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)
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.