp or especially loose routes. The Swift lets me keep options open and safety high—perfect.
The Swift feels very similar to the Serenity, in terms of belaying and handling. So far the Swift has remained true to its stiffness/diameter/handling over the course of its 1.5 years (I actually have three of these now—two 60’s and a 50!). The Swift may have an edge on the Serenity in terms of consistency—that is, after dozens of pitches and short-roping, the Swift feels exactly as it did the day I uncoiled it. My suspicion is it has something to do with the heat-treatment of the individual nylon fibers and the “Thermo-shield” finishing process.
Now, I’m the first to balk at marketing garble and the “latest-greatest” techno breakthrough, but when I open Edelrid ropes these days, they have a distinct feel and odor to them—they smell like they’ve been cooked or something. Whatever the smell, it’s definitely “hot.” In the factory the ropes are heat-treated, at first relaxing individual fibers, then shrinking them somewhat. I have zero expertise in terms of rope manufacturing, but whatever they do—I have yet to have an Edelrid rope (I have three different models now) have any sheath-slippage and the ropes remain remarkably consistent over time. If you like the way an Edelrid cord feels in the shop, you’ll probably like how it feels six months later.
While going lighter and lighter (and skinnier and skinnier) appeals, at a certain point I begin to worry about two things: cutting, and guests belaying me.
Cutting a rope is pretty unlikely, but it happens. It’s also a big “if” with so many variables it’s hard to really gauge the protection a 9.2 offers over an 8.9 and an 8.9 over an 8.5. Common sense would indicate a thicker rope is harder to cut, sure, but at the kinds of forces we’re generating I’d guess most of it depends on the amount of rope in the system…and luck. I e-mailed a buddy at Rigging for Rescue on some hard stats and I’ll share if they come through.
Belaying, though, becomes a big consideration, especially with somebody new to the sport. My “fix” has been to have guests belay me with an Edelrid MegaJul. The MegaJul is light, easy to use, and inexpensive should someone drop it. It’s also an “assisted” braking device, meaning it will lock almost entirely on its own. One need barely hang onto the brake strand for it to engage. I’ve found it to be the ideal solution for ropes between 8.7 and 9.4—any thicker and then guests have troubles feeding smoothly (which presents its own hazard!).
Without the MegaJul in the equation, I worry about a sub-9mm rope and an inexperienced belayer in a high-force fall. Fixes? Guide on a thicker rope and just accept the weight/handling penalty. Set the belayer up in a secure, stable stance, with his brake hand free to move. Place gear often and early. Gloves. Proper coaching. Two carabiners connecting the device to the belay loop. All reasonable solutions!
The flip side of the skinny issue is ease of handling and feeding. A guest can just as easily pull a guide off by shorting him while climbing—especially on moderate terrain when the guide is trying to move quickly (Flatirons, Solar Slab, etc.) Considering this, the Swift is a dream for handling and feeding rope. Newbies have an easier time and experienced climbers will absolutely love the feel of the rope. Coiled on your body, belaying, rappelling—it’s an awesome rope and I love the diameter of it.
Short-roping ruins a rope faster than just about anything. I’ll be taking my Swifts out to Red Rock in a couple weeks, so I’ll share photos after my trip. At this point, though, I’ve put dozens of pitches on them this summer, including some unplanned toproping sessions, several laps across the ridge on the First Flatiron and down the East Slabs (all short-roping terrain), and the Swifts are doing fabulously.
Whether it’s the Thermo-Shield or just quality German manufacturing, I’m getting good life out of these ropes. I’m curious to see how the dry treatment endures come ice/mixed season, too.
Part of my stoke on these ropes is in response to watching other brands’ ropes fail over the past couple years. One company moved manufacturing to Africa and has experienced several alarming sheath problems. A popular US brand, especially with guides, has so many problems with sheath slippage and fuzziness, I’m kinda confused how they’re still around.
Edelrid, on the other hand, still manages to make things in Germany, compete on pricing, and offer exceptionally durable products. My MegaJul is now three years old (fine shape), my Edelrid soft goods have performed perfectly, and their ropes have proven exceptionally good. Stay tuned for a look at Edelrid’s minimalist “Huascaran” alpine harness, too.
One last standout point for Edelrid. These days you’ll notice a small logo on many of their ropes, slings, and other products—it reads “bluesign” and it’s a certification earned by reducing the manufacturing energy and water requirements, as well as its CO2 emissions related to its production. The Swift, and most of the other Edelrid products I’ve used, now carry this designation. Patagonia and other progressive companies are doing the same. Awesome.
As climbers we probably all share some version of the same environmental ethic and it’s cool to see Edelrid’s stuff come out of an economy with strict environmental controls, safe working conditions, and some commitment to producing consumer goods in a slightly less environmentally destructive manner. Good job, Edelrid—on the ropes and on the corporate culture!
Rob Coppolillo is an internationally licensed mountain guide and co-owner of Vetta Mountain Guides, in Boulder, Colorado. He’s also a freelance writer; his second book, The Mountain Guide Manual, comes out March, 2017.