Jess Simon works as a rock guide in the Front Range of Colorado for Paradox Sports, Apex eXpeditions, and Boulder Mountain Institute. In the winter he will be returning to Sun Valley Trekking for his second year of their two-year ski guide apprenticeship program.
For the month of September I had the opportunity to test out the Sterling Evolution Aero 9.2 Bicolor Dry 60 meter rope in the Sawtooth Mountains and the Pioneer Mountains of Idaho. We climbed the Direct Becky (5.11 Grade IV) and Astro Elephant (5.10 Grade IV) on the Elephant’s Perch, Sky Pilot (5.8 Grade III) on Peak 11,280 and Broken Arrow Arete (5.7 Grade III) on Mustang Peak in the Pioneer Mountains. We also climbed a first ascent on the Monolith, a large granite spire in the Sawtooth Mountains (5.10 Grade IV).
The climbing we did was exclusively long alpine routes deep in the mountains where weight savings is paramount. The skinny diameter of the Sterling Evolution Aero 9.2 Bicolor Dry 60m allows for a large weight savings at 56 grams/meter.
Generally speaking, gains in weight savings equals loss in durability. However, after climbing over 50 pitches, numerous rappels, encountering countless edges, and even catching a few whippers, this rope has shown almost zero wear on the sheath.
The other beautiful aspect of this rope is the bicolor pattern on the sheath. Unlike some bicolor ropes, there is a distinct change in color and pattern making it impossible to miss the halfway point of the rope. This turns threading single rope rappels into a nearly mindless task. It also makes communicating to your partner when half of the rope is out very easy – a handy technique when trying to gauge when and where to end your pitch.
Besides color, rope handle and feel is the first thing that I notice about a rope, making it the biggest factor that I take into consideration when choosing a rope. How does it feel in my hands? How does it pull through my belay device, from the bottom and in Guide Mode? What about my GRIGRI? People who have used many different ropes know that the advertised diameter is hard to compare from rope to rope. This has to do with different manufacturers’ style of construction. If you were to get three different-branded ropes all advertised with a 9.2 millimeter diameter and compare the ends of them, they would look different. Thus, for me, deciding which rope to buy is roughly based off of advertised diameter but generally comes down to how it handles. The Sterling Evolution Aero 9.2 is soft, supple and easy to pull through any type of belay device. While I have primarily switched to using a GRIGRI 2 for lead belays and for belaying from the top when only climbing with one partner or one client, this rope pulls effortlessly reducing wear and tear on your shoulders and elbows. While 9.2 millimeters is at the bottom end of the recommended diameter to effectively work in a GRIGRI 2, it feeds slack smoothly and has no problem catching falls or holding a weighted rope.
When buying a skinny rope my two main concerns are durability and rope stretch. Having already debunked the durability issue for this rope, the biggest heads up is its stretch. On day one of using this rope I whipped off the crux pitch on the Direct Becky. I was about three or four feet above my gear when I fell, but with rope stretch I fell about 12-15 feet. In my situation I was totally fine, the fall was clean, but it definitely reminded me that I needed to be acutely aware of what was below me and how far away it was because this rope is stretchy!
This rope is an ideal single rope to take into the mountains. It exceeded my expectations and I look forward to seeing just how much more I can abuse it before retirement.