The Hidden Cost of Used Climbing Gear
For experienced climbers, using weathered or worn-out equipment is considered a risk not worth taking. Buying certain articles of climbing gear already used from a second hand store either in town or online would be out of the question for most veteran climbers. Some of those climbers, who don’t consider old equipment to be a risk, are found in the obituaries in local newspapers, like well-known climbers Todd Skinner and Dan Osman. In 2006, Todd Skinner and his friend Jim Hewitt, were rappelling a climb named “Jesus Built My Hotrod” when Skinner fell to his death. When rangers came to recover the body, Skinner’s Belay loop was found ripped off of the harness in nearby vegetation. The ranger’s reported that the harness “was very worn at the spot where the break had occurred”. Hewitt told the investigators that “Skinner was aware that the belay loop on his harness was in a weakened condition prior to the climb, and that they had talked about its poor condition three days earlier.” Dan Osman, another well-known climber fell to his death due to suspected weather worn rope. Any experienced climber will tell you that climbing gear (rope, climbing harnesses, carabineers, belay devices) is your lifeline and that the condition your gear is in could be a matter of life and death.
There are two reasons why climbers sometimes choose to use out-of-date gear. Either they're overly confident, or they're uneducated; most of the time it’s poor education. These are the beginner climbers that have gone once with a friend and decide to buy their own gear to go climbing with. One problem with that is that climbing gear is expensive. To buy everything one needs to go climb a 50foot wall would cost around 1,000$. This is when the new climber decides to cut that price down by buying some used equipment from either local second hand store like Deseret Industries or The Salvation Army. What many first time climbers don’t know is that there are many risks they run when buying used equipment.
Climbing gear is made to withstand a lot of abuse, but when climbing rope, harnesses, carabineers have been used quite frequently for three or four years, it’s time the gear is thrown out and replaced. Looking Glass Outfitters, a large rock climbing equipment supplier says this about rope lifespan.
The life expectancy of a rope depends on amount of use, number of falls, climbing technique, type of rock, and handling. Top-roping is hardest on a rope and can abrade a rope badly in no time. Manufacturer's suggested lifespans are merely a guide. How long you use a rope is contingent on the actual wear and condition.
As stated, there are many rules about knowing when to retire gear or not. Many beginners aren’t aware of these rules and therefore use gear when it should actually be thrown away. EBay’s interception in this aspect is almost non existent in this case. If the buyer wants to buy what the seller is selling, then it’s a fare trade.
Another risk involved in buying second hand gear is the fact that you don’t know where the gear has been or what it has been through. This may sound like an argument a mother makes to her child when they’ve picked up a stray cat from the dumpster down the street, but it’s much more serious than that. Not knowing what an old climbing harness has been through could lead a purchaser to the same scenario as Todd Skinner by losing their life due to a broken harness loop. Buying a used rope that had been left out in the snow and wilderness could replicate the same conditions that lead to Dan Osman’s death. Attention to detail is the slogan in the sport climbing, not just when looking for that next hand or foot hold, but also when gearing up and using your equipment. The reality of the sport is that you’re hanging off a cliff’s edge, trusting all on your climbing equipment. When climbers don’t know the history of their gear, not only does their confidence in their equipment fail, their gear its self might fail them, resulting in injury or death.
One particular danger when buying new rope is that climbing rope can be damaged without any tale-tail signs of it being damaged. The climbing rope itself is made up of multiple layers of nylon threads. Once a climbing rope takes multiple falls, the inner fibers can break, weakening a rope. This becomes a problem then when a climber buys a used rope. If the outside, or sheath, of the rope looks in good condition, then the beginner climber thinks the rope is good. As explained, this is not always the case. A fall on a weakened rope can mean rope failure—and rope failure usually leads to injury or death.
In the end, climbing gear may do a climber’s wallet a favor, but the climber’s health and life may very well take the fall.
Lober, Keith. “The Morning Report” National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Visitor and Resource Protection. Oct 30, 2006. Feb 16, 2009 http://www.huecotanks.com/climbers/todd/The%20Morning%20Report%20for%20Monday,%20October%2030,%202006.htm
Looking glass outfitters.com