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. A weighted throw-bag and some heavy duty string, together with some hand throwing coordination, allows a climber to get a climbing line into many average sized trees.  In order to get the throw line over the higher limbs or into the taller trees, an over-sized sling shot  known as a Big Shot may be used, along with a throw-bag and throw-line. 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 fed through and used to replace the throw line.

Tall trees may require a more powerful throw-bag launching device to reach suitable size limbs. In some cases, using fishing line and reel, connected to a crossbow, or an air-gun or even an aerial drone have been used to set climbing lines around less accessible limbs.

The climbing rope’s tie-in-point (TIP) can either be up in the canopy, at the tree’s base, or on the actual climber. When the climbing line is looped over a limb and both the rope’s legs are connected to the climber, this creates a moving rope system (MRS). When the climbing line is securely anchored, locked, or choked off, by way of either a canopy or a basal anchor, this creates a stationary rope system (SRS).

Friction Savers are usually made using a tube-like rope sleeve or two rings connected by a heady duty strap or rope. They protect the tree from unnecessary friction by placing a barrier between climbing rope and the tree itself.  Installing and retrieving a friction saver from the ground offers protection to a tree’s cambium layer and mitigates unwanted friction from direct contact between the rope and the tree itself.

Technically proficient tree climbers wearing a tree-climbing harness, helmet and other personal protective gear (PPE), connect themselves to a climbing line to move up and down a static or moving climbing rope while performing a specific climbing techniques. A rope-walker, or a sit-stand climbing method uses rope-grabbing-ascending-devices, better known as hand, foot and knee ascenders. A lanyard or secondary climbing line offers added attachment points for greater security and added maneuverability.

Advancing the TIP to climb higher into a tree’s canopy, maneuvering, or rigging a traverse from tree to tree requires certain levels of climbing technique and skill, usually with a variety of options and potential solutions to choose from. In addition to having adequate climbing line, various repositioning techniques use tools that may include a throw-line and throw-bag, a grappling-hook or a climbing lanyard with a throw-hook.

Multicenders products like the Rope Runner, ZigZag-Chicane, Akimbo, Rope Wrench, Hitch Hiker and the Unicender, are able to conveniently combine both the ascent and descent functions into one device. Prior to the advent of multicenders, a climber would typically ascend using installed ascending gear and then for descent, switch over to a descender or rappelling device. 

Hitch-cords and/or carabiners may also be used with various climbing styles or techniques, some more economical and minimalist than others. Using an variety of hitch climbing knots, climbers can replicate the function of mechanical multicenders.  Hybrid multicenders, namely the Rope Wrench and the Hitch Hiker, both use a hardware augmented hitch-tending prusik cord to function properly. 

Tree climbing can be done with a stationary rope system (SRS), or a moving rope system (MRS). Climbers even use a combination of these techniques when using two or more tie-in-points (TIP), or switch between climbing techniques for either ascending, maneuvering or descending purposes. 

Hopefully as you read the articles posted on this site’s blog and other information, you’ll be able to acquire a better idea and visualize what the tree climbing is really all about. If you are already an experienced caver or rock-climber, you are probably familiar with various climbing components. Rock-climbers generally climb while relying on rock walls, boulders or steep mountainsides, while tree climbers immerse themselves in living-beings and mostly rely on the actual climbing lines for support.

2 Replies to “Tree Climbing 101”

  1. I’m not associated with a specific tree service. While I’ve done a fair amount of tree work, rec tree climbing is my passion.

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