Tree Removal: A Day in the Life of a Tree Climber

At Willowglenn, the majority of the tree work we do consists of structural and maintenance pruning. When someone approaches us about tree removal, I generally try to talk them out of it.  I figure there are plenty of companies out there that will gladly take your cash to remove a tree for any reason.  By taking a conservative stand on tree removal, I hope to counterbalance their eagerness.

Tree removal is, however, a critical element of urban forest management.  Boise's moniker as the City of Trees is nice but belies the fact that our urban forest is a human construct and needs to be managed as such.

Diseased, damaged or dangerous trees obviously need to be removed but so do trees that have the potential to cause a Hatfield and McCoy style feud between neighbors.  This particular pine had been planted right up against the property line, and had a taken to leaning towards the neighbors house.

Even worse, the pine also provided ladder fuels right up to their wood shake roof.

A nice looking Red Oak was also about 10 feet away and really needs more space to develop an even canopy.  The pine had  also long since shed its lower juvenile limbs and didn't even provide the  screening that was originally intended.  It was definitely time to get rid of the tree.

View of Table Rock atop the pine
The challenge, of course, for most urban tree removal is how to do it in such a way as to not punch a hole in a roof, collapse a gazebo or flatten someone's new 30K ipe deck.  Fortunately, there was a narrow pea gravel footpath that ran directly under the tree.  So, rather than utilize a complicated rigging system, I decided to take the tree down in firewood size pieces and drop it on the path below (convenient, as it's eventually headed to our wood stove anyway).

When I bid a tree removal job, I factor in a few different things such as: what kind of tree (hardwood? softer wood?), height, high-value targets around the base of the tree, and how many leaders the tree has. Multi-leader trees take the longest because you're essentially removing multiple trees within the canopy.  This pine had five separate leaders so I knew that I was looking at a full day's worth of work for myself and a ground crew.

Aside from knowing that I'm going to smeared in sap, I usually look forward to working in pines.  An even lattice work of branches (most of the time) makes it pretty easy to move around.

The first thing I do is find the tallest leader in the tree and secure my cambium saver as high up as it will go.  This is where my climbing rope is attached to the tree.  Attaching myself to the rope requires tying on the end of one side of the rope with a termination knot and attaching midway on the other side of the rope with a friction hitch knot that allows me to self-belay.  My favorite hitch knot is called a Valdotain Tress.  With this hitch, it's easy to ascend the tree but catches you should you slip (by putting a kink in the rope).


I like to minimize the amount of chainsaw time as much as possible when I'm roped into a tree, so I begin by removing all the branches with a 4" caliper or smaller with a hand saw.

Once that's done, I begin using a chainsaw and a steel-core "flip line" as redundant fall protection just in case I accidentally cut through my climbing rope or my harness.

Slowly, I work my way down the shorter leaders and then move on to removing the main leader.

With the help of my hard working ground crew, we were able to complete the removal just as we started losing our light for the day.