Strategies for improving performance and safety

Planning your climb

A safe climber always takes time to perform a pre-climb inspection of the tree before ascent. An efficient climber will also start to plan out the climb at the same time. For instance, does one side of the tree seem to require more work than the other? If the work at hand is a removal, does one section of the tree require more precise cuts, hence better work positioning? How many tie-in-points (TIPs) does the tree offer? Can one be used efficiently for the whole tree or will multiple TIPs be more effective?

Photos by Anthony Tresselt unless otherwise noted.
On this storm-damaged easternhemlock, planning, friction managementand redirects were all essential.

If multiple TIPs are the answer, a climber may opt to use two or more climbing lines. Often, the climber can set the first line and start to ascend the tree. As the climber gets set, they may have the ground team set the other lines. Many times the ground crew may simply set a throw line and leave it. As the climber progresses to that area of the tree, he will transfer the climbing line to the new TIP.

It is typically more efficient to ascend to the top of a tree, establish a secure TIP then work down. However, this may not always be the case. In some especially thick trees, a climber can work up one side then down another. A climber may find it more efficient to work a specific lead or section of the tree during ascent then transfer over to another TIP to complete the work in the remaining portion of the tree.

There are many options when working a tree. What is important to remember is that a good climber has a plan in place. A great climber has a plan and is already thinking two or three steps ahead.

Keep in mind, however, that even the best plans do not always work as intended. Change a plan if necessary, and alter it as conditions and circumstances dictate.

Friction management.

Friction is as essential to tree climbing as water is to fishing. Friction works for and against a climber. The advanced climber manages friction to reap the most from it when necessary, and lessen it as much as possible when appropriate.

Friction holds the climber aloft. Too much friction at the climbing hitch can limit access to certain areas of the tree and affect climber performance, fatigue and safety. The easiest place in the climbing system to limit friction is at the TIP. This is made possible by use of a friction saving device (FSD). There are a number of FSDs available on the market today. There are also a number of ways to make your own for little cost, but any FSD that is used should meet all applicable standards for life support equipment.

Using an FSD at your main TIP has a number of advantages. First, it will lessen the friction on your line as it passes over the TIP. This is important in larger or wide-spreading trees. As a climber positions himself to work, the climbing line will often cross over, around and/or through many areas of the tree. Each of these contacts adds an extra amount of friction. Add enough friction and the climbing system becomes cumbersome. By reducing as much friction as possible at the TIP, the climber will cause the climbing system to perform better during the course of a climb.

There are many types of friction management for the tie-in point. Make sure they are rated for life support. This type of redirect can be removed after the climb from the ground. Therefore, it is removable, but not retrievable.

Consistently using an FSD will also develop a good measure of consistency for the climber. If the friction at the TIP is always roughly the same and the climber uses the same or similar lines and friction hitches, then the climbing system will act in a consistent manner no matter the tree. This is important on long limb walks or in positioning far out in the canopy. In these situations, minor adjustments are needed to maintain balance and safe positioning. A climber fighting with friction or unsure of how a climbing system will react may have a hard time making precise adjustments to the system.

The lessened friction at the TIP also makes subtle adjustment to the type of line used for climbing and cordage used for a friction hitch more noticeable. Often a minor switch in materials or wraps to a knot allows the climber to achieve slight enhancements in system performance. Therefore, FSDs can affect change in all aspects of a climbing system and offer increased flexibility.


Proper work positioning is essential to safe and efficient tree care operations. Often, a primary TIP will not offer the best option for every cut in a work plan. Redirects are a quick, efficient way to gain proper, safe positioning and increase efficiency.

A redirect can be employed in a number of ways and configurations; everything from a complex setup of pulleys, carabiners and straps to just using an appropriate branch union. No matter the setup, the goal is the same, to position the climbing line at a more advantageous angle and prevent excessive swing should a fall occur. All components should meet applicable standards for life support equipment as well.

Once again, friction management comes into play. A redirect that causes too much friction is not efficient or helpful. The climber must strike a balance between simplicity and usefulness. While a complicated system may reduce friction to almost nothing, the time it takes to employ it may be better spent by employing another line or repositioning the TIP. Work with a few systems that appeal to you, then narrow it down to one or two options and use them consistently. This will help limit the amount of gear you need, as well as expedite the setup because you will be familiar with your most frequently used systems.

One last word on redirect systems. Don’t get lost in the search for the holy grail of retrievability. The ability to remove a redirect from a remote location in the tree is certainly an advantage. However, if the climber cannot employ such a system effectively and in a timely manner then little is gained. If a retrievable system can be used, all the better, but climbing back up to retrieve a simpler system can be efficient as long as it is incorporated into the overall work plan.

Photo by Kimberly Stockwell-Morrison.
"Friction is as essentialto tree climbing as water is to fishing. Friction works for and against a climber. The advanced climber manages friction to reap the most from it when necessary, and lessen it as much as possible when appropriate." This simple redirect must be removed by returning to it. Simple and efficient if removal is made part of the overall work plan.

Tony Tresselt, a writer, ISA certified arborist, TCIA certified tree care safety professional and instructor for North American Training Solutions, works for Arborist Enterprises in Lancaster, Pa.