Every tree job that involves climbing should involve achieving overhead rope placement prior to the first foot leaving the ground. While this statement may disagree with the wisdom imparted by Cooter Cornfield while he was sipping a beer wearing his Arborwear “overhauls” with no shirt underneath on the tailgate of his “classic” pickup truck, this means spur-climbing jobs as well.

Gaining a secure tie-in point, or TIP, while on the ground, regardless of climbing method, not only increases speed and efficiency while ascending the tree, but also increases safety and provides an all-important “escape route” in the event of unforeseen and possibly life-threatening occurrences. Currently, the most common method of achieving overhead rope access is through the use of throwline. However, many OFGs (original forest gangstas) will remember, perhaps less than fondly, the joys and trials of rope throwing, and how no climbing competition was complete without the obligatory bucket truck set at varying heights, adult beverages, and monkey’s fists flying everywhere in an attempt to “make the shot.”

While rope throwing cannot hope to compete with the heights and accuracies provided by modern throwline, with the exception of a few of the paragons of old, there are certainly more than a few applications for its use in the world of the modern, progressive arborist. Knowledge and an understanding of this old-school technique can be quite useful in specific circumstances. Throwline use comes with its own trials and tribulations, after all, an activity that involves a small-diameter line, large amounts of twiggy debris, and a weighted object thrown high in the air has all the elements necessary to ensure viral video success on YouTube. A few basic principles and practice can help make throwline more of a joy and less of a challenge.

Some examples of different storage options that work well for throwline. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

Some examples of different storage options that work well for throwline.
Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

Rope throwin’

As mentioned previously, hurling a climbing or rigging line into the canopy, even with more modern smaller-diameter, lighter-weight ropes, is going to be limited in height and accuracy in comparison to a throwline, but the beauty of rope throwing is its simplicity.

A Big Shot preparing to launch. Photo by Tanya Peterson.

A Big Shot preparing to launch.
Photo by Tanya Peterson.

While that desired 65-foot TIP in a white oak is beyond the limits of rope throwing and best achieved with a throwline, changing the TIP while aloft might be much better and more quickly achieved through some old-school magic. Any climber who’s attempted to use a throwline aloft is familiar with the tangled torturous mess that can ensue.

In addition to changing TIPs while aloft or achieving multiple TIPs, rope throwing is often easier, quicker and more efficient than a throwline in trees with lower branches and a thickly branched structure, allowing quick access to the canopy with advancement of the TIP as the climber ascends. In fact, climbers confronted with an allée of trees or a block of street trees to prune may find that with good rope throwing techniques and some sort of reaching device to pull the rope back in to them, they may never need to ascend back to the ground, moving laterally from one tree to the next.

One option for attaching throw bags to the end of the throwline is spliced eyes that are then girth hitched around the ring of the shot pouch. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

One option for attaching throw bags to the end of the throwline is spliced eyes that are then girth hitched around the ring of the shot pouch. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

Since there is typically no throw bag or weight used in rope throwing — though crescent wrenches have been seen in use on occasion — the user creates a “weight” by taking several loops or coils of the line, taking some turns around the bundle, and securing it in some manner. This throwing knot, sometimes called a monkey’s fist or bullet, is then heaved into the desired location any number of ways, including underhand, sidearm or backwards over the head. The throwing knot may be open or locked, with an open one hopefully uncoiling back to the user’s level after going over the desired TIP, and a locked one staying secure allowing manipulation.

No matter which knot or method is used, a few loose coils of line should be thrown along with the monkey’s fist to reduce drag on the hurled rope. If the line should come to rest out and away from the TIP, novice rope throwers will find it fairly easy to manipulate by throwing bights of rope up the line to either lower the bullet or move the line around stubs or closer to the desired point. Even greater manipulation can be achieved by using a fishing pole technique with the short section of a pole saw to “cast” the bights upward.

The Slipped Clove Hitch (left) and the Slipped Figure Eight are two possible options for securely attaching the throwline to the throw weight while still being able to detach it quickly and easily. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

The Slipped Clove Hitch (left) and the Slipped Figure Eight are two possible options for securely attaching the throwline to the throw weight while still being able to detach it quickly and easily. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

Throwline

This tool can, with practice and preparation, help climbers achieve TIPs accurately and consistently at heights of 60 feet and more by hand, and at much greater heights through the use of a launching mechanism such as the Big Shot. Yet after frustrating, tangled, blood- pressure-elevating experiences with throwline, more than a few tree folk have vowed never to use it again. A few simple principles and practice integrated into everyday throwline use can help make its use not only less frustrating, but almost pleasurable.

A throwline place over an unusable branch, but with an excellent TIP below. This is a perfect situation for the two-string technique. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

A throwline place over an unusable branch, but with an excellent TIP below. This is a perfect situation for the two-string technique. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

Storage

Coiling the typically small-diameter line that is throwline either by hand or around an object such as a stick is a recipe for disaster and frustration. The line will not deploy smoothly when used, and it can often pick up “memory” of how it was coiled, leading to snarls and snags of biblical proportions. There is a wide variety of bags, cubes and other devices available intended for throwline storage, and all of them work quite well if used properly. In addition, thrifty climbers can use empty 5-gallon buckets or other suitable “recycled” receptacles for their throwline. Regardless of what container is used, whether purchased or found, the throwline should be flaked or fed into the container, ready to deploy smoothly. In areas with brush or tall throwline-catching grass, users may wish to flake the throwline back into the container after a missed shot rather than run the risk of their “perfect” shot being snagged preemptively. Having bags on both ends of the throwline will not only prevent it from sailing out of sight after a particularly vigorous throw, but will also aid in manipulation as discussed later in the column.

Usage

Throwline, much like rope, can be hurled in a variety of ways, pretty much only restricted by the hurler’s imagination and the variety of non-tree-related targets. Amongst the established methods are the single-handle side shot, the double-handle between the legs or “granny” shot, and the single-handle Kareem skyhook.

On both the single-handle methods the user can choose to pass a bight through the throw weight’s ring, often achieving a better grip, while on the granny shot the bight passes through the ring to both hands, giving the user a double handle of sorts. The bag or weight can be attached with any number of hitches or slipped hitches to the throwline, or even through the use of a large eye spliced in the end of the throwline. Whatever method of attachment is used should be secure enough to prevent damaging property or bystanders with free-flying throw bags, but also fairly easy to release to increase efficiency.

The second bag and string attached to the first one for use in the two-string technique. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

The second bag and string attached to the first one for use in the two-string technique. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

The weight of the bag chosen is going to be dependent on the user’s preference, with the caveat that an excellent highly placed throwline is of no use if there is too little weight to bring the throwline back to the ground. “Reluctant to run” throwlines can be encouraged by strumming the taut throwline, sending a small wave up the line to the friction-inducing bark, but particularly high shots will result in rather serious blisters on the strumming fingers should this technique be required all the way to the ground.

Tools and techniques

The Big Shot, mentioned previously, is an excellent tool for throwline use. This large offset slingshot allows novice throwline users to place lines in TIPs well beyond the reach of most hand-thrown placements. In fact, new Big Shot users will find themselves overshooting their targets more often than not and will have to adjust their technique accordingly. While it’s an excellent tool, the Big Shot requires some care and understanding to avoid damaged property and/or users. It should only be used on fiberglass pole sections, never wood, and if multiple sections are used the user should ensure that the sections are properly and securely locked together.

The first string (yellow) is used to maneuver and place the second string (orange) in the desired TIP with the two-string technique. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

The first string (yellow) is used to maneuver and place the second string (orange) in the desired TIP with the two-string technique. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

As always in tree care operations, command-and-response communication methods should be used to make sure the area is clear prior to launching from the Big Shot.

The two-string technique can be useful both in hand-thrown and Big Shot-thrown lines. This technique can be used when the achieved shot is either above or off to the side of the desired TIP. Once the original throw bag has been returned to the ground, a second line and bag are attached and lifted into the canopy. The two strings and weights can then be used to maneuver and manipulate until the desired TIP is acquired. Rough-barked trees may require the addition of more throw bags to overcome the friction of the two throwlines — and the time to think of this is prior to having the lines completely aloft and out of reach.

The end result of a properly carried out two-string technique; one errant throw resulting in a line in the desired TIP. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

The end result of a properly carried out two-string technique; one errant throw resulting in a line in the desired TIP. Photo: by Michael (House) Tain

The two-bag or two-weight technique is a simple method, and one that should be readily available given the presence of a bag at both ends of the throwline. The weights at both ends of the line are simply used to maneuver it vertically or horizontally to achieve the desired TIP through swings, pendulums or even flips vertically over branches. While this is a fairly simple method, the consequences of a missed swing, flip or overexuberant pendulum can easily result in a bag pulled out of the tree or wrapped around a branch, so use it cautiously.

The two-handled between the legs, or granny, throwline method in action. Photo by Tanya Peterson.

The two-handled between the legs, or granny, throwline method in action. Photo: Tanya Peterson

Rope throwing and throwline are both the means to an end for climbing arborists, allowing them to achieve safe, secure TIPs in an expeditious manner. Just as with many of the other tools in tree folks’ mental toolboxes, the situation will dictate which tool or method is chosen, but having the right tool for the situation is up to the user, and the basic principles and practices discussed here will help make that tool available.