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.
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 double 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 DRT/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.
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 whatever rocks your boat and fulfills your climbing objectives. 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.
In this article, the focus is 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. As a self-proclaimed and modestly sufficient recreational tree climber, I prefer to use non-invasive tree climbing methods.
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 fliplines with, or without, steel cores and kits usually contain a carabiner and a rope grab, as a lanyard adjuster. Lanyards can be used for quick tie ins, or as a secondary climbing system, depending on your set up.
The concept of a 2-in-1 lanyard takes advantage of the unused side of a lanyard line, 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, when used as a secondary climbing system.
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. Conversely, a self-anchoring lanyard may be used as a secondary climbing system, with one adjustable contact point on the center rope bridge.
For many, using the DMM Captain throwing hook with the original kit which includes a 15m (50′) of 10mm Sirius Cord with a sewn termination and a stash bag is a great option. Keeping it separate from other lanyard systems may be preferred. The throwing hook’s line may get twisted or hockled during normal use. Getting a longer throw line untwisted is not quite as easy in a 2-in-1, so some climbers prefer the less augmented throw line, rather than a 2-in-1 lanyard.
There are two ways to connect the throwing hook to the throw line. Indirectly, enables the hook to be swapped out from one line to another, or to store it on your harness. Connecting directly to the throw line is recommended. It’s important to stress the need 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 is a bad idea and defeats the ability to twist the hook by twisting the throw line.
I suggest having a sewn or spliced eye on end of the hook’s the throw line and connecting the hook’s shackle right onto the eye. If connecting indirectly, I like using the Singing Tree Quickie, versus a bulkier carabiner. Both indirect connection options are less permanent than having to unscrew the hook’s two screws using both a 2mm and 4mm size hex wrench. Both methods have little effect on the ability to twist the line and control the hook’s position.
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 Petzl Rig, a Grigri, or a Trango Cinch, or other similar descending and proggress capture devices also offer greater ease both in descending, ascending, traversing, using an optional 3:1 mechanical advantage (Rad) system.
The DMM Captain 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.
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.
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. A climber may still want have a shorter more basic lanyard to tie in with, when passive or when advancing the primary climbing line.
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, mostly because of it’s efficiently small footprint, ability to work well on 10mm to 11mm climbing lines. Other suitable breaking and progress capture devices like Rig can be used. Trango took the Cinch out of production and replaced it with the Vergo, but it’s only designed to work on 8.9-10.7 mm lines.
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 is a great choice among many climbers, although some prefer 11mm to 13mm (1/2″) lines with the better grip. Thick grip with comfort and strength, versus thinner, stiffer and more resilient for throwing purposes. The choices are endless.
My ideal 2-in-1 SRT Climbing Lanyard is comprised of the following components:
- A 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 carabiner works as a connector onto the climber’s harness.
- A Sterling Thimble Prusik, for a self-anchoring connection directly on the lanyard.
- Between the carabiner and the Thimble Prusik is 2″ wide Cordura Tubing which serves as both a friction-saver and the lanyard’s line protector.
- On the other terminal end of the lanyard line is the DMM Captain throwing hook installed directly onto the sewn eye.
- The Petzl Rig functions as a both lanyard adjuster, a progress capture device and a rappelling tool. It must be centrally connected to a harness’s rope bridge, not a side ring. The Rig can be switched with a lighter Grigri, but in either case, it must be properly oriented toward the end of the line being used. Certain climbing lines may slip through an unweighted older version Grigri, which is why I prefer the Rig.
- The final component for creating a 3:1 mechanical advantage, uses the Petzl Rollclip (a non-locking pulley carabiner) and a CT RollNLock. There are many ways to create a 3:1 advantage, some more compact and efficient than others.
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.
My primary lanyard, shown below, will never be replaced by the Dual-in-1 SRT Lanyard, mainly because this is so lightweight, simple to use and it connects to my harness’s side-hip rings. 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.
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.
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.
My heartfelt passion for trees and desire to climb them has opened me up to an incredible group of like minded tree-climbing enthusiasts, comprised mostly of climbing Arborist and tree care professionals. I recently had the honor of attending the 2017 BIOMAS (Bainbridge Island Open Masters and Arboricultural Spectacular).
I signed up for the climbing competition without fully appreciating my predicament. Although I did manage to compete in one of the three climbing events, I was more honored just to be among the Pacific Northwest Tree Tribe.
We had several corporate sponsors and the area’s most prominent Arborist equipment supplier, WesSpur Tree Equipment, Inc., was on hand with all the latest shiny new equipment. Many families, and individuals came from all around BC, Bellingham, Portland and Seattle.
One tree was rigged with maybe a dozen different climbing lines so we could demo ropes with various textures and feels. Other climbing trees were also set with climbing lines for non-competitive recreational climbers, in addition to those that were used for competition.
The competition included four events and the climbers with the best individual and combined scores were honored with gifts and prizes. In fact, no one left empty handed. I tried what was known as the speed climb. While the goal was to ascend about 50 feet high and ring a cowbell, in both my two attempts I only made it about half way up. Feeling humble, inexperienced, exhausted and inadequate, I came away with a far better understanding, respect and appreciation for tree climbing.
The second of four events was the cat-rescue. This involved trying to capture and bag a stuffed-toy cat, complete with audible cat sounds, being raised higher and higher up the tree if not captured and bagged within a set time. The climb combined various skills, requiring strength, climbing and positioning skill.
The third event was a rigging competition. The goal was to tie a rig with a 5-to-1 advantage, using pulleys. The cleanness and timeliness of the final set-up was judged accordingly.
The forth event was a limb-walking event, with cowbells placed on far reaching branches. A climber had to complete several maneuvers by clanking a cowbell with a hand saw and toss a log through a canopy at a ground target consisting of cheesy lawn decorations. Points were awarded for form and accuracy.
Being witness to these activities was incredible and I am forever grateful to everyone who took part. I’m more motivated now than ever and have already seen vast improvement in my skill and climbing ability. More importantly, I realized how my body and my physical condition greatly impacts my overall performance in both tree climbing and in life.
For those who are following my tree climbing endeavors, I basically decided to become a 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.
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.
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 hitch/knots, although they can become tightly bound, are more gentle on ropes and better for dissipating heat, compared to the teeth on mechanical ascenders that not only absorb heat, but can potentially strip the cover off a rope when shock loaded. Friction cords are also far less expensive, 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.
As a beginning SRT rec-climber, 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 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 Hitch Hiker is possibly the best multicending device ever. It’s noted for its overall simplicity and for being compact and efficient when used at different climbing angles. Unlike the Rope Wrench, it uses an unspliced friction cord that’s threaded through a dog-bone like metal bar, secured with fisherman’s stopper knots on both sides. A steel carabiner or Tree Quickie also adds friction to the Hitch Hiker’s climbing line when weighted. Installing the Hitch Hiker is a bit more tedious than other devices, but once the friction knot is properly dialed in, it’s a top performer and the most 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. They both require some getting used to, in terms of getting the prusic knot properly tied, dressed and set. Although the Hitch Hiker may have a slightly steeper learning-curve in terms of finding the right balance between the hitch knot and the climbing line, this is a favorite multicending device among many experienced and seasoned climbers.
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 it’s being integrated into one of these two devices. In this regard, the hitch knots tend to bind and become increasingly 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 DRT 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, due to factors that may include an unwashed climbing line and due to abrasion, over time it will wear out and eventually begin to slip on the rope. For about $200, versus the $300+ replacement cost, you can get the device restored and refurbished through Rock Exotica, but many production-climbers prefer the Rope Runner whose components can be replaced, with easily available parts.
For someone like myself who climbs strictly for recreation, or much less than someone like a production climbing tree care professional, the Unicender is a top contender because of it’s overall user-friendliness, compactness and for being fully self-contained.
Each of these devices have their pros and cons and there great things to say about all these devices, once you get everything nicely dialed in. What I’m curious to know is how well all these devices perform, side by side, with regard to heat retention and friction, namely on descents that are 200′ or longer. Changing over to a Petzl Rig or other similar mechanical breaking devices may be preferred for longer descents, so keep in mind, these devices are all subject to the laws of physics.
Friction and heat build-up can scorch and even melt a climbing line, especially if a climber isn’t being attentive enough to their gear when descending on any repelling device. 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.
Another addition to the multicender family is the Rope Runner. As demonstrated below, it uses a mechanical hitch, very similar to the Rope Wrench, but without any friction cord. It has two auto-locking removable slick pins and a steel carabiner to guide the rope through the device, but is otherwise fully self-contained.
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 can be easily maintained in top working condition with economical and easily available interchangeable replacement parts, whereas the Rope Runner 2 is designed with no detachable parts. The Rope Runner 2 would eliminate the long term manageability of the original Rope Runner, so it’s uncertain if there will ever be a Rope Runner 2.
Another prototype product was available through unconventional means and involved a buy-and-use-at-your-own-risk disclaimer. The BullDog Bone is similar to the Akimbo’s fundamental design. This is a highly regarded multicending device, favored among many production climbers may still be available through an individual member belonging to the TreeBuzz group.
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 product. It is both SRT and DRT 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 still in the initial R&D/production phase and not expected to hit the shelves until maybe sometime in 2018.
As a newbie I think I made a good choice by starting with the Rope Wrench and then upgrading to the Unicender, once I became better trained and understood the fundamentals of climbing. I prefer the simplicity of the Uni, the efficiency and ease of installation, over that of more temperamental hitch cords, or the Rope Runner. I also now use a Hitch Hiker, both for secondary climbing systems, and as a backup for the Uni.
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 I can totally rely on several dependable multicending SRT devices.
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 both cost and the indestructible nature of its design.
Of course, everything may all change when the Akimbo becomes available, so please stayed tuned.
Cuttersclimbers.com has published a description, a video and photos. They say Rock Exotica’s Akimbo will be out later this spring.
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.
John Greer / Admin
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.