Systematic Approach to Tree Climbing

In the next few posts I will start to outline my thoughts for developing a systematic approach to, as well as systematic execution of, production tree climbing. Why? In the past, one system was used to ascend, work and come back down. In many cases this is still the most efficient method. However, as more and more techniques creep in from other high angle disciplines and/or are created by clever tree climbers, a “one size fits all” mentality falls short on efficiency and safety concerns. The work we engage in is multifaceted, often complex and hazardous on easy days!

I propose a system to break a climb down into phases. A climbing system that is super efficient for ascent may not be safe during lateral movement in the tree. A basic descent system meant to get a climber to the ground quickly, would be a terrible unsafe working or ascent system, but sometimes just the ticket for coming off a spar at the end of a long hot day.

What I propose is looking at production tree climbing in Four Phases:

Assess: The pre-climb inspection and work plan development part of climbing.

Ascent: Going up to establish a tie in point (T.I.P.). A climber may or may not set the line remotely, a la “throw bag.”

Work Positioning: Here the climber has installed and inspected the T.I.P and the tree while ascending. The climber may have eliminated or mitigated any hazards as necessary. This phase may involve a lot of lateral movement in the tree.

Descend: Here the climber is finished working aloft and is simply coming to the ground. This is different than descending on a work positioning system. A straight “descent” system allows for very little if any lateral movement.

In the next four posts we will look at each phase individually.

Requirements of a Single Line Ascent System

In following along with the theme of a systematic approach to climbing, here is the catalyst that moved my thinking along these lines.

The following podcast was constructed of a video clips from a work shop I attended taught by Bruce Smith, co-author of the book On Rope. In it he describes his five requirements of a Single Line Ascent System.

This is not to say these are the end all and be all of single line systems. It is just a starting point and a outside the tree world perspective


Breaking Climbing down into Pieces?

The following is excerpted from a conversation on a specific climbing system called the “Hitch Hiker” I had with a few on  However, the ramifications pertain to many “systems’ and to tree climbing in general.

Question of the day, should/can we differentiate between ascent, descent and work positioning when climbing trees? I think we can and should. The forces on the rope are different. Inspection of (Tie In Point) T.I.P’s is different, the end goal is different, the activities performed are different, as well as what equipment may or may not be appropriate and or used.

For example, let’s look at ascent.  For our discussion this is where the line has been set from the ground and the climber’s goal is to go up.  In these cases, redundancy (in the form of back up or safeties) can have many benefits. In my mind the tenants of any ascent system should include:  

  1. The inability of the climber to capsize.
  2. The ability to proceed up or down should any equipment failure happen. 
  3. The inability to fall should one piece of equipment fail. (Naturally if your rope fails you lose, so let’s leave that out of the discussion for now as catastrophic, spontaneous line failures are rare) 

These seem simple and necessary precautions for a tree ascent system, but overly protective for a work positioning system.

Once the climber has ascended, secured in the canopy and closely inspected the T.I.P. and is preparing to descend and work. The systems must change and hence the equipment, techniques and most importantly the mindset.

To lump one system into the “climb” category is oversimplified and fallacious. For years tree climbers have used but one method to ascend, work, descend. It worked but with sacrifices in efficiency and ergonomics.

Today we have much more knowledge, techniques and “thinking” at our disposal, yet I feel some climbers still “lump” too much into one basket looking for the holy grail, the pie-in-the-sky-one-system-does-it-all-equally-well.  In the process, clear thinking, open minds and in the end safety may be compromised.

In summary, it is my judgement that as climbers we should differentiate between different aspects of our tree climbing activities.  We should use systems that are redundant yet efficient and suited to the activity using the appropriate equipment, cordages and techniques.  Furthermore, our mindset must change to suit the activity we are engaged in.


This blog or what this blog is to become has been a long time in the making.  I do not mean that in the physical sense.  Setting up a free wordpress blog is simple and easy.  I mean in the mental and philosophical sense!  You see, January first this year was a one year anniversary for me professionally and personally.  Professionally I “quit my day job” or left full time tree care production.  I now train, write and teach.  Sure I am still involved in production activities from time to time, but now that is the exception not the rule.  Personally I wanted to adjust my lifestyle to fit around the things that mean the most to me, my family, writing, teaching, training.

Last year was great.  Trying at times, frustrating at others, but always at my direction, my effort, my willingness.  Last year made me realize one of the things I treasure most about  “living the dream” as I refer to my new enterprise and lifestyle was the connection to others developed in my travels, writings and classes.  I am far from an extrovert.  You will not find me mingling in large crowds for fun.  However, I do value personal connection, conversations about things that matter to all involved.  I love passing time with others not killing it.

2012 saw me up and down the east coast and into Canada.  I estimate I stood in front of 1200 or so people teaching, talking, training about arboriculture.  When the class, seminar or speech of the day was over I shook hands, thanked and was thanked, then moved on.  Any connection forged was quickly lost as I drove away, boarded a plane.  It is those connections that I wish to preserve in this new year.  It is through this blog that I choose to do it.

I originally thought I could keep the connections going through chat sites or email.  But it was a fleeting attempt as I had not the commitment.  Nor are those arenas the best venue for meaningful conversation.  Sure lots of great advice and info can be gleaned, but also to can politics and personality become overly involved.  Often opinion is mistaken for judgement.  All of this is fine, I do not bash those venues.  In fact, I enjoy them still. It just was not the connection I had hoped for, not the way to stay connected.

The plan is simple. Weekly, I will post interesting things as I see the world of tree care and climbing.  Subjects may range from climbing to chainsaw, practical to philosophical, funny to scary.  Through it all I will emphasis a dedication to safety and commitment to professionalism.  You see, how we do anything is indeed how we do everything.  It does not matter if we climb trees for fun, fame, money or glory, alone, or with friends.

I plan to offer free stuff, from materials for training programs, pictures and tidbits of my work as a author, both of fiction and non fiction.  So join in.  Come along for the ride, see the world of trees and climbing, tree work and the people who make it so through my eyes.

I’ll look forward to meeting you.