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A Knotty Issue

Author: jmaher
Date: October 06, 2005
There has been an upsurge of interest lately on the subject of the creation of standards for recreational tree climbing and recreational tree climbers. There is no doubt that standards would be a step in the right direction toward the acquisition of credibility and public acceptance of an activity that is growing in popularity and interest on an almost daily basis. Before jumping in, however, we might do well to consider the possibility of ending up in water over our heads.

A whole lot of thought and discussion should take place before anything is done. Standards are something that would have to be acceptable to everyone, in order to be effective, and the reality is that anything even slightly more than very general in nature would not be acceptable to all parties.

To begin with, let’s ask the question: “Do we really want ‘standards’?” The word “standards”, as pointed out elsewhere, could be interpreted as an authoritarian directive implying a necessity for policing. “Standards” can also apply to the idea that some things are acceptable simply because that is the way they have always been done and that these things have been found to have worked in the past and therefore should be acceptable for all time. Consideration should also be given to the possibility that the creation of standards would result in a parametric mindset that could discourage creative thinking that might invite criticism. Before going any farther, it may be pointed out that we are in trouble already. Not everyone is going to agree to anything of an authoritarian nature, nor is everyone going to agree to the idea that some things should be done simply because that is the way they have always been done. Already there exists the potential for an issue very devisive in nature.

It has been suggested that the terms “guidelines” or “accepted practices” might do a better job of describing what is needed. This is good. Both terms are more general and should therefore be more acceptable to the total community. This sort of thinking is a move in the right direction.

Another suggestion has been that we consider using an already existing document, created for the professional arborist, as a starting point for the creation of a document for recreational climbing. This might not be such a good idea. If tree climbing is to be accepted as a recreational activity then treeclimbers should consider creating a document that reflects a recreational rather than a professional approach to climbing.

Even so, however, there is still the question of just what these standards/guidelines/accepted practices should be and where, when, and to whom they should apply. There are few climbers and even fewer instructors out there that can agree on anything when it comes to how climbing, and climbing instruction, should be done. There are many different ways of doing things and who is to say that any one way of doing any one thing is the only way that that particular thing should be done? Again the only answer that will satisfy the majority is to remain very general in the selection and wording process.

Think it through. There are those who will argue that SRT is better than DRT or that DRT is superior to SRT. There are those who will argue that a 5/3 Blakes Hitch is the only acceptable knot, while others will swear by the 4/2, and still others will argue for “advanced” hitches. Some will insist on footloops with prusik knots, others will argue for an ascender with a footloop, while still other climbers will insist that footlocking is the only way to go. Some climbers will argue for use of a splittail, others for the double splittail, and there are those who will insist on a straight connection with no splittails at all. Screwgate versus ball lock carabiners? Aluminum versus steel? Sixteen strand versus twelve strand versus Sportline versus The Fly, versus any of a dozen other kinds of rope? Should the main connection to the harness consist of a figure-eight-on-a-bight, a clove hitch, a butterfly, or some other kind of knot? Which is OK? Which isn’t? Who will decide and how? How can things be worded so that all of the above is acceptable? Unless this can be done there will be some serious battles and again the potential for devisiveness within the climbing community exists. Only by being extremely general in nature is there any possibility of having everyone agree.

Should the concept of standards, guidelines, or accepted practices apply only to certain situations, such as when a climbing class is being taught or when a group or guided climb is being facilitated? Should these things also apply to the individual climber who is out there doing nothing more than personal climbs and who may not like the idea of having someone else dictate his or her personal style of climbing?

Different venues approach climbing in different ways. There are venues that cater to climbers who need adaptive rigging in order to access the canopy. Other venues exist to offer adventures of an experiential nature. Some venues are strictly recreational and the climbing is done purely for the fun of it. There is a large body of climbers who perceive climbing as a form of wilderness adventure. How can any one document accommodate all of these different approaches to climbing?

It is imperative that any document created should have representation from all areas of the climbing community. All viewpoints need to be welcomed at the table equally.

Think it through. It will be almost impossible to create any one document that will make every one happy and that everyone will agree to. Only by being very general in nature and by being very careful in naming those situations where such a document should apply can the majority of those involved be satisfied. Everyone needs to give this issue a lot more serious thought before we go jumping right in and create something that we might live to regret later.

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