Central Park 3.13  #64 - Version 2

Dust Flyin”

Before we can begin to discuss actual climbing systems, we must first agree of a few basic terms.  Often in discussions about climbing, words, phrases and meanings are bantered around without a clear concise agreement on their meanings.  Climber’s talk has become a wonderful hodgepodge of eclectic terms.  While colorful and vibrant, for our purposes we will slim things down a bit!

This will be a work in progress so we may add or modify our terms as necessary.  Please feel free to comment if you are in disagreement or confused or simply have a better definition!

Ascent:  This is the vertical movement up in a tree for a distance greater than twice the body length of the climber or 12 feet or so on   average.  During ascent lateral or horizontal movement is not required

Descent:  This is the vertical movement down in a tree greater than twice the body length of the climber.  Again Descent does not involve lateral or horizontal movement in the tree.

In both the above definitions I use a length of more than 12 feet or twice the body height of the climber.  Why?  In my experience this is the distance that on average we can assess/judge/inspect with a fair degree of certainty.  Yes, there are those people and/or circumstances that this distance is either much greater or much less.  However, w must for clarity’s sake draw a line somewhere.  Twice the body length or 12 feet on average seems like a fair starting point in my experience, but it is only a rule of thumb.

Why draw that line?  As we progress it will become important to differentiate between simply moving up or down in a tree for work positioning.  How we asses anchor points hazards and the like changes as our climb progresses.  For now bear with me!

Primary Life Support:   This is a piece of equipment (mechanical or cordage), the climber uses to safely move on the line in any phase of the climb.  In short this is what connect the climber’s harness to the climbing line and allows movement.  The efficiency of this can be rated by the number of directions it allows the climber to move in, up, down, right, left.  For example a series of bowlines tied ladder like could be a climbing system.  however, it would not be very efficient in the up or down mode.  A climbing hitch would accomplish the same with much more efficiency.

Backup:  This is a piece of equipment (mechanical or cordage), that in the event of primary life support failure allows the climber to proceed either up or down.  The efficiency of the backup can be rated by how “smoothly” this would happen.  For instance. if a climber were ascending and the primary failed, the climber might continue up without any hinderance on only the backup.  Or conversely might decide to descent to the ground and fix the issue.

Safety:  This is a piece of equipment (mechanical,cordage or knot) that will limit the amount of fall in the event of primary Life support failure.  The classic example of this is a slip or other stopper knot in the climbing line below the climber.  Should a prussic slip or be forced down line, it would catch at the stopper.  I have heard this referred to as “tying up short.”

As you may have noticed a backup may also be a safety.  Again we are talking degrees of appropriateness and efficiency.  For now it is important to note that while backups and safeties may coincide one, both or neither may or may not be necessary for ultimate safety and efficiency.

Failure: Any unintended fall of greater than 11 inches or 30 centimeters.  I admit it.  I kinda pulled that number out of the air!  I have read testing data that used that number.  I have done some ad hoc tests with a dynamometer and generated over 600 pounds of force in an 8 inch fall.  Suffice to say we have to start somewhere.  12 inches may be harmless in some situations and tragic in others.  Either way it is not good.  This term leo includes slippage not just free fall.  If a knot is loaded from above and unintentionally Slips more than 12 inches it is a failure.  Notice the purposeful use of unintentionally.  Of course we must “fail” our knot in some systems to come down, but we do it controlled and with the intention of coming down.

Lateral or Horizontal Movement: This is any sideways movement more than three feet of the vertical as composed by the climbing line.  If a line is hanging straight down from an overhead anchor point imagine a tube 3 feet in radius or six feet in diameter surrounding it.  Leave the tube and you are moving laterally or in a horizontal plane.  Again three feet is a number I have been exposed to in the past and seems a good line of demarcation with which to realistically work.

Work Positioning: This is the movement through a tree in any direction with the intent of completing a specific task.  Quite simply it is working a tree.  Moving from point to point, using tools, equipment and /or techniques to accomplish the mission.

Point of Attachment:  This is any secure, life support rated (as defined by ANSI Z133) line, tool , technique that will support the climbers weight.  In short it is an anchor.  A climber’s tie in point (T.I.P) is a point of attachment.  Placing a lanyard around a branch or trunk is a point of attachment provided it can support the climbers weight without failure as we defined above.

Further more a point of attachment may refer to the climbers actual connections to a climbing line.  For instance, a climbing hitch serves as a point of attachment to a suitable anchor provided the T.I.P is appropriate.

O.K.  I think we have the basics down.  However, I reserve the right to revisit this post as we proceed.  I encourage you all to do the same!

Phase 1: Assess



Pomeroy 152012-06-28


This post I will address the first of my four phases of tree climbing, Assess.  All too often climbers approach a job/tree/task/climb focused on finishing or some specific aspect of the work usually the hardest.

We have all done it.  Take a big removal for instance.  The lead over the house/swimming pool/heavily populated day care center seems to loom out from all the rest.  It assumes our conscious thinking.  So much so that we often dismiss the rest of the work with terms like “bomb it out,” “crash” or what ever your particular vernacular.

This is not a bad thing.  We only have so much energy to expend.  It follows that the sections of our job that require the most energy should get the majority or our time and focus.

However, that does not dismiss the fact that as tree climbers we must take all aspects of the site and tree into consideration as they will all have ramifications to the successful and safe completion of the job and/or climb.

The systems and acronyms for pre-climb/work inspections are many.  There are many articles, books and videos for tree risk assessment.  Suffice for our purposes here today that it is up to the climber, crew and crew leader to adopt a system that:

1) Works for them (meaning it thoroughly covers the most common and likely anticipated hazards)

2) Is usable in the field (meaning the whole crew can understand it and implement it)

3) Is actually used on a consistent basis. (written documentation is a good way to help with this final consideration.  Just be sure to abide by the second requirement!)

For the intent of describing my four phase system, it is enough to say assess the tree, site and conditions before climbing.  At a minimum, the assessment should itself consist of three phases: (In Order)

Outer Perimeter

Inner Perimeter


This is to say, start outside the drip line and inspect, then move inside and continue.  Finally ongoing refers to the idea that a climber must never stop gathering info, looking for hazards and changing the plan if warranted.

Assess is important because it is a rather simple step often over looked or glossed over.  It also serves as a basis or foundation for the other three remaining steps.  What is the nature of the work?  How shall the climber set a line?  What, if anything, can the ground crew do to assist?  What tie in point is most suitable?  These and many other questions can and should be addressed in the assess phase.

Many issues will be two fold in that they may have a safety and an efficiency component to them.  For instance if a recreation climb is taking place at a remote edge of a park.  A drop zone for any hazardous limbs or other tree parts should be established in case lead climbers need to jettison them from the tree.  Making this drop zone back in the woods affords many benefits.  As a baseline it protects those not involved with the climb (pedestrians) as well as makes clean up after the climb easier.

Efficiency is often a matter of hitting two birds with one stone.  If one of the birds is safety and the other easy living, then so much the better.  In fact, this will be a consistent theme in the all four phases.

Assessing the tree and site is a vital basis for the other three phases and a foundation of safety and efficiency.  At a minimum, inspect outside the tree, then in closer and do not forget the inspection and awareness must never end until all the equipment is packed up and ready to load.  Make plans, allow participation from all involved and change plans as necessary to keep all involved safe and productive.

Prelude: Stacking The Odds

I know last post I promised to delve into the four phases of climbing.  However, a bit of background is needed first.  You see, safety is as much if not more about mental attitude as it is about individual actions.  What makes an action or attitude safe?  

In my mind, it is about repeatability and consistency.  An action, a tool, an attitude can be considered safe if it reliably and to the best of our ability produces the same predictable action.  The tool, action or attitude may in bits and pieces be “unsafe” or better yet contain “risk,” but how we manage, use or act make the whole process, act or situation predictable.

Let’s look for instance at dropping large chunks of wood from a spar with a rigging line.  The risk is high.  There are many things that could go wrong and the consequences are steep.  taken as a whole without proper tools training and knowledge the act itself is hazardous.  With proper tools, training, techniques and knowledge it can yield consistent, predictable results.

Of course I realize we do not live in a perfect world and often the best acts and intentions can go awry.  Life is rarely fair, but that is no reason not to try!  We cannot account for every variable, nor see into the future.  “Safe” actions may yield unpredictable results.  However, we must move forward and draw a baseline where reasonable.

When it comes to production tree climbing, I believe in stacking the odds in my favor. If incorporating a second attachment point for SRT ascent does not hamper the efficiency of the situation or compromise climber safety then I see no reason not to do it. This is but one example

Redundancy in systems can guard against operator error or unforeseen hazards.  For the reason stated paragraph before last we will leave out sudden alien attack!  

Should all systems in climbing be redundant, in all situations? No. Climbing down with gravity through a tree’s structure where a second point of attachment (lanyard) is readily available when work or excessive lateral movement is necessary is different that scaling up a line mid air on remotely inspected anchor points into a canopy that may have hidden dangers.

Body thrusting up the trunk with a taunt-line in a birth control saddle is yet another!

That is why I am suggesting we segment our work into task/goal oriented pieces. This will help us define objectives, identify tools, equipment and techniques that offer the most amount of security for the given situation. What we do on a daily basis is to complex for one single “silver bullet”

If we would recommend two points of attachment when using a saw, weather it be hand or chain, why would we not when ascending mid air into a tree?

Let me be clear, I am not advocating that we always take redundancy and backups to the extreme . However, when easy to do, when not offering interference or compromising safety then we must ask “why not” instead of “why.”

I often use my lanyard when sitting still for a drink of water and quick break. Not because I need it, but because I can think of no reason not to.

In my mind this is the struggle. The struggle to progress, but not forget the often tragic mistakes of the past. The struggle to borrow judiciously from other disciplines. The struggle to innovate, but not get lost in our own independence and pride. The struggle to develop systems, tools and most importantly processes that others, new and old alike, can be educated on, trained to use and promote first and foremost safety through intelligence and efficiency.

We must approach the phase system of climbing, safety and productivity not with a “why?” mentality, but a “why not?”Image