By Michael “House” Tain
There are few experiences in the tree care profession that are more likely to raise the blood pressure of practitioners and cause discord among crew members than a “bad” throwline day. Often the frustration levels reach the point of discarding, at least temporarily, this extremely useful tool. Somewhat surprisingly, there are a large number of industry members who are either unfamiliar with the joys and agonies of throwline use, or after one bad experience have relegated this valuable piece of arborist gear to the dumpster of “bad things.” This is unfortunate, both for the individuals who have made this choice and for their bottom line. Effective use of throwline will not only save energy for climbers, it will save time on the job. Hasty negative judgments based on limited information and experience is a poor choice. A few basic tips, along with some simple techniques/tricks, can help restore throwline use to its rightful place — an integral part of every professional climbing arborist’s physical and mental tool box.
The proper choice, storage, and care of throwline and its associated weighted bags/shot pouches will go a long way toward making its use easier and less frustrating. The diameter of throwline and the weight of shot pouches used are personal preferences, but factors such as the height of the throw and the roughness of the bark will influence these choices. Factors that should be considered when choosing throwline include strength, slipperiness and a limited tendency to retain bends, twists or bights — often known as memory. The small diameter of throwline can often lead to it becoming knotted or tangled, and this tendency is greatly exaggerated by a throwline that has a great deal of memory, or one that has been stored in a coil. The best way to store throwline for easy deployment is in a medium bag or stiff-sided container, such as a five-gallon bucket or folding cube. The throwline should simply be flaked back into the bag or container after use, much as a climbing line is stored in a rope bag. Although throwline techniques vary among users, the two most common techniques are the underhand/side toss and the two-handed/between-the-legs or “granny” shot. The ability to consistently attain desired tie-in points (TIPs) at 60 or 70 feet with either of these methods can be achieved fairly readily with practice and experience, though no climbing arborist is immune from a “bad throwline day” sooner or later.
Preparing to launch with the Big Shot. Note the throw weight pouch is on the opposite side from the user, and that the fiberglass pole sections are locked together.
All photos by Michael “House” TainThe quickest path to throwline excellence is the purchase of a Big Shot, a large offset slingshot readily available from a wide variety of arborist supply retailers. TIPs in excess of one hundred feet are readily accessible with this useful tool. However, as with any tool, it needs to be used appropriately to avoid inadvertent personal and property damage. The slingshot head should only be mounted on fiberglass poles or sections; and if used on multiple sections, care should be taken to ensure the sections are securely locked together. In addition, the slingshot head itself should be securely locked to the pole or initial section. The pouch that holds the weighted bag should be on the opposite side of the pole from the user, with the throwline leading away from the Big Shot toward the target tree, either flaked neatly onto the ground or into a storage/deployment container. New Big Shot users will quickly realize that “overshooting” the intended target is much more common than falling “short,” but the amount of time required to learn how to effectively use this piece of arboricultural artillery is much shorter than that of manually “throwing” the shot pouch; and desired height and accuracy is quickly attained.
Two weight technique
The two-weight technique is probably one of the simplest throwline manipulation methods, but one that involves the risk of getting a throwline or throw weight stuck. The bags on either end of the throwline are simply used to maneuver it vertically or horizontally to the TIP. Swings may be generated by creating a pendulum motion up in the tree, or even by lowering the throw weight and giving it a push from the ground in the desired direction, then attempting to maintain the swing as it is lifted up into the canopy. If the throw is above the desired TIP, users may be able to pull the throw weight up and over, dropping it into the TIP, or alternatively, if the throw is below, flipping the bag up and over the branch into a higher one. This technique, once practiced, can be quite useful and efficient, but the risk of the throw weight and line becoming stuck due to quick and sudden movements is much greater than with other techniques, so it is best used judiciously with a measure of care and caution. Even if the user does not plan on using the two-weight technique, bags should be tied to both ends of the throwline to avoid the spirit-crushing experience of hitting the “perfect” shot and watching the untethered end of the throwline sail up and through the TIP.
The initial throw (yellow line) to set up the use of the two string technique. The TIP is unusable, but above the desired one.
The second bag and throwline (orange line) attached to the initial line to allow manipulation.
The second throwline (orange) manipulated into the desired tie-in point with the first line (yellow).
The second throwline (orange) in place in the desired TIP ready for Friction Saver installation. Note the first line (yellow) is still available should another tie-in or rigging point be needed for the particular job or tree.
This technique is useful in a wide variety of situations; and is probably one that after having been learned, developed and refined — will be employed successfully on a regular basis. As implied by the name, a second string or throwline, along with a second throw weight to overcome the additional friction of the second string, are used to maneuver and manipulate the throwline into the desired TIP. In some cases or trees, a third weight may even be needed to overcome the additional friction. With this technique, a user simply needs to be able to throw high into the canopy above their desired TIP, either manually or with a Big Shot; then, having attached the second throwline and throw weight to the first, lift the second string and weight into the tree, and use the second string to maneuver itself into the desired TIP. Care should be taken to use a secure attachment knot properly backed up to tie the two throw weights together, as the movement of the rings during maneuver can cause some hitches to open and release. Small carabiners or clips are sometimes used for this application, but their use does provide yet something else to get stuck, hung or jammed aloft. The attachment strap on the bottom of some throw bags may also be used to attach the second string and weight. The second string can be used to maneuver the throw weights laterally, thus allowing the user to “swing” the throwline around the trunk or leader if necessary. An additional advantage of this technique is that even after the desired TIP has a throwline set in it, the user still has their original line high in the tree and can set additional throwlines with it if necessary using the same two-string technique. The use of the two strings can often lessen the need among climbing arborists to hit the “perfect” shot, for, in most cases, as long as the first throw is above the desired TIP, the second string will allow for manipulation into it.
This technique is quite useful to move the throwline along a branch or leader in the horizontal plane, moving it past stubs and small branches, into the greater strength and security of the branch union with the trunk. If the climbing line has already been installed, the user can fairly easily throw bights up to move the line, or use a flip stick to maneuver it. Obviously the smaller-diameter and lighter-weight throwline does not respond well to such methods, thus the use of a jump stick or throw weight. The throw bag or a small (5 to 8 inches in length) stick is attached to the throwline, usually midline, allowing users to have both ends of the throwline in their hands. If using a stick, attach the throwline at both ends of the stick to keep it fairly straight. The throw weight or stick is then pulled up to the branch the line is over, and, while moving in the desired direction along the branch, the climber pulls the bag or stick rapidly back and forth across the top of the branch, causing it to jump and hop over obstacles as it moves along, until reaching the desired TIP.
Effective use of throwline will save tree crews both time and energy. And while few tools in the arboricultural toolbox can be as exhilarating or as frustrating, the few basic and introductory tips and tricks discussed here should assist tree care professionals in experiencing more of the exhilaration and joy, while minimizing their frustration, and, hopefully, their blood pressure levels.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org