Oregon Workshop

Just finished a two-day rigging workshop with Phil Kelley in Hood River, OR.

Once again we were exploring the sadly underused HSE Rigging Research document I have written about a number of times before. The spine of the workshop were the eleven generic rigging scenarios which this document identifies, the nine A scenarios with an anchor point above, and the two B scenarios with an anchor point below the mass. I have learnt a lot from running these courses and believe that it is important to understand these as the foundation for any rigging-related discussion. They are similar to what the ABC is for communication: without an understanding of the constituent components, we cannot combine them to form the phrases we would like to create, to describe the thoughts we want to express.

Apart from this, what made this session special for me was the location: we were graciously hosted by the folk at Rahane, a woodland community based in the hills above Hood River. I am deeply interested by people developing alternative visions to what is regarded as the way it is – after all, it is not as though we were making a terribly good job of it. Alternatives are therefore something we urgently need… whilst this off-grid community may not be every persons’s cup of tea, I certainly found what I saw of it very inspiring and stimulating. A big thank you to Ryan and the Rahanians for their warm welcome and gracious hospitality.

The group was, as is often the case, a mix of various levels of competence and experience. I hope that by spinning diverse topics off the various scenarios we were able to offer something to everybody. In groups like this I am very aware of the fact that some people may already have heard a fair bit of what is bring presented. However, we also need to consider those with less experience. To be honest, I love watching other people present, even if it is on a topic I have already given a lot of thought  – or maybe then even more so – as I am interested in seeing where they apply their emphasis, what analogies they use, what insights they may have spotted that I have missed. And you cannot help but enjoy watching someone doing a good job of presenting a topic (I am not saying that that is what I did, but I certainly give it my very best).

Ultimately, what interests me about this topic, similar as to aerial rescue training, is that inevitably we will end up discussing problem solving skills. And these can be applied across the board – to all walks of life.

Thank to all who attended and to Mik Miaz for the photos. A big thank you also to Teufelberger who generously provided and shipped Sirius, arborWINCH and tREX rigging lines for the workshop.

Figure of speech

Talking about rockets… back in DC during this year’s ITCC, Phil Kelley and Tony Tresselt from Gravitational Anarchy pointed out an interesting fact:

When confronted with tricky situations, I often tend to attempt to calm myself by repeating, mantra-like, that whatever I am attempting to do is not rocket science, after all. Like helping to run a tree climbing competition, for instance.

So, mused Tony and Phil, conceivably somewhere out there, hidden deep down in their labs, there are probably NASA rocket scientists puzzling over a problem, saying to each other: Come on, lads… after all, it is not as though this were tree climbing!

Stranger things have been known to be true…


Strange Daze

After having spent the past few days in Seattle, yesterday I drove down  to Mount Hood in Oregon, where I will be delivering a rigging workshop with Phil Kelley tomorrow and the day after.

I believe a lot of the drive would have been quite spectacular, landscape-wise, especially driving up the Columbia river gorge, east of Portland. You can imagine the views of Mount Hood and the Cascade mountain range, the many waterfalls, all of this under a deep blue sky.

Why only imagine?

Because at the moment this whole region is smothered in a haze of smoke from forest fires up in British Columbia. The atmosphere these past few days has been very strange, it was forecast to be very hot with clear skies, yet it feels like as though the weather were about to change, slightly oppressive and surreal, with much lower temperatures due to all the smoke and ash in the atmosphere.

Don’t worry, I am not about to go native here, like a seasoned Seattelite, moaning about traffic and weather – the point I am trying to make is different one…

What this brought home to me is how helpless we are in face of forces of nature and how profound a consequence the atmospheric conditions have for us down on the ground – it also brought home to me what effect a major volcanic eruption could have, potentially globally on the climate. Looking to the past, think of the Year Without Summer in 1816, when global temperatures decreased by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F) due to a massive eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 in what was then known as the Dutch East Indies, resulting in major food shortages across the northern hemisphere.

Then, a bit earlier this evening, I caught up with the news on the BBC World Service web page… and saw two small men threatening each other with their Doomsday weapons and can’t help but feel chilled and deeply concerned. They are talking about war, in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, where geopolitical powers face each other across demilitarised zones in a hair-trigger situation.

One cannot help but feel sceptical about the very concept of a limited nuclear strike, the probability of repercussions of such an act going global is high – and the spectre of a nuclear winter rears its ugly head, making the BC forest fires pale to insignificance in comparison.

How anyone can conceive of this as being a good idea is beyond my comprehension. And here was me thinking that great power brings with it great responsibility. It would appear not, as these two spoilt brats are demonstrating.

Duck and cover, indeed! From a strange haze to be living under – to strange days to be living in.

Barking up the wrong tree?

A question one could ask oneself after the Aerial Rescue post the other day is whether Aerial Rescue should not simply be about… demonstrating rescue skills and casualty handling – as the name implies.

To that I would reply that in my opinion, the whole topic of Aerial Rescue, regardless of whether it is an tree climbing championship context or some other – revolves around applying problem solving skills. Unforeseen circumstances force operators to to rapidly adapt to the situation, without much time for thinking through options or for prior rehearsal. With this I am by no means suggesting that it is impossible to train for emergencies, au contraire, it is possible to do so – in fact, it is important to do so. But let’s be clear: if the first time you are giving the matter some thought is once an accident has occurred, this is obviously not the right moment to start doing so – and that should this be the case, there is a high likelihood that you are setting yourself up to fail.

Regardless of all that, in such situations you may be applying your problem solving skill set to various areas, of which rescue skills and casualty handling are but two examples. The challenges which present themselves are manifold and may have to do with the structure of the tree and the climbing skills involved, they may have to do with medical aspects or present rigging challenges in the case of a scenario where a climber is trapped under a rigging system, to name but a couple.

Therefore I believe it to be essential to bear this in mind when training for emergencies or setting scenarios for tree climbing comps, to not limit oneself simply to one type of scenario but to strive for the highest level of competence possible in all of these areas.

I have stated this before, and will do so again, that this is one of the aspects I find so interesting about this line of work, is that it forces you to continually expand the tool box in your head: it is not sufficient to have one tool which you try to apply to all situations, rather you develop a systematic approach with a range of suitable problem solving tools in order to be able to adapt to rapidly evolving situations in as flexible and safe a manner as possible.

ITCC Aerial Rescue 2017

In line with the thought process I described for the Aerial Rescue at ETCC this year in an earlier post, I worked with Phil Kelley, the head judge of that event, to develop a coherent and plausible story line for ITCC last weekend in Washington D.C.

Initially we were discussing a pinned scenario, with the climber trapped by the rigging attached to a limb which had gone the wrong way, but switched to plan B after having seen the tree.

I tend to approach these scenarios by asking myself what the emphasis of the challenge will be: technical, medical or climbing – and how they will fit into the tree we are using. In this instance we had the climber further away from the access line, so there was an ascent and a traverse involved in order to access the casualty. The scenario we went with in the end was a situation which TC Mazar described a while back in a post on his blog, thearblife.com: a two man crew is working on an oak tree, removing some dead wood. The climber is a young hotshot comp climber, whose priority it seems to be to keep his Instagram up to date rather than getting the job done. As he prepares to remove the end of a long horizontal limb, he takes one hand off the chainsaw to adjust his GoPro… when he looses his balance, takes a tumble and cuts his arm.

We did something I have been wanting to do for ages, which was that instead of describing the whole thing, we played through the scenario during walk through. DJ Neustaeter and Phil delivered masterful performances, they had me cracking up. I played the Man Walking the Dog… under the tree, without a helmet, bugging the groundie about what is going on here. After all, I walk this way every day with my dog – and intend to do so today as well.

Sparkles, the dog, and her human were part of the scenario the climbers had to address.

As I was saying when discussing the ETCC scenario, when the AR storyline is coherent and logical, it becomes easier for the competitors to pick up the thread and continue telling it. It also adds value and depth – making it more fun to watch.


Post-ITCC thoughts on equipment

A further new feature of this year’s ITCC was the Ascent Event, which is an evolution of the Footlock event, allowing a wider range of ascent techniques to be showcased and to better represent the range of techniques used by arborists to access tree canopies today.

Back in 2011 Chris drafted a proposal for an Ascent Event, which we then trialled at a number of ETCCs, as well as at ITCC in Parramatta in Australia. Whilst not being perfect, it was interesting to see how the proposed format struck a balance in the sense that there was no obvious bias towards any one technique, sometimes it would be a person footlocking who would win and other times it would be someone on a mechanical system.

The event has since been through a number of iterations, resulting in the format implemented at this year’s ITCC. For better or worse, this was not a process Chris or I were involved in. In all likelihood, what we saw in D.C. will further evolve and mature, without a doubt it was good to make a start and – finally – launch this updated version of the event demonstrating how arborists ascend into trees.

I have to admit that I was slightly apprehensive about the expanded gear check this would entail and the equipment that people would bring to gear check for this event, as this is not something we have had to focus on much so far.

As you would expect, there were some really neat configurations and solutions, others on the other hand were somewhat less functional and appropriate. But overall I was pleasantly surprised by being presented with by and large decent systems which required little tweaking. Having said that I could not help but be struck by the sheer diversity: no two systems were the same. This is such a stark contrast to industrial rope access, where climbers are very constricted in the range of systems they may use.

This made me wonder whether there is not a happy middle ground, where there is a degree of guidelines and standardisation, whilst still allowing for a degree of customisation, depending upon your build, climbing style or structure you are working on. But if anything goes, it becomes a nigh insurmountable challenge to assess how neighbouring components will function together or to make consistent and well-founded calls.

Certainly something to give some more thought.

Limb Walk-O-Meter for TCCs

This will be the first of a couple of posts about the International Tree Climbing Competition (ITCC) in Washington D.C. this past weekend.

One of the changes we introduced at this event was a new take on the limb walk station. The limb walk is part of the Work Climb and requires the competitor to move out on a horizontal limb to ring a bell whilst applying as little pressure as possible. In the past this was normally measured with some form of plumb bob.

At this year’s ETCC the head judge of the Work Climb, Wouter van der Dungen introduced a very clever variation on the theme of how to measure the degree of pressure exerted on the limb, based upon a construction which he and Eddie Bouwmeester had come up with. This consists of a horizontal tube attached to two upright tubes by means of brackets. On either side they added low-friction pulleys with weights on one side. The line attached to the limb walk branch is rerouted horizontally along the horizontal tube and attched to the weights, allowing for a measurement of deflection. This is not only a very clever way to graphically illustrate how little downward (or upward) pressure is being exerted on the limb for the audience, but also allows the climber to observe from above the indicator’s position on the scale.

In the past only the downward travel was measured, resulting in climbers pulling the limb way up. This does really make sense, as this can also lead to branch failure, so we have started defining a sweet spot in the middle, with points being deduced on either side of it when depressing or pulling up on the limb.

We were so taken by Eddie and Wouter’s idea that we put it into service at ITCC (admittedly Keith and my construction was a bit more a jury-rigged Heath Robinson-affair than Wouter and Eddie’s elegant construction, but it is after all the thought that counts), to very positive response. I love it when people bring these kind of creative ideas to the table and wanted to make sure that Eddie and Wouter get the credit they deserve for this specific input, as I am sure this installation will become a common sight at tree climbing comps in the future. So now you know.

Thank you for your contribution, Eddie and Wouter.