Getting Hooked on Traversing

Traversing from tree to tree can come in handy. Photos by Tchukki Andersen.

When tree climbers talk about traversing, they are referring to the action of moving horizontally through the treetops to cross spans of distance without having to descend. This practice really speeds up a climb and allows the climber to move easily within a spreading tree or even to adjacent trees. You might decide you will never need to use a traversing hook in order to move through the treetops, but on the off chance you do find yourself in a position of needing a traversing hook, this is a short tutorial on how to use one.

Many ways to go – just like everything else

There are many ways to traverse through the treetops. Most methods involve throwing a line from where you are to a branch at the place you want to be. The idea is to attach your line to the remote anchor point and pull yourself across the span. If it is a short distance, you could throw the tail of your climb line into a branch union and pull yourself across the span. Longer distances, however, can be conquered by throwing a weight with throwline attached across the target branch. Both of these methods then require that you retrieve the end of the line you just threw in order to attach your climbing system to it. Problem.

An improved method of anchoring a traverse line is to use a line attached to a grappling device that, when thrown, latches onto a distant target branch, which then allows you to pull yourself over. Much better. Not having to retrieve the line in order to continue the traverse really speeds the process. Grappling objects can be as simple as sticks or specially designed, hinged, claw-like devices stored on your super-hero utility belt. As mentioned previously, this article will look at the simple traverse hook.

What you’ll need

You’ll need a rugged traverse hook with about 20 to 30 feet of lighter-weight, low-stretch line, depending on how far your traverse is. To carry or store, flake the rope into a small bag. Don’t wrap the rope around the hook – it takes forever to unwind and can tangle easily.

You’ll need a rugged traverse hook with about 20 to 30 feet of lighter- weight, low-stretch line, depending on how far your traverse is.

Hook it up

First, make sure you have a clear line of sight to the branch union you want to traverse to, because you’re going to be throwing a hook. If there are a lot of twigs and foliage obscuring your view, the hook will get caught up with every throw, and you’ll spend your precious tree-climbing time untangling the line.

Then take aim – breathe! – and throw the hook over the target branch. If possible, try to overthrow the target a bit so the hook latches onto a branch just below the target branch lower. This provides a bit of a redirect to help stabilize the hook, but sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

Once you have your line over the target-branch union, the idea is to manipulate the hook so the hook opening is oriented with the branch. Twist the rope until the hook mouth is aligned under the branch, then pull on the line to set the hook. You also can flip rope loops along the line to help line the hook up.

Move over

You can then use your hands to pull yourself along the line toward the hook while tending your climbing system to allow rope out. A rope-capture device such as a cammed ascender or friction hitch will make a longer traverse much easier on your grip. You could just pull yourself over long traverses with your mighty muscles, but the closer your climbing-line angle gets to horizontal, the more you will “weigh,” and your hands likely will lose their grip.

Removing the hook

You’ve made the traverse, you’ve arrived at your destination and your ability to grip is still intact. If you can’t just reach out and grab the hook, give the line some slack and let it dislodge itself from the branch union. If the hook seems a little stuck, give the line a few twists or roll some rope loops, and it should disengage.

When to hook up

If you are limb walking and want to prevent a big swing, use a traverse line to help stabilize your positioning. Use a traverse line like a secondary work-
positioning device when you’re out on the branch tips in a widespread tree or a tree with small branches, or whenever you need additional positioning support.

Traverse hook lines are designed as positioning aids and should not be used for life support. Consider them simply positioning aids. Use caution when applying your full weight on a traverse hook – after all, it’s just a hook and not a cinched anchor.

Think about this

When using a traverse hook, most of your body weight will be on your climbing line and main suspension point. The traverse line will move you through space, but, in order to keep the weight on your climb line, you will need to lower yourself a bit as you get closer to the traverse anchor. The longer the traverse, the lower you’ll need to go. If you tried to traverse straight across at the same height, you would put so much force on your rope angle and main anchor point that something would have to give – and in a bad way. So just accept that a longer traverse path will be across and down, and not just across. You’ll have to finish the traverse with a short climb to your final destination.

If you have a long traverse, or if you need to stay at the same height in the canopy when relocating, then you will want to consider a two-rope support system on viable anchor points instead of a traverse line.

Once you find how easy this technique makes your climbing, you’ll be hooked on traversing.

Tchukki Andersen, CTSP and Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA), is staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association.

Julian Olivera-Angelis, a climber with Tree Top Service in Fishkill, New York, contributed to the video.

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