Coming up…

Planning an event in Slovakia end of summer, details to follow.

Really looking forwards to this, I love meeting arborists in Eastern Europe and it’s been a while since the last time.

I think one of the aspects that I find exciting about visiting places with a relatively young arborist industry is how vibrant they feel and how often people there are enthusiastic and switched on. This is probably due to a sense of pioneering something together and then later, once an industry becomes established, that spirit also changes.


Arborists and their boots

Duh, managed to delete this one. That’s a blog post in itself: think before you press the delete button. But that’s for another time.

Arborists and their boots are a topic that make me smile.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much part of this as anyone else, but should you one day find yourself at an industry event stuck for a topic to strike up a conversation with, try boots. Everyone (well, almost everyone) seems to have an strong opinion on this one and will probably talk until you drop!

Having said that, I think there is more to this than it just being an arboreal version of Imelda Marcos: The choice of shoe will greatly influence the tactile experience of the climb, depending upon the thickness of the sole, the stickiness of the rubber, construction of the upper etc.. In many ways the discussion here is similar to choice of harness: both form a very immediate interface, once with the body and another time with the tree. Many factors come into play here, such as the shape of your body, your climbing style, environment and trees you are climbing on and type of work you are performing.

Obviously, if you do a lot of felling work, a light trekking boot just won’t cut the mustard. Speaking to Jelte the other day who lives and works in Dunedin (NZ) who was explaining how he and Menno do most of their work on very rough-barked conifers and spiky stuff. So in that kind of environment, a heavier, more robust model of boot is the more appropriate choice.

What got me thinking about this? I got in my new LaSportiva Boulder Xs this morning and was marveling at the transformation they go through in less than a year. In many ways, due to the permanent contact with the tree you almost get the impression as though they become something organic.

Obsessing? No way, just a tree guy on about his boots. Which goes to prove my point… 😉

A wake up call

I wrote about the alley we were working on the other day. On the final day we had an incident involving one of the climbers on the team.

We were on the last two large trees, a Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacantos, and a Sopphora japonica, two climbers on each tree. We had one person on the ground coordinating the traffic with four council workers to give a hand and to clear the brush as it came down. Both trees had access systems installed. The team consisted of highly-trained and competent individuals who are used to working together.

Climber A was moving out on a limb over the road, about eight meters out from the stem, had announced the need to block the road so as to be able to drop the front part of the limb, and was about to assume a work position by adding in an extra tie-in point with his lanyard, when there was a loud bang and the whole limb failed at the branch collar. On hearing the noise I looked across and saw this huge limb falling ground-wards and climber A spinning in mid air and then hanging suspended and motionless. The ground coordinator responded at once, stopped all work and shouted to the other climber, climber B, in the tree to get to climber A. Meanwhile I descended out of the tree I was on and ran across. When I reached the base of the tree,  climber B had already reached climber A, who was responding but still not moving. We decided to bring him to the ground, cleared a landing zone that climber B could descend into with climber A.

Once on the ground we had one person monitoring climber A, sitting by his head and stabilizing his neck and spine, checked for injuries, lack of sensation or tingling in the extremities, dizziness, stiffness in the neck etc. — none of which was the case. So after ten minutes we sat climber A up against the tree trunk and gave him some water. We decided that as none of the symptoms above applied and he had not lost consciousness, we would not call an ambulance or take him in to A&E, but rather monitor him closely and reassess the situation end of the morning – or if something changed before then. It turned out the end that apart from bruising he was fine. However, after all this we did decide a coffee break might be in order. During this we discussed at length what the sequence of events had been, whether anything had gone wrong and/ or mistakes had been made and how to avoid this kind of thing in the future.

Aerial Rescue

I am pretty clear that this was residual risk: at the base of the long limb there was an old pruning cut, covered by wound wood, this was the point of failure. Also, Gleditsia is known to shed limbs, as its wood has quite short fibres. Having said that, climber A was well positioned, his line was under tension, ground personell was aware of what was going on – and when things did go wrong, response time was very short – from moment the limb failed to when the climber was on the ground less than three minutes had passed. Don’t me wrong: I am not saying it’s residual risk, so there is nothing we can do about it anyway, what I am saying is that I was relieved to see how when an incident caused by residual risk did occur, applied best practice, Aerial Rescue training and discussions tipped the scales in the direction of a more favorable outcome .

Another point this drove home to me is how no team, however experienced, competent and careful they may be, however good their track record, are safe from this kind of incident. I was very relieved that the outcome was as it was – it could easily have been much more serious. I was thankful for knowing that I was surrounded by a team of people whom I trust and know will respond correctly. Climber A said after the event that during the whole incident there had not been one moment when he had not felt safe or the situation under control. As a team, our track record is extremely good, with serious incidents extremely rare and when they do occur, they are thoroughly debriefed and understood, there is a deeply ingrained communication culture and a commitment to on-going training and education – and yet even all this is no guarantee that things will never go wrong. But it does create a framework within which it becomes easier to respond in a correct and safe fashion.

Let’s all make sure we do everything we can to ensure that our team- and workmates can go home safely at the end of each day.

V-Rig rocks!

Working on a mixed species alley along a road here in Basel on the way out to Alschwil consisting of Sopphora japonica, Cladastris lutea and  Robinia pseudoaccacia. 

Especially the Sopphoras are really quite big trees – well, not exactly monsters, height-wise, maybe 22m, but just ridiculously wide with limbs taking off in the direction of the horizon. Looking at some of the structures you can’t help but think that trees have a sense of humor (ok, dreadful piece of anthropomorphizing there, I realise!) or are daring each other to grow further and further out.

Be that as it may…

Frankly, on jobs like this I am just so grateful for having the V-Rig technique in my mental tool box. In my opinion this is the most functional way of working with two anchor points for a number of reasons:

  • low friction
  • load is equalized between the two anchor points
  • mechanical advantage when returning up the limb
  • low lateral forces on the anchor points (unless you are level with and suspended between them)

This technique is known by a number of names, like the M-Rig, as some credit it to Mark Chisholm or the V-Rig, makes more sense to me, as that describes the line of the rope between the two anchor points. The first time I saw this technique demonstrated was by John Hartil in 2002 or thereabouts. Sometimes it’s hard to put a specific name to a technique, the truth being that it’s shown by one person and someone else adopts it, takes it and evolves it further. I am, however a great believer in crediting ideas, as it puts them in a context, it’s not just something that popped up out of the ether, all nicely configured, but rather something that evolved over time with names and stories attached to it.

There came a moment on the job this morning, where I found myself almost horizontal to the two anchor points, waaaaay out in the canopy– over the road – using my lanyard as an extra tie in point. Using one point this would have been a nigh impossible point to reach. Apart from spreading the load to two anchor points, I also find it helpful to be able to balance between two anchor points, as this is inherently more stable than just the one and returning off a long flat limb like this is just so much easier with the mechanical advantage integrated into the system.

V-Rig permitting easy movement back and forth, here to install a bracing system

Key to using this technique (or any technique, come to that), is to have the gear handy. If it’s a major hassle to organise it all, you won’t do it, and believe me, that’s me speaking from experience. On trees like this I will have a compact, adjustable thimble saver stowed on my harness, then all I have to do is to lanyard in, release the swivel on the rope bridge that I have secured to one side with a short sling with a Revolver karabiner on it, install the saver, sling through top hole of the Hitch Climber pulley, catch the high line with the Revolver, attach the whole combo onto the swivel and I’m all set to go. I’m not saying, do it like this, but suggesting that you develop a sequence in which you install gear and rig techniques and they will automatically get easier to use and therefor the decision to employ them so also becomes easier.

For trees like this, I would be stuck without having been introduced to the V-Rig all those years ago, so thanks to John, Mark and whoever else thought this one up. And spread the word, it certainly beats the old karabiner in a sling redirect technique hands down, that much is for sure!

Thoughts on the relevance of Social Media

“… Because of the nature of digital communication, the nuances of interactions can be lost. What was once a relatively meaningless comment to a friend over coffee, somewhat misconstrued and then clarified in a matter of moments, can now be an enduring statement, seen and misinterpreted by many.”

Rachel Grieve, University of Tasmania

(Michael Bond: Friends in high-tech places. NewScientist. 24 May 2014)

I thought the Rachel Grieve quote above was interesting, as in many ways it reflects the opportunity that Social Media offers, but at the same time the risks that it poses. We gain a powerful tool with which to exchange ideas, thoughts and concepts, but a the same time there is a risk that through frequent re-posting an idea gains apparent credibility that actually lacks the necessary depth of understanding to ensure its safety. This is especially relevant when discussing Personal Protective Equipment.

What is the solution? I believe there is not easy answer to that question. I would suggest that we take the qualities that Social Media offers, the crowd-sourcing potential and creativity, but at the same not forget to also take the second step, which is to ensure we have the relevant data to back up and thoroughly understand the proposed tools and techniques being proposed.

The upshot is, that with freedom comes responsibility.

In a sense, Social Media offers new possibilities in regards to exchange of ideas and communication, but at the same time it imposes demands of each of us to question and reflect statements we make when writing a post on Facebook, uploading a video to YouTube, sharing a photo on Instagram – or writing a post on a blog . If this is not the case, there is a risk that otherwise the medium becomes hollow and meaningless, a bit like high fructose corn syrup in processed foods: Superficially it may taste good, but the nutritional value is low – and ultimately it’s not terribly good for you. But that’s another story.

If we can ensure high-quality content then the industry as a whole stands to benefit from the opportunities that these new media offer. For that to be the case every one of us has a responsibility in working towards that goal.

Rigging Hubs

Rigging Hubs resulted out of discussions I described in the Tripple Whammy post the other day.

The aim was to come up with a device that could act an easy interface between metal connectors and textile elements, such as slings or rigging lines. It should provide the possibility of direct attachment with connectors, as well as directly knotting onto it – also it should be possible for the device to accommodate running ropes. As such it needed to have rope friendly radii and surfaces, be tolerant of funky loading and intuitive in use. The result was the two sizes of Rigging Hubs…

The uses we foresaw were initially 2D uses, i.e. in an up/ down and left/ right orientation, whether this is in a rigging application, drifting masses between two anchor points, as a base anchor or as a floating climbing anchor point.

On the way we also came up with some off-beat applications, sure there’s plenty more you can come up with 😉

Increasingly though we had questions regarding 3D use, i.e. horizontal orientation and loading of the Rigging Hubs. Initially we were not able to answer this question, as it had not been tested in that orientation. However, we requested DMM to do the additional tests which demonstrated that the Hubs have an ample breaking strain in that orientation and consequently ended up with even more uses.

This process resulted in a super-strong, super-versatile piece of kit that has many uses and, looking back, I wish I had had for a number of technical rigging jobs, as it makes your life so much easier when inter-connecting hardware and textiles.