Throwline can be an efficient tool for quickly and efficiently accessing the highest reaches of a tree’s canopy, but it can also make climbers discouraged with its self-developed tangles, knots and snags. Many tree trucks have a special place for throwline: under the seat in a tangled mess never seeing the light of day, only to be removed in the final stages of desperation. However, this anger and despair can be significantly lessened with a few simple steps and changes in throwline use and storage. This month, we will deal with the basics of throwline, and next month, specific techniques of manipulation will be examined.
A simple task like storing throwline is one that causes many of the difficulties in using it. Coiling a small diameter line, like throwline, around a stick or arm is setting the table for trouble, and can only result in a wide variety of knots, snarls and twists when the throwline is deployed. It should be stored in some form of container, a bag designed for this, a folding cube, a closeable rope tarp or even a 5-gallon plastic bucket. No matter which container is used, the line should be simply fed or flaked into/onto it, leaving it set to deploy snarl-free in use. Many bags or cubes also have various pockets that help in the storage of the throw bags and weights, preventing them from winding their way through the flaked throwline, creating knots of even more complexity. Using dividers in the bag or bucket allows the storage and use of multiple throwlines, an excellent idea in the event of one becoming stuck high in the canopy. Newly purchased throwline should be removed from its reel in the same way it was put on, pulled off to the side with the reel freely spinning on a stick or someone’s fingers. Pulling new throwline off the end of the reel simply puts more twists and coils into it, making it even more prone to snags and snarls. Tying one end of the line to an immovable object and running a gloved hand down it with a fair amount of pressure will also help remove most of the “memory” and existing twists from the new throwline.
Throwline should always be used with throw weights or shot pouches on both ends of the line. This will not only allow for the use of various manipulative techniques, but also prevent the ego-crushing sight of the “un-bagged” end of the throwline disappearing up into the canopy. In areas free of brush, twigs or an abundance of throwline snagging debris, primarily maintained turfgrass, the throwline, once deployed from its container, can be thrown from flaked or stacked piles on the ground. However, moving it from tree to tree on such a site should be undertaken carefully, and under no circumstances circumstances should the pile of throwline be picked up and moved as a unit. Instead, climbers should seize the throw bag or end of the line that is on top of the pile and walk it to their next throwing site, flaking or stacking the line back into a pile again. The act of picking up a pile of throwline cannot help but encourage the development of snarls and coils. Should a climber miss with the throwline and wish to pull it back out of the canopy to throw again, they should take a few seconds to remove the weight from the end and pull the unencumbered throwline out. The practice of pulling throw weights through the small twigs and branches of a tree after missed shots probably contributes to more stuck throwlines than any other, as the wildly swinging and rapidly moving bag manages to wrap around branches, form coils and, in general, form knots and hitches not yet known to man. The methods chosen to attach the throwline to the bag will vary with user preference, but any method used should be secure and easy to quickly attach and detach, such as a variety of “slipped” hitches or even eyes spliced in the end of the throwline. The weight of bags used should be appropriate to the type of tree being thrown into. For example, a tree with rougher bark might require a heavier bag to ensure the bag and throwline’s return to ground level. The lessened height of the throw using a heavier bag is certainly worthwhile if the result is a usable tie-in point (tip) and the ability to access it, while an extremely high tip is of no value if the climber cannot get the bag back to the ground. If the bag is reluctant to return to the ground, an excellent technique to encourage it is strumming the throwline. Pulling the line taut and sharply plucking it as if it was a bowstring will send a small wave up the line, perhaps lessening the amount of friction momentarily, and allowing the throw weight to descend slightly. Strumming can be repeated as needed to return the bag to the ground, but choosing a properly weighted bag in the first place would probably be more efficient.
Throwline properly stored and used can quicken and streamline most tree care operations, even allowing the removal of “hangers” without leaving the ground. The few simple steps described here, and next month’s discussion of manipulation techniques, may help return throwline to the status of a useful tool instead of it’s often thought-of image, that of a torture device, helping all tree care professionals achieve the perfect tie-in point.
Michael (House) Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions/Arbor Canada Training and Education, currently located in Lancaster, Ky.