What Makes Recreational Tree Climbing so Amazing?

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.

Some may never successfully address certain challenges like fear of heights, or be able to overcome certain obstacles, simply because of how our bodies are designed. The risk of tree climbing is always present and forces us to make critical decisions to better ensure our safety. The significance of proper climbing equipment has transformed tree climbing into a relatively safe activity. There’s little cross-over between the kinds of gear used among tree climbing Arborists and recreational tree climbers, but when the act of tree removal is taken out of the equation, the risks are much less.

Being up in a tree while exercising both body and mind is immensely gratifying and rewarding. The feeling, similar to that of a distance runner that attains a certain euphoric level of calmness while jogging, is one way to explain it. After a climb I feel a buzz that can last for days. Sharpened focus and enhanced awareness are just a couple of the reasons I like to climb trees, but beyond just the physical act of climbing, there are any number of things happening in the recreational tree climbing world that are open to practically anyone who has the desire to pursue this incredible pastime.

To a Recreational Tree Climber there are only two kinds of trees: Wild trees and all the rest. Wild Trees is a term made famous by Richard Preston in his book The Wild Trees. He describes them in two ways: 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 are thereby less wild for that reason. The first climber ascending into any wild tree may need to clear potential hazards like fallen deadwood, or encounter certain threats, previously unknown from a ground based perspective. Hazards may include less than optimal tie-in-points, bee hives, raccoons, active bird nests, or stumbling upon inhabitants that may not appreciate being visited or disturbed. These hazards are of serious concern and must be avoided whenever possible. A climber needs to 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 Rope Runner have brought about changes in technical tree climbing, similar to how urethane wheels transformed the sport of skate boarding. The emergence of talented individuals who are primarily working 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 living beings on earth. The competitive events are usually organized and sponsored by equipment dealers and Arborist organizations. These events bring together a broad assortment of tree care professionals, rec climbers and other like-minded enthusiasts.

Recreational tree climbing is a great way to build physical strength, sharpened 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.

Tree Climbing Multicenders: Akimbo, Unicender (Uni), Rope Wrench (RW), Hitch Hiker (HH2 & HHX), Rope Runner (RR), ZigZag/Chicane (ZZ) & the BullDog Bone (BDB)

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 recreational 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 single-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, using a multicending device, together with a foot and knee ascender creates a Ropewalking climbing system. This puts a climber’s weight on both legs and not the upper body, enabling one to capture progress with each leg independently and literally be able to walk up the rope, almost like a ladder.

The Rope Wrench and 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 multicending devices, except for more sit-back that occurs each time the hitch knots are weighted. Most hitch knots also have a tendency to bind and can generally become more difficult to manage, when loaded.

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.

The Unicender, Rope Runner, BullDog Bone, ZigZag/Chicane and the Akimbo  are completely mechanical multicending devices. They eliminate the use of friction cords altogether. These devices eliminate much more of the sit-back, common among hitch-knot users. Overall efficiency depends on climber’s size, rope width, type, make and condition of climbing line and even weather conditions, but they all seem to perform well with static 11.5mm to 12.5mm (or 1/2 inch) diameter climbing lines.

I began climbing with a Rope Wrench, using a dependable 5-wrap Michocan (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 Wrench itself is incomplete without a hitch cord for the pruski’s hitch, 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 and Eye Prusik Cord connects 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. A tending device is also needed on ascent and usually attaches from the tether to either a chest harness, or an over-the-shoulder lanyard.

The Rope Wrench has the distinction of being the only multicender that’s  for SRT climbing, only. However, the Rope Wrench and tether are mid-line attachable. When changing from SRT to DdRT, one would remove just the Rope Wrench‘s slic pin and detach the tether, while leaving the hitch tending pulley and prusic hitch in place. Just be careful not to drop the slic pin from the Rope Wrench, while up in a tree.

The Rope Wrench, when used in combination with the ZigZag or the Chicane/ZigZag, offers a hitch cord alternative, while providing the mechanical strength and consistency needed for SRT climbing systems. Unlike other multicenders, the ZigZag is not mid-line attachable and that may be challenging when advancing and or alternating between climbing lines. The tests in the following video confirm the integrity and strength of the the ZigZag and proves how it’s relatively safe to use a ZigZag in place of a hitch cord, with a Rope Wrench in an SRT system.

The Rope Tek Hitch Hiker 2 is a personal favorite and possibly the best multicending device ever. It’s noted for its overall strength, simplicity and for being compact and efficient when used at different climbing angles. Unlike the Rope Wrench, it uses an friction cord that’s threaded through a dog-bone like metal bar, secured with fisherman’s  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 grab consistently and release smoothly when required.

A Hitch Hiker 2 does not include an optional tending attachment that’s needed for ascending. So one must improvise and somehow attach the Hitch Hiker to a chest harness or an over the shoulder lanyard. One can easily be homemade with wire or a piece of  throw line. A short 5″ rope with two sewn eyes, or a holster made of molded plastic is also available.

Installing the hitch cord on a Hitch Hiker is a bit more tedious than other devices, but the friction and stopper knots are simple to learn and once the friction knot is properly dialed in, it’s an efficient, compact, rugged 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 both require some getting used to, in terms of getting the prusic cord’s hitch knot properly tied, dressed and set. The Hitch Hiker is the least expensive to own and operate, compared to other multicenders and it’s built like a tank.

As shown in the above video, Climbing Innovations is now selling a variation of the Rope Tek Hitch Hiker 2, using a Tree Quickie, in place of the original steel carabiner. The 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. For this reason, I found it impractical to use the Tree Quickie in place of the carabiner on my Hitch Hiker 2. However, I am using the piece of rubber tubing on the friction knot and it works beautifully.

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. In this regard, without this augmentation, the hitch knots themselves can become tightly bound and more difficult to responsibly manage.

While many commercial grade friction cords are heat rated for climbing, excessive friction may cause scorching on the cord itself. By rubbing it back and forth against tree bark, it is possible to scrape off the excess scorched material, but friction cords do wear out.

The Unicender is 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.

The risk of an object or falling limb striking the Unicender’s upper arm, or any multicending device, may cause an unintentional or accidental release from the climbing line. This may occur as a result of falling debris or improper use and while it may only have a temporary effect while the pressure is being exerted, then the device should re-engage. However, the end result may potentially cause an unintended fall and/or a shock-load to you and your climbing system.

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, or much less than someone like a tree care professional who regularly hauls cutting and rigging equipment into the trees, the Unicender remains a top contender because of its overall user-friendliness, being mid-line attachable, compactness and especially for being fully self-contained, with no removable parts.

I’m curious about how well all these devices perform in side by side comparisons, with regard to friction, heat retention and dissipation, namely on descents that are 200′ or longer. Changing over to a descender from a  multicending system is no longer necessary, but when rappelling from heights that may reach 200′ or more, a climber may opt to use a Petzl Rig, or another similar type of mechanical positioning or descending device that may incorporate an anti-panic feature, or be 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, 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 Drum and it looks like it makes things a lot better for Unicender users because of the way it helps improve both friction-management, reduces wear and tear and provides for an easy lock off.  Richard demonstrates its installation and use in the following video.

How the Drum may 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.

The Rope Runner, as demonstrated below, uses a mechanical hitch, very similar to the Rope Wrench, but without any friction cord. It has two auto-locking removable slic pins and a steel carabiner to guide the rope through the device, but is otherwise fully self-contained. With proper care, this device will never wear out. Replacing warn our slick pins, nuts, and the spring from becoming overly worn, keeps this device fully functional and far extends its estimated life expectancy.

Aside from being slightly more bulky and priced about the same as the Akimbo, but slightly more than other multicending devices, it appears to be a top choice for a mechanical multicending device, especially for production climbers. The device requires the use of a tending device, which is not included and tending systems may vary, depending on the climber’s climbing style and preference. A climber must somehow augment the Rope Runner, so it can connect to a chest harness or an over-the-shoulder lanyard.

On a personal note, I know a successful competitive tree climber who prefers using the Rope Runner with a worn down upper slic pin, but was hesitant to replace it, due to the added efficiency and control it provided him.

Singing Tree, makers of the Rope Runner sold the RR’s rights to TreeStuff, who were then bought out by SherrillTree. According to Kevin Bingham, the inventor of the Rope Runner, the Rope Wrench and founder of Singing Tree, the original Rope Runner is well suited for commercial use, because of its component based design that vastly extends its longevity, when properly maintained.

Whether there will ever be a Rope Runner 2 is doubtful. The Rope Runner 2, unlike the original Rope Runner, would presumably have no removable parts. That defeats the advantages of the original Rope Runner’s ability to provide ongoing manageability through the replacement of it parts, versus replacement or refurbishment of the entire device.

Initially I discovered the BullDog Bone with a buy-and-use-at-your-own-risk disclaimer, available through a private party who makes and sells these. The BullDog Bone is similar to the Akimbo’s fundamental design and while this is a highly regarded multicending device. A search on the TreeBuzz forum using the keywords, “BullDog Bone“, may provide access to the individual who sells these.

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 Bone isn’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 favoring certain 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. My preference is the Petzl Torse Croll Harness, a lightweight adjustable webbed suspender-like 1″ strap that attaches the the Akimbo’s wire-gated tending system using a micro-carabiner, or something similar. Having the ability to control tension when remaining attached to the wire gate tending system gives me more mobility, especially when I pause for a rest during a long ascent.

Using the smaller diameter ropes on the Akimbo may cause slippage, and Rock Exotica has published their list of approved ropes, some with a 220lb weight limit, and some with a 286lb weight limit. The Akimbo’s approved rope list appears on Rock Exotica’s web site and is expected to grow over time. My personal experience when trying non-approved ropes has been less than favorable and for that reason, I bought a new 150′ hank of Drenaline by Teufelberger and can now look forward to fully utilizing the Akimbo.

I initially began climbing with the Rope Wrench and then upgraded to the Unicender, once I became better trained and understood the fundamentals of climbing. I still prefer the simplicity of the Uni, the efficiency and ease of installation, over that of more temperamental hitch cords, or the Rope Runner. In foul wet weather a Hitch Hiker 2 is my preference. I suspect I’ll be using my new Akimbo the majority of the time, from now on.

I’ve gone full circle. Over time, 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 Unicender ,Rope Wrench, Hitch Hiker or the Rope Runner for daily production work. The Akimbo and the ZigZag/Chicane are still newcomers now emerging on the scene, so there’s not a lot of people reviewing their experiences on them. The Unicender always remains a strong option, given the ease of use and, but the Akimbo is looking to possibly overtake the entire bunch, while the ZigZag/Chicane seems to just be a non-mid-line-attachable, mechanical replication of the Rope Wrench.

Seasoned and old-school climbers may prefer the Hitch Hiker or Rope Wrench, when the weather sucks, but will likely use a mechanical multicender when the conditions are optimal. The Rope Runner has replaceable components which make it well suited for production climbers, but the adjust-ability, compactness and efficiency of the Akimbo makes it the most promising multicender to emerge on the scene.

Related Information: My Gear Bag, Where to Buy Tree Climbing Gear & Tree Climbing Gear for the Fully Autonomous Recreational Tree Climber

Technical Tree Climbing: 101

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. Hand-throwing a weighted throw-bag, tied to a string into a tree is a basic and common method. In order to get the throw line over the higher limbs an oversized sling shot  known as a Big Shot is used to shoot a weighted throw-bag tied to a light throw-line up and over a secure branch. 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 tied to the throw-line and fed into the tree. Trees like Redwoods, may require a more powerful launching device to reach their lower limbs. A crossbow, an airgun or even a drone can be used to set a climbing line.

Friction Savers are usually made using a tube or two rings connected by a strap or rope. They protect the tree from unnecessary friction by placing a barrier between climbing rope and the tree itself.  From the ground, a person using knots, a throw-line and/or a weighted throw-bag can feed a Friction Saver into a tie-in-point, install it, and be able to retrieve it from the ground. We encourage our readers to use friction savers or rope sleeves to protect a tree’s cambium layer and avoid direct interference between the rope and the tree.

Technically proficient tree climbers wearing a climbing harness connect themselves to a climbing line to move up the rope, typically using a rope-walker, or a sit-stand (frog) method with rope grabbers, better known as hand, chest, knee or foot, ascenders. Once in the canopy, a lanyard or secondary climbing line can be used to provide an added attachment point, offering the climber greater security and the freedom to move laterally, or branch-walk. With two or more tie in points, a climber can alternate connections between a main climbing line and one or more lanyards, to move within the canopy.

Traversing the canopy and climbing from tree to tree requires a bit more technique and various methods can be utilized to secure distant tie-in-points. Getting a line into a neighboring tree and back to the climber becomes possible when using a grappling hook and a throw-line, or even a throw-line with a magnetic type of retrieval system. Another method utilizes a heavier DMM Captain Hook, connected to one end of the line. Moving from tree to tree also usually involves the use of two concurrent climbing systems, or some sort of zip line rig.

When transitioning from a ascent mode to a descent mode, the climber installs a rappelling device on the main climbing line, then removes the rope grabbing ascenders and while using one hand for breaking, descends in a controlled manner.  Ascending devices may vary from hitch climbing knots to multicending mechanical devices that combine an ascending and descending function into one device. 

Products like the Rope Wrench, Hitch Hiker and the Unicender, are able to conveniently combine both the ascent and descent functions into one device. Pulleys or rings and carabiners are used in many climbing systems and climbers have an assortment of climbing-knots to incorporate into various climbing systems, as well. The variety of gear options and techniques, may be better suited to some, than others.

Tree climbing can be done with a single rope technique (SRT), or a doubled rope technique (DdRT). Climbers even use a combination of these techniques in certain situations when moving around within the canopy by utilizing redirects and various tie-in-points.

Hopefully as you read the articles posted on this site’s blog and other information, you’ll be able to acquire a better idea of what the Recreational Tree Climbing sport is really all about. If you are already an experienced rock-climber, than perhaps you are already familiar with many of the tree-climbing components, aside from the fact that rock-climbers climb on and are dependent on the rock walls, while tree climbers connect with living-beings and rely mainly on a climbing line connected to the tree.

SRT, DRT, & DdRT Acronym Replacements

SRT, DRT, DdRT, DmRT, SRS, MRS, WTF?

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 (sometimes called Stationary) Rope Technique has been 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.

(DRT) Double Rope Technique and (DdRT) Doubled Rope Technique are often confused, but most of the time they are associated with 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. What could be more confusing?

DdRT climbers are attached to both sides of a single line, and when advancing either up or down using one side of the two legs, the rope moves as it passes over, or around, a limb and back to the climber.  The climber controls both ends of the line, offering easy retrieval, while the rope is “doubled” over a limb, hence the name.

DRT is actually described as two separately anchored lines that create a single stationary line which a climber can ascend using a footlocking method on both lines, or climb with one of the two stationary legs, while using the other leg as a backup.

DdRT and DRT describe two distinctly different climbing methods, but a lot of educational material is incorrectly using the DRT acronym to describe DdRT. Moreover, everyone seems to miss the boat entirely when it comes to teaching any DRT methods, as if it’s some kind of ancient lost art.  Perhaps DRT is a method used by rock climbers and by other at-height professionals, since it’s not as well suited for maneuvering in tree canopies as say SRT and DdRT.

DRT, DdRT and (DmRT) Doubled Moving Rope Technique, are all different. DmRT uses both legs of single climbing line that’s doubled over a limb with a dualcender, or a progress capture device for each leg, versus DRT where the climber is using two separately anchored lines and DdRT where the climber only advances on one side of the doubled line.

In the video below, Richard Mumford appears to inadvertently demonstrate the DmRT type of system using a Rock Exotica Dualcender. He then combines traditional DdRT and what we may now call DmRT into one inclusive DmRT acronym, which I believe is incorrect. What he may not realize is that he’s demonstrating two unique systems and not simple variations of DdRT. The DmRT method, as demonstrated near the end of the video, shows how a climber can advance up two lines together, creating an inch-worm like ascending effect and by using a right and left foot ascender with a dualcender device in an alternating, see-saw like way, the climber gains a 2:1 (MA) Mechanical Advantage.  Using DmRT, a climber can also easily transition between a 2:1 MA and a 1:1 MA, based on whether the two legs are joined in a secured footlock, or kept separate with individual foot ascenders.

This is all very hypothetical. Safety, efficiency, impact on gear are highly speculative and questionable, but if you think about it, a DmRT system can be a very versatile system, easily able to transition into DRT,  DdRT or an SRT system, depending on the how the legs of the doubled-moving line are managed.

In the product demonstration video below, it shows how a dualcender device can rely on the use of both legs of a doubled rope in a DmRT configuration. Rock Exotica’s Dualcender and the Petzl Shunt may pose unnecessary risks to a climber when used in this type of configuration if shock-loaded. Other risks may include and are not limited to causing localized or uneven wear spots on a line, hardware malfunction, etc.. Nonetheless, in a DdRT system, the climber only advances on one leg of the doubled rope compared to DmRT which uses both legs to advance a climber. This notable distinction warrants giving DmRT a different acronym than DdRT.

DmRT may eventually evolve into a popular tree climbing system, with a whole new assortment of climbing gear designed specifically for this purpose, including something like a possible dAkimbo, or a homemade dual-ascender using two hand ascenders duct taped together. For now the two most popular contenders are are clearly DdRT and SRT and any changes to these acronyms may not only effect the lingo used by tree climbers, but many others, including rock climbers, skyscraper window washers, pole workers, etc. 

Another idea is 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:

SSR = Single Stationary Rope Technique, versus: SRS  & SRT
SMR = Single Moving Rope Technique, versus: MRS &  DdRT
DSR = Double Stationary Rope Technique, versus: DRT
DMR = Double Moving Rope Technique, versus: DmRT

Replacing vaguely descriptive acronyms can address the methods more descriptively and provide a more solid and universally accepted definition. One might still confuse the difference between DRT is different than DdRT, but opinions vary, depending on who you ask, what educational videos you watch, etc. The fact remains, it all comes down to whether there are one, or more, stationary or moving ropes involved.

DRT represents the pending marriage of, or union of,  two separately anchored  lengths of rope. Once the two ropes merge as one moving rope doubled over a limb, two distinct sub-sets of climbing methods clearly emerge, known as DdRT and DmRT. Using the generic “DRT” acronym, as a representative of all three (two-legged) climbing methods, may be  permissible in certain contexts, or among certain audiences, but without further clarification it remains vague and ambiguous.

In conclusion, uncertainty does exist when it comes to describing the existing acronyms and reassigning new acronyms. Most will probably continue to refer to SRT and DRT, or adapt to using SRS and MRS in general terms, but time will tell and at some point the tree climbing community will hopefully unite, adopt and agree on the use of more properly descriptive acronyms to describe the various climbing methods.

Happy climbing. Be Safe!


Tree Climbing Rendezvous 2018 – Costa Rica

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.


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Tree Climbing Gear for self-equipped Recreational Tree Climbers

All this tree climbing stuff isn’t cheap, but here’s the ticket to being a completely self-sufficient recreational 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 recreational 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, but I’m not opposed to accepting promotional sponsorships . Please email me directly, for more information.

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.

What many consider an adequate length of climbing rope can differ,  depending on typical tree size and the objective of any particular climb. While some trees, including the Redwoods, grow as high as three hundred feet in the Eastern Sierras of California, and Coastal Redwoods along the Northern California coastal area, the majority of climb worthy trees, throughout the world, are usually well within the 150 foot height range.

Many agree at least a 120′ or 150′ rope length is adequate for most new climbers. It’s lightweight for packing and goes well with a carry-able climbing kit, suited specifically for backpacking and/or air-travel. Depending on various climbing objectives, static tree-climbing ropes are also usually available in lengths of 200′, 300′ and even 600′. Various splicing options are available at many tree climbing outfitters and adding a sewn or hand spliced eye on the end of a climbing rope is useful.

Mechanical devices, like the Rope Runner and Akimbo, flatten a climbing line and they work better on some ropes than others. Weather conditions can also effect the performance of various climbing ropes. When purchasing climbing rope/s, check to be sure the rope you buy is well suited to your particular type of climbing system/s and the environment where it will be used most often.

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, may have multiple manufacturers producing similar products with the same functionality. Products in development, or currently available for pre-sale only, may be overlooked. As new items become available, I will try to keep this list properly augmented, but I make no promises as to how frequently this list gets updated. Please use your best judgment when selecting appropriate gear for your climbing system.

  • Tree Climbing Helmet or an equivalent brain bucket (required)
  • TreeMotion, New Tribe or some sort of commercial grade tree climbing harness with at least one floating rope bridge
  • Multicender: New climbers can start with an, Akimbo, a Rope Wrench, Unicender, Rope Runner, or a Hitch Hiker … here’s more about multicending devices
  • A Haas or a Saka Knee Ascender (either one does the job)
  • CT, or similar, Foot Ascender (right or left foot) depending on preference
  • Quick Roll Hand Ascender by CT, also used with the Rig and optional foot-loop for a 3:1 (RAD) climbing system. Another way to make a 3:1 / RAD setup can include a Blake’s hitch or a hand ascender, with a carabiner and a micro-pulley or a Roll Clip
  • Ascender Foot Strap by Singing Rock
  • Petzl Pirana Descender – a Munter Hitch on a carabiner also works as a backup descending device
  • A Chest Harness, for tending SRT devices (an over the shoulder lanyard works too)
  • Protective eye wear
  • Good climbing gloves
  • Lightweight hiking boots
  • H20 Water bottle, to connect to the climbing harness – to mitigate dehydration
  • First Aid Kit, including a blood stopper bandage – usually worn on the climbing harness
  • Bug Net drawstring bag, or Buff for head protection, in the event of unexpected bees or insect swarm
  • 200′ +/- climbing rope – 11mm to 13mm / SRT &/or DdRT static climbing line
  • At least a 15′ or longer rope lanyard kit, including the lanyard line, rope snap or carabiner and a lanyard adjuster … here’s more information about climbing lanyards
  • A few auto-locking carabiners
  • A few screw-locking carabiners
  • An assortment of Loop Runners of varied sizes, for assisted tie-ins, re-directs, etc.
  • Two 30″ Dan House rope sleeves or rawhide leather friction savers (aka: cambium savers)
  • Two stainless steel Delta Links for canopy tie ins, and/or Singing Tree Quickies
  • 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
  • Yella Grapnel, for easier throw-line retrieval
  • Storage bags: a large one for gear, a small saddle bag for the throw-line kit and a rope bag for the climbing line
  • A throw line kit, with at least 150′ +\- 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 recommend Target Line, a 1/8” diamond braid polyethylene line
  • Two or more – 10oz or 12oz , unleaded throw bags

Extra Options:

  • DMM Captain Throw Hook Kit, or just a DMM Captain Throw Hook with a custom 50′ +/- lanyard line … here’s more about throw hooks, 2-in-1 climbing lanyards and secondary climbing systems
  • 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
  • Anchor Ring, or an extra swivel, to use on a rope bridge
  • Headlamp
  • 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)
  • No climbing spurs, but maybe a Silky 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.  Recreational or sport tree climbing has clearly a different purpose than for someone performing tree climbing services as a profession, although the two are not mutually exclusive, the sport climber’s gear is less cumbersome and risky without items like chainsaws and climbing spurs.

Related Information: My Gear Bag & Where to Buy Tree Climbing Gear

Tree Climbing Multicenders: Akimbo, Unicender (Uni), Rope Wrench (RW), Hitch Hiker (HH2 & HHX), Rope Runner (RR), ZigZag/Chicane (ZZ) & the BullDog Bone (BDB)

Over at the TreeBuzz forum, I asked what seasoned and experienced tree climbers were using, in terms of the latest and greatest mechanical SRT multicending tree climbing devices. SRT (single rope technique or static, fixed or stationary line climbing) has transformed recreational 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 single-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, using both ropes has 2:1 mechanical advantage on a moving rope. 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 with a foot and knee ascender creates a Ropewalking climbing system. This puts a climber’s burden on both legs, enabling one to capture progress with each leg independently and literally walk up the rope, almost like a ladder.

The Rope Wrench and the Hitch Hiker both use hand-tied friction-cords, aka: prusik cords, tied into rope-grabbing hitch knots which connect directly to these devices. 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.  Once the friction hitch is properly tied, dressed and set, these devices are almost as effective as their fully-mechanical competitors, except for some sit-back that occurs each time these hitch knots are weighted.

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 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.

The Unicender, Rope Runner, BullDog Bone and the Akimbo  are completely mechanical multicending devices. They eliminate the use of friction cords altogether. These devices eliminate the sit-back, common among hitch-knot users. The efficiency can vary, depending on climber’s size, rope width, type and make of climbing line and even weather conditions, but they all seem to perform well with static 11mm/7/16″ climbing lines.

I began climbing with a Rope Wrench, using a dependable 5-wrap Michocan (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 Wrench itself is incomplete without a hitch cord for the pruski’s hitch, 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 and Eye Prusik Cord connects 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. A tending device is also needed on ascent and usually attaches from the tether to either a chest harness, or an over-the-shoulder lanyard.

The Rope Wrench has the distinction of being the only multicender that’s  for SRT climbing, only. However, the Rope Wrench and tether are mid-line attachable. When changing from SRT to DdRT, one would remove just the Rope Wrench‘s slic pin and detach the tether, while leaving the hitch tending pulley and prusic hitch in place. Just be careful not to drop the slic pin from the Rope Wrench, while up in a tree.

The Rope Tek Hitch Hiker 2 is a personal favorite and possibly the best multicending device ever. It’s noted for its overall strength, simplicity and for being compact and efficient when used at different climbing angles. Unlike the Rope Wrench, it uses an friction cord that’s threaded through a dog-bone like metal bar, secured with fisherman’s  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 grab consistently and release smoothly when required.

A Hitch Hiker 2 does not include an optional tending attachment that’s needed for ascending. So one must improvise and somehow attach the Hitch Hiker to a chest harness or an over the shoulder lanyard. One can easily be homemade with wire or a piece of  throw line. A short 5″ rope with two sewn eyes, or a holster made of molded plastic is also available.

Installing the hitch cord on a Hitch Hiker is a bit more tedious than other devices, but the friction and stopper knots are simple to learn and once the friction knot is properly dialed in, it’s an efficient, compact, rugged 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 both require some getting used to, in terms of getting the prusic cord’s hitch knot properly tied, dressed and set. The Hitch Hiker is the least expensive to own and operate, compared to other multicenders and it’s built like a tank.

As shown in the above video, Climbing Innovations is now selling a variation of the Rope Tek Hitch Hiker 2, using a Tree Quickie, in place of the original steel carabiner. The 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. For this reason, I found it impractical to use the Tree Quickie in place of the carabiner on my Hitch Hiker 2. However, I am using the piece of rubber tubing on the friction knot and it works beautifully.

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. In this regard, the hitch knots themselves become to tightly bound and become far more difficult to loosen, when necessary.

While many commercial grade friction cords are heat rated for climbing, excessive friction may cause scorching on the cord itself. By rubbing it back and forth against tree bark, it is possible to scrape off the excess scorched material, but friction cords will wear out over time.

The Unicender is 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 Uni 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.

The risk of an object or falling limb striking the Uni’s upper arm, or any multicending device, may cause an unintentional or accidental release from the climbing line. This may occur as a result of falling debris or improper use and while it may only have a temporary effect while the pressure is being exerted, then the device should re-engage. However, the end result may potentially cause an unintended fall and/or a shock-load to you and your climbing system.

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 Uni many times with no slippage, but I am seeing some signs of friction wear on the anodized finish. Although the Uni 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 most notable difference between these two mechanical multicenders.

For someone like myself who climbs strictly for recreation, or much less than someone like a tree care professional who regularly hauls cutting and rigging equipment into the trees, the Unicender remains a top contender because of its overall user-friendliness, being mid-line attachable, compactness and especially for being fully self-contained, with no removable parts.

I’m curious about how well all these devices perform in side by side comparisons, with regard to friction, heat retention and dissipation, namely on descents that are 200′ or longer. Changing over to a descender from a  multicending system is no longer necessary, but when rappelling from heights that may reach 200′ or more, a climber may opt to use a Petzl Rig, or another similar type of mechanical positioning or descending device that may incorporate an anti-panic feature, or be 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, 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 Uni accessory to mitigate friction, known as the Drum and it looks like it makes things a lot better for Uni users because of the way it helps improve both friction-management, reduces wear and tear and provides for an easy lock off.  Richard demonstrates its installation and use in the following video.

How the Drum may effect the Uni, 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 makers of the Uni, with respect to them possibly sanctioning the Drum, or any such modifications to their original design.

The Rope Runner, as demonstrated below, uses a mechanical hitch, very similar to the Rope Wrench, but without any friction cord. It has two auto-locking removable slic pins and a steel carabiner to guide the rope through the device, but is otherwise fully self-contained. With proper care, this device will never wear out. Replacing warn our slick pins, nuts, and the spring from becoming overly worn, keeps this device fully functional and far extends its estimated life expectancy.

Aside from being slightly more bulky and more expensive than other multicending devices, it appears to be the best available mechanical multicending device for production climbers. The device requires the use of a tending device, which is not included and may vary, depending on the climber’s climbing style and preference, but in most cases, climbers will augment the Rope Runner, so it will somehow connect to a chest harness or an over-the-shoulder lanyard.

On a personal note, I know a successful competitive tree climber who prefers using the Rope Runner with a worn down upper slic pin, but was hesitant to replace it, due to the added efficiency and control it provided him.

Singing Tree, makers of the Rope Runner sold the RR’s rights to TreeStuff, who were then bought out by SherrillTree. According to Kevin Bingham, the inventor of the RR, the RW and founder of Singing Tree, the original Rope Runner is well suited for commercial use, because of its component based design that vastly extends its longevity, when properly maintained.

Whether there will ever be a Rope Runner 2 is doubtful. The Rope Runner 2, unlike the original Rope Runner, would presumably have no removable parts. That defeats the advantages of the original Rope Runner’s ability to provide ongoing manageability through the replacement of it parts, versus replacement or refurbishment of the entire device.

Initially I discovered the BullDog Bone with a buy-and-use-at-your-own-risk disclaimer, available through a private party who makes and sells these. The BullDog Bone is similar to the Akimbo’s fundamental design and while this is a highly regarded multicending device. A search on the TreeBuzz forum using the keywords, “BullDog Bone“, may provide access to the individual who sells these.

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 Bone isn’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.

Here’s a preview video of the Akimbo. There’s already quite a stir in the tree climbing community about this innovative and highly anticipated product. It is both SRT and DdRT friendly,  aesthetically pleasing, compact, adjustable for use on different width ropes, using no external locking pins and it doesn’t rely on using a friction cord.  It uses two adjustable bollards, to assure better conformity with different size climbing lines. Unfortunately it’s not yet available, except for the occasional used one being sold through a private parties, from the initial beta-test group that were manufactured after a subsequent KickStarter campaign, with the help of Rock Exoticia.

I initially began climbing with the Rope Wrench and then upgraded to the Unicender, once I became better trained and understood the fundamentals of climbing. I still prefer the simplicity of the Uni, the efficiency and ease of installation, over that of more temperamental hitch cords, or the Rope Runner, but I also now use a Hitch Hiker 2, with the rope friendly hitch cord.

I guess, in a way, I’ve gone full circle. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate and deeply respect the overall benefits a friction cord has, 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 properly.

In conclusion and based on the group’s feedback, I recommend the Rope Wrench, Hitch Hiker or the Rope Runner for daily production work, otherwise for rec climbing purposes, the Unicender or Rope Wrench, may be a more user-friendly choice for beginners, depending on where and how often you plan to climb.  Seasoned and old-school climbers may prefer the Hitch Hiker, based on its compactness, the low startup cost, low cost of maintenance and the indestructible nature of its design.

Of course, everything may all change when the Akimbo becomes available. The anticipated launch date is sometime in January 2019, so please stayed tuned. In the interim, Wesspur, TreeStuff and others are now accepting pre-orders and Wesspur’s web site now links to the new Akimbo User Instructions.

Related Information: My Gear Bag, Where to Buy Tree Climbing Gear & Tree Climbing Gear for the Fully Autonomous Recreational Tree Climber

My Ideal 2-in-1 Climbing Lanyard, with the DMM Captain Throwing Hook

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 and usually only when felling a tree. I prefer to use non-invasive tree climbing methods while trying to leave little, or no footprints.

In addition to the primary climbing line, a climbing lanyard is an essential component for a tree climber. It offers additional tie-in-points for added safety and affords significantly greater movement within the canopy. There are lanyards and flip-lines of varied lengths. 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.

The traditional lanyard connects to in two places using a fixed contact and an adjustable point of contact. The contact points are usually on the climber’s right and left side d-rings, if the harness has side d-rings, or onto the main bridge’s central connection. The fact is, a centrally connected lanyard can become a secondary climbing system or self-anchoring lanyard. The essence of any lanyard system relies on one of two types of climbing systems using either a stationary or moving rope, SRT or DdRT, system.

The concept of a 2-in-1 lanyard takes advantage of the unused end of a lanyard line’s leg, augmented to suit a number of configurations. Adding another rope snap and a hitch-tending pulley can turn a single use lanyard into a true 2-in-1, but using a DMM Captain throwing hook in place of one of the two carabiner/snaps can broadly expand a climber’s positioning ability.

The DMM Captain throwing hook gives the 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 SRT climbing system. Even with all the conveniences this offers,  a climber may still want have a shorter more basic lanyard, primarily for quick tie-ins, facilitating positioning, or when advancing the primary climbing line.

Connecting a DMM Captain directly to the throw line’s sewn eye is efficient, 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 line while navigating, setting or releasing the hook from an intended target. Using a swivel as way a to connect the hook defeats the ability to maneuver the hook by twisting the line. Connecting the hook to the lanyard line using a Singing Tree 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 throw line, rather than a 2-in-1 lanyard.

When the end of the lanyard’s throwing hook is securely engaged,  it creates 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 in to position.

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.

The consensus for a mechanical device to compliment the throwing hook,  points toward the Trango Cinch, or perhaps a GriGri,  mostly because of it’s efficiently small footprint. Other suitable breaking and progress capture devices with lock-off functions like the Rig can be used effectively, but the climber needs to be sure the device is compatible with size of the lanyard’s line.

The DMM Captain is not PPE (personal protective equipment) 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 Mad Rock Safeguard (shown above), Petzl Rig, a Grigri, or a Trango Cinch, or other similar descending and progress capture devices also offer greater ease both in descending, ascending, traversing, using an optional 3:1 mechanical advantage (Rad) system.

The DMM Captain also comes with a great little 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 2-in-1 SRT Climbing Lanyard is comprised of the following components:

  • A 50′ bite of HTP Static 7/16” by Sterling, with sewn eyes on both ends.
  • A Rock D Auto-locking carabiner connected on one end of the lanyard line. Keep in mind, any suitably weight rated rope-snap or locking carabiner works as a connector onto the climber’s harness.
  • A basic hitch climber pulley and 10mm eye&eye Beeline prusik cord, held together with a carabiner to complete the traditional lanyard.
  • A Sterling Thimble Prusik, provides a self-anchoring connection directly on the lanyard.
  • Between the carabiner and the Thimble is mid-line attachable Friction Saver.
  • 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 Petzl Rig functions as a  progress capture device and a rappelling tool, when the throwing hook is securely engaged. It must be centrally connected to a harness’s rope bridge, not a side ring.  The Rig can also be switched with a another comparable device.
  • The final component for creating a 3:1 mechanical advantage, uses the Petzl Rollclip (a non-locking pulley carabiner) and a Hand Ascender. There are many ways to create a 3:1 advantage, some more compact and efficient than others. Using a hand ascender with or without a foot loop can further assists the 3:1 climbing advantage.

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 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, thereby causing the climber to potentially abandon the entire lanyard, pending its retrieval.

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 a Dual-in-1 SRT Lanyard, being how it combines best of both a throwing hook augmented climbing line and a floating anchor lanyard, with a single connection point on a harness’s rope bridge.

Depending on the climb objective, the more basic lanyard shown below will never replace the Dual-in-1 SRT Lanyard, but it certainly provides a far more lightweight and compact alternative. This 15′ lanyard uses a 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 one 15 foot lanyard facilitates the nearby tie-ins, while either the 30 foot or 50 foot lanyard enables me to use the SRT/throw hook system to traverse and reach the throw hook’s location, and then transition to a reconfigured DdRT lanyard climbing system for the return trip, after retrieving the throw hook. A primary climbing system usually remains intact while using any secondary lanyard systems, except during secure transitions.

DMM Captain – product into

Guide to Fliplines / Lanyards and Adjusters in Tree Climbing


2018 Tree Climbing Season is Underway

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 House Rope 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.

Four Owls & The Red Tree

A dear friend who recently moved off Bainbridge Island has a daughter who has inspired us on several occasions, elevating herself into the national news.  She’s a non-violent, pro-environment,  supporter of indigenous people, against Big Oil and corporate tyranny. The mother too is a very powerful woman, considered a Shaman by many and while in the process of moving, she was graced with a visit from four owls which she mindfully filmed in this video.

When I see signs like this in my dreams and in nature, I 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.

Training at Tree Climbing Planet

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 DRT (double 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 DRT, 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 DRT 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.

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Bonsai

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 1st Tree Climbing Competition

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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.

Humble Beginnings of a Recreational Tree Climber

For those who are following my tree climbing endeavors, I basically decided to become a recreational 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 Sequoia-Redwood and despite my age of 57 and having had back surgery and other ongoing concerns, with the assistance of well qualified instructors, I was ultimately able to reach the top, at nearly 300′ above the ground.

Since that time, I became passionate about climbing and finding new techniques with less impact on my back. The sit-stand approach used during my initial Redwood training experience was adequate, yet burdensome. While the sit-stand approach uses gear that’s a bit more economical than other climbing methods, it is used successfully by many instructors to get new climbers effectively up a climbing rope and into a tree, but by no means is it the least strenuous climbing method.

An advanced climbing system using a rope-walker type of approach is used by many industry professionals. It’s similar to ascending a ladder and  compared to other climbing methods, it uses less energy to climb a single line, compared to the sit-stand method.  Realizing that I may only get the opportunity to use this method if I obtain my own equipment, 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 climbing equipment, studying reviews and researching the types of gear that are both mainstream and cutting-edge.

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 accoutrements, being both safety rated, designed for this specific use and based on my own personal preferences, including my physical condition, height, weight, etc.

Having absorbed as much information and training material about tree climbing, from books, tree-climbing forums and after viewing countless YouTube videos on the intricate aspects of climbing, knot tying, ropes, climbing harnesses, and other specific items, I reached a point where I began to see a clear vision of what it is to be not just proficient, but to become a fully outfitted, self-contained-recreational-tree-climber with everything one may need to go from ground-to-crown and back again.

From my experience, it also seems that most tree climbing instruction for beginners usually doesn’t cover the entire scope of equipment options, since one should probably advance in skill with appropriate training to an extent beyond the basics, before moving onto the to more contemporary climbing styles and more sophisticated gear alternatives.

While waiting for my next formal tree climbing training, being offered by Tim Kovar at Tree Climbing Planet a couple months from now, I’ve been doing some practicing on my own, with a couple thoughts in mind. Be careful and practice low-and-slow.

When trying out my newly purchased gear, what I thought would work in my case didn’t, so some adjustments were needed. Acclimating oneself to one’s rope, friction cords, climbing harness, mechanical devices, etc., takes  a bit of practice and only through hand’s on practice, does one find the so called sweet spot where everything meshes together and works as expected.

Even something as seemingly simple as attaching  a friction cord to an ascending device with a friction knot, depends on the quality of the knot itself,  the rope it’s being tied to, plus the amount of tension to be secured and the ability for the knot to consistently perform as expected under varying conditions. 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.

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, I have now reached a point where I feel I am fully able to securely and confidently set a climbing line in a tree, as well as, ascend up and descend down to a maximum height of not more than 20 feet.

Using the concept of practicing low-and-slow, has helped to build confidence and familiarity with my specific gear configuration, as needed to meet my initial goal of mastering basic ascending and descending skills.

One thing I learned was how to wear a climbing helmet. I initially had the front chin straps set too loose and the helmet rode back too far.  I was made aware of this by a person who sells bicycle helmets and who was kind enough to properly adjust my helmet straps.  A properly adjusted helmet will protect a person’s forehead and minimize movement.

Developing the skill needed to utilize each component of a climbing system requires a proper climbing form and positioning. During an ascent, I like to keep my harness’s floating-bridge pulled tight, as to make my system’s primary tie in climbing system as compact as possible. Once I climb to a desired height and lanyard in, I can then adjust my floating bridge into a more open position, affording me greater movement and mobility.

Connecting a Rope Wrench to a climbing line requires a person to know how to tie proper friction hitch knots. Certain knots like the Valdotain Tresse (VT) may not be compact enough, or may expand further than other friction hitch knot options. For me, I’ve been able to settle into using a suitable friction cord that releases with relative ease when under load, compared to other types of cordage that bind more tightly and require more brute force and strength to loosen.

I spent many practice sessions in my backyard, climbing on a 50-75 year old Red Cedar tree. I also found a comfortable, secure and efficient system that I allows me to make long ascents. Using a Rope Wrench for descending short distances seems fine, but I prefer to add an second back-up figure-8 type descending device, so I do not have to depend on solely on a friction knot for longer descents. The other option is to replace the Rope Wrench with another descending device, like a Petzl Rig or a Gri Gri . In either case, I now feel a lot more comfortable climbing to heights in the 40-50 foot range and returning safely to the ground on rappel.

Tree Climbing 101

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. Hand-throwing a weighted throw-bag, tied to a string into a tree is a basic and common method. In order to get the throw line over the higher limbs an oversized sling shot  known as a Big Shot is used to shoot a weighted throw-bag tied to a light throw-line up and over a secure branch. 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 tied to the throw-line and fed into the tree. Trees like Redwoods, may require a more powerful launching device to reach their lower limbs. A crossbow, an airgun or even a drone can be used to set a climbing line.

Friction Savers are usually made using a tube or two rings connected by a strap or rope. They protect the tree from unnecessary friction by placing a barrier between climbing rope and the tree itself.  From the ground, a person using knots, a throw-line and/or a weighted throw-bag can feed a Friction Saver into a tie-in-point, install it, and be able to retrieve again it from the ground. We encourage our readers to use friction savers to protect a tree’s cambium layer and whenever possible to avoid as much direct interference with the tree as possible.

Technically proficient tree climbers wearing a climbing harness connect themselves to a  climbing line to move up the rope, typically using a rope-walker, or a sit-stand (frog) method with rope grabbers, better known as ascenders. Once in the canopy, a lanyard or secondary climbing line can be used to provide an added attachment point, offering the climber greater security and the freedom to move laterally, or branch-walk. By releasing the pressure on either the main climbing line or the lanyard, this enables the climber to release and advance or relocate the tie in point/s.

Traversing the canopy and climbing from tree to tree requires a bit more technique and various methods can be utilized to secure distant tie-in-points. Getting a line into a neighboring tree and back to the climber becomes possible when using a grappling hook and a throw-line, or even a throw-line with a magnetic type of retrieval system. Another method utilizes a heavier DMM Captain Hook, connected to one end of the line. Moving from tree to tree also usually involves the use of two concurrent climbing systems, or some sort of zip line rig.

When transitioning from a ascent mode to a descent mode, the climber installs a rappelling device on the main climbing line, then removes the rope grabbing ascenders and while using one hand for breaking, descends in a controlled manner.  Ascending devices vary from climbing-knots to more   sophisticated mechanical friction devices, as a means advance the climber higher, whereas mechanical or manual belay devices enable a safe and controlled descent.

Products like the Rope Wrench, Hitch Hiker and the Unicender, are able to conveniently combine both the ascent and descent functions into one device. Pulleys or rings and carabiners are used in many climbing systems and climbers have an assortment of climbing-knots to incorporate into various climbing systems, as well. The variety of gear options and techniques, may be better suited to some, than others.

Tree climbing can be done with a single rope technique (SRT), or a double rope technique (DRT or DDRT). Climbers even use a combination of these techniques in certain situations when moving around within the canopy and by utilizing secondary or multiple tie-in-points, also known as redirects.

Hopefully as you read the articles posted on this site’s blog and other information, you’ll be able to acquire a better idea of what the Recreational Tree Climbing sport is really all about. If you are already an experienced rock-climber, than perhaps you are already familiar with many of the tree-climbing components, aside from the fact that rock-climbers climb on and are dependent on the rock walls, while tree climbers connect with living-beings and rely mainly on a climbing line connected to the tree.

All are welcome here, so please come join us for a taste of the TreeXP’erience.

Sincerely,
John Greer / Admin

Setting the Throw-Line and Using Friction Savers

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 far more challenging, if not nearly impossible from the ground, due to numerous impediments blocking both ends of the throw line’s path to the tie-in-point. 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 path I chose was not a clear path to and from the ground, free of all 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 I discovered had to do with throw-line management and how 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. Not doing so also makes it more difficult for a climber to reach the tie-in-point, by having to work around the 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 milk bottle, 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.

Originally, under these challenging circumstances a friction saving rope-sleeve, rather than a two-ring saver would have been a good idea, given the ease of installation. 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.

I preferred the later and figured that once I climbed up to the tie-in-point, I could manually install the two-ring saver and then have the option to use a DRT climbing system for my descent and be able to retrieve the two-ring saver once I was back on the ground. For the time being, I was giving up the option to climb on either an SRT or DRT system, leaving only the SRT option, in order to preserve the tree’s cambium layer at the canopy tie-in-point.

This experience revealed how effective the Dan House Rope Sleeves really are when it comes to easy installation and retrieval, compared to most other types of friction savers. The two-ring savers have another serious flaw, 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 use two rope-sleeves when climbing, 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.

I’m currently experimenting with different nano-drones to set climbing lines, both from the ground, as well as, from within the canopy, so please stay tuned for further updates to this article.

A Week in the Trees: Climbing Redwoods

Available in E-Book format only ~ On sale now at Amazon.com – Save Our Trees!

This high resolution, photo enhanced E-book offers an autobiographically written and photographically visual perspective into the Redwood climbing experience. 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.

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