Planning ahead

Living in the future? It certainly feels like it sometimes. These past few days I seem to have been planning ahead rather a lot. On the one hand we met in Hamburg last weekend to discuss next year’s Climbers Forum in Augsburg, which is shaping up nicely.

On the other hand I was very glad to finalise the graphics for the poster for next year’s vertical-connect. Thanks to Knut Foppe for the original photo which inspired the image.

Also, we decided upon the two day topics: Resilience and Access.

The event is now planned for Thursday and Friday, leaving the weekend free people to offer supplemental workshops and events in the area, such as mountain or canyoning tours, tree climbing or rescue workshops etc. …

I am looking forwards to working towards this event, certainly a date to put in your diary. Again, we will offering simultaneous translation between French, German and English.

In due course, further info will be published via our website, www.vertical-connect.ch, as well as via the vc Facebook page.

Novel pruning technique

Everybody seems to be talking about drones at the moment. Either getting excited about them – or hot under the collar. Tree care is not escaping this trend, for example to visually inspect trees from aloft or to install a throw line, as Nick Arraya demonstrated the other day in a video, to name but two examples…

This pilot in Connecticut however took it all to another level when demonstrating this novel way to prune a tree. Not so sure about some of the angles on those cuts though.

Ah, I’ve got it! Maybe he or she was pruning for habitat? 😂 Extreme retrenching, anyone?

Rather elaborate and costly mind you, if you intend to invoice the client for a Cessna for every tree you prune!

Yin. And Yang

I was watching one of Richard Delaney‘s videos the other day, where he discusses coiling a rope…

A, I thought he makes a number of interesting and valid points, such as layering the coils, allowing you to reverse the process cleanly or also leaving the ends longer so that they cannot get trapped in a coil causing a tangle – and B, this demonstrated how, given some thought, you can discuss matters that some might discard out of hand as blindingly obvious. Which obviously they are not, QED. Small things do indeed matter.

The other thing it reminded me of was the splicing workshop with Stanley Longstaff in the fire brigade station up in Glottertal in the Black Forest back in 2000. Or was it 2001? Be that as it may… we were wrapping up a major splicing session, moving the gear downstairs, when Dirk managed to stumble and fall down the steps with a box containing a kilometre of rope, spilling it all the way down the steps.

If Richard’s take on coiling a line is yang, the resulting mess of the lobbing a thousand meters of rope down stairs was most certainly yin. Talk about a major mess… nothing controlled about that unravelling!

Stanley of course passed away ten years ago this year and is sorely missed. He leaves a big hole in our community and deserves to be remembered for the passion, humour and music he brought us over the years – not to mention his deep understanding and love for all things rope.

Not forgetting you, big man.

vertical-connect 2017: Friday evening, Saturday and summary

Friday evening

The Friday evening is an integral part of the event, allowing people time and space to meet, chat, network and generally let their hair down. The evening kicked off with a dinner, accompanied by Dani Vonwiller’s photos of the day being projected, followed by general socialising, over by a fire bowl and a bar the lads from Vertic put up for the event.

Saturday

Saturday’s topic was Connections and Connectors. The first speaker was Renè Comin from Italy talking about the work they are doing on the Bosco Verticale in Milano, a pair of residential towers designed by Stefano Boeri with a shrubs and trees integrated into their facade. This work requires arborist as well as industrial rope access skills. It was fascinating hearing Renè describing the planning process, the challenges they faced and the solutions they found.

This was followed by Ursula Briner talking about self-coaching in stress situations, about maintaining connections to what is going on around you. She was able to communicate this rather abstract topic in very clear and concrete terms involving the audience.

Next up were three talks on karabiners and connectors, with Martin Zgraggen discussing properties of aluminium, Albert Wenk sketching the evolutions of karabiner design and Puk sharing his thoughts on karabiner maintenance and lubrication as well as fail criteria.

Meanwhile Knut Foppe had set up a major gear fest under the circus tent outside, where he discussed a differentiated approach to connectors, comprehensively explaining the qualities, strengths and weaknesses in the various options of connectors we have when establishing connections.

The final talk was by the Fauchère brothers of Air Glaciers, a helicopter outfit with a number of bases all over Switzerland which performs a lot of transport and rescue operations. They discussed requirements and design considerations they make of connections when flying equipment of persons on longlines or winch lines. Fascinating stuff…

Summary

OK, I will admit to having been rather upset, after weeks of uninterrupted sunshine and heat, for the weather to turn right on the day of the event, for driving rain for most of Friday and Saturday, for the sun then to come out on Sunday morning, which almost added insult to injury.

Having said that, we had a good turnout, we managed to weatherproof the event as much as possible and people just generally mucked in. This is the flip side of doing this event in the mountains. Mountains do not do things in half measures: the weather is either stunningly beautiful – or abysmally horrible. I was glad of the sunshine on Sunday morning, as it showed once again, that this really is the ideal location for this event, with all the possibilities which the training centre of the cable car association offers – amongst others.

One thing which stood out for me was working with Sasha Köhler, who moderated the event. Sasha was witty, engaging and professional in the way in which he led the audience through the days. Interestingly though, he never put himself in the foreground, but rather used his position to create a stage for the speakers.

I am confident that vertical-connect can continue to grow. The whole dynamic and breadth of topics covered is unique and I look forwards to evolving it further. A number of changes have already been discussed for next year which will make attending even more attractive – more about this in due course.

The dates for next year are Thursday and Friday, 30 and 31 August 2018, more info in due course under vertical-connect.ch. Next year again with English and French simultaneous translation. Consider yourself warmly invited.

Photos courtesy of Dani Vonwiller and Tom Nickel.

 

vertical-connect 2017: Set-up and Friday

I am always amazed by how fast events you work towards come and go. The same holds true for this year’s third edition of vertical-connect, an interdisciplinary event we run in Meiringen in the Bernese Alps (yes, the same place where Sherlock Holmes fell down the waterfall with Professor Moriarty… it would seem they were not tied in).

What distinguished this year’s event?

A lot of water. We were battling serious amounts of rain from Thursday afternoon, during set-up, through the event – until the sun came out again during tear-down. Huh. We managed to get the event fairly weather proof, rigging a large tarp over the spectator space and putting up a large tent for the vendors. Still a bit of a pity, but there you go.

The weather-proofing  required some interesting rigging… it is amazing what you can do with a large tarp and 200 meters of Dyneema, plus a miscellaneous bunch of odd bits of lines and devices to tension them with.

The audience

We had a great turn-out of people from a wide range of on-rope disciplines from Friday morning onwards. As we were offering French and English simultaneous translation, the crowd was also very diverse in regards to where people came from. One of the things that stood out for me was how the line between people attending the event and generally mucking in was blurred. A big shout goes out to Peter and Jan from the treemagicbeers-fame. They were there from start to finish and did a stunning amount of work.

I was blown away by the over-all quality of the talks. The day-topic of Friday was Risk, Saturday was Connections and Connectors. It was one of those occasions when you gain real insight during an event. Part of the reason for this was the different angles and perspectives of the same topic.

Friday

For risk, for instance, where was Jeannette Büchel, a psychologist who works for the Swiss Health and Safety discussing how people perceive risk and why we respond to it differently. Jeannette’s talk gave a very comprehensive and lucid introduction to the topic.

This was followed by Hans Meier, an extreme cave diver… what can I say? I was gasping for air by the time he had finished. Talk about managing risk down to the n-th degree, yet the environments he is exposing himself to are so intensely hostile that the smallest miscalculation would likely have fatal consequences (I will write more about this at a later point in time).

After lunch break there was a podium discussing the whether risk is perceived the same way in a professional or recreational context. The panel was made up of Stefan Siegrist, one of the top Swiss alpinists, Patrick Zürcher, an arborist, trainer and work safety expert, Pit Bangeter, the president of the adventure park association and Christian Bollinger, also a work safety expert who works for a large insurance company. Tom Hofmann who was the moderator kicked off the discussion round by asking how the participants felt about the statement No risk, no fun. I thought that the statements by the people sitting up front, as well as opinions offered by people in the audience were fascinating. This could certainly have been discussed further or in greater depth, but suffice to say that whilst we may all agree that we can manage risk, I am not sure we are all talking about the same thing. Again, I will write more about this in due course.

After that, due to the weather going atrocious on us, I did my That’ll be alright talk, featuring Chabris’ and Simon’s invisible gorilla. I always enjoy doing that talk, also, for me it is a constant process of stripping it further down to the essential point you are trying to make, i.e. this time I removed all of the numbers and statistics out of the presentation – ultimately all this does is introduce unnecessary noise and distract from the message.

Next up were the two outdoor presentations…

First off we did a theatre illustrating three scenarios which ended in a system failure – in the pouring rain. But it was a blast! I won’t give away too much, as I would like to do this again at some stage, but my impression is that theatre is a very suitable medium to illustrate mechanisms that everyone is familiar with – without falling into the trap of moralising. Somehow it is easier for people to identify with what is being portrayed without feeling they have been rumbled. The challenge from planning the scenarios is not to simply turn it into a slapstick-number. Of course there are funny aspects, but what you are trying to communicate is anything but. After each scenario we analysed with help of a spiderweb diagram what the main factors were which caused the system failure.

The final scenario, where the climber and the groundie are embroiled in some serious conflict, ends in the climber accidentally dropping a sizeable log on the groundie. We replaced Florim, who was acting the groundie with a mannequin – for obvious reasons. The log knocked it’s head clean off, which then went bouncing away 🤢… grooooooss, I felt vaguely traumatised.

Which leaves us with this pic by Tom Nickel, which made me laugh as it feels a bit like a Stihl calendar photo shoot gone seriously wrong!

The second practical demo looked at the question whether there are situations where best practice requires double tie-in, yet where it may be better to use only one. Three short demos for this by the mountain guides, arborists and the Geneva high-angle rescue group.

vertical-connect challenge #1

The challenge took place on Friday evening and was the result of discussions regarding how to encourage a bit more participation by the audience. Michel Bischoff and Freddo Hunzicker came up with the goods, creating a course allowing two teams of three to demonstrate proficiency in a number of on-rope skills.

  • Throwline across shark-infested waters,
  • ascending onto the tower,
  • hauling a 100 kg log up the tower,
  • lowering it down the slide-line, and
  • finally using a grappling hook to place a line back across the shark-infested waters to then travers them in three tiny nutshells.

All this took place in the driving rain, a very impressive show by both teams…

Thanks to Dani Vonwiller and Tom Nickel for the photos.

vertical-connect… what a blast!

Back down from the mountains, gear dried, sorted and stored – and so vertical-connect 2017 becomes history.

What can I say?

If you weren’t there, you missed something (apart from the weather, that is). As I am feeling a bit weary right not, you will have to bear with me and be a bit patient for more pics and thoughts. These will follow in due course – but for right now, here is a first taste, a rather lovely video which Vito filmed and edited.

Thank you very much, Vito.

Until the wheels fall off!

Yaaaay! Onwards, into the vertical-connect week!

Looking forwards to spending some time up in the mountains, getting this event off the ground and meeting up with friends.

Should you have nothing planned for the end of the week, consider yourself warmly invited. Our two day-topics for the 2017 edition are Risk (Friday) and Connections and Connectors (Saturday), this year again featuring a wide range of speakers from the many, diverse disciplines where work is performed on rope.

For more infos, www.vertical-connect.ch

Mistakes

“To err is human; to forgive, divine”, Alexander Pope famously wrote in his “Essay on Criticism”. 

Martin Holden of the UK Health and Safety Executive wrote in his 2005 article, “UK’s New Work at Height Regulations” about how one of the defining traits of a competent person is to be aware of the limits of their competence – and to be able to identify situations in which they need to call in technical support.

I will always go into challenging situations very aware of the fact that I make mistakes.

A howler happened a couple of months back, whilst teaching work safety during this year’s Swiss certified arborist course. For years one of the things I have harped on about is the differentiation between danger, engdangerment, risk and mitigating actions. People really struggle when asked to define these terms during the exam, for instance with the concept of mathematically expressing the probability of an incident occurring.

So this year I decided to do really thorough job when explaining that topic, I made up a new infographic which illustrates the definitions in great detail. When I presented this to the folk at the course, there ensued a polite silence… it transpired I had mixed up the high and low probabilities and their mathematical expression in the presentation. Whoopsie, talk about an egg on face moment… 😛

Well, there you go, QED: Mistake? Made!

I will be the first to confess to getting things wrong. It is one of the reasons I will really question myself when making public statements regarding complex topics, such as during the annual gear inspection technician briefing prior to the International Tree Climbing Competition…

I will go into sessions like this knowing that I may well get some things wrong – the trick being in my opinion to be sure about what you know – and not be shy to admit to not knowing things, this is a reasonable and honest position to take for which you cannot be faulted, after all. Sometimes it can also happen that a situation develops a dynamic in which you get sucked into making a statement, which on second thoughts you have doubts about. In this instance also, I believe it is perfectly in order to revisit that call – or to request more time to give a matter due consideration. This is especially relevant when you are trying to make fair, consistent decisions which you can back up with facts rather than opinion.

I am always a bit nonplussed by people who come across as being very forceful and assertive when stating their beliefs and positions. It makes me wonder, do they have no doubts regarding getting things wrong? Just totally sure they have got it all right? Probably in the end it is a question of personality, delivery and style – I write this free of judgement, simply as fact.

Be that as it may, I for one strive as much as possible to mitigate my mistakes, to be open and honest about them when they do occur – and to not repeatedly step into the same trap, making the same mistake over and over again.

Therefore, let me propose a toast: onward, to new mistakes! 🥂

Brute Force

After a rather pleasant, uneventful trip back from Seattle, I arrived into Basel airport yesterday end of the afternoon – and was not very surprised to find that none of the bags had made it through the transfer in Heathrow, which admittedly with a scant 50 minutes from landing to take off was a bit on the tight side. The plane left Seattle two hours late, so that made it all a bit breathless. Still, I always think to myself in such instances, the main thing is that I am home – and in a sense it is a double win, as consequently as the bags are delivered home, I don’t need to lug the heavy bags! Me likee.

(Actually, talking about heavy baggage tags: one time I was checking in bags with some airline, they insisted on tagging them with heavy labels – at 16kg! I asked the check-in person whether maybe their luggage handler were Oompa Loompas? Or hobbits? She was non-plussed. Oh well, I suppose it is all relative)

However, I was a bit dismayed when the bags did turn up early afternoon today: They were in a pretty sorry state. They had obviously been severely crushed. Everything in the bags was flattened. Maybe British Airways uses elephants to move the baggage around? Also, the handle on my North Face wheely duffle was cleanly ripped off the frame, the luggage tags had been torn off, the 10mm Sirius line I use to close up the roll-top Exped duffle had been removed. Grrrrr… Oh, and in each bag, one of the charming letters from US customs informing me that they had gone through my stuff. No shit, Sherlock? I would never have guessed.

When I phoned BA to ask whether they considered all this normal, the lady suggested it would probably be best if I took it up with my insurance. You what?

Sometimes I wonder whether it is robust bags which simply push luggage handlers over the edge – a blatant provocation, challenging their manliness or something like that. In my mind’s eye I can picture them picking up my duffles, chucking them in front of the wheels of a taxiing 747!

Obviously luggage handlers subscribe to Tony Tresselt‘s maxim (and I am paraphrasing here): If you cannot resolve a problem with brute force, it is simply that you are not applying enough of it!

Following the logic that robust bags are red flags to luggage handlers, it would presumable make sense in future to travel exclusively with pink Hallo Kitty or fluffy My Little Pony suitcases. That might do the trick! Just have to check now whether they do 80 litre supersized versions…

Signal to noise ratio

It was with considerable sadness and concern that I heard of the shit storm which resulted out of an article being published in a recent edition of TCIA Magazine. This time it was Phil Kelley upon whom the righteous anger and indignation of the internet pundits was unleashed for writing an article examining the pros and cons of aerial friction devices for rigging, based upon some testing they have done, and also for making some recommendations based upon their findings.

Phil is someone I value and respect for the dedication, passion and expertise he brings to our industry. After having watched him present and having run a number of events together, I am impressed by the level of commitment and kindness he freely offers to people on the courses. Phil is making a valuable and important contribution towards making the industry a safer and better place, going above and beyond what he needs to do.

I therefore find it highly offensive and unfair that Phil of all people should be exposed to this level of vitriol and abuse – regardless on what my opinion is regarding the article in question. All the more so as the criticisms are largely unfounded. I cannot help but wonder, having read some of the comments and attacks, whether the persons writing them actually bothered to read the article – or, dare I suggest it, made the effort to contact Phil to clarify whether they might have misunderstood his intent?

There is a common thread emerging here, which is if in doubt to cast facts to the wind, insinuate vested interest and a sinister conspiracy (did anyone say Info Wars and fake news?) and throw the supposed offender to the trolls – who interestingly enough themselves may have a degree of vested interest in the matter being debated. Ultimately this feels a bit like taking cheap shots at certain people who expose themselves. The sad thing is, of course, that we all stand to lose from this kind of behaviour, as the obvious conclusion to these kinds of shenanigans is to ask oneself the question of why risk exposing oneself in an attempt to offer something to the industry if this is the result. This in turn decreases the quality of discussion surrounding the techniques we employ and the tools we use.

Let me be clear: the language and behaviour being displayed during these shit storms are not normal or balanced. I am saddened to see voices of reason drowned out in this fashion. This is what happens when the signal to noise ratio tips against the signal – and all becomes noise.

Thank you, Phil, for your contributions. I for one appreciate and value them.