There are many technicalities, concerns and equipment choices facing the modern production tree climber. Add to this the tree and its concerns, and climbing arboriculture can seem like a daunting task.
Obviously, choices must be made. Central to all climbing activities is an adequate tie-in point (TIP). Working aloft can be overtly cumbersome and possibly life threatening without a good TIP. A poor TIP negates good equipment and technique before the climb even starts. This article will look at TIP considerations for doubled line climbing/dynamic rope systems.
The angle of the climbing line in relation to the climber is a good indication of safety and efficiency. Steep rope angles tend to “pull” the climber back to the TIP. Shallow rope angles require the climber to use more rope climbing techniques to overcome gravity. I’m sure as climbers we can all agree the best climbs blend rope and tree climbing with gentle rope angles that complement our movement to many areas of the tree.
For our purposes, a rope angle is zero when the climber is directly under the TIP. Due to the dynamics involved, climbers should never go above their TIPs without supplemental fall protection. Furthermore, as a general rule, a rope angle of 45 degrees is considered a good point to start to implement supplementary protection. Depending on the tree and the work to be completed, climbing at rope angles beyond 45 degrees may be necessary. When this happens, employ tools and techniques to reduce the risk of slipping or falling.
When rope angles go beyond 45 degrees an unintended slip becomes more of a fall than a swing. Depending on overall height in the tree, a long pendulum-type swing may cause the climber to contact the ground or other tree parts at a high velocity.
One of the best ways to avoid excessive rope angles is through good TIP selection. A high central TIP will aid efficiency and safety. Often trees do not offer one single TIP, so multiple TIPs may be necessary. I’ve often wasted valuable time and energy working with a poorly located TIP when relocating my rope would have taken mere minutes!
Good pre-climb inspection and work planning pay off. TIPs can be set remotely from the ground via throwline techniques. Will setting multiple lines before leaving the ground aid in climbing efficiency? As the climber works through the tree can the TIP can be changed? These questions should be considered during the pre-climb inspection and planning. Plan your work locations in the tree. What are the best TIPs available? Will the rope angle complement your work positioning? These are questions to ask. Don’t forget to include hazard inspection into the mix. Sometimes a prime TIP must be passed over due to nearby hazards.
The point is to plan your climb and TIPs as necessary to facilitate excellent rope angles and maximum safety. After establishing a TIP, it’s vital to ascertain its strength. Generally speaking, TIPs should be about the size of your wrist or larger. Experience and knowledge of tree species play a huge part in deciding the appropriate size, as does visual inspection. The magic of throwline skills is the ability to set a high TIP from the ground. Unfortunately, this limits the visual inspection to a distant, “bottom only” view. Load testing will increase your confidence in the TIP selection.
You can use the throwline for an initial check, but installing your climbing line offers the most versatility. Once the line is installed, visually check to see if the TIP is tight to an adequate load-bearing stem or trunk. Flip or manipulate your line close to the trunk or branch union. Do not compromise here! Tying both ends of your throwline to the throw bag, making a large loop, is a great trick for getting a line to move down a stem. The flip-flop of the bag at the TIP can do great things in the hands of a skilled climber.
Isolating the line — meaning that nothing is between the lead and fall of the line from the TIP to you — may or may not be necessary before climbing. Many climbers prefer to just “lanyard” their way around obstacles Be aware that rope angle will change based on the last tree part the line crosses on its way to the ground. This may limit lateral movement.
Grabbing both parts of rope, load the line with your body weight. Go light at first, and then increase as you make sure the TIP is not going to drop you. This is loading the TIP to your body weight and perhaps a bit more if you choose to bounce and/or are wearing your gear.
For a heavier load, anchor one end of your line to the base of the tree. Load the fall of the rope. In this scenario, you are roughly double loading the TIP. This is also a great time to pull test the tree. Here you are looking for tree defects that may only show up if the tree is in motion or under load.
A word of caution: Double loading a TIP is great up to a point. Setting your rope and then loading to excessive weight may cause a problem in and of itself. Use reason and good judgment when load testing TIPs. If you feel it is necessary to load a TIP with 1,000 pounds before climbing, you may want to reevaluate your plan.
Perhaps the most defining attribute that separates tree climbing from other industrial high-angle pursuits is the prevalence of lateral movement. As tree climbers we need to move around in trees, often a great distance from the TIP. Keep in mind the effect of this constantly changing angle when choosing a TIP. At zero degrees a good TIP will load the trunk or main stem in compression. As we move, this compression loading gets transferred to a pulling or more horizontal loading. Load testing from the ground is great for testing the compression, but the action of lateral climbing on the TIP should also be considered.
If a TIP is not secured to the main stem by either branch/tree structure and/or some type of equipment, such as a friction saver or false crotch, a climber’s lateral movement may cause the line to move farther out a branch or stem. A TIP may drift due to the climber “pulling” it away from a vertical load while moving laterally. Depending on structure and tree, this may significantly weaken the TIP.
Lateral or twisting movement around the TIP may also increase the friction at a TIP if some type of friction-management device is not used. If more friction is generated at the TIP, the climbing hitch will need to manage less of it. This changes how the hitch holds and with what tenacity. Coming back from a long limb walk is a bad time to find out your hitch does not want to hold the way you count on it to.
As climbers we have many choices for friction management in our climbing systems. Friction is both friend and foe. Too much and we struggle; too little and we fall. Getting that “Goldilocks” amount of friction is a beautiful moment. Friction-management devices (FMDs) at the TIP go a long way in helping to keep friction in the climbing system constant.
The options are numerous, from simple two-ring set-length straps to versatile pulley-based systems that can cinch tight to any suitable part of the tree structure. Using an FMD ensures that no matter the tree species or size of TIP the friction imparted is relatively constant. Of course, as the climb progresses there are more opportunities for friction to enter the system, such as redirects or chafing against the tree and branches; however, an FMD provides the best starting point.
When using FMDs follow best practices and/or manufacturer recommendations. Do not mix life support gear and rigging gear. When removing these devices from the tree, take care they don’t slam to the ground or otherwise get damaged. Also keep in mind the personal safety of you and your crew. The spliced end of a rope rapping the top of an inattentive crew member’s hard hat may be a funny lunchtime story, but if it’s a piece of hardware instead of a rope it could result in a trip to the hospital.
Pick an option that suits your usual climbing situations and that you can employ safely and efficiently day in and day out.
With so many choices to make in the course of a workday, it’s important that production tree climbers start the decision-making process early and populate it with sound, safe judgments. Choosing appropriate TIPs, evaluating them to the best of your ability, and ensuring your rope angles complement your work, or at the very least do not put you in greater danger, are important parts of the pre-climb plan. Establishing and/or changing a TIP as necessary to suit work demands is the hallmark of a professional climber and necessary for every climb.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2014 and has been updated for accuracy.