How, and why, to make a rope log. And evaluating the safety of ropes on trails.

I am amazed that no one has done this before—record the installation of ropes on trails.

We've all been there: you get to a steep section, or steep drop on a trail, and conveniently, someone's put up a rope to help you.

It's raining, the mud's slippery, and there's a 1000 ft cliff next to you. I hang on to that rope to pull myself up or not? Is it going to break? How long has it been there? Oh well, stuff it. Here goes nothing. Cross your fingers.

Obviously, this is a stupid thing to do. So let's stop doing it, hey? The solution, I think, is a "rope log" on every trail.

Ropes are not installed by the State of Hawaii. Probably because they want to avoid being sued when one fails and someone gets hurt. However, ropes undeniably make our rough trails safer, and even doable at all. In testament to this, you will find ropes (installed by hikers), on many trails. Sometimes they help you cross slippery rocks near cliffs or through waterfalls. Sometimes they provide a hand line along contour trails affected by landslides. Sometimes they help you safely climb up or down steep or vertical sections in rain. Sometimes they are handy simply to improve your balance.

A rope log is simply a piece of paper, either plain or waterproof (like "rite in the rain" paper), with a pen or pencil attached to it, that allows whoever puts up a rope to record details about the installation so that other hikers have some information to help them evaluate the rope's safety. It also helps deciding when to replace a rope. Here is a downloadable template. If the log is put up near the beginning of the trail, all the ropes on the trail can be recorded on it at the same time, and hikers can decide if they want to hike the trail or not; for example, if there is clearly a long rope section with an old rope 4 hours into a trail, a hiker might decide not to hike the trail at all, instead of turning around 4 hrs later!

The paper can be protected from the weather and ants by a mailbox, or, 2 inch diameter Schedule-40 PVC pipe that you seal at both ends with PVC end caps. Hardware stores sell these PVC pipes in manageable pre-cut lengths for about $5, or they can cut longer ones for you into whatever lengths you want. You may or may decide to paint the pipe, but it should at least have one end cap sealed with by caulk or elastomeric adhesive like "Lexel" to avoid water leakage. The pipe or box can be tied to a tree or fence with rust-resistant galvanized green-vinyl-covered multipurpose "Dand-O-Line" (Hillman Brand; $8). Try to angle the pipe upwards to let rain run onto the bottom (sealed) end cap. Also seal any holes you might drill.

That way, whoever puts up the ropes we always run into, can record their installation and make the whole experience safer for everyone.

And whatever you do, don't move installed ropes like this guy (rather carry your own one in your pack for emergencies).

If you are tying in a knot, in general, a "Figure 8 follow-through" knot will be appropriate in many situations for climbing or canyoneering ropes/webbing. However, and this is not just an empty disclaimer...  Note: Ropes and knots is a complicated topic. Different knots may apply to different types of rope materials under different conditions and different types of anchors. Don't underestimate it or think you can learn what you need to know through a quick google search over a cup of coffee. There are volumes of books written on knots and ropes that have failed under certain conditions and led to serious injury or death. I'm not kidding—literally, volumes of books. I'm not going to go into the topic of rope materials, knots, etc., but did add a few basic words on the rope log template. In short, really know what you're doing before you put up a rope. And don't just use any old rope; it's probably a good idea to avoid hardware store rope. Leave rope installation for those that have experience in the matter—remember, someone else's life might be in your hands 

Now go forth and make a rope log for a trail that you know has rope on it. Hopefully the person who put up the rope will fill it out next time!

[--June 2015--]

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