Neighbouring component compatibility

Neighbouring component compatibility is something we have spoken about a lot over the years, meaning that one does not only consider whether the components are well configured and compatible, but also giving thought to whether the neighbouring components work well together.

Thinking of this and flicking through my photo library, a number of examples occurred to me where this was obviously not the case.

Without further ado, I give you…

Steel cables, winches and Hitch Climber pulleys? Never a good combination. Or any pulley you intend to use with synthetic lines again… quarantined this one during gear inspection during a climbig course.

Wrong shape carabiner connected into a pulley: This is what happens when you snatch the whole top of a tree onto a Pinto pulley attached with a modified d-shape connector, causing an inequal load on the two sides of the Pinto… not to mention the overload.

This is not really neighbouring components, but also not a good idea: long-term exposure of aluminium to salt water causing corrosion. This connector was left in sea water for a long time, admittedly, but the delamitation caused by the corrosion is very interesting, so I thought it was worth sharing. This is a phenomenon you will sometimes see on buckles and other metal components used in hot and humid environments…

And one final example, going out on a bang, so to say: do not set-up your pool on your balcony. A large, inflatable, water-filled structure combined with a large, rather flimsy wooden structure = baaaaad compatibility of neighbouring components… QED.

Thoughts on influence

We go through our lives leaving traces, we affect people around us – as we are also affected by them. We have an effect on our environment, our home, our work environment or our group of peers we surround ourselves with. Likewise we are also influenced by exterior factors, people, peers and environment which in turn will have an effect on how we perceive the world around us, as well as shaping our individual opinions and views.

This natural state of affairs is a far cry from one of the phenomenons brought forth by social media platforms, which is the social media influencer. Such influencers are touted as being the next generation of brand ambassadors that can help a brand to become more famous and increase consumption in society through social media. They are online personalities with a large number of followers, across one or several social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, or personal blogs. What makes these influencers so successful appears to be their capacity to engage with users and develop a level of trust. Their influence consists in the fact that their ideas and their behaviour will not only be positively evaluated by their followers, but also imitated…

Naturally, the world of arboriculture does not exist in a vacuum, and is consequently also effected by such trends observed in a broader societal context. There are a large number of people out there uploading content which is shaping people’s views and attitudes. Some of them are obviously acting as brand ambassadors in the sense that they are promoting specific products, whilst others are promoting their own personal brand. Oftentimes the distinction between the two can become blurred. This is also true of some printed publications targeting the arb community, where the distinction between paid content, i.e. advertising, opinion and fact is very hard to recognise.

One of the issues I have with this trend is what foundation the opinions offered by said influencers have, what are their actual credentials? For all I know I may be dealing with a highly knowledgeable person, with broad-based skill set founded in experience as well a theoretical knowledge – but conversely, it might be someone with a mediocre skill-set, but with a willingness to invest time and effort to package it nicely and to put a positive spin on it to create a illusion of competence. In a virtual setting it can be very hard to distinguish between the two. This reminds me of a paper written by Antje Schrupp, a German social and political scientist, titled Female Authority – or How to Oppose Power. In this, she offers an interesting take on authority, which she defines as a quality of relationship. She postulates that authority has to be negotiated between two individuals, and further that can authority only be granted, it cannot be demanded, as this would be exerting power over the other person.

With this in mind, I might chose to grant a person authority in one specific area, based upon our interactions, whilst they in turn might grant me authority in another, the kicker being though that this can only happen based upon one on one, real-life interaction. If such an interaction does not happen and a person is granted authority, according to Schrupp, this does not make the person being offered the authority an authority, but rather a guru. I believe, due to the inherently indirect nature of interactions on social media platforms, this is exactly what is happening: these high-profile individuals are being placed upon a guru pedestal, where critical questioning or criticism becomes inconceivable due to their guru status.

If you add undisclosed commercial interests and a narrow foundation in regards to experience and competence, this can potentially have a highly adverse, if not even detrimental effect on the opinions in a group of peers or, in a larger context and if the clamouring becomes loud enough, on an entire industry.

Do not get me wrong, I do not want to blow this out of proportion, but I wish we could all just calm down a bit, not start hyperventilating about every new bit of kit or apparently revolutionary new technique that comes along, but engage in meaningful and measured discussion about the potential benefits as well as down-sides of the equipment or technique being considered. After all, in many ways it is not the influencers which are at fault here, but rather the way in which we interact with them, the credibility and weight their opinions garner – when hits and likes become a quasi-currency: “Six thousand likes can’t be wrong, this must be true!”

Having said all that, as I am writing this, I find myself questioning myself. A lot of what I have written might be construed to be applicable to the presenting I do or of treemagineers as a whole. However, to that I would respond that we have always gone to great lengths to communicate in an open and honest fashion, being transparent as to where commercial interests may lie, to disclose affiliations and to distinguish between the type of information being offered: is this representing one of the companies we are affiliated with, is it fact based upon credible evidence or is it opinion? Are we always successful in doing so? Probably not. Do we always strive for maximum possible transparency? Yes, we do.

I for one have very little interest in being a guru, as I believe that kind of position to be boring and limiting, after all, a guru cannot admit that he or she does not know something – as supposedly they know it all already. Further, I have no interest in influencing a person and impose my views on them: on the contrary, I value critical feedback and questions, as in this way I also continue to gain a deeper understanding of the issues being discussed. So rather than influencing people, offering handily packaged, pre-confectioned, byte-sized, apparent solutions, I would hope to be able to offer them mental (and physical) tools to be able to develop problem-solving solutions themselves. This strikes me as being more sustainable approach, which takes into account better the diversity of situations and personalities out there.

Ask the right question

Fifteen years ago, ascent was something you simply did, you either body-thrusted or footlocked, not something that garnered much air time in terms of discussion or controversy.

Today we inhabit a very different world (I realise I have written about this before, bear with me), I cannot help but be puzzled by how tree care has such a high degree of diversity when it comes to ascent configurations – when other industries limit themselves to a handful of standardised techniques. This plethora of tools, combinations and techniques is something that intrigues me, the reasons for which certainly merit further discussion.

One reason would seem to me to be that as an industry we have so far not managed to find a consensus on what boxes a well designed and configured ascent system shall tick. Oh, plenty of opinion and pet techniques out there, but not really anything more in-depth than that. So, are we maybe not asking the right questions? Or getting lost in granular details? Or succumbing the fascination of the newest, shiniest and bestest tool out there?

Let me give you an example:

How exactly do we configure our access lines? A single line over a limb, choked with an Alpine Butterly knot? A single line with a base anchor? Double isolated lines? Lowerable or not? Or no access line at all, because the whole crew climbs SRT?

My take on this is that dedicated access line makes sense. It facilitates access and egress into and out of the canopy and is available in case of an emergency. I also believe that having the working part of the line configured with two isolated lines is good practice. There are a number of reasons for this…

When using a EN12841 (Personal fall protection equipment — Rope access systems — Rope adjustment devices) Type B ascender, such as Petzl’s Ascension or the like, it pays to consider the dynamic request the standard makes of the component:

So, in other words, as far as the standard is concerned, after the line has been exposed to a 100cm fall of a 100kg mass it is still a pass if the mantle is sheared, on the condition that the slippage is not greater than 200cm. The rationale behind the standard allowing for severing of the mantle is of course simply a means to dissipate peak force. The damage of one rope in a industrial rope access context is less problematic, as the assumption is that the climber will be running a permanent back-up line with a back-up device running on it, allowing a transfer off the damaged line and a descent on the back-up line.

Is a fall generating this kind of force likely? In case of anchor point slippage, adjustment or failure, yes.

And remember, this is always assuming good compatibility between the ascender and the line. In case of a misconfiguration, such as an ascender which should be used in conjunction with an EN1891 semi-static line being used on a fully-static HMPE/ Dyneema line, things can rapidly become dramatic. Not only will the HMPE generate higher peak forces due to its low elongation, but it is also very slippery, which makes increased slippage in case of a severed mantle more likely – in a worst case scenario leading to ground contact.

Switch to arborist ascent techniques… one single line? In case of damage to the mantle as consequence of anchor point slippage, adjustment or failure, you might conceivably find yourself suspended off a heavily compromised line. Far from ideal.

You do not used toothed ascenders, you say, but some form of ascender/ descender? That makes a lot of sense, as it allows for fast egress, but not necessarily a reason to drop the second line: in case of incapacitation of the climber, a second isolated line makes for a very easy rescue, the rescuer can simply scoot up the second line and lower the themselves and the incapacitated climber on both lines or transfer the incapacitated climber onto their system and descend on one line – always assuming that the anchor point is not damaged and adequately dimensioned to bear the weight of two climbers.

Anyway, plenty to discuss here: Let’s dig for the right questions before we start acting upon haphazard answers to imprecise or narrowly focused questions.

treeMOTION set-up and more

During Sherrill Tree’s Arborfest in Asheville earlier this year, Ludo and I spent some time putting together a couple of videos discussing various aspects of the treeMOTION: set-up, rationale behind the double bridge, the extra expense and more…

I was not grumpy, Ludo just had me looking into the very bright sun, that is why I was so squinty, not my most photogenic face, I realise, apologies. I also had to smile about the intro sequence – I look like one of those cardboard cut-outs of some teen pop idol… Robbie Williams or David Hasselhoff 😂

A big thank you goes out to Ludo for making this happen. There will be more such background videos to follow. Stay tuned.

Rip off and duplicate

The practice of letting others go through the effort of coming up with an original concept, developing and validating it, with all the expense and effort that entails – to then simply rip off the product by launching a cheap copy is a phenomenon that our industry is not immune to.

Still, the case with the cheap copies of Uli Distel’s spikes is especially blatant. Let us not support brands and manfacturers indulging in these kind of practices, as it really literally is ripping off our own scene!

Below is the statement that Uli released regarding these copies. Please help spread the word…

Heidelberg, 10.04.2019

Dear arborist community,

probably we are already a bit late, but we feel more than ever the need to inform and warn you about copies of our well known and valued tree climbers made in Europe. The copies come from China and are distributed

  • in Italy by Gardenforst with their own brand “Raptor”
  • in Spain by Podapro with their own brand “Bistel”. Maybe also in other countries by now.

On normal product pictures you can barely spot a difference between our climbers and the copy. We had been curious what to expect for such little money, so we purchased a pair ourselves some time ago. We can say that our climbers had been copied in every detail, just in very poor quality. Here are some com- parison pictures with explanations for the difference of the copy and an original Distel climber from 2017. Because this is the version which has been copied. We improve our climbers every year. Please see below for the changes of the current model.

  • The outside of the cuff: The copy shows a matt finish with huge defects on the surface. Also note the poor milling and the surface failures on the aluminium shank.
  • The inside of the cuff: The hook strap is glued in with so much glue that the hooks are drowned in glue, so that they loose their function.
  • Lower shank: Two striking defects on the underside of the shank, probably from bending (note that the copy has an exponential bending radius while the Distels have two bending radii, giving it its typical edgy look).
  • Lower strap: Distels come with original Weaver-strap (note the WL under the buckle). The copy comes with a plastic toy strap.
  • Gaff: By any goodwill, you cannot call the gaff of the copy as precision cast. Big steel noses all around. Distel gaffs come with a matt anti-rust coating.Please be aware that we compared here the one-to-one copy from 2017. This version of our climber is now two years old. The current model of 2019 has the following improvements: Improved material for the shells, black PTFE-coating for the gaffs, sewn-in ring instead of cinch-bar, hook-and-loop attachment instead of rivets. And they also come with our own “Distel”-Logo.

To verify the poor look we conducted load tests.

  • Hardness tests: Both, the steel gaff and the aluminium shank of the copy, seem not to be hardened. The hardness of the aluminium shank is too soft and not measurable with our Rockwell hardness test machine.
Steel Gaff in HRC10-2047
Aluminium Shank in HRBNot possible56
  • Load test for the copy strap: The leather part which holds the buckle snaps very early at around 65 kg of load. In our opinion this is a serious risk. The hole cuts out at around 110 kg load. The plastic strap itself holds quite a lot as it stretches to infinity.

• ASTM static load test with 330 kg load for gaff and shank: The upper part of the shank bends like a bow and that also permanent. The same applies for the gaff which looks like a ski-jumping hill after the test.

In our opinion, it is more fun burning money than buying those climbers and risking your life. If you look for serious climbers for arborist work, look for well established brands like Buckingham, Bashlin, Edelrid or Distel.

Climb safe,

Uli Distel
Inventor of the Distel-hitch

Climbers Forum at the German Tree Care Days

Here is some footage from this year’s Climbers’ Forum at the German Tree Care Days in Augsburg and also some thoughts regarding what we would like it to be and what makes it special.

There were certainly lots of special moments this year. I leave Augsburg feeling content and enriched – not to mention rather tired, to boot. I will try to write up a bit on my personal highlights in the near future, but for starters here is the video… thanks to Vito for filming and editing.

And here are some photos of the set-up, event and tear-down:

Working with redirects

Quick video Vito and I put together today about the use of redirects when using a doubled moving rope system… I have some more thoughts about this topic, hopefully I will get round to writing more about it in the coming days, but don’t hold your breath, the tree care days are up in Augsburg next week.

Still, for now, here is the video:

Control and heights

In my experience, quite often in conversations people will talk about how they used to struggle with heights – or still do.

I think it is important to differentiate between the fear of height, acrophobia and the awareness of height. Acrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear or phobia of heights, especially when one is not particularly high up. It belongs to a category of specific phobias, called space and motion discomfort. I do not believe that most of the time this is what people are talking about, as I struggle to imagine that someone genuinely suffering from this kind of condition would chose to work at height. Having said that there are certainly many variations on the theme: in my experience there are all sorts of reasons why people feel uneasy at height, such as feeling out of their depth, lack of faith in equipment, awareness of height due to an open canopy structure, to name but a few.

I actually find it reassuring to be dealing with someone who is aware of the inherent risk posed by activities at height, as this is something I can deal with. On the other hand someone who, without a foundation to be able to correctly assess and mitigate the risks, comes over all cock-sure and macho frankly makes me feel very uneasy. It is a fact that the subjective experience of height will differ from person to person. I have climbed with people where everything is fine… until the wind picks up and the tree starts to move, then they start to struggle. I always think of trees like aircraft wings, you only need to start worrying when they stop moving in a dynamic fashion, but this is probably not helpful as how we experience height can only in part be influenced by experience and training, there remains another part which seems to be hard-wired. This does not yet make it a phobia, it simply explains how perceptions can differ wildly and seemingly without rational explanation. And this is the kicker: these different experiences of height are indeed not rational, as this is your reptilian brain in action: this region of the brain is described as the oldest part of our brain, comprising the brainstem and the cerebellum. It regulates the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance, it is reliable but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive. This explains in part how we can try as much as we want to to rationalise things, yet the reptilian brain bypasses higher cognitive areas of the brain, leading to strong gut reactions in specific situations which we may struggle to influence.

What I have found helpful in challenging situations is to work through them systematically and to make sure that I retain control over the situations at all times. Take the climb in the photo above: This was on a job last week in a large London plane with a very unusual structure, a main upright stem and three others taking off into the blue yonder, the canopy was certainly as wide as it was tall, if not wider. The distance from where the access line into the canopy was installed to the outermost points must have been a good twenty meters. Add to this the fact that there was a lot of empty space below the traverses between the stems, points that were really hard to reach and the need to re-anchor on inclined limbs and then working above the anchor points made for quite a challenging mix. In fact there came a point that I found myself struggling to see how I was going to approach and solve this problem.

Not least because this kind of situation makes my awareness of height more acute, not in a paralysing sense but rather it gives the situation a kind of crystalline clarity: I need to get this right or I am in serious trouble. I find it helpful to break the challenge down into manageable increments, work my way step by step in a methodical fashion: Define the next point to throw the Captain hook to, traverse, make myself secure, redirect or re-anchor, to then assess the situation anew. This will involve all senses and equipment I have on me, constantly striving to optimise my work positioning, getting the most in terms of efficiency and safety out of the gear I am carrying on me.

But above all in situations like this I will have a mantra buzzing round my head which is I am in control. It is imperative that I remain in control at all times, that I dominate the height – and not vice versa. If you lose that sense of control and let yourself be dominated by the awareness of height, you end up in a state of paralysis and lose the initiative and come to a grinding halt

This is not rocket science, all it takes is a level of competence matched to the situation at hand, a bit of self-reflection, confidence in the tools you are working with and your anchor points – as well as spatial awareness.


Drinking enough during a work day can be a challenge.

Camelbak drinking backpacks are a good solution, yet I have to admit that I struggle to keep them clean, great when they are new (or someone else cleans them for you), but I will freely confess to being a Camelbak slob. So in the past I have jury-rigged an assortment of bottles into the tree, to varying degrees of success… as well as some spectacular fails.

Recently, a good solution I have come across, also made by Camelbak, is the Chute Mag. You can get them in various sizes, I have opted for the 1.2 litre version, as on a hot day this will see me through at least half the day to then top up. The bottle has a wide opening, which makes it easy to clean. The screw top is clever, as the cap is retained by a plastic flap, so you will not drop it out of the tree and when you fold it back it is located by a magnet to prevent it from flopping around. I did not realise I found this annoying in the older version of the Chute – until I used this version. Neat. Also incorporated into the screw top is a really beefy moulding which is large enough to clip a full size karabiner or a Vault into – with little risk of it tearing off.

Camelbak offer the bottle in two models, the standard plastic version as well as a thermos version, the Chute Mag Vacuum, which is made out of stainless steel. The latter is slightly heavier but is great as it will keep liquids warm in winter – and cool in summer. I hadn’t really cottoned onto the advantages of using a vacuum bottle when it is warm until the other day when I left my bottle lying by the foot of the tree on a warm day, in full sunshine… so when I came down out of the tree in need of a drink, I was fully expecting it to taste disgusting – as water in a plastic bottle does after having been left in the sun – to then be pleasantly surprised by the cooled liquid. The other version of stainless steel over aluminium is you do not need to worry if/ when it gets tonked, that some gross coating on the inside starts to peel off, as it will with the SIGG bottles. Been there, cannot recommend it.

I have found the integrated clip to be strong enough to clip the bottle to the harness with a locking karabiner or to leave it parked at the top of the access line, there when I need it.

Full disclosure, I do not receive any money from Camelbak to promote their product, I simply appreciate and enjoy using a well thought-out, durable product that offers a high degree of functionality.


Who would have thought it back in April 2014 that five years and 699 blog posts later the treemagineers blog would still be going strong. Writing on all sorts of matters more or less loosely connected to climbing, gear and arboriculture – and a plethora of other topics on the way – remains interesting, stimulating and fun. In no small part this is due to the interesting feedback I receive when I meet people at events.

Thank all of you who bother to stop by regularly to see what has dropped out of my mind, who enter into dialogue on the topics discussed and who offer ideas for future posts.

Let’s continue to communicate!