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.

Event in Italy

Below is an interview I gave during an event in Erba, in the Como area of Italy with our friends from Formazione 3T.

It is always enjoyable doing this kind of thing when someone actually comes up with interesting questions, and I felt the one regarding advice to arborists at the start of their career was highly relevant – maybe now even more so than at other points in time.

Other than that it was great having the opportunity to meet up with old friends and meet new people during this event, so a big thank you to Ezio, Gabri and the whole crew at Formazione 3T.

Getting things right

Getting things right does not seem to be on the top of everybody’s priority list.

I never cease to be surprised how people and companies often are blissfully ignorant or do not seem to care about the quality of the imagery they use for advertising purposes or otherwise associate with their names. How hard can it be to just check whether the image you plan to use in your ad actually depicts best practise? No, actually that is setting the bar high, I would even settle for minimum acceptable standards. Surely even creatives should get that, let alone soi-disant professionals.

Yet time and again… fail after fail.

No prizes for spotting the glaringly obvious in the image above. Poor chap, did it not occur to anyone to point out before he posed for the Stihl photo shoot that his leg loops were open?! Really?!

An image I loved but sadly seem to have lost in the electronic wilderness that is my laptop’s SSD, is an image used by a UK rope manufacturer, the headline of the ad was “Technical Competence” – yet there, right in the centre of the image, in the focal point, was a climber attached to a line by a cross-loaded connector. Umm, yes, I suppose.

Then this one, which I have discussed before, but remain frustrated by…

Berner Kraftwerke, a Swiss utility company ran a series of ads a while ago portraying their employees. What I like about the image is as opposed to using a scantily- or inappropriately-clad woman to promote a totally unrelated product, this shot actually shows one of BKW’s female apprentices professionally kitted out, I have no issues with that. But did no one realise that the leg loops on her harness were twisted? And that the upper assembly was not attached correctly? Or that the screw gate karabiner was not screwed shut?


So there you go, that sort of stuff irritates me. But then again, if everybody got it right all the time, what would be left to irritate me?!

Safety first

I am fairly sure most of you will have heard by now, Teufelberger have issued a recall on the past five years’ worth of production of Braided Safety Blue climbing lines due to issues with the termination. But just on the off chance that you may not have, I thought it would be an idea to post it here also. Read the full statement regarding the recall and return procedure here.

It should be noted that this recall does not affect any of Teufelberger’s other climbing lines, e.g. Fly, Tachyon, xStatic or drenaLINE – or, come to that, any of the Braided Safety Blue lines with a traditional splice.

Whilst such an extensive recall is always regrettable, I am glad it was caught before someone got hurt and commend Teufelberger for the pro-active course of action they have decided to pursue in order to sort this out.

So, should you have a Braided Safety Blue with a slaice termination in service produced between 2014 and 2019, follow the steps outlined in the recall document to return it – and if you are unsure whether you might be affected or not, send Teufelberger a mail to


Joe Harris commented on a post I wrote a while back on influence, how information is disseminated and what relevance we give it. I thought the points he made were too important not to share here as a follow-up to the original post…

On a recent workshop series, with a planned 208 attendees, we actually saw only 206. Two of the climbers who’d booked to come along had experienced career-ending injuries (luckily neither were killed) between booking and the date of the event. As you would know, arborists are not prone to booking well in advance, so we’re talking about a period of only a month or so. 

In addition, in the last few months, two other climbers that I know of have had career-ending injuries.

All four accidents were associated with complex SRT setups, new devices used in non-manufacturer approved configurations, working from basal anchors, or similar “new-fangled” and YouTube-promoted tree work methods. All four accidents would not have occurred with simple, “old-school” methods*. 

I never used to think that equipment was a major factor in most incidents. It’s usually shortcuts, laziness and sloppy decision making. But in recent years there has been an increase in injuries and deaths due to equipment misconfiguration, misuse, and misunderstanding. The rise of SRT for work positioning means that devices experience more load, ropes are under more tension, there is less margin of error, loads on high-points and redirects are misunderstood, and people are learning from YouTube influencers as you say in your post. 

We’ve had 6 fatalities in arboriculture so far this year in Australia. The highest per-capita fatality rate of any industry in Australia, for the 6th year running. Think somewhere we’re going wrong with the whole way we’re going about this work. 

Good post Mark. Take care,
Joe Harris

* 2 x climber cut anchor line on basal anchor, 1 x device prevented from engaging due to too-tight chest harness, 1 x device opened too far, operator gripped on and went to ground.

Made my day

You remember that gorilla suit I mentioned the other day? Well, it certainly seems to be getting around. Tom and the lads from Top Rope, friends of ours who do rope access work here in Switzerland had a contract to fit climbing holds into the chimp and orang utan enclosure in the Basel zoo, so lending them the suit seemed like a no-brainer.

Fun fact: the hardest thing about climbing in the bloody thing is actually that you get the hair jammed in your friction hitch and descenders. Well, and the fact that you can hardly see, let alone breathe under the mask.

Anyway, be that as it may, the results made me laugh snot, but see for yourself…

Well played, lads, well played 😂


Isn’t it funny how things sometimes seem to occur in clusters, such as blunders and bad luck, for instance.

A couple of weeks ago I pulled up in my vehicle to a meeting and managed to clip the curb in an absent-minded fashion. Brilliant! Closer inspection revealed that I had managed to remove a chunk of rubber out of the tire. So the next morning I took the vehicle to the mechanic who changed both front tires.

The following day I was up a tree doing a removal when I noticed considerable abrasion damage to the Platinum line on the rear side of my access systems. Argh! That line was new in May!!! The damage is recent and looks like rope running on rope – and I have absolutely no idea when or how it occurred. Very, very annoying. And yes, it is in the middle of the line in case you were wondering.

So, I remove the line from service and ordered a new one.

Later that day I was cross-cutting the stem of one of the black pines we had just felled. Whilst moving from one cut to the next, with the saw switched off and the hand brake on, I lost my balance in the tangle of branches and managed to impale the knee of my chainsaw trousers on the bucking spikes of the saw I was using. It was the first day of use they had seen…

Was I irritated? Somewhat. What the hell was going on?!

Finally, the next day I was out and about looking at work – aaaaaand of course ended up with a parking ticket…


¡Basta ya!

It would appear that sometimes I can be quite high maintenance. Having said that, my spate of bad luck and destruction seems to have passed. And I mended the trousers, paid the fine and replaced the line. Worse things happen at sea.