Amongst the hot new climbing gear released this season, something I’m most excited about is the newest ultra-light triple-rated rope, Beal’s 8.5 mm Opera. Rated for use as a twin, double, or single rope, the Opera not only surpasses the 8.6 mm Edelrid Corbie in weight by 3 grams per meter, but also earns a new UIAA water repellency certification. The Opera is a cutting-edge specialized tool for elite sport climbers, ice climbers, and alpinists.
Reviewed by Drew Thayer, Senior Correspondent
banner photo: David Fay leading moderate ice using the Beal Opera as a single lead line (photo by the author)
Retail: $299.95 (70 meter rope)
UIAA water repellant certification: This is an exciting new development; the UIAA now provides a repeatable, standardized metric for water repellency, removing some of the guesswork from comparing ropes. To pass this rigorous test, a rope is subjected to abrasion simulating a few day’s use, then submerged in water for fifteen minutes. The rope is then weighed, and it must absorb less than 5% of its weight in water to be certified “water repellent”. For comparison, the UIAA is finding that non-treated ropes can absorb 50% of their weight, and many ropes labelled “dry-coated” in fact absorb between 20% and 40% of their weight!
Think that could make a difference? Leading a full pitch with a soggy rope could turn 7.4 lbs of nylon into 10.3 lbs dangling from your waist, a significant amount to heft.
To field test, I used the Opera for a week of ice climbing in generally above-freezing conditions in Hyalite Canyon, Montana. The ice flows would drip on our ropes during the warm afternoons, then freeze again at dusk. While some other ropes got stiff and unwieldy with ice, the Opera gathered small ice crystals on its sheath, yet remained pliable. Water repellency is especially important in winter climbing…ever tried to feed frozen-stiff rope through a belay device?
Lightweight. At 48 grams per meter, this is the lightest single-rated rope in the world, surpassing the Edelrid Corbie by 3 grams per meter, and the Mammut Serenity by 4. It’s hard to detect that fine of a difference, however 70 meters of Opera is almost a half pound lighter than the Corbie (and 2 pounds lighter than a standard 9.6 mm single rope).
Low impact force. The Opera boasts some of the lowest impact forces in the industry. Impact force rating is a function of the rope’s internal shock absorption, and in practical terms is the factor that most affects the amount of force that the climber, highest piece of gear, and belayer will experience when a climber falls. (For a technical description, please visit: http://bealplanet.com/sport/anglais/forcedechoc.php)
Rated at 7.4 kN as a single makes this possibly the softest-catching single rope, surpassing other triple-rated ropes by over 2 kN. Only the Beal Joker and Sterling Nano (9.1 mm and 9.2 mm, respectively) come close at 8.2 kN and 8.4 kN. Used as a double or half rope (impact ratings of 5.5 kN and 8.8 kN, respectively), the Opera performs more like a stretchy half rope than its stiffer triple-rated cousins, with each rating lower by 1 to 2 kN.
Triple-rated versatility. This versatility is a huge bonus to alpinists. On complicated ice climbs that demanded long rappels, we used the Opera and Corbie as double ropes to facilitate wandering protection and basically have a super burly double-rope system. With doubles, you often trust each rope individually with your life; it feels very confidence inspiring when each rope is rated for five UIAA falls like a proper single rope. I plan to use a pair of Operas for convoluted climbs in the Black Canyon, where wandering leads and long rappels encourage the use of double ropes.
We also used the Opera alone on straightforward ice pitches and it was joy to lead with such a light rope that has the full strength of a single rope. The utility of a light single rope like this in alpine climbing is phenomenal; a 70 meter Beal Opera weighs 2.94 kg, or 6.4 lb. This means you could carry the Opera and a light sleeping bag for the same weight as a 9.6 mm rope of equal length.
Handling. The Opera has a stiff hand, which feels confidence inspiring in thin ropes, and helps it from getting into the tangled messes that small-diameter ropes are prone to. It remains supple after getting wet and freezing, and after a long day of wet ice climbing and dragging the rope through the snow, I barely had to dry it at home.
Bottom line: The Beal Opera is a versatile rope that provides alpine enthusiasts with the ability to simply carry less weight without sacrificing the safety margin provided by a UIAA single rating. It can be carried alone for single use on ice and rock climbs, or as a set of burly double ropes on wandering routes or routes that require 60+ meter rappels. The slinky Opera is not designed to take the abuse of repeated sport whipping or excessive top-roping, but you can use it with confidence on redpoint burns or classic climbs in the mountains, knowing that you are only cutting weight, not safety.
Beal Opera on backcountry.com
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