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Sterling Ion Editorial Review

Submitted by vegastradguy on 2008-09-21

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Vote: 1 | Comments: 7 | Views: 12043

by John Wilder

By vegastradguy
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Sterling's 9.5mm Ion Rope
Sterling's 9.5mm Ion Rope. Photo: Sterling Ropes.

So, after reading a ton of Jayís reviews and jealously watching him play with all the new ropes- I decided it was my turn- and low and behold, that was right about the time that Sterlingís new Ion came to the market. The latest cord from Sterlingís Fusion line- it is also the coolest looking with a new type of pattern allowing each rope to be unique- the overall look is the same, but no two ropes are alike. Three distinct colors- Earth (green), Wind(blue), and Fire (red) are your options- and as much as I wanted the Fire, I ended up getting the Wind- something about red rope on red rockÖ.its all a conspiracy I tell you!

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Three sexy new colors- Water (Blue), Fire (Red), and Earth (Green)
J. Wilder
Three sexy new colors- Water (Blue), Fire (Red), and Earth (Green). Photo: John Wilder.

I received the rope in March, and have been using it as my primary cord ever since. The last 5 or so months have seen it been used as a multi-pitch line (36 pitches), a sport lead line (20 or so pitches), and a TR line (another 10-15 pitches). Iíve whipped on it, grated it across sandstone, piled it in loose sand and watched helplessly as the droves of new climbers in the Black Corridor trod across it (and finally learned how nice it is to use a rope tarpÖ), and put it through every test I could think of- including using a wide variety of belay devices on it.

Before we get to all that, though, hereís a quick run down on the specs. Statistically, the rope falls in line with the other offerings from major companies with a similar diameter rope. It clocks in at 60g/m, with the others being only slightly lighter, the 8.4kn impact force is almost as low as Bealís and Bluewaterís offering, but much lower than Mammutís (9.1kn for their Infinity line), and while Sterlingís only holds 5 falls in the UIAA test (compared to 6 and 7 for the others), much like the Nano, thatís Sterling rounding down, the rope held 5 falls on one test, but more on the others.

Of course, statistics only tell part of the story. Iím not really into statistics, actually- all ropes do their job, and itís mostly a matter of degrees. There is some wiggle room if youíre really counting ounces or fall enough that you want the lowest possible impact force, but at the end, itís really how the rope handles and feels in your hand, how it wears- and how it moves through the belay device. (Unless youíre a dirtbag, then itís all about the money- in which case, the Ionís $210 price tag is probably enough to keep you away.) So, to that end, letís talk about what the Ion feels like.

I own the Infinity from Mammut- and really like it. Itís a great rope- although it does feel thicker than its 9.5mm diameter would have you believe. It used to be my favorite redpointing rope, mostly because it was the skinniest thing I owned. I say used to, because the new Ion- well, I remember the first time I got to climb on a 9.2mm rope- the thing practically fell into the carabiners when clipping- I wished my thicker ropes were like that- and the Ion delivers. I donít know how to quantify the difference except to say that clipping the Ion is like clipping a cord much skinnier than its 9.5mm list diameter. Technically, the Infinity and the Ion are the same size- but the Infinity feels thicker (like a 9.8mm)- the Ion feels thinner (Sterling rounded up on the diameter, itís a shade above 9.4mm). The hand on this rope is incredible- smooth, supple, clips like a dream, belay devices love this rope- part of that is the diameter, but most of it is Sterlingís manufacturing process- they make ropes with great hand.

I have to say that after 6 months of being my primary cord for everything I could think of, if I were going to purchase this cord- it probably wouldnít be for work-horse duty. While the rope is not wearing excessively by any means, it is showing some fuzz- more than I would want after 6 months of duty as a primary cord. My guess is that this thing will last another 6-12 months as a primary cord before Iíd have to either chop it or retire it, depending on where it fuzzed out on me. Of course, Sterling explicitly says in their literature for the rope that this cord is for sport climbing, alpine, and mixed. It gets one star for trad, and it tells you just donít use it for top roping. Woops. So, considering Iíve pounded this thing into the ground on trad, TR, and sport-dogging, Iím not especially surprised when it wears out a little. That said, given the wear and the usage pattern, this rope (by wear alone), would be a great choice for anything you want a skinny (but not too skinny) cord for. Also- for reference, the primary location of use is Red Rock and Mt. Charleston- and most of the fuzz appeared after big rope-drag filled days on the sandstone cliffs.

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Abusing the new pretty- right out of the box and into the sand....
C. Cauble
Abusing the new pretty- right out of the box and into the sand... Photo: C Cauble.

At 9.5mm- thatís skinny enough to be wary of how the rope is going to handle in different belay devices, so I managed to get my paws on a few and check it out. I tested it on the following: ATC, ATC-Guide, Grigri, Cinch, and the Zap-o-Mat (Edelridís new toy- look for a review soon!). As expected, the rope worked just fine on both the tube style devices- obviously if youíve got a heavy climber and youíre on the light side, something with teeth will make you more confident when lowering. The rope worked great in auto-block mode on the Guide, and I would expect that on any of the other similar devices. The Gri-Gri- okay, so I need to do the whole- Petzl does not recommend or condone use of any rope skinnier than 9.7mm in this particular device, but everyone and their mother uses it anyway, so I tested it. Feeding, the rope is a dream- using Petzlís Ďnewí feeding method, it was like I was using a ATC for feeding- smoother than any rope Iíve ever used in the device. Lowering- use of a carabiner in the leg loop (and gloves if youíre little) is almost mandatory. My first lower was someone 50lbs lighter than me and the speed of the rope through the grigri spooked me. She then lowered me off the same climb and while she maintained control, it was an effort. So- if you use le grigri- be careful with this rope. The Cinch- Seeing as the Cinch is rated to 9.4mm lines, it was no surprise when it handled beautifully on the test- for both feeding and lowering. I occasionally used a carabiner on my leg loop- but that was sort of dependent on my stance as the belayer and how secure I was. Locking up- both the gri-gri and cinch did just fine. As for the Zap-o-Mat, without giving too much away, the device handled the skinny rope perfectly- fed like a dream, locked up easily, and lowered without too much trouble.

So, in the end, whatís the verdict? I love the look and feel of this rope- the new unique pattern is beautiful, the handling is everything I expect from a Sterling line. The price is a bit high, but I know thatís more to do with oil prices than anything else. At the end of the day, I would use this rope for any big long route that involved a long approach where I want to save weight (especially when I have to carry the rope and my partner is lugging the full double rack to 6Ē), and I would definitely use it as a redpoint line, but for day to day use, the 9.8mm diameter is where I think the best weight to wear ratio is at- but of course, Sterling thinks so too- which is why they make the Ionís bigger cousin, the Nitro.

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Finishing up the route on a perfect day.
C. Cauble
Finishing up the route on a perfect day. Photo: C Cauble.

Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured this item provided it free of charge to who in turn provided it as compensation to the reviewer for his review.

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7 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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For sure it's a sweet rope. The hand on it rocks - supple, yet easy to lock off. I've also noticed the fuzz. Stayed good when used on ice but course coral like limestone takes a toll.

BTW - I see you with no helmet again - tut.tut. :-p
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After wobbling around at the OR show and checking out every rope there, this is simply the most striking thing out there. No more ol-skool argyle looking ropes, or the solid color ropes that end up looking filthy after a few pitches. This is a unique pattern, which yields an absolutely beautiful cord. Of course it performs, but IMO, as long as its not a Petzyl Zephyr your rope will probably perform just fine. I know looks don't matter, but this rope is the first one that did make it matter for me. Its that hot. They look like they're made of velvet. -Kate.
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You don't have to be a dirtbag to buy rope for cost.

I drive a beater mid-90's Subaru, and climb on a $110 rope. Not a BMW or $210 rope kind of guy, especially if that $210 is going to last me 1 year.
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This year my cat destroyed four of my ropes. The only rope I have left is my Ion... thank God.
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If a cat destroyed 4 ropes, I'd ditch the cat (possibly by finding a new use for the rope).
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Would love use the thin ropes- question, will a 9.5mm cord hold a 260 pound climber on a 30' whipper?
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Climbers over 250lbs are limited to 20ft whips otherwise the rope breaks.

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