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Putting the challenge course to bed for winter

Author(s): Chris Ortiz
Posted: November 26, 2008

by Chris Ortiz

Many of you out there who manage a challenge course live in a climate in which we have this thing called winter or “the off-season”  This is the time of year when it is no longer fun to be out climbing on the challenge course for the average participant. I do realize that there are many areas of the world  in which challenge courses do not need to hibernate until the feeling comes back to the finger tips of the instructors. I also have worked for a number of programs who basically decide to just ignore that winter exist. You can often spot these programs by the oversized staples that allow for Sorel clad climbers to ascend the trees or by the brooms and shovels teathered 40 feet in the pines. If your challenge course is in a climate in which you need not worry about cold seasons or find the need to own a pair of pants that extends below your knee, you need not read any further, but if you have deal with a dreaded “off-season”  I thought I might offer some tips for tucking your course in for a long winter’s nap.

Let’s be clear right off, you do not need to “take down” your course every winter. Is it a good Idea, yes for the most part. If you have the time in your schedule and possibly the knowledge of self belay systems… it will extend the life of your equipment and allow you the opportunity to do some in house inspection of your challenge course both on the winter take-down and the spring set-up. Not taking down your gear leads to 3 things;  a longer time in between close visual inspection of your challenge course, potential for winter nesting in your equipment shed, and increasingly more difficult to open rapid links and other hardware. The choice is yours really but if you decide to put your course to bed for the winter… here are some things to think about.

  • Don’t climb alone. When the time comes to take all your gear down…the days will be getting increasingly colder and the staff will possibly be getting increasingly less interested in climbing. Always try to climb with a buddy. You will likely be up in areas of your course that rarely get climbed on and struggling with wrenches and pliers to get stuck rapid links open, fatiguing yourself more than you may be accustomed to on a typical challenge course day.  Mistakes happen to the most experienced climbers. It is nice to have someone around who can help you out of a jam or through you up a prussick in your time of need. At very least… have a cell phone handy to call someone in your time of need.
  • Now that we have that out of the way, lets look at your climbing ropes. When you are preparing to store you ropes for the winter, be sure that they are completely dry… especially if you decide to wash them at seasons end. More on that later. When it comes to locations for storage, consider  a place that you can secure from moisture, extreme temperatures and critters.  Moist basements – Bad… Hot attics – bad. Stacked on top of the lawn mower and next to the gas can – Worst! For the official word let me post a few notes straight from Teufelberger on the subject
    • Rope Cleaning – A clean rope is less susceptible to internal abrasion from dirt and rock particles. To clean a rope, place it in a pillow case or mesh bag, then wash the rope in a mild detergent, like Woolite or Ivory Snow, on the gentle cycle. Always allow the rope to dry thoroughly out of direct sunlight. (My thoughts- in most situations, if you are taking good care of your ropes throughout the season, it is rare that you need to wash your ropes. If you do wash them… hang them loosely inside somewhere to thoroughly dry before storage.)
    • Storage – Store all ropes in a cool dry place away from heat, excessive moisture, humidity, and exposure to UV and/or chemicals which can reduce the lifespan o f the rope. (Nuff said I think)
  • Harnesses fall into a similar category to ropes. I would clean and treat them almost the same as your ropes. So just read above and replace rope with harness.
  • Helmets are pretty easy too. Wipe them out with a clean cloth and if need be, some warm water and mild soap won’t hurt. Dry them out and be sure when you choose a place to store them that critters can not get into this sweaty salty treat (speaking from the mind of a mouse there). Rubber bins with secure lids work for most of these storage needs. Maybe big clean trash bins for you folks with 20+ helmets.
  • Hardware (SRD, Pulleys, Rapid links, carabiners, Belay devices) The benefit of climbing up and taking down all that belay gear out ways the hassle, in my mind. When you bring it down, find a way to keep your hual cords together with your belay gear and labled so that when you go to set up next spring… there is little guess work to be done. Give the rapid links a good lubrication before you put them to away. A syliconized lubricant works great but most lubricants are fine if you are careful to wipe away any excess so it does not get onto your other equipment later on.  Anyway, get it down, lube it and store it away.
  • Hawser laid 3 strand type ropes used on your course for hand lines swing ropes or lanyards are really your call. If they are easy to disconnect and bring in for the season, great, but don’t go crazy here. You are not likely to add that much life to these ropes by bringing them in.  Many of you already store this stuff when it is not in use for access reasons on your low elements. Store them like you would other ropes above. So if you can take them down easily, go for it. Otherwise… you will see them come spring and they will likely look like they do now.

Chris Ortiz is the Director of Shaver’s Creek Team Development Center at Penn State University


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