Ascent and descent make up a small percentage of what occurs during tree-climbing operations. Much of the time in the canopy is spent in a work position. When we stop climbing to accomplish the specific tasks/objectives of the job order, we must position ourselves in a manner not only to safely accomplish the task but also to do so with the greatest ease of movement and stability. The more stable a position you can place yourself in, the less stress you will place on muscles, joints and your body overall.
Years ago, work positioning was accomplished with a buck strap or flip line. The latter gets its name from how loggers used to flip the line up the stem as they spiked to advance it. These tools are still around today in many forms, but with the advancement of technology also comes an advancement in tools and how we use them. In my opinion, among the greatest tools to aid work positioning today are the new work-positioning lanyard systems. At the root, they are made of similar components as climbing systems, but they also can incorporate specific tools designed for sole use as a lanyard. A good work-positioning lanyard should be able to be used in several configurations, from the standard flip-line setup to more advanced setups such as stationary rope systems (SRS) or multiple-stem, M-rig (aka V-rig) setups. The key here is having components that are compatible and can interface with the system in its full setup.
Several manufacturers create ready-to-use systems, and one of my favorites is the hipStar Flex (formally the CE Lanyard) by Teufelberger. As a climber of many years, I chose this device due to its robust testing standards, rebuildable nature and ease of use.
The first position we’ll look at is using the lanyard system as a typical flip line by placing the lanyard around the material and connecting to the opposing upper D-rings on the saddle. When using the lanyard in the body-position zone, from shoulder to knee height, it is best – and required by some manufacturers – to use the lanyard on the upper D-rings. When using the lanyard above shoulder level, you want to place the lanyard in the lower D-rings, since you are now in a suspension position and not work positioning. One variation of this is to wrap the lanyard one complete time around the material; this allows the climber’s lanyard to not slide on the material. In the event you are on a very smooth or slippery bark material, you can wrap the lanyard around the material and over itself, creating a half hitch on the material.
Another use for a work-positioning lanyard might be in a stationary rope system. This can be achieved by anchoring the lanyard to the material, either with tensionless wraps or by connecting the lanyard back to itself with either a marlin spike or Prusik loop/thimble Prusik. This allows you to have a greater length of lanyard to use in the system. However, the disadvantages include having to go back to the anchor to retrieve it, component interaction with the tree material creating potential side loading and having to move the lanyard attachment from the D-ring to the bridge system on the saddle. If you don’t have a bridge system, you can connect to the climbing system D-ring connections as well. The key is in where you attach the lanyard system so that, in the event your climbing system is cut, you will be suspended by the lanyard in a suspension position versus having attached to one side D-ring and being suspended from that D-ring in an improper fashion.
Lastly, let’s look at using the work-positioning lanyard as a secondary moving rope system (MRS). This can be accomplished by using the lanyard the same way as an MRS, placing the connection to the harness on the same bridge component as the climbing system. Now you have the ability to position the body using angles to create a stable platform. If you don’t need to go back to the tie-in location, you can retrieve the lanyard system and return it to a work-positioning system. Like the SRS, you need to make sure that, in the event your primary climbing system becomes compromised or detached, you’ll be placed in the climber-suspension position and not suspended from a single, side D-ring.
Work positioning is also about keeping good working angles while climbing, and a lot of that is accomplished by either using natural-union redirects or artificial-union redirects. The simplest redirects are using natural unions and working through the union. If you need to retrieve your rope out of the union, you can either ascend back through the union or use the ponytail trick to pull your system out of the union and back to you once you are secured with your lanyard.
Another simple option is to use a piece of webbing and either a single carabiner or double carabiner to capture the rope and control the redirect and swing potential. The choice of having one carabiner versus two is in relation to bend radius and at what angle of rope you are going to be working to ensure you aren’t reaching a critical-bend radius. There are many options of redirects on the market nowadays, and it’s always best to learn and practice with them at low elevations before attempting anything at working height.
Work positioning really is the vital component of tree climbing and working while aloft, and is accomplished by using the right tools and the skills that come from practice. As with many aspects of tree climbing, there are a lot of right ways to do things and a few wrong. Ensure you stay secured at all times and go slowly while you learn. Take time to practice using various techniques, even when you don’t need to use them. That way, when it comes time to reach for that exact technique, there will be no question as to how to do it safely and effectively.
Travis Vickerson, CTSP, QCL (Qualified Crew Leader), is vice president of operations with Chippers, Inc., an accredited, 21-year TCIA member company with offices in Vermont and New Hampshire.