By: Matt Foot
I initially took these ropes on review to test the benefits of using skinny dry treated half ropes against what a harsh Scottish winter can throw at you. This has ended up extending into a longer test period and over the last 6 months I've tied into a pair of alpine drys in most winter and summer climbing situations.
From the crashing waves of the south coast sea cliffs, the mountain trad of the Lakes and the freezing (often wet) heights of Scottish winter. What I initially thought would be a rope for my winter goals has quickly become my go-to rope for year-round trad.
Straight from the off these ropes are easy to handle, they come ready to climb. This means that, if you wanted to, you could cut the ties, flake them into a pile and set off up your first route. Gone are the days of having to run your new ropes back and forth, hanging them over high rails overnight to rid them of factory coils. When you first use them they do feel noticeably skinny, they have a very slick feel to begin with. The sheath has a tight weave and this produces a very supple, slick rope. This can feel alarming at first but I never had any concerns about the friction through the belay device. I use a Climbing technology guide plate but having tested the ropes with a variety of devices they have always fed exceptionally whilst still catching and lowering well. It's important to check the specification of your belay device but most modern half rope belay devices will accommodate 8mm ropes.
My first outing was the Scottish Dry Tooling Club's 2022 winter meet. This meet saw 5 days of winter climbing on Ben Nevis out of the CIC at the base of the north face. As usual with a trip across the border we saw the full range of weather. The first day brought calm clear conditions with perfectly formed ice lines on offer, day two and three brought great climbing but storm force whiteout conditions high up and the last two days changed drastically with thawing temperatures to end the trip. The take away from this trip for me was how well the dry treatment performed. The great thing about being at a meet is that there are lots of people with a full spectrum of kit hanging up in the drying room at the end of the day. The Alpine Drys were by far the quickest drying set of ropes in the hut. Whilst you might expect this from a brand new rope, there was also an older set on the trip which were still showing great results after far more wear. There's nothing better than climbing back to back winter days with dry kit. Even in the thawing conditions of the last two days they were able to efficiently shrug off the rapidly melting ice from our optimistic aspirations.
Having then continued to use them for the rest of the winter season I was really impressed with how durable they are. They managed the demands well and maintained a new condition nicely. The Alpine Dry has a very supple feel so even with a gloved hand they are easy to handle, making knot tying and keeping organised on a winter belay relatively easy. I would note, until they were worn in, the suppleness and the diameter often made some knots feel quite loose. Although this made it easy to untie knots that had been repeatedly loaded, it saw me adding a bit more tail to a stopper knot and highlighted the importance of dressing and stressing knots properly where necessary. Fast forward to my summer climbing and a bit of use has seen them settle down.
Transitioning from winter to summer and these ropes have seen a lot of use from me. Living in the Lake District I'm in a perfect position to be chucking them around in the mountains on long multi pitch days and regular single pitch hits wherever possible. The Lake District rock certainly isn't soft on kit and although I've seen the effects on these ropes in the form of mild wear and even a cheeky nick at one end, they've probably coped better than I would have expected for a light half rope. From a durability point of view I wouldn't have any problem recommending them. A hard six months of use and they show no signs of being worn out. I do feel though that it's something you need to be aware of when considering a thinner set of half ropes. There's always going to be a compromise somewhere when you match up weight, durability and performance.
These ropes run like a dream on long lakeland pitches, pull easily from full length abseils and are noticeably lighter on the walk in, so, if you can accept that they'll possibly have a slightly shorter lifespan than an 8.6mm workhorse then long term durability is probably where your compromise will lie.
But, let's consider the two main features that initially draw the eye. The first is that at 8mm they're on the skinnier end of what most people will consider using in winter. Half ropes seem to get thinner every year and go down as far as 7mm but it's always going to be a balancing act between weight, handling and durability. For most people, coming down from a more traditional 8.5mm to an 8mm rope can feel like a massive upgrade. In winter, when you're gloved up and teetering around in the white room above questionable gear, 8mm ropes dangling below you feel skinny enough but will still feel like they can be handled nicely when wearing multiple layers so why go any thinner.
Overall weight has also got to be a consideration, different people will have different preferences when it comes to climbing on 50m or 60m half ropes. The argument for climbing on 50s used to be that it was lighter meaning less weight to carry for shorter UK climbing. However, my personal belief is that the benefits of climbing on a longer rope in the modern environment outweigh the weight saving of a shorter rope - more opportunities for retreat and the option to string multiple pitches together when appropriate. So surely saving a couple of grams here and there is an easy win. At 42g/m the Alpine Dry is a couple of grams lighter per metre than many of the competing 8mm dry treated ropes. So, if weight saving is important to you it's certainly another tick in the box.
The second reason is the dry treatment. The Alpine Dry is treated throughout the core and sheath meaning that in line with UIAA standards it'll absorb less than 1.5% of the ropes weight in moisture. This feature is especially important when considering a rope for winter use. Over the course of a Scottish winter or a Euro ice climbing trip, water absorbed by your rope will not only add weight that you don’t need to be carrying but it can also freeze and make the ropes hard to handle or feed while belaying and treacherous to abseil down. A frozen rope is not what you want at the end of a hard winter day. In my experience a lot of dry treated ropes can be great straight out of the box but after a season of being dragged through cornices and coiled in the snow they can start to let you down. This isn't something that the Alpine Drys have fallen foul to, even 6 months down the line the dry treatment is working as well as it did on day one.
With the Alpine Dry, Mammut has struck a brilliant balance between weight, usability and durability to produce a year round set of half ropes that you'll always be happy to lift off the gear shelf, with the key stand out for me being the durability and lasting effect of the dry treatment. 6 months down the line, uncoiled on a (more often than not) soggy Lakeland ledge and they're still shrugging off the moisture! Weight saving advantages are popping up in every corner of the gear market and with the durability of the Mammut Alpine Dry proving to be so good it's an area where you can afford to shed a bit of extra weight.