There has been a lot of discussion about using belay devices for tree climbing. Many belay devices are lightweight and perform well for their intended uses. Products like the Trango Cinch and Petzl Grigri have made the leap from being a rock climbing belay tool, using dynamic or more springy rope, to a tree climbing progress capture device used with static or less springy ropes typically used for tree climbing. A belay device can also be used by a tree climber in a number of ways, including as a lanyard adjuster. Some go so far as to claim a device like the Madrock Safeguard (a hybrid belay device) can work as a tree climbing saddle’s rope-bridge adjuster.
My intention is to help educate and draw more attention to the similarities and differences between rock and tree climbing gear. I touch on the topic of non-conforming uses of gear, outside of a manufacturer’s guidelines. I’m not an expert rock or tree climber and my views may be taken with a certain degree of skepticism. However, I do my own research and accept responsibility for my opinions and views.
Tree climbers are resourceful when it comes to making things do what they may not necessarily be intended for or designed to do. For that reason, I will try to clarify things for beginners to better understand the trade offs when using belay devices for tree climbing.
As a rock climber is being belayed, the ground person uses a belay device that connects to the belayer’s climbing harness. Rope passes through the belay device, enabling the belay person to feed and retrieve rope or simply manage slack.
When considering the purpose of the belay device, there are two primary functions being addressed. The device locks onto and engages the rope when shock loaded and it enables the belay person to feed rope out or in through the device. The principle is fairly simple.
When a climber falls, it shock loads the belay device, which then engages or locks onto the rope, enabling the belay person to absorb the shock load of the falling climber and then feed more rope through the device to safely lower a climber back down to the ground. The weight of the falling climber is transferred to and absorbed by the belay person and partially by the dynamic rope absorbing the shock load. A belay person also helps the climber by managing the slack of the rope, by feeding rope in or out through the belay device during the climb.
Tree climbers typically use static ropes, without the same degree of elasticity of dynamic ropes used by rock climbers. A vast assortment of belay devices are currently in use and one of the two that have made a cross-over is the Trango Cinch. It’s no longer in production, but it supported larger diameter ropes used by many tree climbers. The Trango Vergo is the Cinch’s replacement, but 10.7 mm is the largest diameter rope it uses, based on the manufacturer’s guidelines.
The Cinch and GriGri, according to the manufacturer, offers a range of use by allowing a range of rope size diameters to work within the device itself. The GriGri supports ropes sized 8.5 mm to 11mm, and the Cinch 9.4mm to 11mm. Since tree climbers are known for pushing the envelop and by experimenting beyond what a manufacturer recommends, they’ve found that certain devices may work on certain larger static climbing sized ropes with varied levels of efficiency, contrary to the product manufacturer’s instructions and/or guidelines. Some tree climbers are more cavalier and do this solely at their own risk without first contacting the manufacturer to determine whether this is an acceptable risk. One may argue that there’s perhaps a 0.5 mm degree of variance, given the fact that a rope changes between the time it’s brand new and becomes more fully broken in, but using this or any product outside of the product manufacturer’s guidelines, is not recommended.
In the context of being used as a progress capture tool for a climbing lanyard, a belay device may perform well, notwithstanding the fact that, by design, a rope can move or be feed through the device when it isn’t engaged or tension loaded by the pull of the rope. For tree climbers, whether this can cause the rope to creep or slip unintentionally is almost a certainty, because that’s what a belay device is designed to do. Nonetheless if a tree climber is mindful of the device’s characteristics and maintains a consistent load on the device when in use, it becomes an issue whereby the climber assumes further liability and decides to set their own levels of risk tolerance.
Taking this a step further, a tree climber can use certain belay devices to capture progress on ascent, and as a rappelling device on descent. Since belay devices are not necessarily designed for the purpose of tree climbing, performance varies when compared to other assisted braking descending devices using larger braking cams. Opinions do vary and with the exception of the GriGri, many major tree gear retailers sell a more robust and fuller featured variety of assisted braking descending devices, like the Petzl Rig or ID, including many with built-in lock-off and/or anti-panic functions.
Tree climbers have an assortment of options when it comes to rope grabs, auto-breaking-descenders, even multicenders, all of which can be used as lanyard adjusters. Multicenders like the Akimbo, Rope Runner, Unicender and Hitch Hiker are in fact ideal lanyard adjusters, but maybe not as lightweight, compact, inexpensive and practical for the majority of climbers. I’m on a personal quest for the perfect all around, lightweight, multicending lanyard adjuster designed specifically for static climbing ropes with 11 to 12.5 mm diameters.
There are promising new designs for rope grabs in the works, one of which is a downsized Unicender, called the Hipster, which may be used to adjust lanyards, and as a foot and/or knee ascender.
The following video is several years old and new products and upgrades to these products are available, but the review discusses which types of devices are better suited and why belay devices are comparatively less effective when used in ways beyond their intended purpose.
Climbing lanyards are a highly personal thing and there’s no perfect solution for all climbers in every environment. It’s more about personal preference, using new or old school gear. I’ve come up with a number of various lanyard systems based on what I want to do, how I am going to do it, and how secure I’ll feel in the process.
This article focuses on lanyards which are similar but slightly different than fliplines. A rope lanyard may be used like a steel core flipline, but fliplines are often accompanied by less tree-friendly climbing spurs that harm the tree’s cambium layer and are recommend only when felling a tree. I prefer non-invasive tree climbing methods, with the goal of leaving the tree unharmed.
In addition to the primary climbing line, a climbing lanyard is an essential component for a tree climber. It offers an additional tie-in-point (TIP) for added safety and affords significantly greater movement within the canopy. Lanyard kits usually include a carabiner or a rope snap and some sort of rope grabbing device or hitch tending system, as the lanyard’s adjuster.
Lanyards are useful when advancing the main climbing line. There are times when the a TIP needs to be relocated, usually as you climb higher up the tree. Lanyarding in and then advancing the main climbing line enables a climber to move more safely up and around a tree. Climbers may throw a lanyard or a climbing line around a weight bearing TIP. Adding a weighted throw bag onto the end of a lanyard can help, or by using a throw bag and a lighter throw line, a climber may be able to reach a less accessible TIP.
If you are relying completely on the lanyard and no longer connected to your primary climbing line, you may not always be able to abort the climb and reach the ground without a climbing line switch-over in a possible emergency situation. As such, having a your own dedicated line to the ground, or some way to make a relatively quick and safe descent to the ground at all times is an important consideration.
A basic lanyard is usually around 10-15 feet long, but can be much longer when used on a 2-in-1 configuration, or as a secondary static or moving rope system. Lanyards connect in two places on a climbing harness, usually on the two opposing D-rings located on or near the climber’s hips. Some harnesses have two sets of D’s, upper and lower. When connecting a lanyard onto the D’s, one end usually remains fixed and the other has an adjustable point of contact, using a rope grabbing friction hitch and a hitch tending pulley, or a mechanically adjustable rope grab. This creates a moving rope system (MRS).
A lanyard can be configured for SRS by connecting the lanyard’s adjustable rope grab onto the rope bridge or central connection, passing the lanyard around a desired limb, and then connecting the terminal end of the lanyard’s carabiner or rope snap onto the lanyard itself. This generally requires one additional piece of gear, such as a thimble prusic, to facilitate a self-anchoring lanyard. In this configuration, a device like a GriGri, may be more practical than a basic rope grab, especially when used for more controlled vertical descents.
Some harnesses only offer a centrally located connection point, which may limit maneuverability. Lanyarding onto the saddle’s central bridge can be used when both the fixed and adjustable points are relatively close together, or one end is self-anchored onto the lanyard itself. The essence of any climbing lanyard is how it provides a subsequent climbing system, relying on either a single or doubled rope configuration, commonly referred to as SRS or MRS.
The concept of a 2-in-1 lanyard takes advantage of a lanyard’s unused end by creating a two fully functional lanyards, using two ends of the one lanyard line. A 2-in-1 lanyard can be augmented to suit a variety of configurations. Adding another rope snap and a hitch-tending pulley can turn a single use lanyard into a true 2-in-1, using either or both ends. Using a DMM Captain throwing hook on the unused end of a lanyard, together with a progress capture device, like a GriGri, can broadly expand a climber’s positioning ability.
Even with all the conveniences of a long 2-in-1 lanyard, a climber may still want have utilize a shorter, more basic MRS lanyard, primarily for quick tie-ins. I prefer to climb with a basic 15′ lanyard all the time, while also enjoying the benefits of a longer and 2-in-1 lanyard to serve as a secondary climbing system, which I haul up to the tie in point, either before or after making my initial ascent. This helps to mitigate the weight of my initial climbing load, and helps to maneuver within the canopy.
The DMM Captain throwing hook offers a climber an efficient and convenient way to hook a climbing line onto a tree, with a life-bearing load potential for greater maneuverability. Beyond that of just a simple lanyard, the 2-in-1 Climbing Lanyard combines both a lanyard and a throwing hook into a multi-functional (SRS) static rope system.
Connecting a DMM Captain directly to a lanyard’s sewn eye termination is an efficient option, but the hook is then committed to just that lanyard line, unless you have the right size hex wrench on hand. It’s also important to be able to twist the hook’s line while navigating, setting or releasing the hook from an intended target. Using a swivel as way a to connect a lanyard onto the hook defeats the ability to maneuver the hook when twisting the line. Connecting the hook to the lanyard line using a Quickie, versus a bulkier carabiner is a nice way to keep the DMM Captain on your harness and then use it when needed. This type of indirect connection avoids having to unscrew the hook’s two screws using both a 2mm and 4mm size hex wrench.
The DMM Captain throwing hook’s kit comes with a stash bag and a 15m (50′) of 10mm Sirius Cord with a sewn eye at one end of the line’s termination. Because the hook’s line tends to get twisted or hockled during normal use, some may prefer not to incorporate the hook in to a 2-in-1 lanyard system. Getting a line untwisted can be a pain at times, so some climbers prefer the less augmented or a dedicated throwing hook line, rather than a 2-in-1 lanyard.
The hook may get snagged when making a bad toss, at which point when I traverse to the snagged hook to release it, I can then use the same lanyard in an MRS configuration and safely return from the traverse, if the line length allows for that option. Another option may be to use the dangling leg of the primary climbing line with a retrievable redirect.
When the end of the lanyard’s throwing hook becomes securely engaged, it should create a gravity dependent stationary rope / SRT, Hook-in-Point, not to be confused with a traditional Tie-in-Point. The throwing hook has a greater propensity to slip or move, without being locked or fastened into position an for that reason, it is not recommended for use as primary life support device.
Having a throw line and throw bag on hand to use as a means to advance or re-position a climbing line or lanyard is doable, but using a lanyard, augmented with the DMM Captain saves a lot of time and hassle. For production climbers, a throwing hook and throw line are also great when used for rigging.
The virtues of the DMM Captain are still being discovered, enabling a more convenient, efficient and reasonably secure ways to traverse between trees. There’s to a lot of discussion over which rope grab or belay device compliments the DMM Captain the best. Many climbers prefer a simple friction hitch and pulley, while others prefer a mechanical progress capturing device. There are advantages to both, depending on the type of climb and the climber’s preference.
Rope grab devices fall into a couple or several categories. The most basic rope grabs are not intended to be mid-line attachable, whereas others are. Certain types of rope grabbing descending devices can work in cases when the climber is making a smooth vertical descent. In other words, some rope grabs can be used in either a static or moving rope scenario, without being overly jerky or unstable.
A popular mechanical progress capture device is the Trango Cinch, but it’s no longer in production. Even a basic rope grab, including a pulley and friction hitch is fine when used in in a MRS , but mechanical devices like a Petzl ID, Rig or GriGri, or even a multicender can be used as a SRS lanyard adjuster, with the exception of the Akimbo, which may not work effectively as a lanyard adjuster on non-manufacturer recommended ropes.
The DMM Captain is not personal protective equipment (PPE) and should not be used as a primary climbing system exclusively, but only as a secondary or subsequent climbing system. With this in mind, a mechanical descender like a Petzl Rig, a Grigri, or a Trango Cinch, or similar devices offer greater ease both in descending, ascending, traversing, even when using an optional 3:1 mechanical advantage (RAD) system.
The DMM Captain also comes with a great little (xsre) red carabiner that clips into the top of the hook for easier transporting. Despite the small size, it has a 4kN, or a 899.2358 pound force rating. It’s not PPE, nor is it intended to use as a way to connect the hook to and from other throw lines. Therefore, this high valued piece of climbing gear can be used as its intended hook storage clip, or possibly as a chest harness clip instead. It’s clearly a matter of personal preference, but just a friction knot and hitch climbing pulley as a descending device on an SRT climbing system is not recommended.
Other considerations with respect to the choice of climbing line used with a DMM Captain hook have to do with the line’s cover being able to endure abrasion from normal wear and tear. Resilient or abrasive resistant 10 mm (2/5″) polyester or kernmantle covered climbing lines are great choices among many climbers, although some prefer 11mm to 13mm (1/2″) lines with the thicker grip. Thick grip with comfort and strength, versus thinner, lighter and more resilient for throwing purposes. The choices are endless.
My ideal 2-in-1 SRT Climbing Lanyard is comprised of the following components:
A 45′ bite of HTP Static 7/16” by Sterling, with sewn eyes on both ends.
A red Rock D Auto-locking carabiner connected on one end of the lanyard line. Keep in mind, other sufficiently rated rope-snaps or locking carabiner work to connect the lanyard onto the climber’s harness or the self-anchoring Thimble Prusik.
One end of the lanyard can be managed using a multicender, versus a more basic rope grab for MRS configurations. I prefer a more robust GriGri, or even a Unicender for a lanyard adjuster especially when climbing more vertically.
A Sterling Thimble Prusik, provides a adjustable self-anchoring connection directly onto the lanyard, but many other types of rope grabbing adjustable anchors can provide a similar function.
Between the carabiner and the thimble are two MARCS(mid-line attachable rope and cambium savers) rope sleeves from Climbing Innovations.
On the other terminal end of the lanyard line is the sewn eye with a removable Tree Quickie, connected to a DMM Captain throwing hook.
The final components, not show in the above photo, creates a 3:1 mechanical advantage with a Hand Ascender and a Roll Clip.
Since the DMM Captain hit the scene, people have been sharing lots of great tree climbing videos, demonstrating the hook’s various uses. In some cases, people are ascending on a hook’s climbing line at various angles, including in a directly vertical manner for very short ascents, which may or may not have been the original intended use from the manufacturer’s point of view. Still, with the proper choice of a rope-grabbing adjuster, mechanical belay device or multicending device, in conjunction with a suitable choice of lanyard line and a good life-bearing load capable hook-in-point. It seems further evident that it can be effectively used in this manner, with proper discretion when identifying potential risks and utilizing specific hook-in-points with adequate strength to support and maintain the climber’s weight.
Safety wise, I check and inspect all components on this lanyard, both before and after each climb, with emphasis on the sewn eye termination end where the DMM Captain connects onto the climbing line and wherever friction is a factor. More importantly, when using a lanyard with the throwing hook, one must be extra mindful to avoid getting it snagged, possibly due to a wayward throw. Responsible climbers should be able to account for a wayward throw hook’s retrieval, by anticipating the unexpected.
Whether this 2-in-1 can actually be called a true 2-in-1 Lanyard is open to debate. Perhaps the better name should be aDual-in-1 Lanyard, being how it combines best of both a throwing hook augmented climbing line and a floating or fixed anchor lanyard.
Depending on the climb objective, the more basic lanyard shown below will never replace the Dual-in-1 Lanyard, but it certainly provides a far more lightweight and compact alternative. My 15′ lanyard uses a bright green 13mm Edelrid – Direction Up climbing line, equipped with a generic aluminum rope snap on one end, and a Petzl Micrograb Flipline Adjuster.
Over time I’ve come to realize the benefits of having several size hanks of lanyard lines, each with removable components. The basic 15 foot lanyard facilitates fast and easy tie-ins, while the longer lanyard serves as a secondary SRT or DdRT climbing system in a variety of configurations. I also always remain attached onto a primary climbing system while using a non-PPE rated throwing hook/lanyard.