Climbers’ Forum set-up

And so we reach the end of a period of intense activity with the finalisation of the run up to Climbers’ Forum at the German Tree Care Days. Yesterday was the final prep of the tower, which was set up on Saturday and Sunday, which once again is looking very much the part, looking forwards to the demos being run on it. A big thank you goes out to Chris, once again, for all the work he puts into making this happen, year for year!

The photos below are likely to be the only pics of the set-up in front of a background of blue sky as unfortunately the forecast is not what you might call fantastic (unless you are… I don’t know, a yeti?), with snow supposed to hit Augsburg in the course of the week. If you are planning to come, I would strongly suggest a warm and waterproof layer.

Regardless of that I am looking forwards to all of the people coming here, spending some time together and catching up.

Roll on, Climbers’ Forum 2017!

Fully motivated!

I would not normally plug products for the sake of it, but this one simply seems to much of a stroke of genius to pass by: SnūzNLūz, the WiFi donation alarm clock.

This alarm clock it linked via the WiFi network to your bank account, every time you hit the snooze button, it donates a predefined amount of money to a cause you abhor. Imagine how fast you would be out of bed if you knew every time you hit snooze, you were donating 10 Euros to your local tree hack! Or to the huge facility management company which has been whipping jobs away from under your nose! Or your least favourite competitor?

You know how they talk about nudges, which describe techniques or tools to push people in the direction of doing what is best for them – without realising it? Well, this is not a nudge, this is a full-blown body check!

In fact, it would probably even get me out of bed before the alarm rings!


I was listening to an interview the other day where someone was pointing out how, where earlier people used to attend training courses, today they go straight to the internet, YouTube in this example, to access information.

This may be so, but the next question has to be whether information the same thing as knowledge?

Information is the raw substance. It is only in a next step, should we chose to assimilate it, that may become a facet of our knowledge. I suppose you could compare it to a length of rope: the line has an MBS you can quote, has a defined construction and a specific material it is made from, these relevant pieces of information you can look up, yet an unconfectioned piece of rope is not really much use: in order to put it to work, you need to tie a knot in the end of the line, splice an eye onto it or add a stitched termination. This blending of various pieces of information and techniques to reach a desired target is an example of a process I would describe as applying knowledge.

There are various sources of knowledge:

  • perceptual: based upon direct evidence of our senses
  • testimonial: facts acquired from other people or media
  • inner sense: awareness of our own feelings and states, such as pain and hunger
  • inferential: knowledge we stitch together ourselves from various raw inputs

A competent operator will be in possession of a well-balanced mix of these various types of knowledge to base his or her decisions upon.

One of the basic requirements for knowledge is that we need to believe in it.

But more than just that, the belief also ought to be true. Truth, obviously, is a slippery concept, one can conceivably believe something for the wrong reasons or we can arrive at a right answer for the wrong reasons. Edmund Gettier, a US philosopher, descried the Gettier Problem, an example of which would be a clock, which usually tells the time accurately, but has now stopped at twelve o’clock. Should I then look at the clock at twelve o’clock, I would believe it to be midday, which it happens to be – but my knowledge is based upon a wrong assumption, i.e. that the clock is indicating the right time, when actually it was pure coincidence I happened to glance at it right then, so actually it is no more than a belief.

Take this statement: Taking a fall onto your anchor point from above is...

  • not a problem, you simply have to man up and brace yourself. > This is objectively wrong. High impact forces are dangerous and can potentially cause serious injury. This is a fallacy.
  • is dangerous because it can cause your line to fail. > This is a Gettier-type problem. Yes, it is dangerous, but not because the line can fail. The anchor point or your internal organs are likely to be negatively impacted by the arresting of a dynamic fall, the line less so. Consequently, this is a misconceived belief – or, viewed through a Gettier lens: a belief resulting in the right conclusion, yet based upon (partially) incorrect reasoning or assumptions.
  • to be avoided at any time. It is dangerous as the arresting of a dynamic fall causes high peak forces which can cause internal injury or damage to the spine. We employ work-positioning techniques, such as use of lanyard or other end of the climbing line to mitigate this risk. > This statement is a belief which corresponds with an objective truth.

Part of the problem is that when it comes to complex issues we have to rely upon the knowledge of other people. After all, in our everyday lives we are surrounded by objects and technology whose inner working we have little understanding of, yet as a society we are capable of astounding feats, this is largely thanks to the pooling of knowledge. But how do you know when to trust someone else’s knowledge? Ask yourself what motives the other person might have in wanting you to believe something, other than that it is true. Think critically, assess their credentials, track record and potential bias.

Ask the same questions of yourself when it comes to your beliefs, critically assess how you came to a conclusion or where you might be falling prey to biases or other mental pitfalls.

These are some of the reasons that I believe it is important to differentiate between information and knowledge. The internet is a rich source of information, yet we need to take it a step further, blending that information with our knowledge base in a critical fashion. Today I see many concepts emerging out of the echo chamber which social media are, based upon belief alone. These concepts may have merit, yet belief alone is insufficient to establish whether this is so. They need to be measured against objective truths and replicable benchmarks.

Knowing something is a richer, more complex state than merely believing it.

Nice job

Servus TV, an Austrian TV station, recently broadcast a production on people working in trees.

Another one? I often tend to find these kind of programs either a bit tendentious, sensationalist, trite – or a mixture of all the above. It is rare that the people being filmed come across as being authentic and somehow tree climbing seems to come across as just another extreme sporting activity.

So I viewed this offering without high expectations – and was pleasantly surprised. OK, I skipped the bits about the heli logging and the forestry boys, but I thought the tree care parts were really well done. Marcus and the boys manage to convey the essence of what makes working on and climbing in trees special and different (I realise the vid is in German… sorry, Austrian… so you will simply have to take my word for it), but more than that, I also thought the images worked well, they convey the essence of what a job site feels like, how people interact, the motions they go through, the various steps of a job – and it skipped the pit fall so many productions seem to fall prey of, which involves guys (yes, in this case I think a bit of gender stereotyping is not totally out of order) puffing themselves up, posturing or portraying themselves as something they are not.

So well done to all involved. And thank you for portraying our tribe in such a rational and coherent fashion, we could do with more of this type of representation.

Gravity to the max

So this must be Monday…

I was up a nice lime tree this morning, doing an inspection and taking a couple of photos to include in the report. The tree had been topped years ago, with long, leggy stems with no side branches, so I was rummaging around in the pouch on the back of my harness to get out a sling to use as an aid… which seemed to be a bit jammed up, so I gave it a yank, out popped the multiSLING and went sailing down.

Grrrrrr. I hate dropping gear. But not to mind, it is gras below and I saw where it landed. I will pick it up afterwards.

So I pulled out my phone to take a pic… and dropped it.


I call Lucas and ask him to attach the phone to the line, and offer to send down my remaining Dyneema sling to attach it with… to then I drop the sling.

😡 This is beyond a joke.

OK, Lucas, can you please pass me up my phone, the multiSLING and the Dyneema sling? Thank you.

Just as well I was finished soon, it is anyone’s guess what else I might have dropped next. My head, for instance.

What? Me? Fumble fingers? Nah, I am absolutely convinced that the problem was a localised massive increase of gravity below that lime tree causing stuff to fall from my hands. Like an arboreal neutron star or something like that.

Memo to self for Tuesday: Mark, stop dropping stuff.

It’s all in your mind!

While other people have been busy frittering away their time enjoying the Spring sun, we have been busy coming up with new products!

Here is one, following on from the treeGONG, the It’s All in Your Mind Aerial Fixed-Position Motivation Aid, or, as that is a bit of mouthful, we prefer to refer to it as the IAiYMAFPMA. This indispensable tool will reduce the hardest task a mere doddle, but see for yourself!

Yep, that was easy… well, easy-ish indeed.

The funniest thing was that the next day poor Florim had a sore bum from footlocking with all that stuff on his harness.

Thanks to Vito for filming and editing and to Florim for being the crash test dummy.



This week brought an alignment of beautiful, mature London plane trees. And beautiful Spring weather!

Superficially the planes are quite similar to the ones we did back in February, but actually their growth pattern is very different. Where the ones in February had a more upright structure, these are really wide and spreading. Both pose challenges, but are also a lot of fun to move around in. The structure is only one part of the challenge, the other part is what you are doing on the trees. Whereas in February we were doing an all-round canopy reduction, meaning you had to access every single part of the crown, here it was simply removing dead wood and limbs infected by the Massaria fungus, as well as reducing weight on limbs a long way out over the bike and pedestrian path. The latter is obviously a lot less time-consuming and intense.

Mind you, I find that working these kind of open canopies, there is not lack of intensity: I find myself very aware of the open space below and around me, especially when traversing from one part of the tree to another or between trees – but intense in a good, focused, flowing kind of way.

One thing is for sure, a tool I would not want to be without anymore in trees like this, is the Captain hook. I find it an indispensable aid when moving around the canopy, allowing for much higher traverses, where earlier you would have descend much further down before being able to cross onto an adjacent stem. Now, you place the hook on a suitable limb and hop across. Certainly, in certain situations, the Captain has allowed me to up both my speed, as well as my efficiency.

An interesting reflection for me this week was observing the dynamic of setting lines in the trees, both in the team – and in myself.

Tall trees can be a challenge to set lines in. The upper part of these planes are very long and leggy, leading to targets in quite a narrow strip, so actually getting the lines in the right place was in some cases a fiddle. In one tree, a crew member set a line the evening before, right up in the last crotch you would reasonably do so, at about thirty metres. We spoke about it that evening, and he said that we would need to discuss that point in the morning and decide whether we would use it – or whether it would be better to isolate a crotch further down.

The following morning we got on site and set a line in the high crotch. The stem was upright seen from one side, slightly inclined seen from another. I then checked the stem with binoculars and could see no obvious defects. Next we loaded the anchor point – and there was a lot of movement in the canopy.

What next?

The temptation in a case like this is to simply chance it, to say, it was ok yesterday, it will be ok today. Yet that is not correct, you are allowing yourself to be tricked by a confirmation bias. You have to assess anchor points on a case by case basis. In this case, I decided that the movement was excessive and that I did not fancy spending a thirty meter ascent wondering whether I would reach the anchor point and go, Oh, that was fine after all. Or would it be Eeeek! I ascended on that?! Quick, lanyard in! We brought the line down two crotches. In the end I ended up installing my climbing anchor point one crotch below the initial point.

Remote installation at thirty meters distance is not easy at the best of times. Give yourself the mental space to move in and come to a well-considered decision whether the point you are about to commit yourself to really is suitable and sufficiently dimensioned.

During this process I find myself fighting all sorts of factors, such as the confirmation bias I mentioned above, my own impatience, pressure I may be imposing on yourself because the team in the neighbouring tree is already up there and getting stuck in – or simply not being able to let go, after all, I have just invested ten minutes into trying to make this anchor point work. But I believe that is exactly what you need to do in situations like this: let go. After all, what are ten minutes in comparison to an anchor point failing? Compromise is not what you are looking for in this instance.

What I am looking for is a reliable, strong framework which allows me to totally immerse myself in the flow of the climb, moving around these stunning structures. The anchor point is a crucial element of that framework.

Recommended reads #5

Right, this is going to be a bit of a round-about recommended read.

Let me explain…

After the one-handed chainsaw shit storm, I posted that Reg Coates and I were planning to do something together, entering into the dialogue regarding the rationale of how you put your top handle chainsaw to work in a more positive fashion. This has not happened so far. In fact I discussed it with Reg, he wrote up and sent me some thoughts on the matter, I started working on it… and ran out of steam, deciding that the temptation to turn myself into troll bait was sub-zero.

So if you have been waiting for something down those lines, I apologise. I still believe there is an important discussion to be had there, feel free to discuss the matter with me next time we meet up face to face. For the time being though, I believe that virtual spaces are not the right platform for a differentiated, level-headed discussion, as it this kind of communication is prone to misunderstandings, resulting bad blood and animosity.

As it losely ties in with some aspects of the above, I wanted to mention Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Ronson, a self-confessing twitter aficionado, describes the transition from the heady, early days of Twitter, when this new medium seemed to be a effective tool for the voiceless to hold the powerful accountable and call them out where necessary to a culture where public shaming has become ubiquitous and potentially very destructive. After reading the umpteenth asinine opinion on some forum, you cannot help but think of Ronson saying that the fantastic thing about social media is that everybody can voice their opinion – yet the disadvantage being that everybody does so.

In regards to shaming, he offers a number of diverse case studies, as well as pointed insight into the mechanisms behind shaming, all the way from the medieval practice of putting people in stocks to modern day variations upon the theme. You cannot help but conclude that we are fast in judging behaviour in others – and that electronic media have made doing so easier than ever. Judgement is but one click away. This is equally true of our industry as it is of the rest of society.

Whilst I would not compare my one handed chainsaw shit storm with what happened to Justine Sacco, one of the cases that Ronson references in his book, neither in regards to the trigger, nor the consequences, I still found it to be an unpleasant experience and was surprised by some of the stuff that people came out with.

But then again, they would say the same of what I wrote. Probably best to leave it there.

All negative? Well, there is a silver lining to the story, which is that I took away from all this a reaffirmation of the importance of considering the effect that something I say or write may have on someone else. It also brought home how a statement that makes sense to me and may appear perfectly clear can be received very differently by somebody else – and finally the insight that not every medium is as suited to convey a thought or concept and therefore to take this into consideration prior to making a statement.

So we move on, hopefully all trying to do a little bit better…