Ach, (s)he is just a competition climber!

This is one that has puzzled me for a while…

A reoccurring theme in forums and videos seems to be a perceived difference between competition and production climbers – and how you are either one or the other. I was watching a guy rubbishing the treeMOTION harness, insinuating that it was unfairly hyped due to Beddes’ competition successes – and that as Beddes was a competition climber it cannot possibly be a harness which can be put to use by a production climber.


Actually, I get part of it.

Competitions and work environments are not the same thing, I will grant you that. But at the same time, some of the finest climbers I have had the privilege of meeting at competitions are first and foremost highly skilled and efficient producing climbers, engaged in practical tree work on a daily basis. After all, this daily work is what made them good in the first place and allowed them to excell in competitions. This is true of Beddes, as well as it is of folk such as Johan Pihl, James Kilpatrick, Anja Erni, Peter Vergote or Gregor Hansch, to name but a few. Anja once said that she is not prepared to train for comps beyond the climbing that she does on a daily basis at work – so she pushes herself very hard at work.

To be clear: You do not have to compete to be a good worker in the field. I can think of any number of highly proficient arborists who have never even been close to a competition. Just not their thing, understandable and fine. But on the other hand, some people compete – yet are also a good production climber. The two are by no means mutually exclusive.

It is important that we do not stylise climbing competitions to be more than they are. Ultimately they are a showcase for techniques used in tree care. Not more, not less. Should this one day cease to be the case, in my opinion they would lose their validity and relevance. For the time being, I and a group of like-minded people have for years invested considerable time and effort to ensure that competitions remain an industrial skills showcase, not identical to a job site, but close enough to be meaningful

That aside, one thing is for sure: you cannot live off being a competition climber, like a pro tour tennis player or something like that. Suggesting that someone is a full-time competition climber is therefore nonsense.

All this reminds me of a situation with a guy I knew, call him Pete. Pete was a crust punk who lived in a squat and liked to party. One day he was talking about some lads he went to school with who went on to become pro football players. “Huh”, slurred Pete, “if I had trained as much as they had, I could be a pro footballer too”. Errr. Yes, the fact is though, he did not, so he is not. He’s a crusty. The following statement, in some respects sounds suspiciously like a Pete-ism to me: “Well, if I chose to be a competition climber, I would do this differently – but I work in the real world”. Really?

Having worked with Beddes, I would have to say that it does not come much more real than that in regards to speed and efficiency in production climbing. So the good news is, you do not need to choose between one, or the other: over the years there have been many examples of cross pollination between  these two facets of climbers’ culture.

More viewing

Hopefully what you are doing over the Christmas and New Year period will be similar to what I am: kicking back, taking it easy, spending plenty of time in front of the fireplace, reading some books and watching a couple of films.

Here is one that comes highly recommended… Filmage – The Story of Descendents/ All. After having a bit of whinge about crowdfunding projects the other day, I have to say that this is a very fine product to have emerged out of exactly that kind of process. This documentary tells the story of the Descendents, a seminal west coast punk band who started playing in the early eighties whose influence to this day cannot be overstated.

Loud music not your thing? That is fine and does not really matter, as it is not really what the documentary is about. The doc ticks many boxes, it is at times quirky, funny, serious and profound – it will make you laugh, but also think about big decisions you make in life and living with their consequences.

One of the things I feel strongly about when presenting or putting myself in front of a class is to establish that the relationship I am striving to build with the attendees is not based upon power, but rather upon trust and respect. After all, how sad would it be to travel all that way to teach that class to hoist myself up onto a guru pedestal – because as a guru I cannot be taught anything, as supposedly I already know it all! Not my cup of tea. I go to places to expand my horizon and to learn. I also think that being authentic is essential… trying to be something that I am not strikes me as being a surefire recipe to end up looking like a bit of a fool.

Bill, Milo and the rest of the Descendents/ All crew certainly score high on the non-power trip and authenticity scale, they remained humble and approachable throughout. These boys simply did what they enjoyed doing, were committed and sincere – and did not forget to have a laugh on the way.

Ok, it’s five bucks, but believe me, that is money well spent. You can thank me later.

Digging in the archives

Here is some easy viewing for you over the Christmas period. I was looking for this video on YouTube, but apparently it had been removed, which is a pity as it is probably of the most viewed feats showcasing arborist techniques.

Back in 2004 Beddes took part at what at that time was one of the most watched game shows on TV, “Wetten, dass…”, which consisted of people submitting bets, which celebrities (well, more or less) then placed wagers upon. Beddes’ offering was that he reckoned that he could footlock 100 meters in five minutes.

The event was set up on the Sony building on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, with Knut taking care of the rigging aloft.

I have embedded the video below. I considered subtitling the video, but ran out of steam – and frankly, the dialogue is not going to win anybody a Pulitzer Prize, you will get the general gist of it, event without any knowledge of German. Or in Beddes’ case, Swabish.

What can I say?

For me this remains a highly memorable moment of modern tree care. The sheer audacity of running up the line, dropping bits every 30 meters, live, on prime time TV? That takes some nerves! Did Beddes train for it? Well, apart from being Beddes… not really, he just reckoned he could do it. In hindsight I cannot help but feel if instead of faffing around dropping the lines they would have done better to lift up the line in a u-shape, keeping the piece below him at a consistent length and weight. This would have probably made the difference. Still, jolly impressive!

That Saturday there was an in-house event at Drayer’s place, a vendor of arb equipment, in the Black Forest. The whole crowd there watched the nail-biting finale… I remember Hubert from ART going absolutely bananas, firing Beddes on! Hell, we were all going bananas! Riveting stuff and good times.

And hey, so much for footlocking not being efficient. Being proficient in any technique makes it appear easy, but getting there requires effort, practice… and talent. Beddes brought plenty of this to the table. Not to mention attitude.

Climbers Forum 2018

One of the things we have been working on these past weeks is the program for next year’s Climbers Forum at the German Tree Care Days in Augsburg, Germany, which takes place from 24 to 26 April 2018.

The program is now on-line. I am very happy with the line-up of speakers, discussing a wide range of topics, divided into half a day per topic: harness design in tree care, one-handed use of chainsaws, women in tree care, habitat creation, as well as general climbing related topics.

After two years of pretty grim weather we have decided to move the whole proceedings indoors, with the demo tree, the treemagineers tower and a super-sized LED screen offering very interesting options for formal presentations and practical demos – and a combination of the two. After having used the same tower for the past five years, we have decided to use the experience we gained from the original one to work on a new design better suited to the new location.

Puk will be working on the Wednesday evening Climbers Forum party, which is sure to be a blast again… we have also been discussing some changes to that format, so it will be interesting to see where that goes.

A first for 2018 is that all talks, the academic presentations in the large hall, as well as Climbers Forum in hall 3 will be simultaneously translated between English and German. In combination with the large trade show with manufacturers and vendors presenting the newest developments in equipment used in all aspects of tree care, this all adds up to a pretty compelling package.

There is not really an excuse not to come to this event, plenty of time to plan ahead. Consider yourself warmly invited. The more people and the greater the diversity, the richer and more dynamic it becomes. In my opinion this events is one of the most accurate reflections of climbers’ culture in tree care in its full width, depth and breadth.

Climbers Forum constitutes a key event in my year – and remains one, even after all these years, which I still look forwards to and get excited about.

Resilience, once again

I have written about resilience a number of times before, as a reminder: resilience describes the ability to function under stress/ load, to return to a state of relaxation thereafter. It is a term used in a wide range of disciplines, such as engineering, psychology, ecology, aid organisation or economy, each with their own specific variations upon the theme.

Resilience, besides configuration and compatibility, is a key concept when considering properties of equipment, assemblies or systems. Not just that, resilience is also a desirable quality in individuals and teams working in high-risk environments, as is ensures correct, safe actions – as well as the ability to regenerate.

One of the instances in which resilience in a person becomes visible is how they overcome hardship, for instance after a serious accident. Through tree work I have had the privilege to meet some extraordinary people. This may not always be visible on the surface, yet the way in which they have dealt with a severe blow can be very impressive and humbling. It goes to show how seemingly ordinary people can achieve extraordinary goals when push comes to shove.

I am thinking for example of our friend Friedrich and the way he fought his way back into life after an accident so severe, with such a long series of complications afterwards that you wonder how he survived. To this day he celebrates two birthdays every year: once his actual birthday and once on the date of the accident.

It was a true pleasure spending some time in a tree with Rachel last month, who also had a very bad fall a couple of years ago, damaging her back very seriously. Again, someone else might have just resigned herself to a life in a wheelchair or at least severely impaired – but not Rachel. She confronted and overcame the damage caused by the accident to a degree which allows her to climb today again.

This list could go on and on. I am touched and humbled by these stories. So often we take our health and physical strength for granted, with life just rumbling along at a more or less constant pace. Yet it is only when life hangs suspended from one thin thread that you can actually feel it pulsating, wanting to be lived!

Life is fragile. Value it. Climb safe – and be resilient!

Gear archaeology #2

The other day I mentioned how we launched ourselves into gear development with two ambitious projects, the Hitch Climber and the treeMOTION.

We first showed the treeMOTION at ITCC in 2006 in Minneapolis, at that point a prototype we had pre-certified with a notified body, prior to definitive certification and manufacturing. We were fairly sure that key features of the harness would be copied and ripped off by other manufacturers fairly soon. Yet ten years later, the treeMOTION remains a very popular harness which still sells well. Yes, elements have been copied by competitors, along with big claims, but people still seem to be happy with the package which the treeMOTION offers and continue to buy it.

Beddes climbing one of the pre-certified treeMOTIONs in Minneapolis in 2006

The truth, of course, is that in this matter the same as anywhere else, diversity is good. There is a high degree of variability when it comes to body shapes and distribution of mass, so it is good that there is a range of harnesses to cater for these different requirements. The base line is that if we were able make a contribution towards making climbing more comfortable and/ or ergonomic for some people, then I believe that we achieved what we set out to do.

But of course, the launch of treeMOTION in 2006 was merely the tip of an iceberg of development and prototyping. Ahead of this went a period of many years working through prototypes, trying and discarding concepts and countless hours of discussion. This was brought home to me the other day by a bag full of back pad prototypes which Beddes brought along with him to the Müllheim meeting the other week.

I have always said that doing this kind of thing is not rocket science, yet it requires a lot of time, effort and diligence. The truth of the matter is that many people out there have good ideas, but not many of them are seen through – because it is a long, hard slog.

Merry, merry!

You remember that Offya speed line trolley? Great for speed lines, but far from its only use! Proudly introducing probably the most durable and highest-MBS Christmas decoration you will ever own. It also will not blow over in the wind.

Of course, the advantage of this Christmas decoration is that you can also use it for technical rigging operations – et voilà, two birds killed with one stone. But please always remember not mix the two! Tensioned synthetic lines and candles do not mix well. Also you might get the tinsel tangled in the sheaves.

And while we are on the topic of seasonal silliness, I could not resist a quick dash over to EDEKA to get us togged up in appropriate fashion during our Müllheim meeting.

Here is wishing you and your loved ones all the best – and for a bit more justice and a bit less insanity for the world. You can always hope…

All muggled up

Writing about TCI Expo the other day reminded me of an incident which happened at a show in the US years ago.

I was demoing… something. Chatting about gear and techniques, you know the usual kind of thing: You could try a V-rig, or an add-in Prusik. Add a pulley here or Try this karabiner instead. You get the picture, geek talk, like.

It was the usual crowd for this kind of event: tree people, some lumberjack types (or as Don Blair would say, Oak and Euc people), some well clued up, others less so. But there was this one fellow who caught my eye. Long and lanky, long hair and beard, kaftan type tunic, lots of colour, floppy hat… just slightly off-beat. Even for an arb show, and that is saying something!

So after the demo he sidles up to me, and with a furtive glance around, starts talking to me in a hushed voice, about how he liked the demo and the gear and all. But then, following discussion ensued…

Beard guy: But aside from all that gear, what about magic?

Me: … you… whaaa’?

Beard guy: You know, magic.

Me (totally nonplussed): Err, good question, never really thought about it. 

Beard guy gives me a long, deep look and walks away, but not before I managed to read his name badge: Merlin.

Ah, yes, I am starting to understand. I was literally waiting for the guy to disappear in a puff of smoke (he did not).

So there you go, using magic in tree care seems to be an option for some – and who am I to judge. Actually, I would love a touch of magic when it comes to the tidy-up sometimes. Or dealing with awkward customers.

Magic it is then, Merlin. I am interested.