Busy weekend

Wow, quite a lot going on this weekend:

National tree climbing competitions in Sweden, Germany and Italy. Swedish Masters’ was today, this was won by Anneli Skoglund and Johan Pihl, congratulations to both of them. In Celle the prelims of the German TCC took place yesterday, these were won by James Kilpatrick (NZ), who was competing as a guest climber, also qualified for Masters’ on Sunday are Moritz Theuerkauf, Ronny Epple, Gregor and Michi Hansch. Should be an interesting run, lots of climbers in there with plenty of Masters’ experience! Anette Neumann won the women’s prelims and will be joined in Masters’ by Nathalie Pronk (NL) and Frauke Lenz. Again, congratulations to all competitors.

ETCC 2013 Thun (Photo © M. Ottenwaelter)
ETCC 2013 Thun (Photo © M. Ottenwaelter)

Also today were the finals of the Petzl Rope Trip, that were held in Uppsala in Sweden. One of the Swiss teams was The Aborists, which –  don’t hold your breath – consists of arborists who also do industrial rope access and they did really well, placing 17th in the qualification round and sharing first place in the Tubucket discipline with one of the Russian teams. So congratulations to Fredo and the boys @ The Arborists! The Russians seem to be incredibly strong in these events, the semi finals in Uppsala consisted of four Russian teams. Must be something in the water…

Soooo, we’re into the busy season, with many of the National and regional comps taking place in the next couple of weeks, ITCC in Milwaukee two months off and ETCC in Sweirklaniec in Poland a month after that. If you fancy crossing over from attending theses events as “merely” a spectator and would like to support them as a volunteer, you will certainly find it an entirely different perspective and experience, also as a former climber. To me the climbing, despite all the camaraderie had a competitive element to it – as a person helping to run such an event, you are truly contributing towards a team effort, which I find very enjoyable.

A manifesto reloaded

In view of the results of the European Parliament elections last week and the high percentage of votes gained by right wing parties I didn’t want to let this slip too far down the blog entries. This is really serious and concerns us all! At the end of the day, if you are unable to respect people, regardless of where they come from, the color of their skin, what they believe and whom they chose to love, how can you hope to respect nature and the trees?

Every country seems to have its own breed of these groups, UKIP in the UK, SVP in Switzerland, Front National in France, Jobbik in Hungary, NPD in Germany and the list goes on… these groups feed off – and at the same time nourish – the disillusion and fears regarding the future of parts of the populations, serving them with populist, simplistic slogans and apparently easy solutions, baiting them with empty promises and identifying scape goats and legitimate targets for people to vent their frustrations and anger on, e.g. immigrants, Jews, Roma, homosexuals etc., who apparently are to blame for all of this.

We understand that it is not possible to dissociate oneself from theses developments, no one is on the sidelines and there is a necessity to take a clear stand in these matters. It would be deeply wrong to believe that a professional life can be split off from a private, emotional or political life, as we see this as all being an integral part of the definition of one’s self.

Treemagineers stands for a belief in certain core values, such as mutual respect, inclusion and tolerance. For this reason we cannot accept attitudes or ideologies that are racist, fascist, homophobe and/ or sexist.


We believe that by creating strong networks based on these values – mutual respect, inclusion and tolerance – , a better world can be achieved, step by step, starting in small, every-day matters such as how we interact with our families, co-workers and people around us.

We believe these are strong, affirmative messages to send out to all who preach intolerance and hatred by standing up to them and by answering their slogans with a clear “No!”.

Stanley presente!

Just stumbled upon this shot of Stanley Longstaff at ITCC in Montréal in 2003.


Those of you who met Stanley, I am sure will agree that he was a fantastic person to spend time with. I had the privilege when I met him the first time to attend one of his splicing workshops in Glottertal in the Black Forest back in 2002 – or 2001. Apart from being a inspired teacher in all matters dealing with ropes, Stanley was also extremely warm-hearted, charismatic and a great musician. Every time I listen to the recording of the gig he played at ITCC in Milwaukee in 2001 I crack up, it’s so funny – Raking Up is Hard to Do with Scott Prophett , Rip Tompkins and Dwayne Neustaeter as backing vocalists is a classic! But also very sad, because it reminds you what a big gap was left by his passing away.

Coming from a marine background one of the things that Stanley used to talk about that struck a chord with me was the necessity for rituals and songs to deal with tragedy and sorrow. In one of the Art and Science of Practical Rigging videos he sings a song a cappella for Pete Donzelli, a close friend of his who died on the job in 2000 during a tree dismantling job. I firmly believe this to be true, we need to incorporate such elements into our climbers’ culture, not just for sorrowful moments, but also to celebrate and to commemorate important ones. In that sense, to me this is part of Stanley’s legacy in which he lives on – that, and his songs.

I will be thinking of him when we return to Milwaukee this summer.



Oh, and by the way…

I picked up The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli from WH Smith’s in Heathrow as I had run out of reading matter.

I should have know better.

Anything that shouts at you from the cover “the million copy bestseller” should be treated with extreme suspicion. Should you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t bother getting it. I found it highly annoying. It consists of three to four-page chapters filled with platitudes, or things that – on the surface – initially seem interesting, but are then let down by a trite, uninspired treatment by Dobelli.

If you are looking for clear thought, you won’t be finding it here. Why did I get it? I must have been bored. Or in a daze. Or both.

Dobelli touches topics that have been discussed by others in a more interesting fashion, such as Atul Gawande in The Checklist Manifesto, Complications or Better, Dan Gardner in Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us or James Reason in Human Errorall of which I can thoroughly recommend.

Sorry, Rolf, had to be said… and after all, this is merely my opinion.

Tripple Whammy

I was thinking yesterday about how your mental focus evolves over time and about how you collect mental cornerstones on the way that you construct a foundation around, that you then base your thoughts and assumptions on. Sometimes these aspects of focus may be expressed in key words or terms.

It’s one of the things that always strikes me when watching an Arbormaster presentation, is how this is something that they are really good at, clearly identifying key words and then hammering them home. As a spectator this makes it easy for me to follow the red thread of a presentation and it also gives me a nugget of information that I may choose to take home with me.

For us, when we were launching into what was to become treemagineers, configuration was such a key word. A lot of the issues that Chris and I would discuss during work revolved around how we use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) components and how we assemble them into systems. Our impression was that if we could ensure correct configuration, the rest would follow. Configuration became a key word that we would use to communicate our point, to identify issues, i.e. misconfigurations, but also the solution, i.e. correct configuration. The friction hitch based work positioning system built around the Hitch Climber pulley was the result out of this process.

Hitch Climber pulley
Hitch Climber pulley

It incorporated a number of novel concepts, such as:

  • system split into two karabiners, one on top of the Hitch Climber to attach the splice into, the other on the bottom to attach the eye to eye sling onto. This set up reduces the amount of sit-back when ascending and also eliminates three-way loading when work positioning on large stems, …
  • correct alignment of connectors: All connectors are loaded along the major axis, as they were designed to be. Also the points of loading are close to the 12mm pins used in the certification process. This ensures performance in line with the MBS indicated by the manufacturer, and finally…
  • rope friendly interfaces: the chosen manufacturing process, hot forging, allowed the Hitch Climber to be designed with flowing, rounded surfaces that are inherently rope-friendly.

These points, in our opinion, encourage and aid the end user to consider correct configuration of his or her equipment.

In time though we came to realise there was another, important point to be taken into consideration, compatibility. It is important not just to ensure that components are well configured, but also that neighboring elements are mutually compatible with each other. These discussions  led to a series of tests a couple of years ago examining the compatibility between ascenders, ropes and lanyards. Compatibility issues can be very complex and challenging to resolve if no guidance is provided by the manufacturers. One output out of these discussions was the presentation Good Choices, Poor Choices – Discrete performance loss, accumulated performance loss and assembling fall protection systems with confidence.

Ascender configuration comparison
Ascender configuration comparison

The third term that forms this tripple whammy is resilience. Here is what the Oxford Dictionary of English has to say on the topic:

Pronunciation: /rɪˈzɪlɪəns /

The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity

This is obviously the missing element when considering system design: You want your system to have the ability to return to its original form after having been loaded, regardless of whether it is a karabiner, a harness, a rigging or a climbing system. In a past blog post I described the high cycle testing we did some years back. Essentially that was assessing the resilience of the material used to manufacture the eye to eye slings under low load and high cycles. Or the testing we did last week in Dunkeld, which was – amongst other things – to take a closer look at the resilience of rigging systems used in tree care.

Resilience can be the result of design, materials or the manufacturing process – or a combination of the above, however it is not something superficial or something that can be added on as an afterthought: Resilience ought to be a key consideration and objective that runs through and permeates the whole design and manufacturing process – pretty styling of a fragile assembly or system is not an acceptable substitute for resilience.

So if you asked me today what I feel key requirements are that we should be making of our PPE assemblies and systems, I would answer you that they shall be well configured, mutually compatible and resilient. If these three points are taken into account I believe that we are on a viable path towards ensuring good system design.

In case you had ever wondered…

Remembered this, made me smile at the time… It was a response to a query on Treebuzz, where someone was asking where he could get hold of some of the material the treeMOTION is made of, seemingly to make his own DIY version of it – ask a question and you will get an answer.

The manufacturers of the harness have finally allowed me to disclose for the first time in public here on Tree Buzz what the base material of the treeMOTION is made of:

It is in fact made of the hide of the exceedingly rare and rather vicious hippogriff.


Today these can only be found in a remote part of eastern Rumania in the foothills of the Carpathians, where for many centuries the Comaneci-Georghiou family have bred them for their hides, as well as for substances made from their apocrine sweat glands used in the preparation of traditional Ayurvedic medicines. In the middle ages hippogriff hides were used when manufacturing suits of armor for the under armor garment, being amazingly tough in relation to their weight, on a par with modern high-tech fibres such as Kevlar etc.

For many years this traditional material was forgotten, but has in recent years experienced a resurgence in a range of uses, for example for the airbags in the Rumanian-built Renault-owned Dacia cars, bullet proof vests for the Rumanian SWAT teams etc.
For us this material seemed an obvious choice, but be warned, it is fiendishly hard to get hold of.

There, now you know, but keep it to yourselves!



Sunday thoughts

Whew. Back home from Scotland, last of the bags that got lost in Heathrow just been delivered and feeling a bit drained…

In the 10 May edition of NewScientist, Alice Marwick wrote an interesting opinion piece that caught my eye titled “Plus ça change: social media’s broken promise”. 


In the article she describes the transformation of Web 2.0, that was initially heralded as a radical game changer that would encourage transparency, activism and creative pursuits to what it has become today where it re-inscribes a limited view of success and a narrow range of acceptable behavior, sentiments I would, at least to a degree, agree with.

In her article she writes:

“Those who weren’t company founders, but wanted broad visibility, used social media to strategically create personas that might appeal to wide audiences, using Twitter to promote themselves and position friends and acquaintances as “fans”. (…) One of the strategies I observed in San Francisco is known as micro-celebrity. Micro-celebrities use social media’s immediacy to promote carefully designed images of themselves. They think of their audiences as fans (rather than friends or family) and share personal information and intimate moments to create emotional bonds with viewers.”

In the past treemagineers has had very little social media presence – don’t expect this to change any time soon.

This was a deliberate choice on our part. We remain convinced that to ensure high-quality social interaction and a sense of authenticity, face to face meetings  are indispensable. In virtuality you loose all sorts of important aspects, such as body language, nuances in spoken language or the whole tactile dimension of human interaction. Yet despite this, people fairly regularly say things to me down the lines of: “You must be on the road almost all the time”. The answer to this question is “No”. Or at least not most of the time.

So, obviously, despite trying to ensure genuine interaction, there is still a degree of projection going on as to what we actually do, so I suppose the point I am trying to get across, is that if distortions occur face to face, how can this be avoided in virtuality? In my opinion, probably not… and, as Alice Marwick writes, in some cases, this ambiguity may even be deliberate and wanted.

All three of us, Beddes, Chris and myself spend the majority of our time doing tree work. For me this means working locally, within a 20km radius, in our tree care co-op, which for me is an essential, core part of my professional life. I enjoy working with my friends in the company, spending time around my family and just climbing, doing tree work –  I marvel, time and again, at how it is just the most fulfilling thing I can imagine doing to earn a living.

I know that Beddes and Chris feel much the same.

Team Baumpartner/ Arbres et Partenaires

Having said that, I believe there is also an element of balance involved. I organise my year into blocks of work, i.e. I will do a block of treemagineers-related activities, such as the past three months, then plan a couple of months here at home, working in the company or doing the odd day of training here or there – and then switch round again.

I find that this kind of balance and diversity lets me look forwards to all the different facets of the actives I am involved in and lets me start into the next block with a sense of fresh appreciation for what I am doing and a renewed motivation to do it well.

Article on testing of damage to synthetic fibres

At the Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg Angela Sipos from Teufelberger presented some preliminary results of on-going testing that they are doing regarding various types of damage to synthetic fibres, such as abrasion, heat, exposure to various chemicals, UV exposure etc.

Rope failure due to overload
Rope failure due to overload

Here is a summary of the findings that she and her colleague presented.

Obviously, it’s in German, but Angela will be attending the NZ arb conference in Rotorua in October and will be presenting these results there.

As I understand it, these tests were intended to establish a baseline in quite general terms, the plan is to continue these tests and taylor the types of damage to be more specific to what might be encountered in tree care.

Final day of testing

Today concludes a week of rigging testing in the Highlands – and what a week it was!

As I wrote earlier this week, it’s much to early to even consider communicating any conclusions or wisdom in regards to what we were testing, however these days have certainly given us much to think about and discuss – not to mention 120GB of video and photo footage.

I would like to use this opportunity to mention how thoroughly annoying GoPros can be. Not just because of the weeks worth of wobbly, uncut helmet cam footage (that always makes me feel rather nauseous and bores me  to tears after about fifteen seconds) we are bombarded with via Youtube  and the likes, but mainly because they are soooo temperamental, which is not ideal if you have four cams dotted around the site fifteen meters up trees. Still, minimum one was working all the time.

We feel strongly that it is essential to continue building on the insights gained through research such as the HSE and Forestry Commission Rigging Research, or work done by people such as Andreas Detter or Peter Donzelli to increase our understanding  in regards to the ways in which we work and techniques that we employ, and where possible to identify ways in which we can make them safer, more ergonomic and/ or more efficient. Hopefully in the future weeks and days such as this past one will contribute something towards these goals.

We had the privilege of having a fantastic team working with us, as that is always the thing that makes or breaks this kind of enterprise. So big thanks to Jon Turnbull, Henk Morgans and Georg Schwenteck for helping to work through a really very demanding schedule – and of course to Chris for making this all happen in the first place.

Pretty tough

Good effort…

Had to laugh when I saw this. What does your typical arborist have in his or her bag? Bricks, pots, pans, steel bars. Ahhh, now I understand why my bags are always so heavy! Funniest thing is, it’s probably not even so far off the truth. Well, maybe not the bricks, but gear does seem to accumulate in bags, there’s always that one dark corner right down at the bottom, where you discover all kind of stuff you thought you had lost months ago.

Those ROPEbuckets are pretty indestructible. Unless you drop them off a sheer cliff into Mount Doom, I suppose – or something like that…