NEWS FROM THE LAST PLENARY SESSION OF THE
UIAA SAFETY COMMISSION
report by Helmut Microys P. Eng. - ACC rep to Safety Commission
printed with the generous permission of H. Microys
The session took place in Austria June 1998. Some of the items of interest:
- Fifteen UIAA Standards for mountaineering and climbing equipment were published last year. These standards are all coordinated with CEN standards but many have additional requirements.
- Standards for ice axes, ice anchors, abseil devices, belay devices are and low stretch ropes are in preparation while work on snow anchors is about to begin.
- Test to determine damage to climbing ropes by various liquids : gasoline, diesel, camper fuel, sea water, coca cola and strong (80%) vinegar have no influence. Do not pee on your rope! The number of falls held in the standard UIAA test drops off by 30%. Wash the rope once exposed to sea water and coca cola because of possible damage by the crystals formed after drying.
- Do not use magic markers of any kind to mark the rope. An American product specifically sold for marking the middle of ropes reduces the strength of the rope (only at the point of marking, when loaded over the test edge) by as much as 50%. (NOTE: From Helmut Microys, Nov 6, 2002 - This old report is causing a lot of grief to a US rope manufacturer (Blue Water Ropes). The manufacturer in this item was a pen manufacturer. The reference is to the Sharpie marker produced by Sanford. People reading this have drawn the false conclusion that it refers to a pen marketed by Blue Water.)
- A confirmation of tests done many years ago: wet or iced ropes experience a major drop in edge strength (falls for a half rope go from 9 to 3) regardless of whether they are Everdry or not. The only difference is that Everdry ropes do not soak up as much water (at least when new).
- The official position of the Safety Commission regarding rope use for glacier travel: one single strand of a half rope or twin rope is perfectly adequate. This decision obviated the creation of another rope standard for ski touring ropes.
- Recent comparison testing of climbing ropes among various testing laboratories has shown that the results can be all over the map. This applies not only to the number of drops held (can be 100% out) but to all other parameters such as sheath slippage, elongation, knotability, etc. Ropes passing in one laboratory dont in another. Attempts to resolve these differences are being made right now. It is suggested, until further notice, that climbers purchase ropes with a high number of falls held, if they climb in areas where high edge strength is a requirement.
- Ropes used for top roping, because of the constant lowering, lose capacity (edge strength) very quickly. They should not be used for field work. On the other hand, on old climbing rope may serve well for quite a while as a top rope because there are no sharp edges and the forces are small.
- Several rappelling accidents (some fatal) have occurred when an improper use of the figure eight descender breaks the sleeve of a locking carabiner. The device does not properly hang from the carabiner and the gate gets loaded, bending or punching through the sleeve. This happens most frequently when re-starting the descent.
- Figure eight descenders come on the market every so often with cracks which are clearly visible to the eye. This is apparently a manufacturing fault. Testing has confirmed that the units are still safe. Nevertheless, inspect these devices carefully when making a purchase.
- A video made by the Italians with the help of guides and various stunt men showed the dangers of glacier travel and the problems of falling in climbing situations (jumping as well as surprise falls) with sit harnesses as well as full body harnesses. If a person on a glacier is taken by surprise, only a very strong person will hold another after suddenly falling into a crevasse. It is advantageous to hold the rope in one hand as well as having a low tie-in point (sit harness). The latter is, of course, a disadvantage for the person falling into a crevasse. It is known now that neither sit harnesses nor full body harnesses are ideal fall protection. The former can lead to inverting and back and head injuries while the latter may produce whiplash injuries during the process of inverting. It may be the popularity of the sit harness which has resulted in many back injuries and 24 fatalities in the Alps in recent history, while no accidents with full body harness have been reported.
- An item from last year which was published in the German/Austrian Alpinjournal may be of interest. It appears it is not possible to damage ropes by walking on them with heavy boots even when the rope lies on sharp edges. Even walking on a rope with standard crampons does not weaken the rope. This does not mean that we should ignore the proscriptions of old. There has to be considerable visible damage to the rope before getting concerned.
Helmut also included the following comments in a personal communication to me, which accompanied the document above:
- "The point I would have liked in the Gazette, and I thought I had this in the minutes, concerns belay devices. The French did tests on a great number of belay devices, measuring the friction of each unit in a laboratory environment (these were not drop tests). The conclusion is that some do not work under certain circumstances (we tested them in the field last summer), the vast majority will only hold a fall when the force is up and only two or three work for pull down (fall factor two situation). One of the devices was supposed to stop a fall automatically i.e. one can let go of the rope and the fall will be stopped. It turned out that if a belayer was in the normal belay position and a fall occurred, the belay failed just because the hands loosely held the rope. The device worked perfectly, If the belayer removed the hands from the rope before the breaking action started. Just a small dislocation of the device from its "perfect" breaking position caused failure. They found only three units which could hold a fall factor two fall (like the Munter Hitch) and the automatic device mentioned above was one of them."
- "It has been known for many years that all the Sticht plate type of devices do not produce enough friction for a major fall situation. They work, once some runners (which hold) are in place. There is tremendous complacency and ignorance out there. Many of the climbing wall people, dealing only with top rope situations have no idea what happens when a climber has a severe leader fall with pull up, let alone with pull down. What makes things worse is the fact that plate devices can really only be operated from the body. Climbers get hurt by being jerked around when the impact occurs and often let the rope go."
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