Topics Discussed On This Page
* Why You Should First Learn Aid Climbing
* New Climber? Watch The How-To Video Series!
* Ropes: Dynamic Or Static?
* Throw Lines (short vid)
* Budget RADS
* Traditional RADS
* Rope Wrench (yoyo)
* Rope Wrench (rope walker)
Why You Should First Learn Aid Climbing.
Aid climbing (climbing ropes not tree) is the traditional treeclimbing style of arborists. Rope ascension is required to safely enter a tree that has zero limbs below 20 feet. If you rely solely on climbing tree limbs you may find yourself in a dangerous situation without the necessary rope handling skills that will save your life. Rope ascension can be done on a dynamic rope but this is very inefficient and tiring which is why all arborists use static or semistatic ropes. There are many different techniques of aid climbing. This page will only cover a few techniques and will focus on SRT (stationary rope technique) by using a RADS (rapid ascent and descent system). Before climbing outside you need to practice your techniques buy tying your rope to a rafter and getting accustomed to your gear in a controlled environment.
New Climber? Watch The How-To Video Series!
Episode 1 covers throwline techniques, multiple rope rigging set ups, and how to retrieve the climbing rope from the ground.
Ep.1 Direct Link:
Episode 2 covers rope choices, the RADS system, and a few must have skills.
Ep.2 Direct Link:
Episode 3 discusses the dangers of tree camping and some anchoring techniques.
Ep.3 Direct Link:
Ropes: Dynamic Or Static?
This is probably the most asked question received from brand new tree climbers. “Should I buy a dynamic rope for safer falls or a static rope for easier climbing?” My answer, and 99.99999% of all arborists would agree, is buy a static rope. When you climb a static rope most of your energy will be used to pull your body up the rope as opposed to climbing a dynamic rope where most of your energy will be wasted by the stretchiness of the rope (dynamic ropes are made to absorb energy, imagine trying to climb a rubber band).
When ascending a rope there is no need to worry about falling because the rope is always tight under the pressure of your body weight. If you get to a section of the tree where you decide to climb the branches instead of your rope you must ALWAYS keep the climbing line taught so if you slip off the branch you won’t fall (as opposed to allowing slack to build up, if you slip off a branch you will build momentum while falling down until all of the slack in your rope is gone and this will create a very painful and dangerous stopping motion).
If you already own a dynamic rope, give it a shot! Just be aware that it is a night and day difference between climbing a dynamic rope and a static rope. If you enjoy the idea of climbing the tree (via face climbing, not rope ascension) then you will want to have a dynamic rope in your arsenal of gear. HOWEVER! You will still need a static rope to safely build an anchor for face climbing. Once you have an anchor built and a partner to belay you, you will be able to safely face climb and fall (like falling while rock climbing). Click the link to watch a helmet cam video of may favorite tree-faceclimb: https://treefool.com/2014/03/24/helmet-cam-face-climbing-madness/.
Dynaglide and Zingit are popular cords to use for throwlines because they are tough and slick (which means they don’t get caught easily on bark). When I first started tree climbing I thought these were completely necessary and paid the high price. But, one trip I got my throwline so stuck that I had to abandon it and could not wait for a new line to ship out so I ran over to Home Depot and found spools of 2mm and 3mm cord at $12.00 for 300 feet! It comes in all sorts of super bright colors and I honestly have not noticed a difference. Also, if you are a new tree climber don’t spend $50 on a throwline bag! Just run to over to Target and find a collapsible laundry basket for $4. Here is a short climb in minus 5°F viewed from my helmet cam that shows this gear in use:
The only thing that I hate about tree climbing is dealing with throw lines. If I don’t properly coil my throw line it becomes a rat’s nest. If I miss my throw while advancing my line it turns into a rats nest. If I look at my throw line wrong it turns into a rats nest. Fortunately genius’s like Richard Mumford (check out his YouTube Channel) have come up with some cheap and easy solutions for keeping throw lines organized while climbing. Go to home depot and buy a chalk line reel, open it up, and replace the string with your throw line of choice. Try it! It works great! (The chalk reels can only hold 40 to 50 feet of line so this trick only works for advancing your line while climbing).
Tree climbing is impossible with out a lanyard. This is a bold statement considering I didn’t start using a lanyard until 2014. The fact is that although I didn’t use a “lanyard” I still brought slings with me into the canopy and girth hitched them to the tree as a temporary anchor while I advanced my climbing line. This was cheap and worked well with my transition from the rock climbing world since my harness did not have lanyard attachment points (just a traditional belay loop).
But dealing with girth hitches is a time-consuming process because I always had to tie knots to extend or shorten my slings. I wanted to become a faster tree climber so I explored the realm of lanyards with my new harness. In my research I learnded the following:
-Six feet is a short lanyard. (Doesnt work on some big trees)
-Twenty five feet is a long lanyard. (Too much excess rope)
-Ten to twelve feet is average.
-Trango Cinch is the best way to adjust a lanyard (heavy & expensive)
-Prusik and micro pully works very good for lanyard adjustment and is cheap
-A mini ascender is the lightest adjustment option
The pictures below show two standard types of lanyards. The first is adjusted with a prusik and a pully directly behind it. The pulley allows for one-handed tightening of the lanyard because the pully will tend the prusik as rope is pulled through it.
The second option is to adjust your lanyard with a Petzl GriGri or Trango Cinch. This option allows you to extend your lanyard even with all of your weight on the rope. I don’t find this to be neccesary as a recreational climber.
The third option and my favored option is to use a WildCountry Rope Man to adjust your rope. It is very light and low bulk. I do not yet have a picture of this.
Organizing the extra slack is something that I am still trying to find the best solution for. If you have any ideas let me know!
My current RADS (Rapid Ascent and Descent System) consists of $250 worth of gear. If I were a new tree climber that price would definitely be a deterrent. Check out this gear list and see if it fits your budget:
ATC Guide – $25 (or buy it used on ebay for super cheap)
Prusik loop – $1?
Sling for foot loop – $4
Sling for backup cord – $4
Three locking biners – $20
Two wire gate biners – $10?
A >4″ screw driver with handle – ?
Total = not much since you already have most of that crap anyways.
I know what you are thinking, “Why can’t I just use two prusik loops”? It is possible to ascend your climbing line with a set of prusiks but there is really no safe way to play in the canopy unless you are able to ascend and descend quickly. You can not descend quickly with prusik loops. Trust me, using a RADS setup like this is SO MUCH more enjoyable and efficient than pretty much any technique you have learned from your rock climbing days. To see a video of this setup in action check out the following link: https://treefool.com/2014/06/09/a-quick-lesson-on-branch-isolation/
1. Clip the ATC guide to your belay loop with a locker through the “guide mode” hole.
2. Clip the rope through the atc with a second locker. The rope leading into the canopy is positioned closest to the “guide mode” hole. Your atc will now automatically lock as you pull rope through it.
3. Tie a small cord through the smaller hole on the atc (not pictured). You pull this cord when you want to descend.
4. Tie a prusik knot with a 7-8mm cord above atc (I use a klemhiest knot)
5. Clip foot loop into cord.
6. Girth hitch a runner or PAS onto your harness.
7. Clip this runner/PAS into your prusik cord as a backup should your ATC fail.
8. Clip a third biner into the prusik cord.
9. Clip the trailing end of the rope through this biner so that you can pull rope through your atc by pulling down vs pulling up.
10. Sit back in your harness and move up the prusik cord. Stand up in your footloop and simultaneously pull down on the tail end.
12. To descend simple place your screwdriver into the small hole at the front of your atc and push (or pull depending on how you clipped it to your harness) until rope starts feeding through. This requires a little bit of muscle and you should never attempt this without having your other hand holding the “brake side” of the rope.
After playing with this setup for a few hours I realized that it is not beginner friendly. Even though I have been using an ATC Guide for many years I still had trouble controlling my descents. Make sure you practice ALOT with this set up before you climb higher than 10 feet. In the video linked above I used a dyneema sling girth hitched through the small hole instead of a screwdriver. I then clipped my foot loop into the sling and used my leg to control the descent speed. Like this:
The reason why I found this to NOT be beginner friendly is if you descend too fast and stop quickly the rope will get squeezed into the ATC so hard that you will not be able to descend. If this happens you better have the muscle AND brains to get your rope unstuck. A safer option is to use a screw driver in the hole which gives much better leverage and a much more controlled descent, like this:
If you are using a screwdriver and drop it you can use a locking carabiner instead of a screwdriver but this will not give you as much leverage. Using a screwdriver is relatively safer. Using a sling is relatively lighter. BOTH are VERY DIFFICULT TO USE. Practice, practice, practice, educate yourself, and practice some more before using this at dangerous heights.
Update! Here is a video made by Chasing Cornfields which gives a fantastic solution to the “jumpy” descents when using an ATC Guide.
This is the system that I use for all of my big climbs. I love it. Maybe I love it too much because I have not committed much time to learning other ascension systems such as the rope wrench or DRT techniques. This setup is definitely pricier:
Petzl GriGri: $100 (ABSOLUTELY WORTH EVERY PENNY)
Petzl Ascension: $75
2 x Auto Locking Biners: $30
1 x Oval Biner: $7
P.A.S. (personal anchor system): $32
Footloop: $10 (I made mine because I wanted an adjustable one)
Luckily for me I had accumulated most of this stuff over many years of rock climbing. The GriGri is most important. Nothing compares to the ascending and descending capabilities of this type of device (a cheaper option for the GriGri is a Trango Cinch). A prusik loop can be supplemented for the handled ascender and a piece of webbing can replace the P.A.S. These things just make climbing much more efficient. Here is the technique (which can be seen in the video under the Throw Lines topic):
1. Thread climbing line into GriGri
2. Use autolocking biner to attach GriGri to harness
3. Double check that rope is threaded through GriGri in the right direction by pulling UP on the rope leading up to the anchor in the tree. If you did it correctly the GriGri will auto lock and you can not pull any rope up through it
4. Attach your ascender above the GriGri
5. Place an oval biner in the top hole of the ascender to keep the rope running safely through the ascender
6. Relative to the GriGri, grab the brake side of the rope and clip it through the oval biner on your ascender (this gives great leverage for pulling rope through the GriGri as you ascend)
7. Attach the P.A.S. to your harness
8. Attach the P.A.S. to the bottom of your ascender (this is for redundancy/safety purposes in case your GriGri fails)
9. Attach your foot loop to the bottom of the ascender
10. Sit back in your harness (your GriGri should lock off and be holding you on the rope)
11. Slide your ascender up the rope almost as high as you can reach
12. Simultaneously step up in your foot loop as you pull down on the tail end of your rope, this will pull rope through the GriGri and place it higher up your climbing line
13. Sit back in your harness and start over at #10 again
Rope Wrench (YoYo)
Under Construction ( rope wrench yoyo diagram )
Rope Wrench (Rope Walker)
Under Construction ( rope wrench rope walker diagram )
Disclaimer: This article is for entertainment purposes only. If you attempt any of this you will be severely injured or die.
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