An Appeal For Common Sense
By: T. Lott
In recent weeks I have read over and kept up with a number of discussions on various message boards dealing with tree climbing. Among those discussions I am recognizing a trend that I find quite bothersome. I have read over discussions dealing with techniques and methods that may be used to reduce friction while descending on a friction hitch. I have read discussions dealing with the question of just how much weight will a friction hitch support. I have observed much posturing about whether climbers should be using arborist ropes versus dynamic ropes versus static ropes. I have read discussions over whether nylon is superior or inferior to other fibers used in rope manufacturing. There has been much discussion over how a climber can tell the difference between nylon and other fibrous materials and all of the technical jargon that goes along with such testing. Some of these discussions have reached a point where I feel that many of those contributing to these discussions are about to slip off the deep end. I would like to argue that application of a minimal amount of common sense and the implementation of a few basic climbing protocols would make most of these discussions totally unnecessary.
As an example: A question has been raised concerning the amount of weight a friction hitch will support. If the climber asking this question will simply look around at the other climbers, both large and small, using friction hitches, that person would realize that such a question is totally unnecessary. I suspect that if this person would devote as much time to climbing as to inventing questions, that the questions would answer themselves. If you have no confidence in the knot upon which you are climbing, then don't climb on it. If you question the strength of the climbing system presented to you, then go slow and stay low until you feel you better understand what is happening as you climb and feel you are able to invest more faith in that technique. Understand that if friction hitches didn't work, there would be a whole lot of dead climbers lying about on the ground beneath their trees. Since there are no dead climbers lying about beneath the trees, try exercising a little common sense and accept the fact that the system works. Just for the record, I have experimented with a 5/3 Blakes hitch and have hung five adult male climbers from one knot, all at the same time, and there was no slippage. I don't think we need to be wasting time over the question of how much weight a friction hitch will support.
Another example: What can one do to reduce friction, and the rope damage that goes along with it, while descending on a Blake's hitch? Well, duh. I don't know about the rest of you, but I was taught that if you descend slowly there will be no particularly high buildup of heat within the knot and there will be no damage to the rope. In other words, slow up and the problem will take care of itself. I've been climbing trees for three years now, and none of my ropes are showing any damage from friction within the climbing knot. I will occasionally use a descending device as a backup during long descents, but that is a safety issue and not related to the issue of friction damage. As for reducing friction damage to the limbs in the tree you are climbing, and damage to the rope caused by the friction created when it passes over a limb, why not try using a rope sleeve, friction saver, or other device manufactured for the purpose? That should be a no-brainer!
Going farther: There is the question of whether dynamic, static, or arborist ropes are best for climbing trees. Again, well duh! It should be obvious that arborist's ropes were made for arborists, and that arborists climb trees. If static and dynamic ropes were best for tree climbing, then why have rope manufacturers felt the need to create arborist rope? Another no-brainer, you would think. Again, just for the record: I have climbed trees on all three and can tell you that static and dynamic rope work just fine for SRT ascents, and that arborist ropes will work just fine for either SRT or DRT. The biggest argument against using static and dynamic ropes seems to be the problem of rope abrasion where the rope passes over the limb. Again, why not use a rope sleeve, friction saver, or other device manufactured for that purpose? When using dynamic or static ropes for climbing trees I always use a rope sleeve. None of my ropes are showing any damage from abrasion. As long as a rope sleeve is being used, I don't think it matters which type of rope you are climbing on; just be sure not to try DRT with a friction hitch on anything other than an arborist rope.
There is also a lot of discussion as to whether nylon or other fibers are best for climbing rope. The argument, as best as I can tell, centers on the idea that nylon seems to lose 10-20% of its strength when wet. I have scouted around several sites that advertise equipment for climbers and I have yet to see any climbing rope over nine millimeters in diameter that tests at less than four thousand pounds. If you decrease its strength by twenty percent, then the new strength rating would still be 3200 pounds. If you follow the rule that you should never expose equipment to more than ten percent of its advertised breaking strength that means that the climber would have to weigh in excess of three hundred and twenty pounds in order for there to be a problem. If any of you out there weigh more than three hundred and twenty pounds then I will admit that perhaps there's a problem here worthy of our notice. Somehow I suspect that once again we have no problem, especially when you consider the fact that this stuff rated at four thousand pounds was the weakest climbing rope that I was able to find. My suggestion: Give this problem a rest; it's a non-problem!
In summary I would like to suggest that a little common sense and the implementation of a few basic climbing procedures would negate the necessity for most of the discussion cited here. Climb slow, descend slower, practice low, and use your friction protection sleeves.