Tree Climbing in the 21st Century
It's a Great Time to Be a Climber!
Over the past 10 years, tree climbing and tree climbing equipment have moved from the stone-age straight into the 21st century. With advancements in materials used to the techniques used to access trees, it is a great time to be a tree climber! The Internet has also brought together a whole new group of climbers that are highly skilled, as well as highly willing to share their knowledge. Let's take a look at how climbing gear and techniques have changed over the past decades to help us make our days a bit easier than the days of free climbing and cross cut saws!
Evolution of the Hitch
Let's begin back when the best friction hitch around was the Taut Line Hitch. The Taut Line Hitch was a variation of the Magnus Hitch, the Camel Hitch, and the Safety Belt Hitch used by Steeplejacks. This hitch was taught to most every tree climber because it worked well when the only other option was free climbing the tree or free climbing the rope. The Taut Line allowed climbers to move throughout the canopy of the tree and also position themselves so they could 'comfortably' work within the tree.
The Taut Line could also be tied with one hand, which could come in very useful in an emergency situation. This was revolutionary! Some of the down falls found in the Taut Line Hitch were its ability to roll itself out or coincidently its ability to bite down so hard that the only way to move was to unweight the hitch and then loosen up the wraps around the rope.
From the Taut Line came the Blake's Hitch. Heinz Prohaska invented the hitch and shared it with Nylon Highway, a caving journal in 1981. In the meantime, Jason Blake had developed a similar hitch concept and presented it to Arbor Age magazine. Soon after, many arborists took to the hitch because it provided a more consistent means of descent and ascent. Jason Blake had called it a 'Slipper Knot,' but other arborist kept the name Blake's Hitch.
The Blake's Hitch was a far better hitch compared to the Taut Line hitch because it did not have the tendency to roll out, nor did it bite down half as hard. This made moving through the canopy much easier for arborists around the world. Between the Taut Line Hitch and the Blake's Hitch, nearly every climber learned one of these when they started climbing, and probably still knows it to this day.
Lighter Gear, Easier Work
Many climbers around this time were using steel snaps or just attaching their rope directly to the D ring on their saddle. Gear made of aluminum has moved in tremendous strides since then in both overall strength and the ability to be machined into different shapes. Some of the big players in the manufacturing game of hardware are companies like DMM and Rock Exotica, which have mastered the art of forming metal into extremely useful and strong objects that allow us to do things that we had only previously dreamed of.
Rock Exotica has designed some rigging hubs that allow for 3D rigging and look like they are straight out of the space age! DMM on the other hand has designed gear with extremely smooth lines and rope friendly edges that also hold up to an extreme amount of abuse in the everyday work place.
The upswing in using aluminum as the main material for hardware has allowed climbing gear to become lighter in weight. Fatigue is kept at bay and extra energy is more abundant by having lighter gear in the climbing system and on the climbers harness. Smarter construction and design, like I-Beam construction in carabiners, has allowed for lighter gear with higher strength ratings.
Efficient Tie-In Systems
After the Blake's Hitch gained popularity, climbers began developing new techniques to make their climbing more efficient. The next big step was the Open Climbing System or better known as the Split Tail. Normally, climbers would ascend to where they wanted to tie-in, throw part of their rope (tail) over a limb, tie the tail to their D rings and then tie a Blake's Hitch to the opposite side of their rope. This created a closed loop system that allowed the climber to move down and through the tree. When the climber wanted to change their tie-in point, they would need to untie this entire system before they could tie-in again. This proved to be time consuming and completely inefficient.
The Split Tail system was made up of a short length of rope with a rope snap or carabiner tied to it, this was called the Split Tail. Another snap or carabiner was tied to the end of the climbing line. Now the climber could take the Split Tail and tie their Blake's Hitch to the climbing line. This made their closed loop system into an open system. Now when climbers were ascending into the tree, they had a Work Positioning Lanyard or 'Buck Strap' that was the entire length of their climb line.
When the climber decided to tie into a different spot, all they needed to do was unclip the carabiner attached to the end of their climb line, untie it, and then pull it through their old tie-in point and toss it through their new tie-in point. All that was left to do was tie their carabiner back on and clip it back to their D ring. The Split Tail system opened climbers up to safer climbing techniques.
Be sure to read our next blog post about what came next in the tree climbing timeline and how it helped develop what we use today when we are climbing. Do you remember when some of these things came around? We would love to hear about them in the comments section below!