We can do better

In a world that seems to be derailing in so many ways, I am determined that as least our own little microcosm we shall do better – for instance by solving conflict in a balanced, fair fashion.

I underestimated the response that the two posts I wrote about one-handed use of chainsaws would evoke. More importantly it was not my intent to insult or hurt anybody with them, essentially they reflect my opinion. And that opinion, like so many other things, is of course subjective and at times prone to fallacies. A lot of this blog revolves around mistakes I make and conclusions I draw from them – I would be the first person to admit to faults and bad habits.

I have decided to remove the two posts from the blog as they led to considerable conflict with Reg Coates, someone I respect and whose contribution to tree care I value. I have zero interest in getting drawn into conflict of any kind as this seems futile, pointless and is certainly not something I have any desire for. I do however believe that there is an interesting topic there, which is how do we approach safe use of chainsaws. I will be discussing with Reg how we could bring our opinions on this matter together in some form or other.

Contrasting points of view need not inevitably lead to acrimonious conflict. We can identify common ground and recognise differences – and move on, expending energy on more positive things rather than social media shit storms in order to provide for our families and loved ones.

Hot baked

Great effort from our friend Puk: Hot-baked PINTO biscuits! Can’t wait to see his interpretation of Impact Blocks!

On a similar note of seasonal uses you can put your PPE to, here you have a Treepartner suggestion for an alternative use of Rigging Hubs.


Let’s hear it for the Valdôtain Tresse!

Quite a few years have passed since François Dusenne first introduced the Valdôtain Tresse to the wider tree climbing world at ITCC in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1994. It received a very mixed reception and was quickly labelled with the moniker Suicide Hitch that for some reason has proven to be very sticky, seemingly prevailing in the minds of some people to this day.

Well, for the record, I would like to say that I disagree and here is why…

The V.T. (Valdôtain Tresse) has its origins in Alpine rescue, but since its introduction into tree care has proved to be very popular, it is used by many climbers in a wide range of geographic regions and environments, you will also spot it on the climbing systems of many a competition climber, it is also the hitch we used to certify Teufelberger’s CEclimb with.

Initially I bought into the rationale that the V.T. is to friction hitches what Forumla 1 (or NASCAR, depending one where you are located) is to cars. Very responsive, but unforgiving if you get it wrong. Common wisdom also suggests that for the reasons above it is unwise to start a beginner on a V.T.

In part I agree with this sentiment.

Not because the V.T. is especially dangerous, but rather because it is important to allow a beginning climber to progress through a range of hitches as his or her skill improves. Putting them straight onto a high-performance hitch robs them of this experience, which is a pity. So I still tend to start people on a six coil Prusik, subsequently moving them onto to a Blake, a Swabish or a Distel. Working your way through  this range of hitches allows you to compare strengths and weaknesses – and also to decide which one is best suited to your climbing style, weight and environment which you work in.

We applied this rationale to training courses with Baumklettern Schweiz, where the basic ascent and positioning techniques we teach is based around either two Pruik loops on both ends of the line and a lanyard or a Hitch Climber pulley and a lanyard. The Hitch Climber is used in conjunction with a Distel, as Prusiks do not work very well in this configuration and the feeling was that Distels grab well. However, recently we have come to the conclusion that the Distel is not quite as intuitive as one might like to assume: like other hitches, e.g. the Swabish or the Howard Hitch, the coiled part of this knot needs to be set in the way you want it to sit when loaded, the upper (grab) part of the knot does not self-adjust. If the upper coils of a Distel loosen up they will not automatically cinch up tight under load. This is especially true in a slow sliding arrest, such as can be the case when an overly cautious beginner very timidly sits down on an open hitch – and is shocked to see it slide. All good, you have to explain, you have to give it a bit of a jerk. Umm, yes.

So here is my beef: I do not believe that the V.T. is actually as fickle as it is made out to be, rather it is length-ciritcal. Get the length and set-up right, using for instance the four coils/ four braids configuration tested for CEclimb, and you have a hitch that grips very consistently and reliably – the trade off for this however is relatively high base friction. You can reduce this by tying a configuration with…. say, two coils and three braids. Reduced friction, true, but this is getting pretty sketchy and may well no longer grab reliably. This is however not really down to the hitch, but rather to incorrect configuration. By misconfiguring you can make any hitch unsafe.

Of course, I am not doing this complex topic justice, as there are loads of variables I have not mentioned, such as hitch cordage construction, material and diameter, the condition of the line, humidity, the weight of the climber, type of climbing and so on…

Yet, when all said and done and as described above, a well set up V.T. in the 4/4 configuration tied with the correct length of eye to eye sling has the major advantage of cinching down on the climbing line very reliably – even after having been totally collapsed, to a degree that I am wondering whether we may have got it wrong and that this hitch is actually perfectly suited to a training situation? Providing it is well described and instructed, that is.

So let’s hear it for the V.T.!

Do not believe everything you hear, but rather ensure that you really understand the techniques and gear you are working with. A hitch which fails to grab is a technique applied incorrectly. After all, in a work positioning context we do after all talk about friction hitches – and not slip knots, they belong somewhere else!


Why is it that unpleasant things often seem to come in clusters?

It would seem that I am currently going through an eye phase.

A couple of weeks ago we were dismantling a fir tree in pouring rain, I valiantly struggled through the fell with protective glasses on, not seeing much from behind severely fogged-up, dirty lenses. During the tidy up I took them off, as it was quite a long walk in and out of the property and I did not fancy doing it blind. One of the last bundles I loaded onto the vehicle, a branch which was bent backwards released suddenly and tonked me right in the open eye. Pointy bits of the needles first. Yeoww! That was very painful. I ended up looking like an extra from Shaun of the Dead.

I spent the rest of the day with fogged vision on that eye. The irony of the situation? That afternoon we were working in the local eye clinic. Did I go to show them my eye? No, I did not… well, it wasn’t as though it was falling out, or anything like that! The whole eye ball was swollen as a result of these shenanigans and took days to sort itself out (memo to self: next time, go and have it checked out, dummy!).

Last week while we were working in a woodland, I was manipulating a throw line in a tall tree. In order to see better, I removed my glasses – after all, it’s only a throw line, what can go wrong? A small bit of bark that the line dislodged hit me right in the eye, that is what. I was not very happy… in fact, I believe that some of the language I used caused the trees around me to shed some more leaves in shame, accelerating the process of autumn.

Then finally, the day before yesterday in the evening while I was tidying up gear after a day of felling, I had my arms full of rigging gear and was just putting away a pair of spikes, when the spike on the hook in front of the one I was hanging the others onto decided to pop off and fell right in my face. Points first. Aaaargh.

That was definitively too close for comfort.

I think what I am going to do is simply to gaffa tape my safety glasses to my face and leave them there permanently until this phase passes – or else I am going to end up a cyclops.

Oh, and by the way, Murphy, could you please stop tinkering with my odds now? Please? Thank you!

A steady diet of nothing

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I am reading one of Evgeny Morozov’s books, The Net Delusion, How Not to Save the World. He certainly gets you thinking about how we submerge ourselves in all of our electronic gizmos – and the effects it has, not just for democracy, freedom and society as a whole, but also for each one of us as an individual.

The book also got me thinking about apects, such as how breaks during work in the team have changed. When there is a lull in conversation, it is easily filled by glancing at you phone – just checking, mind you. Or you cut out the conversation from the get-go, spending the break staring at five inches of brightly-lit liquid crystal. Do not get me wrong, I am not moralising here, I am as much guilty of this as anyone else –well, apart from that one person on the team with the quaint push-button phone. Like, really?! What are you going to use that for? As a phone?!

But in all seriousness, in my observation this compulsive use of our electronica leads to a paradox situation: in virtual space everybody is constantly communicating – while at the same time in a shared, physical space nobody is communicating. Slide to unlock? More like look up and start talking! And no, I  really do not want to talk about the video you have just watched on YouTube of a cat flushing a toilet.

I am not being a Luddite or a grumpy old git here. I am absolutely clear in my mind, that a lot of this stuff is fantastic and indeed offers many benefits… such as allowing me to write and share ideas in a blog, to name but one.

Yet in tight-knit teams, such as they often are in tree care, communication is essential. We neglect this fact at our peril, as it can easily lead to strained tempers, misunderstandings, miscommunication, which in turn can be the start of a chain of events that can potentially lead to serious situations.

Do I have any idea how to address this matter?

Nothing very concrete, but I am wondering whether it might be an option to say that we spend part of a break with all e-paraphernalia left to one side, allocating that time to discussion and interaction, and then allowing a certain amount of time for updating whatever needs to be updated, checked or replied to.

I am aware that in some work environments, teams can be pretty heterogenous and people may not have much to say to each other. That is another matter (and poses other problems), yet the instances I am thinking of, this is not the root of the issue. The more pertinent reasons would seem to me to be thoughtlessness, convenience and habit. The shocking thing is that it is such an easy pattern to fall into… so why not try to create spaces in which you consciously, as a group, take a step back from this fast-twitch, instant-availably mind set – and get stuck into some face to face communication that lasts beyond the next alert from Facebook or SMS-ping!



Trees, mug and who?

Trees, mug and who? This was a frequent response we got in the early days… ok, maybe it does take a moment to get your head round the name.

Almost fifteen years down the road, we can look back at some very busy, intense treemagineers years. It is fascinating how this project has evolved from a group of three climbers who were puzzling about the ways in which we work and the tools we use, with a bit of time on their hands, plenty of ideas and a lot of idealism – to where we are today: over the years we have had the privilege to interact with many people in many different countries when doing workshops or presentations, we have contributed various tools and techniques to tree care, done all sorts of testing and background research, written articles and been involved in events… amongst many other things.

At this point I would like to thank all persons who have supported and encouraged us in whatever form over the years, there are many of you out there. Ideas are all very well, but if they are not supported, they wilt and fade away. Luckily this has not been the case, so thank you all for your contributions.

Who would have imagined that after all these years we would still be doing this treemagineers thing together? Not me necessarily. It just seemed like a good idea at the time, not big master plan or strategy to back it up, just something that evolved in an organic fashion. Above all, I liked the idea of a joint project with Chris and Beddes, doing stuff and spending time together. This remains true to this day, there are still questions that beg an answer, concepts and ideas to be pursued and evolved into presentations, techniques or tools.

Another red thread during this time is that we were never interested in becoming a brand.

Not our thing, simply not interested, brands are hollow. Having said that, I am aware that of course there is an outside perception of what we stand for, who we are and what we do, but hey… not much you can do about that. In fact, this was one of the key motivators to start this blog you are reading – reverse-engineered brand building, so to speak. We have no interest in being pigeonholed into a neat and tidy box, life is far too interesting to let peoples’ pre-conceived ideas of who you are and what you are supposed to do or not to limit your actions.

One thing is for sure: this trip has certainly never been boring or something we do because we have no choice in the matter. One of the things we promised ourselves at the outset was that we would only continue to do this so long as it is fun and interesting.

Well, here we are in 2016, still at it – so it must still be fun and interesting. And it is. Admittedly there are times where more background work has to be done, but next year is shaping up to be very exciting. I would love to tell you more, but that would be spoiling.

Stay tuned for news in the course of the year.

But before we tackle 2017, I am looking forwards to the yearly treemagineers retreat in the Black Forest in a couple of weeks. It is important to now and again to step out of the frenzied pace we seem to live our daily lives in, to take a moment to look back – and forwards.

Aerial Rescue course Maruichi

Normally I do not post links to videos, as this stresses José, our friendly webmaster out because of the  burden it puts on their server, but hey, I thought this one was worth it regardless… I trust he will forgive me. Here is a video that Sekine San put together with footage from the Maruichi workshop in Ookamura, Nagano, a couple of weeks ago.

Nice one, Sekine, thanks for your work. And thank you to the whole Maruichi crew, I enjoyed the event and took a lot away from it to think about.

Common sense

Here is another thing I realised after TCI Expo…

I spent the show mainly on the Teufelberger booth, supporting Gina, Angela and Dave when it came to climbing-specific questions.

I was struck by one conversation I had: This guy turns up and asks me about a piece of kit and takes off on a long, convoluted train of thought of how he might include this in his base-tied anchor. Or maybe a canopy-tied one – and so it went on. I suppose there came a point where I must have been looking at him in a slightly non-plussed fashion, he asked me whether I climb SRT (stationary rope technique). No, I said, I have tried it and remain interested, but at this point in time I have questions regarding the tools available to do so, the technique does not really suit my style and also it is not that well suited the type of trees in our area. Call it personal choice. But as I said, I remain interested and will be following developments closely.

Ah, he said, so you climb old school. 

Really? *sigh*

OK, I get it, some people are pretty passionate about SRT techniques. SRT does some specific things really well, better than DdRT (doubled rope technique). Yet DdRT does a very wide range of things really well, situations where you might well be struggling with SRT. But this is not the issue. SRT is here to stay, as a further tool that we incorporate into our tool box, along with all the other techniques we use, to be employed wisely and in the right instances, allowing us to reap maximum benefits in terms of ergonomic gains or increased efficiency.

What this is not about is about choosing one over the other. In a sense, there is no old or new school. We ought to be aiming for a position based upon common sense and reason.

It is tempting to discard all that went before, as being less evolved or as being somehow primitive.

Richard Dawkins has very strong views in this matter when discussing evolution: Evolution, he says, is not a linear process, rather it takes a messy and piece-meal approach, trying things out, experimenting and discarding, returning to earlier iterations to re-use them or to mix them with new variations. For this reason he is scathing about the graphic that depicts the evolution from an ape all the way through to a modern human being. We are not the pinnacle of creation, but a mere blip on a time scale, part of an evolutionary process. And why, laments Dawkins, is the pinnacle of creation in this graphic always depicted as guy and never a woman?!

So there you go, I would suggest that we apply some Dawkinsian logic to our discussion regarding DdRT and SRT, viewing them through an evolutionary lens, as this allows us to understand them for what they are: as stepping stones in an evolution of climbing techniques. The question is not which one to chose one over the other, but rather to be familiar with the history of our climbing techniques and looking forwards in anticipation of what the next step, building on what went before, is going to be.

Über den Tellerrand schauen!

… is a rather nice German figure of speech that does not translate very well or literally into English – looking over the edge of your plate. Thinking outside the box does not really do it, as this implies innovative thinking. The connotation of Tellerrand is more like looking the other side of the fence, something down those lines.

I had the opportunity to look over the edge of my plate a couple of weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to attend the FISAT Technical Seminar in Feuchtwangen in Bavaria. FISAT is the German equivalent of IRATA or SPRAT, i.e. an industrial rope access association.

The event was run very professionally with a wide range of persons involved in various areas of work at height attending, from managers or health and safety people to rope access technicians. Apart from formal presentations discussing various topics, there was also a small trade show on offer – as well as practical demonstrations.

Thanks to Ralph Sinapius for the photos.

I ran a series of demos with small groups on 3D rigging in tree care. This title actually always makes me smile, as I what I really wonder is what two dimensional rigging would look like? Rig like an Egyptian? 😁 But I get it, rigging as in not just straight up and down, but also in a third dimension, calm down, Mark! So 3D rigging it was. Puk was kind enough to abandon his DMM booth during the presentations to give a hand, we ran through various rigging options to rig, balance and move limbs, which was fun.

The feedback from the audience was very interesting, seeing who responded to what and gaining a better understanding of problems and difficulties that other professions are confronted with. Wind turbines, for instance, are a notoriously difficult to extract a person from in case of an accident, as inside the nacelle you are operating in very confined spaces – and outside at great hight in often remote locations. So far from easy. This was one group of people who were very responsive to the rigging concepts we were demonstrating.

I always enjoy events such as this, as they offer insights into other people’s professional lives. Truly, arborists are by far not the only people working on rope, at height, solving problems. I can only encourage you, should you get the opportunity to attend such an event, to do so and to look over your Tellerrand.

Now stand back, kiddo, and watch!

Thinking about TCI Expo last week reminded me of a funny situation I witnessed years ago…

The story occurred during a TCI Expo a good ten to twelve years ago. I was taking part in the head to head footlock competition at the Vermeer both, with Rip T running the show (gotta love the guy, still at it today, talk about indomitable!). At that point in time it was pretty much a footlock contest, with a sprinkling of mechanical ascenders.

So this one guy rocks up and goes into a major prep routine, stretching, squats, visualising the movements – the full monty! I have to admit that I was pretty impressed, fully prepared to be blown away.

The guy does a sort of Armageddon walk up to the footlock line (you can just picture him, all back-light silhouette, emerging from billowing mists – to fanfares and Chariots of Fire-esque epic music). He pulls on his harness – totally focused, in the zone! It seems to me like everybody is watching with baited breaths as he proceeds to install his footlock Prusik on the line.

There is not a shadow of doubt. This guy just so totally knows what he is doing, he owns this event. By this time I am starting to feel a bit intimidated and insignificant.

But hold on… just before he takes off, the guy ties an Alpine Butterfly, maybe half a meter off the ground, and hangs a bag full of rope off it.

Uhh, like, really?!

Well, long story short, his ascent was somewhat hampered by the weight of the rope bag on the line – and apart from that was pretty mediocre. I suppose he must have seen someone ascending on a stationary line with mechanical devices, where a bit of weight on the line below the climber can indeed make sense. But when footlocking? Naaaah… return to field one!

I think I laughed all the way up – until he hit the bell. 😂

This story is a salutary tale in the necessity to gain a thorough understanding of techniques not just while you are putting them to use, but rather before doing so. Should this not be so, then in the best case it may result in you looking a bit foolish or, in the worst case, you may end up getting badly hurt. In this specific instance however, I think the only thing that took a blow was the guy’s pride… he was lowered to the ground with a slightly sheepish look plastered over his face.

The other thing I took away is not to believe the hype. Great packaging does not automatically guarantee great content. Do not follow people blind, rather question the authority you are granting them,  strive to understand how and why you do things – and develop your own opinions.