Tree Encounters of a Close Kind! 😨
Welcome to Tree Encounters of a Close Kind! Cue the X-Files music!
As climbers, we know that tree work can be inherently hazardous, and things don’t always go as planned. I've made big mistakes on several occasions throughout my career, but it’s through those failures that I've been able to learn.
Batman Begins posed the question: “Why do we fall?"
And the answer was "So we can learn to pick ourselves up!"
That might be super geeky but hey, I’m a Batman fan.
Let's talk about my close encounters in tree work. One happened when I was pretty green. I had always been instructed that if the chipper began to eat an object; don't hold onto, or pull on said object. I was told to either let it go, or run over and shut off the machine.
Fast forward to a workday which involved felling and chipping some Cottonwood trees out by the road. This was meant to be a simple cut-and-chip job, not a visit to the urgent care. We had set ropes in the trees that had come down and were placed at the base of the tree. We were dropping limbs and putting them into the chipper but we hadn’t noticed that one of the ropes had gotten snagged.
I heard a banging sound and looked for the source. The rope was banging on the side walls of the chipper! I sprang to action, ran over, and hit the feed wheel control bar to reverse out the rope. At first it didn’t do anything, then in seconds I was on the ground with no feeling in my right leg! One of our co-workers saw exactly what happened. The rope snapped after it reached its max breaking strength and as it shot out of the chipper, it managed to wrap around my leg. The rope took me airborne, twirled me around 360 degrees like a ballerina dancer and landed me on my ass! I was taken to urgent care and luckily nothing was broken. However, my knee was three times its normal size and the rope burn was pretty gnarly.
Now I'm ten years into the trade, but I still occasionally make mistakes and receive bumps and bruises.
In another example, I was on a contract gig to remove a Scott Pine leaning towards the house but there was nowhere to speed line to, and no other suitable nearby tree to rig from.
At first, everything was going according to plan. The rigging was near flawless and then the top came into play. The way the lean had formed on this tree made me want to avoid going any higher to avoid poor positioning. This left me with a 20-foot green top to blow out. I had taken tops out like this before with a super tight drop zone, so I figured I could do it again! After thinking back, that attitude was a huge contributing factor. That complacency of doing a repetitive task can be a big mistake! This is where things tend to go wrong because of that mind set, which means you’re getting too comfortable. Complacency is a very real thing, and I was about to get a reality check.
Blocks were set in place, notch in, the rope was secured onto the top, and I was ready to send the pièce de résistance! Prior to doing so, the last thing for me to do was adjust my cinch anchor onto what was about to become a single spar. Lanyard on, mode of egress established, I looked at my rope handler and we gave each other that nod of agreement that it was coming. I knew there was going to be minimal lowering of the piece, which meant that I was going to experience a shock load. I was ready for it too!
Have you ever seen the video of the guy getting whipped around the spar all crazy? That was me when the piece fell. My spurs got kicked out, but my lanyard and tie-in still held me in place. I was whipped around the spar 180 degrees and sucked into it. A stub that caught me dead center in the chest. I was out for about 10 seconds when I finally regained consciousness!
I opened my eyes and my chest felt like I had been struck by a train, but I had survived. Adrenaline was coursing all throughout my body, keeping the worst of the pain at bay. I managed to bring myself upright onto the spar again, taking a few minutes to absorb what just happened. I laughed at myself because I had always seen those videos and thought there was no way in hell that would ever happen to me. I did end up finishing the tree, but I can assure you it was not too pleasant after. Luckily nothing on my body broke. I did have a super bruise and some pretty gnarly scratches.
Both of these mishaps could have absolutely been prevented. My problem was I had gotten too comfortable with my job. Don’t fall in the mindset of thinking that this only happens to the other people, because one day it really could be you!
I choose to share my close encounters so that others can learn from my mistake. Knowing what this feels like, I don’t ever want this happening to someone else.