Finally – vertical connect in English!

Finally got round to revamping the vertical connect website, including an English version. As I have mentioned before, we will be offering simultaneous translation between English, French and German for this year’s event on 1 and 2 September.

Should you not have anything planned for that weekend, consider yourself warmly invited. At the moment this is certainly one of my favourite events, it is independent, non-commercial and offers a lively, dynamic platform for discussion and exchange of ideas and information between people from all disciplines that involve working on rope. Add into this for good measure the dramatic backdrop of the Bernese Alps, offering all sorts of recreational activities at that time of year and you end up with a pretty convincing argument to make the trip to Meiringen in September.

The two day-topics this year will be Risk and Connectors and Connections. Really excited about the program, there will be some very knowledgeable folk speaking to and running demonstrations regarding their topics.

A further novelty this year will be the Vertical Connect Challenge. This interdisciplinary rope course will set a number of challenges to be solved by a mixed team of competitors. The event is open to all, albeit on a first come, first served-basis – and promises to be good fun.

Vertical connect is a must to add to the diary, most certainly.

Gotta love em


You can’t help but love them. I always carry a bunch on my harness because they just come in handy so often.

Throwline installation, connecting two lines by pushing it through the braid, securing the top hole of an ascender, using two opposite and opposed back to back when you need a higher breaking strain, attaching stuff to your harness… and so the list goes on.

Here is one from today (yes, it was a bit on the warm side of cold).

Which was weird as it felt a bit like a blast from the past, a Marty McFly-moment –as though I had seen the future when all those years ago I did this drawing for Friedrich Drayer’s catalogue…


Last post I asked the question whether you had had a rough day.

Quite often I find myself coming home from work, to realise I simply can’t remember what I even did during the day, which I always find a bit puzzling.

How was your day, Mark? 

Errr… it was ok. I was somewhere and did something for ten hours. In all likelihood it involved trees. And most probably climbing.

I think.

Did you have a rough day today?

Sometimes things do not go exactly as you expect or would like them to.

Maybe you put a stub through a roof today. Or maybe you managed to get a brach stuck in the outside insulation of a building. Maybe you smashed up a bird bath or even clipped the side of the garden shed whilst dropping the stem.

Admittedly, all of the above are very annoying (and probably avoidable, in hindisight).

But if it is any consolation, this most likely tops all of the above.

Some poor trucker loosing a wind turbine blade off the back of his truck whilst bombing down the German autobahn? 520’000 Euros of damage? That would probably have you wondering whether you really fastened up that last ratchet strap!

Talk about a mega-fustercluck!


Broadcast/ Receive

A week’s teaching and instructing makes me realise why I am glad I do not do this full-time.

On the one hand I would deeply regret to not be able to climb daily, as I love climbing, the sense of flow and balance it gives me. Also I would feel a bit of a fraud, teaching people about something I do not do myself. Do not get me wrong, by this I do not mean to value judge anybody who does different, after all there are many circumstances that may force a person to change the direction of their career, but to my mind, the link between practical work in the field and the other projects and activities I am involved in is essential in order to be able to deliver a quality product in a training or teaching context.

On the other hand I find working with novices or less experienced climbers quite a challenge. It really forces you to be concise and clear in the way you deliver content – and even then you cannot be sure it is being received the way it was intended. To put it differently: I know what I am broadcasting, yet I can never be sure what the person opposite me is receiving. This is probably one of the great mysteries of teaching.

Take this example… before lunch break on day four of last week’s level two course, one of the teams was struggling with their aerial rescue practice, as one of the climbing systems was anchored a bit too far away from the other, this made things unnecessarily difficult. So I decided to use the pull-back technique to bring the line over the other side of a large limb and closer to the other line, to make their lives easier after lunch. I got a throw line over, we attached the end of the line and I asked the trainee to tie a stopper knot to block the friction hitch, as you do, prior to pulling it up and over.

So he did.

I pulled up and over and… whoopsie, watched helplessly as the friction hitch took off upwards.

What had happened?

The guy had tied a stopper knot under the hitch, as I had requested – but not attached it into the karabiner. He was terribly apologetic and more than a bit sheepish, but I told him it was not his fault, it was a classic broadcast/receive misunderstanding. What I said was: Can you please tie a stopper knot under the friction hitch and block it. To my mind attaching the karabiner into the stopper knot was implicit to this communication, but this kind of shorthand does not work around someone who is less experienced, as will often be the case in a training situation. I had watched him tie the hitch to make sure that all was ok, yet had turned around before he attached into the lower karabiner on the Hitch Climber, as I took that bit for granted. I simply expected he would do it.

Expectations are all well and good, but it makes sense to adapt them to the situation and to the person you are dealing with. Furthermore it is wise to base them on facts and not suppositions or assumptions.

This little episode again brought home to me how important it is to consider the content and implications of what I am broadcasting, even if I consider them to be blindingly obvious, and what the person I am talking to may be receiving. To do so is not rocket science, it simply takes a bit of empathy, self-reflection and patience – and actually makes teaching more fun, as it forces you to think out of the box of conventions and assumptions you normally work with.


Room for improvement

How has my week been so far?

Well, yesterday morning I took off early to drive to Windisch for a level two training course. I stopped off at the yard to pick up some gear. The gear in the shelving was being obstinate, the steel-core lanyard offering active resistance to being pulled out. So I applied a bit of brute force, tried and tested. As the lanyard pulled free of the rest of the clobber, so did a big red lifting hook… which I do not have a clue what it was doing in there anyway. As I had my weight on my front foot for all that pulling and was therefore unable to pull away in time, I watched helplessly as the hook sailed towards my foot and landed on my toes.


I drove to Windisch with tears in my eyes. I was pretty sure I had broken something. Better today though. Bloody hook.

Then today I was due to teach the Swiss arborist association’s certified arborist class, so early start again. As I needed to get past Zurich and its grid-lock, I decided to hit the road early and left at six. At five thirty, I started getting the last bits and pieces ready, remembered I had mislaid my clicker for advancing PowerPoint slides. So I bombed down to the cellar, pretty sure it was in the case with the projector. No luck… ahh, maybe up in the office, so I headed up to the second floor, turning on the kettle on the way. On the first floor it occurred to me that it may actually be in the Peli case down in the cellar, so down I went again. Nope, not in the Peli case. So up to the office, pouring the boiling water on the tea bags on my way. In the office I finally found the clicker, bagged it, also scoring a laser pointer, grabbed the bottle of green tea in passing by – and hit the road.

Well, almost.

After turning the first corner, I realised I had forgotten my laptop, so I turned the van around and picked it up.

The trip was ok, I managed to get round the worst of traffic – but guess what? Shortly before reaching my destination I realised I had forgotten all the adapters to hook up the laptop to the projector in the class room.


I briefly considered improvising something, using paper clips stuck in the VGA socket as a bridge to the USB-C plug, but stuff like that only seems to work in MacGuyver’s universe. Oh well, PowerPoint is overrated anyway. With a  bit of creative juggling the morning worked out just fine, nice group with interesting questions.

Having said that, I am slightly apprehensive about what tomorrow holds in store for me. In regards to starting the day, there is certainly room for improvement this week.

Recommended reads #6

I climbed my first Swiss tree climbing completion in 1999, my first European comp was the same year in Valencia.

Entering the competition scene was a total revelation for me, opening my eyes to the fact that there was a much larger world beyond the company I was working in at the time, and so began a voyage of discovery, learning about tools and techniques and meeting like-minded people.

Gaining access to information in the late nineties, turn of the millennia required real effort, it meant you had to physically travel to meetings, meant you had to try to score one of the early catalogues of Christian Nellen, Tobe Sherrill, Svensk Träd Vård or High Tree Tech, which were far from the glossy, stream-lined publications we know today, much rougher round the edges with a distinctly DIY-feel to it.

The stream of information was tenuous and thin, the comps or catalogues representing two of very few of access. Information was a precious, rare commodity. Companies would oftentimes jealously hide techniques they were using as they represented a edge over competitors. The comps were an essential conduit of exchange and information between the dispersed groups of the arb tribe.

Fast forwards fifteen years and the world has changed beyond recognition: Information has become an ubiquitous commodity we almost take for granted, with access but a click away. I write this free of judgement, yet it is such a profound change with such far-reaching repercussions that it bears pointing out and is of concerne not just for our small world of tree care but also society as a whole.

Adam Alter’s Irresistible – Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching discusses the addictive potential of exactly the tech that makes this immersive constant exchange of information possible. Did you know that Steve Job’s children were not allowed to use iPads? Or that Bill Gates’ kids had several limited access to technological gadgets under the age of fourteen? This makes sense once you realise how all of these devices are designed from the ground up to press buttons, to satisfy needs such as recognition or a sense of importance – and are therefore potentially highly addictive. Who should know this better but the architects of these technologies? Alter starts the book with a general reflection upon addictions, societies’ perceptions of addictive substances and behaviours and their causes, to then focus in on the tech we surround ourselves with, whether this be through our iPhone, World of Warcraft, Netflix or Facebook.

I struggle with reading factual books during busy periods, tending to drop off after a page or two, but I romped through this one: it is both alarming and fascinating, as Alter’s style is very engaging, using a wide range examples to illustrate this complex topic. Experts assume that over half to the population shows signs of behavioural addiction when it comes to the use of tech. The strong point of the book however is that Alter does not get bogged down in doom and gloom, he discusses possible strategies to counter some of the more worrying consequences. His position is far from a Luddite one, not advocating a radical (and probably unrealistic) turning back of the clock, but rather striving for a balanced, measured and differentiated use. This discussion is both timely and important, and should be of concern to all of us.

Irresistible certainly made me take a careful, hard look at how I use social media, the internet and other tech on a daily basis. Come the end of the book (stand by, spoiler alert!), you cannot help but agree with Alter when he writes:

Our addictive experiences is largely cultural, and if our culture makes space for work-free, game-free, scree-free downtime, we and our children will find it easier to resist the lure of behavioural addiction. In its place we’ll communicate with one another directly, rather than through devices, and the glow of these social bonds will leave us richer and happier than the glow of screens ever could.

Comes highly recommended.

Afternoon chat

It rained the whole day today, steadily. Perfect weather to be lounging in an armchair and to have a chat over at Arb Life with T.C. Mazar this afternoon, listen in on the result here…

The Arb Life 007

I always enjoy sessions like this, as they get me thinking about all sorts of stuff. Nice one, TC.

Now, back to the sofa!

Climbers’ Forum Augsburg 2017

Back from Augsburg, gear dried and tidied away-ish, tower back in Wales.

The question, So how was Augsburg? always leaves me a bit stumped, as it is such an overwhelming event in terms of interaction with people, impressions and inputs and can therefore not be answered in a sentence or two. It takes a while to process and I suppose the answer would be enriching.

On the bright side? Set-up day on Monday was to sunshine and blue sky. For the record I have added above what will probably be one of the few pics you will see of the tower dry this year. In view of the weather forecast I deliberately went for a sunburn, just because I could. The rest of the week was a mix of driving rain and snow. Which is a bit of a spanner in the works if you are trying to run an event with takes place at least in part outdoors. Umm.

Thanks to Vito for the rain impressions below… other photos provided by Knut and Puk, thanks to them also.

Interesting fact: after last year’s event, during which we had one day of dodgy weather, Chris said that there might well be a year in which we had weather for all three days. Nice one, Chris, for an accurate prediction of 2017.

We also faced a number of challenges with speakers dropping out at short notice and a number of other improvised fixes…

Yet the fact remains that the program was fantastic, with a number of remarkable presentations. I was especially touched by Peter Vergote and Jo van Bouwel’s Passion Before Fashion presentation, which discussed the mindset with which one approaches a climb. The presentation started off with a sketch of two climbers with a very different approach to working a tree trying to set up together – featuring treeGONG! Made my day. It ended up with a a capella rendition of H2O’s What happened? The presentation was witty, funny, through-provoking and totally authentic. And best of all, it was so engaging that it successfully cleared the slight residual fuzziness caused by the Climbers’ Forum party the evening before.

Then there was a major session regarding the use of non-certified PPE. This of course was a pretty hot-topic, in view of the current ban in a number of European countries of a number of devices used for SRT work positioning. There were representative there of German market surveillance, a notified body and health and safety. It was a full-on two and a half hour session with high attendance, I was really impressed by the way people stuck with it. Gerhard Quanz who works in market surveillance described the legal framework in very clear and concise terms, which I thought was very helpful, hearing it from the horse’s mouth, so to say. He emphasised how it is not so much a matter of what you want, certain things are simply a legal requirement when it comes to class 3 PPE. Carsten Beinhoff and Wolfgang Schäper, representing professional health and safety organisations backed this up with a number of concrete examples, both good and bad. This caused quite an animated discussion as the question then arose as to what leeway there is when self-configuring systems and assemblies. This discussion needs to continue, but it was certainly a starting point that offered a lot of food for thought.

One of the demos on the tower discussed moving loads from A to B, running through a number of possibilities to rig not just vertically but also horizontally, from very simple, lobbing a throw line over the limb to then pull in a rigging line with which to manoeuvre the limb, to zip lines, speedlines, highlines or load transfer systems. Initially I thought we might also do some load measurements at the anchor points, but actually this more than filled the 45 minutes! Some impressions below…

These were but three of the talks and demos of three days jam-packed. Add to all this the trade show, the Climbers’ Forum party, the many meetings and discussions with friends from all over the world… and you end up with something pretty unique. In case you are quietly kicking yourself for not having made the trip, there is always the possibility of attending next year, which by the way is going to be the 20th anniversary of the Climbers’ Forum, so be prepared for something rather special! The dates are 24 to 26 April 2018.

Start planning now!

Open-source imagery

For the past seven years I have been making up a poster for the European Tree Climbing Championship. The common thread in these posters has been a climber silhouette, which I select from a photograph and then work off that. It is not as though I do any of this professionally or anything like that, but it seems to do the trick.

I have noticed however that these very same silhouettes seem to be cropping up in unexpected places, obviously people copying them out of posters published on-line. Also I have received requests to use the imagery. Therefore we have decided to make such graphics available via our downloads section as a set of vector graphics free of charge. However, I do not want to use the ones we have already used, as that would be unfair to ISA.

If you have a photograph you think might fit the bill, send it to me: No promises, but if it works, I will use it. What I am specifically interested in is images portraying dynamic movement, offering interesting details in silhouette, such as ropes, hands, feet, harness details etc. The background should not be too cluttered. To crown it all, please send it in a fair size resolution and size, something like 3’000 x 2’000 pixels @ 200 dpi.

You do not receive any money for contributing, same as we do not charge for the use of the graphics, but be assured of my thanks. I look forwards to seeing what turns up. Do not hold your breath, but I will certainly keep you posted as to how this project progresses…