Inconvenient truth

You may remember Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, which documented former United States Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about global warming. Well, there are any number of uncomfortable and/ or inconvenient truths out there, truths that fly in the face of convention, comfort or lifestyle choices, to name but a few – so why should tree care be exempt from this kind of phenomenon?

A number of developments and trends of recent years puzzle me.

Take foot ascenders, for instance. I have no issue whatsoever using foot ascenders for ascent, on stationary lines in combination with ascenders, or as an assist in a doubled running rope system to replace the onerous body thrust. However, when I reach the top of my ascent I will invariably remove my foot ascender, as during my climbing and work positioning the inside surface of my foot will constantly be in contact with the tree, clamping, stabilising, creating friction or sliding. Subjectively therefore, for my climbing style, wearing a big lump of metal on the inside of my foot is really not a viable option due to the damage it would inflict on the bark of the tree – not to mention it being clunky and cumbersome.

So here is what I do not get: at some point it would seem it became standard practice to wear foot ascenders, during ascent, work positioning – and during lunch break. I actually have less issue if someone chooses to keep their foot ascender on during lunch break, it is not likely to cause any damage there. However, the inconvenient truth here is that it is impossible to ignore the damage which foot ascenders cause – in fact it would seem to me that instead of shrinking some of the newer models have actually become even more voluminous. To my mind this is more than a practical issue, rather it is an ethical question: similar as when hiking in the bush, we try to leave no, or at least minimal traces after having climbed a tree – and should be choosing our equipment accordingly.

I understand that foot ascenders in some instances may be an integral, central part of a climbing system, for instance if a person has physical impairments that would render climbing impossible otherwise – this is not what I am talking about. I am thinking more of the unquestioned consensus that it is normal and acceptable to use foot ascenders all the time and under all conditions – and to ignore or overlook the damage that this practice may be causing.

Quite opinionated, you say?

Well, maybe you chose to use a foot ascender and have adapted your technique accordingly to avoid damage. If this is indeed the case, then pardon my ignorance. But if is not, you opt to use it all the time heedless of damage, I would have to ask you the question whether tree care is not supposedly about the very opposite, i.e. about respecting the tree and preventing harm whenever possible – or at least mitigating it to a minimum. The way I see foot ascenders is that they are one tool in our pallet of equipment, to be used discerningly and wisely – not simply as a matter of course, without any reflection.