This has been a popular question from many clients. People often think that we use cherry pickers or ladders and then scurry out on to the limbs like a squirrel. We do walk out onto limbs but it's more controlled than what most people realize.
There are different methods for climbing, but really two primary categories - old school versus new school techniques. Often most climbers use a bit of both. No matter which technique is used, one thing remains the same. You have to get the rope up the tree.
To do this, we use a thin nylon cord that is very light and attached to a weighted sack. It is thrown into the tree with the goal of hitting above the 'V' or crotch of a sturdy branch that will hold you. Usually a 3-inch diameter branch can hold the weight of a person. However, experienced climbers will use 2-inch diameter branch if the limbs are vigorous. A rope is attached to the cord and then pulled over the branch through the “V”. It is amazing how accurate you can be with a sack and a nylon cord over time.
Old school climbers don't use gadgets when they climb. They use the term, KISS (keep it simple stupid), a timeless classic in the industry. The old school climbers use the end of their rope to tie a knot that holds their weight. Like everything it becomes second nature to them over time.
New climbers are very different. With today's modern advances in technology, climbing equipment has progressed as well. They use tools such as the rope branch, dog bone, and Petzl's mechanical knot. The ropes have gotten thinner and stronger. There has also shift from double to single rope techniques. For assent, a single rope is very efficient and fast but takes time to set up.
Once we are up the tree it’s important to be able to move around quickly and easily. Variables are in play all the time when tree climbing. One has to plan so that time is not wasted. Often our main focus is on how to access all parts of the tree. However, when working on large trees, we divide it into sections and prune one section at a time.
An obvious concern is if the branch will hold your weight. Experience with reason and creativity quells initial fears. When I first started climbing, walking out on limbs was the worst. You get an immediate butterfly feeling in your stomach when you overstep your balance point. Your legs may even shake. I heard it called, 'sewing machine leg'. It's not because you're nervous per se, but rather the angle of your weight. Your mind is not accustomed to climbing angles at first. Eventually after years of repetition, it becomes second nature.
Proper safety gear is one of the most important aspects of tree climbing. Professional tree services, supervisors and safety training coordinators inspect their crew’s climbing equipment. It is the responsibility of the climber, of course, to inspect their gear daily. Sometimes a solid 3 years will do your gear in and boots will wear out even faster. Boots to a tree guy are like erasers to pencil, they get used.
We check ropes daily for any structural defects. We also review our carabiners for cracks and to make sure that the gate works well. All carabiners used in the industry must be double locking. This prevents the carabiner from accidentally opening and sending you crashing to the ground.
In closing, most tree climbers take extreme care of their climbing equipment. We take pride in our work and we love what we do. Where else can we get amazing views of Washington, D.C. or of Old Town Alexandria.
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