Climbers Forum program 2020 online

Every year I am surprised anew by the amount of work it takes to put together, discuss and finalise the program for the Climbers Forum at the German Tree Care Days in Augsburg. The dates are 21 to 23 April, 2020.

Program is online here.

Yet the work pales next to the satisfaction of being part of such a unique event which year for year brings together speakers from all over the world. I am looking forwards to hearing talks and demos discussing a wide range of topics, grouped under half day themes such as Climbing Techniques, Basics and News, Sustainability, Trauma or A Deeper Look at Climbing Techniques.

Speakers include Richard Delaney (AUS) from RopeLabs talking about the factors which have an influence on how mechanical devices interact with rope, Alex Laver (UK) from TreeLogic will be presenting new data on the research he has been involved with with the folk from Coventry university on biomechanics forces being exerted on climbers, Andreas Detter (GER) from Tree Consult Brudi und Partner will be considering how we approach dead trees and how to mitigate the risks such work entails, I will be presenting some testing we have done taking a closer look at abrasion damage on rope bridges and connectors as well as an interactive discussion considering the reasons behind why there is such a wide range of configurations and assemblies for ascent in tree care. And the list goes on and on.

If you have never been to Augsburg before, let me tell you it is certainly worth the trip. Besides the talks and demos there is also the trade show and the academic conference. And let’s not forget the Climbers Forum party on Wed evening – where rumour has it that Belgium’s finest, the treemagicbeers may be gracing us with a rendition of their brand of chaos 😊

See you there.

Get creative

I love gear that gives me options to adapt to situations…

Take yesterday: We were working on some huge London plane trees, anchored five meters below the tip, I was still six meters short to descend to the ground – and this was using a 60m climbing line! I love climbing these behemoths, it makes for long ascents, huge traverses (did I mention I love my Captain?), as well as interesting work positioning challenges.

One interesting situation occurred on one of the out-lying heads. I had my main attachment point on one of the central stems, had traversed over and was using the two ends of my hipSTAR flex lanyard to move around the head to thin it. To get myself into a good position to make the cuts I was tying onto the growth above the old pruning points. Having passed my lanyard round two stems, I found that the position of my body and the direction of pull to the main anchor point was pivoting me away from where I wanted to make the cut… so I used a small XSRE karabiner to connect from the OD loop on my lanyard to my second bridge. Bingo. No more sliding around, nicely held in position (Ok, granted, it is not an EN362 karabiner I was using to attach on to the bridge of my the treeMOTION evo, but then again, in this application I would argue that it is being used more as an assist rather than a connector).

My observation would be that the variability and sheer range of work positioning challenges in tree care is considerable. So let’s accept the challenge and get creative, challenge ourselves to find the most appropriate work position in any given situation.

Don’t ignore the small stuff

Not that I had hear of him before, but by all accounts Davo Karnicar was certainly someone who pushed the limits of what is possible.

Born in Jezersko in Slovenia in 1962, he said of himself: “Everyone has a gift, I know how to ski. Someone else might know how to drive a Formula I car.” Born to parents who were both keen skiers and climbers, Davo learned to ski as a nipper, later competing for Yugoslavia’s national Alpine skiing team. Since 1980 he put an estimated 1’700 climbs and descents under his belt.

The Slovenian skier Davo Karnicar in 2000. He was the first person to ski down Mount Everest and said of his descent, “It was as if I was light years from this world.”

Bringing together his two passions, he skied down many of the World’s tallest mountains, such as the Eiger, Matterhorn, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Elbrus in Europe, Aconcagua in South America, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in North America or Vinson Massif in Antarctica.

On 7 October 2000, after a month of climbing the south face of Mount Everest with his team, Karnicar commenced his descent on skis, arriving in base camp four hours and forty minutes later totally drained.

After a life of pursing extremes, Davo Karnicar passed away on 16 September of this year in a tree-cutting accident on his property in Jezersko, Slovenia. Whilst details have not been released as to what exactly happened, this still got me thinking.

I thought a salutary insight from Karnicar’s sad demise was that being highly proficient in one area can make you numb other risks, which is certainly worth while bearing in mind when weighing up risks, not to focus solely on the big stuff, but also on the small fry.

Whilst skiing down Everest or rigging down that monster tree may seem like the biggest risk you are likely take that day, at the same time your risk awareness will also be operating in over-drive while you are doing so. In view of that it is a good idea to heed the small stuff right out there on the edge of your focus which is equally likely to hurt or kill you: the drive home, slips and trips, gear falling down, a mis-tied knot…

A big thank you goes out to my friend Kathy Holzer from Out On a Limb in Seattle who pointed this story out to me… it is good to have friends who supply you with brain food.

A job well done

300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Almost 5 billion videos are watched on Youtube every single day. Whilst a good part of these are probably videos of cats flushing toilet paper down toilets (does anyone think that is funny), there is also no shortage of footage of people doing treework. What can I say? It is a mixed bunch, some of the stuff really makes me want to pull out my hair.

Having said that though, now and again you stumble across a good video, one that has you nodding your head. In this vein, I enjoyed watching Tobias Pelli’s documentation of the removal of two cedars in Florence.

Whilst I am not saying that everything is perfect (that, after all, is not what this is about), I felt that the video footage shows good work-positioning, solid rigging techniques, correct use of chainsaws, ergonomic work practices and over-all good planning – all in all a nice demonstration of work being performed in line with industry best practice.

Further, I also enjoyed the lack of glitzy video effects, pompous heroics, vapid comments, flexing of muscles or Armageddon walks.

Amongst the things which struck me were the rigging techniques employed to manage the restricted lowering zone, such as load-transfer systems and drift lines. I appreciated the fact that in dynamic rigging scenarios knots were being used instead of connectors, also the size of the pieces being removed were appropriate in relation to the lack of space on the ground.

All in all, I thought this was a solid documentation of a job well done, proving that it is not rocket science to work correctly and safely – and to be productive at the same time.

Thank you, Tobias.

An update for treeMOTION evo user instructions

Happy days! Teufelberger have updated the user instructions for the treeMOTION evo, now allowing for a direct attachment onto the rope bridge(s) with a EN362 connector.

In chapter 2.4. of the user instructions on page 9 (English version) number 4) is changed as follows:

4) Adjust the length of the rope bridges supporting the rope bridge attachment point ensuring the stopper knots are properly tied, dressed and set before going ‘on rope’. The ring is usually fixed to both rope bridges simultaneously. The rope bridges should be of equal length. They are there for redundancy so that if one rope bridge is e.g. cut, the other one will take over.
It is also possible to use the ring on one rope bridge only. Alternatively one ring may be used on one rope bridge each. This allows for easier change from one anchor point to another and the two rope bridges may be adjusted to different lengths. A second ring may be purchased at Teufelberger. (see chapter on replacement parts). Direct connection to a rope bridge via an EN362 connector is permissible.
Note: Both rope bridges must be mounted on the harness, even if only one is used.

This amendment means that – thankfully – in future attaching in the way shown below is now in line with the user instructions.

Just as a reminder, the other approved means of attachment are via a DMM Anchor Ring or a DMM Axis swivel.

RF tagging it

After having sat on the fence for a while I have finally decided to make the jump and tag all of my PPE with DMM’s ID kits, combined with the Papertrail app.

I have been wondering about this for a while now, but was unsure as to whether the way I use my gear was suited to this kind of tracking. However, having spent some time with the folk of Papertrail at TCI Expo and having spoken at length with Rob at DMM about it, I am very impressed by the depth and flexibility of the system – and decided to give it a crack.

For those of you not familiar with it, Papertrail is a cloud-based app that allows you to catalogue your PPE, giving you access to the full history of any tagged piece of equipment in the field, including instruction manuals, technical spec and safety warnings. It integrates with all of DMM, Teufelberger and Petzl products, with other manufacturers being added to this list. You can export it to a number of formats, for example Excel.

The Papertrail app also integrates seamlessly with DMM’s ID, which uses a range of RF chip formats to label equipment. But it is not specific to the RF/ NF technology, it can also work with QR codes, so this makes it very much future-proof.

I reckon I know what I am going to be doing between Christmas and New Year, tagging myself into a stupor, getting spinny on epoxy fumes 😬

I will keep you posted on how this goes for me… the RF ID part, not the glue sniffing part. That is a bad idea, as everybody knows.

Highlines rock!

Below is a video uploaded by Colin Bugg from Madison, WI, documenting a tree removal, where he and his team dismantled a Honey Locust in a tight location using DMM’s Offya trolley.

While these highline systems may require more equipment and take a while to set up, once they are up and running they are fun, highly efficient as well as having ergonomic benefits.

Thank you, Colin, for a job well done and for taking the time to document it.

It’s tribal, darling

Yesterday I spent the day in the Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center setting up for the TCI Expo which kicks off today. Well, truth be told most of the time I spent drinking coffee and meeting and chatting with people while we waited for the union guys to set up the Teufelberger booth. For the record though, I did help Taylor piece together the DMM truss…

One of the things that always fascinates me about these trade shows is the non-verbal communication which goes on during them. The sociologist Paul Watzlawick famously coined the phrase that you cannot not communicate in his five axiomes in the theory of communication, describing how at some level we are in a constant state of communication from the moment we are born.

I know that a good percentage of the folk rolling up for the show in the next three days will do so in chainsaw or climbing apparel, work or climbing boots or other arb paraphernalia. Which always amuses me as often as not the one thing these venues are completely lacking in is trees, so if you came prepared for anything… you are in for a disappointment. But I do not thing that is what this is about, rather it seems to me to be signalling a tribal affiliation, communicating who or what you are in the arborist community.

My intent is by no means to poke fun at anyone, I realise that I am equally guilty of this. I think what I find interesting about it is that it is such a startling juxtaposition: the sterile, totally artificial environment of these convention centres forming a stark contrast to equipment and attire usually put to work in a natural, outdoor environment. It is also of course a comment on our need to define and affiliate ourselves with one tribe or another – which just goes to show how hardwired some behavioural patterns are in our brains, even after all the millennia since we, as a species, left the African savannah behind us…

Nothing is the new something

Last week we were pruning a large willow, it was Friday, it was raining and I was annoyed with the tree which turned out to be more of a fiddle than I had anticipated.

As was almost to be expected one of the long willow limbs hit the ground point-first, rebounded and gave the front of the Hilux, which I thought I had parked sufficiently far away, a good solid old whack. Grrrr. To my relief one of the employees of the council we were working for took a quick look and shouted up that everything was ok – nothing had happened, no damage.

Well… shortly upon leaving the site I could not help but noticing that this was maybe a somewhat optimistic assessment of the situation…

Having said that, I suppose, when saying “nothing” had happened it is all down to what you define as “something”. What is you reference point? I suppose if the image below were “something”, then agreed, the above is “nothing”… or at least “less”.

This got me thinking about in this way you could simply mentally erase those niggling little damages:

Me: “Oh, ’tis but a scratch, madame”

Client: “But… that branch is sticking out of the insulation of the building!”

Me: “Pfff”

This is probably not going to fly. I think I will stick with trying to do better, trying to avoid preventably damage and striving to make new mistakes rather than repeating old ones.

Oh, and replace the windscreen on the Hilux.

Expect the unexpected

If instructing climbing courses has taught me one thing, it is to expect the unexpected – on a number of levels.

For one thing, working with people new to an activity opens your eyes to how they perceive it. Sometimes a beginner’s eyes will see things hidden from an expert, leading to interesting questions. “Why can’t we do this like this?” “Umm, dunno, good question”. Working through such questions I find helpful to identify problem solving-approaches, explain a rationale, and to remain humble, because for all I know the suggestion being made may be totally viable.

And then there are clusters. One thing that happened a number of times during this last course which frankly I found pretty terrifying, was that two people moved the adjuster of their lanyard from the side D to the DMM Vault behind it where you would normally store the end of the lanyard. When I queried them on why they were doing it they said that it reduced clutter for them – but I am absolutely adamant that if this were to become a habit it is an accident waiting to happen: the likelihood of removing the end of the lanyard from the Vault, clipping it to the D-ring on the other side and then forgetting to move the adjuster from the Vault into the correct position on the D-ring is simply too high. So I nipped that one in the bud.

Then also these two situations. The image on the left occurred whilst discussing placing of redirects. Anticipating the trajectory the connector is going to take during the planned movement is a core aspect of setting a redirect. In this instance the contact between the gate and the structure obviously was an issue.

The image on the right made me smile. Just when you think that something is intuitive, along comes someone to prove you are wrong. In this instance it was the kid on the course who seemed to already know quite a bit – and made sure we knew about it too. Needless to say, the pulleySAVER did not retrieve in this configuration.

Yes, certainly, if teaching teaches you one thing, it is to expect the unexpected, trying to anticipate what might go wrong and to express yourself in the most unambiguous way possible.