Tag Archives: Current

Climbing the dying tree…

So, here’s my day so far.

Dead Ash Trees- like, crazy Dead Ash Trees, some leaning towards the road and high-voltage, and others leaning toward the driveway (well, sort of like a part where one drives). Another over a bridge where the dog is walked…

They didn’t look too bad- well, no, some didn’t look too bad. They looked like dead Ash Trees, or dying Ash Trees- those sorta confidence inspiring one’s with some patchy bits, but the canopy still mostly intact.

You know, a lot of homeowner’s don’t even recognize a problem at that point, right.  Heck, I thought that some of them looked alright- didn’t feel too nervous up in the canopy, except for one or two of those crazy ‘wind moments’ when you feel like you’re going to the ground because the tree sways one way, the clouds go the other way, and your reptile brain says “!!!Falling!!!!”

So, well, what is one to do. We are HIRED to protect property. They pay us for that- we’re not Chainsaw Charlie sporting a pick up track, a tooth-challenged sidekick, no insurance, and ( sarc.) “25 years fellin’ trees, fella”.

No, guys like that take out houses ( digress- we worked at a house in Campbellville last week whose neighbour’s ’Tree Guy’, just down the street, dropped a ‘big ole tree’ on their neighbours house and then… RAN AWAY)

We mitigate our risks by climbing carefully, taking out small pieces, using, you know, ropes n’ stuff. The problem with EAB is that, well, you just don’t know how bad it is. I’m on a Decay and Cavity course at the end of the month, specifically, to try and get some biologist/physicist/scientist to give me the straight goods on whether or not that tree is going to stand.

Until then, I hate when the spar looks like this.

The Figure 8 Knot… A Time and Place

Figure 8 at end of rope. Good screamer-preventer.

The Figure 8 Knot is one of the most useful, and widely used knots in climbing. By climbing, in this case, I mean rock climbing, ice climbing and alpine climbing- and some of the utility in these disciplines ( and some of the dangers ) we can apply to, or be aware of and avoid, in arboriculture.

Oh, and BTW, that rope (my new SRT Rope) is the Yale Kernmaster Safari 11mm rope.  It is a stunning looking rope, and ties like a 16 strand!

In fact, you could argue that the quality of the Figure 8 is a rather strange one in that it has, in varying (and similar uses) acted as both a life-saver and a life-taker.


If you’ve ever been to a rock gym, and checked out the knot on all those auto-belay and top rope setups, there is almost always a Figure-8, pre-tied, on the hanging ropes. It’s convenient, right? You’re half-way there, because a retraced Figure 8 through your belay loop is the standard climbing knot. Some people use the ‘Bow line with a Yosemite Finish’ or a variation of that, especially if taking long falls (where they Figure 8 tends to bind up very tightly), but, for the most part, the Figure 8 is the standard.

There are good reasons. It is easy to tie, easy to retrace an existing Figure 8, easy to inspect, and requires a little half-hitch to make safe and secure. Figure 8’s are used elsewhere in climbing.  You might also see a ‘Figure 8 on a bite’ at the top of a pitch, where it has been tied with cordelette for an anchor, but the two instances that I feel that are applicable to arboriculture is a Figure 8 knot at the terminating end of your climbing rope, and as a means of tying two ropes together.


This is where a figure 8 shines, and I’ll give an personal anecdote for this one. A few winters ago I was ‘doing ice climbing training laps‘ on a tree on our folkses’ woodlot.  This is actually good training, because with spurs, you’re actually slightly overhanging, and you get a really good pump.  It damages the tree, of course, but this tree had already been earmarked for some bush bridges we were building over the Creek.  It was quite windy, and I was practicing climbing a single red pine, with Ice Tools, but using our DdRT as a safety.  I had finished my last lap, quite exhausted, and decided, rather than lower, I would rappel. I like to rappel when I can, just to repeat a system that I wouldn’t otherwise use EVERYDAY, and so I tied myself off, untied my DdRT system, and then began paying rope out, to the ground. I had maybe let down five or six arm-lengths of rope when a gust caught the tree and blew me out of my spurs.

That was where I lost concentration. I’d been training pretty hard, and was tired, and wanted to get out of the cold for some grub.

All bad excuses.

I proceeded to tie into my rappel system (a Pirhana with autoblock) on the double rope, and began to rappel. So, there I was, some 50 feet up or so, rappelling on a double rope. I hadn’t ensured both ends of the rope touched the ground. I hadn’t tied a back up. The short end had only been lowered 10 feet or so.

A 40 foot screamer… almost.

I got lucky. I felt the rope go through the autoblock and cinched down. Luckily I had two hands below the Pirhana, and not one below (at the autblock) and one above (for balance) like I often do. Panic set in, but my death grip held while I managed to swing back to the trunk, set my spurs, and finally, once again, start breathing.

Now, when I switch over to rappel, I ALWAYS tie a Figure 8 terminating knot in the line I’m lowering. I visually, as a drill, ensure that both ends of the rope are touching the ground. In the rope bag, the line is terminated with a Figure 8.


Don’t join two ropes with a retraced Figure 8. This kills lots of guys. I was rappelling off an ice climb, back in the day, when the party that was ahead of us (on the rappel), two brothers, were rappelling off two ropes joined by a Figure 8. The first brother rappelled, without incident. When the second brother started to rappel- a 60 meter length, the knot rolled. My climbing partner, quick-thinking as he was, grasped the rope ends. The Figure 8 might NOT have rolled undone… but it might have.  Quick-thinking may have saved a friends life.

Who knows.

For combining two lines, whether on a long rappel, rock, ice, alpine or tree climbing, the European Death Knot (a misnomer, if ever there was one) is the knot of choice. It’s simply an overhand with two ropes, but it is small, easy to untied, and it’s tendency to pull ‘flat-end-down’ means it’s less likely to catch.

So, what I’d say is…. Figure 8’s are great for backing up ropes- and we should always tie off our line ends. ALWAYS. But, don’t use them for combining two lines, and especially for any life-critical tasks. They can unroll. Use the EDK.

Half Dead Trees- Half Dead Anchors

Well, we finally got this mother of dead beech down. It had died as a result of the neighbor building a septic field, and excavating out the roots.  The rot/dead tissue wrapped around in a sort of corkscrew around the tree.  It was in rough shape – a risk assessment of ‘Highly Probable’ to fail in the next year, or so. There was sapwood rot with whole lot of tiny little fungus-es were growing out of those branches that were hanging over the house.  The central leader/spar was completely dead, and weighed nothing- most arborists accept that you NEVER get to actually tie into a central leader.  It’s always some weird, balance-y offset.

So, how do we reduce the danger of these trees?  I mean, the central TIP was long dead- so I opted for multiple tie-ins on laterals that came off the central spar lower down.  I protect these the same as protecting a climbing ( rock climbing…) route – with redundancy. Lots of slings and carabiners, and lots of Alpine Butterfly’s.   This is where SRT is wonderful – you can tie off slings on other branches.  If your main TIP fails, then you have other slings and biners to catch you.  The rope is static, and therefore your not battling friction like when the DdRT ropes squeeze through a single carabiner.

This willow shows how many ways you can protect the lead (in this case, five tie-in over 20ft).  It also gives you the choice of Big Shotting a limb, a known and obviously SAFE limb lower down,  then protecting/inspecting the lead as you work your way to a higher TIP.


Lots of slings, protecting this sketchy willow on lead.