By Michael “House” Tain
The concept and use of floating anchors has many applications throughout daily tree care operations, from establishing a “pull” point where none exists to direct the fall of a tree, to advanced rigging operations suspending loads when no taller tree or crane is available. However, the last several years have seen a veritable explosion in the use of floating anchors in climbing operations. These different tools, techniques, and methods — which go by a wide variety of names — all have one goal in mind: to provide the climber with a movable tie-in point (TIP) throughout their ascent, descent and movement within the canopy. As always, the creativity and innovation of climbing arborists is readily apparent in the number of ways individuals establish these floating anchors or TIPs; and, as is often the case, guidelines and regulations for and about their use are lagging a bit behind. Currently, the majority of guidance that has been provided on these methods has originated from chapter, regional and international climbing competition judges and technicians, where the use of floating anchors has become more and more common in the various events. Additionally, some trainers, designers and manufacturers within the tree care industry have begun the process of testing and evaluating some of the different available systems, and their respective components. However, in general, there is little written regulation explaining the “shalls” and “shoulds” of their use. As a floating TIP is a climber’s primary means of support, obviously this current lack of existing regulation or guidance does not mean “anything goes” — particularly in light of the fact that the security of that floating anchor is all that stands between a climbing arborist and the always-present pull of gravity. Although specific guidance does not yet exist, some basic principles and evaluations can assist tree care professionals in evaluating and safely using these movable TIPs.
Standard set-up for footlock. The Prusik could easily be used as a floating anchor during ascent after appropriately backed up. A shorter footlock Prusik would make use easier.As stated previously, the intention of a floating anchor for climbing operations is to provide a movable TIP throughout the work process aloft. As with many tools or techniques, this use will not be needed, or even desired, for every job. But when the need does exist, use of a floating anchor can make the job much quicker and more efficient. For many climbers, a typical job will start with achieving a high TIP, footlocking or otherwise ascending a static line to that point, then switching to a dynamic or working climbing system to carry out the designated tasks. When using a floating anchor, the basic concept is some form of hitch or device that seizes the ascent line in a secure manner, then allows the climber to have a dynamic or working climbing system suspended from that hitch or device, providing a TIP anywhere along the existing ascent line. This allows a climber to work at any point during the ascent; and can often create more favorable rope angles due to the two lines involved.
All components of the floating anchor that are involved in personal support must meet the strength standards for life support — in short, 5,400 pounds for rope or cordage and 5,000 pounds for hardware. Additionally, the use of connecting links such as carabiners should follow existing guidelines and standards in regard to locking mechanisms, appropriate loading angles, and appropriate interfacing. Items such as rings, pulleys, or other friction-reduction methods should be evaluated for strength and appropriate application, as the whole TIP will be moving during the climber’s ascent then being pulled in one direction or another as the work is carried out. Gear that works and interacts well when secure in a traditional TIP over a branch in the tree may behave much differently when exposed to the move and sway of a floating anchor, and should be evaluated fully beforehand to avoid the discovery of awkward problems at a very bad time when aloft.
A close-up of a three-wrap/six-coil Prusik, applicable for footlock ascent and as a floating anchor.One of the most common, and simplest, methods of establishing a floating anchor point is to use the cordage forming the ascent hitch as the TIP. These systems run the gamut from the simplicity of a footlock Prusik with a carabiner in it for the dynamic climbing system, to purposefully spliced rope tools with rings in both ends to lessen friction during the climb. Generally, the hitch is used during a footlock ascent with the dynamic system already in place, providing an adjustable tether. Upon reaching the desired working height, the hitch is “set” or secured, some form of stopper knot or back-up placed beneath it in the ascent line, and work commences on the dynamic system. Currently accepted and recommended practice requires the use of a carabiner through the stopper knot and capturing the standing part of the line to prevent the possibility of a load coming onto the ascent line and pulling the stopper knot out during climbing operations.
The use of ascent devices as floating anchor points has been, and continues to be, much debated and discussed. The reality is that the majority of ascent devices used in the tree care industry were neither designed, nor developed, for use in trees; and there is ongoing research by tree care professionals to determine their fitness for arboreal applications. Beyond these devices’ appropriate use for ascent is the possibility and/or wisdom of using them as an anchor point for primary support of a climbing system. For those tree care professionals who wish to use an ascent device as a floating anchor, the simplest and most appropriate manner to proceed would be to contact the manufacturer with any questions and concerns. After all, who would have better knowledge of the capabilities and strengths of a given device? The current prevailing opinion among most judges and technicians at competitions is that frame-loaded handled ascenders should not be used as an anchor point, primarily due to breaking-strength concerns with the attachment points on the frame and the odd angles the framed ascender might be loaded at during climbing operations. The use of cam-loaded ascenders as a floating anchor point is generally more acceptable, as the load applies almost directly to the cam on the ascent line. However, this may vary with the type of cam-loaded ascender. Any device used for ascent must be backed up in some manner during the ascent; and should a user have a device that is acceptable and appropriate for use as a movable TIP, it also must be backed up when being used as such. Users should keep in mind that, depending on how the ascent/floating anchor system is set up, it may be necessary to have back-ups on both parts of the line when using a two-part or two-line system.
Single Rope Technique (SRT)
An SRT ascent system properly backed-up. Once aloft, the hitch, properly backed-up, could be used for a floating anchor point with no load on the framed ascender.Floating anchor points can certainly be used on single-rope systems; and the same recommendations and guidelines regarding components and back-ups will still apply. Beyond the typical advantage cited of SRT, not needing to isolate an individual branch attachment point, its use makes removal of the floating anchor point much easier. The climber can simply descend on their dynamic system leaving their floating anchor point at whatever height they finished; and then lower the entire system under control with the other end of the single line.
Although floating anchors for climbing operations require a certain amount of research and evaluation prior to incorporating them into daily use, once understood and practiced, they provide an excellent tool to safely and efficiently carry out work aloft. The ability to stop at any point in the ascent, quickly switch over to a dynamic climbing system, carry out the work required, and quickly return to the ascent can be invaluable in many situations. As with the majority of tools and techniques within the tree care industry, there is no doubt that floating anchor points and movable TIPs will continue to evolve and develop, becoming ever easier and efficient; and providing tree care professionals with a low friction TIP wherever they wish regardless of the tree’s existing structure. All that is required is that arborists evaluate and examine these new methods for security and safety, and enjoy the ride.
Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com and Arbor Canada Training and Education www.arborcanada.com. He is currently located in Lancaster, Ky., and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com