Location, location, location

Sometimes knowing where you are is easy, especially in an urban setting: you simply use an address. Yet sometimes things are not that easy, you might be working out in the boonies – or you might be trying to identify that one, specific tree.

The folk at What3Words came up with a rather clever system enabling them to pinpoint locations worldwide with… three words (yes, the name is a bit of a spoiler). The location information is based upon a 3m x 3m grid, i.e. you can pinpoint a spot to within three meters, which is not bad – not the same accuracy as with GPS/ Galileo/ GLONASS-based coordinates, admittedly, but the What3Words system is very user friendly, you can install it on your phone, which makes it fast and easy to use.

The location of the Masters’ Challenge tree of this year’s ETCC in Thoiry (France), for example, is pots.rejoin.rocket.

The exact position of the Climbers’ Forum drop tower at the German Tree Care Days in Augsburg is right on the join between held.bricks.coaster and graduated.remember.trading.

You can simply enter the three words into the app, which is available in Apple’s app store or from Google play – or you can go to What3Words’ website and enter the three words there.

My impression is that far from being a mere gimmick, this has actual practical applications when a 3x3m resolution is sufficient to identifying objects with, where an address may not be available, for example, or the available description is not accurate enough.

I have no affiliation with what3words Ltd., I merely thought it was an interesting concept worth mentioning here – and that it might even be of use to someone…


I have mulling over the question of collective biases – shared inclinations or beliefs – for a while now. I think in regards to our industry, a good example for one such a bias is the way we consider knots.

Take the Valdôtain, or the Valdôtain Tresse, for example, ask around at a trade show or another industry event how people view this hitch. You will probably get answers in the direction of that it is a sporty hitch, not very reliable, touchy-feely or that it is mainly for competition climbers. It is also often even referred to as the Suislide Hitch, which is a bit sinister! All of this enforces the bias that this hitch is somehow only borderline safe.

Back when in the early days when I was competing in tree climbing comps, I would have probably agreed with this assessment. It was what I encountered using a VT, you were constantly managing the hitch to get just that sufficient amount of friction, that sweet spot to juuuuust about hold you, yet also to feed smoothly through the hitch during ascent. Often as not, you were having to massage the hitch into position before loading it to ensure half-way reliable grab function.

For years in our basic training courses we have instructed on the basis of the Hitch Climber configuration, but of course not using the VT, as this was not seen as being a beginner’s hitch, preferring to use the Distel or the Swabish in its place.

Essentially though, all of this was acting like a self-fulfilling prophesy and was feeding the bias that painted the VT is an unsafe hitch. In terms of numbers, the Teufelberger/ treepartner/ treemagineers testing on hitches did not show this to be the case. On the contrary, in the range of hitches which were tested, in fact the VT proved to be a highly reliable hitch with good grab function, passing the test criteria (23kN/ 3 minutes) we had defined for those tests with flying colours – this is on top of the test criteria already defined for CEclimb.

All of this is of course highly dependent to how the hitch is tied. The CEclimb user manual defines a VT tied with a 90 cm eye to eye sling with four coils and four wraps. This results in a highly reliable knot – under almost all conditions. Yes, evidently it has a higher base friction, but you are not sacrificing safety for short term gain. The function of friction hitches bases upon… friction, after all (duh).

Once you start considering an issue in this way, you start to realise how the views of a group of competent people can be tainted by bias: Take the business of training on a Distel or Swabish, for instance. Truth be told, when we opened up the discussion in our group of trainers, it became obvious that the novice climbers had been struggling with these hitches as the were not grabbing reliably. In the end we decided that an appropriately configured VT offered a much more confidence-inspiring, reliable basis to train on than the options we had been using up to that point.

So it turns out that the truth of the matter is that the VT is a knot whose performance is highly dependent on how it is configured – and that the industry was using it in a way which was biased towards minimal friction and maximum slack feeding ease. Which does not make for a very reliable hitch.

This all goes to show how biases can create blind spots and group think-dynamics that are not conducive to balanced, open discussion – and therefore ought to be challenged.

Images Swiss TCC

Vito did a really nice job of filming and editing a clip of the recent Swiss tree climbing comp in Lausanne…

One of the things I thought he captured well was the varied textures and colours you encounter when working around trees, as well as the people involved.

A refreshingly different take from the seemingly innumerable hours of wobbly helmet cam footage uploaded to YouTube and co.

Thank you for your work, Vito.

That was a gnarly Masters’ Challenge, by the way: a stand of Scots pine, not tall, but presenting a real challenge in regards to the busy structure, rope angles, brittle wood properties etc. Just goes to show that the Masters’ tree need not be the tallest on the site, on the contrary… choosing this kind of object allows the audience to get up close and personal – and gain a better understanding of the skills involved in what we do.

ETCC Thoiry/ Paris 2018

Back from this year’s ETCC, gear unpacked and stored away, with a week to reflect upon and digest last weekend. I was able to take away a lot of good moments with me from Thoiry, I met new people, as well as refreshed old acquaintances. The site was a cracker, when we arrived on Tuesday it looked a bit rough, but come game day on Saturday, it really looked the part. The 23 meter Ascent Event was a bit of a challenge, in my opinion, as well as the Speed Climb that started out along a long horizontal limb before the contestants took off up the vertical. All events worked really well in the trees they were set up in, this is in large parts due to the great team of volunteers involved in set-up. Thank you to all of you who were there.

One of my personal highlights was meeting up with Lionel, a friend who had a very serious accident four years ago. He is still in the process of rehabilitation. I am moved as well as incredibly impressed by his courage and determination with which he faces the challenges his injuries brought with them. One of the things I found very heartening is that despite his body being very damaged, the mind which inhabits it remains as beautiful as it was before. I also thought it was brave of him to come to ETCC – and was thankful of the opportunity to meet up with him and be able to catch up.

Another highlight was Florim receiving the Spirit of the Competition award. This was highly deserved, Flo turned up two days ahead of the event, spent the whole time interviewing people to then moderate the two days of competition. His commentary was informative, whitty, kind and funny, having something to say about just about everybody on site 😊 – and was in French, German and English, on top of all of that!

ETCC was hot! In fact it got hotter by the day, culminating in a sweltering 35°C on Sunday. Thankfully there was a bit of wind all the time, so this meant it was bearable.

In view of the time, effort and dedication invested into such events, all on a voluntary basis, it is all the more disappointing when things happen such as the KASK tent being burgled on Thursday evening or people breaking into the neighbouring zoo, damaging the kid’s train as well as enclosures and scattering their rubbish all over the place. To whomever it may concern: This kind of behaviour does not make you welcome at our events, take it somewhere else – and do not come back!

On a positive note, I would like to thank everybody who joined us in the spirit of the event: the volunteers, the climbers and the spectators. It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend a couple of days together…

Next year’s ETCC will be hosted by the German ISA chapter on the island of Rügen, dates to be announced.

Images 8, 10, 11 and 12 © Stihl