This week brought an alignment of beautiful, mature London plane trees. And beautiful Spring weather!
Superficially the planes are quite similar to the ones we did back in February, but actually their growth pattern is very different. Where the ones in February had a more upright structure, these are really wide and spreading. Both pose challenges, but are also a lot of fun to move around in. The structure is only one part of the challenge, the other part is what you are doing on the trees. Whereas in February we were doing an all-round canopy reduction, meaning you had to access every single part of the crown, here it was simply removing dead wood and limbs infected by the Massaria fungus, as well as reducing weight on limbs a long way out over the bike and pedestrian path. The latter is obviously a lot less time-consuming and intense.
Mind you, I find that working these kind of open canopies, there is not lack of intensity: I find myself very aware of the open space below and around me, especially when traversing from one part of the tree to another or between trees – but intense in a good, focused, flowing kind of way.
One thing is for sure, a tool I would not want to be without anymore in trees like this, is the Captain hook. I find it an indispensable aid when moving around the canopy, allowing for much higher traverses, where earlier you would have descend much further down before being able to cross onto an adjacent stem. Now, you place the hook on a suitable limb and hop across. Certainly, in certain situations, the Captain has allowed me to up both my speed, as well as my efficiency.
An interesting reflection for me this week was observing the dynamic of setting lines in the trees, both in the team – and in myself.
Tall trees can be a challenge to set lines in. The upper part of these planes are very long and leggy, leading to targets in quite a narrow strip, so actually getting the lines in the right place was in some cases a fiddle. In one tree, a crew member set a line the evening before, right up in the last crotch you would reasonably do so, at about thirty metres. We spoke about it that evening, and he said that we would need to discuss that point in the morning and decide whether we would use it – or whether it would be better to isolate a crotch further down.
The following morning we got on site and set a line in the high crotch. The stem was upright seen from one side, slightly inclined seen from another. I then checked the stem with binoculars and could see no obvious defects. Next we loaded the anchor point – and there was a lot of movement in the canopy.
The temptation in a case like this is to simply chance it, to say, it was ok yesterday, it will be ok today. Yet that is not correct, you are allowing yourself to be tricked by a confirmation bias. You have to assess anchor points on a case by case basis. In this case, I decided that the movement was excessive and that I did not fancy spending a thirty meter ascent wondering whether I would reach the anchor point and go, Oh, that was fine after all. Or would it be Eeeek! I ascended on that?! Quick, lanyard in! We brought the line down two crotches. In the end I ended up installing my climbing anchor point one crotch below the initial point.
Remote installation at thirty meters distance is not easy at the best of times. Give yourself the mental space to move in and come to a well-considered decision whether the point you are about to commit yourself to really is suitable and sufficiently dimensioned.
During this process I find myself fighting all sorts of factors, such as the confirmation bias I mentioned above, my own impatience, pressure I may be imposing on yourself because the team in the neighbouring tree is already up there and getting stuck in – or simply not being able to let go, after all, I have just invested ten minutes into trying to make this anchor point work. But I believe that is exactly what you need to do in situations like this: let go. After all, what are ten minutes in comparison to an anchor point failing? Compromise is not what you are looking for in this instance.
What I am looking for is a reliable, strong framework which allows me to totally immerse myself in the flow of the climb, moving around these stunning structures. The anchor point is a crucial element of that framework.