Committing routes often dictate a need for two ropes to facilitate longer rappels on the descent or retreat. A route's characteristics and the tactics employed can create circumstances in which a single lead rope with a dedicated rappel line is a superior option over a twin or half rope system. In these instances, what tag line is the best for getting you off that remote alpine pinnacle quickly and safely?Esprit manufactures an unusual 6mm cord they call the Alpine Personal Escape Rope (APER) that we believe fits the bill. Through field tests in the fierce winds of Patagonia, on the smooth granite of El Capitan, and while getting down from sandstone towers in Arches National Park, it excelled. The APER handled triple duty, serving as a rappel, tag, and haul line (for small loads, <60 lbs) and outclassed the competition with a combination of three qualities: light weight, durability, and stiffness. Stiff?!? Read on and learn why its unique stiffness separates it from other candidates.
Esprit Alpine Personal Escape Rope Review
Cons: Static so it can't be used to lead in an emergency
Manufacturer: Esprit Ropes
Our Analysis and Test Results
A super stiff static tag line, the Esprit Alpine Personal Escape Rope can be the perfect companion to the dynamic lead lines reviewed in our Best Rock Climbing Rope Review for long alpine routes.
When first examined, the inflexible APER feels as if it were frozen solid or horribly UV damaged. Eighteen inch sections of the rope can be held straight horizontally and any loops tightly wound will maintain their shape, hands-free. This stiffness would make belaying a leader infuriating and be grounds for the swift retirement of any normal rope, but in a tag line it serves a useful purpose. While pulling ropes after a rappel, other flimsy skinny ropes often tangle around protruding horns and flakes causing frustration, an inconvenient relead, or the dreaded prussic. The APER's rigidity helps it to bounce off obstacles while falling, lowering the chances of it snagging and getting stuck. It will not completely eliminate the possibility of a stuck rope, but it does greatly decrease the likelihood. This can be particularly important during high winds or on broken terrain, both of which are common in an alpine environment.Additionally, the stiffness makes it less prone to tangling in hand, and causes it to behave like a larger diameter rope when passing through a belay device. In practice, this means that the 6mm APER has a similar resistance to slide through a rappel device as the average ~9mm dynamic rope. During rappels the knot will not slide or shift position back at the anchor because the skinnier rope is feeding faster. Therefore, unlike other tag lines which really only act as pull cords, you can rappel on both strands simultaneously (lead and APER), and the ends will stay equal. No bothering with rethreading the lead rope through the anchors on multiple rappels; a considerable time savings. *BE CAREFUL! MAKE SURE THE KNOT DOES NOT SLIDE WITH YOUR PARTICULAR ROPE AND RAPPEL DEVICE!*
The drawbacks to the stiffness are relatively minor compared to the enormous benefits. The resistance it has to bending means a little extra effort is required when coiling and a more uncomfortable lump when stowed in a backpack.
At 6mm, a 60m APER weighs in at 3.84 lbs (29.1 g/m). This is a significantly heavier than 5.5mm Dyneema (18.4 g/m), a bit more than 6mm Perlon (25 g/m), but still lighter than most twin or half rope sets, when paired with a small diameter lead rope. The added weight versus the other tag line options does appear to increase durability, and its nylon construction means a higher melting point than Dyneema (which can only be used safely as a pull cord).
Routes requiring an ultra-light approach, such as a long ridge traverse with limited rappelling, might be better attempted with Dyneema. Objectives that require more rappels, have areas of broken terrain, or lack an established descent path (e.g. first ascents), would be better tackled with the burlier, snag preventing, APER.
Esprit weaves the APER with a very tight sheath to resist abrasion and increase durability. During manufacture both the core and sheath are treated with a proprietary BoneDry solution to prevent moisture absorption and freezing in cold environments. In practice, we found the APER to be one of the most waterproof ropes we've used.
As a tag/haul/rap line, durability is not as large a concern as with a lead rope. The APER held up well to the abuses of tagging and rappels. It faired pretty good hauling small loads (<60lbs) but displayed some minor fraying on the sheath.
During one rappel, the rope got stuck—due to friction at the knot, not a snag—and we attempted to pull the ropes harder using a Petzl Tibloc mechanical ascender. This caused a significant, worrisome, nick to the sheath. Do NOT attempt to jug an APER with mechanical ascenders!
The APER is a low stretch rope with a UIAA static elongation of 2.6%. If something should happen to the lead rope during an ascent, unlike a dynamic twin or half rope, it can not be used safely as a backup lead rope. On the way down, it can create a dangerous situation if your ropes get stuck while pulling with only the APER in hand.
This static quality is an advantage in other situations, however, requiring less energy to haul a pack or to pull the ropes after a rappel.
Unlike the other options, the ends and middle of APER's white sheath are coated red to allow easy identification, quick threading, and faster untangling.
On any multi-pitch climb where two ropes are required to rappel, the Esprit APER can serve as a functional rope to extend your rappels. Where it really excels, however, is on larger objectives. In the mountains, the stiff handling will save you from snags if the weather window closes and the winds pick up. Additionally, the BoneDry treatment will prevent freezing should the sun set and temperatures plummet.
On big wall speed ascents, the APER's qualities also shine. The labor of hauling a small bag is lessened by its low static elongation. On the way down its rigidity allows for double strand rappels, which eliminates the repetitive task of rethreading the lead rope through each anchor required by a traditional pull cord.
Esprit only produces the APER in limited qualities and does not actively market it on their website or in retail locations. Its steep price reflects this low volume; $135 /60m, $146.25 /65m, and $157.50 /70m. Shipping is also required because it's not available in stores, and will set you back $15. The grand total then for a 60m is $150. This is a markedly higher cost than 60m of 6mm Perlon ($90), but a nice discount from 5.5mm Dyneema ($200).
If route characteristics dictate the use of a dedicated rope for rappelling, the Esprit APER is the best all-around option. Dyneema is lighter and may be the best solution in a narrow selection of ultra-light objectives, but the significant advantages created by the APER's unique stiffness outweigh its drawbacks and make it the best overall choice for a tag line. If big days and nighttime rappels are on your agenda, alleviate your worries of stuck ropes, and go with the Esprit Alpine Personal Escape Rope.
OutdoorGearLab reviews are usually funded through clicks to our partnering websites. However, due to the narrow market for tag lines, and the APER in particular, it is not currently available at any major online retailers or even from Espritropes.com. To purchase you can email Esprit directly at email@example.com with your name, shipping address, number of ropes and length, and phone number. They will get back to you about payment method.
— Jack Cramer
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