Back from Augsburg

Whilst waiting for Osci to upload more photos of the event, I thought I would already share a couple of impressions.

Quite an elaborate rig on the tower this year, fully loaded up with RPM Shackles, with two gin poles and an out-rigger. Chris, once again, did an amazing job coordinating the transport and set up – without his tireless efforts, all this would simply not have been possible.

Although, having said that, we did of course have some expert help and tower validation during set up… learn from the pros, as I always say, learn from the pros!

Dreaming of a white Augsburg!

First set up day for Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg…. what can I say? We had a bit of everything. Like a time lapse of the four seasons. Well actually, I say FOUR seasons, but we sort of skipped the summer heat. It is really quite fresh.

Still, better get it out of the system today, hopefully it will pull round a bit tomorrow for the first day.

Really excited about the set up, tower looking fantastic, trade show grown again, our Climbers’ Forum Halle 3 set up the other way around from last year and ready for action… all set to go into overdrive tomorrow.

Fully excited.


Last week another life was claimed by an accident during a tree felling operation.

The work was being performed by a competent crew in a professional manner, yet… someone died.

This news leaves me feeling raw, upset, at a loss for words, feeling exposed. The truth is that bad calls can have many consequences, most of the time these are not tragic – yet sometimes they are (this as a general observation, I am by no means implying it was the case here). A further truth is that this profession has an inherent degree of risk that any amount of remedial actions cannot mitigate away. Despite having discussed the concept of residual risk many times, an incident such as this really drives this point home.

Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of the person concerned – in fact to all who have lost a loved one to such an accident.

For everyone else, starting into a new week, I would wish that we be diligent, meticulous in ensuring good calls and look out for each other – to return home safe at the end of the day.



Habit is a funny thing.

You try something new, stepping away from trusted, old patterns and habits, and it feel as though you could never possibly get used to this way of doing something, it feels so… unfamiliar and clunky, yet often as not, if you persevere that novelty in turn may become a habit, a fact you may only realize when you try to adopt something new again and realize the old new has in the meantime become habit, integrated into all the other processes you surround yourself with, performing them day for day.

An interesting example to illustrate this mechanism are the Durolock gates that are available on a number of DMM’s karabiner range. This locking mechanism is made up of a two sprung sheathes, one within the other. In order to open the gate you start with a partial turn in the other direction from which you would normally twist in, then you need to hold the outer sheath up and continue the motion in the familiar direction. One of the things this mechanism addresses is unintentional roll-out of the gate if it is pushed up against structure.

My reaction when I first saw them was that they seemed interesting, but quite hard to get my head around. I found myself really struggling with that first motion in the “wrong” direction.

So I decided to switch all karabiners on my harness, lanyard and work positioning system to Ultra Os with Durolock gates and have been working with them for the past year or so. Yesterday, I was working off two anchor points in adjacent trees. For this purpose I borrowed Pascal’s climbing system. He uses Locksafe Ultra Os, a deeply familiar locking mechanism I have used for years – yet the switch from Durolock to Locksafe was disconcerting… it left me feeling quite exposed, as I found I was simply rolling right through the three motions of the Locksafe mechanism.

What this indicates to me is that the perception of what represents an adequate and appropriate degree of safety is quite fluid and can change over time. Whereas in years past it would never have occurred to me to question Locksafes, now I realised I was, due to the relative ease of opening.

I found that once I had got into the habit of operating the Durolock gate it really ceased to be much of an issue. The one place I struggle is with the one I have my figure of eight on on the back of my harness. This karabiner is upside down and out of sight… so consequently for this, I switched back to Locksafe, otherwise for the rest I am happy continuing to use the Durolocks.

Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting that there is one mechanism that sorts all issues, e.g. roll out, outside gate loading or function in adverse environments. I would rather encourage a differentiated decision making process when considering which shape of karabiner to use in which application, environment or physical location – the same is of course also true for locking mechanisms. What may be fantastic for one use may prove to be deeply problematic for another.

Habits can offer comfort and peace of mind, but now and again can do with a bit of airing and shaking up. Trying something new and different now and again can help to keep things interesting, offers insights into better or different ways of doing things – or conversely into why you decide to stick with the way you have done things up to now. But this realisation is only possible if you have the means of comparison, so now and again this may mean stepping outside of your immediate comfort zone, trying your hand at something new.

Design flaws

I was thinking about Star Wars today as one does. Not the prequels, I am not prepared to waste any thought on those, but the original trilogy and The Force Awakens – which I thought was the bomb, by the way.

So think about it: A New Hope, the bad guys build a great big Death Star, things were looking pretty good for the Empire, when the rebels zipped right in through some ventilation shaft and blew the thing to smithereens.

Too bad, we’ll do better next time, eh, Vader?

Return of the Jedi. New Death Star – ok, it was not quite finished – … but guess what? The rebels buzzed it again, found another one of those handy vent shafts and bombed the DS to kingdom come. Umm. Yes, that would qualify as an egg-on-face moment for the design team.

Now at this point in time, if I were the chap in charge of design in the Empire I might start questioning my judgement, as the mechanisms of failure were worryingly similar in both cases. And Death Stars do not come cheap. Further, if I were the boss of the chap in charge of the design department, at this point I might start to wonder whether it might not have been a better idea after all to go with my gut feeling and stick with my original choice for that position, rather than hiring some distant, jumped-up Palpatine progeny.

So along comes The Force Awakens. This time round the New Order is taking no chances, forget them Death Stars, they are so yesterday, dahling, the newest craze is hollowing out planets and channeling the power of a sun through them, turning them into a humungous super-cannon.

Can’t possible go wrong, they said.

No prizes for guessing… yep, the rebels zip in through one of those ubiquitous shafts into Starkiller Base and demolish the whole thing. Rats, who could possibly have seen that one coming?!

Seriously, though?! This learning curve is so flat, in comparison the Netherlands look pretty mountainous! Surely it would occur to some bright spark in the design department that whatever is built next, to make damn sure there are no X-Wing Fighter-sized shafts that lead to anything crucial? Like, let’s eliminate any blindingly obvious bloopers right off the drawing board straight away!

But then maybe there were other factors in play, maybe they were attempting to save material in order to cut costs (after having lost the first two DS, conceivably the budget might be a bit tight)? Or maybe design considerations? Maybe they were trying to build especially light?

But hey, it’s just fiction.

I don’t know what made me think of all this today…

Fully excited

Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg is one week away! I will freely admit to being fully excited!

The tower leaves Wales on Thursday, set up in Augsburg on Saturday and Sunday, then we roll into the event. As a first, attendees will receive the Climbers’ Forum Companion, a spiral-bound 140-page A4 booklet to which each speaker contributed four pages around their theme. I have to say that it looks rather spectacular.

Further, I am excited, but also a tad apprehensive about the practical demo I running on the Wednesday on balancing techniques in rigging. Excited because we will be using some new elements to visualize the topic – and apprehensive… because we will be using some new elements to visualize the topic. Still, it should work out fine, I have a game plan after all. And a good team on site – not that they know about it yet! ?

It is interesting running this event and ITCC back to back.

Some of the frustrations I feel regarding short-comings of the competitions are made up for by the format we run in Augsburg. Really the two events are complementary, two sides of the same coin, with the weaknesses of one being compensated by the strengths of the other – and vice versa. I would love to see this kind of solid, in-depth, long-term debate take place in other parts of the world with more people taking part, being immersed in and contributing to this vibrant, exciting and dynamic entity which is climbers’s culture.

Nomenclature and Acronyms

Today I was thinking about yesterday’s post, Blindingly Obvious, in which I mentioned Knut Foppe.

Year’s ago, when I was just discovering the fact that there was more to arboriculture than just the company I was working in at the time, Knut was one of the few people out there doing workshops and presentations. As such he was very influential for me and has contributed much towards the way we work today. Early on, Peter Styrnol and he started selling equipment as High Tree Tech. Again, they were one of the earlier outfits selling gear… well, I say selling, when in all honesty it was all pretty chaotic, but still… they had a catalogue! In glorious black and white A4 photocopies. I think it is fair to say that times have indeed changed somewhat. It pays to bear in mind that the High Tree Tech catalogue was the first place you could buy a ring/ ring cambium saver.

One of the things that Knut is credited with coming up with the Knut Knot, as shown below in one of Brian Kotwicka’s images…

The knot’s name tickles me every time, as in Swedish, “knut” means “knot”.

This doubling up is a bit like talking about AIDS syndrome or ATM machines. Know what I mean? A knot knot? ? An automatic telling machine machine? Or an acquired immune deficiency syndrome syndrome? It simply does not really make sense.

OK, strictly speaking the examples above are two different things, whilst one is lost in translation, the other is lost in acronyms – yet for argument’s sake, my point remains.

I therefore vote that the knot formerly known as the Knut Knot shall henceforth simply be known as the Knut.

Blindingly obvious

I find “blindingly obvious” questions really interesting. Things that are apparently so self-explanatory that no one bothers to discuss them. Until you get talking about them that is – and it becomes apparent that everybody is talking about different things. Questions regarding working with ladders, using the GRCS or a Port-a-Wrap, use of a lanyard. Superficially all the above are not rocket science*, but there is more depth to these issues than is obvious at first glance.

Or how about this one… how to flip a line or a lanyard around a large diameter tree stem without them ending up below your feet?

You often see people ineffectually attempting to swing a line around at hip-height, resulting in it coming around way too low. By far the most efficient way to do this is as shown below: you tension the line between your hands behind your back at the height of your shoulder blades, then flip it around – obviously being careful not to smack yourself in the face, as when you do this, the line remains at about the same height.

Easy, you say? Blindingly obvious, you say?

That may be so, but if no one ever bothers to say it, you will never know about things like this. I was certainly very grateful when Knut Foppe showed me this trick and use it often.

*Actually, one of my all time favorite film lines was in the 2013 film “Gravity”, when George Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, posthumously (ok, that was another selling point of the film, the fact that George Clooney dies twenty minutes into the flick… yay! Just to return as a ghost?! Seriously? I suppose it is just a film) says to Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, who is attempting to fly a Sojuz module through a field of space debris – without any training – , “Come one, it’s not as though it were rocket science”.

Which, of course for once, it is! Made the whole film worthwhile for me…