The ability to create a tie-in point (TIP) where no suitable branch attachment exists, a pull point to direct the fall of a tree where no trunk is, or for a climber to be able to move their TIP with them throughout their climb are all possibilities once the concept of floating anchor points is understood and explored. In addition, for those who follow and observe the tree industry as a whole, the use of floating anchor points has grown exponentially in recent years, particularly in climbing operations.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with new and innovative concepts and ideas, there is not a great deal of guidance available on the suitability and use of floating anchor points, let alone, at this point, many regulations or standards regarding their use or misuse. Thus, some basic understanding of the concepts involved, limitations presented and possible complications from use can help tree care professionals add this valuable technique to their mental toolbox.
As stated previously, there is not a great deal of advice or guidance readily available on the safe and proper use of floating anchor points, particularly in climbing operations. However, the chapter, regional and international climbing competitions have been working with climbers using floating anchor points for a number of years, and can be a good resource on safe and accepted practices for those seeking more information. In addition, trainers, designers and manufacturers from the industry have started testing and evaluating various systems, along with their specific components, and, hopefully, will soon be able to share some “hard data” with the industry at large about the safe use of floating anchors.
Obviously, the ability to have a tie-in point or anchor wherever one wishes to have one without regard to tree structure is a pretty significant benefit, but floating anchors are not the magic cure-all antigravity method they might appear, and certainly are not necessary or required on every job. However, on jobs where the need is present, the ability to use floating anchor techniques can make the job quicker, more efficient and often safer.
In climbing operations, the use of a floating anchor or movable TIP allows the climber to work through the ascent out of a dynamic climbing system, instead of being tethered only to their static ascent system and limited in what work they can accomplish. The additional line involved also can often improve rope angles for the ascending climber, allowing them to readily access areas that perhaps would not otherwise be possible. In rigging operations, the use of floating anchors allows riggers to generate mechanical advantage, lift multiple pieces and a variety of other rigging tasks limited only by the crew’s imagination.
If a floating anchor is being used for personal support, it must meet the minimum strength standards of 5,400 pounds for rope/cordage and 5,000 pounds for hardware/connecting links. Obviously, the use of a floating anchor system in a rigging scenario may require much greater strengths, and, as always, rigging systems are never used for climbing and vice versa. If carabiners or other connecting links/hardware are used, care should be taken to ensure they are loaded correctly, at the proper angles, and any other factors typical of their use in climbing examined.
Components that are going to be used in floating anchor points are going to be exposed to different stresses and angles than those used in stationary tie-in points and must be examined and evaluated accordingly. Factors such as debris interference from leaves/twigs, angles changing with climber movement, and response to pressure from branches on the line should all be considered on the ground, not aloft in the midst of the job.
The simplest, and probably most common, floating anchor point is one created by using cordage to tie a hitch of some sort around the ascent/anchor line. These cordage floating anchors may be as simple as a footlock Prusik around the ascent line with a carabiner in it that acts as the TIP for the dynamic climbing system, or as complex as specially spliced rope tools with rings at either end that provide a relatively friction-free tie-in point.
In general, the ascent is carried out with the dynamic system already in place through the carabiner/rings/etc., thus providing the climber with an adjustable tether. The climbing arborist ascends through the footlock or other appropriate method, advancing their TIP before them, and having the ability at any time to stop and work off the dynamic system. The current recommended and accepted practice is to “set” the anchor, tie a stopper knot beneath it in the ascent/static line, and secure that knot additionally with a carabiner through it (capturing the standing part of the ascent line) prior to going completely onto the dynamic system to work. The addition of the carabiner is intended to prevent a load falling upon the ascent line during work operations and pulling out the stopper knot.
The use of mechanical devices as floating anchor points in both climbing and rigging is a subject that has been and continues to be much debated and discussed. Most mechanical ascent devices were designed and developed for applications other than tree climbing, and as such have not been fully examined and evaluated under the conditions and uses of the tree care industry. Although the use of most of them, if used properly and appropriately, as intended for ascent has become accepted, exposing them to the forces of being a primary TIP has not.
For those climbing arborists who wish to explore the safety and wisdom of ascender use in any application, the best resource is probably the manufacturer of the ascender they use. For climbing purposes, current recommendations are that handled/framed ascenders not be used for floating anchor points, primarily due to concerns about breaking strengths in this “non-label” application.
At the same time, cam-loaded ascenders, those in which the load goes directly onto the cam of the ascender, are generally more acceptable as floating anchors. However, this use should be in climbing applications only. Research has shown that the use of ascenders, even cam-loaded ones, as a floating anchor in rigging applications can lead to rope tearing and cover distortion.
Cordage remains the best option for floating anchors in rigging operations. Just as with the rope or cordage floating anchors, any device used as a floating anchor must be backed up prior to switching over to a dynamic system. In addition, any devices used for ascent must be backed up during the ascent through the use of cordage or another device. Users should pay attention to the rope dynamics of their ascent line when putting their ascent backup in place, as it may require them to install backups on both parts of a two-part ascent line.
As mentioned previously, in general, cordage or rope floating anchors are going to be the best and safest choice in rigging operations. The anchor can be formed out of any suitable hitch, but users should remember that the desired effect is maximum grab or friction, thus the more “wraps” in the hitch, the better the cordage anchor will grab the line. Using the same number of wraps used when climbing will most likely result in a floating anchor that slips under the extreme loads of rigging scenarios.
Single-rope technique (SRT)
The use of floating anchor points on single ropes or SRT systems is certainly acceptable, as long as the standard recommendations about backups and use are applied and followed. Floating anchors are actually quite easily removed when using single rope systems, as the climber can descend on their dynamic system, leaving the floating anchor aloft, and by tying a throw line to the other end of the SRT system, lower everything safely down to the ground in a controlled fashion.
Although the guidance and regulations regarding floating anchors and their use is still in its infancy, and climbing arborists may have to carry out a fair amount of research and experimentation on their own, this technique is here to stay, primarily because of all the advantages it brings with it in safety and efficiency. Tree crews may not need a floating anchor for rigging or climbing on every job, but when they do need it, having an anchor wherever required, regardless of tree structure, can make the world seem like a bright and shiny happy place.