Tree Climbing With Spurs: Yes or No?

wesspurlogoThis material is adapted from an article on Wesspur’s website, used with permission. We highly recommend WesSpur as an excellent source of tree climbing gear and information.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Spur Climbing:

As a technique for climbing trees, spur climbing can be fast and efficient. It does require good technique, practice and physical strength to be truly safe. It is used by loggers and tree care workers, but is only appropriate for use in trees that are being removed, and in emergency aerial rescue situations. This is because spurs damage the tree’s vascular tissue, forming entry points for disease and insects.

Damage caused by spurs is a common cause of decline in a tree’s health, and even tree failure. Fresh scars on the trunk can also release scent that could give away your position. This is why we hope you will choose sticks or steps that strap onto the tree, rather than using spurs or even screw-in steps. But you don’t need to spur climb at all, learn rope-and-saddle tree climbing and you’ll be safer, the trees won’t be damaged, it’s convenient and fun and requires only minimal gear.

If you still want to spur climb, here’s how to do it:

1. Pre-climb inspection: Before climbing the tree, it is essential to conduct a thorough inspection of the tree and its surroundings. Look for anything that could pose a hazard. Examples include indications of rot or other structural defects in the tree, such as mushrooms near the base of the tree, conks or other fungus on the trunk, cracks or cavities in the tree. In particular, the crown of the tree should be carefully inspected from the ground for hangers, dead branches, and stinging insects. Once in the tree, you are already committed and may be unable to get back down safely if things donít go as planned. It is absolutely necessary for you to have a plan for the entire climb from start to finish.

2. Ascending: Once the pre-climb inspection has been completed, strap on the spurs and saddle, and begin climbing using the lineman’s belt as a flipline. Start by throwing one end of the lineman’s belt around the tree and catching it in the other hand. Connect the carabiner to the D-ring on the opposite side of the saddle. Using the spurs to gain purchase on the trunk and the flipline to keep from falling backwards away from the tree, stab the gaff of the spur into the tree and step up onto it. Every 2 or 3 steps up, advance the lineman’s belt up the trunk to keep pace with you, by releasing the tension on it and flipping it up.

Important: Make sure that the gaff goes in at the correct angle with the knee 6 to 8 inches away from the trunk. If this is not done properly, the gaff will tear out of the trunk as soon as weight is placed on it.

As you ascend, you may encounter branches along the way. These can be bypassed with an alternate flipline, and you can configure your Aero Hunter tree strap for this.

Small stubs and twiggy branches can often be passed over with a good flip. As you ascend and the trunk becomes smaller in diameter, the lineman’s belt should be shortened using the Blake’s hitch, to keep your torso the right distance from the trunk.

3. Tying In: Once you arrive at hunting height, secure the tree strap to the trunk overhead. Connect it to the rope bridge on the Aero Hunter saddle. Adjust the lengths of the tree strap and the rope bridge to your liking. Check to make sure the connection is secure. Now it is safe settle your weight into the saddle, unclip the lineman’s belt and remove the spurs, and stow them away.

4. Descending: Once your hunt is over, you must get back to the ground safely. You must back-climb the trunk, using the spurs and the lineman’s belt. While not impossible, this is harder to do than going up. Lower the lineman’s belt first, then step down on your spurs.

Tip: If you install a climbing line, descending is much easier, safer and more fun. There are a number of ways to descend with a climbing line. Some common ones are self-belay using either a friction hitch or prusik loop, or rappelling with a descend device. Do not attempt this without proper instruction from a trained climber. Second best is to learn these techniques from a book, and practice low and slow before you go into the field to hunt. We recommend two books for information about climbing on rope.

More about Rope-and-Saddle tree climbing

Once you get a taste of rope-and-saddle tree climbing, you may be hungry to learn more. Technical tree climbing skills will open the door to greater possibilities for tree hunting, with a much better level of safety. And you might discover a new passion: climbing trees simply for the fun and adventure of spending time high in the canopy. Here are some LINKS to excellent instruction as well as further information about technical tree climbing for fun and for work.