The first phase of technical tree climbing involves rigging the tree with a climbing rope. Since the lower branches may be out of reach, or too low to throw a rope over a secure enough limb, there are several methods for getting a rope into a tree. Using a throw-line attached to a throw-bag is how tree climbers typically achieve this objective.
Developing accurate throw line abilities takes skill and practice. Very few are able to master the task, without good days and bad ones. This activity is most humbling, mainly because there’s very little margin for error. The possibility of losing a throw bag or getting it stuck in a tree are just a couple of the potential things that can and do go wrong, but with enough luck, persistence, determination and skill it can be done.
Imagine setting a throw line in the Y, of the tree on the left of the basketball net. Hand throwing a throw bag attached to a throw line has a low probability of success, so the logical next step is to use an oversize eight foot tall slingshot like launcher, known as a Big Shot. This can be used to propel the throw bag to targets as high as 150 feet.
There’s a fork about 3/4’s up the tree on the left. This was my first attempt with my 8′ tall – Big Shot (sling shot), using a throw bag connected to my throw line. It initially passed through the buckle a bit too high, but after several more attempts, I got the line to pass directly through a crotch with life-bearing support-load capabilities, based on the rule-of-thigh concept. According to the rule-of-thigh, if a tree-limb isn’t at least as wide around as your thigh, it may not be strong enough to support your weight.
Installing a Friction Saver protects the tree’s cambium layer and reduces friction between the climbing line and the tree itself. My Friction Saver of choice was initially a two-ring saver, connected by a 3′ bite of 1/2″ static climbing line.
Getting a two-ring friction saver up to and over the buckle, shown above was literally impossible from the ground, due to numerous impediments blocking both ends of the throw line’s path to the tie-in-point. Had I had used a rope sleeve, as discussed later in this article, a canopy tie-in would have been possible. Unfortunately, when using the prescribed method of installing a two-ring saver, using both ends of the throw line in tandem and pulling saver toward the destination, it became clear that the target’s path, to and from the ground, must be free from obstructions.
The following video is an excellent example, showing two methods for properly installing and retrieving a two-ring saver from the ground. The first method requires an unobstructed path between both ends of the throw line. The second method provides another technique which may work, if the first method fails.
Another important lesson involves throw-line management skills. By raising and lowering either end of the throw-line tied to a weighted throw-bag, I could better isolate the throw-line’s path, in an effort to completely bypass other various branches or obstacles impeding the path of the line. Without a direct path, it becomes more challenging to to reach the tie-in-point, by having to climb around various limbs and other impediments.
To better ensure the possibility of not losing or sacrificing a successful throw and when trying to isolate the throw-line over the intended target, adding another weight such as a partially filled plastic jug, connected somewhere in the middle of the throw-line, enables the line-person from the ground, to raise and lower the line over either side of intended target-limb. This creates giant W’s, requires far more throw-line and a clear line-of-sight for the ground-person/s to determine which end of the throw-line to raise or lower.
For all practical purposes, a friction saving rope-sleeve, rather than a two-ring saver would have been the right choice of gear in this instance, given the ease of installation and the ability to feed the rope sleeve through and around various impediments. Still, in order to securely cinch a climbing line around a limb or through crotch, its best to try to isolate both ends of the line, with a direct path to the ground.
Unfortunately at the time this took place, I didn’t yet own a rope-sleeve, so my climbing-plan adapted to this unforeseen variable. I had to settle for a canopy-tie-in, or run the climbing line through the intended tree-buckle, then tie into a basal anchor system, with an optional ground-based rescue system.
Upon reaching the tie-in-point and after lanyarding in, I could manually install either a rope sleeve, or a two-ring saver, with option of using a moving rope (MRS) system while preserving the tree’s cambium layer at the canopy tie-in-point. Using a stationary rope (SRS) system on ascent without an installed friction saver, since the rope would not be moving when ascending, the rope would cause less harm to the tree, than if it were used in a moving rope (MRS) system.
This experience revealed how effective the Dan House Rope 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 drawback, which is how when a weighted rope goes through both rings pinched closely together, the rope passes into a very tight upside-down v-shape, causing added wear and friction to the climbing line.
I now sometimes use two rope-sleeves when climbing, while alternating one with the other, as I advance my climbing line and set up redirects. Moreover, the rope-sleeve is far easier to maneuver up and down a line and there’s very little for it to get caught on. Using a simple slippery-knot (aka: safety knot or slip-knot) and a throw line, I can easily install and retrieve a rope-sleeve from either a ground base, or from within the canopy itself.
A little trick I learned from Tim Kovar at Tree Climbing Planet, when retrieving a rope-sleeve and when it’s sliding quickly down the rope, jiggling the rope in a wave like manner significantly slows it down for better control.
Modified drones can be used to set a throw line. In certain areas and in somewhat tight conditions, a well controlled drone is good option, despite the high cost. Subject to the flying skill of the drone’s pilot and quality of the customized drone and modifications enabling the throw-bag to be dropped using a wireless remote trigger.