How to train a new/young climber on conifer removals?

27RMT0N

Carpal tunnel level member
Location
WA
So I've got a young guy, 18/19 years old, who is very interested in tree work and becoming a climber. He's my buddies employee and I bring him on here and there when I need an extra hand running ropes, dragging brush, etc. He is hard working, strong for his age and motivated so I always spend a certain amount of time on jobs with him explaining how to do things and why, explaining my climbing systems, cutting/felling techniques and so on. He always thanks me for the advice, but I've never really 'trained' someone before so it's new territory for me.

When I was learning to climb, it was in the city with a decent sized company and a large variety of trees. Mostly pruning based, so I got a lot of reasons to learn to climb and move in a tree while only making small-ish cuts with a handsaw before moving to larger trees and running a 200T. The experienced guys always handled the removals. I've spoken on this point many times before, but these days I live and work in a doug fir forest, average property is 5+ acres and people have literally thousands or tens of thousands of trees on larger properties; 10-50 acres isn't uncommon. As a result, much of the work is spur climbing, NO rigging, doug fir removals.

His saw handling and understanding of cause/effect is... OK... but I haven't worked with a lot of newbies and I've been doing this for well over a decade, so my perspective and expectations might be unrealistic. Even a small fir removal means going up on spurs with a chainsaw, stripping limbs, taking a top and usually dropping logs on the way down. It seems like a very steep learning curve with high consequences. Unless I'm doing a removal right next to him and shouting how to do the various steps, I'm not sure how to really teach this kind of work on the job.

Shout-out to @evo , @rico and @southsoundtree for advice. Thanks.
 

RyanCafferky

Branched out member
There will be a sharp learning curve to being a climber if it is always done on the job and without training FIRST before being put into a production environment. You have to invest in this kid with time off of the job site and expect diminished production while he is getting trained. It will be slow and it will slow you down. But like any investment it has the chance to pay off big in the end.

Having trained a lot of folks and done thousands of douglas fir removals here is what I would do. Step #1, is strip out spar so it is a bare pole and set a friction saver at the top. Rappel down and have him tie in and spur up and down a few times while tending his slack so he can get a feel for being on spurs. Step #2, pull the friction saver and have him spur up and down while moving the lanyard AND an adjustable friction saver. Then he gets a feel for a safe and efficient way to work on a douglas fir removal and stay tied in twice while cutting. Step #3, give him a small removal that he can limb with a handsaw. Once you are comfortable with his chainsaw skills on the ground, move on to step #4 which is having him do a small removal with a chainsaw. Maybe consider using a MS194 or MS150 rather than a 200T or 201 since they are so gutless in comparison. Lower kickback risk but also slightly lighter so easier to one hand (which should obviously be discouraged).

I wish I had a more formal education from climbers who knew the safe way to do things back when I started. I’m glad to get to show kids starting out the right way to do things. It is great that you have the opportunity to get this kid off on the right foot as well.
 
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evo

Been here a while
Location
My Island, WA
Unfortunately I’ve never successfully trained anyone, meaning that they haven’t stuck with it for more than 6 months.
When I was taught it was on rope climbs for pruning, and the only time I was trained for climbing removals was a small 40’ true fir in a back yard. This was working for a oldschool guy, and he ‘clocked off’ the job so he could watch me. My primary role was a groundie and never really did much climbing for him.
Get this kid up any pole you can. Even if it’s just a tree you can fell cause it’s so small. I like Ryan’s advice, do you have access to a sacrificial tree? Something he can gaff up and down on before or after the actual job? The last tree we removed on my property we left a ‘snag’ for this reason, complete with a stub spike knot that a rope can be snot up for a quick and tip.
How long has this kid been doing tree work? Running ropes and dragging brush is one thing, chainsaw experience is something else entirely. He needs to have saw experience down pat before taking one into a tree. But I’d get him on some simple climbs, take a few minutes to a hour off the clock around lunch, let him spike up and down the next tree on the job a few times. Any time practical before you fell the stob let him run up and down. Start super small, incremental learning. The first few times just get him in gear, up and down 10-15’ no rope just barely high enough you don’t have to worry about him getting more than few bruises. Talk him though keeping the flipline triangle, leaning back and flipping. Of course get him on rope climbs as much as possible too, focus on lower deadwooding and minor crown raising even if it can be done with w pole saw. Knowing this isn’t the safest thing, even just get him put the irons on, no saddle and with a sling or flip line in his hands let him go up and down no more then head high.
make sure it’s a no pressure type situation, far from production work. One guy I’m teaching that has a little climbing experience, comes down and says something like ‘man I feel slow’. My reply is ‘yes, you are! But….’ Slow is safe, steady, and I’ve been doing this for 15 years.
One thing that I really appreciated from that ole timer was the first rope climb we did together (I already had a climbing experience). His pre climb lecture was ‘you aren’t here to climb faster than me, or get more work done. You’re here just because every limb you cut, is one I don’t have to cut’. I’d suggest getting into that mindset, also getting that kid into the same mindset.
 
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Vertical conifers are super easy, just watch him and instruct him for the first one. I set up the block for the first top and let them focus on the pie cut with a roped tip in case they f up. That way i can be smooth on the ropes also. Rules: flush cut all limbs on the way up, take big pieces cutting pies over center and a wedge in your hand. 10 to 20' logs dont go anywhere, little 2 to 4' sections are projectiles. if theres a sketchy knot or old topping cut I need to work past I tie in srt or friction saver here and work up like a rock climber so if it fails I wont ride it to the ground. also put your ddrt system on your hip/D with your flip line and just switch one to the next but always visually check your clipped in and load your next system before unclipping. If thier freaked on gaffing, make them un gaff and hang off the flip so they understand that they will be ok and trust thier flip. Keep separation between 2 tie ins when cutting and have a spotter on big wood cause its easy to be hung up past your cut line on the back side and cut through your rope. After a couple of sticks its fun and easy and you can work on sticking your flat landings.
 

Dan Cobb

Branched out member
Location
Hoover
My advice is to break it down into small chunks (the training, not the conifers.) Things like spurring up, spurring down, emergency descent, pros and cons of different cut geometries, branch cutting, topping, chunking down a spar, etc. Acquiring the knowledge and proficiencies one by one should instill confidence. It's easy to get sideways when trying to execute many new skills simultaneously. At least for me, learning in an organized fashion is better than getting a piece of this, then a piece of that.

And you get a thumbs up for taking him under your wing.
 

Reach

Been here a while
Location
Atglen, PA
I see a few good methods mentioned here. To me, some of it comes down to the individual you are training - is he sharp, and a quick learner? Or does he learn slowly and need a lot of help to understand basic operations? I’ve trained both, and they’re different.

What I like to do is to start a new climber with some rope climbing in a tree, usually in the smallish Silver Maple in my back yard at home. Nice easy tree, with a few tie ins. Make sure he knows the basics of how to get up and down safely.

First removal though is always a Spruce tree, usually I try to find one around 30-40’ tall, with nothing under it or too close nearby. Let him limb it up with a saw, climbing spurs and a lanyard, with a DdRT setup to set above on a stout limb before each set of cuts. I always talk him through each step, nice and slow (we use Senas, so it’s easy to talk). Make a topping cut wherever we can, usually in 6-8” wood, somewhere nice and easy but not too easy, so he can get a taste of spiking smaller wood.

I will have him leave one or two stubs at the top, about a foot long, to use for his DdRT line, and let him descend about 1/3 of the way, where he will drop one log, and then spike down the rest of the way.

This gives him a small taste of a complete removal, with no production pressure, and no anxiety about height, or spar movement, and no worries about anything he drops hitting anything. This also gives him a real sense of accomplishment, for completing “a whole removal, completely solo” and then the real training can start.

Also, this gives me an idea of what he can safely do in a tree (as you probably know, running a saw well on the ground is far different from in the tree), and how well he follows directions, without putting him in a position where there’s any real risks.
 

JeffGu

Been here a while
‘you aren’t here to climb faster than me, or get more work done. You’re here just because every limb you cut, is one I don’t have to cut’

Amen, brother. I'd add that you can also explain to them that climbing trees, no matter how you do it, is not something that you automatically figure out. Your natural fear of heights isn't something you overcome, it's something you learn to deal with until your brain figures out that you can be smart and careful, and that fear will subside on its own. You're also asking your body to perform many tasks that it just isn't used to doing, for which it has no basis for comparison or reference. When you practice it at a slow pace at low heights, you learn to concentrate on technique and staying safe. You can't concentrate on trying to go faster at the same time.

I'm old enough to be a museum exhibit... but I can still remember trying to figure out how to get up into trees that I had no business being in. Mostly, I remember how terribly stiff and sore I was the next day. It's hard work, and everyone that does it... including the folks trying to learn how to do it... should be proud of themselves for their efforts. It's dangerous, hard work that requires a lot of concentration and effort.

I plan on spending my retirement in my little woodworking shop... that's as close to trees as I care to get, these days. I prefer them flat, with boiled linseed oil on them. I like my women that way, too.
 

evo

Been here a while
Location
My Island, WA
Amen, brother. I'd add that you can also explain to them that climbing trees, no matter how you do it, is not something that you automatically figure out. Your natural fear of heights isn't something you overcome, it's something you learn to deal with until your brain figures out that you can be smart and careful, and that fear will subside on its own. You're also asking your body to perform many tasks that it just isn't used to doing, for which it has no basis for comparison or reference. When you practice it at a slow pace at low heights, you learn to concentrate on technique and staying safe. You can't concentrate on trying to go faster at the same time.

I'm old enough to be a museum exhibit... but I can still remember trying to figure out how to get up into trees that I had no business being in. Mostly, I remember how terribly stiff and sore I was the next day. It's hard work, and everyone that does it... including the folks trying to learn how to do it... should be proud of themselves for their efforts. It's dangerous, hard work that requires a lot of concentration and effort.

I plan on spending my retirement in my little woodworking shop... that's as close to trees as I care to get, these days. I prefer them flat, with boiled linseed oil on them. I like my women that way, too.
I have personally added '‘you aren’t here to climb faster than me, or get more work done. You’re here just because every limb you cut, is one I don’t have to cut, "but I want to see your ass moving and trying"'
 

Chaplain242

Branched out member
I have personally added '‘you aren’t here to climb faster than me, or get more work done. You’re here just because every limb you cut, is one I don’t have to cut, "but I want to see your ass moving and trying"'
Be wary of bosses/supervisors that take your first sentence literally, and feel threatened if you are faster or get more done. Move on soon if you do find yourself under one of these…
 

27RMT0N

Carpal tunnel level member
Location
WA
Lots of good advice here, I appreciate it. Luckily he does have some gear he's borrowing from another guy and has a tree that's been turned into a bare pole for him to do a little practice spurring up and down.

I guess my biggest concern is just chainsaw safety in the tree and especially taking the top. When I worked with him the other day I was giving him some felling lessons on small firs and he has a ways to go on his cutting skill and of course properly judging lean, etc. That's the most critical part of a fir removal and while there are lots of ways to mitigate risk that I'll be trying to teach, once he starts getting that top cut up in a tree there is no turning back.
 

Chaplain242

Branched out member
Lots of good advice here, I appreciate it. Luckily he does have some gear he's borrowing from another guy and has a tree that's been turned into a bare pole for him to do a little practice spurring up and down.

I guess my biggest concern is just chainsaw safety in the tree and especially taking the top. When I worked with him the other day I was giving him some felling lessons on small firs and he has a ways to go on his cutting skill and of course properly judging lean, etc. That's the most critical part of a fir removal and while there are lots of ways to mitigate risk that I'll be trying to teach, once he starts getting that top cut up in a tree there is no turning back.
Sounds like he isn’t ready for the cutting whilst climbing. Complex bucking and felling is where most I know learned - then took it to height.
 

RyanCafferky

Branched out member
Lots of good advice here, I appreciate it. Luckily he does have some gear he's borrowing from another guy and has a tree that's been turned into a bare pole for him to do a little practice spurring up and down.

I guess my biggest concern is just chainsaw safety in the tree and especially taking the top. When I worked with him the other day I was giving him some felling lessons on small firs and he has a ways to go on his cutting skill and of course properly judging lean, etc. That's the most critical part of a fir removal and while there are lots of ways to mitigate risk that I'll be trying to teach, once he starts getting that top cut up in a tree there is no turning back.
If you can’t fully trust the guy on the ground with small firs, there is no way I would put him in a tree with a saw. Especially if he is supposed to take the top without a tag line on it. A tag line can mitigate a lot of errors and make it much less likely for a climber to take a hand off the saw and push the top when his judgement is off. Also, spending a few more minutes to strip out one side of the tree to make certain it is going to go where you want it is cheap insurance.

Sounds to me like more time on the ground or right off the ground doing practice cuts is needed in this case. If he is motivated that will be time well spent and will probably lead to good results in a short period of time.
 

rico

Been here a while
Location
redwoods
A few minimum requirements before you should even think about putting this kid in a tree with a chainsaw.

1. He must become semi proficient at climbing in spurs and a flipline..

2. He must become semi proficient at operating, climbing, and getting into solid work positions with his chosen climbing system.. I would start him with a hitch climber setup and a retrievable friction saver..He can easily transition to a Wrench if and when the time comes.

3. He must be able to tie a bowline (various forms), a clove hitch, an alpine butterfly, and multiple friction hitches.

3. He must be taught the mechanics of proper cutting and falling techniques, and he must display an understanding and solid execution of those techniques.
 

27RMT0N

Carpal tunnel level member
Location
WA
If you can’t fully trust the guy on the ground with small firs, there is no way I would put him in a tree with a saw. Especially if he is supposed to take the top without a tag line on it. A tag line can mitigate a lot of errors and make it much less likely for a climber to take a hand off the saw and push the top when his judgement is off. Also, spending a few more minutes to strip out one side of the tree to make certain it is going to go where you want it is cheap insurance.

Sounds to me like more time on the ground or right off the ground doing practice cuts is needed in this case. If he is motivated that will be time well spent and will probably lead to good results in a short period of time.

I agree completely and have the same thoughts. A better starting place once he is better with a saw is just limbing up or dead-wooding firs before getting into removals. Guess I'll have to teach him SRT as well pretty early since it can be hard to get into a lot of our firs DRT.

And there is no rush with training this guy, he's just interested and I'm helping out where and when I can. If he sticks with it, I just want to be sure he starts with good habits.
 

southsoundtree

Been here a while
Location
Olympia, WA
Rec climbing...Start with simply climbing side by side, top rope.

Climb side by side, advancing the rope.

Climb side by side climbing with all the gear, advancing the rope, working through emergency procedures. Hand saw work.

A couple strokes with a Silky makes a doug-fir branch easy to snap off with one or both hands.

Snap off a whorl, then 2-handed top-handle chainsaw the stubs...an easy way to cut and chuck, guiding branches to the drop-zone with the least effort.

Downward sloping toward the tips cuts on DF will help it hold on until hanging vertical, rather than snap off.

Collar cuts on cedar will often allow them to swing to vertical, be pinched to the trunk with one hand, release cut with the other, stow handsaw, two hands for throwing, as needed.


Precise and fully understood felling cuts on the ground, before topping removal trees.
 

Jehinten

Carpal tunnel level member
Location
Evansville
I'll add, after the earlier steps of learning to climb and cutting limbs only, that if time permits on the job you can fell a tree with a 15' stump. Then allow him to climb up and work it down with several face cuts and back cuts where you can easily monitor his cuts.

An alternative would be to bury logs vertically at the shop if you have the equipment to do so.
 

dspacio

Participating member
Location
Narragansett Bay
just completed the largest conifer removal I have taken on. White Pine, about 32" dbh, 100 foot or so. I had taken a whole co-dom lead out of it previously.

I am not being trained. I've learned by watching everything going on while I work with others, in the woods and on tree crews. Of course a lot of training happens through the days.

Luckily a more experienced climbing friend was on-site as well, working a nearby oak in the bucket truck, so I had him there to verify my approach.

A few things that struck me about the day.

Earlier in the day I spiked up another smaller pine to remove, about 50' or so. I was moving up with my lanyard and making cuts with only one line. I had rope clipped to me to set up a system once I ascended a bit, but I kept going higher just moving along. My friend called me out on breaking the two times tied rule, while I was chopping limbs.. I don't know why I was being reckless. THIS is why having solid reinforcement of techniques is essential!

If my friend hadnt' been there, I may have been totally overwhelmed approaching that pine. Knowing he was there to back me up in case I got out of my league, took all the pressure off. I didnt' have a single moment of losing my cool (was kind of astonishing!). I just kept moving up one ring at a time, reached my 60' tie-in-point, and kept going up and up, advancing a canopy anchor.

I gotta give a shout to the youtube cutters.. Buckin Billy Ray, Reg Coates, the Monkey Beavers... showing so many climbing removals. once someone has the feel of how saws act, etc. much can be learned by watching these videos. Every cut they film provides feedback information when we read the feel of: "oh, the bar pinched a little there. oh, this tree peels that much. oh they make exaggerated face cuts when felling tops. look how he left limbs on the side he wants it all to fall toward. "

Having someone alongside is ideal. Yet the "preview" of watching helmet cams was confirming my approach, feeling this was a natural thing, step by step.
we are training a young guy right now too. it's a dynamic thing.
I told him, " it's not stupid to not know, it's stupid to pretend you know." one time I asked him to let it run and he agreed, that he knew what that means. But after the cut it became clear he didn't know. I explained it from the top. it's tricky, sensing how much trust to give moment by moment!

thanks everyone for the thoughts here. I finished chunking the pine down today with the bucket. It was a definite level up yesterday. It's a great thing when the day comes to expand our capability and confidence, within a supporting team.
 
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