Recently I removed seven 130′ Poplar trees on Alabama Hill in Bellingham. They were right on the fence bordering two properties. There were two left. After limbing up 80′ I came to the subject of this particular blog.
As I write about dangerous trees that I have worked in, there will be accounts that did not result in anything life threatening. In the seven years I have been in business there has only been two or three instances that went bad. There has been hundreds that could have gone bad if I didn’t take extra time in properly reading and setting the drop of the branch , top or tree piece.
So I am making my way up this poplar in Bellingham, and at 80′ there’s a rotten hollowed out stretch of tree for the next 10′. I could wrap it but I have seen these dead spots crumble and don’t like the idea of climbing over and above them. Part of the problem is when you get this high in the tree there’s always some wind. Especially trying to get these down in late October. Some days working with these poplars the wind was 30 mph. So, what to do.
The last clump on the job was 10′ next to me. I had two ropes with me. A lowering rope, to lower branches slowly and safely to the ground, and a repelling rope; used to quickly descend out of the tree. My idea, every situation is different and you come up with ideas on the fly, was to have my repelling rope through the biggest crotch in the neighboring tree. Then as I climb up over the dead spot, if the tree broke out from under me, I wouldn’t fall to the ground. I would, however, fly through the sky and slam into the other tree, but that was the better of the choices. This meant that I had to repel out of the tree with the problem, climb and start dismantling the other poplar, and then climb back up the problem tree. I hate having do to that extra work, but it had to be done to do this job safely.
Slowly making my way up to the height of the problem in the other tree, I am cutting off branches and getting them safely to the ground. Poplars are a bear. The customer is a friend from church. We both have another friend that is a tree climber as well. Dan had taken down a pine in Rogers backyard and was asked what he would charge to take the poplars down. Poplars are very difficult to deal with and the debris creates mountains of branches. You know a job is tough when a 30 year tree climbing veteran passes it on. He told Roger to call me and see if I would do it. That was a compliment in my book. Once I got the top out, I took my repelling rope and through it over a branch I had left on the problem tree. Did the same with my lowering rope. With the lowering rope, I gave myself enough line to climb past the dead spot in the tree and secure it for dropping. It was late and started to rain, so the finish would come the next day.
Got to the job with the morning being very crisp. Even at the dead spot there was a lot of tree left. Once I reached the problem, we tightened the repelling rope, loosing it as I ascended up the tree, but with enough tension that if the tree broke out I would swing into the other tree. That wouldn’t be fun, but beats the alternative. I had to climb another 10′ past the dead part and even that was a big piece to drop. The goal was to drop the top and have the other tree “catch it”. I looked at the top of the catch tree and it seem a bit small to be able to catch this top and not break out itself. The rule of thumb for me when deciding on the final cut, is 99%. I tell myself God gets the 1% to do His will if it’s not mine. I like to feel 99% before I cut and that piece comes off. A lot of times you try to anticipate what would happen if what you think might happen happens. I don’t know where to put the commas in that sentence. The neighbors back yard had some vine maples and a lot of room. Nothing serious if the catch broke out. I could deal with that and the neighbor had already said we could use his yard if we needed. This piece had to have been a 30 footer. That’s a big top in this situation.
I made the face cut, and eyed up the back cut and started through the tree. As the top swung down the catch rope tugged hard and the top started swinging over to the catch tree. It’s always a rush when you have these unusual drops. It swung over to the catch tree and began its wait for me to climb up and eat it.
As a professional tree climber, I do everything possible to ensure a safe day. I love the challenge and the physical training.
Until we’re up the tree again, take care!