Monza Aerial Rescue

Got back from an Aerial Rescue course in Monza, Italy, yesterday with Gabriel and the  Formazione 3T crew. It was fun to be back in Monza, first time since ETCC two years ago.

I find that Aerial Rescue courses often develop an intensity and dynamic, depending on the group you are working with. This one was great, of course there is a range of competencies, yet I find that so long as people are willing to muck in and are open for input, it is usually possible to offer something to everyone. I am a firm believer in identifying generic problem solving techniques, which one is then able to apply to a broad range of situations, rather than specific techniques applicable to one situation only. Once this frame work has been established, one can then start to discuss specifics.

Good times anyways, thanks to all who took part and to Gabri and Ezio for their continued support – this year marks ten years of collaboration.

Ken came along for the ride, deciding to grab a bit of R&R ahead of his mission at ETCC in Deventer. Ken is a Simulaids dummy of few words, but I know he is excited about being part of this event once again..

He also spent a bit of time working on his tan…

What am I forge…

The other day we were working locally in a park, pruning some horse chestnuts.

The park is busy, especially at this time of year, with loads of kids with mums and dads, school kids, senior citizens doing their fitness thing, joggers, in-line skaters, cyclists, you name it. Everybody seems to be out in force!

We had finished one tree and were moving onto the next when, when I decided it might be an idea to move the vehicle to avoid dropping branches on it – I had been to look at some work and had already taken my gear out of the back. Add to all of the obstacles I mentioned above the fact that the car was parked in a central area of the park with stone sculptures arranged in a circle around it which are so low they are hard to see below the bonnet of the car – and are easy to miss in your rear view mirrors. So… plenty of stuff to focus on not hitting.

I was pulling out, veeeeeery carefully… when all of a sudden I heard an ominous crunching sound.

Oh. Bollocks.

That would be my climbing gear.

Mmmm, speaking of pink elephants, sometimes there is that one thing which escapes your attention, in this case it was my kit. I am sure you’ve been there, you stop, get out and try to walk around the car nonchalantly, as though this was all totally intended, discreetly checking whether anybody has seen you acting a total dummy? Well, that was me. Luckily I had managed “only” to hit my rope bag, one of the Teufelberger’s ropeBUCKETs – and can now officially confirm that theses are pretty tough – Hilux-proof, in fact.

Apart from being a bit of a weird shape initially, it was fine.

One point this drove home for me, once again, is how limited the brain’s processing capacity is: Bombard it with sufficient sensory input and you will inevitably miss stuff. Especially if you are “just quickly” doing something.

So, no drama, of all targets in the park to hit, this was probably one of the better ones. Memo to self: Be wary of hectic situations tripping you up, go slow and expect the unexpected.

And if you hear ominous crunching sounds, stop immediately!


Spot the pink elephant

Depending on which forums you frequent or discussions you are involved in, everybody seems to be talking about stationary rope technique, SRT. You will see all sorts of variations upon the theme at tree climbing competitions, at demos or at trade shows. And indeed, this has been one of the hot topics in recent years, sparking a lot of discussion right across the industry, involving employers, climbers and manufacturers as well as legislators.

So why has this topic not been discussed here? Have we been boycotting it?

Let me say first off that that is not the case. There are however a number of other reasons.

Via the tree climbing competitions we have very much been involved in this discussion from the get go. As early as 2011, when we submitted the first draft of the Performance Criteria document, which Chris penned, to ISA, we were striving for a framework which would be able to incorporate a broader diversity of line configurations and techniques. The same rationale also applied to the Ascent Event showcase events, the first of which was held in Vienna in 2011 – and a number of subsequent events.

The key point is however, that in our opinion it is important not to create pedestals for each different rope configuration, but rather to define generic criteria regarding performance of tools, systems and assemblies, which can then be applied across the board in a fair and consistent fashion. Apart from anything else this creates clarity and transparency. In the end, I do not really care whether someone climbs with one stationary line, a doubled line, two, three or even four lines – so long as certain safety aspects are addressed and guaranteed. This naturally applies to the wider industry, not just the comps.

A further reason is that I do not believe that these virtual spaces are the suitable format to discuss a topic that people feel passionate about – too much opportunity for misunderstandings and bad blood (yes, experience talking here). After all, my goal is not to upset people just for the sake of it, but rather to promote safe work practices and to help move our industry forwards.

The way we have tried to contribute our part in doing so is by making sure that the tools whose development we have been involved in come supplied with a comprehensive package of appropriate and sufficient information, allowing the climber to decide whether the tool is fit for the intended purpose. We have also invested considerable time and effort to perform testing and support research to gain a better, deeper understanding regarding how we work, to communicate these findings and then to use the information to underpin best practice guidelines.

We are more interested in contributing this kind of positive input rather than getting embroiled in frankly rather fruitless battles over the specific merits of one configuration or tool over another. Let’s be consistent and fair to one and other – behaving in an adult, truthful and rational manner, then we ought to be able to work this one out in a fashion beneficial to the industry as a whole.

That is why. In case you ever wondered.

Update on the headless Sequoiadendron

Last year I wrote a blog post about very large Sequoiadendron we did some work on which had been struck by lighting, after the arborist company which did the initial assessmen after the strike had condemned it straight-out.

Last week we went back to do a control on it and to see how it has developed since the work we did back in January 2016. We installed 15 threaded bars to stabilise the crack caused by the lightning, removed the top off the tree and reduced weight on the uppermost branches. The decision to take this course of action was based upon the fact that after all Sequoiadendrons are nothing other than giant lighting conductors, often loosing bits to this kind of incident and over the ages have evolved strategies to cope with them. Given that the tree seemed very vigorous and that apart from the crack the overall stability of the tree was not affected, we assumed that after stabilising the crack and reduction of weight off the top of the tree regrowth would close up the exposed top of the tree.

So we went round to the site last Friday to do a inspection.

Not often you max out your base anchor like this… at least not in this part of the world.

Once we got to the top I was very pleased to see good regrowth on the limbs and stem. This is probably also due to a robust watering regime we defined, as well as dumping a load of compost round the base and treating it with compost tea since the work we did last year.

Well, that and the fact that we were dealing with a healthy, vigorous tree from the get go.

Certainly one of the more spectacular views of town and the Rhine from up there… talk about the perks of the job.

What was very interesting was seeing how the tree had reacted to the threaded bars we had drilled and inserted to stablilise the crack. The tree has formed reaction wood around every bar, covering the washers almost up to the bolt in some cases. I expect that when we go to do the follow-up inspection next year, that these should be partially covered over.

I was talking a couple of weeks back to the person who did the initial assessment of the tree and effectively condemned it, saying it had to be taken down immediately. Admittedly, the damage is substantial with a scary crack. But this shows how there are other ways to mitigate risk than always simply defaulting to removing a tree with structural problems. This person was very interested in how we bolted the tree, saying that he had no experience with these techniques, and therefore recommended the removal. This I found surprising.

Actually, after having written this yesterday, rereading it this morning I realised that maybe I was being a bit uncharitable. In the end, there is always a fairly large degree of subjectivity involved when assessing this kind of situation. Maybe it would therefore be fairer to simply say that what we perceived and the conclusions we drew from it obviously differed.

Because, to be honest, nor did I.

But I decided to find out more about it: I simply spoke to arborists who were active back in the days of tree surgery, scored the gear to do the work off my friend, Alan, who found it buried down in level seven of his cellar, read up about bolting techniques in P.H Bridgeman’s book Tree Surgery and also Sharon Lillly’s The Tree Worker’s Manual, followed up by a chat with Sharon. I suppose the point I am trying to make is I find it a narrow vision that the mere fact that the required techniques are a little outside of my comfort zone and experience is sufficient reason for me to not even consider them. After all, that means you are discarding the opportunity to improve you knowledge.

And also, in this case, the alternative route allowed us to preserve a beautiful, important tree.

Ye olde presentation

I was invited to the Swiss Arbor Camp in Pierre a Bot above Neuchâtel yesterday to do a talk.

Should you never have been to this event, I highly recommend it, the AC crew put so much effort into it, you really sense the degree of loving attention to detail and the hard work which go into making it happen. Today is the last day, but there will always be another year…

I used the opportunity to rework an old presentation about interactions in teams. There is always something quite special about pulling a presentation off the virtual book shelf after not having looked at it for years. You can imagine it being like a heavy, leather bound tome, smelling all musty and booky, covered with a deep layer of dust. It also is of course linked to the time when you first worked on the topics.

This one, As Strong as the Weakest Link, I first put together for Climbers’ Forum in 2008. It contains no shortage of really interesting material: Martin Holden’s expanded definition of competence, Antje Schrupp’s positive take on authority and differentiation between authority, power and violence, Atul Gawande talking about hyper-specialisation, the concept of risky shift, James Reason’s thoughts on how the failure to acknowledge human error can lead to system failures… but blimey, by the time I had worked  through it, I was spinning – bearing in mind this all needs to fit into 45 minutes! A tad ambitious, methinks.

So then the next step is to strip it all down to the essential statements you are trying to make, killing your heroes – your favourite slides and analogies – in the process. In this case I picked out two elements and rebuilt the presentation around them.

The original presentation was severely overburdened with text. Bearing in mind what Garr Reynolds says in Presentation Zen all of that went out of the window, using no more than five words per slide, as otherwise Reynolds says simply hand out a Word document. I also axed a number of meaningless visual embellishments.

The good news is that this enables you to expand a topic to make a clearer statement – and use the rest some other place. Really pleased with how this has turned out, the key statements to me now (finally) feel clear and stream-lined, surrounded by less fluff. Certainly something worth doing.

Now I am looking forwards to sharing it…

Blog slow-down

As you may have noticed, the blog has been running somewhat slow the past few weeks. There are a number of reasons for this, one being that I am running on fumes.

The way I usually go about writing for the blog is that during the day I when I come across something that sparks my interest, which I feel might lend itself to be expanded into or be part of a blog post, I will make a mental or actual note, which I will refer back to when I have a moment to sit down and write it.

So am I running out of stuff to talk about? Hardly, as there are plenty of items on the list.

Things have just been very busy, with work requiring a push, debriefing the Tree Care Days in Augsburg – and going up to Hamburg to discuss how next year is going to run, finalising the last details of the European Tree Climbing Championship, which has been.. well, let’s just say an uphill struggle and leave it at that – sometimes the less said the better. Add into that other speaker obligations and workshops and you are not left with much wriggle space.

Still, everybody seems to do busy.

So I have decided to stop whinging, to do something about it and to free up some time to be able to do more of what I enjoy, therefore this will be the last year I will be acting as chairperson for ETCC and also the last year as Head Technician for ITCC.

I am looking forwards to going back to the West coast of the US later this year to do a couple of events there, returning to the Czech republic later this year, Vertical Connect (did I mention this will be translated into English this year? Hint, hint), TCI Expo, where I am sure there will be more deep diving, plans for a trip to Japan evolving for next year, building up to the 20th anniversary of Climbers’ Forum in Augsburg next year and also seeing a number of really exciting products continuing to move towards production, details of which we will hopefully be able to share with you in the course of this year.

And having more time to write, which I enjoy. So stay tuned.