Climbers Forum impressions

After a tree care event, people will often say, it is about the trees. This always leaves me a bit nonplussed, as to me that is only part of the story. Working on trees may be a common thread, but the energy at these events comes from the people who come together for them and the passion they bring with them.

I therefore thought a post to highlight this was the least I could do to say thank to to everybody for supporting these events by turning up and freely offering their time and energy.

Thank you to Puk and Kay for the photos.


I had what might be considered a weird start to my week.

When we arrived on site, while I was getting my gear ready to get stuck into the first tree, I had a tune bouncing round my head, as one does. Buthold on, I realised, this is Careless Whispers by George Michael! I don’t quite know how to put this, but some things are best left in the eighties. This is most definitively one of them! How on earth did that end up in my inner ear?! Thinking about it, I realised that on my way to work I had cycled past a bird singing the exactly that chord of the saxophone intro at the beginning of the song – et voilà, the damage was done: song stuck in brain.

I reckon the bird was Georg Michael reincarnate, something which might look like this…

By mid-morning, I was going frantic, starting to fear for my sanity – not to mention the rest of the crew whom I was sharing my pain with. I decided in the end to try fighting pain with pain, so I gave myself a dose of Radio Gaga by Queen. Then shit got really weird. A messed-up eighties medley rattling round my brain – only gradually subsiding in the course of the day.

Whew. Thank you, Monday. What is in store for me for the rest of the week?!

Third day of Climbers Forum 2018 in Augsburg

The third day of Climbers Forum kicked off with a half day on habitat and retrenchment. Paul Muir of Treeworks Environmental Practice kicked off the morning, with an insightful and balanced presentation on retrenching techniques – very clearly differentiating them from topping practices. Phil Kelley was up next running through some of the work we did together in Green-Wood cemetery, as well as the planning and thought process behind it. Andreas Detter and Georg-Friedrich Wittmann discussed about protecting species we might expect to encounter during tree care operations.

The final half day a mix of topics, Thomas Böhl of fsb Örrel discussed the management of severe trauma and life-threatening blood loss. Max Olesko and Remy Gschwandtner ran a practical demo on throwline techniques which was fun. Don Blair rounded off proceedings with some reflections on Oak and Euc persons in arboriculture. Very entertaining.

Having said that, during the course of the day I was feeling more and more nervous about the looming tear-down, bearing in mind that it took us four days to get everything set up. In past years, tear-down consisted off everybody taking off, leaving us with a extensive pile of wet gear, in the rain and cold. I have unfond memories of fumbling bolts in elbow-deep water with a scum of ice on the top during the tower dismantling. Urgh.

Not so this year. We had a large group of people who hung around after the end of the last talk at four o’clock, allowing for a really fast tidy-up. Without mentioning names because I am sure to forget someone, you know who you are, let me say that I was profoundly thankful. We got everything pretty much stripped down by six thirty, meaning on Friday all that was left to do was to take down the tree and the tower, and dismantle the foundations, which we had done by midday.

Once again, I take away many impressions from this year’s edition of Climbers Forum. Moving the whole proceedings indoors into hall 3 proved to be invaluable, not just from the space it created, but also from a procedural point of view. It meant that there was a clear set-up, followed by the event, and then tear-down. Before, you were constantly forced to improvise and contingency plan, depending on the weather, herding people in and out, shuffle gear around – which made the event exhausting. So that merits a big thumbs-up from me.

I heard from one or two people that they felt that topics are discussed to death. View it as you will, but to me one of the aims of this event is to strive to gain a balanced, thorough understanding of topics. We are lucky to have many returning attendees, the majority of opinions offered during the event are reasonable. But the opportunity here is to use these people as replicators, identifying arguments and tools to take out there into the wild and wooly world of tree care, back to their work environments – by doing so creating a kind of domino effect. On top of that, there is enough superficial discussion in this world, all you need for that is a computer and an internet connection, so no, Climbers Forum is where topics are discussed with time and depth.

On a lighter note, during the event feedback forms are handed out. The return rate of these is notoriously low, which is a pity. But this year we got one back which made me smile…

FYI, Micha was DJing at the DMM party on Wednesday evening.

This begs the question why we go to all the effort of organising speakers and demos, when actually all you need is a deck, a PA system and a couple of hectolitres of beer 😂

So, lots of positives to take away from this year: New format worked well, the space in hall 3 felt welcoming and warm, lots of new faces, as well as old acquaintances, all speakers showed up and the content delivered was engaging and interesting. Now the only thing to worry about is how to go one better next year!

The dates for the German Tree Care Days and Climbers Forum are 7 to 9 May 2019. Consider yourself warmly invited.

Planning ahead #2

No, I have not forgotten that I was intending to write about the third day of Climbers Forum in Augsburg. I will get round to it, no need to fret.

Before that I just wanted to jog your memories regarding vertical-connect, which takes place end of August in Meiringen, in the Bernese Alps.

This event brings together people from all disciplines where work is performed on rope, in front of a stunning alpine backdrop. Simultaneous translation is offered between German and English. Also, there will be workshops and other activities taking place on the Saturday and Sunday after vc. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet and interact with an interesting, diverse group of people.

Remember the date…

And just to whet your appetites, here is the program. For more information, go to the website,

Planning ahead

Motoring towards this year’s ETCC in Thoiry, France.

If you have never been, why not come and join us? Consider yourself warmly invited, whether as a visitor, or as a volunteer. As it so happens, volunteer registration is open, there is always room for one more! 😁 This event is vibrant, dynamic, fun, interesting – as well as being a fantastic opportunity to meet and interact with arborists from all over Europe and further afield. There is something very unique about the ETCC spirit that has to be experienced to understand it.

The site lies 50km west of Paris on the grounds of the château of Thoiry surrounded by a beautiful arboretum. Camping is on-site, with everything close together. Rumour has it that once again, Belgium’s finest, the Treemagicbeers will be gracing us with a rendition of their unique brand of Euro-Trash-Pop. To make it a family outing the zoo of Thoiry right next to the comp site beckons.

Do I have to give you more reasons to put a big, fat, red circle around the last weekend of June? Convinced already? I thought so.

See you there…

We have skills!

Another first in Augsburg this year was the mini gallery we created in the passage between the trade show area and hall three in which Climbers Forum takes place. This was always a bit bleak and industrial, so this year we used it as an impromptu gallery to showcase skills in the industry. We asked climbers to submit drawings or photographs, which were then blown up to a size to fit on building fences. These were exhibited during the three days of conference.

A big thank you goes out to Anja Erni, Rob Fisher, Koko Nishinaga, Paul Poynter and the Treemagicbeers. I look forwards to growing this collection in the years to come!


Second day of Climbers Forum 2018 in Augsburg

The second days themes were a mix of climbing- and rigging-related topics in the morning and women in tree care in the afternoon.

Max Broekmann kicked off the day with an interesting discussion regarding off-label use of equipment and how this ties in with legislation. Rather than this being a grey area, in my mind that there is a clear and unambiguous route towards making such decisions: The manufacturer provides suitable and sufficient information for you to decided whether the use you are proposing to put the tool to is appropriate. If in doubt, you use your risk assessment. If the conclusion of this process is that risk is being mitigated to an acceptable degree, you press on, if not, you reconsider options.

Then I presented the results of a series of tests performed by treepartner, teufelberger and treemagineers on a wide range of friction hitch combinations. I will write a separate post on this in the days to come…

Then Manuel Schuster did a practical sessions on ascent systems. This was really interesting, as he covered some quite basic topics, as well as advanced techniques. None the less, I thought that the build was logical and coherent – and it is important not to neglect basic stuff. We are all in such a rush to go one better, newer, shinier, faster, that I think we risk forgetting the basics of what we are actually trying to achieve. So a presentation like this, not shying away from building from the basics felt like a breath of fresh air…

When thinking about this year’s program, and in view of the fact that this was the twentieth anniversary of Climbers Forum, I was considering what big changes there had been in that period. The increasing number of women actively involved in tree care was one of the obvious points. Having said that, the fact that the balance is still very much skewed  towards men is a source of considerable frustration to me, therefore I felt this merited half a days discussing, not in the illusion that this would sort it, but you have to start somewhere!

Anja Erni and her team did a great job of kicking off the afternoon with various characters illustrating a number of mechanisms in play. The presentation revolved around a fictional film, Vicki Without Y, of which a number of scenes were played. These were commented by the director of the film, a female tree climber and a scientist – all played by Anja. This made for a very lively and dynamic session, whilst not losing a evidence-based foundation for what was being shown out of sight.

Marika Pylkkänen did a talk on women in tree care in Finland. As I have written about in the past, this is unique environment in regards to gender balance, so I was looking forwards to hearing Marika’s take on it. Interestingly she spoke at length about the structure and evolution of tree care in Finland – yet she did not say much about the reasons for the unique balance between the sexes. In hindsight I realised that maybe this is a bit like asking a fish to describe water, when discussing it with Marika later, she said that they themselves are not clear for the reasons.

Florim Ajda presented his interview-based film on women in tree care. For this he travelled to a number of places to interview female arborists – resulting in a very profound, moving film, with beautiful imagery as well as insightful interviews.

The final point on the program was a discussion panel titled Women in Tree Care, Opportunity or Minefield. Admittedly that could be taken as a bit of a provocation, but that was not the spirit it was meant in. The question was less whether women represent an opportunity or a minefield, but rather how men view this change. The discussion started up slow, but picked up pace rapidly, with a dizzyingly wide range of points being raised. In the end I cut off the discussion as it felt that otherwise we could have spent the whole evening there.

What I took away from the afternoon was that this is a topic where there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Gender is but one facet which makes you who you are, rather than getting tripped up by the issue of sex, it makes much more sense to see beyond it and recognise the individual with his or her strengths and weaknesses. After all, people are so diverse, tall, short, fat, thin, beautiful, ugly, agile, stocky… there is not such thing as a typical man or typical woman. Get over it – and let’s celebrate diversity together!

First day of Climbers Forum 2018 in Augsburg

The two half-day topics of the first day of the Climbers Forum in Augsburg were the evolution of harness design in arboriculture over the past half century and one-handed use of chainsaws.

I greatly enjoyed the harness evolution talks. They kicked off with Don Blair walking onto stage fully togged up in 1930’s arborist garb, accompanied by kilted bagpiper playing the theme tune of Star Wars. I was so engrossed I forgot to film it! Suffice to say that I was very entertained. For the show we assembled and exhibited a collection of 40 harnesses spanning the past 50 years, this is truly unique, I had never seen anything comparable before. I will try very hard to take some photos and to post them on this blog in the coming days. The overview of harnesses offers an unique opportunity to trace lineages of harness designs as well as identify innovative and/ or new features. It also documents designs that were tried but for one reason or another fell by the wayside, to not be incorporated into the following generation of harnesses.

Both Don Blair, as well as the following speaker, de Gourét Litchfield from Sweden offered fascinating insights from a pioneer’s perspective into how arborists’ harnesses were used in the past and how they have evolved to what we are familiar with today.

This was followed by a sofa session, where I sat down with Don, Peter Styrnol and Ulli Pfefferer to have a chat about the step change in harness design over the past decades. I really enjoy these informal conversations, as they offer genuine insight into how another person experienced an event or a period.

The afternoon was dedicated to the topic of one-handed use of chainsaws. After the presentation of the 2016 accident statistics by Carsten Beinhoff of the German Health and Safety, theses sessions continued Martin Götz of the H-team running through the design considerations of Husqvarna regarding top handle chainsaws, especially battery-powered ones. Martin, as well as Eric Hermansson, a product manager at Husqvarna, made very clear, unambiguous statements regarding what they consider to be safe use of this tool and resulting out of that their position as a manufacturer: two hands shall be used at all times. Husqvarna have modified their position in this matter. Where in the past they defined certain positions in which they said that one-handed use might be considered acceptable, the new user manuals no longer refer to these.

The afternoon was concluded by Philipp Frank, an osteopath from Zürich, Switzerland, explaining why and how eccentric, asymmetric loading, as occurs when one-handing a chainsaw can potentially cause extensive musculoskeletal damage. And finally, Knut Foppe took us on a whirlwind tour d’horizon, discussing risk, risk management – and humans’ propensity to cut corners.

And that was only day one!

Exciting news

We are very excited about the launch of the up-date of the trusty Hitch Climber at the German Tree Care Days!

Hitch Climber Eccentric gives the Hitch Climber platform a total face lift, but of course this is about more than simple cosmetics: with the new eccentric orientation of the attachment holes and the differentiated pushing and fairleading faces it also delivers significantly improved function – independent of which rope configuration you are climbing. The upper pusher plates will advance your climbing hitch earlier and in a more efficient manner, the fully rounded lower face will allow your line to enter smoothly with minimal build-up of friction from all orientations.

For more info see here.

Apart being light and highly functional, the Hitch Climber Eccentric is also quite simply a lovely bit of design!

If you plan to be at the trade show of the German Tree Care Days during the coming three days, make sure to swing by the DMM booth where you will find a couple of these pulleys being demonstrated. If not, you will simply have to be a bit patient. 😊

Augsburg set-up epic

After an epic set-up during the past four days, we are all set to launch into the 2018 edition of Climbers Forum at the German Tree Care Days in Augsburg, Germany (well, Bavaria, strictly speaking, but that is another story).

This year feels special for a number of reasons. Not only is it the twentieth anniversary of this event, but also we have moved the whole proceedings indoors, so all talks, whether formal, screen-based presentation or practical demo take place in hall 3 now, with a spanking-new sectional drop tower and tree stand. Also, no more projection for screen-based content, rather we will be using an LED screen. We had this running at 50% yesterday, and as it was it seemed incredibly bright. 100% would probably give the people in the front row a sunburn!

All this is exciting and relevant because it opens the doors to all sorts of new possibilities for presentations, such as testing with real-time data projection, mixed media formats, combing demos and scree-based content, theatre etc. All of this feels like a significant step forwards for an event that is already exciting and dynamic, giving me all sorts of ideas for years to come…

For this time being, I am simply happy that all went well for set- up. The tower is a precision fit into the sky light of the building and everything came together nicely.

A big thank-you to all who supported us during set-up, Phil, Paul, Kathy, Christian, obviously this would not have been possible without you!

First day kicks off with half a day on harness design, the other half on one-handed use of chainsaws. Stay tuned for more on this…