All posts by Bob Gallen


  The Devil’s in the Details

A proper understanding of footlocking is an excellent addition to a climbing arborist’s repertoire

Footlocking, a method of efficient and speedy ascent into the canopy, has played a role in the tree industry for many years. While the ropes and gear used when footlocking have changed over time, the basic process has remained the same – a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But the safety requirements around footlocking have evolved to reflect, and hopefully promote, a safer use of this valuable ascent method.

A history lesson

Not that long ago – in fact, within the fading memory banks of more than a few grizzled tree veterans out there – the footlock was performed with no back-up, or unsecured. The climber would ascend his or her line into the canopy attached to the doubled rope only by the strength and dexterity of his or her hands and feet. Should either fade, or the climber simply become exhausted, a quick and painful reminder that gravity was the law was sure to ensue.

This unsecured footlock technique usage even extended to the climbing competitions of the time, with climbers being required to demonstrate an ability to carry out an on-rope rest prior to competing. The idea was that an exhausted climber, or one who found his or her hands and feet growing more clumsy, could slip into the on-rope rest until he or she recovered, and hopefully not slip rapidly toward the unyielding earth.

Martin Morales demonstrates proper hand placement when footlocking with his hands beneath the hitch.

While unsecured footlocking certainly had a tendency to keep the user’s mind very focused on the task at hand, it also was, and is, a recipe for disaster, soft tissue injuries and orthopedic trauma. Any modern-day climbing arborist using the footlock in the ascent must do so in a secured manner, thus the term “secured footlock.”

Footlocking fysics, or phootlocking physics

The most common method of security or attachment is a length of cordage used to form a variety of hitches around the ascent line, typically a doubled line, then attached to the climber. Modern manufacturers also have developed mechanical devices that can be used to secure the footlock; these methods are becoming more common.

The footlocking technique can be applied in any variety of climbing systems, from single to double rope, and static to dynamic, but its true efficiency is best shown and seen in a static line. Footlocking on a static line, or lines, results in the user ascending at a one-to-one ratio, meaning that all his or her effort results in height gained.

While it may be slightly difficult to conceptualize, footlocking in a dynamic system, where the line is moving during the ascent, means the climber expends less effort due to some mechanical advantage, but has to move twice as much rope, roughly moving 2 feet to ascend 1 foot.

Martin Morales demonstrates the proper use of the feet in this ascent method, literally “footlocking” the rope.

Talking hitches

The requirements for the hitch or knot used when secured footlocking are fairly simple; any secure climbing hitch that grips the rope adequately when loaded is acceptable. A wide variety of knots or hitches is used, with more seemingly being developed and promulgated yearly, but the most common is the Prusik.

After the footlocking technique has been practiced and learned into muscle memory, a good footlocker’s body weight is almost never brought to bear on the Prusik or hitch, except in cases of needed rest, repositioning or emergency. The chosen hitch can be formed from a length of cordage tied to itself with appropriate knots into an endless loop, or a spliced/stitched rope tool manufactured specifically for footlocking. The cordage used must, of course, meet the strength requirements for personal/life support in whatever geographical area in which the climber is operating; in the U.S., that’s 5,400 pounds.

In addition, the line used for the hitch should be somewhat smaller than the ascent line to increase its grip when loaded. Climbers using strong enough but extremely small-diameter cordage may find it grips too well when loaded, and is difficult to loosen to continue in the ascent. Should the secured footlock climber choose to use a Prusik, he or she will find forming it on the ascent line is a relatively simple process: The loop or rope tool is passed back through itself three times, forming a six-coil, three-wrap Prusik. Additional wraps/coils will provide more security, but may increase friction, making advancing the hitch difficult.

Martin Morales steps off onto a branch after ascending by footlocking and securing himself with a work positioning lanyard.

Going up

While there are certainly techniques and tools that can allow a climber to both ascend and descend safely on a static line, the secured footlock hitches/method discussed here is not one of them.

Climbers using the footlock technique on a static line(s), regardless of the hitch securing them to the ascent line, must remember that they’re in a static system. This means their hitch is bearing the load of their entire body weight, instead of the half borne by the hitch in a dynamic system. Thus, the Prusik or chosen secured footlock hitch must be used for ascent only, as an attempt to use it descending may result in an uncontrolled fall due to the change in forces.

Some examples of descent devices that should accompany any ascending secured footlocker.

This means that users must always have some means of descent with them, and should not count on their dynamic system as this means of descent, as they may need to descend while not in a location where it is possible to switch over safely to a dynamic system. Some common descent devices that can be put into place while hanging on a static line(s) are any of the wide variety of figure eights, Petzl Piranhas, etc.

Footlockers using a single line, with the required training and experience, of course, could certainly use static single-line devices such as the Rope Wrench or Hitchhiker in this application.

The climber’s hands must always remain below the Prusik or hitch, and the length of cordage used should be adjusted accordingly. This practice will prevent the climber from inadvertently grabbing the hitch causing it to release, and leading to an uncontrolled descent in the static system.

An example of the grapevine knot, often used to secure the ends of a piece of cordage together to form an endless loop for the secured footlock hitch or Prusik.

Width is bad

A doubled ascent line that is spread apart by being over a branch or through a crotch can cause hitches that are pushed into this spread to fail in a doubled-line static system. The “spread parts of the line will literally push the coils of the hitch apart, reducing their grip. An excellent guideline to avoid advancing the hitch into this spread is to follow a five-to-one ratio; for every 1 inch of branch diameter, keep the hitch 5 inches below the branch.

Additional options to avoid the problem of spread are:

  • using friction management devices such as a Friction Saver,
  • using the footlock technique on a single line,
  • or tying an appropriate mid-line knot, such as the Alpine Butterfly or Blackwater Knot, passing one end of the ascent line through it, and running the Alpine Butterfly up beneath the branch, thereby resulting in a doubled static line with no spread.

Junk and whatnot

Twigs, sticks and even leaves getting between the two parts of the ascent line or into the coils/wraps of the hitch or Prusik may cause it to fail when loaded. Climbers should monitor their hitch during the ascent and remove any debris as soon as possible, as those wee pieces and parts can reduce the grip of the formed hitch on the ascent line.

A variety of rope tools that can be used to create the securing hitch in secured footlock.

The secured footlock is certainly a technique that, for most, isn’t picked up “straight out of the box;” and requires a certain amount of focused effort and practice. But once its limitations and advantages are understood, and some effort spent developing the muscle memory required for feet and hand coordination, the secured footlock can provide a safe and efficient highway into the canopy for climbers.

 Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:


Photo by Michael (House) Tain

Slide lines can save considerable time, energy and money.

Tree folk are confronted on a daily basis by the need to move something, usually awkward woody debris, from one place to another in an efficient manner. Often this involves a great deal of “sweat equity” with crew members physically carrying branches, logs and wood to the truck or chipper, typically with a fair amount of physical effort, energy expenditure and negative verbal commentary.

Slide lines, also often called zip or speed lines, offer another option for this debris movement. They’re an option that, though gear- and set-up-intensive, can be quite efficient, not to mention easier on a tree crew’s back and morale.


A Port-A-Wrap attached to the base of a tree with an eye sling. This piece of gear has excellent applications in slide lines, both for control line management and slide line tensioning.

Slide line use may be dictated by the worksite – for example, if there are hazards or obstacles immediately beneath or around the tree being worked on – or they simply can eliminate a long, tedious route of dragging debris to the truck or chipper. Slide lines often are used in concert with other techniques, such as balancing, lifting, knotless rigging and spar pole removal. Regardless of the application, the complex nature of slide lines and the forces they generate require an understanding of multiple factors to ensure their safe and efficient use.

Sometimes the “old school” method of just buckling down and sweating away at hauling that brush will be the safest and most efficient method. But, given the right situation, a knowledge of slide lines can get the job done safely and efficiently with energy savings all around.

Which line for sliding?

As is so often the case in tree care operations, one of the first questions to be answered in slide line use is which type of rope to use. Factors such as strength, elongation or stretch, and melting point all need to be considered, as they can have significant impacts on how well the slide line operation will go.

As an example, a line with more elongation will absorb energy more readily than a more static rope, but will require a great deal more input force, or pulling, to make it taut to “slide” loads down.

In turn, this requirement for more input force will require more time and energy, thereby making the use of the slide line perhaps not the quicker, more efficient choice it was meant to be.

Conversely, a very static line, or one with little elongation, will not stretch much when loaded, but will transmit all the input force to the anchor points of the slide line, possibly creating another area of concern.

Dynamic Loads

“Catching” a dynamic load prior to tensioning the slide line is key for safe use of this technique.

Only as strong as what it’s tied off to

The anchor points to which the slide line is tied or secured also must be evaluated in the use of this technique. The line carrying the load will have a lot of tension and force on it, both from the initial input force to make it taut and the weight of the load being transported. These factors will be transmitted directly to the anchor points at either end of the slide line.

Of particular concern is the anchor point aloft, especially when the point chosen is in the same tree to which the climbing arborist is attached, as it can create a bending moment that can cause failure in the tree itself. A better option is to anchor the upper end of the slide line into a separate tree, thereby avoiding any additional forces on the tree being worked on, although this might not be possible. Should a second tree be unavailable, or simply poorly positioned, the correct use of appropriate redirects can reduce the forces involved while anchoring the slide line adequately.

In addition, the lower anchor should be adjustable, so that tension can be applied and removed.

(Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:


When tight is too tight

The slide line itself should never be under tension when the load to be transported is brought to bear on it. Dropping a load into a taut slide line is a sure recipe for an emergency room visit accompanied by a trip to an arborist retailer to replace broken ropes and gear.

If the situation/scenario requires dynamic rigging, or a load that needs to drop a certain distance, a secondary line and rigging system should be used to control and absorb that force, after which the load is attached to the slide line for transport.

The slide line is then put under tension and the load sent along its journey to its intended destination.

There are many ways to tension and loosen the slide line, such as fiddle blocks, tensioning kits with Prusik minding pulleys, or a device such as the Good Rigging Control System, all of which can be fairly user-friendly. Using trucks, skid steers or ATVs to tension slide lines is a very poor choice, as it can easily result in broken gear, trees and even climbers or crewmembers.

Control is key

Except for extremely small or light loads, some form of control line should be employed to control the speed of “sliding” on descent; without one, even loads that are thought to be extremely small or light will appear to be traveling fairly rapidly to the crew at the receiving end. In addition, loads “sliding” down without any control line will increase the heat input on the slide line, perhaps making the melting point an even more important consideration. When properly set up, the control line need not involve any additional rigging, and can simply be the rope that was used to “catch” the dynamic load prior to the slide line being tensioned.

Consideration also should be given to the manner in which the control line will be “controlled,” as relying on a crewmember’s grip strength when sliding a 250-pound log toward the brand-new chipper may be a poor choice. A Port-A-Wrap or other friction management device might be a better option.

Good Riggine Control

A good rigging control system attached to the side of the chip truck, which is an extremely user-friendly option for slide line tensioning and control line management.


Traveling and carrying

A traveler or carriage is the item to which the load is attached, which “slides” down the line to its final destination. Many pieces of arborist gear can be used in this application, but with a wide variety of performance levels.

The simplest carriage might be some form of carabiner or snap, but users should keep in mind that the friction generated will not only slow the load’s travel but create a great deal of heat input in the slide line. Any number of pulleys are available, from single to multiple sheaves that will travel quite smoothly and generate less friction, but users should evaluate any pulley used for the necessary strength and appropriate design for the load involved.

Having multiple travelers or carriages on hand not only will assist in moving larger or longer loads, but will make the process more efficient as the climber can prepare the next shipment while the previous one is being removed from the slide line.

Slide lines aren’t required in every situation, but, when used appropriately, they can save a great deal of time, energy and money. Once added to an arborist’s mental toolbox, they can make seemingly endless brush hauls slip and slide away.

 (Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Staying Aware, Staying Protected


If you aren’t working safe, you aren’t working for long.

Modern-day tree crews spend hours of labor and sweat equity every day making large amounts of wood, branches, brush and miscellaneous green and brown stuff disappear, hopefully in a safe and timely manner. While the climbing and complex rigging required to create these veritable mountains of debris often get a great deal of focus – and rightfully so – the tools, equipment and methods to make it disappear are equally important and dangerous to a tree crew’s job.

The industrial gear and equipment that makes this brush and wood “disappearing act” so easy is just as likely to “disappear” an inattentive or unsafe crew member, so a basic understanding of its safe and efficient use helps increase the effectiveness and safety of a tree crew. Operators, crew leaders, and company owners should think of required personal protective equipment (PPE) as not only required by law or regulations, but an inexpensive way to prevent injury and loss of work time. After all, the costs for a head injury caused by not wearing a hard hat or helmet will far exceed the cost of the actual helmet.

As mentioned previously, while PPE is an important step, it is only one step, and hopefully good planning, communication and safe work techniques among the crew members will prevent the PPE from having to be put to the test. PPE requirements vary only slightly between chain saws, chippers and stump cutters, with leg protection – typically chain saw resistant chaps or pants – being that variation.


While leg protection may not specifically be required (depending on geographic location) while operating a stump grinder or chipper, it certainly is recommended for safety and efficiency. Chippers often will require additional cuts being made on the brush being fed, usually for ease of feeding or to deal with a poor interaction between the feed wheels and the wood/brush structure.

While stump grinding or cutting, leg protection can provide some additional padding and protection from flying stones and debris, even though not technically “required.” Face screens on hard hats or helmets, typically of a wire mesh, also can help shield the operator’s good looks from any quickly moving twigs when chipping, or stones, chips and soil when stump grinding. However, users should keep in mind that the mesh screens do not qualify as eye protection, so safety glasses or goggles must also be worn. Some face shields – typically made of high-impact plastic – do qualify as both shields and eye protection, so this also is an option for crew members reluctant to wear two items.

Chain saws

Chain saws are required by law and standard to have certain safety features to be legal to operate; thus, the removal or disabling of any of those features makes the saw illegal, not to mention unsafe. The required safety features include the chain brake, chain catcher, throttle interlock and spark arrestor.

A few basic operational pointers can help a great deal in making sure chain saws are run safely:

  • Chain saws should be started with the chain brake engaged and in a position that will minimize the movement of the saw when the cord is pulled. The left hand should be gripping the grab (or front) handle of the saw, and the right on the pull handle of the starter cord. Two simple and efficient methods are bracing the chain saw against the ground when starting, or locking it behind the right knee while bracing it on the left thigh when starting it while standing, often called the leg lock start.
  • Chain saws should never be drop started when being used on the ground. This is not only dangerous but also hard on the saw’s starter cord/recoil mechanism.
  • The chain brake should be engaged whenever taking more than two steps with a running chain saw. This is due to the possibility of tripping and falling while grabbing at the throttle trigger and falling toward a running chain.
  • The saw should be operated from a well-balanced body position using both hands on the appropriate handles, with the thumbs and fingers wrapped around them, and should never be operated above shoulder height.
  • Kickback, the sudden violent movement of the saw back toward the user, can occur when the upper quadrant of the tip of the bar comes in contact with wood, brush or debris. Chain saw operators should be aware at all times of the location of the tip of the bar when cutting, and take measures to prevent the upper quadrant from coming into contact with any objects that might generate kickback.


While there is a wide variety of chippers available and in use by tree crews, all of them have certain basic required safety features, and, in many cases, manufacturer-specific safety options. Operators should familiarize themselves with the safety features and operational procedures of their particular brand of chipper.

Basic safe and efficient chipper operation techniques would include:

  • Loose or torn clothing, dangling jewelry, long, unsecured hair, and gauntlet-style gloves all should be avoided when operating a chipper.
  • Brush and limbs should be fed in butt-first while standing off to one side or the other of the feed table. The curb side of the feed table is preferable, particularly in a roadside work environment.
  • Chipper operators should never reach into the feed area or attempt to kick brush or chunks into the feed wheels.
  • Crew members should be aware of, and prepared for, the possibility of violent movement from the end of the piece as it is seized by the feed wheels. Particular attention should be paid to which type of feed wheels the chipper has, as horizontal feed wheels will obviously cause different movements than vertical ones. As an example, horizontal feed wheels can cause violent movement up and down at the butt of the piece, typically where the person feeding the chipper is, while vertical wheels will cause the same movement in a side-to-side fashion.
  • For both efficiency and safety, branches, limbs and logs should be cut with the chain saw appropriately to facilitate safer and easier movement into the chipper and through the feed wheels.
  • “Dirty” brush – limbs with sand, mud or gravel on them – and rakings should not be fed into the chipper, as this will quickly take a toll on its knives and operation.

Stump grinders/cutters

Regardless of size, make or model, all stump grinders have inherent features designed to make them safe and efficient; and operators should be familiar with all these safety features prior to use.

Some basic safe and efficient stump grinding steps:

  • All stump cutters are equipped with various guards and barriers designed to reduce the likelihood of flying debris during operation; these barriers must be in place during operation.
  • Grinder operators should continually observe the cutting area for stones, construction debris or other objects that could become a projectile or damage the cutter teeth.
  • Care should be taken to locate any possible underground utilities prior to beginning stump-cutting operations.
  • When the cutter wheel is in motion, the operator should never leave the control station, move or shift the stump cutter’s position or reach into the cutting area with tools or body parts to remove stones or debris.

While it’s easy to focus on the “glamour” work of tree care, swinging gracefully around the canopy, lowering the huge top of the tree safely and smoothly, tree crews should not neglect training and awareness of proper ways to clean up and dispose of woody debris, as it is equally dangerous. Crew members should keep in mind that the chipper that barely “burps” over a 12-inch-diameter section of pin oak would just as easily consume them. After all, the chippers, chain saws and stump cutters can’t distinguish between wood and human. It is up to the operator to use it safely to prevent a tragic mistake.

(Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Techniques for Safe Rigging

Professional arborists know that using the right rigging technique can mean the difference between a job well done and a job that takes much longer than intended to complete. Here are 4 tried-and-true methods that professional arborists use to get the job done quickly and safely.

Photo Courtesy of Samson Ropes –

Spider Leg Rigging

When rigging down limbs, it is best to keep them in a horizontal position. Spider leg
rigging is a wonderful way to achieve this goal. It is especially useful when rigging low
hanging limbs that are within close distance to buildings or other objects.  Spider leg rigging is often used in conjunction with a speed line, but the spider leg sling needs
to use a smaller diameter of rope than the actual rigging line for safety and efficiency.

Butt Tying

Butt tying is a simple form of rigging and proves that the simplest method, when done
correctly can be the fastest and most productive. Arborists who practice butt tying find
that it is most useful when a loop runner is used in combination with a steel carabiner.
The loop rope is attached approximately 2 feet from the butt end of the branch.
The branch is then lowered down by its tips. For the best results make sure the
rigging block is placed high in the tree. The point of placement should be above the
pre-designated drop zone.

Tip Tying

As with butt tying, this method is most effective when a loop runner is used along
with a steel carabiner. However, unlike butt tying, tip tying requires the rope to be
attached as far out on the branch as possible; hence the name, tip tying. The tip tying
method encourages the limb to swing around laterally to avoid hitting objects below.

Speedline Rigging

When conventional rigging methods are not the best choice, professional arborists opt to
use speedline rigging. This method consists of the following 3 steps:

  • A rigging line is attached either high in the tree that is coming down or a tree behind it.
  • A webbing strap (loop runner) is affixed to the branch that is to be manipulated.
  • The webbing strap is then attached to a pulley found on the speedline.

When speedline rigging is used, it is important that the line is properly tensioned to
reduce droop so the branch and pulley can run smoothly. A haul line should always be
attached to help control the descent of the branch.

The rigging techniques discussed in this article are used by arborists throughout
the United States and are highly effective for removing dead branches and bringing
down trees. It’s important to keep in mind that these techniques must only be used
by arborists that have the proper training and certification.

Arboring is a dangerous occupation. It requires precise attention to detail and
a high regard for safety. Homeowners that hire professional tree trimmers to remove
dead branches from their trees need to make sure the person working at their home has
a solid safety record to ensure that the job goes as smoothly as possible.

Guest Post written by Tyler Lamb of  Excel Tree Care, Cumming, Georgia.
Visit their website at:

Strategies for Spring Pruning


Keep these six basics in mind when pruning this spring.

1. Blossom basics: timing is everything
To maximize flowering on spring-blooming trees, prune just after your tree or shrub has finished flowering. Pruning at this time avoids cutting off the flower buds for next year.

2. Less is more when pruning a newly planted tree
Limit pruning at the time of planting to removal of damaged branches. The tree will develop a stronger, more extensive root system if it has a fuller crown.

3. Flushing is for toilets
Cutting branches flush with the trunk removes the important branch collar, which helps the tree to close the wound. Cut just outside the branch collar at the base of the branch.

4. Put away the paints
There is no need to apply wound dressings. Research has shown that the common wound dressings do not inhibit decay and do not bring about faster wound closure. In fact, many of the commonly used dressings slow wound closure.

5. Topless trees are indecent
Don’t top trees! Topping trees can make them prone to failure down the road. Topping leads to decay and weakly attached branches. Besides, topping makes trees ugly.

6. No tourniquets required
While some trees, such as maples and birches, will “bleed” or lose sap from pruning cuts made early in the spring, this bleeding does not hurt the tree. However, because bleeding is unsightly, you might want to prune these species during the dormant season.

(Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Signs of a Weak Rope


Ropes could be considered an arborist’s most important tools. They are used to support limbs, tools, and people.  That’s why it’s important to inspect ropes regularly to determine if it is still in proper working condition.  During inspection, look for the following characteristics of a weak rope:

  1. Discoloration – This may be an indication of chemical damage.
  2. Variance in diameter – Variance in diameter may indicate core damage.
  3. Hard spots and contamination – These usually signify a rope is excessively worn or weakened by overloading and shock loading.
  4. Gloss, glaze and streaks – These indicate signs of heat or friction damage.
  5. Frays, pulls and broken strands – If more than half of the outer sheath is frayed, then you should retire the rope immediately. Broken strands may indicate the rope was torn by friction, cut by a sharp edge, or the working-load limit was exceeded. Retire the rope immediately if two or more strands are broken.
  6. Heavy abrasion – Usually caused by friction and extreme wear.
  7. Milking – This is the shifting of the sheath leaving a rope end without a core.

If your rope is showing signs of wear and tear, it’s time to purchase another.  After all, the lives of you and your crew depend on it.

(Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Ascending a Single Line-SRT


When one is better than two

Single line ascent, single rope technique (SRT), and from the grizzled vets “that new trash y’all been messin’ around with” – regardless of what you call it, the use of a single static line to ascend and even work the canopy of a tree is not only here to stay, but working out very well. While the idea of using single lines to access and sometimes work a tree’s canopy isn’t necessarily new to the tree care industry, recent developments in equipment, techniques and methods have made the use of single lines safer, easier and more efficient to a greater number of arboreal practitioners. Although single line can be effectively used to work the canopy of a tree, this column will focus more on its use as an ascent technique.

One of the obvious advantages to single line ascent to frustrated throw bag manipulating arborists is that no isolation of the climbing line is required in a single line system. While there are many other advantages to single line ascent, there are also limitations. As with any tool or technique, understanding both the benefits and shortcomings of single line ascent will ensure that you will not only employ it properly, but also in the safest, most efficient manner.

Input equals output, what a concept

By its very nature, ascending a single line means ascending a static line. The other end of the line is secured in some manner – possibly as part of a ground-based rescue system in which the climber could be lowered back to the ground – allowing the climber to ascend the static single part of the line. This differs from the more conventional system in which two parts of the line are involved and both are moving, or dynamic.

Dynamic systems provide a built-in mechanical advantage, requiring climbers to only lift roughly half their weight, as the weight is split between the two parts of line. However, with this advantage comes the attendant negative fact that the climber must move his hitch over twice as much line.

Essentially, a 200-pound climber is only pulling up roughly 100 pounds, but has to move 2 feet of line, 1 foot from each part of the line, to ascend 1 foot.

In static systems, such as SRT, the climber has to deal with all his body weight, but ascends at twice the speed of a dynamic system, or 1 foot of ascent for each foot of line moved through the hitch, device or combination thereof.

They’re all tie-in points (TIPs)

As mentioned, using single line ascent techniques helps do away with all that tiresome throw bag manipulation to isolate a specific TIP before ascending. If the line is simply over a suitable branch or through an appropriate TIP, whether or not it’s isolated won’t affect the use of a single line ascent technique. In some cases, having the ascent line over a number of branches and TIPs may actually benefit the intended work plan.

Ease of line placement does come with one caveat though: Users must recognize that they have changed, in some manner, the forces experienced at the primary branch or TIP. While further research may be necessary to accurately define how much or how little the forces have changed, it would behoove users to recognize that a single line ascent will put more force on the TIP than a dynamic doubled line system. Research and discussion are ongoing, and a better definition of exactly how much the forces may be different will hopefully soon become available. In the meantime, the safest course is to assume that the single line TIP will see roughly twice the weight of the climber with no magnification by drops, trips and falls. This is more than the conventional doubled line system in which the weight of the climber is split between the two parts of rope.

Although this probable inherent disadvantage is certainly not a reason to avoid single line ascent, it is one to be aware of when deciding which branch or TIP is appropriate. This doubling of forces can be avoided by securing the single line to the branch or TIP itself, instead of passing over it, by sending up a running bowline. This will require isolating the branch with the line and will necessitate removal before descent. Another option, one that is removable from the ground, is the use of a midline knot, such as the alpine butterfly, where one end of the line is passed through the loop formed by the knot and then the knot is advanced up to the branch, cinching it in place, yet this also requires isolation of the TIP. These options also negate the use of ground rescue systems for the climber.


The return of the nonworking end of the single line to the ground allows for the use of a friction-management or belay device. When appropriately anchored, this device allows the branch manager to lower an incapacitated climber from aloft safely and efficiently, providing enough rope is available. A number of devices are available that are appropriate in this application, but whichever device is employed, it should be securely backed up to avoid unintended slippage or loosening during the climber’s ascent. In addition, it should also have built-in safety features or add-on hitches added to prevent an uncontrolled descent during the lowering/rescue process.

Little of both

While this column focuses on single line ascent, a brief foray into the use of dynamic systems piggybacked onto single line static systems is appropriate, as this can also be used in the ascent. In short, these hybrid systems use a floating anchor point as a movable TIP on the single line, which can then be attached to the climber by some form of dynamic system. This type of ascent method provides the user with the advantages of efficiency in ascent of single line, while allowing the switch over to a dynamic system with two moving parts of rope for canopy movement.

Once again, factors such as forces at the tree’s TIP, security of the floating anchor point, and the appropriateness of the device/hitch being used as a floating anchor point must all be considered and evaluated prior to use of such a hybrid system.

Working and ascending

Systems and equipment that can be used for ascending a single line safely range from the simplistic single line footlock on a Prusik to systems involving multiple ascenders, Petzl I’D, PMI chest rollers, ISC rope wrench or RopeTek Hitch Hiker, or a combination thereof. While many of the ascender options are meant for use only in the ascent and are removed once the desired elevation has been reached, devices such as the ISC rope wrench and the RopeTek Hitch Hiker can be left installed on the single line to work the canopy and eventually descend – all on a single static line.

Regardless of which system, or combination of systems/tools, is chosen, new users would be well-advised to have extensive training and practice with the chosen system/device “low and slow” prior to venturing high into the canopy. Eighty feet up in a white oak is not the place to discover you’re not really sure why something is slipping or not releasing.

Every climber should have the understanding and safe use of single line ascent techniques in their mental toolbox, ready to deploy in the appropriate scenario. While no solitary system or technique is perfect for every tree and situation, the increased efficiency, and thereby saved climber energy, of single line ascent make it a system that climbing arborists should at least explore and try. The more techniques in that mental toolbox, the more prepared the crew is to safely and efficiently meet what challenges the boss – or the tree – throws their way.

Michael (House) Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions/Arbor Canada Training and Education, currently located in Lancaster, Kentucky.

(Article courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Homeowner Tree Care Accidents in 2014

The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) conducted an analysis of 37 civilian tree care-related accidents reported by the media in 2014. TCIA is a trade association that advances the tree care industry and discourages homeowners from taking unnecessary risks caring for their trees.

While these numbers are not representative of all – or even most – tree care accidents involving non-professionals, they provide insight into the types of hazards hom eowners are likely to encounter while attempting tree work.


The findings were grim: Twenty-three of the accidents (60 percent) were fatal. “Homeowners may not realize how dangerous tree work can be, and how much they’re risking by taking the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach,” says Peter Gerstenberger, senior advisor for safety, standards and compliance for TCIA. “Lack of training, equipment, or situational awareness undoubtedly contributed to these incidents, which could have been avoided by hiring a professional tree care company.”


The median age of the victim was 62, and the oldest victim was 76. The youngest reported victim was a 3-year-old toddler who tragically walked into the path of a tree his father was felling and was struck and killed. Three of the 37 victims, including the 3-year-old, were uninvolved bystanders. Most homeowners were struck by a tree while attempting to fell it, or were hit by limbs, wires, or chain saws. Others fell or were electrocuted. Chart A provides more details on the accidents.


Occasionally, these incident are high-profile; Greg Norman, the pro golfer, is the lone “struck by chain saw” statistic. He claimed to be lucky to still have his left hand after a chain saw accident. The famed Australian, who won two majors and 20 U.S. PGA Tour titles, was trimming a sea grape tree at his home near Jupiter Island, Florida, when the accident occurred.


Norman was part of another dominant group in these statistics: the victims who were working alone at the time of the accident. In two-thirds of all cases where it could be determined, the victims undertook hazardous tree work with nobody to spot them, nobody to assist them, and nobody to advise them when it might have been prudent to stop and seek out an expert.

Occupational Tree Care Accidents in 2014

The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) reviewed 126 occupational tree care accidents reported by the media, OSHA and industry colleagues in 2014. Of these, 81 were fatal. The median age of the victim for all incidents was 42.

Further analysis revealed trends seen in previous years: Monday is still statistically the most dangerous day of the week for tree care professionals, with Friday ranking second. “It is reasonable to assume that so-called ‘critical error’ behaviors – such as mind-not-on-task or eyes-not-on-task – are more prevalent on these days,” says Peter Gerstenberger, TCIA’s senior advisor for safety, standards and compliance.

A more influential factor, however, is association membership: A disproportionate number of these incidents were experienced by arborists working for companies who are not members of TCIA. (Chart A)

“Tree care companies with no professional affiliation, such as TCIA, may not have the resources or motives to incorporate safety training on the jobsite,” explains Gerstenberger. “Furthermore, TCIA has found ignorance or lack of training to be a factor in many of these incidents.”

This assertion is supported by Chart B, which shows how preventable many of these fatal incidents were and catalogues them by exposure types.

For example, in eight of the reported 12 electrocution incidents, plus the electric shock/burn incident, the victims were using aluminum ladders and/or conductive tools at the time of the incident. In eight of the 25 falls, the victims were clearly not secured. In the palm trimming deaths, the climbers were secured to the trunk below the frond skirts, a technique that has been widely publicized for years as being fraught with risk.

“It seems clear to us that the practitioners most in need of improved knowledge and training are also the least inclined to seek out training opportunities,” says Gerstenberger. “As such, it is our responsibility as an association and industry to facilitate safety training opportunities for tree care professionals who need it the most.”

Arborist Safety Training Institute

 The Arborist Safety Training Institute (ASTI), launched by the Tree Care Industry Association Foundation (TCIAF), seeks to fulfill this responsibility by providing quality, local and affordable safety training to working arborists.


ASTI will provide grants for safety training to minimize consequent deaths and injuries, and promote overall workforce safety that is critical for the tree care industry. Learn more about ASTI at or contact Sarah Winslow at (603)-314-5380 or