Size: 8.2mm, 60m/70m
Color: Orange or Blue
Rock climbing in Vermont is an acquired taste. The cliffs drip water. The cracks are filled with moss. The only holds guaranteed not to snap are the loose ones. But, once the temperature drops and the flowing cliffs begin to freeze, the real season begins. Ice climbing in Vermont is not just something to do when the skiing is poor, it’s a chance to make up for the summer. So when choosing gear I look for equipment that will do everything. For me this means finding the driest and most durable half ropes I can. So this autumn I picked up a pair of Petzl Dragonflys, curious to see how much winter climbing they could handle.
The Dragonfly rope comes in a little heavier than its insect namesake–but is just as brilliantly colored. Threading rappels by starlight would turn out to be easy because the ropes’ coloring kept them distinct, and their light weight (41.8 grams per meter) let me replace my 45-liter pack in favor of a 25-liter frameless daypack. But, for most of the fall all I could do was coil and recoil the pair waiting for the temperature to drop. When it finally did drop, powdery snow and a thin veneer of ice kept me on moderate ground for the first few weeks. This very thin ice quickly grew frustrating. If good ice wouldn’t come to us, then we would have to find it. Racked with pins and tricams, my partner and I set off in search of quality ice, belaying across ledges and dragging the thin ropes through snowy gullies. We rappelled from boulders, made swings to reach distant ledges and hammered pins into rotting schist. We dulled our crampons on dime-sized ledges and used our hands as much as our tools, and we did find a few hidden body lengths of ice. But the ropes suffered for it. After a month of such use, full weave batches were severed and the ropes were covered in small fuzzies and frays. If the ropes continued to wear as quickly as they had the first month, they would have to be retired by the end of March.
Luckily, temperatures settled and the ice season came in full force. I traded my pins for screws, filed my tools, and got to work on the fat ice. I was worried at first that the sheath wear on the ropes would cause them to soak up water, but I was wrong. In fact, the Dragonflys only became waterlogged when I ran them through streams or at the end of the season when the base of the cliffs turned into puddles. A coating of ice would form over the rope, but the individually treated fibers resisted absorbing water. And, once I started climbing more ice than rock, the sheaths didn’t seem to wear as quickly, though they were easily stained by blood and, later in the season, mud.
In terms of tangling, the ropes showed respect to climbers that respected them. Shoving the pair blindly into a pack, or not keeping them separate when bringing up a second turned them into a brightly colored mess. But, a week of normal coiling returned the ropes to their non-tangled state.
Overall, I am pleased with the performance of the Dragonflys and would recommend them as a good set of half ropes for ice climbing. Their biggest weakness is that they do not take well to heavy use on rock. But between their light weight and excellent dry treatment they still have a place as an expedition rope, or a rope for summer routes with long approaches. Despite my initial doubts they survived the season in decent shape, and I will continue using them next winter.
Pros: 41.8g/m; excellent dry treatment; middle marks; bright colors.
Cons: Not suited for heavy use on rock; stain easily.