Arborist Exam

I spent the last week in Biel/ Bienne assessing the work safety and knowledge of equipment part of the arborist exam that is organized and run by the BSB, the Swiss-German Arborist Association.

The exam is pretty comprehensive: two full days of written examination, followed the week after by two full days of practical and oral tests. This year’s course was made up of 29 people, with something like seven or eight people re-taking the exam after having failed the last one. The exam takes place every two years, with the course running in the in-between years. Next year we will be doing the same for the ASSA, the Romandie (the French-speaking part of Switzerland) equivalent of the BSB… their course ran the second half of last year and ended in June this year.

Having been able to contribute towards running these exams the last ten years has been a very meaningful and relevant process for me. Ultimately the rate of success of an exam reflects the quality of training that the examinees received – and likewise failure, so for me this is always also a time of self reflection.

The courses we run with these budding arborists are a very different cup of tea from basic training courses, where a large part of the clientele are foresters and landscape gardeners. In the former you really are engaging with people who are genuinely doing tree work in tree care companies.

Seeing a fresh group of twenty to thirty people coming through in a two year rhythm is almost like a time-lapse view of the industry. You are able to reflect upon meta-developments and trends – which clearly show where deficits lie – but also where improvements are being achieved.

What came as a pleasant surprise for me this year was that I felt that the majority of candidates seemed very clued up and switched on in regards to their equipment and techniques they use. Quite a few of mechanical devices were used in ascent, with gear looking clean and well configured, there was very little really goofy stuff – unlike other years. This, I believe, can be identified as a trend.

I do not really want to go into negatives, as I feel it would be unfair to the candidates who did a really good job in view of the mass of material they had to wade through and assimilate – but also from an ethical point of view it would be very  unprofessional as an examiner to comment on those kinds of observations. Let’s just say that there was nothing really scary, where it felt as though the situation was out of control – no mean achievement in view of the at times pretty patchy weather.


Yes, there is always a but… one thing I would like to comment on is the reluctance to dive deep into a topic.

This is not specific to this event, it is a general trend that can observed: people are disinclined to commit deeply to something.

Everybody is keen to share their opinion with the world at the drop of a hat, to broadcast it via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, LikedIn or Pinterest. All of this is very responsive: like short-twitch muscles, it delivers a burst of content, but the attention span is short – and the willingness to sit down and actually, really, thoroughly work though stuff, to develop a really profound understanding of a topic is quite rare. It is therefore all the more pleasing when you come across someone in an exam who has obviously gone to this effort and is able to explain concepts and equipment in a competent and in-depth fashion.

So, I say: Let’s give it some depth!

Hahaaaa! Gotcha!

Some things puzzle me

One thing I wonder about every time I am in a Pizzeria is how do they get those bits of Bigshot rubber, aka Blue Bandits, to taste so damn good?

It’s either that or the truth is that we are using bits of olive to prevent our connectors from cross loading.

I find the implications of both options confusing. Maybe I should just try eating the olive on my karabiner tomorrow. I’m guessing it’s going to be quite chewy…

A reminder

Time is flying and we’re already well beyond the half way mark for 2014! So, that means days are getting shorter again and it’ll soon be time to start thinking about Christmas presents! Ack! Which I am just sooooo totally not ready for…

Thinking ahead for 2015, I just wanted to remind you all that the dates for the Tree Care Days and Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg are 5 to 7 May 2015.

If you have topics you think would work well as presentations (or know of someone else) – whether formal or practical – at this event, I need you to send me your suggestions by mid September. There is really not limitation to what you talk about, as long as there is some link back to practical work in and on trees. We will be meeting end of September in Hamburg to discuss the draft of the program which then goes to print in November. Don’t forget there is also the possibility to do testing and demos on the tower.

Same as this year, in the coming year we will also be doing simultaneous translation. I’d love to see more international speakers becoming part of Climbers’ Forum to further increase the diversity and range of topics.

Oh, and one more thing

To all the armchair critics and experts out there, offering their opinions to all who care to listen (and likewise to those who don’t), I will not give you the satisfaction of engaging you in on-line discussions, as these are complex issues with answers that go beyond something you can twitter.

The way to develop sustainable solutions is to meet face to face, as was the case in Milwaukee.

To those who can’t even be bothered to show up at these events or won’t speak up at the time, the only wisdom I really have to offer is this…

Thinking about Aerial Rescue

Here is another thing I was thinking ITCC, this time regarding Aerial Rescue.

At the time I didn’t focus upon the fact, but of course this was the first time a pick off rescue was allowed at ITCC, i.e. transferring the injured climber into the rescuer’s system. This kind of scenario has been run at other comps for a number of years, but for ITCC it was a first. This is good, as I feel it is important that, as an industry, we demonstrate proficiency when it comes to responding in emergencies – and obviously, there is always the possibility of the casualty’s line being compromised, which would make a pick off necessary.

Of course, transferring the casualty into one’s system doubles the load on your rope adjustment device, making it necessary to add in extra friction to ensure a safe and controlled descent. Admittedly the dummy in Milwaukee was pretty light, about 40kg. The dummy we have been using at ETCC these past years weighs in at about 85kg without equipment, so in total probably about 90kg. This makes for a much more realistic situation, which really sorts out which techniques are viable – and which ones are not. 8mm Prusik cordage, for example, will cinch down so hard it is hard to release when working with a casualty of this weight…

Using a figure of eight below the friction hitch to add friction when performing a pick off rescue

Last weekend I was deeply disturbed to see how many climber’s performed this rescue without adding in extra friction. Considering that the competitors qualified for ITCC by winning their chapter competition and it is therefore safe to assume that they are competent operators, I struggle to understand this omission. I always assumed this is absolutely basic stuff, we train people at level two to perform this kind of rescue, definitively not rocket science!

Please do not get me wrong, I am not pointing fingers or making fun, far from it. On the contrary, this just once again shows how it is a mistake to take anything for granted. What may seem blindingly obvious to me may not be so for someone else. And vice versa.

The implication though, is that as an industry we are unclear how to perform pick off rescues, which is deeply worrying – and needs to change. In my opinion every technique has a flip side, which is, in order to be truly competent, that the operator shall be able to perform a rescue should the need arise, this may entail a descent in two systems – or a transfer into one system.

Post-ITCC reflections

On the trip back from the International Tree Climbing Competition (ITCC) in Milwaukee – sitting in Heathrow waiting for the connecting flight to Basle and got a couple of hours to kill.

And I find myself reflecting  the last couple of days… as always, after a week such as this, it is a kaleidoscope of impressions, images and emotions that take a while to sort through.

Overall, I am always blown away by the annual meeting of our far-flung tribe. So many people there whom I see once or twice a year that are really important to me, which makes these brief moments we share together all the more meaningful, relevant and of high intensity.

Apart from this, there were many positives: I enjoyed returning to Milwaukee, first time since ITCC in 2001 and TCI Expo in 2003. It is a town that has a good, friendly feel to it, with an attractive mixture of waterfront and old buildings, reminiscent of the days when the cities surrounding the Great Lakes were a steel-producing economic power hub. As opposed to other towns, such as Detroit, Milwaukee seems to have reinvented itself to a greater degree.

The Gear Inspection Technician Meeting on Thu evening attracted quite a large audience. I was slightly nervous about this meeting, but it all went well and I felt I was able to clarify and explain a number of issues. This will become a permanent feature in the run up to the competition and serves to inform the climbers, judges and techs about matters technical that have arisen over the past year, things we have been discussing and explaining the processes behind decisions.

I was also very pleased with the way that Gear Check ran on the Friday before the comp. It is interesting how this has changed over the years, both in regards to how the climbers turn up there and the quality of gear inspectors. And I just love the buzz of activity and the pre-competetion sense of excitement in the air. In many ways, for me, Friday is the most relevant day of the event: On this day you see whether the preparations put in place are going to enable the competition to be run smoothly and safely, whether teams are working well together and the volunteers feel happy, appreciated and integrated and you get a feel for the over-all atmosphere when everybody – climbers, techs, judges and volunteers – get together for the first meetings.

As so often, things were busy and I didn’t get round to taking a single picture, but at last year’s ETCC in Thun, Switzerland, Michael Ottenwaelter took some really nice photographs that capture the spirit of gear check…

On his blog, The Gravitational Anarchists, Tony Tresselt does a good job of summing up part of the pre-ITCC magic, describing those moments of silence, calm and anticipation before the event, when anything is possible and the outcome is totally open…

ITCC 2014 was a good event that ran smoothly without any major hiccups and this was also reflected by the majority of feedback. Of course you will always have people with niggles, but as I said, we cruised through Saturday spot on schedule and I have to confess there were moments when I was almost a bit bored! .-) That’s what happens when nothing goes wrong, so that is definitively a good sign.

One of the big issues that generated a lot of debate and heated controversy ahead of the event was allowing the Rope Wrench to be used. Those discussions resulted in a compromise, hopefully, without going into details, we can continue to work forwards with the manufacturer in this matter, as further data is provided and discussions take place.

Seeing the range of techniques shown during the preliminary events and Masters’ Challenge was definitively one of the highlights for me and was exactly what I had hoped for: that by allowing the Rope Wrench to be used this would pave the path towards being able to have balanced, meaningful discussions rather than schoolyard squabbles, repeating time and again entrenched opinions and positions.

The flip side of this coin, however, were a number of issues that cropped up during the preliminaries and Masters’ Challenge surrounding stationary rope work positioning, not only related to the Rope Wrench, but also to the use of Petzl’s RIG. It definitively feels like a technique that is still quite new in the arborist world, relatively speaking, and that is still in the process of maturing and will need further discussion within the industry in order to establish Best Practice guidelines.

Hopefully in retrospect events such als ITCC 2014 will be perceived as part of a process leading towards that goal.

Another thing I find striking is how transient these structures that we create are.

For a scant week a park becomes a focal point for this group of people, trees become more that what they usually are, they are turned into the Work Climb, Aerial Rescue or Throwline tree. When everybody has left however, and the park has been returned to its original state, it makes you understand how part of the magic of ITCC is the people involved with it, their willingness to give time and energy to make this event possible – this is what turns this place into what it is for that short moment in time – and then the same again the following year in another town – and the one after that and so on…

Talking about new devices

Just spotted this on an US equipment manufacturer’s Facebook page…

Now that is truly out of the box thinking… not.

One of the most extraordinary claims in their blurb about this pulley is: Unlike weaker cast models already on the market, ours are stamped out of 7075-T6. Huh, well fancy that. And there was me always thinking that DMM’s Hitch Climber pulley was hot forged, never realized it is actually cast. Also, they claim that this version of their pulley is based on their two hole pulley, which precedes the Hitch Climber, which is not true. In a sense though, seen that way, all their pulleys use the same template: Stamped sheets of aluminum bolted together, so there is an unintentional grain of truth in that statement.

The truth of this matter, for the record, is that the Hitch Climber is made from high-grade aluminum (alway has and will be) and is hot forged. The reason we chose this manufacturing technique is that we wanted the flared edges and for them to be as rope friendly as possible, as anybody who uses a slack tending pulley knows, how often lines do not run fair into the pulley and how sharp edges, such as result from stamping, wear ropes considerably faster and induce twist into the line.

Hitch Climber pulleys

This is just another blatant example about how some people use the internet to claim any- and everything. Which is extraordinary, as it just shows how diametrically opposed two faces of the same coin can be: The same tool that allows the craziest claims to be spread at the same time also offer the means to verify those claims with a couple of clicks.

But I suppose that sometimes people just prefer versions of the truth that fit in with their world views and own best interests.

All the same – I remain puzzled as to why someone would chose to launch a product amid such tenuous claims. I would have thought that if you were sure of your product, surely you would explain its merits to promote it, rather that use fabricated claims to slag competitors products.

But I suppose in the end everybody does as they see fit.