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Does Your Climbing Rope Need a Middle Mark?

Marking the Middle of Your Climbing Rope

By

Rob Masters rappelling off Remnants Tower in Colorado National Monument.

Rob Masters checked the middle mark before making the 100-foot rappel off Remnants Tower.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Two of the most common questions from climbers about climbing ropes are: Why do I need a middle mark on my rope? and How do I mark the middle of my rope?

Why do I need a middle mark on my rope?

You don’t need to have a middle mark on your rope, but if you do, then it makes some rope management tasks a lot easier when you’re climbing. A middle mark helps you quickly find the middle point of your rope so that when you’re rappelling, you can toss the two loose ends down without measuring them out together. A middle mark makes it fast to find the mid-point so you can do a backpacker’s coil of your rope. A middle mark lets you know how high a set of anchors is from the ground when you’re sport climbing and top-rope climbing.

Know Your Rope’s Middle Mark

If you do have a middle mark, then know your rope. Know where the mark is exactly. Is it really in the middle of the rope? If one of the ends was cut off, then the middle mark is wrong since one end will be shorter than the other. Let your climbing partners know if one end is shorter than the other and that they shouldn’t trust the middle mark. It seems like that shouldn’t be a big deal but it is.

Fatal Accident Caused by Middle Mark

Just a couple weeks ago an extremely experienced and competent 71-year-old climber that I met years ago in New Hampshire named Paul Duval, died while rappelling off a route in the Needles in South Dakota. Paul was using a borrowed rope and trusted that the middle mark was truly in the middle of the rope. But it wasn’t. One end was considerably shorter so Paul rappelled off the end of the rope and fell to the ground. The lesson, besides not to trust the middle mark in someone else’s rope, is to always tie a “stopper knot” like a figure-8 knot or single fisherman’s knot in the end of each strand of your rappel rope so that the knot will jam in your rappel device if you reach the end of the cord.

How do I mark the middle of my rope?

If your rope doesn’t have a middle mark, then you can use a black permanent marker to designate the mid-point. Look for a marker made specifically for your rope by checking the manufacturer’s website. Be aware that the UIAA Safety Commission did tests with felt-tipped permanent marker pens, including those made specifically for marking ropes, and found a decrease in the “energy absorption capacity of the rope.” They therefore warn against marking a rope with any marker or substance not specifically approved by the rope manufacturer. But they also say that the chances of a rope breaking where you marked it as “nearly zero.” So you take your chances.

Bi-Color and Bi-Pattern Ropes

A better solution is to buy a rope with an outer sheath that either changes color or pattern at the middle of the rope. These are called bi-color and bi-pattern ropes (or just “bi-ropes”) and cost a few bucks more than a single pattern rope. Alternatively, Metolius makes the Monster Rope Marker, a “revolutionary marking system” which weaves pink fibers into the rope 30 feet from each end and two orange markers into the middle of their Monster dynamic ropes.

Marking With Tape or Thread

Some climbers use a piece of tape—duct tape or electrical tape—wrapped around the middle of the rope. This works…for awhile, but after a few pulls through carabiners the tape is gone. An alternative is to use some bright sewing thread and stitch it through the middle of the rope for a dozen or so turns. This works too but if the rope gets dirty, than the thread gets dirty. Using thread or tape won’t harm the rope and both are easy to replace.

Lastly, remember that if you chop the end off the rope because it’s worn from repeated falls or is damaged then you will have to re-mark the middle of the rope.

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