“Hey, how skinny is this rope?”
“How skinny is this rope, it’s flying through this GRIGRI.”
“Ha, that’s a 10.1! It’s the fattest rope I own!”
You can imagine my friend’s surprise, as he thought I had sandbagged him with a tiny 9.2 or something similar. In reality, we were out using the new Petzl Xion, which clocks in at a beefy-by-today’s-standards 10.1. I usually shy away from anything bigger than 9.8, but Petzl was touting this as being a beefier cord that offered “excellent hand and suppleness similar to that of thinner ropes,” so I decided to check it out.
I’m not a rope engineer, and I didn’t spend the night at a Holiday Inn Express, so I’m not sure exactly how they accomplished this feat, but the XION does indeed feel just as good as some smaller ropes that I climb on. A minor complaint I had with the GRIGRI2 was that thicker ropes don’t feed well, but that isn’t the case with the XION. It also clips really well and just doesn’t feel as big as it is. For someone who has an aversion to larger cords, these are major bonus points. In my mind, there are two other factors affecting my decision when purchasing a new rope: durability, and fallability (a new word that defines how nice it feels to fall on).
City of Rocks was developed when sport climbing was still the new kid on the block in the US, and as such there is a slightly trad flavor to how some of the bolted routes were installed. High first bolts, long runouts to the chains, and anchors at the very tops of formations are a few things that seem out of place at a modern “sport” crag. The latter can be especially problematic, as any top roping will drag your rope over the coarse stone at the top, leading to excessive and premature wear that you wont get at steeper areas.
Several years ago we were testing out the new-at-that-time Petzl Fuse, and the skinny cord suffered some premature fuzzing from a monster group top rope session on a 45 meter pitch there. This time around, we were armed with the XION, eager to see how well the touted “tougher sheath” would actually hold up.
This was the only rope we used in three days of climbing, and at the end it appeared no worse for the wear, despite some swinging, grating falls, and plenty of top roping off anchors set way back from the edge. I remember one particularly nasty looking swing a fried took on TR. He looked down at me with a “sorry I just ruined your rope look” but I told him not to worry, we needed to see what it could take, and indeed, it held up just fine. Two out of three down, time for one last test…
It always feels weird letting go if I’m not pumped or stumped, but I had to take some falls on this thing to give it a real test, so off I went. My buddy had a fair bit of slack out, and I have some poundage on his scrawny frame, so what I thought was gonna be small turned into a slightly-larger-than-expected 20 footer. “Whoa!” I exclaimed, noticing I was much farther down the route than anticipated. The fall was plenty comfy, though, and had there been any remaining doubts, they would have vanished.
In truth, I’d already decided this was an excellent rope, which should appeal to a wide range of folks. Beginners will appreciate how tough it is, as it should last for several seasons before you need to upgrade. Sport climbers can use it as a beater project rope that can take the abuse of repeated hangdogging, falls and TR sessions. Or if you want a well balanced all arounder that can handle everything from multipitch climbing to ice and will still feel dreamy at the sport crag, the XION just might be the rope for you.
BJ Sbarra lives and plays in the Roaring Fork Valley of Western Colorado, and runs the websiteSplitterChoss.com. He coaches a youth climbing team with his wife, Tracy, and can often be found dangling from the end of a skinny rope at one of the many local choss crags.