Black Diamond, long known for their climbing hardwear, joined the ranks of climbing rope makers a few years ago. I was provided a Black Diamond 9.9 60m rope and I’ve been using it as my main climbing rope for a few months now.
I chose the 9.9 to review partly because it seemed to be a good “if you could only have one rope for years” type of rope. Meaning, I wanted a rope that:
1. I could trust
2. would take some abrasion abuse (I climb a fair amount in Joshua Tree National Park)
3. would work in a reasonable amount of belay devices
4. would be a decent trade off between having the qualities of 1 and 2 but also be long enough to do most climbs / pitches and
5. wouldn’t break the bank with its price point.
According to Black Diamond their ropes aim to “strike the perfect balance between weight, durability and handling, Black Diamond ropes feature a unique combination of weave and sheath [the 9.9 uses a 2×2 weave construction] that’s merged to create a cord that’s supple yet not too soft. This construction enhances the ropes’ ability to knot and feed through your belay device easily, without sacrificing longevity.”
So have they accomplished this goal?
I used this rope on sandstone at Echo Cliffs and Texas Canyon, on the famously gritty quartz monzonite of Joshua Tree National Park (and at Alabama Hills which has the same rock), and on the granite of Yosemite. It was used for both top rope and leading (and for multipitch in Yosemite).
A total of 12 people used the rope.
The first thing everyone seemed to notice was that the rope was fairly supple, and seemed smooth and a little slick. For my friends used to using thicker, older ropes, they noticed the slickness but easily adjusted to using it in a first generation Grigri. I noticed the slickness right away and thought it was great for tieing in however I did feel like I had to watch it when using my Trango Cinch. The sleekness was barely noticeable when using my Petzl Universo (think Verso permanently attached to a carabiner if you aren’t familiar with that device). It performed similarly in the Black Diamond Guide as well.
Endurance / Longevity
The rope is not as bright blue anymore – it’s quite dirty now. However, aside from discoloration, it otherwise has that smooth look of a new rope – no snags, no lumps, no unevenness. I have appreciated the suppleness of the rope when using it during trad leads and in creating rope anchors. It hasn’t lost the suppleness nor its dynamic qualities but I’ve only been using it a few months, not years so we’ll see as time goes on but for now I do think it will have great longevity and the handling of the rope is great.
A clear winner for me is the weight and size of the rope when carried either backpack style or in a rope bag or a backpack. I own a Petzl 9.8 60m but the Black Diamond 9.9 seems smaller and more compact, more than the .1 diameter difference would account for. When comparing the Black Diamond 9.9 to other diameter options, I think the trade off for the diameter of the rope versus having a lighter, skinnier rope is worth it. If you mainly do longer routes or like combining pitches for multi-pitch climbs, I’d consider the 9.4 70m instead, or perhaps even the 80m (assuming you have specific climbs in mind and it won’t be your one and only rope).
I’ve already mentioned that some climbers had to adjust to using the rope in their Grigri – but this may be the newness of the rope, and in the case of one climber – it was the skinniest rope he’d ever used. Still, be mindful of use if you have an older device where 9.9 is on the narrow end of its use.
I had a small issue with the middle mark, it is simply a small section colored black. When the rope was brand spanking new – practically glowing electric blue – it was pretty easy to notice this mark but once the rope got even a little dirty, it was much harder to spot. I love the convenience of the reverse pattern ropes to show you the two halves of a rope but understand that’s a bit costly. However, I have seen ropes with warning stripes before the middle mark, I would have liked to see that on this one as well.
Lastly, a small “con” – when I received the rope I didn’t do any special uncoiling or laying out of the rope, and I did notice it get a bit kinky during the first top rope routes, however it settled down pretty quickly.
The Black Diamond 9.9 60m (also available as a 70m) is a versatile rope that does the job without breaking your back.
More Tech Specs:
Weight Per Meter : 64 g (2.3 oz)