MSRP: $354.95 (70m dry treated)
“Hey, what’s with the ends of your rope being red?” they ask. My reply: “I work for Alpinist magazine, and I’m doing a review on this new rope by Trango that’s not out on the market yet. The red keeps you from rapping off the end of the rope or from lowering someone off the end.” They respond: “Duh! That’s brilliant. I can’t believe rope companies haven’t been doing this already. It looks like it would also make it easy to find the ends of your rope in your rope bag, too.” Over the past three months, I have had this exact conversation, or close relatives, at least 20 times. Every single day I went climbing, multiple people asked about my bright yellow rope with red ends and made positive comments in response.
The Trango Agility 9.1mm comes in 70- and 80-meter options; is dyed bright red for five meters on both ends (Trango calls this the Red Flag); is triple rated for single, double and twin use; and comes in Duo Dry (treatment for water resistance) or Standard Dry (no treatment). In the middle, you’ll find a stark black middle mark and two more black marks at the transitions from the Red Flag to the rest of the rope, which is either neon yellow or neon green (mine’s yellow).
When looking for a new rope, I consider these important components relative to the primary use of the rope, be it for rock, ice or alpine climbing, or skiing: 1) Diameter 2) Length 3) How it handles 4) Dry treated and 5) Middle mark. Never before have red cautionary ends been one of the factors. But considering the response I’ve seen in the field and the number of annual rappelling and lowering accidents reported in the American Alpine Club’s Accidents in North American Climbing, I believe the red ends will likely become a standard in rope design and manufacturing, and hence, a sixth criteria for me.
Ropes from 9.1 to 9.5 millimeters are my preferred diameter range for just about anything on which I may take a lead fall. The only time I would suggest a wider rope would be for beginning climbers, for repetitive use at guided/instructional toprope sites, and for rescue teams. I prefer a bit smaller diameter while ski or alpine guiding on glaciers, and when using double- or twin-rope technique, which I almost never do. Other comparable ropes on the market that meet the triple rating by the UIAA generally range from 9.0 to 9.2mm (Sterling Nano and Aero, Mammut Alpine Sender and Crag Sender), but can even be found as low as 8.7mm (Mammut Alpine Sender). When you’re moving toward thinner ropes, durability naturally comes into question. During the last three months, I’ve taken probably more than 30 legitimate lead falls and many more short whips while working moves on sport climbs. I can say that the 9.1mm Agility can take the abuse (though climbers are generally encouraged by rope companies to use a thicker rope for working the moves on projects). My girlfriend and primary climbing partner loves the small diameter because of the ease with which it slides through our Trango Vergos and Petzl Grigris.
There was a time in the 1990s when the standard length of a rope switched from 50 meters to 60. Now, 70 seems to be the new 60, while there are more and more situations popping up where an 80 meter rope is the ideal choice as grades evolve and route developers take advantage of the full length of the crags (even 100-meter ropes can be found more readily now). With longer ropes, you can link pitches, avoid rope ends barely making it to the ground (or not) on long rappels, and avoid having to do a second lower from midway anchors on long sport and crack climbs.
How a rope handles is very important to me, maybe most important. Some ropes on the market will last forever, but they have the flexibility of a stiff cable. Not for me. When I use these ropes in a tubed belay device (such as the Black Diamond ATC), and especially when I’m belaying off an anchor in guide mode with the ATC Guide, my shoulders and elbows ache after only a few pitches. I like a soft, supple rope that bends and curves easily, yet is sturdy enough to handle lots of wear and tear; they may not last a decade, but they will keep me happy and injury free plenty long enough to feel as if I’ve gotten my money’s worth. The Agility 9.1mm is just such a rope; its tight “Spider Wear” construction allows it to run through a device as smooth or smoother than any rope I’ve ever used. The slick sheath also comes in handy when I’m reaching down to slide the index finger up the rope for a quick clip of a quickdraw or cam.
Dry treatment is a no-brainer for ice climbers and mountaineers because of the process that adds a water-resistant treatment and keeps a rope from absorbing water, but what about rock climbers? Dry treatment typically adds a slight amount of weight to a rope, so maybe that’s a negative for those looking to shed every ounce possible for light-and-fast objectives, or for people looking to send 5.15. Dry treatment also usually adds strength and durability, as well as a higher price-point. My big-time project sending days are long gone, and I have a job now, so I lean toward the added strength.
Now to the good stuff–the aspect of this rope that really sets it apart: the Red Flags. Until now, I have been a die-hard fan of bi-patterned ropes. Usually, a middle mark doesn’t do it for me as middle marks tend to fade and can be difficult to find in a spaghetti pile of rope. With a bi-patterned rope I can tell which half is on top of the pile and which is on the bottom. The Agility 9.1mm is now my new rope of choice, partially for the reasons mentioned above (especially how well the rope handles), but primarily because the 5-meter Red Flag ends and middle mark make the rope far more user-friendly than I have found bi-patterned ropes to be. In a flaked pile of rope, the two ends are extremely obvious. And even more important, the safety factor of the red ends play is priceless; it seems logical that the red ends will reduce the number of incidents in which a climber rappels off, or is lowered off, the end of the rope. One step closer to my ideal would be a bi-patterned rope with the red ends and a middle mark; let’s see who comes out with this first. (This would probably add a lot of cost to production, so it seems unlikely that we will see such a rope anytime soon unless there is a sudden demand for it.)
The less-than-ideal aspects of the Agility are minimal in number and effect. First, the three black marks at the middle–and at the transitions from red to the main rope color–faded and lost half their intensity almost immediately, like, after two days of climbing. I was a little bummed about this result but realized that with pretty much all ropes using middle marks, I have typically had to use a rope-safe marker to reapply relatively soon into the use of the new rope; so, the Agility doesn’t necessarily underperform in this arena, but doesn’t up the ante either. The Red Flags did not fade at all beyond normal rope wear, which are the colors most important not to fade, though after a little time you can see the primary rope color begin to show through a little–no big deal. Less than-ideal-aspect number two: the old-school plastic wraps with rope-length information that are found at both ends of the rope–these fall off quickly. Rather than letting these things litter the crag by eventual (or immediate) random separation, I suggest taking them off right out of the box.
It is sad and scary for me to hear and read of so many accidents each year involving rappelling and lowering. Though easy to say, “Just tie a knot in the end of the rope and the problem is solved,” reality is not always so cut and dry. Knots can get caught in cracks on windy days when rappelling, and as much as we are encouraged to do so, most climbers I see at the crag do not tie knots in the end of their ropes. Red ends are just one more needed step toward keeping us fallible human beings from making mistakes. As I have aged, I can much more readily admit that I can be quite forgetful at times. “Where are my keys?” “Did I remember to turn on my morning alarm?” “What day is it?” For this reason, and because of the incredible handle-ability, the Trango Agility 9.1mm with Red Flags is my new rope.
Mike Lewis, M.A., is an IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide living in Berthoud, Colorado. Mike has been guiding and instructing rock, ice, alpine and skiing since 1993 throughout the US and internationally.
Black middle mark
Slick durable sheath
70 and 80-meter options
Dry and standard treatment options
Black marks fade quickly
Plastic rope ends come off quickly