“It is vain to do with more what can be done with less”
– William of Occam
Over the last 10 years there has been a flood of new kit onto the arborist scene. Gear, gadgets, gizmos, doohickeys, thingamajigs, contraptions. Call it what you want. Most of it is fluff.
For the majority of my climbing career I have been what you would consider a minimalist. The people that I learned from were the same. Just old-school climbing with a rope, lanyard, and handsaw. Natural crotch rigging, because it’s fast, and because, as we used to say, “friction is a good thing”. Trucker’s hitch instead of a fiddle block because it just works. No fancy gear, no new-fangled whatsits. Just one guy, one rigging line, one job well done. Consistently.
I want to paint a picture to illustrate a point. Here’s the scenario:
Early morning, mid-September. It’s you vs. Jack Nicklaus: 18 holes, winner takes all. You are playing on your home course, so you know it better than the bottom of your beer glass. Jack has never played this course before, in fact, he hasn’t even practiced in 6 months. In your corner, you have a professional caddy for expert advice, as well as a fully stocked bag with $5000 worth of the finest golf clubs that money can buy. Jack on the other hand, has to carry his own clubs around, which by the way, are old and crappy. His clubs were old and crappy in 1962. Now, any predictions on how this plays out?
Here’s my prediction: He is gonna whoop your butt.
You see, someone who is great at what they do is not great because they have all the fancy kit. They are great because they put in the time. They practiced. They studied the tape. They were willing to fail in the short term to win in the long term. They earned the right to have a fully-stocked gear bag with all of the latest gadgets and gizmos. The gadgets and gizmos were not the starting point. They were the extra bonus features tacked onto the end. The job could have been done just as well without them.
Here’s what I am really driving at: Fancy gear does not a great climber make.
I’m not suggesting that everyone go back to climbing on manila rope with a tautline. I hope to strive for balance. There is a place for gear, absolutely. But is that newest piece of kit really going to make the difference, in the grand scheme of things? They say that people are like birds – they like shiny things. I know that arborists love getting the newest shiny gadget. I get that. But is one more piece of kit really going to make the difference between a mediocre tree surgeon and a superstar climber? I think not.
And just so we’re clear, I am not universally condemning every new piece of kit that has been introduced in the last 10 years. I use a lot of the newer stuff as well. But for my part, I feel very fortunate to know that I can do without that stuff if I need to. It scares me to think that an entire generation of up and coming young arborists might one day assume that you can’t climb a tree without a foot ascender, or a three-hole swivel pulley, or a Basal Anchor System. “Sorry boss, I would get up there and get this work done, but you know, I lost my triple, ultra, super-deluxe, lightning speed doohickey, so I think we should bring in a spider-lift for this one”.
Look, I am not a Luddite. I don’t drive to work in my horse and buggy and make fun of the Englishers. I love the new gear as much as the next guy, and I use a lot of the new stuff. I love the marketplace that has grown up around this industry. It is amazing. I still have my original Rope Wrench that says “Made in Detroit”. I am not suggesting that great climbers shouldn’t have the best gear. I am just pointing out that the best gear does not make you a great climber. An $800 saddle won’t help someone with their fear of heights. A brand new climbing saw will not help you make better decisions aloft.
There is a ton of noise out there. There are literally so many options in the market for beginning climbers that they couldn’t possibly know what they need. All I am saying is that what you need is experience, and good judgement, and knowledge – not gear. At least not at first. The gear comes later. The Basics are what matter. Learn the Basics and learn how to get the job done with less, not more. This is all I am trying to teach my apprentice.
Let’s get Back to Basics. This obsession with gear has taken many tree surgeons’ focus away from where it should be.
These are the fundamentals that actually matter:
- Planning your route through the tree
- Physical Fitness
- Designing rigging systems
- Cutting skills
- Visualization/spatial awareness in 3 dimensions
- Experience i.e. putting in the time
If you focus your energies on these things, you will improve. You will be a better climber regardless of the gear. Just climb. Climb at every opportunity. If you are working at a company with multiple climbers, be the first to grab your gear bag and bring it over to the tree. The more enthusiastic you are about climbing at work, the more climbing opportunities will come your way. There is no substitute for air time in this trade. If you don’t feel that you are getting enough air time at work, then climb on your own time. Climb in the backyard or at the park or in the woods. Just get up there.
I have always looked up to the climber who can get the job done with less, not more. The crew that needs 3 porta-wraps, 5 different types of rigging lines, a crane, and a backup crane just to get something done – that doesn’t impress me. I am far more impressed by the climber who can go up with just a rope and get a complex job done quickly and efficiently. If a job really does need all the kit, then by all means, use it. But don’t assume that just because you have a lot of kit that you should be using it on every job.
Don’t over-complicate your job or your life. Simplify.
Climb High, Work Smart, Read More.
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