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DMM Couloir ropes: great durability and water repellency


The author leading with the Couloirs–used as double ropes–on the first pitch of Curtain Call (WI6, 125m, Weiss).

[Photo] Cody Tuttle @wingatemotion

MSRP – $228.48 per rope (60-meter)

The rope is the single most important piece in your pack. During alpine climbs, the rope is subject to needle-sharp crampons, errant ice tools, rock and ice fall, and abrasive terrain while climbing and descending. For me, the most important qualities to look for in a rope are: durability, minimal weight, ease in handling and a permanent, obvious center mark. Though I enjoy all types of climbing, from steep sport routes in the Pacific Northwest and mixed rock and ice routes in the Canadian Rockies, my favorite is alpine climbing–especially in Alaska and Patagonia. Alpine climbing means ice-cold hands, sweat-soaked belays, falling rocks and ice, cramped bivouacs and long days.

There’s no one-size-fits-all application for ropes, but the two DMM Couloir ropes I tested on multipitch mixed ice and rock routes over nine days in the Canadian Rockies come close. They softly caught several long leader falls, remained kink-free when strung between our team of three (which meant heavy rope-work and crowded belays), remained perfectly intact when struck by our crampon points, and they remained dry after soggy rappels. In comparison, after a single outing–just three long days–on the California Roulette of Fitz Roy in Patagonia earlier this year, I ruined a pair of Petzl 8.2 Salsa ropes. By the trip’s end, after countless rappels on waterlogged ropes, the Salsas ended up looking like furry caterpillars. The sheaths were in such bad shape that I later discarded the ropes. (It’s worth noting that few places in the world are harder on climbing gear than the towers in Patagonia.) In comparison, after nine days of heavy alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies, the Couloirs still looked new. The increased durability and handling of these ropes can likely be attributed to the Thermocontrol heat treatment DMM applies to all of its ropes. Additionally, the Couloir’s tightly-woven sheath reduces snags and decreases friction.

The Couloirs can be used as either half or twin ropes. This means they can be clipped independently or together on a single piece of protection. Half ropes are a light setup for multipitch climbs, or wandering routes, and serve as a low-weight alternative to bringing two heavy (single) ropes. Twin ropes, generally thinner than halfs, are ultra light, but must be clipped to protection together to get the full rated strength.

All DMM ropes follow UIAA Dry standards. These standards separate ropes that are truly water repellent (where both the sheath and core are treated) from ones that are labeled “dry” but are only surface treated. While unraveling the Couloirs for the first time, I noticed water treatment residue on my hands. This treatment increases durability, prevents the ropes from freezing and keeps dirt out of the sheath and core.

Two Couloir ropes after nine days of testing in Canada’s Stanley Creek Headwall.

[Photo] Jess Roskelley

Day after day on steep, hard mixed routes at the Stanley Headwall in Banff National Park, sometimes in shower-like conditions, the ropes remained dry and ready for the next day’s climbing. This area has hard ice and mixed routes with sharp edges and long rappels. We tested the ropes on Suffer Machine (WI5+ M7-8, 200m, Billings-Owens) and Nightmare on Wolf Street (M7+ WI6+ 170m, Allen-Isaac-Thomson), to name a few.

Time after time, the Couloirs softly caught our leader falls and were not worse for the wear. With the amount of intense use we put on these ropes in nine days, I was surprised that they held up as well as they did. Generally, I go through multiple ropes in a year. The ropes still look ready for another trip. In a few weeks, I’m taking them on a month-long expedition to climb granite monoliths in Alaska’s Kitchatnas. Here “the wind blows [around the towers] like a whistling gun notch–worse than Patagonia,” says Ben Erdmann, my climbing partner.

A single 60-meter, 8.0mm Couloir weighs 5.6 pounds. In comparison, the Petzl Paso 7.7 weighs 5.5lbs, the Bluewater Icefloss 7.7 weighs 5 pounds and the Mammut Twilight 7.5 weighs 5 pounds. I don’t mind carrying the extra half-pound for a larger diameter rope on mixed rock and alpine climbs for some extra security and peace of mind.

What gives these ropes five stars is their exceptional water repellency and abrasion resistance. They work great in below-freezing temps and for alpine climbing.

Pros: Lightweight; durable; great handling; obvious, broad center mark.

Cons: Limited retail distribution in the U.S.