Black Rope Syndrome – what’s up with ropes and aluminum?

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BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 5, 2013 - 09:07pm PT
Does anyone have a clear understanding of the interaction of aluminum alloys used in carabiners, belay plates etc. and climbing ropes? Specifically, what causes the dreaded “Black Rope Syndrome” (BRS)? Is it the physical abrasion properties of the weave of the rope? Is it the dry or other coatings on the rope? What gives? Over many years, I’ve had some ropes that stay fairly clean and others that have an incredible attraction for the black stuff. And, as you know, this black slime readily and quickly transfers to your hands, tape jobs and fashion clothing like cash to a dirtbag. What da hell?

In the pictures below are two of my current ropes. The top pic is a blue Mammut Infinity 9.5mm dry. The bottom pic is a Mammut Galaxy 10mm dry (was gold/tan, now ?). Both ropes are roughly the same age with the Galaxy 10mm seeing a little bit more use. The blue Infinity (and other colors of 9.5mm Infinity ropes I’ve had) stays MUCH cleaner with respect to the black stuff. The ‘gold’ Galaxy has a nasty affinity for the black stuff and kinda sucks to climb with. I’ve washed the Galaxy (and other ropes prone to BRS in the past) many times using woolite in a tub, by hand, but there never seems to be any improvement. Both ropes are 2 over 2 weave, dry coated and the same brand, so what’s the deal?

There is a ton of experience and knowledge out there in Taco land, so let’s hear what folks have to say about all this… What specifically causes BRS? Is there any way to avoid it? Are there other ropes out there besides the Mammut Infinity 9.5mm that stay devoid of BRS over time? I searched the forum and didn’t find many posts related to this, so hopefully this is a fruitful discussion. Inquiring minds want to know! Thanks!
Mammut Infinity 9.5mm - I've had 3 of these in different colors and th...
Mammut Infinity 9.5mm - I've had 3 of these in different colors and they all stayed pretty darn clean
Credit: BrassNuts
Mammut Galaxy 10mm - I've had 3 of these over the last few years in va...
Mammut Galaxy 10mm - I've had 3 of these over the last few years in various colors and they all have a NASTY affinity for the black stuff
Credit: BrassNuts
climbski2

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:15pm PT
After years of carpet cleaning experience I can tell you that blue dyed nylon is usually much more resistant to dirt and much easier to clean.

However the blue is more prone to fading from UV.
hossjulia

Trad climber
Where the Hoback and the mighty Snake River meet
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:16pm PT
I know that bottom rope, have a friend who had one, and your right! The thing was always filthy. Used to find it in his bathtub and he wasn't prone to washing ropes much.

Interesting query, but no clue.
briham89

Big Wall climber
san jose, ca
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:25pm PT
I have an infinity and have noticed the Teflon coating keeps it new looking longer. Does the galaxy have a Teflon coating?
BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 5, 2013 - 09:33pm PT
I just looked at the Mammut website and they list a PTFE (Teflon) coating for the Infinity 9.5mm, but not for the Galaxy 10mm. Interesting point. I've noticed a significant difference across other brands and models of ropes historically, but I couldn't say now whether or not the better performers had PTFE coatings...
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:34pm PT
Rumor has the coating might have something to do with it...and, dry treated ropes may be worse.
Some Random Guy

climber
San Franpsycho (a.k.a. a token of my extreme)
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:39pm PT
yeah maybe the teflon. my beal ice lines are teflon coated and getting to the thoroughly abused stage. never been washed but they still look good. fairly clean that is. starting to fray. been used heavily on summer rock and winter ice.

why not pose this question to mammut? send 'em an email and let us know what they say.
couchmaster

climber
pdx
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:48pm PT
The black is actual aluminum particles. You can mitigate it and all but make it disappear by the use of Stainless steel (or steel) belay devices and carabiners. he only place this is practical is in toprope situations ...usually closer to the car due to the extra weight. Toperoping in particular will cause more black if you stick with alum. Otherwise, got to wash the rope. Rapping in sandstone areas with aluminum devices in the rain speeds it up due to abrasion. Dramatically. You can see it with a scouring pad and an aluminum pan. The sponge side pulls no black, whereas a piece os steel wool to clean will be black stat.
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:53pm PT
Couch beat me to it - friction between the texture of the rope weave and your aluminum devices. There may be some question around what makes some ropes seemingly retain more aluminum particles than others, but I've never had an aluminum belay device I didn't have to hit with a file or replace after awhile.
John M

climber
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:55pm PT
From looking at their site, Mammut appears to make two different coatings. Superdry which doesn't have PTFE/Teflon and what they call their Coatingfinish product which does.

http://www.mammut.ch/en/ropes_quality_wherethedifferencelies.html



The infiniti rope has the Coatingfinish with PTFE/Teflon

http://www.mammut.ch/en/productDetail/201001360_v_4158_60_95_0/9.5-Infinity.html


The galaxy has the superdry

http://www.mammut.ch/en/productDetail/201001330_v_3120_60_10_2/10.0-Galaxy.html


I was also a carpet cleaner and Teflon does work.
johntp

Trad climber
socal
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:57pm PT
Have not seen discoloration of the 10mm like that. Looks defective or some other problem to me.

Aluminum oxide definitely turns things black, but the discoloration of that rope given what you have written does not seem normal.
Some Random Guy

climber
San Franpsycho (a.k.a. a token of my extreme)
Feb 5, 2013 - 09:58pm PT
There may be some question around what makes some ropes seemingly retain more aluminum particles than others
i believe that is the main query here
BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 5, 2013 - 10:02pm PT
Yes, understood that the black is actual aluminum particulates, but the question is why some ropes have more of an affinity for the black stuff than others? Actual coating chemistry? Sheath weave abrasion characteristics (2 over 2 vs. 1 over 1)? It would be cool if there were more stainless steel belay plate options out there - I'd be fine with a few more ounces to at least partially rid my ropes of BRS. It also makes me wonder if there is a way that biners could be designed with a small stainless inlay in the radius to reduce the BRS contribution from that component... P.S. edit - John TP - a little bit of the discoloration of the Galaxy in the bottom pic is likely due to 2 days of sport wanking at Shelf Road this last weekend - quite the dusty venue!
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:05pm PT
How controlled is your comparison between the type of use each rope gets?

In my experience, oxided ropes was more a function of how much rappelling and lowering the rope was subjected to. At YMS, the static lines we used for guiding received tons of double break carabiner mileage and they were filthy. People I know that do more sport climbing, obviously involving much more weighted contact/abrasion with the carabiner have blacker ropes. Or so I thought.

I just figured my ropes, all of them, have never collected that black oxide because I never sport climb and rarely rappel/lower. It never occurred to me that different ropes collect or repel the oxide differently. Are you sure that's the variable (rope construction/coating) and not perhaps that the ropes in question see different kinds of action?
happiegrrrl

Trad climber
www.climbaddictdesigns.com
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:07pm PT
Sterling ropes have a similar problem. It isn't so much that the rope turns black, but that after belaying a pitch or two, your palms will get blackened.

It's like they are a carrier host of the dreaded “Black Rope Syndrome” - you can't tell from looking at a Sterling that you will soon be afflicted with BRS, but handle that rope for any amount of time and you'll see you've got BRS.



Seriously though - why would some ropes soak of the BRS, others deflect it, and yet others pass it on to the human while looking innocent and pure themselves...?
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:08pm PT
I have a formerly bright yellow Mammut Tusk 9.8 w/ Superdry that all but turned black in the first day's use. Kind of put me off of it after that and I've never really used it much. It has been used a few times since, but it got most of that lovely patina on the first day.

Back To Black
Back To Black
Credit: healyje
crunch

Social climber
CO
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:11pm PT
I've had ropes go black like that, or even worse. Hideous, at worst. Some are worse than others.

I suspected that improvements in rope technology have reached the point where the rope sheath is now can be so durable that it wears the surface off of the aluminum belay plates. But your comparison makes me think that only certain ropes do this......???? Interesting.

Last couple years, I've been using either a gri-gri or a steel belay/rappel device, made by DMM:

http://www.backcountry.com/dmm-v-twin-belay-device?newBuyBox=true

Works great. No more black stains on fingers, tape, clothes, rope, everything, since buying this unit.

DMM don't make these any more. Not sure if they are to be found anywhere.
Cosmiccragsman

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:11pm PT
It's Aluminum Oxide That makes the rope black.
and then the oxide off the rope makes your hand black when handling it.

eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:12pm PT
I try to combat it with chalk.
Cosmiccragsman

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:13pm PT
Yep. me also, eeyonkee
BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 5, 2013 - 10:14pm PT
Roy - the ropes had very similar use profiles for some time. However, after the tan Galaxy 10mm had been used for a while and showed no hope of improvement after several washes, it has been doomed to the realms of bolt clipping. But, earlier in life when the use profiles were essentially the same for both ropes, the dichotomy of BRS infestation was the same as the pictures show now. Note that the blue Infinity gets a fair bit of rapelling and short/sport climbing use as well.
WBraun

climber
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:19pm PT
Get black rope.

Problem solved .... case dismissed.

What me worry, over and out ...... :-)
johntp

Trad climber
socal
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:19pm PT
Is the glaze on the sheath of the 10mm from the tread color or ?

AFLAK!
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:24pm PT
I just did a little experiment and patted off all of the chalk. My whitish-orange rope is now blackish-orange. Thanks, Dave, up until now, I was fine with my rope. Be sure to email me when you get this puzzle solved.
BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 5, 2013 - 10:37pm PT
Hey Grug, I should have it all figured out after I silo a few more of these...
Credit: BrassNuts
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Feb 5, 2013 - 10:52pm PT
Dave, I'm beginning to think that you're prescient. It wasn't until the third (5th?) Old Chub that I even came up with the idea for my awesome "rope/color patdown experiment". I remember that after the second (third?) I was on a whole different line of reasoning involving angle of incidence (could have been reflection) or something.
Some Random Guy

climber
San Franpsycho (a.k.a. a token of my extreme)
Feb 5, 2013 - 11:07pm PT
Sterling ropes have a similar problem. It isn't so much that the rope turns black, but that after belaying a pitch or two, your palms will get blackened.
yeah I have a sterling that does that. annoying. washing it doesn't help either.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
the crowd MUST BE MOCKED...Mocked I tell you.
Feb 5, 2013 - 11:51pm PT
Have a red galaxy with dry coat and two strand weave. BRS bad.

Have a newer blue mammut similar weave, I think coated. Will review and report back.
MisterE

Social climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 12:34am PT
I remember asking the aluminum oxide question, and getting the RC.noob smack-down from TradIsGood about how it was just dirt and aluminum oxide is not black.

LOL. Web redemption.

Curt

climber
Gold Canyon, AZ
Feb 6, 2013 - 12:48am PT
I remember asking the aluminum oxide question, and getting the RC.noob smack-down from TradIsGood about how it was just dirt and aluminum oxide is not black.

Well, aluminum oxide (Al2O3) is not black. Single crystal aluminum oxide is called sapphire and, absent impurities, is clear. Non single crystal alumina is typically white.

Curt
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Feb 6, 2013 - 12:52am PT
So, are you saying that black is white or white is black? It matters for my response. Assuming I have one.
limpingcrab

Trad climber
the middle of CA
Feb 6, 2013 - 12:58am PT
Someone tell me how to get more of the black stuff on my rope and hands, I like how it smells
nature

climber
Boulder, CO
Feb 6, 2013 - 12:58am PT
YER GONNA DIE!!!!111169
MisterE

Social climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:02am PT
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_oxide

OK, it's just aluminum? I may have deserved that smack-down... I read it as an interaction between aluminum and oxygen, which I thought we breathed for survival.

I'm no chemist...
Curt

climber
Gold Canyon, AZ
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:03am PT
So, are you saying that black is white or white is black?

No.

Curt
Cosmiccragsman

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:06am PT
Maybe I should have been more specific.
It aluminum oxidation ,or aluminum rust.

Aluminum tend to turn a lot of things black.

Eggs can turn black in an aluminum pan if its not anodized
tooth

Trad climber
B.C.
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:08am PT
Any rope that I use on single-pitch or sport turns black. It sits in the dirt on a bag, gets drug through gates, everyone yells take and then you lower off of it.


Any rope I only use for multi-pitch trad lasts much longer, usually dies from getting cut. It is hanging out in the air, nobody sits on it, hangs on it, and we hike off many more of those climbs vs. sport.




Tahquitz vs. J-tree.
RyanD

climber
Squamish
Feb 6, 2013 - 03:40am PT
Cosmic, eggs can turn black in any pan if u don't know what you're doing.
Cosmiccragsman

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Feb 6, 2013 - 03:44am PT
Yeah like when you burn them, Ryan.

:)
pell

Trad climber
Sunnyvale
Feb 6, 2013 - 05:06am PT
What specifically causes BRS?

Aluminium oxidation. There is always a thin layer of (black) Al2O3 over any aluminium surface. When something abrasive (e.g. rope) is pulled over aluminium surface it abrades the black aluminium oxide and a new Al2O3 is immediately formed.

Is there any way to avoid it?

Been climbers we can avoid this choosing between at least three options:

1. Do not use aluminium. Unfortunately iron binners are too heavy and carbon fiber binners did not hit stores yet.

2. Prevent abrasion between aluminium and a rope. For example, never clip (unsafe). Or (better) cover your rope with Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene). Expensive Mammut ropes - COaTiNgfinish™, ref. https://d1qxh2iwg385ci.cloudfront.net/images/Mammut_Seilfibel_E_web_11129.pdf - have a Teflon coating.

3. Do not climb at all (too boring).

Seems, the only option to avoid BRS is to use Teflon coated ropes.

Personally I use a 60m Teflon coated Mammut 9.2mm rope for "moving fast and light" and a "wash it frequently" 80m New England 9.5mm rope as a work horse. I do not care much about the BRS.

P.S. I made an assumption that some binners paint rope less than other. For example, it seems that BD Oz paint rope less then any MadRock binner. I did not prove it yet, it's only an assumption.
jopay

climber
so.il
Feb 6, 2013 - 06:49am PT
I have the Mammut Infinity 9.5 which gets some of that but nothing like my partners Sterling 9.8 which is a lot worse even if he washes the rope the black comes right back. I think that is one of the reasons so many people are wearing gloves. If we use my partners rope I'll have to wash my hands off at least once during the day. I was getting some and changed to a anodized belay device which seemed to help.
Ron Anderson

Trad climber
Soon to be Nipple suckling Liberal
Feb 6, 2013 - 10:18am PT
buy a black rope-- good to go!
locker

Social climber
Whitebread
Feb 6, 2013 - 10:59am PT


BrassNuts...

be glad that you've asked an RC.n00b question and not gotten a lot of guff for it...

LOL!!!...

climbbillings?

Trad climber
Billings
Feb 6, 2013 - 11:19am PT
The way to get rid of the black stuff is to wash the rope in a MACHINE!! Daisy chain the rope and throw it in your wife's top loader with a little bit of woolite. Here's the key, It's the spin cycle that gets the black out. Cycle it through a short wash cycle with spin twice, then run it through the spin cycle two more times. This spins the black stuff out, and gets a lot of the water out of your rope too.
Mike Friedrichs

Sport climber
City of Salt
Feb 6, 2013 - 11:52am PT
I too have a sterling 9.8 that turns black in one day of climbing. I wash my ropes a lot (I believe it prolongs the life of ropes and is good for them), but this particular rope is the worst ever. Sometime and the distant past it used to be orange, I think.

I also wonder about rope diameter? I've been climbing on 9.5 and 9.4 ropes lately and they seem to stay cleaner. On the other hand, they also seem to wear out much more quickly. Oddly, they have less material but cost more. Much easier to clip and lighter though. Can't go back after going smaller. Beware.
Snowmassguy

Trad climber
Calirado
Feb 6, 2013 - 11:53am PT
You people are all racist...how dare you talk in a disparaging manner about a rope being BLACK. Some people will never get it.
Dave Kos

Social climber
Temecula
Feb 6, 2013 - 11:56am PT
I just keep a tube of this in my truck:

http://goophandcleaner.com/products/orange-goop/

Don't bother washing the rope, just wash your hands.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Feb 6, 2013 - 12:17pm PT
Lose the old, oxidizing biners.

Shiny new ones don't do this.

Problem solved.

DMT
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Feb 6, 2013 - 12:26pm PT
Cosmic is right, its aluminum oxide not aluminum metal. Aluminum does oxidize (rust) but oxygen can't penetrate through Al oxide very well, so only a thin surface layer is affected, and like stainless steel, it doesn't "rust". Its possible that the alloying changes the bonding between the oxide layer and the metal underneath, but that would not be my first guess. It's also possible that different coatings on the rope would bond to aluminum oxide to a greater or lesser extent. Surface chemistry is not simple or easy to predict. However, I would think that one Al2O3 particle would be like any other and whatever alloys are in the metal should not be in the oxide.

I would just put the rope in the washing machine like some else suggested. I don't worry about ropes breaking unless the sheath is cut.
BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 6, 2013 - 12:36pm PT
Some good input and discussion here. Pell & Don Paul - thanks for the tech talk, that's really helpful. I'm thinking that different biners and belay devices could be subject to more aluminum transfer depending on the hardness and durability of their respective anodized finishes, the radius/shape at the mechanical wear points as well as the base alloy composition.

So far it's looking like the best/most practical way to minimize BRS is to stick with teflon coated ropes, which seem to be a minority out there. I just wrote Bluewater asking if their 9.4 or 9.7mm ropes have a teflon coating as it's not clear from the product info on their website. It would be nice to have a reference list of teflon coated ropes to help folks in their search for a new cord...
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:07pm PT
I'd like to see a uv-resistant coating, particularly for webbing. Webbing gets seriously degraded - Jim Donini almost bought it a couple weeks ago by rapping off a UV-damaged sling that couldn't even hold body weight any more. That was a wake up call, as was the Euro guys who leave fixed biners, that wear in a way that gives them a sharp edge that then cuts the rope. These are serious safety concerns, but not ones that get much attention.
Dave Kos

Social climber
Temecula
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:16pm PT
I'd like to see a uv-resistant coating, particularly for webbing.


I soak all my slings in sunscreen. Minimum SPF 50.
JimT

climber
Munich
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:28pm PT
The black is technically called "smut" and is the bane of the aluminium treatment industry and welders though you can remove it easily enough chemically. It´s a mixture of aluminium oxide, magnesium oxide and a few traces from the rest of the alloy. Aluminium oxide has various colours but it is fundamentally transparent (you can´t see it on the polished parts of the karabiner) BUT the particles are so small they work as a light trap and appears black. Nano technology strikes again!
Curt

climber
Gold Canyon, AZ
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:29pm PT
Cosmic is right, its aluminum oxide not aluminum metal. Aluminum does oxidize (rust) but oxygen can't penetrate through Al oxide very well, so only a thin surface layer is affected, and like stainless steel, it doesn't "rust".

I believe it's actually just the opposite--and the "black" results from the rope passing over aluminum metal--and not Al2O3. Dingus is correct that a brand new carabiner with a nice shiny anodic oxide still intact will not cause this problem. A new non-anodized biner, however, will--and the anodized carabiner will too, as soon as the anodic oxide is worn through.

Curt
pell

Trad climber
Sunnyvale
Feb 6, 2013 - 06:57pm PT
To be more precise: rope abrades aluminium. Thin layer of abraded aluminium oxidates and becomes black. It's possible after your binners protective layer is worn.

Thus we have another option mentioned earlier by Dingus Milktoast.
BrassNuts

Trad climber
Save your a_s, reach for the brass...
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 7, 2013 - 12:41pm PT
I contacted Bluewater to see if any of their ropes utilize a teflon coating as their website does not indicate this feature for any of their dynamic rope models. Here is the sales manager's reply:

"Thank you for contacting us. We played around with Teflon back in the early 90’s but it never caught on. We still use our proprietary dry treatment which we feel is the best on the market. I know that Tendon ropes is using Teflon now but I didn’t know about Mammut."

Interesting. To me, there doesn't seem to be a downside to using a teflon treatment for at least some rope models given the performance of the Mammut Infinity. I wonder if there is a way to apply a PTFE coating to a rope after purchase. Maybe a company like Nikwax might develop a product like that...
locker

Social climber
Whitebread
Feb 7, 2013 - 01:04pm PT


...

Of course using it means...

"yer GONNA die!!!"...
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Feb 7, 2013 - 08:27pm PT
So I'm sitting in the dental chair for a 3 1/2 hour reconstructive process yesterday.
The dental tech starts hammering 11 of my teeth with a miniature sandblaster for the prep.

"Say sweetheart, what sort of abrasive does that thing sling?"
All perky and happy in her work she says:
aluminum oxide!
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