Tree Climbing 101: Objective-Based Tree Climbing

Zeb Haney Zeb Haney
Tree Resource
Learn more about Zeb Haney.

climber silouettePerhaps the best way to accomplish great tree work is to start with a clear objective. Ask yourself, What are you doing, and why are you doing it? If you can ask and answer these questions honestly and clearly, you’ll be well on your way to a successful conclusion.

There are so many options in the tools and methods you can use to climb a tree now. Will you use a dynamic doubled rope system? Perhaps you’ll use a static, non-moving system? Hitch, or mechanical ascender? Maybe you will forgo climbing and reach for a 22 foot long extendable pole saw? Or better yet, how about an aerial lift so you can reach the outer canopy of the tree?

Are there good tie-in-points visible from the ground? Will you need to ascend on a temporary TIP and then climb higher, lower, or sideways to a more optimal position in the tree? Will you be using a chainsaw? Spikes? Ascenders? How long is your rope? Do you need to set up for a ground-assisted rescue?

Are you pruning the tree? Is it a removal? Will you need to rig pieces under control or can you just throw them out of the tree? Is it a strong or weak-wooded species? Will you need to anchor in another tree? Or even, should you be climbing this tree today?

If the job has been well planned, the answers to the questions should be apparent. If not, it becomes your job as a climber to get clarification. For instance, if your boss tells you to “prune the Douglas-fir tree in the backyard,” think about what kind of questions will help you understand what is really required of you. A well thought-out job description should say something like the following:

“Prune the Douglas-fir tree located in the NW corner of the backyard. The OBJECTIVE is to reduce risk of branch failure from the upper half of the canopy. This will be accomplished by making approximately 20 reduction cuts from the ends of the longest branches that extend towards the house on the south side of the tree. The cuts should be no greater than two-inches in diameter and should result in a total removal of less than 5% of the live canopy of the tree.”

This objective statement answers the question of why you are doing the work. It should also lead you to answering how you would perform the work. It tells you that you’ll need to be making cuts that are towards the ends of branches, so you know that you’ll need to set up for some limb-walks. There probably won’t be a way to use an aerial lift, because of its location in the backyard. It also tells you how much pruning will be done in a quantifiable way – 20 cuts of two inches in diameter or less. Will you need a chainsaw? Probably not. The rest of the how questions can be left up to the discretion and experience level of the climber and crew.

To reiterate the point of this article, establishing clear objectives or goals to every tree-climbing endeavor will go along way towards a successful climb. It also shows the importance of good communication between a climber, his crew, and the customer. If you don’t have enough information to ensure success, ask more questions.