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Edelrid Starling Protect Pro Dry 8.2mm Rope: Handles well, highly cut resistant
Posted on: February 10, 2021
MSRP: $209.95 (for 60m)
We all dread "getting the chop." We climbers generally utter the phrase to imply getting killed during the practice of our meaningless pastime of scaling rocks, mountains and frozen waterfalls. In the climbing world, the phrase channels a spooky double-entendre, pulling in the idea of having our ropes cut because of some terrible accident.
Luckily for us, over the past 30 years, documented "rope failures" are rare. "Failure" usually means a cut rope, as opposed to a rope failing because of chemical contamination, for example. The climbing industry and the L'Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme (UIAA) has flirted with the idea of trying to quantify "cut resistance," but testing protocols have been difficult to reproduce and short-lived.
After an accident during a Swiss guide training in 2015, in which two candidates were lowered using an 8.7mm rope over a sharp edge (the rope failed, but both candidates lived), the German rope manufacturer, Edelrid, took a fresh look at the problem, according to Philippe Westenberger, Product Manager for the company.
Mikey Arnold leading the WI5+ curtain pitch on the Cascade de Bonatchiesse. [Photo] Rob Coppolillo
Over several years of development, Edelrid created the "Monster," a compact machine with a rotating disc of specialized, hardened steel designed to cut ropes under tension, while quantifying the rope's resistance to the cutting.
"This process took five years to develop," says Westenberger. "The problem before was reproducing the results. With our process, the standard deviation is less than five percent."
Edelrid verified its results with an independent lab in Stuttgart and then shared its testing method/machine with the working group at the UIAA, as well as other manufacturers, and now has a reproducible, quantifiable method of testing a rope's cut-resistance.
Edelrid's "Monster" machine is designed to test a rope's cut resistance. [Photo] Courtesy of Edelrid
Improving Our Safety Margin
Edelrid concurrently developed a technology—dubbed "Protect"—to significantly improve a rope's cut-resistance. This technology is now available in several Edelrid cords, a 10mm static line, their popular 8.9mm triple-rated Swift Protect, their Rap Line Protect, and a twin-half rope, the Starling Protect Pro Dry 8.2mm.
Edelrid comped me a set of 60-meter Starlings to test over the past several months. We had a "second summer" in Chamonix, France, during November. That weather gave me the opportunity to use the ropes for roughly 50 pitches on rock and, once cold weather returned, 15 pitches on ice.
Dual-rated as both a twin- (clipping both ropes at each protection point) and half-rope (alternating clips and/or separating ropes), the Starling Protect lasts roughly twice as long as the non-Protect version when subjected to the Monster machine. The test weights the rope to 80 kilograms (about 176 lbs.) and then cuts the rope to failure.
The knowledge that the resistance of the Starling has been doubled gives me the "warm fuzzies" in a theoretical sense, but I obviously wanted to see how the rope handled in the field, too.
The Edelrid engineers achieve this cut-resistance by incorporating aramid material (better known by brand names Nomex or Kevlar, for example) into the sheath construction. Aramids resist cutting better than polyamide (better known as nylon), the material used in kernmantle ropes. The aramid adds a small amount to the rope weight, as it's a heavier material than polyamide. For Edelrid's dynamic ropes, this is on the order of 1 gram per meter (g/m), but actual rope weights depend on the sheath construction, rope diameter, etc.
At 8.2mm, the Starling is by no means a super-skinny half or twin rope. Edelrid manufactures the Skimmer, a 7.1mm cord that is the lightest/thinnest half rope on the market (36g/m), so when compared to that, the Starling feels burly (43g/m). Stacked alongside a skinny single like Beal's Opera (48g/m), the Starling feels nearly as robust, and I wonder how the Starling stacks up against single ropes in terms of resistance to cutting.
I asked Westenberger if they'd compared Protect ropes against the competition.
"Yes, we have," he said. "Although I would not like to publish them as I find this not fair to the competition. Of course, we made sure to be the most cut resistant."
Edelrid produces the Starling in Germany (like most of its products) with its "Pro" treatments, meaning; it gets the company's top-end dry treatment (UIAA certified); "Thermo" treatment (which prolongs consistent handling characteristics); comes lap-coiled and ready to use; and receives a bluesign rating, which is an industry-wide designation indicating the rope and the raw materials used to manufacture it are produced using less energy, fewer chemicals, and less water than traditional manufacturing methods.
Edelrid has committed ample company resources to improving the sustainability of its methods and products, including "upcycling" unused/cut strands of rope to make new ropes like their 9.8mm Parrot, and the world's first rope crafted from recycled ropes, the Neo 3R 9.8mm single rope. That's a story for another time.
After a clear night and an early start, super-cold ice, flowing water, and leftover snow from a prior storm made this a challenging day in terms of rope management and belaying. The Starlings did just fine and shed any snow they picked up during our climbing. [Photo] Rob Coppolillo
So who wouldn't opt for a rope that's twice as cut-resistant? Well, if it felt like steel cable or an overcooked strand of pasta when handling it, then I think most of us would forego the additional protection!
First off, having owned several Edelrid ropes over the years and being a general fan, I wanted to see if this much-hyped Protect technology produced a different feel or quality to the rope. At first impression, you can sense the aramid in the sheath; it simply handles and feels differently than nylon.
"The friction increases a bit on the rope with aramid. It's thicker than the polyamide [nylon]," explains Westenberger. "It stands out a little bit, so it grips easier, but it also introduces a bit of friction."
My first big worry was that a "higher friction" rope would be a nightmare to pull through a belay device. I tried the Starlings with several devices. In terms of overall friction while belaying (both top and lead), I ranked them most friction to least as follows: Edelrid Giga Jul in assisted mode while lead belaying; Giga Jul in non-assisted while lead-belaying; Black Diamond ATC Guide (lead-belaying or top-belaying followers); and lastly in "guide mode" with the Kong GiGi when top-belaying followers.
I also received and gave a direct belay with a Munter hitch for approximately 20 pitches. For these routes, I simply built a Munter with both strands of the Starlings on a large HMS-style locker (a Petzl William or Grivel Mega). While leading several of these pitches, my 10-year-old son belayed me. He had zero problems feeding rope and managing the Munter, so top marks for that.
I'm happy to say my fears of using a slightly thicker half rope and the aramid adding friction were unfounded. At home I compared a non-Protect rope and a Starling Protect in a guide-style belay device and pulled rope through them. I think rope age, angle of feeding, and moisture are far more important factors in handling. The aramid doesn't seem to affect much in terms of belaying or pulling the rope through quickdraws, etc.
A naked V-thread with pre-rigged rappellers using the Starling Protect ropes. [Photo] Rob Coppolillo
I alternated techniques with the Starlings while leading, occasionally clipping both in twin method, but often alternating (half-rope technique), too. The Starlings worked fine with both methods, though having used a 7.9mm Edelrid half rope, I must say, I'd love the Protect technology on a thinner rope like their 7.9 or 7.1mm half/twins. I think the Starling 8.2 makes a ton of sense on multipitch alpine rock. For long bolted routes and ice, I'd take a skinnier half rope.
Westenberger explained that as a rope's diameter decreases, it becomes more complex to incorporate aramid into the sheath, so this is why Edelrid produces the Starlings in a Protect version, rather than its thinner cousins. While he didn't rule out a Skimmer or Apus Protect, he wasn't sure Edelrid would choose to offer them. One can hope!
At present, Edelrid isn't offering the Protect technology outside of the ropes mentioned above—the Starlings, the 8.9mm Swift, and a 10mm static cord.
The only situation in which the Starling Protects handled any differently was on ice that was very wet but still cold. I climbed 10 pitches of ice with temps down to -11C/12F. My buddy and I encountered tricky conditions—flowing water on parts of the icefalls; new chandeliered ice elsewhere; very cold, brittle ice in other sections, and loose, dry snow on ledges.
As we traversed soaking wet sections, and then climbed vertical ice and finally ended on a ledge with snow, the ropes were challenged, for sure. More than a "regular" rope? Any rope would've frozen on those days, and we saw others experiencing similar rope drama. The Starling Protects seemed like they picked up a bit more snow than a non-aramid reinforced cord, but as I pulled them through a Giga Jul in guide mode, they shed the snow. I'm curious to see if this pattern will be an ongoing characteristic.
Cold, wet conditions with dry snow on the belay ledges made for tricky conditions—but Bruno Schull makes it look easy above Sertig, Switzerland. [Photo] Rob Coppolillo
On a subsequent day of climbing that was colder but drier and without much snow at all, the Starlings were awesome. They handled well across the board.
The dry treatment performs exceptionally well. After shaking them off once indoors, they were damp to the touch and bone dry several hours later, after hanging them in a heated basement.
And the Cutting?
Well, I was in a quandary here—intentionally trash a rope or keep these things (because I really want to keep using them!)? I compromised.
I short-roped a climbing partner on featured, sharp rock for several afternoons. We even found a pretty sharp spike right off the ground, and I intentionally lowered him over an edge I would absolutely avoid any other time. (It was only a few feet off the ground!) I had him do a couple up/down laps around this vicious little spike. After sawing up/down this feature a few times, the rope seems no better or worse than any other cord I've used—I think my informal testing didn't really test much, but I was happy to see the Starling didn't fuzz up or show the least bit of wear.
Edelrid's Monster machine seems like a better gauge of cut-resistance at this point!
We all dread falling with the rope loaded over an edge. Edelrid's "Monster" tries to reproduce this type of abrasion/cutting on ropes. [Photo] Courtesy of Edelrid
I'm no sponsored athlete or ambassador for Edelrid—just a fan. I've climbed on bunches of their ropes and the Starling Protect is the latest. It will be my go-to rope for long alpine routes here in Chamonix. Having two independent rope lines going, both with double cut-resistance, seems like a great idea. The Starling strikes me as an ideal rope for Sierra Range granite, Vegas adventure or winter-mixed climbing—great for any time you want a burly, safer, quality cord.
[The Starling Protect Pro Dry rope will be available in United States markets starting May 15, 2021.—Ed.]
Rob Coppolillo has been climbing since 1985—you'd think he'd be better at it by now! Nonetheless, he managed to get through the guide program and is now an internationally licensed (IFMGA) mountain guide living in Chamonix, France. He's the co-author of The Mountain Guide Manual and the author of The Ski Guide Manual.
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