The first phase of technical tree climbing involves rigging the tree with a climbing rope. Since the lower branches may be out of reach, or too low to throw a rope over a secure enough limb, there are several methods for getting a rope into a tree. Using a throw-line attached to a throw-bag is how tree climbers typically achieve this objective.
Developing accurate throw line abilities takes skill and practice. Very few are able to master the task, without good days and bad ones. This activity is most humbling, mainly because there’s very little margin for error. The possibility of losing a throw bag or getting it stuck in a tree are just a couple of the potential things that can and do go wrong, but with enough luck, persistence, determination and skill it can be done.
In the following video, Richard Mumford, from Climbing Innovations has some great tips for hand throwing a throw bag with a relatively consistent degree of accuracy, along with several pointers for good throw-line housekeeping.
Imagine setting a throw line in the Y, of the tree on the left of the basketball net. Hand throwing a throw bag attached to a throw line has a low probability of success, so the logical next step is to use an oversize eight foot tall slingshot like launcher, known as a Big Shot. This can be used to propel the throw bag to targets as high as 150 feet.
There’s a fork about 3/4’s up the tree on the left. This was my first attempt with my 8′ tall – Big Shot (sling shot), using a throw bag connected to my throw line. It initially passed through the buckle a bit too high, but after several more attempts, I got the line to pass directly through a crotch with life-bearing support-load capabilities, based on the rule-of-thigh concept. According to the rule-of-thigh, if a tree-limb isn’t at least as wide around as your thigh, it may not be strong enough to support your weight.
Installing a Friction Saver protects the tree’s cambium layer and reduces friction between the climbing line and the tree itself. My Friction Saver of choice was initially a two-ring saver, connected by a 3′ bite of 1/2″ static climbing line.
Getting a two-ring friction saver up to and over the buckle, shown above was 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 experimented with several different drones in the hope of being able to set climbing lines from the ground. While a properly modified drone may offer an ability to set climbing lines in trees, my current remote drone piloting skills are presently inadequate and the drones were likely not of a high enough quality for the task. If you have had any success in this respect, please post a comment about your experiences below.