Looking forward

Wow, thinking about it, I realized that October is almost upon us and that, astronomically speaking at least, autumn started with the Equinox last week – all in all, the year seems to be rushing by in a crazed blur.

Only a couple more events this year, traveling to New Zealand next week for a couple of workshops with Rossy and Pro Climb in Christchurch and Auckland, then the NZAA conference in Rotorua. I am looking forwards to meeting up with the arb tribe there…

Back in Europe, the end of the week after NZ is the FISAT technical seminar in Feuchtwangen, GER. I will be presenting there with Puk and Knut Foppe.

Then it will really be tying up odd ends in and around Basle and the run into the end of the year, which is a good thing, as it is a busy time at home in our tree care company.

It has been a very busy year with lots of very interesting meetings and events with a wide range of people. For me – once again – it has been a great privilege to be able to interact and discuss all sorts of issues surrounding working in and on trees, about how to make our work practices safer and/ or more ergonomic or about planning for emergencies. At this point I would like to extend my warm and heart-felt thanks to all who attended one of these events and look forwards to meeting up again in the future.

I just returned from Hamburg yesterday, where we had our annual meeting to discuss the topics for the Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg next year. I am looking forwards to this a lot, the line up of speakers is extremely interesting, again adding a number of speakers from Europe and abroad who will be presenting on a wide range of topics.

In fact, we had so many topics that we have decided to extend the event to three days and will also be working on offering simultaneous translation, not just in English, as was the case this year, but also to add French for 2015. Also, we are planning a big party on the Wednesday with live music (if you guess who will be playing, you win a t-dot sticker), further information to follow – so one way and another it is looking like an event well worth making the trip for.

The dates for the German Tree Care Days and Climbers’ Forum are 5, 6 and 7 May 2015 in Augsburg.

Access line assemblies

Going through some photos on my laptop I came across this one of the access line assembly I am currently using and am quite happy with.

All lines are Teufelberger’s Platinum, the front two are 30m, the back one 60. The eyes were stitched to order in the TB factory and are 15cm long and girth nicely onto the small Rigging Hub. You can custom order any length stitched eye, I got these lines within a fortnight of ordering them – which I thought was quite impressive.

Also installed on the Rigging Hub is a Pinto Loop. The idea of this configuration is that for one it is free of any connectors that could get cross-loaded against structure, e.g. the trunk or branches – and also for the assembly to offer a number of options.

Apart from being very compact due to the lack of knots and connectors, the free slot on the Hub offers the possibility to attach you lanyard run off the main ventral attachment point into it upon reaching the top of the access.

The Pinto allows having a line pre-installed, waiting for you when you reach the top – or half-way up, depending what you need to do in the tree. Unlike other in-line assemblies, this one leaves the access free, so in case of a rescue becoming necessary, a person can still access the tree, as you are attached into the top of the line.

When using Patron, which has a Polyamid cover instead of the Polyester used in Platinum and is therefore more susceptible to heat damage, I would recommend using a protective cover for the part of the line running over the fork, but in this case, using Platinum, I feel it is less of an issue.

Below is a infographic I made up a while ago that discusses base anchor assemblies… some of it a bit dated, but the gist of it still holds true.

Basal Anchor installation

Back from Slovakia

2’000 km later, back from Jahodnik in Slovakia, where I was invited to do a workshop last weekend.


I enjoyed spending time with a new group of people, there were climbers there from Slovakia as well as from the Czech Republic, some I had met before, but also some new faces, which is always great – thanks to everybody who came along.

I was impressed by once again by the can-do attitude that seems wide-spread in Eastern European countries, where people just get on with the means that they have  – and manage to do a bloody good job of it.

One of the topics we were talking about on Saturday was crane felling.

At lunch time on Saturday the crane turned up on site – we had two dead trees to remove –, it was a pretty tired-looking Tatra, which is a Czech truck manufacturer, with a CKD crane mounted on it, also of Czech provenience. This was rounded off by Anton, the driver, who also looked like he had seen better days… I was a bit worried. Add to that the fact that the trees were thoroughly dead, that the crane was to be set on a gravel embankment, not to mention the smashed glass in the crane cab and the buckets to catch the leaking hydraulic oil – I felt a growing sense of unease.

Oh yes, and there was no means of telling the weight hanging off the crane, no load cell or any such niceties.

Still, I figured that when I was in Japan the first time, there was an earth tremor whilst I was doing the Aerial Rescue presentation, so that was my Japan rite of initiation – and likewise, this Tatra juggernaut was to be my elemental Slovak experience.

So, we discussed it all, worked through a step-by-step plan of action, I did my spiel on attaching to the hook, risk assessment and site preparation…. and came to the point where it was time to commit.

Anton fires up the Beast that roars away, tries to engage to clutch for the crane – and the engine dies with a loud cough. Likewise the second time. Michal, I said, I think this doesn’t seem to be working, let’s do something else! But I had reckoned without Antons seat-of-the-pants engineering skills: He gave the Beast a well placed whack with something heavy – and the clutch engaged.

Oh-ohh. Here goes nothing…

The crane will shake a bit and make clunking noises as you go up, Anton had warned me before we got started. He was not exaggerating.  The Beast shook and clunked all the way. Turned out it was considerably too small for the first tree, swung round to the second – and did two picks, which worked fine. The felling in the end was a bit of an anti-climax, but the build up was great!

The things you do…

Rest of the weekend was great, we were lucky with the weather and the whole thing took place in a nice location in the middle of a forest. We carried on well into the evening on Saturday discussing the Historical Development of Arborist Techniques presentation … I soon realized that there is no point trying to keep up with the Slovaks and the Czechs when it came to drinking their home-brewed spirits – or to do so would probably end in tears. I chose the reasonable route.

Thanks to Michal for organizing the event, for doing a fantastic job translating and for being patient with my rambling delivery, it was much appreciated.

Been very busy

Sorry about the lack of activity over the past couple of days. I have always said that I will put up posts as and when is practical, and I seem to be into a phase of frantic activity – once again. Talk about a flat learning curve.

The past couple of months have seen two major climbing events – ITCC and ETCC, and any number of smaller events besides. It seems like its a continuation of early morning starts, getting back late, chucking gear out of the car and re-loading for the next day.

Having said that, I really enjoyed this week, Mon and Tue were two days with 120 forestry workers for the St. Gallen Forestry Commission, which was very interesting. The aim of the event was to help them clarify how to work in line with SUVA’s (Swiss Health and Safety authority) Best Practice guidelines for work at height. Not the most unambiguous document around that leaves a lot of blanks that need to be filled. We were just above Herisau and the landscape was rather stunning.

Then Wed and Thu were two days of basic level one training with three instructors and a group of twelve people, amongst whom were three women, which always makes for a pleasant change, as often as not, these arb events tend to be XY only. That course in Herisau? 120 people? Guess what, guys ONLY. Does my head a bit, actually. Anyway, the level one course was good as it felt that there was not one person on it who would really do better not to try to do any work at height. This is by far not always the case, but this time it worked out that way – which makes your life as an instructor considerably easer.

One topic we discussed in-depth in Herisau, where I was talking about planning for emergency and aerial rescue, was the level of protection that a steel-core lanyard actually offers – not much. Dwayne Neustaeter and the crew @ Arboriculture Canada offer a graphic illustration of this…

Off to Slovakia in just a moment for a workshop Sat and Sun… pics and stories to follow.

Next week is Hamburg… *gasp*

No place like home

One of the things that I enjoy about traveling to different places and seeing how other people operate and run their businesses is it always allows me to reflect upon myself and the way we run our company, Baumpartner, here in Basel. Often as not, when I see a really sharp operation, on the ball, super-structured, loads of hardware and machinery, everything ticking away like a well-oiled machine, I come away feeling a bit bumbling and amateurish.

But then I come home and realize that the work environments we create for ourselves reflect a piece of what we are.

So I was in our yard yesterday morning and was realized once again what a special place it is to me. Sun just rising, Bernard, the smith next door just fired up his forge, the guys not arrived yet – that moment of calm before a day goes hectic.

Our yard feels very organic, has a bit of a village structure to it, there’s the builders, the concrete drilling guys, the stone mason, the landscape gardeners, the plasterer… and  the martins in the isolation of our ceiling.

In many ways it reminds me of the alternative spaces and squats of my youth – that makes me sound terribly like an old man, which by the way is not how I see myself! – , which is of course exactly what the Baumpartner project first emerged out of.

So once again, this just goes to show the importance of being authentic: recognize who you are, do not pretend to be something you are not, take pride in your strengths and try to recognize your weaknesses – and where possible to develop strategies to compensate for them.

So… a bit bumbling and fuzzy?

Maybe so, but  it feels right this way, it is way we choose to be – yet still allows us to do high-quality, professional work.

So obvious

I hold this firm belief that if superficially something is apparently blindingly obvious, that that is probably the point you need to start asking questions at.

Like climbing on spikes.

Or using a ladder.

Anybody can use a ladder.

Yet, start discussing it in a group and you realize that often as not everybody is talking about different things. As was the case when setting the Aerial Rescue scenario for ITCC in Toronto last year – this involved an injured climber at the top of a ladder – : discussing this in the set-up group and trying to work out what best practice would be in such a case showed a sizable blind spot.

So, asking questions is probably the way to go to gain a better understanding.

Another example? Work positioning on a spar. Easy enough, you whip around your lanyard and spike your way up. However, when it comes to dynamic movement of the stem when snatching bits of stem or planning for emergencies, things get a little more complex.

This is an illustration I did for some info panels we will be using next week for a two day event for the St. Gallen forestry commission discussing various climbing, work positioning and aerial rescue issues with their forestry workers.

So these questions are not without their challenges.

Solutions need to be practicable, not over-complex and suited to the needs of the clientele you are dealing with. However, I am very clear in my own mind, that regardless of whom you are talking about, certain parameters need to be fulfilled, such as:

  • There shall be a two point attachment to the stem
  • At least one of the attachment points shall be cut resistant
  • At least one of the attachment points shall choked against the stem, preventing the lanyard from flipping over the top in a dynamic situation and a sliding fall in case of de-gaffing
  • The lower attachment shall not be so low as to flip the climber backwards in case of the upper attachment point failing.
  • The adjustment devices should be adjustable under load
  • One of the attachment points shall allow the climber to lower him or herself to the ground one-handed

So, as I said, there is actually lots to talk about here, as, whilst the perception may be that this is something that is easy to do (anybody can block down a stem), in actual fact, good work positioning and planning for emergency is less so.

More than one way to skin a cat


Very kindly, de Gourét Litchfield brought along a Kenyon Prusik Lift to Sweriklaniec for me.

This goes back to a chat we had at an event in Lund (SWE) last year, when I was discussing the Historical Development of Tree Climbing Techniques presentation with a group of students and arborists, amongst whom was also de Gourét. Obviously, when talking about how these ideas and techniques were spread in Europe, you cannot not mention Svensk Trädvård, de Gourét’s company, who was one of the first dealers specializing in tree climbing equipment. There were a couple of others, Christian Nellen in Munich, Honey Brothers in Guilford or High Tree Tech in a camper van ;-), but the concepts being presented in the Svensk Trädvård catalogues were well ahead of their time and some still hold true today.

For me, in the mid nineties, when information was spread extremely thin and techniques were a jealously guarded secret that essentially gave a company a competitive edge over others, all of a sudden gaining access to a larger world of technical possibilities and equipment was a revelation. The channels for distributing this information at that point in time were very much the dealers, the obvious benchmark being Toby Sherrill’s catalogue, but also, as I mentioned above, the Svensk Trädvård or High Tree Tech publications were spreading the new techniques.

Obviously this was not the same for everyone everywhere, in the course of the nineties networks were starting to emerge, but still, by and large people were still working in groups quite isolated from each other. Certainly the way is was for me at that point in time.

Anyway, I digress… so I got one of Jack Kenyon’s Prusik Lifts, which is a true historical artifact in our small arboricultural world: Jack, a former, long-standing instructor at the Merrist Wood college made this up for a student who had sustained a chainsaw injury and needed to be able to advance his hitch one-handed… et voilà, the first prusik lift, with a karabiner attaching to the bottom ring , with the hitch sitting between to two open eyes. As with so many solutions in our industry, this is superficially so simple and intuitive, yet someone had to come up with it! This one can be traced back to a spark of inspiration on Jack’s part.

It struck me, as I was looking at the Prusik Lift sitting on my desk next to a Hitch Climber pulley, how right there are forty years of evolution of arborist work positioning techniques condensed into two devices –  both fulfill the same role,  yet there are many permutations and variations in between these two solutions. All of them are part of a progression striving towards greater efficiency , versatility or ergonomic gains. The most exciting part is the realization that we have all been part of this – and will continue to be so in the future.

P.S. No cats were harmed to write this blogpost.

Gear check

As I have written before, I love the pre-competition gear checks…

They have this vibrant energy, a moment loaded with potential and anticipation, when everything is open and anybody could win. They also offer great imagery, thanks to Vito for taking a load of pics all through ETCC.

Here are a selection of them from gear check.