By Dave Westlake
Uncoiling a rope for the first time has always been something of a battle for me, and it hasn’t got much easier over the years. It just always seems to go wrong about 2/3rds of the way in, when an irreversible state of tangle sets in and I resign myself to a frustrating start to the climbing day. I took it as a good sign, then, that in 20 years of climbing the Petzl Arial Dry is the only rope I can remember spooling out smoothly from end to end. No swearing, and no tribute to Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Messy at the base of the crag. Since that day a few months ago I’ve been using this top-end Petzl offering regularly, navigating various local and national lockdowns to see how the rope fared on a mix of UK sport and trad climbs. All things considered, anyone looking for an all-round performance rope would be well advised to check the Ariel out. Here are some of my main thoughts about the Ariel dry, organised into a few important considerations.
Handling and performance
This hassle free initiation with the Arial bode well for how the rope handles when climbing and belaying, which is a key factor in its overall performance. Smooth operation at each end of the system makes all the difference – as anyone who’s desperately thrown a handful of rope into the anchor in the dying moments of their grip will attest. As expected, then, I found the Ariel hit the sweet spot when it came to ‘being a generally good rope’.
The 9.5 diameter felt like a good ballpark to be in – not ridiculously skinny but nimble and light enough to forget about on long pitches or wandering lines. In fact, at 58 grams per metre the Ariel is pretty light for its diameter, and a touch lighter than some of its peers, for example, the Mammut Alpine Dry and the Edelrid Eagle. That said, I found the Arial took a bit more breaking in than some other ropes, and the dry treatment coating gives it a slick straight out of the pack that takes a couple of sessions to settle. Once it has settled in the texture and handling is second to none. The rope gave me a comfortable time when taking short falls, with a soft but not overly bouncy catch.
This is probably the only area in which I wasn’t blown away by the Ariel Dry, though having said that I wasn’t that disappointed either. After the rope had been through the mill a few times the sheath started to show some minor signs of wear and I’m not expecting it to end up being super durable. Then again, like most things we buy there is something of a trade-off between different attributes; really hardwearing ropes won’t feel silky smooth and the highest performing gear probably won’t last forever. My test rope is still going strong after a reasonable amount of use, and it’s not a major criticism to say that it is showing some signs of wear – just a thing to bear in mind and a reminder to think about your criteria when choosing which gear to buy.
One of the real advantages of modern ropes like this is their versatility. The dry treatment process Petzl use is state of the art, so although I didn’t use the rope in wet or icy conditions I would have every confidence in it as an rope for all seasons. The Arial is as happy as a single strand sport rope as it is doubled up on trad routes. Plus, the longer length options (70 or 80m) mean that for many trad climbs in the UK this is the only rope you’d need if you’re happy doubling it up. The only caveat I’d put on this relates to my point above about how long lasting the Arial would be as a do-it-all workhorse – I’d be more inclined to save mine for tricky redpoints or other scenarios where I’m pushing the boat out.
If you are looking for a high performer then the Petzl Ariel really fits the bill. Like most high end pieces the Ariel is more in the wheelhouse of performance than durability, and I would certainly recommend this rope for redpointing or onsighting at your limit, and as a handy lightweight option for shorter trad climbs. Few climbers will crack out a new Ariel for working routes or top roping, but that’s not what the rope is designed or priced for. For anyone wanting to push themselves, safe in the knowledge they can tie in and focus on the task at hand, the Ariel will prove justifiably popular.