“It is vain to do with more what can be done with less”
– William of Occam
I am a gear-obsessed, tree climbing nerd. I just want to make that clear. I love new climbing gear. I love all of the gadgets, gizmos, doohickeys, and thingamajigs. But if I could say just one thing to beginning climbers, it is this: don’t look to the gear itself to make you better at your job. Derek Sivers has a famous quote that goes: “If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” I would like to extend this line of thinking to the current state of climbing gear, and say something like, “If better gear was the answer, then any greenhorn arborist could just go and spend a bunch of money on kit and instantly transform themselves into a superstar climber!”
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.
And just so we’re clear, I am not condemning all the new 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 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 people’s 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. You can’t read about doing pushups – you actually have to do them! Same with climbing, and with everything else in life that actually matters.
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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