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Maxim Personal Escape Rope: A tag line made for alpinists

Posted on: May 30, 2019


MSRP: $115 (for 70m)

Anyone who has ever fumbled with a rat's nest of a wet tag line in the middle of a free-hanging rappel in blowing wind has yearned, deeply, for a better way. I've pleaded many times to the climbing gods that someone would just invent the perfect tag line. You know, a perfect pull cord. A radical rappel rope. A heavenly gossamer that was feather-light, strong, less prone to self-knotting, super-resistant to water, easy to handle, and unlikely to snag on chickenheads.

Wouldn't it be amazing if something like that existed? Well my friends, I'm here to tell you that it does. Almost, anyway.

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I recall my first glimpse of this perfect tag line. It was in one of the campgrounds of El Chalten, circa 2012. At that time, a company named Esprit had been selling their Alpine Personal Escape Rope (APER), and seemingly every seasoned El Chalten climber had one. The rope was absurdly rigid, holding a bent shape so that it looked like it was perpetually blowing in the wind. When coiling or uncoiling, it was amazing how easily the rope slid off of itself. It seemed to never pick up curls, or get stuck in knots.

I coveted the Esprit rope, and eventually got one. It was fantastic, and performed exceptionally well for me for a whole Cochamo season. Eventually it was core shot after a follower took repeated toprope whippers, and I was suddenly in the market for a new rope. I ended up acquiring a 7mm Maxim Personal Escape Rope (PER) for my latest trip to the big wall jungle of Cochamo, Chile.

Chip Powell relishing the clean wide hand crack that marked the start of the headwall. [Photo] Chris KalmanChip Powell relishing the clean wide hand crack that marked the start of the headwall of Cerro Walwalun in Cochamo, Chile. [Photo] Chris Kalman

I used my Maxim PER on every climbing day I had in Cochamo. All four of them. I even brought it on a long and convoluted ridge traverse during which my friends and I never used it. Unfortunately the line sustained a bad core shot during my first day of climbing with it.

My friend Chip Powell and I were attempting a new line on Cerro Walwalun. We spent the first day approaching the headwall, only roping up for a few short sections of fifth class before eventually settling in for an alpine bivy on a small pedestal one pitch up the headwall. The second day, we decided to haul all our sleeping gear rather than attempt to rappel back to it. After a 5.11- wide-hands splitter for breakfast, Chip hauled up the gear. We probably had about 25 pounds of food, water, stove, sleeping gear, etc. Arriving at the anchor after following the pitch, I was dismayed to find that my lovely new tag line had a nasty looking core shot in it, right on the knot where the bag was connected.

I didn't curse Maxim. I cursed myself. I had meant to make a knot-protector out of an old plastic bottle precisely for this purpose. That said, I had hauled plenty on my Esprit rope without a knot protector, and on the Maxim website, it specifically advertises the PER "for use as a haul line."

I didn't think it was an especially bad haul. It was a pretty clean line up to the anchor. The bag never got caught on anything, so in the end, I'm not really sure how it happened. Maybe Chip (who does possess somewhat superhuman strength) just yarded the bag through one tough spot, and that was enough to do it.

Being fairly committed, and the rope not being totally compromised, we kept climbing and continued to use the rope for hauling (after I turned one of our plastic water bottles into a knot protector). We eventually finished the route, and made some 13 rappels or so down another line on the other side of the valley, using a knot-block and employing the PER solely as a pull line. To do this, we simply retied the knot at every anchor, so we were always pulling the PER. In spite of the PER being so thin, I found that it pulled rather well, probably because of how rigid it is. On the few occasions when pulls had a ton of friction, we just used a Petzl Micro Traxion to help.

With the exception of the aforementioned core shot that was sustained on the first haul, the PER remained super durable throughout the rest of the trip. In every other way, I have only glowing praise for the Maxim PER. Even on the long ridge hike we did—in which we never ended up using it—it was so light and so packable that it allowed us options that a more conventional, heavier tag line might not have. The lightness and packability of the PER enabled us to fit all our gear for an overnight into a single alpine pack for the second and it was nice to have the lighter loads on our backs while climbing unroped during some technical approaches.

Powell climbing 4th/5th-class terrain above the lower aprons of Cerro Escudo on our way to the base of the Walwalun headwall. The levity and rigidity of the Maxim PER made it an ideal candidate for strapping to the top of the pack. [Photo] Chris KalmanPowell climbing 4th/5th-class terrain above the lower aprons of Cerro Escudo on our way to the base of the Walwalun headwall. The levity and rigidity of the Maxim PER made it an ideal candidate for strapping to the top of the pack. [Photo] Chris Kalman

Powell settles into our airy bivy, one pitch up the headwall of Cerro Walwalun. The last light of day is shining on Cerro Milton Adams (left) and Cerro Laguna (right). In the top right, clouds pour in from the Monster Valley over the pass that separates Anfiteatro and Trinidad valleys. Right of center, you can see the broken terrain and low-angle slabs that Chip and I ascended to arrive at our perch. [Photo] Chris KalmanPowell settles into our airy bivy, one pitch up the headwall of Cerro Walwalun. The last light of day is shining on Cerro Milton Adams (left) and Cerro Laguna (right). In the top right, clouds pour in from the Monster Valley over the pass that separates Anfiteatro and Trinidad valleys. Right of center, you can see the broken terrain and low-angle slabs that Chip and I ascended to arrive at our perch. [Photo] Chris Kalman

I would buy the PER again, absolutely, hands down. I don't believe there is a better option for tag lines out there. That said, I would advise extraordinary caution with these ropes in any situation where abrasions might occur. Especially if you are using one to belay up a second.

On the subject of whether to buy the 6mm APER from Esprit, or the 7mm PER from Maxim, I have no strong opinion. I thought both were exceptional tag lines, and in spite of the 1mm difference in diameter, I found no noticeable difference in weight, pack size, or durability.

Sadly, it seems to be difficult to find either of these tag lines on the Internet (as for brick and mortar shops, good luck). But I found customer service with both Esprit and Maxim to be quick, friendly, and convenient. So my advice is, if you are looking for one of these hyper-rigid super-niche tag lines, drop an email to whichever company you prefer, and check on availability. [Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colorado, which advertises on this site, has access to Maxim ropes but does not carry them in stock.—Ed.]

Kalman is a former Alpinist intern, an editor for the American Alpine Journal, and the author of As Above, So Below: A Climbing Story. You can find more information about his work and climbing endeavors at chriskalman.com. He has been climbing and new routing in Cochamo, Chile, since 2010.

The Austral sunset lights up the Cochamo valley from high up on Cerro Walwalun. [Photo] Chris KalmanThe Austral sunset lights up the Cochamo valley from high up on Cerro Walwalun. [Photo] Chris Kalman

Pros
High strength
Lightweight (32 grams per meter)
Durable if used carefully
Packs small
Less prone to clusters and knots

Cons
Only recommended for hauling if used with a knot protector (or a haul that is completely overhanging)

Rating:

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