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Climb a Mile: CH.2, A Gnarly Removal in Four Parts


The American Elm was somewhere between 70-80' tall. It's trunk was more than 4' in diameter and originated almost square on a property line. It's canopy grew in a perfect 'V', with half the foliage shading out the place where our client wanted to grow a vegetable patch in her backyard, and the other half towering over her backdoor neighbor's yard. And running straight through the center of the 'V' were 15,000 volts of power.

Because of the tree's proximity to high-voltage lines, the structural instability of its improperly-pruned shape (thank you, Oncor), and the fact that an entire half of the work would take place over a property that didn't belong to our client, this was what you'd call a high-risk removal.

Before I would even agree to take on a project like this, not only would we need full permission from the neighbor, but I'd also have to consult my business partner and Certified Tree-care Safety Professional, John. If we couldn't plan out every last step of the removal and feel 100% confident in our ability to follow it to a T, then for the safety of our crew, company and client, we'd turn down the gig.


We made our case. Our bona fides include multiple certifications between John and me (including and perhaps most importantly EHAP -- Electrical Hazards Awareness Program), years of experience and education, as well as our company’s A+ BBB rating, five star reputation across multiple review platforms, high standards for both safety and quality, and full insurance policies. We’re certified fresh.

After multiple visits with the property owner (and her attorney brother), where we explained every step of The Plan (see part three) including exactly when and how long we'd be working over her property, we were eventually able to get everyone on board.


To avoid the live wires running straight through the middle of the canopy, we would need to rig every piece we cut to swing away from the lines (as well as away from targets below such as three different fences and a lot of landscaping). This would require utilizing practically every rigging technique we know...

  • false crotches: using slings and pulleys to create a suspension point in a specific spot, rather than using a natural crotch in the tree

  • double roping: tying two rig lines to a the piece being cut to manipulate it through the tree or around obstacles

  • span rigging: running a line from the tree being removed into a nearby tree and then to the ground, so that the rigged limb will swing towards the helper tree

  • negative rigging: when the anchor point of the rigging is below the rigged piece so that it briefly free-falls before being caught by the rig line

  • and more

In addition to fancy rigging, John and I would both climb in the tree at the same time. That’s not only more efficient, but helps prevent climber fatigue, because otherwise the climber would have to use multiple entry points. In English, that means climbing up and down, and up and down, and up and down. A tremendous use of energy.

But having two climbers in the tree at once means adding to the complexity of the removal. In addition to everything else a climber needs to be aware of, he's also got to know everything the other guy is doing at the same time. This works best when the two climbers have worked together for many years and are so in tune with one another they can anticipate the other's moves and communicate non-verbally across the canopy.

Plus, there's no point having more than one climber cutting at a time without enough ground-hands to keep up with the debris. In this case, we'd have two ground-hands per climber, all working in perfect synchronicity in a tight space down below. It was only because we had a top-notch team that we felt good running operations this way.

The neighbor's half of the tree would go first, myself and John up in the canopy limbing down the foliage piece by piece over her lawn. Then the second half of the canopy could be pieced up using Boomhauer, our bucket truck, since our client's driveway reached all the way to the back fence and allowed perfect access to her half of the tree. After all the foliage was removed, we’d be able to flop (tree-speak for “let the thing fall down”) the remaining trunk.

Now, this is maybe the coolest part of the plan. The main stem of the tree was leaning towards the neighbor's property, exactly where we didn't want a big heavy trunk to land. So how could we bring it down in the opposite direction of its lean? Cut it down backwards, of course.

We would notch the tree on the client's side, make the felling cut on the neighbor's side, and all the while have it rigged to a skid steer ever so slowly dragging it against its lean. If the skid steer kept perfect time with the chainsaw, the tree would be leveraged up and out of its back lean and then finally fall in the direction of the skid steer.

So, how did it all go down on the day?


Exactly as we planned.

That’s the thing about this kind of tree work. It's almost always dangerous, and can often be unpredictable. So a good climbing Arborist plans meticulously. Three days of work, two climbers, four ground-hands, two stems, one tree, and 15,000 volts of electricity.

That’s how it’s done.

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