Sometimes it seems as though there is an inverted relationship between good weather and climbing courses.

After a week of fair, spring-like weather last week, this week rubbish weather is back with a vengeance, coinciding in a most contrary fashion with this weeks basic training course. Ho-hum. So today we were graced with snow, rain, wind and drizzle. Dislike.

During a brief break in the rain we rushed everybody outdoors, not bothering to go other to the park and chucked them all into the plane tree in the garden of the restaurant we hold the indoor part of the courses in to run through some aerial rescue techniques.

The tree ended up looking a bit like Clapham Junction during rush hour… 😄 Or something out of a Heath Robinson drawing.


I came across SOCIAL in a recent edition of Berg und Steigen, the German-speaking Alpine associations’ publication regarding safety and technical matters. SOCIAL is a model developed by Benjamin Zweifel at the SLF Davos, where he is a forecaster for avalanches, as well as being responsible for their accident statistics.

I was struck by how this model could easily be adapted to situations we come across in tree care, for instance during complex climbing or rigging operations.

It breaks down as follows:


Does the planned work and the tasks it involves correspond to the skill level of each member of the team? Are there different skill levels in the team? Are all team members familiar with the tools and techniques that are going to be put to use? Are all team members familiar with emergency procedures?

⇢ Actions

Discuss the way you intend to work the job and also where there may be a lack of comprehension in regards to the plan. If necessary, adapt the techniques being employed and discuss emergency procedures.


Are the members of the group on site familiar with each other? Are the number of team members and the skill set they bring with them well adapted to the task? Are the different roles each member will assume defined and clear?

⇢ Actions

Site briefing, introduction of all persons involved on the job, discussion on how the job is going to run. Roles are defined and persons designated to assume defined responsibilities. Each person knows who is in charge of which part of the job. This is especially useful if there are a number of companies involved, e.g. tree care company, crane or helicopter operator, traffic management personnel etc.


Communication shall be open and clear. Doubts or insecurities shall be voiced, should points be unclear these need to be discussed. Lack of communication very often leads to bad decisions. Does everybody understand the decisions that have been made in regards to how the job is going to be run? Are people able to voice concerns during on-going operations?

⇢ Actions

Discuss potential risks and hazards, agree upon a clear communication protocol, make sure you have the means to communicate, especially on sites where noise is an issue, e.g. in proximity of roads or if machinery is being used, such as  clear hand signs or preferably radios.


Every member of the team should be able to identify with the procedures which have been defined. Have we discussed how we expect the job to evolve? Have we discussed potential alternative routes if plan A should turn out not to be viable? Is every member of the team in agreement with the defined actions?

⇢ Actions

Discuss actions and how you expect a sequence of events to evolve, e.g. did the way we rigged that last limb correspond to how we expected it to? Was there an anomalous amount of movement on the anchor point? Were we able to retain the piece in balance or did the centre of gravity shift suddenly? Debriefings can be helpful to keep track of such issues.


Are there any deviations from what we might expect? A thorough risk assessment is a helpful tool to catch issues before they become a full-blown hazard. Or are we maybe falling prey to target fixation? Are there exterior factors that are influencing our decisions, e.g. time pressure induced by expensive machinery (helicopter, crane etc.)?

⇢ Actions

Methodical application of risk assessment. Do not let yourself be guided by planning optimism, which is the assumption that everything will tend to pan out as well as possible – sometimes it can also be helpful to assume that things can go wrong and adapt actions accordingly.


Umm. Ok, I am struggling a bit with this one.

The SLF guide here says to define a leader. This may work fine in a alpine guide/ client relationship, such as the SLF guide is assuming.

In the kinds of situation we are considering, however, I believe we need to take a somewhat more differentiated approach. This goes back to point O/ Organisation, the designation of roles: There shall be a person on site who is responsible for the over-all coordination, this does not make him or her the leader, the apex of a decision-making pyramid, rather they represent one element in a series of checks and balances, this person will be coordinating with the other people on site who are all monitoring the area their designated roles relate to, be this the aerial, climbing part, managing the ground, handling the rigging, road safety, waste handling etc. Also, this person will be thinking one step ahead, trying to catch potential issues before they develop into full-blown issues.

⇢ Actions

Ensure that communication is happening between the coordinator and the various other operators on site.

Admittedly, as with every model, this one obviously has its limits. yet I think it offers some interesting pointers and also opportunities to formalise procedures, creating clarity and structure.

Certainly worth a discussion.


In tree climbing there are all sorts of walks… take rope walking or limb walking, for example.

In the video below, Florim demonstrates a variation upon that theme: the Inverted Arboreal Moonwalk – going nowhere fast. In a tree.

And always remember, it was here you saw it first!


I alway have a bit of a chuckle when people sound off about how they are not stupid and are not going to spend amount x on an existing product, but rather are going to copy and make it themselves. I cannot sometimes help but wonder whether this does not entail a lot of time, cost and effort to end up with something… well, not necessarily better than what was available all along.

To illustrate this point, we re-enacted a scenario today 😂 See for yourself…

Do not stand under the load!

Some memories stay with you.

Here is one of mine… it must be a good seventeen years ago, we did a trade show and had set up a stand made up of scaffold elements. Tear-down was super hectic, all exhibitors (it was a big show) wanting to get off-site ASAP. We were dismantling the scaffolding, I was on a ladder undoing the binders. In hindsight I have to say that I probably did not quite understand how they were came undone, they were a jammed up and I was struggling. All of a sudden, the heavy, steel thing, the size of my fist comes apart, twists out of my hand and falls. I have a vivid memory of seeing it fall straight towards a person below me – and hitting her right on the side of her head.

It was one of those moments of sickening, horrified realisation of having got something badly wrong. Of this is not happening-denial. But it did. Very luckily it only glanced off the side of her head… yet still, I felt absolutely terrible.

Consequently to this day I am very sensitive to having people standing under loads or underneath people working aloft.

Take today…

We were back on the plane trees, workers from the city were keeping an eye on the ground and doing the tidy-up. Apparently last time they did the same alignment, one of the workers who was on site today had a serious struck-by incident, when he walked under the tree just as a large limb was falling out of the canopy. Helmet or not, this kind of incident can be fatal – without wanting to appear overly dramatic. Believe it or not, the same guy, come end of this afternoon,  obviously in an effort to speed up the departure to their yard, after having spent the rest of the afternoon fairly immobile, all of a sudden started hectically clearing branches under the tree we were working in. Lesson not learnt? It would appear so.

Take a recent crane take down…

The piece of canopy attached to the crane tipped sideways a bit – as can happen from time to time –, this was sufficient to cause a badly attached limb to break out and hit the ground.

I am absolutely adamant that it is crucial not to stand under a suspended load. Struck-bys are a sad reality of the arborist industry. A robust protocol regarding people under loads is a first step in order to protect ourselves and our team mates from this kind of risk.

Tick tock

Every job needs a…

Umm. I was thinking about this question this morning and was wondering about the correct term. What does every job need?

A lead climber?

I have to admit that that is a concept I struggle with, but that is a topic for another time – so no.

A key person?

Not sure about that, it would imply others in the team have less relevance, with is also not what I am trying to say.

A site supervisor?

Well, yes and no, I am thinking of someone more immediately involved in the workflow and a member of the team.

How about a metronome?

Yes, that’s it! By their actions, this person is keeping the job in sync with the time we have available to do it in. He or she ensures that we do not rush in during the first hour, to run out of steam come lunchtime, makes sure that everybody is ticking along nicely, not beyond their capacity, but also not standing around getting bored and cold. Ensures that should we need extra help this gets called in in time and so on…

How do they do this? Certainly not by shouting at people or by applying pressure, but rather by setting the pace by example, mucking in and helping to get the rhythm right. If you are the climber in the tree for example, you may take on a metronome function when dismantling a canopy by observing the ground crew, by defining pieces of a size that allow the ground crew to process them in the time it takes you to prepare the next piece and get yourself positioned. This allows for an efficient, optimised workflow.

Consider breaks. Breaks are a good thing. They allow for time to recuperate, to interact and review how the job is going with team mates, to re-focus on the task at hand. When there is the time and space to do so, great. But there are also jobs where they can be disruptive, taking away from the focus on a task at hand, where it may be preferable to make the call to carry on working – to then maybe to make an earlier lunchbreak.

These are the kind of aspects that the metronome on the job is considering, how to ensure the job is not progressing in fits and bursts of activity, interspersed by phases of inactivity and idleness, but simply chugging along, systematically working through the challenges step by step.

This kind of oversight creates an atmosphere which feels more controlled and comfortable to work in, rather than taking it easy for the first two thirds of the job to then realise you are running out to time and to start rushing like mad, everybody stressed out and running at high revs, the boss screaming down the line… and mistakes start to happen.

Get that pace right.

Choosing the right pace/ rhythm/ cadence is an essential part of an applied safety culture and a core element of ergonomic work practices, therefore it is certainly something worth bearing in mind.

Good/ bad

The good? Right then…

I was using the DK slider during that big take down earlier this week. Dan Kraus (hence the name) came up with this very helpful piece of kit, which is essentially a two-pronged length of high-modulus polyethylene is the same wide as a chainsaw bar. You jam it in the cut and it prevents the saw from getting jammed, but on top of that, due to the fact that the material is very slippery, it is also easy to slide lumps of wood off it, great to get those heavy blocks moving. This sounds like a bit of a no-brainer, but actually it can make the difference between a job being hard work – or stupidly hard work.

Dan kindly gave me one a couple of years ago, it is starting to look pretty chewed up, probably time to get a new one…

The bad?

When you have finished for the day, get home and wonder what that triangle of leather is hanging off the heel of your newish boot, that wasn’t there this morning?

Argh! Really?!

I obviously managed to catch it with a gaff during the fell today. Oh well, nothing a glob of Araldite won’t sort out. Still annoying though.

Big wood, little space

Last Monday and Tuesday we were working on a really interesting job.

The task was to remove a really big black pine in a super-confined space – and by super-confined I mean just that! The work space was a footpath which was two meters wide with a building on one side and a fence with hostile neighbours on the other, so not much leeway there!

I considered all kinds of options, but the site was too tight and too far from the (steep and narrow) road to be able to use a crane, helicopter was not an option as there was not place within easy access to drop off the wood… so in the end I decided it was a case for manual handling, and then some!

The first day we removed all the limbs in the morning, tip-rigged the larger stem onto the smaller stem and removed the tip. Next we snatched sections off the remaining stem. This was interesting as we recorded the forces using a Straightpoint load-sensing Impact Block… four hundred kilogram pieces were generating peak forces of up to almost four tonnes! This makes you realise how in instances like this you really need to consider your safety factors and dimension the gear you are using correctly. Being able to quantify theses forces in such a precise fashion is truly fascinating, as it allows you to put numbers to a gut feeling.

On the morning of the second day we had the massive fork where the two stems were attached to deal with. As there was insufficient height to rig a piece, I decided rip the stem lengthwise into about one and a half meter lengths, to then dump the pieces onto a stack of tires we placed below, after that, I used the half-round platform to stand on, quartered the remaining half, sectioned this down and used the remaining quarter as an anchor point to rip the next piece. Sometimes there are technical fixes to problems, but this was not one of them, this was simply a case of reducing the wood to manageable size to drop it in a controlled fashion. The tires did a great job, cushioned the fall, yet not causing the pieces to rebound. The damage to the paving below was pretty negligible.

This was one of those jobs where I was very relieved that all worked out spot on in regards to the bid I put in, you do wonder sometimes on big wood like this whether you have allowed for enough time, but all turned out well. One thing I did, was to add in an amount to cover for the fact that we might well toast a rigging line (we were using up to 20mm lines), adding this amount onto the offer, as I felt the likelihood of equipment getting damaged was quite high. It did, so just as well… but apart from some fairly minor damage to some kit there was not damage to any of the surrounding targets, which is alway good.

This job was a further exercise of problem solving, being methodical, working through challenges step by step. If it is bigger, the techniques you usually employ are not thrown over board, on the contrary, essentially you are still applying exactly the methodology you would to a smaller tree, things merely get scaled up.

Tired now.

Thanks – once again – to Vito for the photos

More than one way to connect

I am sometimes a bit puzzled by the limited view that some people seem to have when considering connectors. The default position for many seems to be to use karabiners – always. Which in many instances is fine, karabiners are fantastic, versatile components, they are light, easy to handle, interchangeable and therefore easy to replace.

Yet as with any other tool, they have their limits, for instance they are sensitive to incorrect loading, such as nose-loading, cross-loading, outside-loading or three-way loading. Also, locking mechanisms need to be looked after and serviced, the body of the krab needs to be inspected for wear and tear.

Not every locking mechanism is equally suited for a task, depending upon what use you intended to put them to. Roll-out of the locking mechanism may be an issue, or dirt preventing gates from closing properly.

The intent of this post is by no means to bash krabs, do not get me wrong, I think they are a great tool and use them all the time, I am simply saying that there are also other options out there, such as rings, shackles or screw-links (to name but a few). The advantage these connectors have for certain uses is that they are either a closed shape with a uniform breaking strength – or at least closer to the closed shape than the often highly specialised shapes and profiles of modern karabiners.

Also, full material will often be used in their manufacturing, making them less susceptible to unusual loading.

Used discerningly and in the right place, I believe components such as the ones above can be a real asset to the range of connectors we use on a daily basis.

When I am looking for ease of installation and need to be able to switch between components quickly, I will in all likelihood use a karabiner.

When I am remote installing or cannot visually inspect my connector for correct loading, I am a big fan of using rings (I know, I rattle on a bit about that one).

When I have a clearly defined direction of pull, for instance in a rigging scenario, and I need to be able to install and deinstall, yet speed is not of the essence, I will consider the use of shackles.

When I want to link two closed components on a semi-permanent basis, screw links are an option I may well consider.

So you see, our use of connectors begs differentiation, not all connectors tick the same boxes, yet each has their place if considered carefully. Why not try adding one or the other of the above into your bag of kit and see how you get on. I rather enjoy problems like this, it is like trying to slot the correct elements together in a puzzle to get the best fit possible (not that I was ever a great puzzler – in fact, au contraire 😂).



1/2 K!

5oo posts later, still at it.

Who would have thought that an idea that emerged from a meeting up in the Highlands in 2014 would result in such an interesting, long-standing project? Certainly not me. Initially the idea was simply to reverse-engineer the brand image that people had of treemagineers by writing about stuff that we find interesting, annoying, funny or moving… or simply worth sharing and spreading.

The same premise holds true here as with the rest of the treemagineers project: we carry on as long as we have something worth saying or sharing – and it is fun. And believe it or not, things keep on cropping up that seem worth spending a moment dwelling on and writing about. The blog has been a very interesting process for me, as it forces me to sit down and think through what I am trying to say about a concept or an idea that occurred to me during the day. Writing is not rocket science, you simply need to do it. If there is one thing I have always felt strongly about, it is that as climbers we need to be part of the solution, we need to learn to express ourselves, to be clear about our needs and demands – and by doing so, become way more than just trained monkey, climbing for money!

Thank you to everybody who has been along for the ride and contributed in one way or another, I always enjoy chatting about topics that were published in the blog and appreciate feedback. No comments enabled, no, because I don’t feel like taming trolls, but please feel free to ping off an e-mail or a message via the treemagineers website should you want to comment or add something.

Now onwards to the next 500!