TFTC #8 Get Mechanically Inclined in your tree work

Brandon Nance Jan 22nd 2019

In every job, completing a task safely and efficiently is at the top of the priority list. Wouldn't you agree?

Safety and efficiency ramp up their focus within the arborist industry. We place ourselves at height, move around in a three-dimensional world and rig out large pieces. We do this all while climbing a living organism that doesn’t come with any type of rating or certification at our tie in point.

Increased efficiency benefits everyone. One thing to consider, however, is the level of increased efficiency varies from person to person as well as the comfort level of each solution. Anything we can do to increase the efficiency when climbing is worth exploring and a mechanical device/split tail/prusik could prove to be a solution to increase efficiency for your moving rope climbing system.

How long do mechanical devices last?

This is a subjective question with many variables. It's no different from someone asking how long a prusik cord will last. There really is no solid answer to this question. It ultimately comes down to the individual using the prusik cord or mechanical split tail. If you like to bomb out of trees with speedy descents, then regardless whether you are using a prusik cord or mechanical device, the lifespan of both are going to decrease. The types of trees you climb, the environment and a number of other variables all help determine the longevity of any piece of gear.

Spiderjack 3Prusik cords wear over time and must be replaced at a greater rate than a mechanical split tail. Most climbers have experienced the slipping or creeping prusik cord, and have been forced to retire it for a new one. On “average” — and that term is subjective — it is likely the cost of a mechanical device and the useable lifetime of that device will be on par with prusik cords bought over the same amount of time. Again, this is subjective and determined by the user. One thing to consider is even if the mechanical device cost more than prusiks over the same time, does it make your climb easier, more efficient or even more enjoyable?

How do they work?

Each device works differently, but they all rely on the same as any climbing system: friction. How each goes about introducing the friction is specific to the that device. The ZigZag does a great job of taking something well-known – like a friction hitch – and packaging it in a device that is easy to understand and familiar to anyone. The SpiderJack uses replaceable clutches and a wooden brake for friction.

Spiderjack 3 Close-upQuick Overview of Popular Devices

If we look at efficiency, the SpiderJack is one that jumps to the top of the list for Moving Rope Systems. It allows the user to take up slack above the device and quickly move it through and out of the device. No other device is capable of performing to the level of the SpiderJack in regards to ease of taking up slack and self tailing. Eating slack is its job, and it is an expert in its field. Another aspect of the device is the fact that sitback is almost non-existent which improves efficiency as well. It does take time to become acclimated and confident with the function of the device. The SpiderJack is a device that requires your full confidence to not only function properly, but also reach its full potential. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see this device in the hands of expert technicians, it is worth checking out the video featuring Joe Harris below:

Another aspect that makes the SpiderJack lineup appealing is the ability to replace any part of the device. When a clutch wears out, simply replace it. Some would argue that replacing a clutch is the same as replacing a worn prusik cord. It is a solid argument; however, if it changes the way you climb, increases efficiency, and overall improves the experience, it may be a good fit for you.

If the high speed, low drag nature of the SpiderJack is not of interest to you, A.R.T. also manufactures a similar device that provides a quicker learning curve and still self tails well, although not to the level of the SpiderJack. The LockJack allows the user to replace clutches and any other part used in the device and is available with or without a swivel.

The Petzl ZigZag in a climbing set-upThe PETZL ZigZag has proven to be a successful device for MRS as well, and is a simple device to use. It does a great job of taking the look and feel of a prusik cord and morphing it into a mechanical device. The instant familiarity of the device helps bridge the gap from a rope on rope system to a mechanical split tail.

The ZigZag has been redesigned and will be released in early 2019. The redesign took into account opportunities to improve efficiency which can been seen in how the climbing line feeds through the device and the increased sheave diameter. Part of the success of this device is the ease of use. Although the ZigZag does not allow parts to be replaced, under normal usage, you should get plenty of climbing time with the device before it needs to be retired.

Since the first release of the ZigZag, climbers have created some very interesting hybrid creations to allow the use of the ZigZag in a Stationary Rope System. Although these combinations are not recommended or approved, it did cause Petzl to sharpen their pencils and look to provide an approved solution. The Chicane will be available in 2019 as an approved addition to the ZigZag for use on Stationary Rope Systems.

Rock Exotica UnicenderVersatility is always a nice benefit to have with any piece of gear and the Unicender by Rock Exotica provides the user with the opportunity to climb using the device in a Moving Rope System and quickly switch over to a Stationary Rope System. This is something to consider when looking at mechanical split tails. Knowing that the device provides a solution for both MRS and SRS set-ups, it is worth looking at this device in more detail.

It is also available with an adjustable length tether, allowing for more versatility. Utilizing the tether provides the user with the ability to move the device up the climbing line and use the upper body for advancement up the line.

Are mechanical split tails better than rope on rope?

Great question, and there's really no correct answer. It all comes down to the individual. I still enjoy climbing with the Hitch Climber Pulley set-up, as it is a very efficient rope on rope system and once you dial in the hitch, it is a fantastic system. If the thought of using a mechanical split tail is of interest to you, check them out and decide which one is going to be of the greatest benefit. Even if you feel like your system is exactly the way you want, always explore other options to increase efficiency and production.

Hitch Climber PulleysMechanical split tails are an investment just like any other piece of gear. If it helps lessen the sticker shock, understand that these devices provide proven solutions. If a mechanical split tail increases efficiency over your current system, even if by a small margin, it pays for itself quicker than you may think. Who knows? You may even find that an increase in the “fun factor” was worth the investment!

Find someone close by that uses one of these devices and try it out. Check out a local chapter climbing event, tradeshow, or a training event, such as a Vermeer Seminar, to get your hands on these devices. Be sure to check out ArborFest Expo this March in North Carolina. It's a great opportunity to clip into one of these devices and get a feel for it, and talk to other climbers and get their thoughts and opinions!

Climb safe. Cut safe.