Climbing in the freezing cold

Yesterday in Montreal, it was -35 celcius (or -30 Fahrenheit). There was a dead decaying limb on a Crimson King Norway maple that needed removing and since the hydraulics on the bucket truck kept freezing, I decided to climb it. I've never climbed at these temperatures before and didn't think it posed any danger, just a little uncomfortable with the freezing winds. However, as I took the limb down in pieces and gradually moved down on my friction hitch (v.t. tied with 10mm ocean on a 1/2" 16 strand), it would jam every few feet. I would really have to work at it to get it to keep moving and when it did come free, it would slide alarmingly quickly for a second before acting normally again. I inspected the rope and prussik before going up and there weren't any abnormalities, bulges, glazed spots etc... When I got down I checked the rope again and found that in a few spots, the rope was frozen. The only thing I can think of is that as the friction hitch arrived at these frozen sections, the rope couldn't pass through the hitch normally because of the rigidity of the frozen section...then as i worked it through, it would force the hitch open ever so slightly so that when it passed the frozen section, it would slide quickly, seeing as the hitch had been opened slightly, before biting normally on the rope. Any thoughts?? I don't know if anyone has any experience climbing in such temperatures. Yesterday was definitely a first for me!


Well-Known Member
If your ropes were dryed completely they don't freeze like that. I'm just making this up but even with dry ropes if you lay them in the snow it'll stick to them if they're warm. If you could get them chilled to the air temp before snow contact they should work safely. It takes a couple days for a rope core to dry.

That's too cold though. I've done my time in extreme cold and even though you can dress for the weather the clothes then become the hazard and mechanical things refuse to work.

Realistically I don't climb in under -20 and over a 5km wind. Gettin' old. If I loose a job in that weather I guess they should of given me a bonus to do it. And the other guy is obviously cheaper, have at 'er.


Active Member
You guys are working in this weather!!!!!

I would keep my gear inside overnight if I was you.
Come to think of it the rope got a tad wet the day before...nothing that made me think I had to let it dry but maybe it was enough to freeze the rope. And the rope had been sitting in the truck side cabinet for most of the day when I climbed this particular tree, so it should have been at, or close to, the outdoor temperature. Aside from the issues I had with the friction hitch and the rope, I've never found the clothes to be a hazard in the cold. I pack on a bunch of thin layers and it seems to keep me sufficiently warm. Especially when moving about the tree. And my climbing system is pretty bare bones: not a whole lot of mechanical devices besides a micropulley so the chances of mechanical failure in the cold are pretty low. Either way, I much prefer climbing in the spring or fall!

And my gear always stays inside overnight. I've had enough stuff stolen from me over the years to lock everything up indoors everyday!


Well-Known Member
I had a scare when I had a jacket outside the saddle. I tuck them in now or wear a one piece. I was coming down on a fig8 because of a frozen hitch and fumbled for the tail for a couple of split seconds but time stood still for long enough for me to find the handle. Only dropped about six feet but far enough. I tried to hang on with my feet so I ended up upside down. Extra caution is required.
yeah that'd be enough to get your heart rate going an extra few beats a minute. and yeah, winter climbing ALWAYS requires extra caution. even if it's just below freezing, those patches of black ice on the limbs can catch you by surprise. in quebec we're required to have the shoulder suspenders on our saddles so as long as you're not wearing anything too long (and you keep the suspenders on the outside), they tend to keep jackets and such from getting in the way.


Well-Known Member
I've always wanted suspenders and a baton. Could save you from sliding out of your saddle when your upside down too.


Well-Known Member
How do you find enough time off from The Black Crowes to do tree work?

(sorry, couldn't resist!)

Welcome to TreeBuzz.
Hi Chris
I currently live in northern Ontario (Muskoka), and we don't work in those temperatures. Mostly because too many things can go wrong with equipment, resulting in down time, rotating in neutral, unproductive work, etc. Not to mention the associated risks that come with those temperatures. Sometimes it's better to wait for a better day.
I'm not sure if you're self employed or working for the man, but I would either suggest waiting for more reasonable weather for working, or sitting down with your employer and discussing the pros and cons of working in those conditions.
A comfortable climber equals a productive climber and a safe climber.
Just my 2 cents.
Hi Ben,

I work for a municipality on the island of Montreal. There isn't anything in our collective agreement stipulating that we don't work in the freezing cold, so our bosses are obligated to give us something to do. Since the foreman on duty usually doesn't have the foggiest idea about what sort of tree work needs to get done, I'm usually left to my own devices. However, I still need to report back at the end of the day with a detailed list of work that I've done. So, as much as I totally agree that working in extreme cold results in diminished productivity, I still need to do something on those days. And my bosses understand that I will not be as productive on those days as when it's a comfortable 15 degrees outside. All that being said, are there any serious safety risks I need to watch particularly carefully for in the extreme cold?
yeah, don't freeze your boys :) I work and climb all winter, double check the gates on your biners, make sure they are operating smoothly, keep your ropes and hitch cord clean and dry if you can, dress in layers, smartwool is SMART.

also, wood reacts differently in the cold due to the moisture levels being lower, they can seem more brittle, asses your TIP closely, keep more weight on your rope on limbwalks, and be wary of a change in the hinging ability of wood when very cold.

cheers, I love a good -30c work climb.



Well-Known Member
It sounds like a tricky spot you're in Chris. I suppose vehicle and gear servicing only goes so far towards using up bad weather...

Maybe pose the question in the "Utility Arborists" section here. I'm guessing others have the same issue?


Well-Known Member
I am not sure but I think alot of our life biners and such are rated for minus 25 degrees celsius.
Its in the upper right quadrant of the mushy part of my brain that has finally thawed out.


Well-Known Member
Yesterday in Montreal, it was -35 celcius (or -30 Fahrenheit). There was a dead decaying limb on a Crimson King Norway maple that needed removing and since the hydraulics on the bucket truck kept freezing, I decided to climb it.

[/ QUOTE ]


In 2010 I spent a week in New Liskeard ON contract climbing for a good friend and great climber. -38C without the windchill. (He had suggested we postpone for a week or two........bah)

Invigorating weather that reminds you the you're alive! If you're cold you ain't workin' hard enough.


Well-Known Member
Yeah, keep moving. Layer, balaclava, and extra pair of dry gloves for after lunch. First couple of pieces you rig out watch how they react to determine how well they'll hinge or if the cold is leading to brittleness.

Equipment just needs to be monitored and don't be overly aggressive with what you feed the chipper. I'm sure all your trucks and motorized equipment is set up for cold weather operation so make sure to warm it up before expecting to work. Saws should be set up for winter conditions.

Be mindful of hypothermia. Monitor your temp and take a break to warm up in the truck or a coffee shop if you're so lucky!

Sounds like you're down with cold weather work just no experience with it. As Mangoes said, You know and, I'll add, appreciate that your alive!
hey chris
I guess working for a municipality, it is what it is...haha! I totally understand your situation, and I'm not sure how I would deal with that. I'd probably do what you're doing, going out and toughing it out to earn a living, like we all have to.
As far as safety concerns, it's really just all about staying comfortable. Thats relative, obviously, but generally speaking, you're more prone to be safe if you don't have frozen fingers, your body temp is more or less where it should be, and your brain can focus on getting the work done, rather than trying to stay warm.
Like some of the guys have been saying, gear reacts differently in cold weather (like you've already had the pleasure of finding out), so making sure things are at least dry is key.
Also, as a final note, I've found that because your body is so tense from being cold and chilly, you will be guaranteed injury if you don't warm up somehow.
We try and save specific work from summer and do it in the winter. Working for the city, my guess is you're stuck with what you're given.
Keep up the hard work!
PS I'll be moving to Laval in the spring, maybe our paths will cross sometime!
thanks for all the pointers! i'm hopin we're past the worst of the winter at this point and moving back towards warmer weather.

ben, are you coming over to quebec to work? if so, who with? i sure hope our paths cross at some point...sounds like you could teach me a thing or two! :)
Hey Chris
Indeed I'm returning to quebec, but staying in the industry. I'm planning on working for a reputable company based in laval, (I don't want to drop names, since I don't have an official start date and looking to live in that area too.
I'm sure we'll meet at some point. It's a small world, this arboriculture industry.


I agree. stay in door in that kind if cold and stay safe.
we have tried some frozen areas on the access line. pretty scary to climb past that.


LOL I work through winter every year.
On Hydro ROWs, generally in 3'-4' of snow. I dream of back yards and municipal
The conditions are super harsh.
Im sure many of you will balk, but Ive actually peed on my rope to thaw it so I could tie a proper friction hitch. When it comes to my life, pride takes a back seat, whip er out and soak that fucker down.
Ya it sucks to hang wang up a tree but its doable, as IM sure some of you must have relieved yourself up trees. If youve never had too well, guess youve never 'had too'.
Frozen ropes suck but they are a fact of life we have learned to deal with.
What really sucks ? The 3/4" bully, soaked wet, and half frozen solid. That is a bear of a rope to deal with.
Basically in the winter the trucks become rope thawing stations.
The ropes stay wet/cold for weeeks on end, months sometimes, thank god for modern fibers.

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