Craig Lemay talks about ropes

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Complacency. We all fall into it. For some chosen careers complacency will have little to no effect on our productivity, service, health or safety. For others, complacency can be the difference between life and death. Rope access technicians most assuredly fall into the latter. 300' off the ground, with nothing more than a relatively small gauge rope holding your life in its intricately woven combination of nylon and polyester grip, is definitely not the time or the place to find yourself engaged in the company of complacency.

Almost all trades by necessity involve some type of tools, gear, equipment, devices, etc., specific to the trade. Now let's be honest here. This stuff is usually the really cool part of our work and our job. Researching, pricing buying and then using our specialized necessities every day is a big part of what we enjoy about our work, whatever that may be. The rope access industry is no different and actually offers all kinds of highly specialized tools, mechanical devises and equipment unique to that of most career fields. It's ironic that the most important tool rope access technicians use every day is the one tool that we spend the least time admiring, talking about, servicing, adjusting and maintaining, but it is the one tool that the technicians life is literally dependent on more so than any other. Rope.

The major leaders in the manufacture and distribution of rope cover the globe. Sterling Rope, Petzl, Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI), and Beal are among the major sources of rope catering to the rope access industry as well as sport climbing enthusiasts.

Kernmantle rope which is described by Matt Hunt of Sterling Rope is a nylon/polyester blend rope with an outer sheath of nylon and inner parallel strand core. The outer nylon woven sheath protects the inner core. Matt additionally pointed out that Kernmantle is produced in a "Static" and "Dynamic" rope. "Static" rope is resistant to stretch, like Sterling's HTP (High Tenacity Polyester) while "Dynamic" rope is designed to stretch. When a dynamic rope is loaded or unloaded it will bounce. This characteristic is highly desirable in the sport climbing industry for obvious reason. In a fall the "stretch" inherent in dynamic rope minimizes shock to the body. Matt explains this is not a quality rope access technicians want. Stretch in the rope for a rope access technician will negatively affect control. Not a preferred quality, therefore static rope is the unanimously dominant rope of choice by the rope access industry.

In discussions with some rope access technicians, their primary considerations with their choice of rope concerns hand or handling texture, how well the rope knots, and how well it interfaces with equipment such as ascenders and decenders.

In researching what new technology may be just over the horizon in rope design and manufacture Matt described the introduction of materials such as carbon fiber as a way to advance performance and wear improvement to rope. So far issues with inability to flex or knot is impeding this as a viable option. Kevlar and Technora based ropes however have offered significant advancements. These ropes have resolved some long term issues with technicians who work in areas with surfaces of high heat. A dangerous combination with the wear and threat of failure to the technicians lines. The Kevlar or Technora based ropes are highly resistant to heat therefore offering an excellent alternative for technicians working in these high heat surface environments.

Igor Stomp of Maxgear, a major rope access equipment manufacturer, pointed out that Kernmantle has in the neighborhood of 250 years of history. This dedicated proven veteran of rigging, Kernmantle will not easily withdraw from service into the annals of history without a fight. Igor Stomp's exuberant passion is quite invigorating when he speaks about his work and his tradecraft. I can think of no better way to close this article other than to quote Igor as saying "rope brings the world together" and "knots are a form of communication". For those of you out there hanging, and dangling by this life line we call rope, I'm sure you understand exactly what Igor means. Remain Vigilant.


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