My name is Macintosh Swan, and I have a lot of climbing gear. I preface this discussion – of climbing with two systems in sync – with that statement. If we are talking drawbacks to dual-stationary-rope systems (DSRS), I think the volume of gear required would be at the top of the list. In my experience, the list of drawbacks to DSRS climbing is short and may actually contain just that one item.
I also would like to preface by saying you will see me using the Rock Exotica Akimbo. I love that tool, but would hate to give the impression it won’t work with anything else. You can build systems with whatever you have, be it Rope Wrench, Rope Runner, Hitchhiker, Bulldog Bone, Zigzag, etc. They don’t necessarily even have to be two of the same tool, as long as you find a way for everything to interface safely. I had great success with the Bulldog Bone and the Rope Runner in tandem. The uniformity of mirrored systems makes everything a little smoother though, especially in ascent.
So, in the interest of spurring wider discussion and more innovation, I want to share the techniques I’ve been using to climb trees. These are not ideas I have made up. I only started fiddling with DSRS after Kevin Bingham and Eric Whipple got it stuck in my head, the idea taking root with them after attending SPRAT (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians) courses.
I am not trying to tell anyone that climbing on only one rope is unsafe. I have simply come to believe it is much easier to maintain safe and stable work positioning with two climbing systems. I have found the full-time use of two climbing systems to be a really interesting challenge with unforeseen benefits. And don’t forget, if the second line gets in the way or feels cumbersome, you can always leave it somewhere and come back to it or abandon it altogether if it feels unnecessary.
Following here is a brief overview of the gear I am using.
• One harness with two bridges, each with a swivel
• Lanyard – mine is a 20-foot rope with a rope grab and carabiners at each end
• Two foot ascenders, right and left
• One chest harness with two attachment points
• Two climbing systems or devices
Anchoring and directs
I am not going to get deeply into the discussion of anchoring, but be sure you anchor yourself in the canopy or to the base of the tree in a way that is secure and will not interfere with the work you are to perform. I often base-anchor with trunk wraps followed with a lock-off , or canopy-anchor my lines together with one Quickie (Singing Tree shackle). More often than not, I set both my lines in the same suspension point, then as I move through the structure of the tree, I set redirects as I would typically. Some climbers redirect both lines; more often I redirect one of the lines, spreading them apart so I can begin to utilize two angles of support. This improves my balance and distributes my weight to more points of suspension.
As you will find with all aspects of DSRS practice, the path to efficiency lies with good housekeeping. In this case, that means keeping track of the orientation of your climbing systems, the interface of your lifelines with the tree itself and the work to be performed and the best ways to support your mass while you perform the work. An added obstacle is the addition of redirects – you must make sure you plan ahead as you set them so they will not interfere with each other or with their eventual removal. I usually find myself using ponytail redirects so I can retrieve them with the tail as I move to another area. Retrievable redirects are something I am interested in trying and integrating into my climbing practice.
To me, having two foot ascenders is way more streamlined than a foot and a knee. That’s one less tool to manage, and it feels more symmetrical when both legs perform the same movement. The most important part of a clean DSRS ascent is rhythm. It helps a lot to have two ropes of at least similar construction, as having one foot weighting true static line and the other foot weighting a more dynamic line is going to result in each foot elongating those ropes to much different lengths. I say again, though, you can get away with working with what you’ve got. I have definitely used one static and one dynamic rope. Heck, I’ve used a foot ascender on one rope and a HAAS (ascent system) on the other. Awkward, but functional.
Lateral movement, ghosting and redirects
This is the area where DSRS really comes to life, I think. Any obstacle I encounter is quickly mitigated by the fact that I have two support ropes attached to me. Slack one of your lines, pass it around the obstacle, reattach, load. Slack second system, pass around the obstacle, reattach, load. This is what my friends Eric Whipple and Paul Poynter have dubbed “ghosting.” You pass through the canopy of the tree without having to awkwardly climb around or over every bit of tree structure to keep good rope angles.
Redirecting with SRS (stationary rope system) climbing blew my mind; anywhere I go, I can figure out a way to support myself from that point by redirecting the line in some way. When I began doubling my options for redirecting, my mind was blown again. Tree climbers of any style know that setting a second suspension point is occasionally necessary to complete a task. I am merely expanding the range of areas where two suspension points are being utilized and applying it not only to hazard situations, but to accessing the entirety of the tree.
I weigh in at 200 pounds out of the shower, so getting out to the tips in the upper crown of the tree, where I do not have the full support of my suspension point, can be precarious. But when I divide the support of my weight between two lines, I can actually get further out and up than I was able to before. I regularly find myself in positions I would not be able to achieve if leveraging myself against just one point.
The same principles apply in the lower canopy as well. When I am planning to work a tree, I often am segmenting it into smaller sections, each accessed individually. I plan the order of approach and decide how my ropes are going to get me there. Separate support points allow me to access a broader area from each section of the tree, which cuts down on the number of access points I need to utilize overall, which cuts down on the amount of time it takes me to complete the entire tree.
So, in closing, I’d like to point something out. All of the concepts we just addressed are ones I wager every climber is already familiar with. There is nothing new here; I am not trying to claim I have reinvented the wheel. I have found, in discussing this practice with other climbers, that there is a lot of resistance to the idea of climbing with two systems, usually from one of three viewpoints:
- I don’t need a second rope – I ain’t skeared;
- That by validating the concept, the way is paved for oversight and regulation of climbing style; or
- It’s just too much stuff.
The first is ego based, the second fear based and the third is logic based. Any time ego or fear are dictating behavior, I think it’s good to challenge those ideas and move past them. And logic tends to be somewhat subjective. I think my opinion is logic based as well, though it’s hard to tell from within sometimes.
I am not trying to sell you on DSRS climbing, I am trying to move a conversation forward. It’s the same conversation that SRS climbers have been having with DdRT climbers for decades – “There are not just more tools in this toolbox, there is a whole other toolbox over here. Check it out.”
Macintosh Swan, CTSP, is owner of Mac Swan Tree Care based in Burlington, Vermont. He has been climbing and working in trees from more than 10 years. Swan will present a session on “Safety Culture: What Are You Hiding?” at TCI EXPO 2019 this fall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For more on TCI EXPO 2019, visit expo.tcia.org.