The following video and photos include shots of the actual rendezvous in Leggett California from October 13th – 16th, 2019. This event took place with about eighty attendees. The days preceding this event include my road trip with my wife/photographer, from Seattle, down along the Oregon coast and through the Avenue of the Giants in and around Humboldt, California.
There has been a lot of discussion about using belay devices for tree climbing. Many belay devices are lightweight and perform well for their intended uses. Products like the Trango Cinch and Petzl Grigri have made the leap from being a rock climbing belay tool, using dynamic or more springy rope, to a tree climbing progress capture device used with static or less springy ropes typically used for tree climbing. A belay device can also be used by a tree climber in a number of ways, including as a lanyard adjuster. Some go so far as to claim a device like the Madrock Safeguard (a hybrid belay device) can work as a tree climbing saddle’s rope-bridge adjuster.
My intention is to help educate and draw more attention to the similarities and differences between rock and tree climbing gear. I touch on the topic of non-conforming uses of gear, outside of a manufacturer’s guidelines. I’m not an expert rock or tree climber and my views may be taken with a certain degree of skepticism. However, I do my own research and accept responsibility for my opinions and views.
Tree climbers are resourceful when it comes to making things do what they may not necessarily be intended for or designed to do. For that reason, I will try to clarify things for beginners to better understand the trade offs when using belay devices for tree climbing.
As a rock climber is being belayed, the ground person uses a belay device that connects to the belayer’s climbing harness. Rope passes through the belay device, enabling the belay person to feed and retrieve rope or simply manage slack.
When considering the purpose of the belay device, there are two primary functions being addressed. The device locks onto and engages the rope when shock loaded and it enables the belay person to feed rope out or in through the device. The principle is fairly simple.
When a climber falls, it shock loads the belay device, which then engages or locks onto the rope, enabling the belay person to absorb the shock load of the falling climber and then feed more rope through the device to safely lower a climber back down to the ground. The weight of the falling climber is transferred to and absorbed by the belay person and partially by the dynamic rope absorbing the shock load. A belay person also helps the climber by managing the slack of the rope, by feeding rope in or out through the belay device during the climb.
Tree climbers typically use static ropes, without the same degree of elasticity of dynamic ropes used by rock climbers. A vast assortment of belay devices are currently in use and one of the two that have made a cross-over is the Trango Cinch. It’s no longer in production, but it supported larger diameter ropes used by many tree climbers. The Trango Vergo is the Cinch’s replacement, but 10.7 mm is the largest diameter rope it uses, based on the manufacturer’s guidelines.
The Cinch and GriGri, according to the manufacturer, offers a range of use by allowing a range of rope size diameters to work within the device itself. The GriGri supports ropes sized 8.5 mm to 11mm, and the Cinch 9.4mm to 11mm. Since tree climbers are known for pushing the envelop and by experimenting beyond what a manufacturer recommends, they’ve found that certain devices may work on certain larger static climbing sized ropes with varied levels of efficiency, contrary to the product manufacturer’s instructions and/or guidelines. Some tree climbers are more cavalier and do this solely at their own risk without first contacting the manufacturer to determine whether this is an acceptable risk. One may argue that there’s perhaps a 0.5 mm degree of variance, given the fact that a rope changes between the time it’s brand new and becomes more fully broken in, but using this or any product outside of the product manufacturer’s guidelines, is not recommended.
In the context of being used as a progress capture tool for a climbing lanyard, a belay device may perform well, notwithstanding the fact that, by design, a rope can move or be feed through the device when it isn’t engaged or tension loaded by the pull of the rope. For tree climbers, whether this can cause the rope to creep or slip unintentionally is almost a certainty, because that’s what a belay device is designed to do. Nonetheless if a tree climber is mindful of the device’s characteristics and maintains a consistent load on the device when in use, it becomes an issue whereby the climber assumes further liability and decides to set their own levels of risk tolerance.
Taking this a step further, a tree climber can use certain belay devices to capture progress on ascent, and as a rappelling device on descent. Since belay devices are not necessarily designed for the purpose of tree climbing, performance varies when compared to other assisted braking descending devices using larger braking cams. Opinions do vary and with the exception of the GriGri, many major tree gear retailers sell a more robust and fuller featured variety of assisted braking descending devices, like the Petzl Rig or ID, including many with built-in lock-off and/or anti-panic functions.
Tree climbers have an assortment of options when it comes to rope grabs, auto-breaking-descenders, even multicenders, all of which can be used as lanyard adjusters. Multicenders like the Akimbo, Rope Runner, Unicender and Hitch Hiker are in fact ideal lanyard adjusters, but maybe not as lightweight, compact, inexpensive and practical for the majority of climbers. I’m on a personal quest for the perfect all around, lightweight, multicending lanyard adjuster designed specifically for static climbing ropes with 11 to 12.5 mm diameters.
There are promising new designs for rope grabs in the works, one of which is a downsized Unicender, called the Hipster, which may be used to adjust lanyards, and as a foot and/or knee ascender.
The following video is several years old and new products and upgrades to these products are available, but the review discusses which types of devices are better suited and why belay devices are comparatively less effective when used in ways beyond their intended purpose.
I just picked up the new 2019 Sequoia SRT Saddle with the Petzl SRT Shoulder Straps. The first thing I noticed was how light yet sturdy it felt, compared to my old saddle and all the stuff I loaded onto it. Without the extra stuff clipped onto the saddle, the new saddle was similar in weight to the old stripped down Tree Motion (TM) saddle and I’m surprisingly impressed with the rugged yet light weight feel to the new saddle.
It’s a very solidly built, high quality saddle and the clips are pretty much bullet proof. The hardware and materials are exceptional and very lightweight. While I leave the leg straps clipped and step through it when putting on and taking off the saddle, the release clips are strong and function very well, as expected. The one inch wide bungee straps connecting the leg loops to the waist is a nice feature. I adjusted the leg loops to fit around my legs, but the length of the bungee strap hasn’t needed tweaking in my case and there has been no complaints from the leg loops, when it comes to protecting the family jewels.
Wearing the saddle feels better than the TM, mainly because of the width of side-loading waist straps. With the two adjustable side plates, the waist straps tighten and loosen very nicely when intentionally adjusted, and stay well secured during multiple climbs. There’s never any question as to the clipped in straps unintentionally getting looser or becoming undone, because waist strap never disconnects. While both ends can be adjusted looser or tighter, they’ll never come apart. This difference makes the SRT saddle more secure and comfortable than the TM, in my opinion.
One thing I did notice is where the saddle likes to rest on the hips. It can ride a bit too high and pinch the hips, but when it’s riding at or a tad below the hip bone level, it feels great in a passive position with no pinching issues at all. When connected to my multicender, there is no problem with the position and location of either the upper or lower side D-rings (D’s). Everything balances beautifully when in a passive resting position, even when using the upper or lower D’s.
I added a second bridge, one 40cm, and the other is 45cm. The new D-rings can now accommodate two rope bridges, which is a great upgrade from earlier models. I couldn’t get the sewn end on the Petzl Rope Bridge with the molded casing to fit through the Rock Exotica Rook, although I’ve heard it did through someone else’s Rook, I stopped trying. I initially used the dual rope bridges as shown in the photo above.
I tried augmenting one of two the rope bridges with an RollNLock, to create one fixed and one adjustable rope bridge, but I prefer to keep everything more simple. The RollNLock can conveniently connect behind the D-ring’s plate using a simple zip-tie. The rope I used for the adjustable bridge is Blaze climbing rope. The ends are hand whipped using a thick waxed thread to mitigate fray, and the ends are tied off using double overhand, or Stevedore stopper knots. On the bridge itself is a large DMM swivel and the fixed rope bridge is a rugged but small CMI ring that can hold two carabiners.
Using the SRT saddle-specific shoulder straps feel great. While there’s no issue with the clips and the little loops that hold it the light wire-gate carabiners on the saddle, it’s the padded shoulder straps that feel better, compared to the unpadded 4SRT or a Petzl Torse chest harness. This shoulder strap is not a full body harness providing fall arrest, although it still feels strong enough to share the saddle’s load and effectively tends multicending devices very efficiently.
Since I rec climb mostly and don’t carry too much stuff on my saddle, compared to many tree care professionals, I do feel some of the saddle weight being transferred and shared on the Petzl SRT shoulder straps. What I do is connect the tending strap, like I would with the Petzl Torse, directly onto the Akimbo, Runner, Uni, Hitch Hiker, or Rope Wrench directly, rather than onto the waist loop, which I’d probably do when climbing DdRT, if I ever decide not to climb SRT. Like the Petzl Torse or Croll harness, the tending strap is adjustable using the clip nicely located under the left shoulder. While I have a Croll and while it would integrate perfectly into the SRT saddle, I don’t anticipate using it as a multicending substitute, unless I’m possibly opting to ascend with as light a load as possible and stop, lanyard in and do a change-over into a descending system when needing to reposition or descend.
The Sequoia SRT climbing saddle and shoulder straps have the craftsmanship, durability and versatility to handle all my tree climbing needs. While I truly respect, admire and still frequently use a TM saddle for training purposes, I have tremendous respect for the innovations Teufelberger has achieved with the TM saddle and the way they’ve inspired the industry as a whole. However, when it comes to personal preference, I’m now sticking with the Sequoia SRT Saddle and Shoulder Straps for my primary climbing set up.
Tree climbing invokes thoughts of childhood adventures for many. Throughout the ages countless life forms climb trees, reside in trees, or somehow benefit from trees. A squirrel can climb up or down a tree trunk, because their feet can pivot and rotate, whereas a cat can easily go up, but is unaccustomed to backing down or out of a tree. Many animals, including reptiles, monkeys, and birds easily move through the trees with the utmost grace, while rarely shock-loading a limb.
Fear itself can be an obstacle to overcome, plus our bodies all have certain limitations. Tree climbing causes us to make critical decisions to better ensure our safety. When climbing and not performing tree trimming or removal, the risks are significantly less. In fact, continuous advancements in industry standardized climbing equipment have made rope assisted tree climbing a relatively safe activity, with certain inherent risks. Technical tree climbing is not just for arborists and tree care professionals.
Tree climbing equipment differs from rock or wall climbing gear. The harnesses are different, ropes are static and not dynamic (as stretchy), and rope diameters are usually generally smaller for rock climbers. There are several products that made the cross-over from rock to tree climbing, beyond their intended uses perhaps, but the two climbing camps have more differences than overall similarities, because tree climbers rely more on a climbing line connected to a tree, whereas rock climbers scale mountainsides or boulders while using the rope generally as a back-up measure.
Physically being up in a tree while exercising both body and mind is immensely gratifying and rewarding. The feeling can be similar to that of a distance runner who attains a certain euphoric level of calmness while jogging. After a climb I feel a buzz that can last for days, which in part may be due to the organic essential oils being emitted from the trees themselves. Sharpening my focus, building muscle mass and enhancing awareness are all good reasons to climb trees, beyond just the simple joy of being outdoors, spending precious time in a beautiful tree.
Recreational tree climbing training opportunities are being offered throughout the world, open to practically anyone who has the desire to pursue this incredible pastime.
Tree Climbing involves two scenarios, one is climbing “wild” trees and those that are not. Wild Trees is a term made famous by Richard Preston in his book The Wild Trees. He describes the following: One is a tree that’s never been climbed by a human, or hasn’t been climbed for some time. The other kind are trees that have been more recently climbed and cleared of potential risks, thereby being less wild for that reason.
A lead climber ascending into any wild tree may need to clear potential hazards like fallen deadwood or tree-rot. Other unknown threats may include ants, bee hives, active bird nests and many other kinds of tree dwelling creatures. Certain hazards can be invisible from a ground-person’s viewpoint. For this reason, the lead climber has an added responsibility for his own safety the safety of other climbers in the group, to identify and mitigate such obstacles, generally encountered on the initial ascent into any wild tree.
Tree climbers may need to relocate, advance or better secure a tie-in-point, while hopefully leaving other canopy inhabitants undisturbed. A climber needs to understand and deal with the differences between a tree cleared by other fellow climbers, versus a wild tree with potentially unaddressed hazards.
Advances in equipment and devices like the new Rope Runner Pro have brought about huge advancements in technical tree climbing, similar to how urethane wheels transformed the sport of skate boarding. The emergence of talented individuals, many of whom are climbing arborists, have taken tree climbing to a whole new level. Whether it’s competitive speed climbing, using a hybrid rope-walking system, or bombing out of a tree, while gracefully spinning and flipping, like an acrobatic flying squirrel and landing with the precision of a Lear jet, the art and beauty of recreational tree climbing is now only starting to emerge in our collective consciousness.
Among the recreational tree climbing community are those who participate in an annual get together known as the Tree Climbing Rendezvous. Other events include tree climbing competitions and guided climbs into some of the most amazing and largest living beings on earth. Competitive Tree Climbing events are organized and sponsored by equipment dealers, various arborist organizations and individual members belonging to the (GOTC) Global Organization of Tree Climbers. These events bring together a broad assortment of tree care industry professionals, tree climbers and other like-minded enthusiasts.
Tree climbing is a great way to build physical strength, sharpen focus and connect with nature’s objective reality. Every climb has it’s own unique characteristics, based on constantly changing variables. Helping to teach others, ranging in all ages, including those with physical challenges, or even by helping orphan orangutans who’ve been displaced by palm oil production, helps us all to better connect with nature in a most intimate manner. Tree climbing involves real time problem solving skills, using sound methods and gear to provide safe and enjoyable experiences when used responsibly.
Recreational tree climbers focus on the specific challenges each tree offers. Tall trees may include a long initial descent to reach the lower branches and while climbing tools may vary among smaller and larger trees, the principals are much the same, as are the laws of physics and gravity.
Canopy research has been transformed through the art of technical tree climbing, with much thanks to Donald Perry who invented the original Zip-Line. Don is now pioneering a modern Zip line technology, enabling users to control starting, stopping and be able to rotate on a pivot to more efficiently study and observe nature from a first hand perspective.
Recreational tree climbing is certainly a constructive way to protect precious rain forests. Education and awareness raising is helping to protect and preserve trees. More aggressive methods like canopy-installed motion detecting and sound sensing devices are now able to relay real-time information to authorities concerning territories being illegally poached and deforested, thanks to recreational tree climbers.
Enough about the tree climbers and their methods, let’s consider the actual trees themselves. Trees are our planet’s carbon scrubbers, ridding the atmosphere of toxic material, in return for producing life supporting oxygen. On a daily basis, rain forests throughout the world inhale carbon and exhale oxygen. In doing so, they create their own weather systems, returning moisture into the atmosphere which is then redeposited back to earth in the form of rain. This symbiotic relationship between the planet and the rain forests is not only necessary for life’s survival on a macro level, but also all the way down to benefiting micro-ecosystems.
There are a variety of trees throughout the world’s rain forests, including Old Growth Redwood/Sequoias, Eucalyptus, Sitka Spruce, Douglas and Nobel Firs and many others, some reaching enormous heights. Trees are earth’s treasures and should be appreciated, studied and utilized from a recreational standpoint.
Some Redwood trees can live up to 3000 years, reaching heights of 300 feet or more. Redwoods are among the tallest and largest trees and meditating on this fact alone can significantly alter one’s perspective. To experience each day as a single heartbeat, over 1000’s of years, while surviving everything nature has to throw at you, including forest fire, is challenging to fathom. The fallen trees also continue to give back to the forest. A tree’s snag will decay over time and continue to nourish and support the forest and wildlife long after a tree appears to die.
Unfortunately only about 5% of the original Redwood’s forest still remains. This and other rain forests throughout the world are vital to our survival, while high levels of deforestation continues to plague our very existence. Fortunately, many countries are now taking affirmative action to protect and restore their forests, realizing how much they give to us in return for our Eco-restoration efforts.
Trees communicate and work together within the forest through an underground root network connecting to other plants, fused together with fungi. Trees are also a symbolic part of an inclusive network that encompasses all of reality. The concept of a Universal Tree of Life, literally means that we and everything in reality is connected and part of a greater whole. From a spiritual perspectives, this further implies we are all united as One.
Technical tree climbers have a growing number of mechanical SRT multicending tree climbing devices to choose from. SRT (single rope technique or static, fixed or stationary line climbing) has transformed tree climbing, enabling climbers to ascend into and maneuver within the canopies, using the least amount of wasted energy.
In the last twenty years new climbing products and innovations like professional grade multicenders, or devices that combine ascending and descending functions into one device, within the SRT framework have become available. Choosing which device is best suited to beginners or advanced users depends on a number of personal preferences.
In case you didn’t already know, the main difference between stationary-rope-technique (SRT) and doubled-rope-technique (DdRT) is that with DdRT, you pull two times, or double the length of a moving rope, going up and around a limb and back down. The climber, controls both ends of the moving rope and has a 2:1 mechanical advantage. That makes it easier to lift oneself up a climbing line, but it only advances the climber half as far, when compared to SRT’s 1:1 advantage.
Ascending SRT on a stationary climbing line when using a multicender, together with a foot and a knee ascender, creates a true Rope-Walking climbing system. This allows the climber’s weight to be distributed onto both the foot and knee ascenders, using both legs in an alternating way, while leaving the arms free to use more for guiding, positioning and stability, thereby conserving upper body strength, as well. These devices when combined, create an ergonomic, efficient an extremely popular SRT climbing system. Various brands of ascenders and multicenders, provide countless ways to build a true Rope-Walking climbing system.
Homemade or commercially available gas or electric powered ascenders, including the Raptor and the Ronin, may offer an easier climbing solution using mechanical automation, rather than climbing unassisted and under one’s own power. Using a counter-balanced weight also enables climbers to mitigate or eliminate the weight of their load, but when it comes to climbing solely under one’s own power, the Ropewalking system is my favorite climbing style for ascending a stationary rope.
The Rope Wrenchand the Hitch Hiker both use hand-tied friction-cords, aka: prusik cords, tied into rope-grabbing hitch knots. The effectiveness of either device can vary, based on the quality and type of friction hitch, the type of friction cord, as well as, its direct relationship with the climbing line and the climber. The friction cord’s diameter must be less than the rope’s diameter, in order to properly perform. Once the friction hitch is properly tied, dressed and set, these devices are as effective as the mechanical multicenders, except for more sit-back that occurs each time the hitch knots are weighted. Most hitches also have a tendency to bind and can generally become more difficult to manage, when weighted and under tension.
Friction hitches or rope grabbing knots, although they can become tightly bound, are gentle on ropes and well suited for dissipating heat, compared to the metallic friction points, or way more abrasive teeth on certain types of hand, feet, knee or chest ascenders. These teeth, when shock loaded, can strip the cover off a rope. Friction cords are also economical and easy to replace, compared to the cost to replace or retool a worn out mechanical multicending device.
A major concern among hitch cord users is, or should be, knowing when to retire a used cord. While many commercial grade friction cords are heat rated for climbing, excessive friction may cause scorching on the cord itself. By rubbing the cord back and forth against tree bark, it may be possible to scrape off scorched and sappy material.
The Rope Runner Pro, Rope Runner, Akimbo, Unicender, ZigZag/Chicane combo and the Bulldog Bone are completely mechanical multicending devices. They eliminate the use of friction cords altogether. These devices reduce sit-back, compared to other hitch cord based multicenders. Overall efficiency of each device depends on the rope type, a climber’s weight, the weather and other known and unknown factors. These devices are all intended for use on manufacturer recommended static climbing ropes somewhere in the 11mm to 13mm diameter range.
I began climbing with a Rope Wrench, using a dependable 5-wrap Michoacan (aka: Martin) friction hitch/knot on a 28″ sewn eye-and-eye Bee-Line prusik cord and a Hitch-Climber pulley. While this device is dependable, keeping a close eye on the friction knot and adjusting it periodically to be sure it grabs and releases the rope when needed is always mission critical. Based on my weight, I tried a number of different prusik cords and hitch knots, until finding ones that were better suited to grabbing and releasing my weighted climbing line.
The Rope Wrenchitself is incomplete without a recommended eye & eye hitch cord, a hitch tending pulley, 12″ stiff tether and a locking carabiner. The Rope Wrench itself is positioned on one end of tether, above the hitch knot, creating a bend in the climbing line. A hand spliced or sewn spliced eye & Eye prusik cordconnects the to the pulley and carabiner, creating an effect that is similar to a DdRT climbing system, but with the benefits of an SRT system. The Rope Wrench’s effect places a bend in the rope, which reduces tension on the hitch knot, similar to DdRT, making it less likely to bind. A tending device, connects the tether to the climber’s chest harness, neck loop, or an over the shoulder lanyard.
The Rope Wrench has the distinction of being the only multicender for just SRT climbing. Although, switching from SRT to DdRT is as simple as reaching the canopy tie-in-point, lanyarding in for safety, and changing the tie in point from a stationary to a moving rope system. At that point, disengaging the Rope Wrench from the climbing line, while leaving the hitch tending pulley in place will then complete the change-over. Care should be given to not drop the slic pin when up in the tree and by being safely tied in with a secured climbing lanyard. Fortunately the slic pin has two points of engagement. Leaving the pin partially engaged, with enough room to take the Rope Wrench on or off the rope is possible.
The Chicane/ZigZag combination is the most expensive and currently one of the most popular multicenders among production climbers. While it’s based on the exact same principle used by the Rope Wrench, the mechanical rope grab works like a hitch knot and avoids the sort of binding issues associated with hitch knots. This offers climbers a reliable, solid, well conceived mechanical alternative, providing the strength and consistency needed for both SRT and DdRT climbing systems. Designed for use on static climbing ropes between 11.5mm and 13 mm in diameter , the 2019 ZigZag Plus comes with a built-in swivel, or the slightly less expensive 2019 ZigZag which has no built-in swivel.
Unlike other multicenders, the ZigZag is not mid-line attachable and that’s a big drawback for some, especially when advancing and or alternating between climbing lines. As noted below, the ZigZag can be used with a Rope Wrench in place of the Chicane in an SRT system, but the upgraded ZigZag is now stronger and more robust than its predecessors and the Chicane has a modified tether with a hand-grip, similar to a hand ascender.
The RopeTek Hitch Hiker 2is a personal favorite and possibly the best multicending device ever made. It’s noted for its overall strength, simplicity and for being compact and efficient when used at different climbing angles. Unlike the Rope Wrench which uses an eye & eye cord, the Hitch Hiker 2 uses a friction cord that’s threaded through a dog-bone like metal bar, secured with a fisherman’s knot or other suitable stopper knots on both sides. A steel carabiner and the dog bone add friction to the Hitch Hiker 2’s climbing line when weighted, enabling the prusik knot to perform smoothly and reliably.
A Hitch Hiker 2 needs to be augmented for tending. I believe the best tending option is the plastic holster, but a short 5″ rope with two sewn eyes, metal wire or a loop of throw line are options as well. Tending the Hitch Hiker by attaching it onto a climber’s chest harness, neck loop or an over-the-shoulder-lanyard enables the device to self-tend.
Installing the hitch cord on any Hitch Hiker is a bit more tedious than other devices, but wrapping the friction cord around the climbing line and tying stopper knots on the ends of the friction cord is simple to learn. Once the friction hitch is dialed in with minimal sit-back, the hitch performs exceptionally well. It’s a very efficient, compact, rugged, manageable, reliable and economical multicender.
Both the Hitch Hiker and the Rope Wrench are mid-line attachable. Because prusik cords are economical, easily available and rope-friendly, both of these devices are very popular multicending contenders for hitch knot users. They can take some getting used to, in terms of getting your preferred cord and hitch knot properly tied, dressed and set. Of the two, the Hitch Hiker is the least expensive to own and it’s built like a tank.
As shown in the above video, Climbing Innovations offers a variation of the Rope Tek Hitch Hiker 2, using a Tree Quickie, in place of the original CT steel carabiner used by Rope Tek. The redesigned Hitch Hiker X no longer has riveted bumps on it’s sides, leaving smooth surfaces on both sides for the Tree Quickie to move more freely when tending. On the Hitch Hiker 2 when the plastic tending holster, it keeps the Tree Quickie from hitting the side rivets, but that’s only if you’re thinking about replacing the steel carabiner with the compact Tree Quickie. Alternatively, I prefer to connect my rope bridge swivel directly to the Hitch Hiker 2’s steel carabiner, keeping the hardware footprint to a minimum.
When friction knots are properly tied, dressed and set using either the Rope Wrench or Hitch Hiker, they perform adequately with minimal sit-back. A friction cord under load and heavy use will eventually wear out, causing it to lose integrity, mainly due to heat build-up and friction. Friction hitch/knots are not recommend solely for use as a primary repelling device on SRT, unless its being integrated into one of these two devices.
The Unicenderis a compact, fully self-contained and mid-line attachable ascending and descending device. It works well on both SRT and DdRT climbing systems. There’s a slight transitional bump or jerkiness that happens when transitioning to and from ascent to decent, but getting used to that is easy. Wrapping the rope around the Unicender on descent is strongly advised, rather than pinching the two outside arms together with your hand and holding on for dear life. The later option is dangerous under any condition and should be avoided.
Based on the high friction demand placed on the Unicender, especially due to factors that may include an unwashed climbing line causing abrasion, and through normal wear and tear will eventually take it’s toll. Equipment of this caliber is usually dependable for maybe three years, depending on each individual’s climbing characteristics.
I’ve climbed on my Unicender many times with no slippage, but I am seeing some signs of friction wear on the anodized finish. Although the Unicender has no replaceable parts, there are two options to address signs of excessive wear. For about $200, versus the $300+ replacement cost, you can get the device restored and refurbished through Rock Exotica. In comparison, the Rope Runner has wearable bollards and other components which can easily be replaced with available replacement parts. This may be the one of the most notable differences between the various mechanical multicenders.
For someone like myself who climbs strictly for recreation, home gardening or much less than someone like a tree care professional who regularly hauls cutting and rigging equipment into the trees, from a beginner’s standpoint, the Unicender remains a top contender because of its smooth tending capacity, overall user-friendliness, being mid-line attachable, compactness and especially for being fully self-contained, with no removable pins or parts. The only drawback, as a matter of preference and depending on wear and rope type, may be the use of the Unicender’s descending function, which may run a bit fast and loose for some.
The risk of an object or falling limb striking the Unicender’s or Akimbo’s upper arm, or any multicending device for that mater, may cause an unintentional or accidental release from the climbing line. Some multicender manufacturers warn against using hand ascenders with foot-loops, but when I am on a ropewalking system with a foot and knee ascender, on longer ascents I’ll usually include a hand ascender above my multicender, but without attaching a foot-loop onto it. This makes it easier to grip and pull myself up the rope.
I wonder how well all these devices perform in side by side comparisons, with regard to heat retention and dissipation, namely on rapid descents that are 200′ or longer. Changing over to a descender from a multicending system is not required, but a climber may opt to use a Petzl Rig, or another similar type of descending device , such as those with anti-panic features that are well designed more specifically for longer, heavier, and/or more controllable descents. Always keep in mind, these devices are all subject to the same laws of physics, relative to friction and heat retention.
Friction and heat build-up can scorch and actually start to melt a polyester covered climbing line, especially if a climber is ripping around and not being attentive enough to their gear. A scuba-diver is subject to embolisms when ascending too quickly, whereas a descending climber depending on a friction knot and or mechanical device may overheat and melt a polyester climbing line when rappelling too quickly for a long duration.
Richard Mumford at ClimbingInnovations.com has designed a Unicender accessory to mitigate friction, known as the Drumand it looks like it may make things a bit better for Unicender users because of the way it helps improve friction-management and provides for an easy lock off. Richard demonstrates its installation and use in the following video.
How the Drummay effect the overall performance of the Unicender, for better or worse, is uncertain, but it does alter the original design in an attempt to make it more durable and functional. I’m not aware of any formal response from the inventor Morgan Thompson, or Rock Exotica who manufacturers the Unicender, with respect to them possibly sanctioning the Drum, or any such modifications to the original design.
Thompson Tree Tools, together with Rock Exotica now appears to be preparing for the release of a new Unicender 2, along with their new foot/knee ascenders, as shown here on this Instagram video.
The Rope Runner, as demonstrated below, uses a mechanical hitch, very similar to theRope Wrench, but without any friction cord. It has two auto-locking removable slic pins and uses a carabiner to guide the rope through the device and secure it onto a climbing harness. With proper care, by replacing warn out slic pins, one-use nuts, and the spring from becoming overly worn, a climber can maintain a Rope Runner almost indefinitely.
The Rope Runner performs well on a wide variety of static climbing ropes between 11mm and 13mm. It’s a top choice for a mechanical multicending device, especially for production climbers. This device also requires the use of a tending device like a chest harness, or an over-the-shoulder lanyard. The device’s built-in pulley enables very smooth tending, especially when using a RAD system or when limb walking. The Rope Runner can be augmented with a 4SRT Birdflap, to give the device’s bird a bigger area for the climber to grip onto when descending.
The Rope Runner is comprised of machined components including the body, the bird assembly, the tether assembly, the tender-pulley assembly, the lever assembly with the axle spring, two slic pins and the retaining washers. Installation is relatively simple with rope guides etched directly onto the device. The rope is secured between the bird assembly with a slic pin, in the level assembly using a slic pin. The upper friction bollard is adjustable, using the one-use bolt. A carabiner secures the tending pulley assembly and connects onto the climber’s saddle.
On a personal note, I know a successful competitive tree climber who prefers using the Rope Runner with a worn down upper friction bollard. Even though a replacement bollard is available, he is hesitant to replace it, especially after winning a speed climbing competition. He says it gives him added efficiency and control, but the manufacturer may suggest otherwise. While the design may seem rather simplistic, unrefined and clunky, the Rope Runner is affordable, efficient and serviceable.
Singing Tree, makers of the Rope Runner sold the RR’s rights to TreeStuff, who were then bought out bySherrillTree. According to the Singing Tree founder, Kevin Bingham, the original Rope Runner is well suited for commercial use because of its component based design that vastly extends its longevity when properly maintained.
While newer designs do exist, the market eagerly awaits an updated Rope Runner, perhaps with a better tending system, more user-friendly bird design and other overall refinements. If a Rope Runner 2 is more expensive and less serviceable than the original, it may not be able to compete with itself. However, on May 23, 2020, Kevin Bingham, showcased the new Rope Runner Pro, produced by Notch, as seen in the following Youtube video where Kevin showcases the device and his exceptional climbing skills. Treestuff concurrently announced an exclusive arrangement to initially sell these in the summer of 2020.
At first glance, the Rope Runner Pro looks like a well thought out upgrade, while maintaining the same high level of serviceability and affordable price, when compared to the original Rope Runner. The initial selling price is just under $350.00, offering a lot of bang for the buck. The most notable improvement is a non-drop-able design that enables the device to remain connected to the rope bridge at all times, while being installed and removed from a climbing line. The Rope Runner Pro no longer breaks apart into three pieces, like its predecessor. While there are many subtle and not so subtle refinements, the end result far exceeded my original expectations and is a testament to brilliance, attention to detail, innovation and hard work on the part of the designers and developers.
The Singing Tree emblem is stamped into Rope Runner Pro’s forged metal and adds a nice touch, paying homage and respect to Kevin Bingham and his company that first produced theoriginal Rope Runner and the Rope Wrench. There is additional information embossed into the device, including a for use by 1x climber guideline, a max weight guideline of 140kg, or 308.6 lbs, and a rope size guideline in the 11mm to 13mm range. Personally, I can hardly wait to get my hands on one of these.
The BullDog Boneis not sold commercially through the usual retail outlets and it comes with a buy-and-use-at-your-own-risk disclaimer. It may be available through a private party who makes and sells these. By doing a search on the TreeBuzz forum using the keywords, “BullDog Bone“, it should provide access to the individual who sells these. The BullDog Bone is in itself a forerunner to the Akimbo which is collaboratively based on its initial design concept.
Like the Unicender and Rope Runner, the BullDog Bone is a fully mechanical, self contained multicending device that has the appearance of being a top contending option, but the BullDog Boneisn’t a mass marketed product and for that reason, it falls outside of my personal comfort level when it comes to testing and researching new products of this magnitude. If it were to become available on a retail level, my ability to compare this to other similar products would be less biased.
The Akimbo became available, as of January 25, 2019. It is both SRT and DdRT friendly, aesthetically pleasing, compact, adjustable for use on static climbing ropes on specific “approved” ropes between 11.5mm and 13mm diameters. It uses no external locking pins and it doesn’t rely on a friction cord. It uses two adjustable bollards, to assure better conformity with different size climbing lines. The tending system is unique and includes a wire gated hook. This may take a bit of time for climbers to get adjusted to and hopefully come to appreciate.
In the following video, the Akimbo’s creator, Jaime Merritt, shows a couple tending methods, using a climbing lanyard. The Petzl Torse Croll Harness, or any number of other chest harness options can serve the same tending function. The Akimbo’s wire-gated break-away tending system gets mixed reviews and for that reason, using a loop of throw line girth hitched around the Akimbo’s carabiner can effectively and safely alleviate the Akimbo’s tending clip’s break away aspect.
Setting the proper bollard settings is required every time a climber uses their Akimbo and different climbers may have different settings on the same or similar ropes. Some climbers report that the settings differ, even on the same rope, depending on whether the rope is wet or dry. Using ropes under 11.5mm on the Akimbo may cause slippage and Rock Exotica has published their list of approved weight rated ropes, some with a 220lb weight limit, and some with a 286lb weight limit. Following these guidelines is highly recommended.
The Akimbo’s approved rope list appears on Rock Exotica’s web site and is expected to grow over time as more ropes get tested and new ropes become available. My personal experience when trying several non-approved ropes has been less than favorable when it came down to not being able to dial into functionally safe and usable bollard adjustments. For that reason, I bought a new 150′ hank of Drenaline by Teufelberger, which runs great for me. I now enjoy the Akimbo on an approved rope and feel more secure and confident doing so.
Perhaps the Akimbo will someday evolve and include self-adjusting bollards that work on a broader variety of rope sizes, or maybe adapt to using a non-breakaway tending point. Despite the set up time, hard to see bollard pin settings and the unique learning curve, the efficiency and compactness of the Akimbo, when used properly, puts it in a class of its own.
I initially began climbing with the Rope Wrench and then the Unicender, once I became better trained and understood the fundamentals of climbing. The Uni has no sit-back and tends so much better than the Rope Wrench‘s friction hitch, its like day and night. I then acquired a Hitch Hiker 2, which I enjoy for the sake of its compactness and rope-friendly efficiency. Eventually, I then acquired the Akimbo, and was one of the first to receive shipment, having been one of the first to place a pre-order. At that point, the temptation to buy a steeply discounted Rope Runner became too unbearable, so I bought a Rope Runner to add to my collection.
I’ve gone full circle. I’ve come to appreciate and deeply respect the overall benefits of rope-friendly friction cords, in comparison to less rope-friendly mechanical ascending products that flatten and/or use teeth like cams to grip the climbing line. I’m also comforted knowing how we all can totally rely on each of these multicending SRT devices, when used responsibly and safely, in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Given the diversity of static climbing ropes, it’s becoming apparent that certain ropes perform better than others, depending on the specific multicending device. The Akimbo is geared toward ropes in the 11.5mm-13mm range, while other multicenders also work on smaller diameter ropes. Of all the available static climbing ropes, some devices may or may not work properly, so be sure you are buying a rope that is properly suited to your climbing system/s.
In conclusion and based on feedback from others, I recommend the ZigZag/Chicane combination as a top pick for production climbers who mostly climb on a moving rope system. The non-mid-line attachable issue can be a deal breaker for some climbers, while others integrate this into their climbing style with relative ease. The Hitch Hiker or the Rope Runner are also beautifully suited for daily production work. The new Rope Runner Pro is very promising and when it becomes available this summer, there will be lots more feedback, I’m sure.
The Unicender is the most user friendly and easiest to install and remove from a climbing rope. The Unicender is also my top choice for use as a lanyard adjusting rope-grab and secondary climbing system. Its easily installed and removed, mid-line, while performing well in both a stationary and moving rope system.
Beginners usually learn to climb on a Rope Wrench, due to the fact that they are more visually and physically verifiable by an instructor, crew boss, or climbing facilitator. The Rope Wrench is also a top choice for climbing competitions where climbers are provided an equal and level playing field, while mitigating risks to the facilitators who may not have time to inspect individual climbing systems for each competitor.
While the Akimbo and the Unicender have no removable parts, wear and tear around the rope’s contact points is a factor, depending on the amount and degree of use. For that matter, keeping your ropes clean will help extend the life of all mechanical multicending devices.
The Akimbo is favored among many, due to it having the smallest and most compact footprint. Its ability to operate smoothly, subject to specific ropes, settings and other variables is another concern. It too has a tendency to wear out around the friction points, but the breaking in of the device is also a noted benefit. The Akimbo is pending CE certification and even though it satisfies a number of important usability issues, the finicky bollard settings and recommended limited use, except on manufacturer approved ropes has lessened its overall appeal.
The ZigZag/Chicane combination is a solid alternative to using hitch tending pulley with a Rope Wrench. Some climbers have successfully integrated a ZigZag with the Rope Wrench, thereby replacing the Wrench’s hitch cord with the ZigZag. This ZigZag/Rope Wrench combination is another SRT multicending option to consider, as well.
Seasoned and old-school climbers may prefer the Hitch Hiker or Rope Wrench, when tree sap might otherwise interfere with the function of any mechanical multicender. Wet weather may also impact a decision to use a hitch cord or mechanical multicending device. The Rope Runner, Rope Wrench and the Hitch Hiker have replaceable components which also make them good for all-around tree climbers.
Depending on your preferred climbing style/s, the Rope Runner may not be as practical for moving rope systems as a Rope Wrench or a ZigZag/Chicane, but its ideal for static rope systems. At present, my top two choices for mechanical and non-mechanical multicenders are the Rope Runner and theHitch Hiker.
This article is updated periodically, as needed to hopefully keep up with new products and industry standards. Social media apps, along with the individual contributors at the TreeBuzz Forum, are among my most valued resources for timely information, varied opinions and shared experiences from all branches of the tree climbing community.
Please leave a comment. Your feedback is appreciated.
Technical tree climbing revolves around two primary principles, using either a stationary or moving rope system, depending on the type of tie in.
(SRT) Single Rope Technique, also known as Stationary Rope Technique is associated with a stationary climbing line secured with a canopy or a basal (ground based) tie-in-point. The rope always remains fixed at the anchor point when the climber ascends or descends. When a climber is using two separate SRT systems which is very popular for many climbers, it technically becomes (DRT) Double Rope Technique.
(DRT) Double and (DdRT) Doubled Rope Technique are often confused, but most of the time refer to a climbing line that goes up over a limb, and back down to a climber. If one is splitting hairs, the difference between double and doubled is how DRT refers to climbing on two ropes with separate anchor points, whereas DdRT refers to a single moving rope, doubled over a limb with the climber advancing on one side of the two legs.
(DdRT) Doubled Rope Technique is similar to tightening a lasso, as one of the rope’s two legs feeds through a progress capture device, the other leg’s termination end attaches onto the climber. Both legs of the rope move, but only one leg feeds through the climbers progress capture device. Since the climber controls both ends of the line at all times, easy retrieval is possible.
DRT is described as two separately anchored lines or two immobilized legs of one line. A climber can use a friction hitch and a foot-locking method to ascend using two ropes together, or by advancing on two ropes independently. Another variation of DRT is described as using SRT on one of two separately anchored ropes, while connecting to another progress capture device installed on a second stationary rope, as a fall-arrest backup measure.
DdRT and DRT describe two distinctly different climbing methods, even though lots of educational material still incorrectly uses the DRT acronym to describe DdRT.
(DmRT) Doubled moving Rope Technique is yet another entirely different climbing method, using two legs of a single climbing line doubled, or looped, around a limb or fed through an anchored pulley. The rope moves back and forth in a sawing like manner. A climber using a dual-ascender device, combined with two foot ascenders is able to ascend up a climbing rope and gain a 2:1 (MA) mechanical advantage. Conversely, on DRT the climber can use a dual hand-ascender and a footlocking technique to ascend on two separately anchored lines. On DdRT the climber only advances on one, not both legs, of the doubled line. This requires using only one of the dual hand ascender’s two progress capturing rope grabs.
The following video uses a Dualcender with a traditional DdRT-like moving rope canopy tie in. Notice how when either leg below the device is pulled down, the device ascends up the rope.
In this example, a climber uses two Petzl ZigZags on DmRT. The climbing line is passed through a canopy anchored pulley to minimize the rope’s friction when moving back and forth. The climber advances up the two ropes simultaneously by using two foot ascenders in an alternating way, while the dual-ZigZags capture the upward progress. On DmRT the climber can easily transition between a 2:1 MA and a 1:1 MA, when managing the two legs.
Thanks, Richard & Karolina for this beautiful demonstration video!
DdRT gives the climber a 2:1 MA, but only advances one foot for every two feet feeding through a progress capture or multicending device, while the termination end of the other leg is anchored onto the climber. On DmRT, while neither leg is anchored, the climber also gains a 2:1 MA, but advances on both legs with two progress capture devices, one for each of side the rope’s two legs. This notable difference warrants giving DmRT a different acronym than DdRT.
In this video, NASA demonstrates another variation of DmRT. The concept also works in zero gravity, as well as here on earth. In fact, this sort of climbing/hauling system can be useful in certain situations.
This illustration shows a DmRT hauling system, adapted into an assisted climbing rig. In the illustration the 2:1 MA is lost when the climber’s weight is transferred from the rope’s two legs, onto the respective sides of the seesaw, or through some other ground based augmentation to facilitate the rope’s up and down motion.
DmRT may not be very efficient for unassisted climbing, but it could be used more practically in an assisted tree climbing or hauling system scenario. This then gives rise to potentially new climbing gear designed specifically for this purpose. Such gear may eventually include a dAkimbo, or some sort of a double rope multicender.
Now that we’ve identified at least four distinct types of climbing methods, one idea may be to simply change DdRT to MRT and leave DRT and SRT unchanged. Because DRT & DdRT are inherently conflicted acronyms. NiceGuyDave @ Wesspur clarified the differences and proposed SRS and MRS, thereby eliminating or bypassing the use of the DRT and DdRT acronyms, in the traditional sense. This makes a lot of sense to many, but it may limit innovation when other variations in viable climbing methods are possible, as well.
As more attention is given to this issue, a clear path becomes more evident. There needs to be a consortium and agreement in order to achieve consensus, at least among the primary players, including major equipment dealers, the ISA and similar organizations.
When we combine the two concepts concerning the use of rope legs, further identified with the act of remaining stationary or not, it alleviates a lot of confusion and improves clarity in a uniform manner, as follows:
Replacing vaguely descriptive acronyms can address the methods more descriptively and provide a broader, more universally accepted definition. The fact remains, it all comes down to whether there are one, or more, stationary or moving ropes involved.
In conclusion, most tree climbers will probably continue to refer to SRT and DdRT and/or adapt to using SRS and MRS in general terms. At some point the tree climbing community will hopefully agree upon more descriptive and less confusing acronyms to describe a wider array of climbing methods.
Our group originated in San Jose, Costa Rica before heading south toward Drake Bay, along the Pacific Ocean’s south-western side of the country. We entered into Poor Man’s Paradise by way of water landing along the beach, from a skiff, carrying both our group and our luggage.
The area had a primal feel about it, being nestled in the Central American jungle, adjacent to Corcovado National Park. This area is among a handful of the most bio-diverse places on earth.
Our group was tastefully hosted, guided, housed, provided delicious meals and granted access to many amazing features throughout the area, including waterfalls and wildlife throughout Corcovado National Park, as well as, a snorkeling/whale watching adventure to the nearby nature reserve at Cano Island.
On our hikes, we witnessed an assortment of bird and wildlife sightings. We also came upon a gathering of Humpback whales, at times coming close enough to film their underwater movements. At times, the experience felt surreal, being so fully immersed in nature.
Our next destination was the main reason for this expedition. This year’s annual Tree Climbing Rendezvous was being hosted at a location known as The Savegre Nature Reserve, situated 7,300 feet up in the mountains of central Costa Rica. The drive ended with a steep descent into breathtakingly spectacular narrow valley, lined with lush, giant old-growth trees, with the fast moving Savegre River cutting its way through the middle.
With the higher altitude came lower temperatures, which when combined with the rainy tropical conditions, at times became challenging to overcome. As such, the actual tree climbing time was often interrupted with down pours, often lasting for hours. Still, many climbers were resilient enough to endure the added risks and enjoy the incredible experience of tree climbing in a Costa Rican jungle.
Our group was afforded the opportunity to listen to various guest speakers, involved with tree climbing expeditions that help protect forests, rehabilitate Orangutans in Borneo and study bald eagles in the United States. The group’s keynote speaker was Donald Perry, the founding father of technical tree climbing in Costa Rica and the inventor of the Zip Line. Being a part of this amazing group was an honor and a privilege.
The next destination for those continuing on in our group was in the area of La Fortuna, adjacent to Arenal Volcano. We bathed in volcanic hot springs and were treated to a Chocolate tasting tour, while learning traditional methods of producing fine chocolate from the Cacao Tree, also know as The Food of the Gods.
The next day we traveled to the Heredia Province of Sarapiqui and visited the Tirimbina Rainforest Center; a national wildlife refuge operated as an education, research, and eco-tourism center. We walked along soggy trails and on suspension bridges, while being fully immersed in nature.
A friend and I broke off from the main group and went walkabout. Along the way, we saw a Collared Anteater. It measured roughly 30″ tall and 3 feet long and was spotted on the ground, just off the walking trail. We made eye contact and when I tried to get a closer look, it turned and slowly headed deeper into the jungle, before I had a chance to get a photo. Later that day several climbers weathered the rain and climbed a tree along a river, while surrounded by a multitude of tropical birds.
Tortuguero was our final destination, before returning to San Jose and heading home. Getting there involved being transferred from our motor coach to a long skiff like boat, and shuttled along rivers through the mangrove forests, to the Laguna Lodge.
The lodge was located on a extended sand bar, between the Caribbean Sea and Tortuguero Lagoon. The beaches are protected by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, who through their efforts and for the benefit of Green Sea Turtles and our planet’s fragile ecosystem, transformed the area into Tortuguero National Park in 1975.
All this tree climbing stuff isn’t cheap, but here’s the ticket to being a completely self-sufficient tree climber:
This list includes more than a basic/minimalist tree climbing setup and it’s not all-inclusive or ultra-light, but it does provide a strikingly accurate glimpse into the type of climbing gear an experienced tree climber would likely use when traveling and climbing big trees, both locally and abroad.
I am not sponsored by anyone or paid to promote any particular item. The list below is based solely on my personal and budgetary preferences. I’d also be honored to test and review new gear, upon request.
Much thanks goes to my buds at TreeBuzz, for all their valuable input and contributions to this list. While their valued opinions may vary, recreational tree climbers are similar, but different than tree care professionals. Rigging gear, chainsaws and climbing spurs are intentionally omitted, for that reason.
Rope lengths can depend on a number of variables. A lot depends on the average tree height, a climber’s technique, and whether the tie-in-point is in a canopy or basal. Some trees, including the Eastern Sierra Redwoods and Coastal Redwoods grow as high 300 feet, but the average tree height is 75 feet in most places, with many exceptions, including the Pacific Northwest.
Many agree at least a 120′ or 150′ rope length is adequate for most tree climbers. It’s lightweight and goes well with a packed climbing kit, suited specifically for hiking or perhaps air-travel. Static tree-climbing ropes are generally available in lengths of 120′, 150′, 200′, 300′ and even 600′. Various rope splicing options are also available at many tree climbing outfitters. Adding a sewn or hand spliced eye on the end of a climbing rope mitigates fraying and adds a practical connection at the termination point.
Some mechanical devices have a tendency to flatten a climbing line. Most devices run well on a broad range of static climbing ropes, while others like the Akimbo and Rope Runner may be finicky on certain types of ropes. Weather conditions can certainly effect the performance of various climbing devices, as well. When purchasing climbing rope/s, make sure the rope is appropriately suited to your climbing system.
The following list provides an overview and a general guideline for the kind of gear used primarily for tree climbing purposes. The list is not all-inclusive and certain items, like carabiners have multiple manufacturers producing similar products with the same functionality. As new products become available, I will try to keep this list properly augmented, but make no guaranties. Please use your best judgment when selecting appropriate gear for your climbing system.
Tree Climbing Helmet or an equivalent brain bucket (required): Kask and Petzl are a couple good brands to consider.
Tree Climbing Harness: My current favorite is the Petzl 2019 Sequoia SRT, but New Tribe has the Onyx, Teufelberger has the Evo and there are a number of other high quality, commercial grade, tree climbing harness available.
A Knee Ascender, for SRT rope walking when combined with a foot ascender for the alternate leg.
Foot Ascender (right or left foot): CT QuickStep or Notch JetStep are my two current favorites.
Hand Ascender: Is easier to grip than the climbing line when ascending. Attaching a Roll Clip or a pulley of some sort makes a nice Rads, as does the CT Quick Roll Hand Ascender which adds a small pulley onto the hand ascender itself and is my current favorite.
A Chest Harness: Both the 4SRT and a Petzl Torse are nice lightweight chest harnesses, but an over the shoulder lanyard works for tending, as well. A more substantial chest harness may offer even more security and comfort when sharing the weight of the harness and gear resting on the climber’s hips.
Protective eye wear
Good climbing gloves, preferably not the finger-less ones
Lightweight high-top hiking boots to comfortably support a foot ascender.
Attachable Waterbottle or a Camelbak – to mitigate dehydration.
120′ – 300′ +/- static climbing rope – 11mm to 13mm / SRT &/or DdRT static climbing line. Lower diameter ropes are lighter, but larger diameter ropes are usually stronger and easier to grip and typically work better with certain multicenders.
A few double-auto-lockingcarabiners (Oval and/or D-Shape) for specific uses.
A few screw-locking carabiners (Oval and/or D-Shape) for specific uses that may not require using more expensive auto-locking carabiners.
Two 30″ Dan House rope sleeves or rawhide leather friction savers (aka: cambium savers). Certain types of friction savers may be better suited to certain types of trees.
Two stainless steel Delta Links for canopy tie ins, and/or Singing Tree Quickies.
A throw line kit, with one or two 150′ +\- bites of throw line for ground throws and another 75′ bite of throw line to store in a throw-line saddle bag while climbing and to assist with advancing a climbing line. I like the less expensive Target Line, a 1/8” diamond braid polyethylene line.
Two or more – 10 oz to 16 oz , preferably “unleaded” throw bags.
Two Eye and Eye prusik cords with hand splices or sewn splices – 28″, 30″ or 32” long and 8mm to 10mm thick, as a rope grabbing lanyard adjuster and for climbing DRT and in case one falls out of the tree, or gets too sapped up with tree pitch (remove with Olive oil or WD40).
A Hitch Tending Pulley or a Micro “Pinto” Pulley.
Foot Loop; Singing Rock makes a nice lightweight footloop.
Descender – a Petzl Pirana, a basic Figure 8, or Munter Hitch on a carabiner serves as a backup descending device.
First Aid Kit, including a blood stopper bandage – compact kits can be worn directly on the climbing harness.
Bug Net drawstring bag, or Buff for head protection, in the event of unexpected bees or insect swarm
An assortment of Loop Runners of varied sizes, for rigging, assisted tie-ins, re-directs, etc.
A Petzl Rig, or another similar mechanical progress capture and descending device, for use in a 3:1 RAD, a rescue-able basal anchor, or with a DMM Captain’s lanyard.
A DMM Axis Swivel – or similar large eye swivel, for the floating bridge to help keep things untwisted and for enhanced orientations.
CT RollNLock, has many uses, including for use as progress capturing rope grab, a pulley, a rope bridge adjuster and in a 3:1 Rad system using a Roll Clip.
Anchor Ring, or an extra swivel, to use on a rope bridge and in various rigging configurations.
Folding throw-line cube, for feeding a clean throw-line on long tosses (reusable self-standing grocery bags are good too).
Big Shot (8′ tall slingshot), used with a throw bag and throw line to achieve higher tie-in-points and with far better accuracy, compared to hand throws. Similar launching devices may include a crossbow, or a bow and arrow, usually with a spinning fishing reel to manage the throw line, or air cannons designed specifically for launching throw bags.
Tree Camping Hammock, Treeboat or Portaledge – rain tarp and bug net optional.
A lightweight plastic tarp or nylon ground sheet – keeps your rope and stuff off the ground, dry, etc.
Go Pro, or similar, Action Camera for helmet mounted photos and videos.
Spring loaded, self rewinding throw line reel (Shapespeare Silent Tru-Art Automatic, Model No. 1837, with throw line used in place of fishing line).
Handsaw for clearing deadwood, cutting firewood and light pruning, when and where it may be expressly permitted.
The Tree Climber’s Companion, 2nd edition – a great beginner’s guide and reference tool.
Excluding the Big Shot, the above system fits into a standard size rolling duffel bag, in my case, weighing just over the airline’s 50lb weight limit. When traveling by air, some prefer to put the climbing hardware in a personal carry on bag, but getting gear through airport security can be touchy, so I prefer sending all my gear through checked baggage. By properly redistributing some of the weight, using a second piece of checked luggage, I’ve been able to meet the under/50lb weight requirement. Thereafter, I moved all the gear back into the one duffel size bag, for added convenience. Without the 10+/- lbs, or either the climbing rope or just the climbing hardware, my remaining gear weighs in at just under 50lbs.
Certain non-life-bearing (PPE) items noted above can be used or shared among a crew of climbers, and while many items might be considered optional, I still feel strongly about each item being a vital component of the overall system. Specific trees may warrant more or less gear, such as a giant Redwood, where the lowest branch to launch a line into far exceeds 100′. A climber must be able to adapt to individual challenges.
In conclusion, gear preferences do change and evolve as new products become available. Tree climbing for research, recreation or sport has clearly a different purpose than for someone performing tree climbing services as a profession, although the two are not mutually exclusive, a tree climb without items like chainsaws and climbing spurs is far less risky.
Climbing lanyards are a highly personal thing and there’s no perfect solution for all climbers in every environment. It’s more about personal preference, using new or old school gear. I’ve come up with a number of various lanyard systems based on what I want to do, how I am going to do it, and how secure I’ll feel in the process.
This article focuses on lanyards which are similar but slightly different than fliplines. A rope lanyard may be used like a steel core flipline, but fliplines are often accompanied by less tree-friendly climbing spurs that harm the tree’s cambium layer and are recommend only when felling a tree. I prefer non-invasive tree climbing methods, with the goal of leaving the tree unharmed.
In addition to the primary climbing line, a climbing lanyard is an essential component for a tree climber. It offers an additional tie-in-point (TIP) for added safety and affords significantly greater movement within the canopy. Lanyard kits usually include a carabiner or a rope snap and some sort of rope grabbing device or hitch tending system, as the lanyard’s adjuster.
Lanyards are useful when advancing the main climbing line. There are times when the a TIP needs to be relocated, usually as you climb higher up the tree. Lanyarding in and then advancing the main climbing line enables a climber to move more safely up and around a tree. Climbers may throw a lanyard or a climbing line around a weight bearing TIP. Adding a weighted throw bag onto the end of a lanyard can help, or by using a throw bag and a lighter throw line, a climber may be able to reach a less accessible TIP.
If you are relying completely on the lanyard and no longer connected to your primary climbing line, you may not always be able to abort the climb and reach the ground without a climbing line switch-over in a possible emergency situation. As such, having a your own dedicated line to the ground, or some way to make a relatively quick and safe descent to the ground at all times is an important consideration.
A basic lanyard is usually around 10-15 feet long, but can be much longer when used on a 2-in-1 configuration, or as a secondary static or moving rope system. Lanyards connect in two places on a climbing harness, usually on the two opposing D-rings located on or near the climber’s hips. Some harnesses have two sets of D’s, upper and lower. When connecting a lanyard onto the D’s, one end usually remains fixed and the other has an adjustable point of contact, using a rope grabbing friction hitch and a hitch tending pulley, or a mechanically adjustable rope grab. This creates a moving rope system (MRS).
A lanyard can be configured for SRS by connecting the lanyard’s adjustable rope grab onto the rope bridge or central connection, passing the lanyard around a desired limb, and then connecting the terminal end of the lanyard’s carabiner or rope snap onto the lanyard itself. This generally requires one additional piece of gear, such as a thimble prusic, to facilitate a self-anchoring lanyard. In this configuration, a device like a GriGri, may be more practical than a basic rope grab, especially when used for more controlled vertical descents.
Some harnesses only offer a centrally located connection point, which may limit maneuverability. Lanyarding onto the saddle’s central bridge can be used when both the fixed and adjustable points are relatively close together, or one end is self-anchored onto the lanyard itself. The essence of any climbing lanyard is how it provides a subsequent climbing system, relying on either a single or doubled rope configuration, commonly referred to as SRS or MRS.
The concept of a 2-in-1 lanyard takes advantage of a lanyard’s unused end by creating a two fully functional lanyards, using two ends of the one lanyard line. A 2-in-1 lanyard can be augmented to suit a variety of configurations. Adding another rope snap and a hitch-tending pulley can turn a single use lanyard into a true 2-in-1, using either or both ends. Using a DMM Captain throwing hook on the unused end of a lanyard, together with a progress capture device, like a GriGri, can broadly expand a climber’s positioning ability.
Even with all the conveniences of a long 2-in-1 lanyard, a climber may still want have utilize a shorter, more basic MRS lanyard, primarily for quick tie-ins. I prefer to climb with a basic 15′ lanyard all the time, while also enjoying the benefits of a longer and 2-in-1 lanyard to serve as a secondary climbing system, which I haul up to the tie in point, either before or after making my initial ascent. This helps to mitigate the weight of my initial climbing load, and helps to maneuver within the canopy.
The DMM Captain throwing hook offers a climber an efficient and convenient way to hook a climbing line onto a tree, with a life-bearing load potential for greater maneuverability. Beyond that of just a simple lanyard, the 2-in-1 Climbing Lanyard combines both a lanyard and a throwing hook into a multi-functional (SRS) static rope system.
Connecting a DMM Captain directly to a lanyard’s sewn eye termination is an efficient option, but the hook is then committed to just that lanyard line, unless you have the right size hex wrench on hand. It’s also important to be able to twist the hook’s line while navigating, setting or releasing the hook from an intended target. Using a swivel as way a to connect a lanyard onto the hook defeats the ability to maneuver the hook when twisting the line. Connecting the hook to the lanyard line using a Quickie, versus a bulkier carabiner is a nice way to keep the DMM Captain on your harness and then use it when needed. This type of indirect connection avoids having to unscrew the hook’s two screws using both a 2mm and 4mm size hex wrench.
The DMM Captain throwing hook’s kit comes with a stash bag and a 15m (50′) of 10mm Sirius Cord with a sewn eye at one end of the line’s termination. Because the hook’s line tends to get twisted or hockled during normal use, some may prefer not to incorporate the hook in to a 2-in-1 lanyard system. Getting a line untwisted can be a pain at times, so some climbers prefer the less augmented or a dedicated throwing hook line, rather than a 2-in-1 lanyard.
The hook may get snagged when making a bad toss, at which point when I traverse to the snagged hook to release it, I can then use the same lanyard in an MRS configuration and safely return from the traverse, if the line length allows for that option. Another option may be to use the dangling leg of the primary climbing line with a retrievable redirect.
When the end of the lanyard’s throwing hook becomes securely engaged, it should create a gravity dependent stationary rope / SRT, Hook-in-Point, not to be confused with a traditional Tie-in-Point. The throwing hook has a greater propensity to slip or move, without being locked or fastened into position an for that reason, it is not recommended for use as primary life support device.
Having a throw line and throw bag on hand to use as a means to advance or re-position a climbing line or lanyard is doable, but using a lanyard, augmented with the DMM Captain saves a lot of time and hassle. For production climbers, a throwing hook and throw line are also great when used for rigging.
The virtues of the DMM Captain are still being discovered, enabling a more convenient, efficient and reasonably secure ways to traverse between trees. There’s to a lot of discussion over which rope grab or belay device compliments the DMM Captain the best. Many climbers prefer a simple friction hitch and pulley, while others prefer a mechanical progress capturing device. There are advantages to both, depending on the type of climb and the climber’s preference.
Rope grab devices fall into a couple or several categories. The most basic rope grabs are not intended to be mid-line attachable, whereas others are. Certain types of rope grabbing descending devices can work in cases when the climber is making a smooth vertical descent. In other words, some rope grabs can be used in either a static or moving rope scenario, without being overly jerky or unstable.
A popular mechanical progress capture device is the Trango Cinch, but it’s no longer in production. Even a basic rope grab, including a pulley and friction hitch is fine when used in in a MRS , but mechanical devices like a Petzl ID, Rig or GriGri, or even a multicender can be used as a SRS lanyard adjuster, with the exception of the Akimbo, which may not work effectively as a lanyard adjuster on non-manufacturer recommended ropes.
The DMM Captain is not personal protective equipment (PPE) and should not be used as a primary climbing system exclusively, but only as a secondary or subsequent climbing system. With this in mind, a mechanical descender like a Petzl Rig, a Grigri, or a Trango Cinch, or similar devices offer greater ease both in descending, ascending, traversing, even when using an optional 3:1 mechanical advantage (RAD) system.
The DMM Captain also comes with a great little (xsre) red carabiner that clips into the top of the hook for easier transporting. Despite the small size, it has a 4kN, or a 899.2358 pound force rating. It’s not PPE, nor is it intended to use as a way to connect the hook to and from other throw lines. Therefore, this high valued piece of climbing gear can be used as its intended hook storage clip, or possibly as a chest harness clip instead. It’s clearly a matter of personal preference, but just a friction knot and hitch climbing pulley as a descending device on an SRT climbing system is not recommended.
Other considerations with respect to the choice of climbing line used with a DMM Captain hook have to do with the line’s cover being able to endure abrasion from normal wear and tear. Resilient or abrasive resistant 10 mm (2/5″) polyester or kernmantle covered climbing lines are great choices among many climbers, although some prefer 11mm to 13mm (1/2″) lines with the thicker grip. Thick grip with comfort and strength, versus thinner, lighter and more resilient for throwing purposes. The choices are endless.
My ideal 2-in-1 SRT Climbing Lanyard is comprised of the following components:
A 45′ bite of HTP Static 7/16” by Sterling, with sewn eyes on both ends.
A red Rock D Auto-locking carabiner connected on one end of the lanyard line. Keep in mind, other sufficiently rated rope-snaps or locking carabiner work to connect the lanyard onto the climber’s harness or the self-anchoring Thimble Prusik.
One end of the lanyard can be managed using a multicender, versus a more basic rope grab for MRS configurations. I prefer a more robust GriGri, or even a Unicender for a lanyard adjuster especially when climbing more vertically.
A Sterling Thimble Prusik, provides a adjustable self-anchoring connection directly onto the lanyard, but many other types of rope grabbing adjustable anchors can provide a similar function.
Between the carabiner and the thimble are two MARCS(mid-line attachable rope and cambium savers) rope sleeves from Climbing Innovations.
On the other terminal end of the lanyard line is the sewn eye with a removable Tree Quickie, connected to a DMM Captain throwing hook.
The final components, not show in the above photo, creates a 3:1 mechanical advantage with a Hand Ascender and a Roll Clip.
Since the DMM Captain hit the scene, people have been sharing lots of great tree climbing videos, demonstrating the hook’s various uses. In some cases, people are ascending on a hook’s climbing line at various angles, including in a directly vertical manner for very short ascents, which may or may not have been the original intended use from the manufacturer’s point of view. Still, with the proper choice of a rope-grabbing adjuster, mechanical belay device or multicending device, in conjunction with a suitable choice of lanyard line and a good life-bearing load capable hook-in-point. It seems further evident that it can be effectively used in this manner, with proper discretion when identifying potential risks and utilizing specific hook-in-points with adequate strength to support and maintain the climber’s weight.
Safety wise, I check and inspect all components on this lanyard, both before and after each climb, with emphasis on the sewn eye termination end where the DMM Captain connects onto the climbing line and wherever friction is a factor. More importantly, when using a lanyard with the throwing hook, one must be extra mindful to avoid getting it snagged, possibly due to a wayward throw. Responsible climbers should be able to account for a wayward throw hook’s retrieval, by anticipating the unexpected.
Whether this 2-in-1 can actually be called a true 2-in-1 Lanyard is open to debate. Perhaps the better name should be aDual-in-1 Lanyard, being how it combines best of both a throwing hook augmented climbing line and a floating or fixed anchor lanyard.
Depending on the climb objective, the more basic lanyard shown below will never replace the Dual-in-1 Lanyard, but it certainly provides a far more lightweight and compact alternative. My 15′ lanyard uses a bright green 13mm Edelrid – Direction Up climbing line, equipped with a generic aluminum rope snap on one end, and a Petzl Micrograb Flipline Adjuster.
Over time I’ve come to realize the benefits of having several size hanks of lanyard lines, each with removable components. The basic 15 foot lanyard facilitates fast and easy tie-ins, while the longer lanyard serves as a secondary SRT or DdRT climbing system in a variety of configurations. I also always remain attached onto a primary climbing system while using a non-PPE rated throwing hook/lanyard.
This season begins with a backyard cedar tree. Using a hand thrown weight bag and a throw line, I set the climbing line, shown above, in a moving or doubled rope configuration, with a Dan HouseRope Sleeve friction saver. The height to the tie-in-point was maybe 40′ to 50′. Did some trial ups and downs, no problem, climbed to the tie-in-point and safely descended on the DdRT/Unicender.
The next day, using a different line, I set a slightly higher canopy-tie-in-point at about 60′. Again, using the rope sleeve and with a D-link to capture the climbing line side of the line, together with figure eight on a bite knot on the other end of the rope sleeve, I safely locked it off for an SRT climb. Leaving a long enough tail to reach the ground, enabled a ground base retrieval system for the canopy tie in. I could have easily used a throw line for the retrieval, but the 150′ length of climbing line was more than sufficient in this regard.
I’m comfortable with my gear and confident with my technique, but still fine tuning the overall system. I’ve gained much experience and instruction over the past few years, and am excited to be able to integrate all this into my climbs. I still have a lot to learn and experience, but I am both excited and optimistic.
Last season I focused on reinforcing my basic climbing skills, learning to climb and maneuver with minimal equipment, while relying on the fundamental skills and understanding the importance of properly tying, dressing and setting of knots in various scenarios.
My goals this season are: 1. To get more comfortable and proficient climbing and switching between single-stationary and double-moving ropes using both old-school and more modern mechanical climbing devices. 2. To lanyard in as a secondary tie in and perform limb-walks and maybe a cat rescue or two. 3. To climb one tree, traverse through the canopy from tree to tree and descend down another tree, and 4. To install and enjoy quality R&R in both a hammock and a hanging lounge chair about 100+ feet in the air.
…if our actions are the result of right thought, right action and right feeling. The Law of Karma can be in our favor.
A dear friend was graced with a visit from four owls. When I receive signs in my dreams and in nature, I sometimes feel compelled to dig a bit deeper. In this case, when I searched for “four owls”, I came across the following passage from the third chapter in the book: The Secret Teachings of the Popol Vuh, known as “The Red Tree“. This is an empowering story about overcoming adversity.
This story has been passed down from generation to generation. It’s about a Pre-Columbian Mayan girl who becomes pregnant in a supernatural manner by way of immaculate conception. After her father learned she was pregnant and because she claimed to have never been with another man, on the advice of his peers he ordered the four owls to execute his daughter, because of her failure to confess to what her father and others assumed was her apparent transgression. This lesson offers clarity about karma and brings a deeper understanding to the issues I/we stand for and can change for the better, as a result of “right thought, right action and right feeling”.
The Red Tree
“The Lords of Xibalba sent the four owls to sacrifice the young Ixquic and gave them a bowl, so that as proof, they would bring back the heart of the maid. Once ready to sacrifice her, Ixquic pleaded for them to spare her life, claiming her innocence. ‘Don’t kill me’ – said the virgin to the owls – ‘and in turn the true fornicators will be yours’”
The four owls, messengers of Xibalba are the Law of Cause and Effect (Karma) acting against the seeker of wisdom as a consequence of the negative actions taken in this and previous lives, actions for which we must pay, as we all reap what we sow.
“The owls believe her, but they are uncertain on what to do next, as they were ordered to return with her heart. Then Ixquic makes an incision on a red pomegranate tree, which resin is as red as blood, and on the recipient meant to carry her heart, she poured the resin of this tree, and when it coagulated, it took the shape of a heart”
Karma is not only paid with suffering, it is also possible to pay Karma with love, helping and sacrificing for others. That is why a heart takes shape from the resin of the tree of blood; blood is symbol of life and sacrifice. While we work with love for humanity, it becomes possible for us to transcend the karma we have earned because of our psychological defects.
“The owls said: ‘Ascend to the surface of the Earth, we will follow you and we will know how to serve you’. When the alleged heart was burned before the ones from Xibalba they noticed a delicious aroma, and that is how they, the Lords of Xibalba, were deceived by the young Ixquic”
The owls that at first serve the Lords of Xibalba (the karma working against) can change, if our actions are the result of right thought, right action and right feeling. The Law of Karma can be in our favor.
Last week my son and I had the honor of participating in two back-to-back training courses at Tree Climbing Planet. The first 5-day course was known as “Basic Tree Week“, followed up with a 2-day “Advanced Basic” course, the content of which is summarized below.
Tim Kovar and Dennis Baum facilitated the Basic Tree Week course which consisted of five students, including me and my son. Each morning we’d meet to review past lessons, learn new skills and perform various hand-on exercises. In the afternoon we shifted into tree-climbing mode, in order to practice and utilize these techniques.
We learned a number of basic knot tying skills, as needed to effectively tie, dress and set various knots into a DdRT (doubled rope technique) climbing system, using a minimal amount of gear. We became proficient enough to tie these knots with our eyes closed and ingrained these techniques into muscle-memory. We also leaned how to use a throw bag and throw line, as needed to set climbing lines in trees.
Both Tim and Dennis were outstanding facilitators, making sure each student successfully completed each step before moving to the next steps. We also addressed ways to perform efficient safety and inspection checks, utilize appropriate shout signals and set-up our own climbing rigs. In addition, we discussed ways to select suitable climbing trees, identify potential hazards and how to utilize non-invasive methods to climb, with minimal impact to the tree itself.
Using this ground-up training approach, no pun intended, we progressively acquired an array of skills and we could confidently set a climbing line, ascend and descend into and out of a tree, as well as, move around the canopy. By the forth day we were already doing solo climbs, under the close supervision of Tim and Dennis.
Admittedly, these basic climbing skills were not about learning the most efficient methods to climb, but they certainly provided a firm foundation to build upon and by the end of the Basic Tree Week course, we were able to perform self-rescues, install hammock like Treeboats, utilize a climbing lanyard for added tie-in-points, advance or re-position the primary climbing line and integrate mechanical devices, like pulleys and ascenders into the climbing set-up. Efficiently switching from an ascending system to a descending system, while remaining attached to the climbing line became ingrained into muscle memory as well. Ultimately, we integrated these skills into an SRT (Single Rope Technique) climbing system, or static line climbing system.
After we completed Basic Tree Week, several of the students went on their way, while me, my son and another student moved onto the “Advanced Basic” course. While this course was supposed to immediately follow the first course, we collectively decided to postpone the course by one day, in order to allow a nasty weather system to pass through. I for one, certainly appreciated the extra day of rest and thanked Tim for the rain-check.
During the Advanced Basic course, we were able to utilize foot and knee ascenders, along with the Rope Wrench, using a rope-walker SRT system. While this SRT system is a more efficient than using DdRT on ascent, having acquired the knowledge and skill from the earlier course enabled us to combine various climbing techniques, such as ascending on an SRT system, then changing to a Rad and/or a DdRT system for rappelling purposes, and/or for easier maneuverability within the tree’s canopy.
Tim’s understanding of gear provided an invaluable wealth of information, especially for a beginner like me. Equipment items that I didn’t already own, but should have in my gear bag became quickly evident. As such, I wish I had taken these courses sooner, before I opted to invest in my own climbing gear.
The location of Tree Climbing Planet is both surreal and a tree-climber’s paradise. The property is located on close to a 200 acre ranch, complete with free roaming sheep, cows, bulls and horses. By design, this location is a rustic and natural setting, perfect for getting away from it all and immersing oneself in nature.
Adjacent to Tree Climbing Planet is Tom and Lisa’s Airbnb, known as “Newt Wash Wildlife Ranch“, where a creek runs through the property. I gave this place top marks when writing an Airbnb review. Taking after-dinner strolls afforded me the opportunity to pursue another favorite hobby, wildlife photography, as shown below in a few of the photos.
In conclusion, I reaffirmed my assumption about Tim Kovar and Tree Climbing Planet, as being an essential component for recreational tree climbers, climbing instructors, arborists and canopy researchers. Tree Climbing Planet offers a number of courses for various skill levels, as well as, facilitating tree-climbing expeditions deep into the Amazon and other places throughout the world.
Tim’s philosophy about nature and tree climbing focuses on bringing people into the trees and connecting with nature. Having developed his own teaching style and course plans, the vibes throughout the week were constructive and positive, and while our group jelled wonderfully the entire time, this was a testament to the quality of the programs and to Tim for making the art of recreational tree climbing as accessible as possible to just about everyone.
My passion for trees and adventure places me upon an ever expanding path that delves into both the micro and macro aspects of a greater whole. Bonsai is, by definition a shallow potted plant or tree, but the art of Bonsai is a profound connection between man, nature, and the harmony of life in balance.
My first lesson was learning how to properly pronounce Bonsai, but wait there’s more.
My heartfelt passion for trees and desire to climb them has opened me up to an incredible group of like minded tree-climbing enthusiasts, comprised mostly of climbing Arborist and tree care professionals. I recently had the honor of attending the 2017 BIOMAS (Bainbridge Island Open Masters and Arboricultural Spectacular).
I signed up for the climbing competition without fully appreciating my predicament. Although I did manage to compete in one of the three climbing events, I was more honored just to be among the Pacific Northwest Tree Tribe.
We had several corporate sponsors and the area’s most prominent Arborist equipment supplier, WesSpur Tree Equipment, Inc., was on hand with all the latest shiny new equipment. Many families, and individuals came from all around BC, Bellingham, Portland and Seattle.
One tree was rigged with maybe a dozen different climbing lines so we could demo ropes with various textures and feels. Other climbing trees were also set with climbing lines for non-competitive recreational climbers, in addition to those that were used for competition.
The competition included four events and the climbers with the best individual and combined scores were honored with gifts and prizes. In fact, no one left empty handed. I tried what was known as the speed climb. While the goal was to ascend about 50 feet high and ring a cowbell, in both my two attempts I only made it about half way up. Feeling humble, inexperienced, exhausted and inadequate, I came away with a far better understanding, respect and appreciation for tree climbing.
The second of four events was the cat-rescue. This involved trying to capture and bag a stuffed-toy cat, complete with audible cat sounds, being raised higher and higher up the tree if not captured and bagged within a set time. The climb combined various skills, requiring strength, climbing and positioning skill.
The third event was a rigging competition. The goal was to tie a rig with a 5-to-1 advantage, using pulleys. The cleanness and timeliness of the final set-up was judged accordingly.
The forth event was a limb-walking event, with cowbells placed on far reaching branches. A climber had to complete several maneuvers by clanking a cowbell with a hand saw and toss a log through a canopy at a ground target consisting of cheesy lawn decorations. Points were awarded for form and accuracy.
Being witness to these activities was incredible and I am forever grateful to everyone who took part. I’m more motivated now than ever and have already seen vast improvement in my skill and climbing ability. More importantly, I realized how my body and my physical condition greatly impacts my overall performance in both tree climbing and in life.
For those who are following my tree climbing endeavors, I basically decided to become a technically proficient tree climber and approach this activity as a sport, much like rock climbing. My first trial was back in June 2015 where I participated in a one week training program offered through Cornell Tree Climbing Institute. We went on an expedition to climb Redwoods in an forested area just outside Kings Canyon National Park, for research purposes and to teach students to climb.
My initial training enabled me to ascend into and rappel down from the canopy of a giant Sierra Sequoia-Redwood. Despite my age and back issues, with lots of exercise beforehand and with the assistance of well qualified instructors, I was ultimately able to climb to the top of a 275′ Sierra Redwood and safely rappel myself to the ground.
My passion for tree climbing enabled me to learn new climbing techniques with less impact on my back. A sit-stand stationary rope technique (SRT) climbing method was the first method I used during my initial Redwood training experience. It was relatively economical and simple to use. It involved both the upper and lower body’s muscles. This approach used a hand ascender with a foot loop, together with a Petzl Chest Croll to capture progress on ascent. This was easy to learn and worked well for beginners like me.
Another popular SRT climbing technique is known as Rope-Walking. It uses both a foot and a knee ascender, together with a multicending device. This is the preferred method used by professional production climbers. It’s similar to ascending a ladder and compared to other climbing methods involving upper body strength, but rope walking enables the arms to be used more for guiding the rope, while the heavy lifting happens more in the legs where the strongest climbing muscles are located.
Realizing that I may only get the opportunity to use a rope walking method if somehow I obtain my own equipment or take an advanced tree climbing course, I decided to investigate and learn everything I could possibly learn about tree climbing equipment and then decide whether or not to move ahead. My research included browsing the Internet for all sorts of climbing equipment, studying reviews and researching the types of gear that are both mainstream and cutting-edge, as well as provide cross over benefits, used by all types of climbers.
Realizing that tree climbing is a tool used by professionals in the Arborist and Tree Care industry, I approached my objective as if I were going to make recreational tree climbing a daily occurrence. Over the following weeks and months, I gradually became familiar with and outfitted myself with all the necessary accouterments, being both safety rated, designed for this specific use. Certain items were also selected based on other personal preferences, including my age and weight.
Having absorbed tons of information and training material about tree climbing from books, tree-climbing forums and after countless YouTube videos. I came to appreciate various intricate aspects of climbing, knot tying, rope selections, climbing harnesses, and other specific gear. I also reached a point where I began to see a clear vision of what it is to be not just proficient, but a fully outfitted, self contained recreational tree climber, able to address a variety of tree climbing challenges.
Most beginning tree climbing instruction focuses on using a doubled rope technique (DdRT). Beyond the basic setup used for that, this hardly comes close to covering the entire scope of equipment and climbing options. Perhaps one should advance in skill with appropriate training to an extent beyond the fundamental basics, at least before moving onto the to more contemporary climbing styles with modernized gear options. The differences in climbing modern versus old school climbing systems are significant and available with those willing to seriously pursue this sport. Learning to use various climbing methods is a building process. Either a stationary or moving rope systems can be used efficiently in various situations, so having the ability to switch back and forth is very helpful.
When trying out my newly purchased gear, I found it challenging to find the sweet spot, where everything was dialed in and worked as expected. Finding the right combination of hitch cords, hitch knots and rope sizes wasn’t always easy. Availability of gear was another factor, since specific kinds of gear were not always available at certain times or locations.
Acclimating oneself to one’s rope, friction cords, climbing harness, mechanical devices, etc., takes time and hand’s on practice. The sweet spot isn’t always apparent, but when everything meshes together and works as expected, that’s the best. One is best served when receiving helpful instruction from an experienced climber. This helps to address the challenges when getting your gear dialed in just right. Trust me, it’s more efficient than trying to do it alone.
Variables such as the weather, the weight of the climber and other factors do occur dynamically, as if to teach one to be extra mindful of the life-bearing function being served and to take every necessary precaution to ensure one’s own personal safety. Different gear may be better suited for certain conditions, depending on a tree’s characteristics, the climber’s objectives, the weather and the actual climber’s physical abilities.
A climbing acquaintance once said something to the effect that when you climb trees you’re forced to overcome all of your fear. Placing one’s trust, reliance and life on the integrity of a tree limb and the proper use of one’s equipment, aided by a profound understanding and mindfulness that each individual component is properly suited, well maintained and able to safely perform the specific function/s for which it is intended. Even though each piece of equipment may be weight tested and certified to hold somewhere in excess of 4,000 lbs., this will never completely guard against the improper use of gear and unexpected incidents.
My initial (unsupervised) climbing endeavors quickly revealed several unexpected results. Overcoming these obstacles not only tested my patience, but enhanced my resolve to learn the art of skillfully climbing and navigating tree canopies. After multiple attempts to get all my gear properly adjusted and through professional instruction, I have now reached a point where I feel confident and outfitted well enough to climb a variety of trees, set climbing lines and a perform an aerial rescue, if need be.
The concept of practicing low-and-slow helped me to build confidence and familiarity with my specific gear configurations. Physical conditioning has also played a significant role in helping to improve my climbing capabilities, with the residual benefit of having a profoundly positive impact on my overall quality of life. It’s certainly not about being the fastest or the strongest, but more about simply enjoying the journey.
Even simple helmet straps may require adjustment. Having a helmet’s chin strap too loose can cause it to ride back, exposing the forehead. A well adjusted helmet will protect a person’s forehead and fit with minimal movement.
I often climb trees in my backyard, mostly Cedars, Maples and Doug Firs. While there is no one perfect method, technique or climbing style, its good to be able to utilize any number of climbing techniques, depending on the circumstances.
Having a primary (stationary or moving) climbing line, a lanyard and sometimes even a second climbing line, enables me to move about more, and position myself the canopy. Of course, this is all relative actual tree’s structure.
Obtaining professional tree-climbing instruction is recommended for everyone who wants to learn how to safely climb trees. Learning how to identify hazards and understanding the risk is mission-critical. Reading about it, or watching videos is no substitute for the real deal. Climb at your own risk.
Getting the climbing line into the tree is the first objective. A weighted throw-bag and some heavy duty string, together with some hand throwing coordination, allows a climber to get a climbing line into many average sized trees. In order to get the throw line over the higher limbs or into the taller trees, an over-sized sling shot known as a Big Shot may be used, along with a throw-bag and throw-line. Once the throw line is in the tree and over a limb or buckle with a life-bearing-load capacity, a climbing rope is then fed through and used to replace the throw line.
Tall trees may require a more powerful throw-bag launching device to reach suitable size limbs. In some cases, using fishing line and reel, connected to a crossbow, or an air-gun or even an aerial drone have been used to set climbing lines around less accessible limbs.
The climbing rope’s tie-in-point (TIP) can either be up in the canopy, at the tree’s base, or on the actual climber. When the climbing line is looped over a limb and both the rope’s legs are connected to the climber, this creates a moving rope system (MRS). When the climbing line is securely anchored, locked, or choked off, by way of either a canopy or a basal anchor, this creates a stationary rope system (SRS).
Friction Savers are usually made using a tube-like rope sleeve or two rings connected by a heady duty strap or rope. They protect the tree from unnecessary friction by placing a barrier between climbing rope and the tree itself. Installing and retrieving a friction saver from the ground offers protection to a tree’s cambium layer and mitigates unwanted friction from direct contact between the rope and the tree itself.
Technically proficient tree climbers wearing a tree-climbing harness, helmet and other personal protective gear (PPE), connect themselves to a climbing line to move up and down a static or moving climbing rope using any number of climbing techniques. A rope-walker, or a sit-stand climbing method incorporates a combination of rope-grabbing-ascending-devices, also known as hand, foot and knee ascenders. A lanyard or secondary climbing system offers added attachment points for greater security and added maneuverability.
Advancing the TIP to climb higher into a tree’s canopy, maneuvering, or rigging a traverse from tree to tree requires climbing technique and maneuvering skill. Repositioning techniques use specific tools. A throw-line and throw-bag, a grappling-hook or a climbing lanyard with a throw-hook enable this type of maneuvering.
Multicenders products like the Rope Runner, ZigZag-Chicane, Akimbo, Rope Wrench, Hitch Hiker and the Unicender, are able to conveniently combine both the ascent and descent functions into one device. Prior to the advent of multicenders, a climber would typically ascend using installed ascending gear and then for descent, switch over to a descender or rappelling device.
Hitch-cords and/or carabiners may also be used with various climbing styles or techniques, some more economical and minimalist than others. Using an variety of hitch climbing knots, climbers can replicate the function of mechanical multicenders. Hybrid multicenders, namely the Rope Wrench and the Hitch Hiker, both use a hardware augmented hitch-tending prusik cord to function properly.
Tree climbing can be done with a stationary rope system (SRS), or a moving rope system (MRS). Climbers even use a combination of these techniques when using two or more tie-in-points (TIP), or switch between climbing techniques for either ascending, maneuvering or descending purposes.
Hopefully as you read the articles posted on this site’s blog and other information, you’ll be able to acquire a better idea and visualize what technical tree climbing entails. If you are already an experienced caver or rock-climber, you are probably familiar with various climbing components. Rock-climbers generally climb while relying on rock walls, boulders or steep mountainsides, while tree climbers immerse themselves in living-beings and mostly rely on the actual climbing lines for support.
The first phase of technical tree climbing involves rigging the tree with a climbing rope. Since the lower branches may be out of reach, or too low to throw a rope over a secure enough limb, there are several methods for getting a rope into a tree. Using a throw-line attached to a throw-bag is how tree climbers typically achieve this objective.
Developing accurate throw line abilities takes skill and practice. Very few are able to master the task, without good days and bad ones. This activity is most humbling, mainly because there’s very little margin for error. The possibility of losing a throw bag or getting it stuck in a tree are just a couple of the potential things that can and do go wrong, but with enough luck, persistence, determination and skill it can be done.
Imagine setting a throw line in the Y, of the tree on the left of the basketball net. Hand throwing a throw bag attached to a throw line has a low probability of success, so the logical next step is to use an oversize eight foot tall slingshot like launcher, known as a Big Shot. This can be used to propel the throw bag to targets as high as 150 feet.
There’s a fork about 3/4’s up the tree on the left. This was my first attempt with my 8′ tall – Big Shot (sling shot), using a throw bag connected to my throw line. It initially passed through the buckle a bit too high, but after several more attempts, I got the line to pass directly through a crotch with life-bearing support-load capabilities, based on the rule-of-thigh concept. According to the rule-of-thigh, if a tree-limb isn’t at least as wide around as your thigh, it may not be strong enough to support your weight.
Installing a Friction Saver protects the tree’s cambium layer and reduces friction between the climbing line and the tree itself. My Friction Saver of choice was initially a two-ring saver, connected by a 3′ bite of 1/2″ static climbing line.
Getting a two-ring friction saver up to and over the buckle, shown above was literally impossible from the ground, due to numerous impediments blocking both ends of the throw line’s path to the tie-in-point. Had I had used a rope sleeve, as discussed later in this article, a canopy tie-in would have been possible. Unfortunately, when using the prescribed method of installing a two-ring saver, using both ends of the throw line in tandem and pulling saver toward the destination, it became clear that the target’s path, to and from the ground, must be free from obstructions.
The following video is an excellent example, showing two methods for properly installing and retrieving a two-ring saver from the ground. The first method requires an unobstructed path between both ends of the throw line. The second method provides another technique which may work, if the first method fails.
Another important lesson involves throw-line management skills. By raising and lowering either end of the throw-line tied to a weighted throw-bag, I could better isolate the throw-line’s path, in an effort to completely bypass other various branches or obstacles impeding the path of the line. Without a direct path, it becomes more challenging to to reach the tie-in-point, by having to climb around various limbs and other impediments.
To better ensure the possibility of not losing or sacrificing a successful throw and when trying to isolate the throw-line over the intended target, adding another weight such as a partially filled plastic jug, connected somewhere in the middle of the throw-line, enables the line-person from the ground, to raise and lower the line over either side of intended target-limb. This creates giant W’s, requires far more throw-line and a clear line-of-sight for the ground-person/s to determine which end of the throw-line to raise or lower.
For all practical purposes, a friction saving rope-sleeve, rather than a two-ring saver would have been the right choice of gear in this instance, given the ease of installation and the ability to feed the rope sleeve through and around various impediments. Still, in order to securely cinch a climbing line around a limb or through crotch, its best to try to isolate both ends of the line, with a direct path to the ground.
Unfortunately at the time this took place, I didn’t yet own a rope-sleeve, so my climbing-plan adapted to this unforeseen variable. I had to settle for a canopy-tie-in, or run the climbing line through the intended tree-buckle, then tie into a basal anchor system, with an optional ground-based rescue system.
Upon reaching the tie-in-point and after lanyarding in, I could manually install either a rope sleeve, or a two-ring saver, with option of using a moving rope (MRS) system while preserving the tree’s cambium layer at the canopy tie-in-point. Using a stationary rope (SRS) system on ascent without an installed friction saver, since the rope would not be moving when ascending, the rope would cause less harm to the tree, than if it were used in a moving rope (MRS) system.
This experience revealed how effective the Dan House Rope Sleevesreally are when it comes to easy installation and retrieval, compared to most other types of friction savers. The two-ring savers have another drawback, which is how when a weighted rope goes through both rings pinched closely together, the rope passes into a very tight upside-down v-shape, causing added wear and friction to the climbing line.
I now sometimes use two rope-sleeves when climbing, while alternating one with the other, as I advance my climbing line and set up redirects. Moreover, the rope-sleeve is far easier to maneuver up and down a line and there’s very little for it to get caught on. Using a simple slippery-knot (aka: safety knot or slip-knot) and a throw line, I can easily install and retrieve a rope-sleeve from either a ground base, or from within the canopy itself.
A little trick I learned from Tim Kovar at Tree Climbing Planet, when retrieving a rope-sleeve and when it’s sliding quickly down the rope, jiggling the rope in a wave like manner significantly slows it down for better control.
Modified drones can be used to set a throw line. In certain areas and in somewhat tight conditions, a well controlled drone is good option, despite the high cost. Subject to the flying skill of the drone’s pilot and quality of the customized drone and modifications enabling the throw-bag to be dropped using a wireless remote trigger.
On my first tree climbing adventure I joined a group from Cornell University and became a trained beginner in the art of tree climbing. The experience for me was so profound, I wrote a book about it.
On the outskirts of Kings Canyon National Park, east of Fresno, is an area known as Whitaker Forest. Owned and operated by U.C. Berkeley, on the western facing slopes of the Eastern Sierras, this is home to some of the largest and oldest Sequoia-Redwood trees on earth. An expedition from Cornell University took eight instructors and six students, myself included, to our cabin in Whitaker Forest for the week of May 26, 2015, to June 2, 2015.
For me, this Redwood tree climbing adventure was a culmination of life and spirit. I knew all the preparation and physical training would transform me into a stronger, more vibrant and healthier person. I embarked on a journey that originated in my heart, acting on blind faith, without knowing exactly where, or how, this journey might end. What I soon discovered would forever change my life and my ongoing relationship with nature.