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Cornell Outdoor Education

Tree Climbing Manual


Fall 09

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CONTENTS
CONTENTS ........................................................................................................................................................ 2
SECTION A1: INTRODUCTION TO TREE CLIMBING ........................................................................... 5
CORNELL OUTDOOR EDUCATION MISSION STATEMENT ................................................................................... 5
RECREATIONAL TREE CLIMBING AT COE ......................................................................................................... 5
PURPOSE OF THIS MANUAL ............................................................................................................................... 6
SECTION A2: COURSE PHILOSOPHY ........................................................................................................ 6
SECTION B1: TREE SELECTION AND ROPE PLACEMENT GUIDELINES ....................................... 7
WHERE TO LOOK FOR TREES ............................................................................................................................. 7
HOW TO CHOOSE A TREE .................................................................................................................................. 8
Location ........................................................................................................................................................ 8
Species Considerations ................................................................................................................................. 8
Judging Tree Health ..................................................................................................................................... 8
SECTION B2: GETTING THE ROPE INTO A TREE ................................................................................. 8
HOW TO CHOOSE A BRANCH FOR YOUR ROPE .................................................................................................. 8
Judging Crotch Security ............................................................................................................................... 9
Crotch Convenience ..................................................................................................................................... 9
GETTING YOU ROPE INTO THE TREE ................................................................................................................... 9
Coil Throw ................................................................................................................................................... 9
Throw Lines & Throw Weights ................................................................................................................. 10
Hand Tossing Throw Weights .................................................................................................................... 10
Big Shot Line Launcher ............................................................................................................................. 11
Sling Shots and Bows ................................................................................................................................. 12
REPOSITIONING THE THROW LINE ................................................................................................................... 12
ATTACHING YOUR CLIMBING LINE TO THE THROW LINE ............................................................................... 12
SECTION B3: IN-TREE ANCHORING OPTIONS .................................................................................... 13
FRICTION SAVERS ........................................................................................................................................... 14
WRAP-THREE-PULL-TWO ............................................................................................................................... 14
RUNNING FIGURE-EIGHT ANCHOR LINES ........................................................................................................ 14
SECTION B4: ASCENDING SYSTEMS....................................................................................................... 15
SRT VERSUS DDRT ........................................................................................................................................ 15
Minimum Gear Required ............................................................................................................................ 15
Inherent Mechanical Advantage ................................................................................................................. 15
Ascending Speed ........................................................................................................................................ 15
Force Applied to Branch ............................................................................................................................ 15
Amount of Rope that Runs Over Branch .................................................................................................... 16
Ease of Getting Multiple People into a Tree .............................................................................................. 16
Ease of Lowering........................................................................................................................................ 16
Canopy Movement ..................................................................................................................................... 16
SRT FULL CIRCLE ELEVATOR RIG .................................................................................................................. 17
Full Circle Ground Anchor ......................................................................................................................... 17
Assembling the Secured Munter Mule Tie-off ........................................................................................... 17
SRT ASCENDING ............................................................................................................................................. 18
Texas Kick.................................................................................................................................................. 18
Prusik Knot Climbing System .................................................................................................................... 20
The Frog System ........................................................................................................................................ 20
The Yo-Yo Method .................................................................................................................................... 21
Footlocking................................................................................................................................................. 22
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SECTION D2: DOUBLED ROPE TECHNIQUES .................................................................................................... 24
Blakes Hitch .............................................................................................................................................. 24
The Motion Lanyard ................................................................................................................................... 25
Moving Around the Canopy ....................................................................................................................... 26
Flip Flopping Down a Tree ........................................................................................................................ 26
SECTION B4: OTHER TREE FUN ............................................................................................................... 27
SECTION C1: BASIC TREE CLIMBING CLASS ...................................................................................... 30
GOALS ............................................................................................................................................................. 30
PRE-CLASS E-MAIL ......................................................................................................................................... 30
CLASS PROGRESSION ...................................................................................................................................... 31
Day 1: Hand-over-hand Climbing on Low Branched Trees ....................................................................... 31
Day 2: Throwing and Ascending on Full Circle (SRT) .............................................................................. 32
Day 3: Climb a Big Tree, Switch to Anchor Lines, Switch to Rappel ....................................................... 35
Day 4/5: Alternate Ascensions / Overnight ................................................................................................ 36
SECTION C2: LIMITED GEAR ALTERNATE BASIC CLASS CURRICULUMS ................................ 38
SRT CLIMBING CURRICULUM ONLY ............................................................................................................... 38
DDRT CLIMBING CURRICULUM ONLY ............................................................................................................ 38
SECTION C3: COSTA RICA TREE CLIMBING COURSE ...................................................................... 38
SECTION C4: RISK MANAGEMENT ......................................................................................................... 39
TREE CLIMBING RISKS AND MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES ................................................................................ 39
POLICIES ......................................................................................................................................................... 39
PROCEDURES ................................................................................................................................................... 39
Single Point Failure .................................................................................................................................... 39
Dealing with Single Point Failure .............................................................................................................. 39
PAPERWORK .................................................................................................................................................... 40
Medical Form ............................................................................................................................................. 40
Waivers ...................................................................................................................................................... 40
Incident Reports ......................................................................................................................................... 40
New Hires ................................................................................................................................................... 40
Basic Skills Training .................................................................................................................................. 41
Advanced Skills Training ........................................................................................................................... 41
Role of the Senior Instructor ...................................................................................................................... 41
First Aid Kits .............................................................................................................................................. 42
Minor Accidents ......................................................................................................................................... 42
Non Life-Threatening Serious Accidents ................................................................................................... 42
Life Threatening Emergencies ................................................................................................................... 42
Emergency Coordinator and Communication ............................................................................................ 42
APPENDIX A: GEAR LISTS ......................................................................................................................... 44
Gear Needed by an Individual Participant .................................................................................................. 44
Total Gear List for a Class of 8 Participants* ............................................................................................ 44
BASIC TREE CLIMBING - SRT CURRICULUM ONLY ......................................................................................... 44
Gear Needed by an Individual Participant .................................................................................................. 44
Total Gear List for a Class of 8 Participants .............................................................................................. 45
Gear Needed by an Individual Participant .................................................................................................. 45
Total Gear List for a Class of 8 Participants .............................................................................................. 45
APPENDIX B: ROPE INFORMATION ........................................................................................................ 46
ROPE CONSTRUCTION ..................................................................................................................................... 46
Braid ........................................................................................................................................................... 46
Rope Fibers ................................................................................................................................................ 46
Fibrillated polyolefin .................................................................................................................................. 46
Milking ....................................................................................................................................................... 46
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ROPE CARE ..................................................................................................................................................... 47
Electricity ................................................................................................................................................... 47
Chemicals ................................................................................................................................................... 47
ROPE STRENGTH ............................................................................................................................................. 47
Safe Working Load .................................................................................................................................... 47
Diameter ..................................................................................................................................................... 47
Bend Radius ............................................................................................................................................... 48
APPENDIX C: KNOTS ................................................................................................................................... 49
SLIP KNOT BOWLINE ....................................................................................................................................... 49
PRUSIK ............................................................................................................................................................ 49
APPENDIX D: TREE IDENTIFICATION ................................................................................................... 50
ITHACA ........................................................................................................................................................... 50
Northern Red Oak - Quercus rubra ........................................................................................................... 50
Tulip Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera ....................................................................................................... 50
Sycamore Platanus occidentalis .............................................................................................................. 50
Sugar Maple Acer Saccharum ................................................................................................................. 50
American Beech Fagus grandifolia ........................................................................................................ 50
White Ash - Fraxinus americana ............................................................................................................... 50
COSTA RICA .................................................................................................................................................... 50
Fruta Dorada Virola koschnyi .................................................................................................................. 50
Ceiba Ceiba pentandra ............................................................................................................................ 50
Guacimo Colorado Guazuma ulmifolia .................................................................................................... 50
Guapinol Hymenaea courbaril ................................................................................................................ 50
Guanacaste - Enterolobium cyclocarpum ................................................................................................... 51
Higureon Ficus genus .............................................................................................................................. 51
Jabillio - Hura crepitans ............................................................................................................................. 51
APPENDIX E: TREE BIOLOGY .................................................................................................................. 52
APPENDIX F: TREE CLIMBING WAIVER ............................................................................................... 53
RECOMMENDED BOOKS ............................................................................................................................ 55
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Section A1: Introduction to Tree Climbing
Cornell Outdoor Education Mission Statement

Cornell Outdoor Education develops teamwork, leadership, and growth through outdoor experience. We do so by:

Teaching outdoor skills and judgment for lifelong recreation and fitness.
Promoting environmental responsibility through personal connections to the natural world.
Empowering individuals and groups to move beyond self-imposed limitations.
Igniting a passion for experiential learning.
Enhancing initiative, self-reliance, and compassion for others.
Recreational Tree Climbing at COE

Founded in 1972, Cornell Outdoor Education is one of the largest college-based outdoor programs in the
country, providing over 130 physical education courses in a wide range of disciplines, freshman wilderness orientation
trips, and teamwork training on our ropes course - approximately 30,000 program days annually. However, in COEs
climbing program, the 22 courses we offered on our indoor climbing wall made us feel like we should more
appropriately be called CIE. We found it hard to advance our environmental stewardship mission while climbing on
plastic holds next to the aerobics classes. And although good rock climbing is abundant in New York, it is locally
endangered; we have to drive three and a half hours to get to a good teaching venue. This was a major reason the
administration was amenable when David Katz first started advocating for a technical tree climbing class.
Programmatically, the prospects seemed good. Climbable trees are much more commonly available than
climbable rocks in our area. Tree climbing is less weather dependent. Compared with the congested climbing scene at
the Gunks, a placid tree climb more directly supports our environmental mission.
Unlike rock climbing, tree climbing has two direct industry outlets. Canopy research, a rapidly growing field in
science, requires trained climbers to conduct research in forest canopy. Arborists are in increasing demand as our native
forests are injured by imported insects and disease.
Although the team of instructors we put together for our first class had significant rope experience, we had a
lot work to do before we could run a reasonable program. In particular we had the following questions to answer:

Curriculum: Of the vast number of tree climbing techniques, which ones would be appropriate for a college
level recreational tree climbing program?

Risk Management: Can we find procedures and policies that can safely accommodate groups of 8 to 10
students?

Gear: Can we create a tree climbing program using mainly rock climbing gear? What elements of tree
climbing are best taught with tree specific gear? What is the cost of that investment?

Impact: Can we offer climbing classes repeatedly in the same trees without damaging them?

SECTION A

THE TREE CLIMBING PROGRAM

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We were highly motivated to add more outdoor opportunities to our climbing program, but our equipment was
limited to items we could cobble together from caving and rock climbing. If we could rely mainly on our rock gear the
capital investment for our new tree program would be small. If we found good solutions to these issues, many other
college programs could do the same.
With our best guesses at answers to these questions, COE ran its first tree climbing course. It filled it to
capacity within the first day of PE registration. The first class was a huge endeavor, planning class progressions,
developing institutionally appropriate tree climbing methods, and finding and preparing trees for students. By the end
of the course the instructor team had spent about 60 hours outside of class just preparing for the course. Thats quite a
lot of work when you realize that the full course length was only 30 hours. In those days we discovered some of our
answers to the above questions were great and some not so great. But in the end, it was worth it. That semester saw
huge advances in our rigging and teaching strategies. We now have a compendium of procedures and policies that are
(relatively) safe and effective and a good idea in what order to present these skills.
Even so, there was some initial skepticism. Staff members said, Is anyone really going to want to do this?
What we know now is that for some reason or other, people love being in trees. We have never offered a class which
did not fill.
Purpose of this Manual

This manual was primarily written to serve as a guide to new tree climbing instructors. For you this mean less
preparation time, better teaching, and less mucking about with dangerous things that dont work. Prior to teaching the
first course, Dave and Keith would frequently find themselves sitting on branches thinking something like, Wow, I
really hope I dont fall to the left, because the ground sure is far away. Please God, if I fall, let me fall to the right of
this branch. Fortunately, we all survived our tree climbing childhood and can pass on our advice in this manual.
To date, weve taught many local and international tree climbing classes, all with excellent reviews and no
climbing-related injuries. We think our methods are good enough to write down, but were always looking for ways to
make our classes better and teaching styles more efficient. Climbing on your own is the best way to try out new
techniques and find better tricks to get things done in the canopy. When you discover that new technique, share it with
everyone and help us all improve.
This manual provides an overview of many aspects of COEs current tree climbing courses. Theres
information on logistics, teaching, core curriculum guidelines, class progressions, risk management policies, suggested
activities and some idea of what skills are required to teach each climbing course.

Section A2: Course Philosophy

Almost all of our students come to the first class with no knowledge of rope systems. For this reason, our
classes begin with the basics. Our students are not likely to become experts in the time we have them for a local class
or even in the ten days of the Costa Rica Tree Climbing class. In addition to basic skills, we also hope to teach some
hazard assessment and judgment - keeping in mind the possibility that after the class is over our students might actually
go out and try to do this on their own.
In their present states, our courses should be viewed as comparable to a Basic Rock Climbing class in scope.
These courses both provide only a fraction of the skills required to lead a trip. They do, however, give the students the
skills needed to participate in these activities with a minimal amount of supervision from a trip leader.
Many peoples perceptions of tree climbers involve men wielding a chainsaws while swinging from a rope.
Students should understand that our course is in no way meant to teach them about tree trimming and this for two
reasons: Firstly, COE strictly adheres to Leave No Trace policies. With the exception of our platform trees, we try to
impact our climbing trees as little as possible. Secondly, and more importantly, COE doesnt have the proper gear
required to teach tree removal, nor are our instructors qualified to teach it.


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Section B1: Tree Selection and Rope Placement Guidelines
Where to Look for Trees
When thinking of where you may find some good trees to climb, two types of areas generally come to mind:
fields and forests. Whether you are looking for tall trees or broad trees will dictate where you should start your search.
When a seedling sprouts in the forest, it will start growing into a tree as fast as it can, hoping to reach the
sunlight as fast as possible. For this reason, you will typically find tall trees with nearly vertical branches in forests.
Moving around in these trees usually means going straight up. Unfortunately, you will rarely get a chance to look out
over the canopy in a forest, as most forest trees will grow to the same height as those around it. Every once in a while
you stumble across an emergent tree that spreads its canopy well above its surroundings. This emergent growth strategy
is common place in the tropics The view from an emergents canopy is nothing less than stunning.
Fields are another place to find great trees to climb. Often you can find trees on farms that were originally
used to mark property lines or to provide shade for livestock. These trees were lucky enough to grow without
competition for sunlight and usually have wide, spreading canopies with nearly horizontal branches. Pasture trees can
provide endless hours of entertainment through limb walking and other lateral canopy movement.
Naturally spreading trees can also be found on flood plains. Flood plains, such as those found on the inside of
river bends, provide moist and rich soils for trees to grow quickly. However, frequent flooding can remove the existing
understory and leave behind large trees with plenty of room to spread their canopies.


Tree on right (field) has spreading branches, due to less light competition. The trees on the left (forest) have
light competition from other trees and therefore grow up higher with less spread in their canopies.




SECTION B

Recreational Tree Climbing Skills
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How to Choose a Tree
Aside from finding a tree of that will permit the desired type of climbing, care must be taken to ensure that a
tree is safe to climb.

Location
Arborists removing trees from a clients property are often required to work around phone and electrical wires.
Recreational tree climbers are under no such obligation! We avoid any tree within throwing distance of utility wires.

Species Considerations
Unless youre lucky enough to live near some giant redwoods or sequoias, throwing your rope over the sappy
branch of a conifer probably isnt worth the effort. In our area the largest branches of such trees are brittle and not stout
enough to hold your weight. Sticky tree sap is also incredibly hard to remove from a climbing rope without using nasty
chemicals or hot water, both of which will reduce the lifespan of your rope. Eastern Hemlocks tend to be more pleasant
to climb that White Pine, if you are still curious. There is a lot less sap, and the cute little cones make fun pictures.
Some of our favorite species to climb are Northern Red Oaks and American Beech. With its wide branches you
are ensured a good place to hang around. Strong, heavy wood makes for safe climbing. Sugar Maples tend to have more
v-shaped branching, which makes standing around a little tiring, but the wood is strong and in the fall the colors are
great. We have a nice local stand of Tulip Poplar in Trumansburg. They are huge and really fun to climb. However,
Tulip is a fast-growing species are therefore the branches are weak and generally only large crotches are to be trusted.
Really large sycamores grow near the lake around Ithaca, and have fun canopies in which to swing around. Be gentle
with these trees. Sycamores have very thin outer bark and the tree is easily damaged with repeated roped climbing. Ash
trees are fun to climb, but also have v-shaped crotches and the branches also tend to be relatively weak.

Judging Tree Health
For obvious reasons you dont want the limb your rope is over to break. You need to make sure the tree you are
climbing is healthy and will support a lot of weight. We have listed a few aspects of tree health below. Make sure you
look at the big and small picture. You want to take it all in.
Look at the ground around the tree. Is the soil newly raised or cracked? The tree might be getting ready to fall
over. Are there lots of branches on the ground, which may suggest dead branches in the tree? Take a look up at the
canopy. Can you see many dead, leafless branches? Leafless tips of branches may indicate that the tree is unhealthy.
Leaves changing color and falling prematurely is another bad sign. Finally, take a look at the trunk of the tree. Does it
have wounds or fungus on it? The presence of any of these signs means you should probably look for another tree to
climb.

In general your tree should:
be alive. This is easy to tell in spring, summer or fall, but harder in winter.
not have large dead sections of wood in the canopy that could fall on you.
not have poison ivy or other nasty things on the tree (snakes, spikes, ants, bees, wasps nests).
not have a huge pile of dead branches near the base of the tree.
not have raised of cracked soil around the roots.
root fungus. This can be tricky, but big mushrooms on the base are a tell-tale sign.
not be leaning like the tower of Pisa.
not have a scar or cavity in the trunk. Think Greek columns not Swiss cheese.
have strong unions between the main stems

It is important to note that most of the time the first ascent tends to be the most dangerous part of the climbing
process. This is especially true in the tropics where getting the rope where you want it in the canopy can be a very
difficult process. It is always the best to isolate a safe crotch from the ground, even if it means not climbing that day,
week or month. Climbing on weak branches is extremely dangerous.
Another hazard for the subsequent climbers is the risk of the falling branches. If the first climber reaches the
canopy and sees hazard branches, these branches need to be removed before the following climbers can continue. Notify
your ground people and tell them to go to a safe place, and remove the hazard branches if you are qualified to do so.
Section B2: Getting the Rope into a Tree
How to Choose a Branch for Your Rope
Once youve found your ideal tree, its time to figure out which branch you want to put your climbing rope
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over. There are two main aspects of a rope placement to consider: security and convenience.

Judging Crotch Security
It is close to impossible to estimate the actual strength of a single crotch in a tree, however it is generally
assumed the a safe crotch will hold more than 5000lbs. Wood strength, tree health, season, leverage and branch
diameter are all important factors in estimating what the branch will hold. While working as an arborist David has
watched incredible loads placed on single crotches of hardwood trees. That said, David has also accidentally snapped
canopy-level branches off redwood trees from 200 feet from the ground merely by stepping on them. Caution is
recommended.
Any branch you chose to support you should be capable of holding well over the highest forces that you can
create. We use the Rule of Thigh: All branches used for life support should be larger than your thigh. If you need a
tape measure to see if a branch passes the test, its too small. For the first ascent you want to make sure that the rope is
as close to the main trunk as possible. Bouncing around on a rope placed 12 feet out on a limb can create dangerously
high bending forces near the trunk. Once you are in the tree and can inspect the crotches more closely, you may chose
to place an ascending line farther from the trunk to minimize bark scaling by subsequent climbers.
Additionally, the crotch that joins your branch and tree should be a healthy and strong one. The angle that the
branch makes with the trunk is not as important as judging if the limb is strongly joined to the tree. One way you can
judge this is to look at the stem bark ridge. Between a branch and the trunk of the tree, or between co-dominant stems
(what we sometimes call a main split or first large crotch) there is an area where the bark of the branch connects with
the bark of the tree. In a crotch with a strong union there will be a ridge of bark that sticks up where the two meet. If
the spot where the bark joins turns down, including bark inside the union, the union will be weak. In the northeast
soggy wet crotches with other seedlings sprouting in them are also suspect.
It is even harder to estimate the strength of a crotch that your rope is over if you cannot see the crotch from the
ground. Our advice is to pull your throw line back down and find a new crotch or tree. Remember, if the limb you are
ascending on brakes, the consequences for you will be serious. Twice Mark has ascended on branches he couldnt see.
The first time it turned out to be a soggy dead limb about the circumference of his arm. The second time he emerged
from the understory to see that the rope did not run over a branch at all. Rather, it ran through a single carabiner
attached to a branch by a lone crusty sling draped in lichens and damp earthy green rain forest schmutz. It was a rig
Dave had left in the jungle a couple years ago and had forgotten about!
If for some reason you find yourself doubting the strength of a crotch you are about to climb on, listen to your
intuition and find another place to put the rope. If for some reason you are compelled to climb using that crotch you can
gain a measure of confidence in it by tying off one end of the rope and bouncing around on the other, preferably with
your co-instructor bouncing along with you. This system stresses the trees and therefore should only be used in a
research environment and never in fragile forests.

Crotch Convenience
The crotch that you aim for should be high in the tree. Spending extra time on the ground to select a
convenient crotch is usually more time efficient than settling for the first crotch you hit and repositioning the rope once
you get into the tree. Placing your rope high in the canopy allows access to most of the tree without repositioning the
rope. Sometimes you will have to use a branch low in the tree, either because your rope isnt long enough to make it
high into the canopy or because you dont have the means to get a rope any higher. In this case, using the lowest branch
of the tree should be avoided at all costs. Because there arent any limbs below it to stand on, using the lowest crotch in
a tree generally involves hanging in your harness for a long time while you try to get the rope over the next highest
crotch. If at all possible, make sure youll have a branch to stand on once you get into the tree.
Getting you rope into the tree

Coil Throw
The simplest method to get your rope into a tree is by throwing a tightly wound coil of rope over a crotch. If
you do not tie your coil with a knot or hitch, the rope will unravel after going over the crotch. Although the rope must
be recoiled for every attempt, using this type of coil will prevent the rope from getting knotted or snagged in the tree. A
good coil should have an amount of rope in it about equal to the distance the target crotch is from you. Start the coil
using the common technique of wrapping the rope around your hand and elbow, or bring the rope together in a series of
small bunches. (If you do not allow the rope to rotate, the bunches will naturally form little figure eights.) Make the
coil tight by wrapping the rope horizontally, gathering the bunch of coils together. To finish the coil, pass a bight of
rope through the coils for use as a hand hold. The bight through the coils is not tied off in any way. When the coil is
tossed, the bight will slide back out and the bunches will unravel.

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Throw Lines & Throw Weights
For any crotch higher than about 20 feet, youll need to use a throw
bag and throw line. The throw bag (also called a throw weight) is generally a
vinyl pouch filled with lead shot, featuring a small metal ring onto which the
light and slippery throw line is attached.
Throw bags commonly range in weight from 8oz to 20oz. The weight
used for a given application is affected by tree height, bark properties, throwing
ability, and the type of throw line used. A lighter bag can be thrown higher, but
is less likely to glide back down. A very heavy bag might always return, but
you might not be able to launch it over the highest trees. COE currently uses
14oz weights.
There are three primary models of throw lines: Zing-It, Fling-It, and
Slick Line. Zing-It and Fling-It are practically equivalent. Both are sold in
1.75mm and 2.2mm diameters and are made of essentially the same material.
(Technically, Zing-It is made of Dyneema and Fling-It is made of Spectra, both
of which are high performance polyethylene). Zing-It and Fling-It are
incredibly strong, with breaking strengths between 400 and 600 pounds,
depending on diameter. Slick Line is an inexpensive alternative to Spectra
throw lines. Made of 1/8 braided polyethylene, Slick Line is only about half
the price (and strength) of Zing-It. COE currently uses 180 foot lengths of
2.2mm Zing-it line.
There are a lot of types of small diameter nylon cord available that
could be used as a throw line, but we dont recommend using them. Nylon fibers create much more friction than
Spectra fibers do when running over bark- often enough to prevent your throw weight from returning to the ground.
Accessory cord and parachute cord also have relatively loose weaves compared to the tight braids of throw lines.
However, nylon cord does have its use in tree climbing. At a fraction of the cost of throw lines, parachute cord can be
bought in bulk to leave in trees after they have been climbed. This allows you to easily gain access to your favorite
trees without having to throw for the good crotch again. The practice of pre-rigging trees saves a lot of time while
running a course, or returning to a favorite tree for a recreational climb.
Whichever throw line you choose, take care to store it properly to prevent kinks and knots. Throw lines should
always be flaked in some type of stuff sack or bucket. If you put your throw line on the ground it will become tangled
in the undergrowth and debris. Also, dont try to coil your throw line. (Or if you are one of those experiential learners,
coil it once. After you spend an hour trying to untangle it, youll never do it again.) Storing your line in a bucket will
ensure that it is always ready for use and will pay out (for the most part) without tangling. There are many throw line
bags or mugs commercially available for neatly storing a throwing kit on your harness. Remember to secure the other
end of the throw line to your bucket. We tie the one end through a hole in the bottom of our line buckets. Securing the
end of the line helps prevent knots from forming, and also makes sure that the line wont get away from you with a very
long toss.

Hand Tossing Throw Weights
Hand tossing throw
weights into trees is the most
common way to gain access to
the canopy. Start by attaching
your line to the weights ring
with a secure knot that will be
easy to remove. A bowline
works well for this purpose. A
knotted loop large enough to fit
over the weight can also be attached to the ring using a girth hitch. Any knot can be used to create this loop (overhand,
figure 8, bowline), as it will not have to be untied.
Now pass a bight of throw line through the ring. This allows you to hold onto the bight with one hand, and the
standing end with the other hand. If desired, you can pass another bight back through the ring to provide a finger loop
for each hand. Adjust your grip on the line to allow the weight to be suspended equally by both hands and to hang at
shin level.
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With your back to the crotch youre aiming for, tilt your head straight back until you can see your target. If
looking back that far hurts your neck, your probably too far from the tree. Initially, it can help to have someone tell you
if your shoulders are lined up with the tree. With your arms extended, swiftly swing the weight from between your legs,
up and backwards over your head. Release the line with both hands at once so the weight travels in the desired
direction. Once you get good at this, try facing the target crotch with the throw line bucket in front of you. Students
generally find this harder, but the best throwers in the world toss this way.
Often you will miss your target on the first try, but
still get the weight over an undesirable branch. Rather than
pulling it back over the branch, its better to lower the weight
and untie it from the throw line. Retrieving a throw line can
go from effortless to impossible if the throw bag wraps
around a branch or gets jammed in a crotch. The saying an
ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, certainly
applies here.
In a tree with highly textured bark or when using a
nylon throw line, weights can get suspended in the canopy
solely by the friction of the line on the bark. In these
situations you will have to coax the weight back to you. You
might even have to promise to take it to dinner and buy it
flowers. Retrieving the weight requires plucking the throw
line like a bowstring. The goal of plucking is to momentarily
give the line enough tension to make the bag bounce up, then
immediately release all tension so the bag has as little
resistance as possible on the downward portion of its bounce.
It is a skill that requires some practice to develop. If
you pluck too softly, the bag doesnt move at all. If you
pluck too hard or dont release all the tension afterwards,
youll usually see the weight move up rather than down. In
tricky situations, downward progress of the weight can be as
little as an inch at a time, if at all. Using Zing-It or Fling-It
will eliminate the need to pluck the line in all but the most
challenging of trees.


If you cannot coax the bag down by bowstringing try again.
And again. Then give your co-instructor a try at it. Once everyone
and their dog has had a crack at it, you might end up having to pull the
throw bag back over the limb. Be cautious and go slowly. If you pull
the bag back to fast it might flip around the branch from which it is
suspended. (Its a conservation of momentum thing. Think of a
pendulum whose string is getting pulled. As the pendulum gets shorter
the swinging get pretty wild.) If the bag gets caught up in the canopy
you can put a little extra tension on the line by adding a carabiner with
which to pull. (Try tying a munter hitch in the throw line a knot will
just get impossibly tight around the carabiner.) As you become more
frustrated and yank ever harder on the throw line, watch out that the
bag doesnt suddenly come loose and fly out of the tree. Guess what
direction it will be headed? Correct! Right at you! Almost a pound of
lead going that fast hurts when it smacks into your little toe. (Can you
hear the voice of experience?) If you must pull hard, you can gain a
measure of safety by redirecting your pull around the trunk of an
adjacent tree. But remember, the throw line is relatively expensive -
you dont want to break it. Also, dont go crazy pulling hard on an
irretrievably stuck throw bag; Keith still carries the scar on his hand
from the recoil of a broken line.

Big Shot Line Launcher
If you have your eye on a really tall tree or a tree that requires
accurate line placement, the Big Shot is your solution. Essentially a
12



sling shot atop an 8 foot pruning pole, the Big Shot will easily and accurately send a throw bag over 100 feet high.
Even for smaller trees the Bigshot offers a distinct advantage. It tosses the bag with a very flat trajectory compared to
what you can generally achieve by hand tossing. This is particularly good when the tree is congested with branches.
You can blast the throw bag through the brush and over the perfect crotch.
The Big Shot can be used with the same throw weights and throw lines used for hand tossing, although the
bullet shaped throw bags fit better into the Bigshot pouch. While a version is available that collapses into 4 foot
sections, the Big Shot is still bulky and awkward to carry- especially for those trees buried deep in the forest. We
generally reserve the big shot for times when it is required or when time is limited. In Costa Rica, weve avoided
carrying the pruning poles, and harvested some local bamboo poles and tied the launching head to the bamboo poles.

The Bigshot is a great big time saver, but it can also give you a great big
injury. When launching, always wear eye protection and a helmet. The rubber
slings break after a while (were on our third in as many years), and when they do
they could potentially recoil in you face. The throw bag also may recoil if the
throw line gets tangled. Place the throw bag in the Bigshot pouch so that the
center of gravity of the bag is in the center of the pouch. It is essential to have
your throw line stacked in an open bucket or bag made for this purpose. Throw
line stacked on the ground will invariably pick up sticks, twigs and leaves. The
bucket should be placed in front of the Bigshot to prevent you from getting tangled
in the rapidly moving line.

Sling Shots and Bows
Many people have come up with methods to set lines using hunting bows
or wrist braced sling shots. Due to the lack of a commercially available product,
the best of these inventions have most likely not proven to be reliable or user
friendly enough to market. Sling shots and bows work optimally in conjunction
with lightweight fishing line on an open face real, as the weight of traditional throw line compared to the weight of the
projectile severely affects range and accuracy. New Tribe, a company dedicated mainly to outfitting recreational tree
climbers, sells blunt tip arrows and a reel mount for compound bows so you can experiment with your own systems.
Before pulling your main climbing rope up, you first need to pull up a heavier cord as the fishing line will not
be strong enough to pull the rope over a branch. Hand tossing and the Bigshot are sufficient for all current COE course
offerings.
Repositioning the Throw Line
When you successfully place your throw line over the desired branch, the line will usually run over
neighboring branches too. Frequently it is necessary to isolate the rope over a single branch or just get the throw line
off of a suspect branch. When repositioning throw lines, it can be helpful to have an extra throw line and weight.
Repositioning the throw line can be as simple as pulling the throw bag back over a branch. This method is
used often when the throw bag goes over the desired branch and a smaller branch behind it. Isolating the larger branch
will avoid damage to the smaller branch and provide a safer climb, as breaking a supporting branch can suddenly
introduce a dangerous amount of slack into the system. Branches can easily be deselected from either end of the line by
attaching the throw weight to the appropriate side of the throw line.
Sometimes when you pull a weight back over branch it will get caught in a crotch. If the bag is no longer
hanging, you probably wont be able to get the bag back in either direction. You can avoid this situation by tying a
second throw line to the weight. There is often another loop on the throw bag put there for this purpose. With a line on
both sides of the bag you can pull in two different directions. If the bag wont go over a limb you can pull the bag back
to the ground with the other line, untie it, retrieve the line and try throwing for a different position.
Attaching Your Climbing Line to the Throw Line
There are many possible ways to tie your climbing line to you throw line. All of the methods use some sort of
streamlined strategy that allows the lines to be joined without a bulky knot. Most depend on some variant of a half,
clove, or friction hitch. We used these methods for years and they work perfectly wellmost of the time. All it takes,
however, is that one time when you spend all day throwing for the perfect crotch only to have your friction hitch
subsequently stripped off the climbing rope like insulation off a wire and you will curse the hitch methods for all
eternity. These days we use a method that is common on ropes courses. We take a hot nail and melt a hole through the
rope about one inch from the end. We then tie a short length of parachute cord through the hole and shrink wrap or duct
tape the whole lot of it together with just a bit of the parachute cord sticking out. We have found this type of connection
to be very strong and reliable. We no longer hear the depressing sound of our rope and throw line cascading to the
13



ground on either side of the tree!
To pull up your climbing line, untie the throw bag and put it in your line bucket. Resist the urge to toss it on
the ground! We have lost more gear this way than we care to admit. Tie your throw line to the loop of parachute cord
(the haul loop) with a bowline and start pulling.

As the rope goes up it will get
heavier and heavier until the climbing line
hits the crotch. At this point the friction
will probably increase even more as your
climbing line drags over the crotch.
Hold on tightly and pull hard.
The line will probably come along over
the branch. If it doesnt, try walking
backwards away from the trunk of the tree
to change the angle of pull. This is
particularly effective if you can walk
uphill. Alternately, you can munter-hitch
a carabiner to the throw line to use as a
handhold for more tension. Grab the spine
of the carabineer and the throw line in one
hand and pull hard (not too hard,
remember. Snapped lines will recoil right at you), then slide the munter-hitch up higher up the throw line. As the throw
line comes down, stack it carefully back in your throw line bucket.
If the rope is really stuck, try lowering your rope and tying it onto the other side of the throw line. Sometimes
the geometry of the crotch creates a barrier in one direction and not the other. Heres a general flow of events for
getting your rope into the tree:

1. Identify potential hazards (tree health, power lines, etc)
2. Pick a good crotch, high enough to give access to tree,
branches bigger than ones thigh.
3. Shoot your throw line over a desired crotch.
4. Untie your weight
5. Tie the throw line to the haul loop with a bowline.
6. Pull the throw line and simultaneously stuff the throw line back in the bucket.


Section B3: In-Tree Anchoring Options
Once you have a throw line in the tree its time to consider your options for anchoring the line and eventually
anchoring your students in the tree. Anchoring is a very well developed science in the rock climbing world. There are
complex issues of equalization, redundancy, angles and forces and so on. Tree climbing has some of these concerns in
common, but there are three significant differences. First, the points we attach ourselves to the tree are generally very
strong and reliable. There are plenty of opportunities to select an idea point, and no necessity to make the best of a non-
ideal placement. Second, because we are not falling dynamically on our anchor points, the expected forces are lower.
And lastly, the points to which we attach ourselves are smooth, round and relatively soft. It is very unlikely that a sling
will abrade through as can happen on a sharp rock in a cliff setting. For this reason, basket hitches, which you almost
never see in the rock climbing world, are perfectly acceptable in the tree climbing world.
However, this does mean that single point failure is a more common consideration. Before you get too
worried, realize that single point failure occurs commonly in all climbing settings. You rock climb with one rope, one
carabiner linking your one belay device to your one harness. In tree climbing you are also probably climbing on one
crotch or one sling around that crotch. Two ways we deal with the serious consequences of single point failure are
overbuilding the anchors and establishing protocols to double check the security of key points. If we over build our
anchors, we are less likely to ever approach the breaking strength of the attachment. If we double check the entire
climbing system every time anyone makes a transition, we are likely to catch errors before they become accidents.

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Friction Savers
COE uses three anchoring systems for the tops of trees. The first, called a
friction saver is commonly used in the tree care industry to prevent damage to the
trees cambium and to your ropes. It consists of durable doubled and stitched nylon
webbing with aluminum and steel rings. Both type of ring are sufficiently strong.
Aluminum wears more rapidly, but dissipates heat more efficiently, which is important
when lowering on the friction saver with a high load, as in the case of a rescue with
two people on the main ascension line. Friction Savers can also be wrapped around a
stem for use as a false crotch where no natural crotch exists over which to run a line.
We use Buckingham friction savers in the 48 and 72 inch lengths. (You will need a
friction saver that is longer around than the limb to which you are anchoring.)
Interestingly, though it seems impossible, especially to rock climbers who dont think
in these terms, you can install the friction saver in a tree entirely from the ground with
nothing but a throw bag and weight.
Wrap-Three-Pull-Two
The second type of attachment we sometimes use is
the wrap-three-pull-two (W3P2) webbing anchor. As the name
suggests, we take a long piece of 1 inch tubular nylon webbing,
wrap it three times around the crotch and tie it with a water
knot. (Remember that a water knot should have at least 3 inch
tails.) We then pull out two of the wraps, tightening the third
against the crotch, and add two locking carabiners with their
gates opposite and opposed. One could also use three non-
locking carabiners opposite and opposed to each other, but
there are so few times we use a non-locking carabiner, it just
makes sense to leave them home and use the locking ones.
We use W3P2 for a rope anchor anywhere there is a
chance our pre-rigged trees will be raided and the gear stolen.
Two carabiners and a long sling are a lot cheaper than a
manufactured friction saver!
Although this method is not redundant, the likelihood
of the sling severing while on a round limb is small. The
strength of the rig is roughly four times the static breaking
strength of the webbing. If the water knot is tied to be inside
the third loop, we estimate the strength to be upwards of 5,000
lbs.
Running Figure-Eight Anchor lines

Lastly, we frequently run into the need for a
system to anchor a bunch of participants in the tree
temporarily, as they transfer between climbing and
rappelling, for example, or sit around on the deck of our
platform tree. If your students dont need to move very
far, you can employ a running figure eight in the middle
of a 40 foot chunk of climbing line. The running eight is
installed in a high crotch and the two lengths that extend
below are available to students to transfer their ascenders
to when they reach the tree top. For additional piece of
mind, we tie a figure eight on a bight and clip it back to
the participants harness while they are on these lines.


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Section B4: Ascending Systems

Once you have your rope in the tree you have a multitude of options for climbing it. The options can be
broadly grouped into two strategies, Single Rope Technique (SRT) and Doubled Rope Technique (DdRT). At a basic
level, single rope technique is comparable to climbing up a single rope as high school kids do in gym class. Imagine a
draped rope with both ends of the ground and the middle in the tree. Tie one side of the rope to the ground and climb
up the other side.
Doubled rope technique is comparable to hauling yourself up a rope using a 2:1 pulley system. Imagine again
a draped rope in a tree. Tie one side of the rope to you and pull down on the other side. Climbing hardware, friction
knots, and accessories are added in real SRT and DdRT systems to provide certain levels of safety.
SRT versus DdRT

So which technique is better? SRT and DdRT both have their advantages and disadvantages, and each has its
shining moments. Almost every tree climbing school in the country teaches DdRT. However, we start with single rope
technique. To understand why this is, we need to know more about both techniques.

Minimum Gear Required
DdRT uses significantly less gear.
However, for a university program with a rock
climbing program, your initial gear expense might
not be as large if you chose to use SRT. SRT
utilizes gear already present in any rock climbers
cache: a rope, slings, carabiners and ascenders (or
prusiks). While a static rope is preferred, a
dynamic rope will also get the job done. At a
minimum, DdRT requires an arborist rope to
utilize rope-on-rope friction hitches. However,
once you invest in an arborist rope, most DdRT
systems only require one additional steel D-link.
All arborist ropes will work with prusiks, and
many are specifically designed to withstand the
abuse of toothed ascenders - making them
compatible with SRT techniques.


Inherent Mechanical Advantage
SRT doesnt provide any mechanical
advantage for upward movement, while DdRT
provides a nominal 2:1 advantage. However, this
does not mean that DdRT is always easier. Many
people have some difficulty getting the idea of the
hip thrusting and foot-locking techniques often
used in DdRT, although adding a foot loop makes
this method trivial. SRT techniques are generally
more strenuous, especially for overweight or top
heavy people. However, of the many SRT
climbing methods, some are easier than others.
We have found that using the Frog Style
ascending method anyone can handle SRT.

Ascending Speed
Because of mechanical advantage, DdRT is generally slower than SRT. But just as people find one method
easier than the other, ascension speed will depend on technique and strength.

Force Applied to Branch
A simple analysis of the physics of each system will show that SRT nominally applies twice the climbers
weight to the branch, while DdRT doesnt provide any force multiplication. Keith says, If I ever trusted my life to a
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branch small enough to require DdRT, youd find someone right next to me holding a gun to my head forcing me to do
so. The difference in branch loading is interesting to know, but you should never come close to using a branch small
enough for it to matter.

Amount of Rope that Runs Over Branch
In SRT, the only rope movement over the supporting branch is caused by rope stretch, which is less than a foot
or two with static rope. In DdRT, the rope moves with you. If you climb 50 feet, the rope runs 50 feet. In this way
there is much more potential for DdRT to damage the tree. This is a especially concern for the institutional setting as
we tend to operate in the same trees over and over again. To reduce damage to the tree, any rope that will abrade the
tree should be used in conjunction with a false crotch or cambium saving type of device.

Ease of Getting Multiple People into a Tree
An SRT system is like an escalator. As soon as one person is up a little ways, another may get on. A DdRT system is
then more like an elevator with a one person capacity. Once someone gets off the DdRT at the top, like an elevator the
rope must be sent down to the ground floor to pick up another person. For this reason, getting multiple people into a
canopy via DdRT is impractical unless each person has his own rope and crotch. With ten students this starts to spread
the class out of a large area, a situation whose safety is more difficult to manage.

Ease of Lowering
There are a number of circumstances
where you might want to be able to get your
student back down to the ground in a hurry. A
student can get scared, exhausted, or their
equipment may jam or fail. If a student is
knocked silly by falling gear or water bottle, it is
imperative that we be able to put them on the
ground immediately. We have had more than
one instance of insect attacks while ascending in
tropical trees.
Lowering yourself on a DdRT system
is trivial. Lowering someone else on their
doubled rope system requires that you get within
reach of him or her in order to tend to his
Blakes Hitch. This can take time. In the SRT
system a student lowering themselves is a
complicated process. Generally it involves a multi-step changeover to rappel, definitely not something that a new
student will master in a basic class, or will be able to perform while exhausted, scared, or while being stung by 100
bees.
On the face of it, lowering someone else on their SRT system also seems complicated and impractical.
However, we use a SRT rope configuration called the Full Circle which allows an instructor to put a student on the
ground in seconds. In a basic class where students have only basic skills, this rig is essential for safety.


Canopy Movement
Doubled rope technique is the best method for canopy movement, hands down. The ease of lateral movement
provided by using a Blakes Hitch is vastly superior to the clunky methods required when using ascenders and belay
devices.
Heres how the SRT/DdRT comparison stacks up in our circumstances:

Attribute
Doubled Rope Technique Single Rope Technique
Gear Specialized for tree Available from Rock
How strenuous? Easiest with foot power assist Manageable with Frog System
Speed Slower Faster
Tree Impact Potentially High Probably Low
Multiple people? Hard to Manage Easier to Manage
Lowering an injured person? Slower Faster
Lateral Movement in Tree Superb Terrible
17




For an organization like ours, using rock climbing gear reduced our initial investment. Being able to move a
lot of people up into a tree in a small amount of time, using the same trees again and again with minimal impact, and
being able to get an injured or scared climber back to the ground very rapidly all argued strongly for the use of Single
Rope Technique.
After running two or three courses this way we realized that although people liked to be able to get into a big
tree, the very next thing they wanted to do was to move around. Doubled Rope Technique is vastly superior for this, so
in the end we compromised. To get into trees we teach SRT. Once people are familiar with harnesses, ropes, knots,
anchors and height, we introduce Doubled Rope Technique.
The bottom line: If you have rock gear, the quickest and cheapest way to start tree climbing is SRT. If you do
not have rock gear, you might consider starting from scratch with DdRT, especially if you have some durable trees or
want to invest in some friction savers. If you want to provide a good overview of all the techniques used in recreational
tree climbing, you will probably end up teaching aspects of both.
SRT Full Circle Elevator Rig

The Full Circle Rig is a SRT rope geometry we use for our main ascension line. It is a standard length
(60meter) static climbing rope tied in a circle with a Flemish Bend. The loop of rope is tied to a ground anchor with a
secured munter mule knot. We place the Flemish bend just above the secured munter mule knot. If a student ascending
needs to come back down, we merely untie the mule portion of the secured munter mule and lower the participant on
the munter hitch.
The Full Circle gives us several important advantages. First, it is a lowerable system. This has proven
valuable on numerous occasions when students became exhausted, scared, had gear failure, or were attacked by insects.
Compared to the complicated pick off or cut away type rescues of a hanging climber the advantages are obvious.
Its quick, easy, cheap, safe and anyone can do it. The Full Circle rig also eliminates the chance of lowering someone
off the end of the rope, as there is no end of the rope off which to be lowered. Finally, it maximizes the height you can
safely ascend with a single rope. If we had to retain 1/3 of the length of the rope on the ground for a traditional
lowerable single rope rig, we would not be able to reach the tops of the trees in New York with our standard length
climbing lines.

Full Circle Ground Anchor

The Full Circle rig requires a ground anchor for the secured munter mule. We wrap a 20 foot length of
webbing around the base of the same or an adjacent tree and tie the ends together with a figure eight on a bight. When
the system is weighted the multiple wraps tighten on the base of the tree. Flat webbing helps spread the pressure on the
tree cambium. If the tree is very large, we use 40 foot pieces of static climbing rope for the same purpose. (This is
solely because we happen to have those lengths available to us from the rock climbing program. We could as easily tie
two 20 ft pieces of webbing in the same way.) One often sees girth hitch-like tie-offs to make a ground anchor, because
they very effectively grabbing the base of the tree. Although the forces we are likely to encounter are small, we avoid
using this system as it needlessly amplifies the force on the anchor line. Also, as students bounce on the ascending line,
the motion is occasionally transmitted down the rope to the hitch. If the girth hitch is tied rope on rope is can cause
abrasion.

Assembling the Secured Munter
Mule Tie-off
For security and
redundancys sake, we add two
carabiners to the figure eight on a
bight on our ground anchor. We
then locate the Flemish Bend
joining the ends of the rope. We
position this just above the ground
anchor and tie a munter hitch. The
munter hitch functions which ever
way the rope runs. When the rope
direction changes the hitch inverts
through the carabiners. (It is still
the same hitch, merely flipped
18



over.)
Cinch up the rope so the Flemish bend is close to the ground anchor, then pull upward to flip the munter hitch
to the orientation it would have in lowering the climber. (As the system was tightened it would probably suck in some
slack and invert anyhow, so its a good idea to set it that way to begin with.)
Tie off the munter hitch with a mule knot. The mule knot is essentially a slip knot tied around the rope. It is
this slippery character that makes it useful; one can untie the mule knot merely by grasping the brake side of the rope
and pulling. If we used an overhand on a bight, for example, untying it would involve being very careful one had a hold
of the correct strand as one unthreaded the other.
The mule knot is also slightly tricky. It is very stable in the correct orientation, and not very stable at all in the
incorrect orientation. Be sure you learn which is correct!
For extra security, we finish the tie-off with an overhand backup and clip the end back to the main line with a
locking carabiner. Make sure that the lead instructor examines this vital tie off before anyone begins to ascend.
SRT Ascending
The crux of all technical tree climbing is
learning to climb the rope safely. There are probably 100
different ways one can do so. On Rope has a nice
tabulated side by side comparison of the most popular
methods in caving and rock climbing. The basic safety
principles all revolve around two ideas: the rope grab
and resting. You need a way to grab the rope and you
need a safe way to rest. A harness is essential for the
resting aspect, but there are a few different methods for
creating a rope grab.
Arborists use friction hitches (Blakes,
Taughtline, Distel, Schwabisch, etc.) that provide rope-
on-rope friction. Mountaineers, big-wall rock climbers
and cavers generally use toothed-cam mechanical
ascenders. The most basic system simply involves a seat
harness, and some loops of accessory cord tied with
prusik knots. The fanciest systems employed by cavers
who need to climb out of 300m deep pits involve many
mechanical ascenders, various pulleys, a chest harness
and elastic cords. In our tree climbing courses at COE
we rely mainly on the Texas Kick system for SRT. If our
participants find this mode challenging, we switch to the
Frog System. On our alternate ascensions day we
introduce other SRT climbing methods before we switch
to DdRT and practice the Blakes Hitch split tail system.

Texas Kick
The Texas Kick is a simple system and robust
rope climbing system, easy to learn, accessible for most
students, and easy to transition on and off of. When used
with the full circle elevator, it is substantially safer than
climbing a mountaineering-style fixed line.
The Texas Kick uses:

Three webbing slings (two short, one long)
Two ascenders
A sit harness

Ascending slings
We join our ascenders to our harnesses with 1 inch wide tubular webbing tied into a loop with a water knot.
They are used solely for this purpose. We made all these ascension slings yellow as an easy way for students to identify
them. Rotate the sling so the water knot is close to the top of the loop and girth hitch it through a lower hole in the
ascender. Girth hitch the other end through the leg loops and waist loop of your harness if using the rock climbing
style, or through your tie in point on an arborist style harness. Girth hitching adds strain to the webbing, but being
19



stationary in this case the girth hitch doesnt abrade. And, really, it is just too darn convenient not to use for this
purpose. These slings should never experience much more than body weight loading, so the additional strain should be
inconsequential.
The length of the ascending sling to the upper ascender is important. Too short and the system will be
inefficient, limiting the student to short steps (or a short throw, as we call each upward stroke of the ascenders). Too
long and the upper ascender will go out of reach. The length of ascension sling to the lower ascender is not as critical.
It acts as a backup connection to your harness in case the upper ascender should come off the rope.
We find that 80 inches tied into a loop 36 inches long is a good length for
the ascending slings when used in conjunction with a rock climbing style harness.
Tall people will be able to use the sling without modifications. Tying an overhand
or two in the sling will shorten it up for shorter people. When estimating the
appropriate length, remember that when you sit down in your harness, the waist
loop with bulge upward a few inches. We find that a good length ascension sling
puts the ascender at about chin height while you are standing on the ground and
about forehead height when you are hanging on the rope.

Foot Sling
The third sling is also a piece of 1 inch tubular webbing. We use 10 foot
lengths that we borrow from the rock climbing program. A more convenient
length would be 96 inches. When doubled, the foot slings should measure about
40 inches. The foot sling is girth hitched to the lower ascender. If the participant
steps into the sling and holds the girth hitched ascender up, their elbow should be
at about a 90 degree bend.

Putting It All together
Before ascending the Full Circle, double-check the ground anchor, the full circle tie-off, harness, water knots,
and girth hitches. Try using the ABCs list for reminders of all the components:

ABCDEFGH Safety Check for Ascending

A Ascenders: Is the webbing tied correctly together, to your harness, and to your ascenders?
B Belay Device: Do you have one with you to get back down?
C Carabiners: Do you have at least two locking carabiners to use for anchoring and rappelling?
D Doubled Back: Is your harness doubled back?
E Eight Knot: Is the figure eight knot joining the ropes tied correctly?
F Full Circle: Is the full circle tied off correctly? (secured munter mule)
GH Got Helmet: Do you have your helmet on?

To start climbing up the rope attach both ascenders to the
climbing rope. The upper ascender will only link the rope and
your harness. The lower ascender joins the rope to your harness
and also has a hanging foot loop. Pull as much slack through you
ascenders as possible. (It will help for you to do this for a first
time ascending student.) Sit down in your harness, and let your
upper ascender take your weight. Then slide the lower ascender
up as high as is comfortable. Then stand up in the sling attached to
the lower ascender. This will release the weight on the top
ascender, allowing you to slide it up the rope. As soon as the
upper ascender reaches its limit, sit back down. New students tend
to linger in the stand up portion of the kick, tiring out their arms
prematurely. Repeat the sit-stand process and you will inch your
way up the rope. The rhythm is Stand, Shove, Sit.
Sometimes when a climber is close to the ground, the
lower ascender wont pull up smoothly on the rope. It is helpful to
put tension on the rope until your student is about 20 feet off the
ground. After that point, there is enough weight hanging below
the lower ascender for it to feed properly. Alternatively you can
attach weight (often called a pig) to help hold the rope down.
When you are teaching students at first to climb the rope, coaching is essential. Encourage them to use their
20



legs as much as possible. Make sure they get their legs under their butt instead of out in front of them as they stand up.
They can put both feet in the slings if they want. Tell them to face the soles of their shoes together; it will be easier to
stand and also makes them look like a frog. Double plus.
It is not necessary to tie backup figure eight knots below you as you climb, a practice known as tying in
short. Both ascenders are not likely to come off a vertical rope in a dry environment. However, one should never
climb above the point where your ascenders connected to the rope. A fall of this type onto ascenders is dangerous. The
ascender cam will bite into the rope and rip off the sheath.

Prusik Knot Climbing System

If you do not have ascenders, or if you are on a tight budget, you can build the same Texas Kick system with
two prusik loops. The upper connection to the rope is tied with a standard length prusik loop and attaches directly to
your harness with a locking carabiner. The
lower attachment for your feet is tied with a
longer length of accessory cord. When the
prusik knot is tied in the open orientation
two ends are available. One goes to your
harness, the other to your foot.

This system is one of the cheapest
ways of climbing a rope. All that is needed is
about 25 feet of accessory cord and a couple
carabiners. We introduce it to our students on
the day we teach alternative ascension
method. If the prusik knots become very tight
they will be difficult to advance. Pushing on
the bridge of the prusik will loosen it enough
to continue on.
One should always take precautions against falling onto the prusik. Unlike other friction knot systems, the
prusik is not likely to slip on the rope under high load. Rather, the utility cord will snap near the knot and leave you
with no connection to the rope.
NOTE: It is fairly common practice for rock climber to ascend with only one prusik joining the harness to the
rope. If you are ascending this way, with the second prusik only for your foot and not connected to your harness, make
sure to tie backup knots every eight feet on the rope below you. (You can use a clove hitch which you can advance
without untying, or you can use two figure eight on a bight knots and switch them out.)

The Frog System

If you have a weak or overweight participant who has difficulty with the Texas Kick, we recommend trying the
Frog Style climbing scheme. The Frog system, named for the frog like motion of this method, uses both hands and feet
for the upward motion. For people who are top-heavy
this system saves a lot of energy because it holds their
upper body close to the rope, reducing strain on the
abdominal muscles. The Frog system uses:

One handled ascender
One non-handled ascender
Two or three slings
Two carabiners (or a steel link)
Chest harness

The ascender without a handle (a Petzl Croll or
Basic) is attached as low as possible to your seat harness.
The lower it is attached, the longer the stroke and more
efficient the technique will be. The lower ascender is
also attached to a chest harness. As you stand up, the
chest harness will hold the lower ascender in the correct
orientation and drag it up the rope. To get the tension just right an adjustable chest harness is highly desirable. You can
21



rig up a chest harness with webbing, but we recommend a commercial adjustable one intended for this purpose. A non-
adjustable home made chest harness will either be too loose while you are hanging on rope, or painfully tight when you
are not.
The second ascender is placed on the rope above the chest ascender. It is also attached to the harness by a
length of webbing. The length of this webbing is not critical, but should be long enough for you to stretch your arms up
to their full length (about 30 inches). If you join your chest ascender and upper ascender with the same link to you
harness, you should do so with a steel link. (Aluminum carabiners are susceptible to cross loading when more than two
points are joined.) Alternately, you can girth hitch your upper ascender as you do with the Texas Kick. The upper
ascender also should have one or two foot loops long enough to reach from your feet to just above the chest ascender. It
is essential for this method to have a small amount of tension on the rope below the climber. This will help the rope
feed smoothly through the chest ascender. A small weight (it can be anything, really some rope, or a backpack) can
be tied to the end of the ascending rope just above the ground. This weight is often referred to as a pig, hence the
expression, Every frog needs a pig.
To ascend the rope, install both ascenders. Reach up with both arms and legs and pull/step down. As you go
upward the chest ascender should capture the slack. As with a Texas Kick, dont linger at the top of the stroke. Just sit
right back down the in the harness. The rhythm is Everything up, everything down.
This system is very efficient, but is a little difficult to detach when another climber is on the same rope below.
Compared to the Texas kick, which gives the user about 15 inches of flexibility between the rope and the person, the
Frog System supplies almost none. If you have a student who is using this system, be careful in how you plan to land
them in the tree after they have reached the top. It is a good idea to either wait until the person using the Frog has
detached themselves from the elevator before sending up the second student, or send the Frog person up last.

The Yo-Yo Method

Every once in a while well introduce the Yo-Yo method, mainly as a novelty, as it is gear intensive and can
only be used by one person at a time. You are most likely to use it on your own while rigging a shorter tree for class.
The Yo-Yo system uses:

One Petzl auto locking belay device called a GriGri
One handled ascender
Two carabineers
One micro pulley
One 60 inch sling

Attach the GriGri to your climbing line
and to your harness with a carabineer through
your tie-in points. This keeps the Grigri as low
as possible on the harness, the throw longer, and
the efficiency better. Attach your handled
ascender above your Grigri. The upper ascender
should have a 60 inch foot loop girth hitched
through one of the ascender attachment points.
We regard the Grigri as a sufficiently reliable
connection to the rope, but if you want you can
also join the upper ascender to your harness.
(Before you object, recall that you are making
the same assumption anytime you are belayed
by this device!)
To the other attachment point add a
carabiner and micro pulley. Redirect the brake
strand from the Grigri up through the micro
pulley. It might take a moment to arrange all
the components so they are properly aligned.
At first glance the Yo-Yo Method seems to have a 2:1 mechanical advantage. However, in practice the 2:1
aspect is only active when capturing slack. The lift is accomplished with pressure on the upper ascender and foot loops,
just as in the Frog System. The slack is then captured with the Grigri. Because the Grigri reverses the direction of the
ascending rope, it is ergonomically convenient to redirect it back down by a micro pulley on your upper ascender.
To ascend, put one hand on the downstream side of the rope, one hand on the upper ascender, and one foot in
22



the foot sling. Raise these three points, and then pull/step down with all three points. The rhythm is the same as the
Frog, Everything up, everything down.
A distinct advantage to this system is its reversibility. To retreat, one only has to remove the upper ascender
and lower away on the Grigri. (David once escaped a swarm of bees by this very mechanism.) A distinct disadvantage
is that as you advance the upper ascender, you need to pick up all the rope hanging below you. This is inconsequential
on a short climb, but after 100 feet, it gets laborious.
.
Footlocking

In SRT or DdRT the simplest way to
grab the rope is with your own two feet!
Footlocking, as this is called, is a bit of an
art-form. Some students require a lot of
practice while others pick it up immediately. In
essence, you using the friction of rope wrapped
around your feet to substitute for a mechanical
ascender or friction knot.
Allow the rope to run down the
outside of either foot, then scoop the rope up
with your other foot and bring it under the first.
With the heel of the second foot, press the rope
against the top of your first. (Plastic arches on
running shoes make this technique almost
impossible because the rope slides easily on
plastic. Rubber soled boots are better.) This
method should give you enough purchase on
the rope to stand up without your feet skidding
down the rope, and is quick and easy to reset.
Practice this technique by hanging a
rope from a tree, and grabbing both strands of the rope as high as you can reach. Pick up your weight off the ground,
and use your feet like scissors to grab the weight and transfer your from your hands to your feet. This is called
unsecured foot locking. Be careful not to get higher than a few feet off the ground!
A similar method uses a prusik (or two ascenders back to back) to provide a way of resting on the rope. This
system, called secured foot-locking is one of the simplest rope climbing systems. It generally wins the fastest rope
climbing systems in the tree competitions, however we tend not use it in an institutional setting. You can also employ
this method in various other contexts in place of an ascender.

SRT Descending

The main technique we use to go
down in SRT mode is rappelling. It is
arguably the most dangerous thing we do in
tree climbing. Rappelling happens at the
end of the day when we are sometimes
tired, late, or hurrying to escape a lightning
storm. Unlike ascending, we start already
high off the ground. For these reasons, we
have detailed protocols for getting down.
Rappelling is accomplished with a
tube style belay/rappel device. We use this
in preference to a figure eight style
descender because the descending line
cannot invert into a girth hitch if it should
happen to rub up against the tree. A bight
of rope is pinched into the tube and along
with the belay devices keeper loop, clipped
to a locking carabiner of the belay loop of
the climbers harness. Because the rappel device is attached this way, the orientation of the brake side is directly
23



downward between the climbers legs, not off to the side on the hip as your uncle learned in the Boy Scouts (and as we
still see all too often). Once all the safety protocols have been executed (see below), the rappeller leans back against the
rope and slowly allows slack to slide through the device.
There are several key elements of safety to consider. First, it is crucial to determine the correct side of the Full
Circle Rope to use. Make sure to put the rappel device on the side opposite that tied to the ground anchor. Next, install
the rappel device and pull all the stretch out of the rope confirming that the other side of the rope tightens against the
ground anchor. If you do not pull out this slack, rope stretch will carry you down a few disconcerting feet before it
comes tight. Before you disconnect yourself from your anchor in the tree, slack off on your ascenders and weight the
rappel device. If something is rigged incorrectly and comes apart, you are still attached to you anchor line.
Once you have established that you are correctly attached to the rope, there are two remaining issues we need
to guard against: First, the rappel might become jammed. Check that all dangling ropes, hair, jewelry, and helmet chin
straps are secured away from the rappel device. (If, despite our best efforts to prevent it, the rappel becomes jammed,
you can always release the secured munter mule and lower the participant to the ground.) Second, the climber may lose
control of their brake hand. To guard against this, call to the ground instructor and request a Firemans Belay. By
putting pressure on the downstream side of the rope a ground instructor can hold the rappeller in position. (If you are on
your own, or have no ground instructor, you can guard against dropping your brake hand by using an autobock.)
Communication between the air and ground instructors is important during a rappel. If there are two Full Circle
lines in one tree, use first names. For example, the in-tree instructor requests: Firemans Belay on Johnny? After the
ground instructor gets a good grip on rope and is paying attention, the ground instructor replies Firemans Belay on
Steve!

Rappel Standard Procedure

1. Pull out the slack in the Full Circle line.
2. Attach your rappel device and locking carabiner to the Full Circle line.
3. Attach the ATC and carabiner to the belay loop of the harness, and lock the carabiner.
4. Transfer weight to the rappel without disconnecting the anchors to tree.
5. CRASH TESTeD safety double check.
6. Call for firemans belay with, Belay on?
7. Look for firemans belay, and listen for Belay on!
8. Call On Rappel.
9. Rappel to ground.
10. Detach the rappel device from the Full Circle line.
11. Yell up to air instructor Off Rappel

CRASH TEST(e)D Safety Check for Rappel

C - CARABINER: Is the carabiner locked?
R - RAPPEL: Is the rappel device threaded correctly?
A - ANCHOR: Is the ground anchor tied correctly and ready to go?
S - SIDE: Are we on the correct side of the rope?
H - HARNESS: Is the harness doubled back?

T - TEST: Did we test the rappel before disconnecting from our anchor lines?
D - DANGLING: Did we put away/secure all the dangling stuff?

Sometimes instructors will need to transfer directly to rappel on the Full Circle from hanging in their
ascenders. This is a complicated sequence that requires practice under the supervision of your lead instructor:

1. Reach down 10 feet in the line and tie a figure eight on a bight and clip it to your harness.
2. Slide the bottom ascender down rope (keeping it attached).
3. Thread the belay device, and lock the carabiner.
4. Pull out the slack in the rope to make the rappel device tight.
5. Call down to be held by a firemans belay, or tie an autoblock
6. Slide lower ascender up until it is about 6 inches below your belay device.
7. Stand up in your lower ascender and remove your top ascender.
8. Sit back down, and your weight should be on your rappel device, held either by the firemans belay or
autoblock.
9. Remove lower ascender and the backup knot.
24



10. Rappel to the ground.

Section D2: Doubled Rope Techniques

The great advantage of the many DdRT techniques is mobility.
One can move up, down, or sideways with ease. The basic set up has
the rope over a branch then tied back to the climber. The climber pulls
on one side and collects the slack by some mechanism. The slack
collecting system could be a friction hitch, or an ascender, or some other
device such as the Unicender, built specifically for this purpose.
A big concern with having students in trees using doubled rope
techniques is cambium damage. The cambium is very fragile, thin layer
of live tissue under the outer bark. Some species of trees have a thick
armored outer bark (tulip poplar, sugar maple, some oaks) while others
like sycamore have outer bark you can scratch through with your
fingernail. Weighted ropes running up back and forth over the same
crotch will permanently damage limbs, making them unsafe for future
climbing and compromising the trees health. At COE we have used
three systems for reducing this problem:

1) The False Crotch provides a separate connection to the branch,
eliminating rope friction. It is convenient so long as one takes
care not to get it tangled in the branches while installing it from
the ground.
2) Using old jeans from the thrift store, we have tied pads into the crotches we frequently use. The set up is easy
to make, cheap and durable.
3) The wrap-three-pull-two anchor is sometimes used in place of a false crotch, when we need to leave the anchor
in the tree unattended or for an extended period of time.

Blakes Hitch

The most common DdRT uses a Blakes hitch. In the normal incarnation of this method a rope is set over a
branch then tied back to the climbers harness. About five feet of slack is used to tie a Blakes Hitch back in a circle to
the main line. One climbs with this system by pulling down on the main line and advancing the hitch to collect the
slack. For foot purchase one can push off the tree trunk, or footlock, attach a prusik loop, or throw your hips up in the
air in a comical looking way called the hip thrust. For safety, make sure there are always stop knots in both ends of
the rope.

The utility of the Blakes Hitch itself is that it will slide
up and down the rope. This allows a climber to position
themselves with precision in the tree. To lower, one grasps the
line below the hitch with one hand and pushes down on the top
of the Blakes Hitch with the other. Care must be taken to
control the descent speed. If the hitch is released too fast, or
without sufficient tension on the brake side, the climber will fall
out of control. In addition, a climber should never go above their
Blakes Hitch. Falling onto a Blakes Hitch will cause the knot
to slip. It will quickly start to melt from the heat, sliding ever
faster until the climber hits the ground, or reaches the end of the
loop. In our drop tests the rope is often severed by the static
factor 1 fall.
The Blakes Hitch only functions well with arborist
rope. Because it relies on rope-on-rope friction, it will eventually wear out. COE uses New England Ropes Safety
Blue. The Safety Blue has an inner core of blue fibers surrounded by a 16 strand sheath of white fibers. When the blue
shows, its time to retire the rope.
One single Blakes Hitch rig is sufficient to get into the tree, but to move around you really need two. A
second Blakes Hitch allows you to pull yourself sideways, or swap branches, really bringing the whole tree into play.
25



We could simply use the other end of the rope to tie back to the harness and add another Blakes Hitch. The whole rig
has the shape of a letter M.
However, there is a problem. Take a close look at Devin using this system in the picture on page 14. In order to
move around the tree, Devin needs to completely untie one side of the rope, toss for a new crotch, and retie everything.
This includes the attachments to his harness and the Blakes Hitch. Thats a lot of untying and retying for a student. If
they get it wrong, they could be in trouble. Theres another problem with this rig, also. The Blakes Hitch relies on
rope-on-rope friction. This is not a problem for the length of the rope, as the impact on that side is spread out over
much more area, but it is for the hitch as the fibers inside the hitch are abraded over and over in the same spot.
Ultimately, the end of the rope wears out and must be cut off. For an institutional program, the possibility of a rope
getting shorter over time presents a management problem. We can fix both these problems at once by using the
variation on this Blakes Hitch rig called a split tail system or Motion Lanyard.

The Motion Lanyard

The essential difference between the Motion
Lanyard and single rope Blakes Hitch system is that the
Motion Lanyard uses separate lengths of rope for the
friction knots. Now when we want to move from place to
place we need not untie the Blakes Hitch. We simply
untie the end of the rope from our harness, toss for a new
limb, and retie it. Also, when the fibers inside the Blakes
Hitch wear out, we can throw out that piece and start with
a new one.
The long rope in this system is called the
lanyard and is a 60 to 80 foot piece of inch of Safety
Blue polyester arborist braided rope made by New
England ropes. The other two parts are separate 7 foot
lengths of Safety Blue Hi-Vee also made by New England
Ropes. These two pieces are called split-tails. It helps to
have the different colors of rope to keep the functions of
each piece clear.
Before climbing both of the 7 foot split tails are
tied directly to the tie-in points on the harness with a figure
of eight follow through. Then, both of the split tails are
tied to the lanyard with Blakes hitches. Each of these
Blakes hitches are tied with an overhand stopper knot, and
the Blakes hitches point towards the open ends of the
lanyard, thus in opposite directions.


Flip Flopping Up a Tree

The best option for getting into a big tree is always to try to shoot your weight as high as possible, install a
rope and ascend in some fashion. We usually use the Motion Lanyard only for moving around in the top of a tree, but it
is possible to use your Motion Lanyard to climb from the ground up. Flip Flopping as this is called, can be time and
energy consuming and somewhat frustrating.
To get this process started, coil up one end of your lanyard and toss it over the first branch of the tree. When
you get this end of the lanyard in your hand, tie it your harness. Then, start climbing up the rope by hip thrusting, foot
locking or using a prusik loop for your foot.
When you have reached the crotch, gather up the other side of your lanyard and toss it to the next branch above
you. Swing around until you get a hold of the end and tie it back to your harness. Before you untie from the last crotch,
climb up until you are sure your weight is on your new crotch, give it a friendly bounce, to make sure its strong, and
then untie your old loop. Then, repeat the process until you reach your destination.
It is very important double check your rig every time you flip-flop. You dont have to untie the Blakes hitch,
but you do have to retie the figure eight back to your harness. These are life supporting knots and should be given as
much attention as other life supporting parts of the system.
One might ask, If you are tying and untying all the time why not use a carabiner on the end of the rope?
When you are tossing that carabiner above your head, remember either it will come back down or it wont. If it does
come back down you have a surprisingly high chance of hitting yourself in the face with it. If it doesnt come back
26



down, it may have become stuck in a crotch. It can be hard to retrieve a carabiner stuck in this way. You only have two
sides to your Motion Lanyard; if youre hanging from one, and you get the other end stuck, your options are limited.
Keep the rope knot-free while tossing. Its the best way to go.

Moving Around the Canopy

Moving around the canopy is an essential skill for all tree climbers. In the large tropical trees of Costa Rica, we
frequently arrive far from where we want to be with our students. Your motion lanyard is the key tool but hand tossing
your lanyard is tricky. It is hard enough in a small tree. In a huge rainforest monster tree you probably wont be able to
throw far enough. Even if you could, you probably couldnt retrieve the end of your rope. In this case, we go back to
basics and use our throw weights.
If you know you are going to be doing a lot of canopy-level tossing, get a small bag that you can attach to your
harness to house your throw line and weight as you climb. A rock climbers chalk bag works well. Tree climbers call it
a line mug. You wont need to use all 180 feet of your throw line. Stuff most of it into your line mug, then tie it off
and leave about 40 free to spool out when you are tossing around in your tree. Also be 100% sure that the knot on your
throw line is tied off securely to your line mug or to your harness or youll loose the whole thing into the forest. And it
is a long way to go down to get it back.
If you throw your weight over a branch and it doesnt swing gently back, you have a problem. Remember from
tossing on the ground that pulling the bag back over a limb will frequently result in a stuck bag. So what do you do?
There are five options from worst to best:

1) Try to pull it back at you, being careful to dodge the weight as it flings towards you.
2) Throw things at your bag to get it to swing (Be careful not to hit people below with the stuff!)
3) Bust out your grappling hook, and try to hook the throw weight with your hook and then bring it back to
you. (There are a couple ways to do this.)
4) Lower your weight to the ground and have a ground instructor untie it then pull the line back towards you.
5) Initiate a swing.

To start a swing, you basically tug on your throw line quickly and drop the bag. This usually starts some kind
of swing. If youve gotten lucky and its swinging in the right direction, you can increase the swing by tugging and
releasing the throw line really quickly while the throw weight is at the lowest part of its swing. The first time you get it
to work, its almost unbelievable.


Flip Flopping Down a Tree

Flip-flopping can also be used to descend. Rappel on your motion lanyard, then take out the open end, flip it
around a crotch, and tie it to your harness with a figure eight and tighten up the Blakes hitch. Continue lowering on
your old loop, until your weight is on your new loop, and give the new crotch a bounce-test. Then untie your old loop
and continue to the next crotch.
CAUTION: Even though the end of your rope can reach the ground, you might not be able to. Remember you
are using DdRT. You need two lengths of rope to reach the ground. Grab the end of your rope and lowering a loop to
the ground. If it reaches the ground, youll also be able to reach the ground. If it doesnt, you will need to re-crotch
your rope lower in the tree. Rappelling off the end of your rope is an amazingly common accident. Rock climbers do it
all the time. You can easily prevent this. Always clip the stray ends of your motion lanyard to the belay loop of your
harness. It is also a convenient way to locate the end of your motion lanyard when you need to re-toss a new crotch.


Alternative Ascension Methods

Direct Aid - The GriGri Method

What if the tree you want to climb has no tossable crotches? There are a couple possibilities. After
experimenting with a few we settled on the GriGri method as a good compromise between safety and convenience.
This advanced system is mainly reserved for instructors. Most places in the Northest USA this system is unnecessary,
especially if you have a Big Shot, but it is popular with tree-protesters in the western US who use it on small trees to get
access to taller redwoods. It works well on trees with a straight branchless trunk less then three feet in diameter.
The GriGri method uses:

27



One climbing rope
One Petzl auto locking belay device called a GriGri
Two 80 inch loops of webbing
Two locking carabiners

First, tie the climbing line around the trunk of the tree with a running figure eight. Then attach the rope to the
Grigri and then to your harness with a figure eight on bight. One of the long webbing loops will be used with a girth
hitch directly around the trunk of the tree. Slide the running eight as far up the trunk as you can, and tighten up the
slack on the GriGri. Hike the girth hitch sling to knee level and put your foot in it. Grasp the two loop of rope above
the running eight in to hands and pull the loop open while simultaneously stepping up in the sling. Slide the running
figure of eight up the trunk of the tree, tighten it down, and pull up the slack in the Grigri again. If you need to come
down, you can rappel at anytime on your Grigri, leaving the rope in the tree on which to ascend SRT style upon your
return.
While aiding in Costa Rica we found the weight
of the rope to become an obstacle in the efficiency of
this system. Thats because every time you pull up the
rope in the GriGri you have to lift all of the rope below
you. You can solve this by picking up about 10 feet of
slack, tying a figure eight on a bight and clipping it to
your harness. This makes the process a lot easier,
because you dont have to haul the rope weight through
the device itself.
When you reach a branch, the disadvantages of
this method become apparent.. To pass a branch, take out
your other webbing loop, girth hitch it above the branch,
clip it to your harness and shorten it with an overhand on
a bight. Then, lower yourself on the Grigri (you hope
only a few inches). Now that your weight is on the new
anchor, you can untie your running figure of eight and
retie it above your branch, and continue on. Without
extra slings, passing a branch is even less convenient, so
bringing extras is essential.

Spikes
Spikes, Gaffs or Spurs all refer to a sharp piece
of metal that is attached to both legs using a leg brace. These spikes strap onto ones leg and allow the user to cut into the
tree and provide a grip to move upward, similar to climbing ice or snow with crampons. Since COE practices LNT, this
system is not used in our courses.
Section B4: Other Tree Fun
If you enjoy rigging, and you have free time, there are plenty of
cool things you can do in the treetops. To do any of these things in Ithaca,
youll need to change your curriculum around, but if you are up for a
challenge, go for it.

Zip Line / Tyrolean Traverse

Zip lines seem to be synonymous with rain forest eco tours these
days. We routinely set up a tree to ground zip line when we work with
childrens groups and the city youth bureau. Over so often we get up the
energy to rig one for a local class, generally in conjunction with the
overnight. Even if you do not do this activity in class, a theoretical
discussion of how one goes from tree to tree without touching the ground
can be interesting for students.
Our zip line / Tyrolean traverse rig looks a little different that
some you might have encountered. It is a rig we put in place and take
down, not a permanent fixture as in the case of steel cable zip lines. In rope
rescue situations a traverse is often rigged with one high line. In this case,
28



the tag lines used to move the load along the line are run through a belay device and are the backup in case of the
mainline failure. Belaying a person on a zip line from both sides is problematic for our situation. We opt instead to
install two main lines, and use a third line solely to tag the load. The basic setup is to tie two ropes from the midpoint of
a big tree to the base of another tree, tension the lines, and allow the participants to slide down the ropes on pulleys,
stopping them with a separate belay line.
First choose a large, deep rooted tree. Find a location in the tree where you can exit the canopy without
running into branches and where you have a nice unobstructed slight line to the base of another tree about 100 feet
away. Widely spaced trees in parks are great for this, as there tend to be few things in the way. The ride is more
interesting going through the trees in a forest. If you set up in a forest, remember that even when tensioned, your lines
will sag under the weight of the participant. Make sure that there is sufficient clearance to miss saplings and low
hanging branches. The trunk where you attach the zip lines should be no less than 38 inches in circumference about
the size of a yellow ascension sling.
Carefully thread two zip line ropes through the braches so that when you pull the lines straight you do minimal
damage to the canopy. Tie a tensionless hitch around the trunk of the launching tree. Add at least three wraps, and
finish the hitch with a figure eight on a bight. This type of tie off preserves the full strength of the rope.
Bring the other end of the ropes to the base of your landing area tree and set up the tensioning system. There
are many ways to do it, but a system that is cheap, portable, and easy to set up uses a 3:1 mechanical advantage system
commonly called a z-drag.

The Z drag hardware for TWO zip line ropes uses the following:
Three long slings
Three prusik slings
Two pulleys
Four locking carabiners











Tie the three slings around the trees. Each sling should be tied around the tree in a closed loop with a water
knot. Figure out which sling is the shortest and put a pulley (anchor pulley) on this sling with a locking carabiner.
Isolate another sling and attach a locking carabiner to it. Bring a rope up to this carabiner and join them with a prusik
(slack capture prusik). Add another prusik (haul prusik) to the rope and attach a locking carabiner with the other pulley
(haul pulley). Redirect the end of the rope through the anchor pulley then forward to the haul pulley. Pulling back
toward the anchor tree will give you a nominal 3:1 mechanical advantage.
Tightening up the rope will require at least four people. Station one person to mind the haul prusik (unless you
have an automatic prusik minding pulley). As the remaining people pull on the Z-drag, the prusik minding person will
loosen and advance the slack capture prusik. No more than four adults should pull on the 3:1 system. The reason the
anchor pulley is placed on the shortest sling is it to allow the prusik minder sufficient space to operate. If the slack
capture prusik is too close either it or your fingers will get sucked into the anchor pulley. You may need to pause to
slide the haul prusik forward again for another stroke.
The amount of tension you need on the line will vary with the angle of the lines, the length of the zip, and the
weight of the participants. As a general rule of thumb, I generally have three adults pull on the line until pulling gets
29



hard not when theyve pulley with every last bit of their strength. You can test the tension in the system by hanging
from the rope and watching the deflection. (Remember, the weight of the participant will be shared between two ropes.)
When you are satisfied that the tension is correct, remove the haul prusik and pulley, and release the rope from the
anchor pulley, leaving it on the shortest sling to tension the second line.
To finish off the rig, wrap the slack of end of the rope around the tree and tensionless hitch it also. I tend to
leave the prusik in the system. If it breaks, the tensionless hitch will come into play and hold the system together.
Although, in 15 years of using this system, sometimes intentionally abusing it by flapping the load up and down on the
lines, I have yet to break a 6 mm prusik.
The participant is attached to the zip line by a sling tied with two independent legs. Each leg goes to a pulley
and locking carabiner. Face the carabiners on the line so their gates face outward and screw down. Use two locking
carabiners to attach the zip liner at the power point. Attach your tag line to this same point and redirect the slack
through a carabiner attached to the launch point anchor, so the tag line hangs down the length of the launch tree. You
will need to belay the first participant down the
line. When they reach the bottom, gather in a
bunch of rope and tie a large limiting knot that
will not go through your redirect. Because the end
of the tag line is hanging down the tree the
participants waiting to climb the tree can return
the pulleys. The next participant can go down a
little faster, but make sure you have a hand ready
to slow the rope down. When you are sure that the
speed and extent of the zip liner are appropriately
limited, you can let them sail off down the line
without belaying them. Be conservative. Learn
the limits of the system slowly, as this setup
requires some judgment. If you have questions,
contact the tree climbing program coordinator.
Well be happy to help out. Its a good excuse to
get out of the basement.


Limb Walking
Limb walking is a fun activity that was a regular feature
of the original COE tree classes. Set student lanyards high in the
tree and students can practice walking around on the branches.
They can either lean back against their tether and walk
backwards, or slack off a few inches on the anchor line and try to
balance. Dont let them slack off too much a large fall on static
line is dangerous. Look for a good place to set up that has few
obstacles to accidentally swing into. If they do fall off, the
participant should be retrievable either up their own anchor line,
motion lanyard, or with the Full Circle line.

Swing
Swings can be really fun. The idea is similar to limb
walking. Set a high crotch where lanyard can hang in free space.
Find a likely perch to kick off and swing around. The cover shot of this manual is a tree swing over the river venue that
we call Paradise in Costa Rica.

Highline

A highline is essentially a slackline set high up in the air. We have found places to set this up where we can
belay safely from above. It is also possible to rig a highline and walk it where there is no overhead belay. These slack
lines are doubled over for extra safety, and the person walking has a rope tied to their harness and onto some rappel
rings which slide along the slack line. If you fall, you end up about three or four feet below the slack line. This is NOT
something you could do on a COE course. If you are interested in setting a highline, contact Keith Luscinski.

30
















Section C1: Basic Tree Climbing Class

Basic Tree Climbing is our introductory level climbing class for students with no prior climbing experience.
The class tends to be between 8 and 12 students with three or four instructors, two of whom generally have taught
before and one of whom is a member of the senior staff.
This section is comprised mostly of information specific to the class and their teaching progressions. The
teaching methods are suggestions of ways to teach certain skills, though if this is your first time teaching tree climbing,
you should consider following the progressions exactly. Any significant deviation from course procedures should be
reviewed with the Tree Climbing Programs Coordinator prior to field use.
Goals

In general, our goals are:

1. Safety
2. Technical Skills (Ascending, Descending, Moving Around, Safety, Leave No Trace)
3. Connection to the natural world
4. Fun

Our top priority (as with every course COE offers) is that no one gets hurt. The riskiest part of the Ithaca
course is when everyone is up in one tree at the same time. Generally the most intensive days are the overnight and the
big tree day. The senior instructor needs to adjust the curriculum based on instructor competencies to ensure proper
supervision off the deck. If, at any point your team feels overwhelmed, or the senior staff person has doubts about the
level of supervision they can provide, contact the program coordinator. The program coordinator will be available to
help, or to help you make alternate plans. There are many other options.
The main technical skills we present are throwing lines in trees, SRT ascending and descending, DdRT motion
lanyard, safety considerations and LNT issues. Most students will have a good grasp of these ideas by the end of the
class. Other skills, such as moving from tree to tree, setting traverses, direct aid on trees, and platform building are
beyond the scope of the basic class.
Part of the reason we started tree climbing in the first place was the connection to nature. Particularly in the
climbing program we spend far too much time climbing indoors. Even without your specific efforts, we find the tree
climbing experience effective at connecting people in a personal and powerful way to the natural world. That being
said, be alert for opportunities to point out a great view, a bird, or a plant. If you can find the time, simply allowing
your participants to sit quietly in the tree top can be very rewarding for them.
And, of course, we are all about fun. Climbing is more or less inherently fun, but you can make even
more progress toward this goal by letting your enthusiasm lead the way. Dont hesitate to let it show. (Check out the
picture of Devin on DdRT for a good visual.)
Pre-Class E-mail

Remember to send an initial class email to your students. This is important for a number of reasons. Class will
run more efficiently if they have their medical forms filled out before they arrive. As a courtesy, we usually attach the
.pdf to the email so they do not need to go searching for it. (They can sign their waiver ahead of time, but we have to go
SECTION C

TEACHING TREE CLIMBING IN AN INSTITUTIONAL SETTING

31



through it with them again anyhow, so that isnt much of a time saver.) Also, it is a good time to remind your students
of the time and date of the first meeting and to dress to be outside. Heres an example:

Good day Tree Climbers,

Your instructors, ______, ________, and ___________________ would all like to welcome you to Cornell Outdoor
Educations Basic Tree Climbing class. Our first meeting will be on __________ the ___
th
at the Phillips Outdoor
Program Center in the basement of Bartels Hall. Here are a couple of important notes on the first class:

1) Our first class covers course information, paperwork and basic skills which we will build upon in our subsequent
classes. Attendance in this class is mandatory. If you have a conflict for that day, let us know.
2) We have a lot of awesome activities planned for the day, and waiting around inside is no fun. So, please show up as
close to _______ as possible!
3) Please bring two completed copies of the medical form (attached). You do not need to have a physician sign off on
the form.
4) Bring clothing appropriate to the weather. Well be outside for most of the day, rain or shine. A raincoat, sweater,
and closed toed shoes are a good idea. Synthetic materials will keep you warmer than cotton, especially if it is a
wet day. One full water bottle is also a good idea.

If you have any questions about what to bring, about the course, or about life in general, please dont hesitate to e-mail
us! Thanks for reading, and well see you all on __________ in the basement of Bartels Hall, at ________!

See you soon,
____, _________, ____________
.
Class Progression

Day 1: Hand-over-hand Climbing on Low Branched Trees

Location
Sycamores in Fall Creek

Activities
First day class activities (Paperwork, introductions, gearing up, assessing students)
Hiking to the trees
Belaying one another in top rope style hand-over-hand climbing

Skills
Harness (Putting in on, Use, Double Back)
Helmet (Use)
Knots (Figure eight follow through)
Belaying (ATC, Locking carabiners, ABCs Safety Check)

Rigging
Preparation for this day entails setting the top rope W3P2 anchors in the tops of the trees. Resist the
urge to free solo the tree. Lead the tree, on belay, with a dynamic rope, and sling the tree for
protection as you go. Remember, sycamore limbs can be weak! Bring along the Fall Creek Trees
parachute cord and leave it hanging from the carabiners. The last class of the week should send an
instructor up to remove the anchors. Rappel back to the ground.


Teaching Tips

There is a lot to accomplish on the first day of class. Planning ahead will help the class be efficient and get out
of the basement quickly. First off, check the van calendar and send someone to put the class van in the 15 minute zone.
(A COE van can sit there for a while and wont be ticketed.) Assign one person to collect and look over the medical
forms. If there are any issues or tings you do not understand, consult in private or bring the student out of class.
32



Remember, medical information in confidential. As the students arrive, have some activity planned for them to
participate in right away. This will ease the class into interacting with one another and fill the awkward space that
sometimes exists between when the first and last students arrive. Once the class is assembled, welcome them and
quickly review the plan for the day. Then, after some introductions to yourselves and to each other, youll need to
accomplish the following paperwork:

Medical Form (one copy goes in the field, one in the lock box)
Tree Climbing Waiver (stays in course folder)
Attendance (make a copy for the front office)

Once the paperwork is out of the way, take some time to describe the progression of the course in broad
outline, then the agenda for the day. If no one has questions, fit harnesses, then collect up the class and make sure they
have appropriate clothes and footwear. (Sandals are okay, so long as they are closed-toed.) If anyone needs extra
clothes, you can find additional stuff in the emergency clothing cache.
Then its time to hit the road. Place instructors throughout the van to help facilitate conversation on the way to
Fall Creek.
The first day activity is hand-over-hand climbing in the river trees at Fall Creek. For some reason almost all
our students think that tree climbing means hand-over-hand like they did when they were kids, despite the fact that
the class description says nothing about that. We toyed with eliminating this day, but the expectation was so strong that
the students would experience this, that we decided to keep it in the curriculum. In addition to making the connection
between what they know and what theyre going to learn, it gives us an opportunity to introduce harnesses, ropes, knots,
and the use of the belay device. Although we dont belay again in this way, it is useful to understand how the belay
device works for when they see it again on rappel day.
Split the class into small groups to teach the knots and belaying. It is fairly manageable to run four
simultaneous climbing lines in two or three trees. With one student climbing, one belaying, and one backing up the
belay, you can keep a class of 12 occupied with a job all the time. Have the participants circulate though the jobs in a
circle so everyone gets a chance to practice the skills. Dont forget to introduce the top rope belay safety check, the
ABCs.
An interesting caveat for the climbers is that they cannot climb any old path in the tree. Rather, they must
follow the rope course of the rope in front of them as they climb! (It is important that they do so otherwise the belay
rope becomes wrapped around the tree.) This means that as the first climber descends through the tree, they determine
the path the next person must take. Students can be friendly with this or diabolical as they are inclined. Once the
participants had had a chance to climb in one tree, send them over to the other. With extra time, you can start the
participants thinking about how they might approach climbing a tree where they cannot reach the first limb.

ABCDEFGH Top Rope Style belayed climbing safety check

A Is the ANCHOR person/object sufficient?
B Is the BELAY device threaded properly?
C Is the belay CARABINER locked?
D Are the both the climber and belayers harnesses DOUBLED back?
E Is the climbers figure EIGHT knot tied correctly?
F Having Fun yet?
GH Have you GOT your Helmet on?


Day 2: Throwing and Ascending on Full Circle (SRT)

Locations
Fisher Woods or HCC

Activities
Hike to trees
Throwing practice
Tying the Full Circle
Ascending practice
Friction Saver Puzzle

33



Skills
Ascending (Texas Kick, ABC Safety Check)
Knots (Girth Hitch, Flemish Bend, Bowline, Munter, Mule)
Throwing (Posture, Procedures, Line stacking)
Understanding the Full Circle SRT setup
Installation of Friction Saver

Preparation
If you are going to Fisher woods, youll need to go out ahead of time and set some parachute cords in
limbs that will accept a false crotch. If you are going to HCC, use the field trees for throwing and the
platform tree for ascending.


Teaching Tips for Throwing
Even though we now have enough throw kits to allow everyone to practice throwing at once, management
wise, it is best to split the class between throwing and ascending. The trick here is to gauge how long each lesson will
take and split the time equally.
We usually teach the coil throw, then hand throwing with a throw bag, and finally the Big Shot. If youre short
on time, consider just demonstrating the coil toss. Do the best you can to make the time to teach all three as the
progression flows very well. This lesson is best suited for flat terrain with little or no undergrowth to complicate
throwing. For the sake of the teaching lesson, try to keep the Big Shot, throw lines, and throw weights hidden from
students until they are ready for them.
Start out by giving each of your students a rope and a target crotch. The crotch should be easily reachable,
about 15 feet high. The goal is to give the students a challenge at which they will succeed after a few attempts.
Initially, dont give the students any advice on how to throw the rope. After a few failed attempts, introduce the coil
toss. Explain that the coil should be tight, but wrapped in such a way that it will uncoil easily to avoid getting the rope
stuck. It is also useful now to explain how to create a handle for the coil by passing a bight of rope throw the coils.
This coil and handle system lends itself very well to the over-the-back throwing method used for a throw bag.
After everyone has had practice tossing coils, ask them how they would climb a tree with the first branch 50
feet above the ground. If they have trouble coming up with answers other than rope cannons and missiles, you can
explain how the coil acts like a weight to pull the rest of the rope up over a branch. Now introduce throw bags and
lines. Explain that Zing-It is made from strong, low friction Spectra and that throw bags are filled with lead shot. The
slip knot inversion bowline is a good method for attaching the bag. Each throwing kit should contain a throw weight, a
150 foot section of throw line, and a bucket for easy payout.
Even in smaller groups, it can be beneficial to have students practice throwing in pairs. When pairs are
practicing throwing, each student takes turns being the thrower and helper. When the thrower is getting ready to throw
the weight, the helper tells him if he is aligned with the target crotch. After a throw, the helper unties the weight from
the line (remember, always untie the weight) as the thrower begins to flake the line in the bucket. Explain that the
throw line should always be flaked into the bucket and never coiled or wrapped around their hand. The most beneficial
thing the helper can do to aid in flaking is to lightly pinch the line above the bucket to provide a slight amount of
tension for the thrower. Doing so will make the flaking process much faster. Once the line is back in the bucket,
students switch roles.
If alone, the thrower can flake the line more easily by using the neck redirect. Crouch between the bucket
and the tree so that the throw line runs over your neck/shoulder. The friction of this redirect allows you to flake the line
more quickly.
If you have time, consider giving the students the throwing materials without explaining how to use them.
After they bang away at it for a while, demonstrate the cradle throw. The target crotches should be about 50 feet high
and very wide. The buckets should be placed on the ground a few feet in front of throwers so that the line doesnt get
caught under their arms.
Unfortunately, its hard to guarantee success for everyone at throwing. Students should understand that
accurate throwing takes a lot of practice and some luck. For the next stage, give everyone a target crotch well above
their maximum throwing height (but preferable below yours). Give everyone one or two attempts at the crotch. If
youre a skilled thrower, heres your chance to show off (followed by a reiteration of the practice required to develop an
accurate arm).
Finally, bring out the Big Shot and let students gawk. Explain that it is sometimes necessary for really high
crotches, but the Big Shot is also useful for dense trees where its flat trajectory and accuracy drastically reduce the time
needed to place lines. Demo how to use the Big Shot, making sure to place the bucket in front of it to reduce snags.
Remember to wear your helmet and eye protection!
After students have had a chance to use all three methods, point out scenarios where one would be the best
34



option. Coil throwing is useful for repositioning the rope while already in the tree. Hand throwing is the most popular
method to set lines, compact, and can be used to get into almost any tree. The Big Shot is a powerful, can be very
quick, especially for congested or tall trees, but it is also a bit awkward and expensive.

Teaching Tips for the Friction Saver
The installation of a friction saver is good technique to introduce while teaching throwing, since installation
requires starting with a throw line over a branch. When you first explain the concept of the friction saver and how its
designed to reduce rope damage to the tree, make sure you have a low branch ready to show what it looks like. If you
dont have a branch handy, a students arm works well. After they understand the final configuration, let students try to
figure out to set it up from the ground.
There are a few things to keep in mind when installing a friction saver. Firstly, remember that the throw line
must only be over a single branch. The Friction Saver should also be at least a foot or two longer than the
circumference of the target branch. If you try to install a Friction Saver thats too short, you can get your weight and
line stuck on the branch.

Teaching Tips for Ascending
The time students spend ascending into a tree can take up a significant portion of a class. An out of shape
student learning to ascend for the first time could take 30 minutes to jug 40 feet. While a slower student needs constant
encouragement, you also need to ensure that the rest of the class doesnt bottleneck below him. Rope ascension is
generally taught on the second day of class, which gives the instructors a day to size up students and properly prepare
for teaching ascending skills.
The key to maximizing time in the trees is a lot of ascending ropes. Think of the number of ropes as lanes in a
highway; four can transport people much more quickly than two can. One rope for every four students has seemed to be
a good number of ascending ropes to use. Make sure the slower students are spread out among the ropes and that they
are the first to ascend. Its hard to predict how quickly someone will pick up the proper ascending motions, and
therefore how fast they will be able to get up the rope. For this reason, its a good idea for the first day involving
ascension to be fairly low, say about 50 feet.
Once the student gets their ascending rig on the line, make sure to have an instructor examine the rig before
they leave the ground. Use the ascending version of the ABCs safety check (see below).
When the student takes his first few ascending steps, pay very close attention to how their ascender leashes
affect movement. As an instructor, you should immediately be able to see if either leash or a foot loop is an
inappropriate length. See the section on ascending rigs for detailed information on correct leash lengths. Even with a
perfect setup, overweight students may have a lot of trouble using the Texas Kick. In this case, you should always have
an extra piece of webbing ready to improvise a chest harness for a Frog system.
As the student gets more fluid with his motions, continually encourage him to use proper technique. Even the
more proficient students need constant reminders to kick their heels under their butt. If they are only using one foot in
the stirrup, make sure they get their weight centered over that foot. It often improves balance and keeps them from
bouncing against the trunk if they stick their other leg straight out. When using two feet in a stirrup, the soles of their
feet must be facing each other to fully use their legs. In this setup, most of their weight will be on the outside edges of
their feet.
Emphasize that students want to be sitting in their harness as much as possible. Whenever they are standing in
the foot loops, they are tiring their arms. As soon as they stand up, they should immediately move the ascender up and
sit down. Standing up without advancing the ascender leaves undesired slack in the system.
Until the student gets about 15 feet off the ground, it is very helpful if they have tension on the rope from
below to facilitate upward movement of the ascenders. If you have extra students on the ground, pulling down on the
rope is a simple task to keep them occupied.
Ideally, you will have two students per ascending rope. If this isnt possible, you can slightly cut down on
ascending time by having 2 people on a rope at once. This is a less desirable alternative as the upper person gets
bounced around quite a bit by the person below him. The tensioned rope below the upper person can also rub against
his/her groin resulting in an unpleasant sensation weve called bifurcum attritus or colloquially, crotch burn. For
moderate heights, stacking students on a rope will only slightly reduce ascending time. (In Costa Rica, putting two
people on a rope is almost necessary. With 4 people waiting to jug 150 feet on one rope, placing two students on rope
at a time can significantly reduce ascending time.)
Give the students some practice lowering each other on the Full Circle line. Be sure to back them up while they
are undoing the line. This practice will also give them some opportunity to re-tie the secured munter mule tie-off.




35



ABCDEFGH Safety Check for Ascending

A Are you ASCENDER slings tied correctly?
B Do you have your BELAY device?
C Do you have your two locking CARABINERS?
D Is your harnesses DOUBLED back?
E Figure EIGHT joining the ropes okay?
F Is the FULL circle tied off correctly? (secured munter mule)
GH Have you GOT your Helmet on?



Day 3: Climb a Big Tree, Switch to Anchor Lines, Switch to Rappel

Locations
Smith Woods
HCC
Stewart Part

Activities
Hike to trees
Set up Full Circle
Ascend
Switch to tree anchor / Limb walk / Move around
Rappel

Skills
Full Circle tie-off practice
Knots (Prusik)
Installing the rappel device and use of safety procedures
Managing anchor transitions

Preparation
The Big Tree day takes a good bit of preparation. Choose your location, set parachute cord in the
trees along with enough running figure eight static anchor lines to accommodate your group. The
ascending line should be set highest, then your personal anchor line, then the students person anchor
lines.


Teaching Tips
This day is the first day you will be supervising people in the top of the tree, moving from anchor to anchor.
Because people will be moving systems, its important for them to understand that they need to be attached to
something at all times. Demonstrate what it will look like at the top of the tree by hanging an extra anchor line low to
the ground. In particular, show them the difference between unclip/clip and clip/unclip.
The geometry of the various lines is critical for the success of this class. At a minimum, the ascending line
should be higher than every personal anchor around it. A high ascension line will give you greater lateral mobility in
the canopy. Ideally, your personal anchor will be high enough and long enough to allow you the range of motion of all
your students combined. With all the personal anchors accessible from the ascending line, an instructor can quickly
install and remove all the student anchor ropes without transferring from the ascending line. Youll see how helpful this
is when you need to remove anchors after all the students leave the tree. Retrieving a rope fixed with a running figure
eight above the ascension line is time consuming, at bestif youre lucky.
One instructor should be at the top of every ascension line. One instructor should remain on the ground to
check on peoples ascending rigs and operate the Full Circle if necessary. Tree top instructors should receive students,
help them transition to the anchor lines, then encourage them to move around a bit from limb to limb on their lines.
Swinging is acceptable, if there is sufficient space. If you are having students stay on ascenders, have them clip into the
end of the anchor line with a figure eight on a bight, then transfer their ascenders one at a time. If they are moving to a
prusik and figure eight, have them clip into the end of the anchor line first, then install the prusik, weight it, and when
they are sure their prusik is functioning properly, remove the ascenders from the ascending line.
An additional Full Circle line is handy to have on this day. If you have two main lines, one can be used to go
36



up, while the other is for going down. Hyper students can go around the circle a couple times.
When you prepare to set students on rappel, be very careful. This is another tricky transition. In particular,
make sure that you are attaching your student to the correct side of the Full Circle! Make sure to weight the rappel
before detaching from the anchor lines. Check the whole system through with the CRASH TEST(e)D mnemonic.


Rappel Standard Procedure

1. Pull out the slack in the Full Circle line.
2. Attach your rappel device and locking carabiner to the Full Circle line.
3. Attach the rappel device and carabineer to the belay loop of the harness, and lock the carabiner.
4. Transfer weight to the rappel without disconnecting anchors to tree.
5. CRASH TESTeD safety double checks
6. Call for firemans belay with, Belay on?
7. Look for firemans belay, and listen for Belay on!
8. Call On Rappel
9. Rappel to the ground.
10. Detach the rappel device from the Full Circle line.
11. Yell up to air instructor Off Rappel.

CRASH TEST(e)D Safety Check for Rappel

C - CARABINER: Is the carabiner locked?
R - RAPPEL: Is the rappel device threaded correctly?
A - ANCHOR: Is the ground anchor tied correctly and ready to go?
S - SIDE: Are we on the correct side of the rope?
H - HARNESS: Is the harness doubled back?

T - TEST: Did we test the rappel before disconnecting from our anchor lines?
D - DANGLING: Did we put away/secure all the dangling stuff?

If you do find yourself in the position of ascending an anchor line with the intent of removing it, heres a step-
by-step sequence of how to do that safely. Its complicated. Think it through before you do it. Practice it with a senior
staff person, or close to the ground where you can call for help. Dont forget that in any transition you must weight
your new anchor before you detach from the previous anchors!

1. Ascend the anchor line to the crotch with your ascenders.
2. Grab a long webbing loop (tied securely with a water knot) flip it around the crotch into a basket hitch or
girth hitch.
3. Clip the webbing loop to your harness belay loop with a locking carabiner.
4. Down-ascend until your weight is on the webbing loop.
5. Make darn sure the webbing loop holds your weight before you take your ascenders off the anchor line.
6. Pull up the end of the anchor rope and clip it to your harness.
7. Make darn sure you have this rope clipped to your harness. If you drop it at this point, you will be in dire
straights; in the top of the tree with no rope in reach at all. You better hope you have a cell phone.
8. Unclip your ascenders.
9. Pull the ends of the anchor rope up, untie the running 8, and flip the rope over the branch.
10. Pull the rope until the ends are even and tie knots in the end of the rope.
11. Make darn sure you tie knots in the end of the anchor rope. If you are not very careful with the next
transition, you could rappel off the ends of the anchor rope. Very bad.
12. Attach your rappel device and auto block.
13. Rappel to your full circle line


Day 4/5: Alternate Ascensions / Overnight

Location
Stewart Park
HCC
37




Activities
Learning to use the Motion Lanyard
Overnight
Skills
Motion Lanyard
Yo-Yo Method
Climbing into sleeping bag
Preparation
The bulk of preparation for this day comes in rigging the platform for the overnight. You will need to
hang anchor lines for all the students. Depending on how many students you have, you may also need
to spend some time rigging hammocks above the platform.

Teaching Tips

Overnights are the most technically challenging part of working a COE tree course. When we do an overnight
we are suddenly faced with all the regular concerns of climbing combined with a backpacking course. There is
significant rigging, hauling, and line organization. But additionally we have to provide food, water, sleeping gear,
supervision of students for an extended period of time, and of course, some answers when our students hear the call of
nature. Its also really fun for the students and will probably be an experience they will vividly recall for their whole
lives.
In addition to the normal climbing gear, students will need to bring:

Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Pad (two per person if it is going to be a cold night)
Small backpack for personal items
Drink / Water in non-glass bottle
Clothes appropriate to evening weather
Headlamp
Snacks

The deck should be rigged with adequate anchors for everyone.
Because they are not moving around very much and space is tight, students
will be anchored with a prusik on the static anchor lines with a hard knot
backup. Use doubled carabiners for the prusik connection to the rope.
Flopping around in the dark at night we want to be sure they do not become
detached from the prusik.
You will also need a lot of additional carabiners to secure backpacks
to the tree trunk. Make sure to explain to students that everything they bring
up with them needs to be clipped to a rope, or securely inside a backpack.
Ascending with a backpack on your back is very fatiguing as it causes you to
be top heavy. If students want to try to ascend with the additional load, attach
their backpacks to the belay loop of their harness. If there is no secure haul
look on their backpack, use a sling under the shoulder straps.
For the gear that folks do not want to carry up, you can simply haul it
up hand over hand, but the loads add up quickly. You might want to set up a
quick haul system. A haul system uses the same steps as ascending; the lift,
the rope grab, and resting.
Send a line down from the tree onto which to tie the load. Bring the
other end up through a pulley attached to a strong crotch and down to your ascenders. Use your ascenders to pull down
on the rope and lift the load. You can hold the load in place while you reset your ascenders by a combination
pulley/rope grab like the Petzl mini Traxion. A small prusik loop, or an ascender placed upside down on the haul line
can accomplish the same task.
Then there is the bathroom issue. On your way into the challenge course, stop at the porta potties and give
everyone a chance to use them. If nature calls during the night, it is relatively easy for guy to pee off the deck without
altering their harnesses at all. If you have a very hearty group, gals can also pee off the deck by dropping the back hitch
of their leg loops. It probably isnt likely that your female participants will want to do this. More likely, youll be
rappelling at some point and walking them to the bathroom. (In Costa Rica, where the ascending is so much more
demanding, gals peeing from the branches is much more likely. Sitting in a Y shaped crotch is a good technique. If a
38



horizontal branch with good footing below is available, the hang you butt out option is also efficacious.
If the weather forecast is for rain, consider cancelling the overnight, as the deck is unroofed. If you decide to
go anyway, any appearance of lightning or thunder is an automatic evacuation. If the weather looks good, go for it.
Remember to bring along some ideas for entertaining the students. Read The Lorax. Play some games. Talk about
stars. Eat snacks.

Section C2: Limited Gear Alternate Basic Class Curriculums

SRT Climbing Curriculum Only
If you do not have access to arborist ropes and steel links, you can still provide a rewarding tree climbing
experience to you students. If you have only a few ascenders, consider shuttling the ascenders down from the top of the
tree while students switch to prusik and hard knot anchor lines. Alternately, one can set up other climbing stations
where students try out the prusiks, or Frog, or Yo-Yo. Here is a proposed schedule that we have used that excludes
DdRT techniques.

Day 1: Hand-over-hand climbing on low branched trees
Day 2: Throwing and Ascending (4 lines with students trying out ascenders, prusiks, Grigri, and Frog)
Day 3: Climb a big tree, Switch to Anchor lines, Limb walk, Switch to Rappel
Day 4/5: Rig your own tree day / Overnight

In place of alternate ascensions on day 4, substitute the a rig your own tree day in which participants select
their own tree, place their lines and climb. Students get a lot out of the experience of doing the whole activity on their
own.
DdRT Climbing Curriculum Only
Similarly for DdRT techniques only, you might try eliminating the hand over hand climbing day and doing the
following:

Day 1: Getting into the tree: Throwing and Ascending with Motion Lanyard
Day 2: Moving around the Tree: Climb spreading tree, Recrotch with Motion lanyard, Limb Walk
Day 3: Tree Fun: Tree to Tree Tyrolean, Zip line, or Alternate Ascensions (Foot Locking, Prusiks)
Day 4/5: Overnight preparation and sleeping: Rig your Hammock / Overnight

Section C3: Costa Rica Tree Climbing Course

Many years ago, when the Earth was new and dinosaurs roamed the planet, there was a COE tree climbing
course in Costa Rica which was led by Dan Tillemans. COE started offering a more advanced course in 2006 when
Mark H., Keith L., Eric T., Dave Katz, and Memo Fallas worked up some ideas and platforms in a rural valley in Costa
Rica. The crew spent about 8 days rigging trees, dodging (mostly dodging) ants, and building a platform for the new
course. It was offered for the first three years at a Cornell and SUNY Binghamton research station called the Tropical
Forestry Initiative.
It is a demanding course for students and instructors. In the past two instructors spend at least a week
beforehand checking, rigging, and climbing a lot of trees, preparing logistics of food, lodging, and cultural activities.
The other instructors generally arrived with the students. Its hot. Everything is uphill. Theres no COE van to carry
your stuff. Its a huge undertaking. The rural logistics are coordinated by David Katz who knows all of the locals and
loves the place more than most places on the planet. (Which, by the way, he has visited a whole stinking lot of.)
Our students get to climb really big trees, admittedly not as tall as the trees in California, but they have
spreading crowns unlike the conifers in the west. Some of the trees span more horizontal distance than they are tall. In
addition to the regular progression of skills, the students got to see toucans, humming birds, and monkeys. They got to
eat raw sugar from a local mill, swim in amazing tropical rivers, and interact with local people. It was as much of a
cultural experience as a climbing course. The reviews have generally been positive, and for some, it has been life
changing.

39



Section C4: Risk Management
As mentioned above, the main goal of all of these courses is for people learn some technical skills, make a
connection to the outdoors, and have some fun while doing it, but only if they dont get hurt in the process! No manual,
no matter how large, could contain procedures for every contingency. Ultimately, we depend on your skill and
judgment to keep our participants safe. COE provides training, realistic course curricula, mentorship, equipment, and
administrative infrastructure to support the development of those skills.
We also depend on your initiative. In addition to your COE experience we expect you to seek outside
experiences and instruction, which you bring back and share with the staff. All our most accomplished tree instructors
are also practitioners.
But good judgment alone is not enough to safely conduct an outdoor program. Instructor judgment must have
boundaries, which are defined by program policies. Those policies are in turn a subset of the industry standard.
Tree Climbing Risks and Management Strategies

Possible Hazard Policy Management Strategy Procedure Management Strategy
Hit by falling tree limbs Helmets Choice of healthy trees
Hit by falling gear Gear always attached or stowed
Lightning No climbing during lightning
Gear Failure Regular inspection and replacement
Participants physical condition Medical form
Negligence of COE or Participant Waiver
Wildlife Attacks Medical Form, Waiver No climbing in trees with nests
Technique errors Rappel backups, Lowerable ropes Safety Checks

Policies
1. Helmets are worn 100% of the time when underneath the climbing tree. Instructors included
2. COE Ropes are not left in trees unattended.
3. We dont climb conifers.
4. Do not climb dead trees.
5. All trees to climb should be inspected by the senior member of the I-team beforehand.
6. All rappels will be backed up with either a firemans belay or an autoblock.
7. All rope systems should be closed. (Ends tied with knots or back to the climber.)
8. All climbing and rappelling rigs should be double checked before use.
9. The main ascending lines should always be lowerable.
10. No climbing during any sign of lightning or thunder.
11. All classes must carry a first aid kit to the climbing site.
Procedures

Single Point Failure

There are times when our safety hinges on the correct functioning of one piece of gear or just one skill. In
climbing, there is just one rope, just one harness on the climber, just one carabiner attached to the belay device.
Likewise, there is only one person holding the brake side of the rope. If anything, in tree climbing there are more
instances.

Dealing with Single Point Failure

Manufacturers deal with single point failure by overbuilding the gear. The ratio of the breaking strength to the
expected working load is called the Safety Factor (SF). For most of our tree applications, the gear is designed with an
SF of 10. This means that a safety blue rope with a tensile strength of 7000 lbs and a SF of 10 has an expected working
load of 700 lbs. Even though the rope is a single point of failure, it is so strong it is very unlikely to break assuming.
In many cases, dealing with single point failure means somehow turning it back into a multiple point failure.
For example, a climbers harness is a potential single point failure. In practice we have the belayer put on a harness,
check it, and then have the climber perform the same check again. If a harness goes mistakenly unbuckled, at least two
40



more errors have to happen before the situation becomes critical. This is essentially a procedural way of dealing with
single point failure. We have several mnemonics for remembering the elements of the checks. The ABCs of Top Rope
climbing, the related ABCs of ascending, and the CRASH TEST(e)D rappel safety check.
Paperwork

Medical Form

Every participant and instructor must fill out a medical form for their class. We make two copies for all classes
leaving the building. One remains in the library lock box. The other goes in the field with you, and is otherwise stored
in your course gear locker. If there is an injury everyone has the information at hand. If you want to, you can fill out a
medical form and keep it in your instructor folder. When you teach a new course, all you have to do is go to your
instructor folder, grab your reserve form and copy it.
Before you go into the field you must review the medical forms of your students and co-instructors. This
process is called medical screening. If you dont recognize a medication or condition ask the participant about it
privately, or Google it. (Share what you learn with your coordinator so they can learn, too.) Do not ask your friends,
Hey, what is gonorrhea? Sally in my hiking class put that down on her medical form. Medical information is
confidential!
If your student is taking a medication you should find out not only what it is for, but what happens when they
miss a dose. Also, find out what other drugs might be contra-indicated.
If your student has had an injury, find out how long ago it happened. Does the injury still effect their
performance? What happens if the injury flares up? How often and it what circumstances is the old injury aggravated?
Recent illness might also be a concern. We want to know if the symptoms have abated, and if not, what the
participant is doing to mitigate them.
If you have doubts about the ability of the student to participate in the course, contact your coordinator.

Waivers

Part of your first day duties is to inform students of the risks they face by taking a COE course. Our liability
waiver is one way to approach the issue. Everyone has to sign one, and the lawyers tell us we have to read this
document to the participants. Even though the waiver has funny parts (people laugh at the phrase wildlife attacks) do
your best to take it seriously. As odd as it sounds, we have had a number of wildlife attacks at COE. Twice rock
climbing students have been bitten by raccoons (once on the forehead). We have had insect and animal bites in Costa
Rica. The waiver is serious business. Its a legally binding agreement and it should be presented that way.
By the by, dont let people tell you that waivers dont work in court. COE has been sued (unsuccessfully) and
our waiver proved to be very important in our defense. Tree Climbing has its own waiver because the more specific a
wavier is, the more enforceable it is in court.

Incident Reports

The incident report is a generic incident report form. Its form is a bit weird because it was constructed from a
standard model put forward by the Wilderness Risk Managers Association. Obviously you should write up any
accidents that occur on your trip. We are also interested in accidents that didnt happen, but very well might have.
These near misses as we call them, even if they are not all that near, may indicate a problem that we can do
something about. We shouldnt be running safe programs by accident.
When filling out the incident reports, try to give complete descriptions. This means full names, dates, and
details. Most of the fields to fill out are self-explanatory. In the first paragraph when the form asks for Name, it
means the name of the injured person, not the person who is filling out the form. At the very end youll find a place to
put your name in the Prepared by field.
If you dont know whether an incident warrants an incident report, will one out anyway. If the basement
dwellers agree that it is trivial, it will get tossed in the circular re-cycling file.

Training

New Hires

Some good prerequisites for being a COE Tree instructor are:

41



1. Comfortable at heights, hanging from a harness
2. Respect for safety systems
3. Graduate of COE tree climbing course or equivalent experience
4. Additional personal experience climbing trees with SRT and DdRT methods
5. Interested in sharing tree climbing with others.

Compared with our other climbing courses, teaching tree climbing at the basic level takes more time, demands
more commitment, and places the instructor in a position of greater responsibility. Even in Basic Tree Climbing,
instructors manage students at height, making transitions from rope to rope and anchor to anchor. In the rock climbing
world this is more typical of an intermediate climbing class such as single pitch guiding. For this reason we are also
looking particularly for the potential for a new hire to develop good judgment and maturity.

Basic Skills Training

Our two day basic training assumes that the participants are familiar with the material in the introductory tree
climbing class curriculum. For our new instructors we are interested in honing the presentation of these skills. We
would also like to make sure our instructors are aware of our safety policies and procedures, and have demonstrated
competence in supervising a participant ascending and rappelling. Finally, we introduce rescue procedures with
scenario based problem solving. Our basic skills training session focuses on the following:

1. Teaching tree climbing skills
a. Material
b. Presentation
c. Setting
2. Policies and Procedures
a. Review of tree climbing policies and reasons for them
b. Practice with Ascending and Rappel Procedures
3. Scenario-based learning progressions
a. Stuck throw bags
b. Student stuck on an SRT anchor line
c. Student stuck on a Motion Lanyard

Advanced Skills Training

The two day advanced training program gives instructors the chance to practice more complicated rigging and
rescue. Activities include:

1. Rescuing a student from their lanyard to the Full Circle line without the assistance of a ground instructor
2. Rigging Zip Line
3. Practice with the Frog, Yo-Yo, GriGri direct aid or other ascension methods
4. Rigging a tree to tree Tyrolean without coming to the ground

Role of the Senior Instructor

Back in the old days, this role didnt exist. Mark H., D. Katz and Keith L were all making it up as we went
along! We used our best judgment and communicated efficiently. These days more structure is developing to the I-team.
The senior or lead instructor is the in-the-field person responsible for overall safety, logistics, mentoring and
communication with the program coordinator. In general, a lead instructor for tree climbing should:

1. Have taught at least two other COE tree courses prior to accepting this role.
2. Have a significant level of commitment to the program and to instructor development
3. Be competent with the rope rescue systems we use in tree climbing
4. Have maturity and judgment sufficient to assess and properly mentor new instructors

Emergency Procedures

As of 2009 we have never had a tree climbing related injury. There is some data on the web to suggest that
there has never been a recreational tree climbing death. We sincerely hope this will continue to be the case. However,
42



if an accident were to occur, our general procedure for the Ithaca course is:

1. Get to the injured student and assess their condition.
2. If injury is life-threatening, have an instructor call 911.
3. Work with the ground instructor to get the injured student to ground.
4. The ground instructor should begin first aid, while the tree instructors facilitate the class coming to the
ground.
5. Students walk out with the remaining instructor to meet the ambulance.

First Aid Kits
Before you go in the field you should know the contents of your program first aid kit contents and know how
to use them. If you find that items are missing from the kit, return it to outfitting and request a complete kit. There
should be extras waiting on a shelf somewhere. If you use something out of your first aid kit, label it with a repair tag,
just as you would a damaged piece of gear. List what you used so the Wiz wont have to look through the whole bag to
determine what is missing.

Minor Accidents

Treat your patient in accordance with your first aid training. Every class should carry a first aid kit in the field.
Once you evaluate and treat your students injury, fill out an incident report form. There are copies in your course
folder and the first aid kits. When you return, put the filled out form in the program managers mailbox.

Non Life-Threatening Serious Accidents

If you have an injury that is not life threatening, but requires medical attention, call COE or the emergency
phone. There is probably a van available for the evacuation coordinator to take your student to the hospital or Gannett.

Life Threatening Emergencies

Provide first aid care to the level of your training. In the event of a life threatening emergency, call 911. At
least two instructors should attend to the injured person as the remaining instructor takes the students to the road to meet
the ambulance. For more information on how to handle an emergency, consult the Underground Guide to Cornell
Outdoor Education, and take a Wilderness First Responder course.
After medical help has arrived, contact COE to let us know what happened. If it is a weekend, call or page the
emergency duty person. If it is during the week, call the climbing program coordinator. Dont forget to fill out an
incident report. Do not discuss the accident with anyone except full time staff!

Emergency Coordinator and Communication

On every weekend of the year a full time staff carries a pager and cell phone in case a course in the field needs
assistance. Generally we get called for logistical reasons, like access to the wall or outfitting. Dont hesitate to call.
Thats what why we get paid the big bucks. All the contact numbers can be found either in your first aid kit or on your
emergency number sheet in your course folder.
Because the pager has more complete coverage in our area we use it as our primary contact number. Call the
pager number, enter the COE pager identification number, and then enter your phone number. When we get the page,
well go to an area that has cell reception and call you. If the phone you are calling from doesnt accept incoming calls,
enter 9999999999. The staff member on duty will go to a place that has good cell reception. Wait a few minutes and
call the cell number. If this doesnt work, go down the list of numbers on the emergency numbers contact sheet until
you get an answer.

To place a call to the pager:

1) Dial 607-254-7243
2) At the voice prompt, dial pager number 6341
3) At next voice prompt (it says, enter display digits.),enter the 10 digit number to be
called, then push # to end your message.
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To place a call to the cellular phone:

1) From a local private phone, personal, etc. call 607-227-5930 directly.
2) For long distance or local payphones call collect.

To call collect:

1) Dial 1-800-CALL-ATT.
2) Follow the directions for collect calling to a cellular phone.


44




Appendix A: Gear Lists

Basic Tree Climbing SRT and DdRT combined curriculum

Gear Needed by an Individual Participant

2 Handled Ascenders
1 Harness
1 Helmet
2 Yellow ascender slings (1 inch wide tubular webbing, 80 inches long, tied in a loop of 36 inches)
1 10 foot sling for foot loop
1 80 foot Length of Safety Blue Arborist Rope
2 7.5 foot Split Tails of Hi-Vee Arborist Rope
1 Steel link for Motion Lanyard setup
1 Prusik loop
1 Belay device
2 Locking carabiners

Total Gear List for a Class of 8 Participants*

16 Handled Ascenders
8 Harnesses
8 Helmets
4 200 static ropes
4 20 foot lengths of webbing for full circle anchors
2 Big shot heads with poles
4 Buckets
4 Zing-it Lines
4 Throw Weights, 14oz
16 Standard yellow ascender slings
8 Long pieces of webbing (10 foot) for ascender foot loops
8 Belay Devices
30 Locking Carabiners
4 False Crotches
12 Prusik Sling (one per person, four per Tyrolean)
8 80 foot Lanyards, Safety Blue
16 7.5 foot Split Tails, High-Vee
5 40 foot static anchor lines
8 Steel links for Motion Lanyards
2 Pulleys
1 First Aid Kit

Additional Items for overnight: Hammocks, sleeping bags and pads as needed for overnight.

*Instructors typically have their own personal gear and lanyards

Basic Tree Climbing - SRT Curriculum Only

Gear Needed by an Individual Participant

2 Handled Ascenders
1 Harness
1 Helmet
2 Yellow ascender slings (1 inch wide tubular webbing, 80 inches long, tied in a loop of 36 inches)
45



1 10 foot sling for foot loop
1 Prusik loop
1 Belay device
2 Locking carabiners

Total Gear List for a Class of 8 Participants

16 Handled Ascenders
8 Harnesses
8 Helmets
4 200 static ropes
4 20 foot lengths of webbing for full circle anchors
2 Big shot heads with poles
4 Buckets
4 Zing-it Lines
4 Throw Weights, 14oz
16 Standard yellow ascender slings
8 Long pieces of webbing (10 foot) for ascender foot loops
8 Belay Devices
30 Locking Carabiners
4 False Crotches
12 Prusik Slings
5 40 foot static anchor lines
1 First Aid Kit
2 Pulleys


Basic Tree Climbing - DdRT Curriculum Only

Gear Needed by an Individual Participant

1 Harness
1 Helmet
1 Lanyards of sufficient length to reach the branches of your target trees and back down, Safety Blue
2 7.5 foot Split Tails of Hi-Vee Arborist Rope
1 Steel link for Motion Lanyard setup
1 Prusik Loop

Total Gear List for a Class of 8 Participants

8 Harnesses
8 Helmets
2 Big shot heads with poles
4 Buckets
4 Zing-it Lines
4 Throw Weights, 14oz
22 Locking Carabiners
4 False Crotches
12 Prusik Slings
8 Lanyards of sufficient length to reach the branches of your target trees and back down, Safety Blue
16 7.5 foot Split Tails, High-Vee
5 40 foot static anchor lines
8 Steel links for Motion Lanyards
1 First Aid Kit
46



Appendix B: Rope Information

Tree Climbers rely on ropes for life safety and this section will introduce a basic knowledge of construction
care and use. Construction topics include: rope braid, diameter and fibers are useful to gain a general understanding of
safety while climbing. A good way to learn about rope construction is to cut a few inches off a rope and rip it apart and
look at the inside. Ropes are used in tension not in compression (i.e. pulling not pushing).
Rope Construction

Braid

Static Kernmantle
Ropes have a very tightly braided sheath (usually of at least 20 sets of fibers) and parallel core fibers. The core
is the load-bearing part of the rope. The sheath exists to keep the core fibers together and protected from sunlight,
abrasion and dirt. This type of rope construction works well with hardware because when it maintains its round cross-
sectional shape under load. A smooth ride on a rappel is ensured with this type of rope because it doesnt flatten too
much when loaded and thus distributes friction evenly. Dynamic rock climbing ropes are made with a similar
construction except the core fibers are braided as to increase elongation and thus increase stretch. Stretch is important in
reducing shock loads during falls. Since most arborists rarely risk shock-loading falls, all arborist ropes are made to not
stretch.
Twelve Strand Hollow braid
Twelve strands of fibers braided together, no core or sheath, easy to splice. Good for rigging or making friction
hitches. It has high breaking strength, but poor for climbing line due to low abrasion resistance.

Sixteen Strand
Sixteen strands of rope braided into a tight sheath around a parallel fiber core. In this construction the core
bears a mere 5% of the load. The core in these ropes mainly serves to keep the rope round under load and therefore keep
friction constant. For this reason these ropes are best for climbing lines when using a friction hitch (Safety Blue by NE
ropes is an example) because the tightly woven sheath is highly abrasion resistant.

Rope Fibers

Polyester
Fiber of choice in tree service industry. More abrasion resistant than nylon and a lot less stretchy.

Nylon
Stronger than polyester. Stretch useful in absorbing impact forces.

Polyolefins
This fiber is used as a lightweight filler on some lines to add bulk to the diameter without adding too much
weight and without compromising strength. This fiber makes ropes more stiff and springy.
Fibrillated polyolefin is softer and more flexible than monofilament polypropylene. Ropes made with
fibrillated polyolefin have superior knotability, better handling and no "memory" (the rope coils nicely and does not
have kinks after it's untied).
HMPE (High Modulus Polyethylene) includes high-strength exotic fibers such as Dynema and Spectra. These
fibers are extra slippery which means knots slip more. It is possible to achieve high breaking strength with a smaller
(compared to other fibers such as nylon or polyester) diameter rope, thus making systems lighter in weight. However,
theres a disadvantage. Because the line is thinner diameter, the bend radius will be smaller and thus greater reductions
in strength occur.

Milking
Milking is what happens to a rope when it has more sheath than core. This happens frequently on indoor
climbing walls with rock climbing rope. It is easy to see when there are a few inches of sheath that has slipped off the
end of a rope. Friction hitches and belay devices can cause milking.

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Rope Care

Electricity
While working near electricity lines it is really important understand the dielectric capability of your rope
because if your rope touches a hot wire it could transfer the energy through the rope to your body. Since we dont
recommend climbing near electricity lines unless youve passed through proper training, this section will be omitted in
this chapter.

Chemicals
In order to keep your rope in good condition its important to understand what its made of and what not to put
in contact with. A really happy climbing line doesnt get burnt, exposed to any chemicals, electricity, or get put under
loads that are unreasonable. Most climbing lines are made of nylon, polyester, and/or polypropylene. Nylon degrades
with oxidizing agents, UV rays and most acids. Polyester has good resistance to most chemicals, except 95% sulfuric
acid and strong alkaline at high temperatures. Polypropylene has excellent resistance to most acids and alkalines,
except chlorosulphonic, concentrated sulfuric acids, and chlorinated hydrocarbons at 160F. Additionally polypropylene
withstands most diluted bleaching solutions. Polyester is about 90% as strong as nylon but stretches less under load, is
more abrasion resistant, is more resistant to UV rays, and has less elongation when wet.
In some climbing techniques ropes move over branches or over metal which can generates heat due to friction.
Above 300 degrees F nylon begins to loose strength and it melts at 460F. Polyester melts at 480F with strength loss
above 300F. Polypropylene melts at 300F with progressive strength loss above 200F.
Rope Strength

How much will that rope hold? Thats a common question amongst our students at COE. The easy answer for
them is you can say The tensile strength of this Safety Blue from NE ropes is 7000lbs. However, this figure is created
in a laboratory under ideal conditions, pulling in a straight line with no knots or bends.

Safe Working Load
Safe Working Load (SWL) is a term used to describe the limits of strength of your rope in relation to a real
world application. The Cordage Institute (CITATION) specifies that the safe working load (SWL) of a rope shall be
determined by dividing the Minimum Breaking Strength (MBS) of the rope by a safety factor (SF). As a rule, the more
severe the application, the higher the SF needs to be in order to ensure safety. The safety factor ranges from 5 to 12.
Factors to consider when making a design factor include:

Injury, death or loss of property may result if rope fails
Loads are not accurately known
High or continuous dynamic loads are anticipated
Shock loads are anticipated
Extensive cyclic loads are likely to occur
Tension is on the rope for long periods
Knots are used, as knots can reduce strength by as much as 50%
Abrasion is likely to occur from exposure to rough surfaces or cutting edges, or by contamination
from dirt and grit.
Rope is used constantly over pulleys or around a small bend such as a carabineer
Rope is used in the presence of hazardous chemicals.
Rope is not new and is of unknown properties and/or prior use.
Rope is not inspected frequently or adequately.
Rope will be in service for long periods that may lose strength due to fatigue.

To make the calculation of a safe working load, you must divide the MBS by the SF. The standard for the tree
care industry is to use a safety factor of 10. So if your using the Safety Blue rope and the MBS is 7000lbs and you
decide you want a SF of 10, your working load is 7000/10 = 700lbs. This means nothing that weighs more than 700lbs
should be attached to the Safety Blue. Similar logic applies to other elements of the system including anchor points,
crotches, and false crotches.

Diameter
Usually as the diameter gets greater the rope becomes stronger. Some accessory cords in rock climbing are as
thin as 5mm, while in some parts of technical rigging in arborist tasks ropes can be as thick as 19mm. The tensile
48



strength of a 19mm ropes can reach 24,000lbs while a 5mm line is typically around 1000 lbs.

Bend Radius
Bending ropes reduces their strength and the tighter the bend the greater the reduction in strength. This is
because when ropes are bent the outside of the rope experiences tension and the inside experiences compression. The
inside bend therefore is not supporting the strain, and the strain is transferred to only a fraction of the rope which is in
tension, thus reducing the strength of the rope. Knots, branches, carabineers and ATCs all bend the rope. The tighter
the bend the less the rope can hold. Thimbles are often inserted into the end of a rope to reduce the bend radius and
therefore increase the strength of the setup.


49



Appendix C: Knots
Slip Knot Bowline
For some reason, the bowline is a difficult knot to learn and therefore difficult to teach. We have found it to be
somewhat easier to introduce the slipped overhand method. By exploiting its ability to easily capsize, a slip knot can be
turned into a bowline. If the bowline is to be used for life supporting purposes, make sure the tail of the rope exits the
knot correctly. When properly tied, the tail of the bowline should exit the knot on the inside of the loop. The Dutch,
Cowboy, of Left-handed bowline is not referenced in any climbing text. It is referred to in the Ashley Book of
Knots (Ashley, p188.) as
distinctly inferior to the right-
handed bowline. We have not
done testing on this knot and
cannot confirm this assertion.
Until we understand more, well
take Mr. Ashleys word for it.
The left-handed version should
not be used for life supporting
lines.
Start by tying a slipped
overhand near the end of the
throw line so that pulling on the
standing end of line will decrease
the size of the loop and eventually
completely untie the knot. Make
sure the slip knot is tied very
loosely. Now pass the working
end of the line through the load
and back through the slip knots loop. The direction in which you
thread the line will determine whether you end up with a left- or
right-handed bowline. Pull on the standing end until the slip knot
constricts around the working end and eventually capsizes into a
bowline. This method is a quick way to teach students how to
attach a throw line to a weight.
If the bowline is used for life support, tie off the working
end with a fishermans knot or re-thread the working end as shown.
Either of these tie-offs will help keep the bowline from working loose, but the Yosemite tie-off is a little less
cumbersome.
Prusik

Another way to grab the rope is by using a prusik knot. The prusik knot is tied with a loop of 6mm accessory cord
joined with a double fishermans bend. (For the knot to grab solidly, the diameter of the accessory cord has to be
smaller than the line to which it is tied.) The prusik is basically a girth hitch with more wraps. Two wraps will provide
some grab, three will provide more. This rope grab can be useful in a variety of situations. We routinely use it as a foot
loop with the Blakes hitch method, to tension zip line ropes, to anchor climbers when they do not need to move around
much, as during the overnight.

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Appendix D: Tree Identification
Ithaca

In Ithaca its easy to identify tree species with a little practice. Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Sycamore, Tulip Poplar,
and American Beech all have distinguishing features. Here are cool features about each tree.

Northern Red Oak - Quercus rubra
Field trees at HCC. Trees on ridge at Monkey Run. Great for exploring free space with the motion lanyard. Big
strong spreading branches.

Tulip Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera
Fisher woods, Smith woods. Really straight trunks for a long way. Weak branches, tall canopies +100 in
Trumansburg. Good for going up high

Sycamore Platanus occidentalis
Monkey Run, Stewart Park. Flaky bark on lower parts of tree. High branches really white. Relatively weak
branches. Thin bark, be careful with DdRT for cambium damage.

Sugar Maple Acer Saccharum
HCC platform tree. Used to make a lot of sugar. V-shaped crotches make hauling lines and hanging out rather
difficult. Great colors in the fall.

American Beech Fagus grandifolia
Smith woods. Pretty conspicuous smooth grey bark. Be careful to assess the health of the tree as they are
dying off rapidly due to Beech Blight. Smith woods is one of the only places left to climb these great trees. Amazing
canopies and great colors in the fall. Climbing in smith woods in late October is a priceless experience.

White Ash - Fraxinus americana
Not climbed on COE courses in the past. Really tight v-shaped crotches. Compound leaf. Throw lines can get
stuck.

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica we use a bunch of different tree species to climb. Since all of the leaves are pretty similar,
identification is basically an art form. We rely on other systems such as tree form; branching patterns and sap color.
Heres a small list:

Fruta Dorada Virola koschnyi
Sprial branching, golden fruits. Some famous specimens high on the mountain behind TFI. Fun for storing
students, horizional spreading branches provide great seats.

Ceiba Ceiba pentandra
The largest of the tropical trees in the new world tropics. Trunks buldge to greatest girth some height above
ground. Can be filled with wasps or bees in canopy. Horizontal branching makes storing students hard sometimes.
Large distances between ground and canopy make rigging difficult sometimes as well.

Guacimo Colorado Guazuma ulmifolia
Big beautiful trees grow near rivers with rusty color on underside of leaves.

Guapinol Hymenaea courbaril
Really strong wood, redish color to the bark. Rare around Tres Piedras, but a 40yo tree planted by Lingo
Gamboa has seen many an overnight in its platform.

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Guanacaste - Enterolobium cyclocarpum
Usually native to the drylands north of San Jose, but can be found in pastures near Dominical. Huge spreading
canopies great for learning to use the motion lanyard.

Higureon Ficus genus
These huge canopy trees are good for exploration. Easy to ID if you slice a bit of the root it bleeds white.

Jabillio - Hura crepitans
Tall tree covered in spines. Seeds explode in sunlight. Eye contact with caustic sap can cause problems with
vision or poison fish. This tree is telling you not to climb it. Now that Im thinking about it, lets not ever climb one of
these anymore.
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Appendix E: Tree Biology

In the future it would be ideal if COE tree climbing courses started to teach people more about the trees
themselves. We have been concentrated on climbing skills, but now we have good systems for teaching those skills.
Heres a basic description of tree anatomy:

Trees are made of air. No joke! The majority of their dry mass comes from carbon dioxide.
The outer bark is the tree's protection from stuff outside the tree. It is continually replaced from the inside of
the tree. Its a rain jacket, sunscreen, DEET, and a down jacket all in one.
The inner bark, or phloem, is sorta like the transmission lines from the roots to the leaves. Through the
phloem the food is passed to the rest of the tree, like our arteries and veins. It lives for only a short time, then dies and
turns to cork and then becomes part of the protective outer bark.
The cambium cell layer is the growing part of the trunk. It is the only living part of the tree except the leaves
and roots. It is really thin and grows new bark and new wood in response to auxin hormones. The hormones flow down
through the inner bark with energy from the leaves. The auxin hormones are produced at the leaf buds and start flowing
in spring. We have to be careful about the cambium because if it gets burned by DdRT it will kill the entire branch. Its
easy to burn through cambium on some trees that have thin outer-bark.
Sapwood is the tree's pipeline for water moving up to the leaves. Sapwood is the newest growth and will
become the hardwood in the center as the tree ages.
Heartwood is the tree part of trees. It is actually dead tissue but, it will not rot or become weak while the outer
layers are intact. This is why people carving their names into trees or scratching bark with your boots can be detrimental
to trees (just like humans it can open infection). The heartwood is basically like the bones of a human. Heartwood is a
mixture of hollow cellulose fibers held together by a chemical adhesive called lignin. Palm trees dont have this
chemical and therefore arent even trees!
Leaves Are is an above-ground plant organs made to do photosynthesis. Leaves are flat, and thin to expose the
cells that have the chloroplast to light. Leaves are crucial in helping us climbers identify trees, take good pictures in the
fall, and provide shade and an umbrella when it rains. Conifers have needles, hardwoods have broadleaves.
Buds- Think cabbage - a really big bud. Buds form in the spring and end up becoming leaves.

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Appendix F: Tree Climbing Waiver




THIS IS A LEGALLY BINDING AGREEMENT. PLEASE READ THIS ENTIRE DOCUMENT
CAREFULLY.

By signing this agreement you give up your right to bring a court action to recover compensation or
obtain any other remedy for any injury to yourself or your property or for your death however caused
arising out of your participation in this Cornell Outdoor Education or Outdoor Odyssey Tree
Climbing activity now or any time in the future.

I agree that my participation in this Cornell Outdoor Education (COE) tree climbing course is entirely
voluntary. I agree, on behalf of myself, my assigns, executors, and heirs, to RELEASE, INDEMNIFY, and
HOLD HARMLESS Cornell University, its trustees, officers, employees, and agents from any and all
liability, damage, or claim of any kind arising out of or in any way related to my participation in this COE
program (except for that which results from the sole and active negligence of Cornell University, its trustees,
officers, employees, or agents). This shall include, but is not limited to, damages and claims on account of
personal injury, property damage, death, or accident of any kind in any way related to my participation in, or
transportation to or from this COE program, and any act or omission of a third party that impacts my
participation in, or separation from, or transportation to or from COE program. In the case of voluntary
separation or expulsion from the course I understand that I will be responsible for all expenses related to such
separation.

I understand that neither Cornell University, nor the COE program provides any accident or medical
insurance and that I am required to provide my own accident and medical insurance. I hereby agree that I am
financially responsible for all such expenses. I understand COE does not carry radios or cell phones, and I
may be far from medical facilities. I understand that neither Cornell University, nor COE program provides
any private vehicle insurance and that I am required to provide my own private vehicle insurance should I
elect to use my own vehicle for transportation to or from a COE course. In the event of accident or injury in
my private vehicle, or any other private vehicle, I agree to the same terms outlined above.

I understand that all participants are subject to Cornell University regulations, COE policies, laws of
the United States, and the laws of New York State. In the event of violation of these, or behavior that is
considered by COE to be detrimental to the participant, other participants, or the COE program, COE shall
have the right to dismiss me from the course while retaining all payments. I hereby certify that I am
physically fit and able to participate in this course.


TREE CLIMBING PARTICIPANT WAIVER


Cornell Outdoor Education, 607-255-6183 Outdoor Odyssey, 607-255-4168
Phillips Outdoor Program Center, B01 Bartels Hall, Campus Road, Ithaca, NY 14853
www.coe.cornell.edu



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I further state that I am cognizant of all the inherent dangers of participation and the risks involved in
this course which includes, but is not limited to:

Slips and falls from hiking on uneven terrain;
Being struck by objects dislodged, dropped or thrown from above;
Failure of climbing ropes, anchor lines and equipment;
Failure of tree trunks, limbs and branches;
Extreme weather conditions, including rain, snow and lightning;
Wildlife attacks, including animal and insect bites;
Hypothermia or hyperthermia;
Motor vehicle accidents.

I state that I am of lawful age and legally competent to sign this affirmation and release. If a minor, I
understand this form needs to be signed by my parent or legal guardian. I understand the terms herein are
contractual.

I have read and fully understand the above acknowledgement of risk, release / indemnification and covenant not
to sue. I have signed this document of my own free will, and agree to the terms outlined herein.



Participants Signature Participants Name (printed clearly) Cornell ID# (if applicable)

_________ _____________________
Participants Date of Birth Participants Age Net ID Course Name


Parent/Legal Guardian Signature Parent/Legal Guardian Name Todays Date
(if participant is under 18 years old) (printed clearly)

rev. 07/2009 mh45

55




Recommended Books

Shigo, Alex L. Modern arboriculture : a systems approach to the care of trees Durham, NH Shigo and Trees,
c1991

Vines, Tom, Hudson, Alex High Angle Rescue Techniques Elsevier Mosby, St. Louis Missouri, 2004

Tree Climbers Companion


On Rope