Basic Tree Climbing Course - Double Rope Technique

The following outline represents the recommended minimum content for a basic tree climbing course using doubled-rope techniques (DRT). It was compiled from the course outlines of eleven respected, experienced instructors of basic tree climbing technique. (Addendum A) This is a living document that will evolve as GOTC adopts changes to its content.

A GOTC-recognized instructor of a basic tree-climbing course will need approximately 16-20 hours to competently teach all of these elements. GOTC acknowledges that there is a variety of safe ways to perform many of the skills listed here. This outline is intended to identify the essential content of a basic course while allowing for diversity in individual style.

DISCLAIMERThis outline is not to be used by any person for self-training, nor by any person to teach tree climbing without first having completed approved preparation to become an instructor.


  1. Preliminaries
  2. Begin the Course
  3. Site Evaluation
  4. Equipment for DRT and DREC
  5. First Climb
  6. Coils, Knots and Monkey Fists
  7. Setting lines
  8. Climbing Techniques
  9. Safety Issues
  10. Testing and Follow-up


Addendum A: Contributing Instructors
Addendum B: Safety Guidelines
Addendum C: Shout Signals

1. Preliminaries
Establish a procedure for attracting and registering students.
Carry liability insurance specific to tree climbing risks.

Require signed registration documents from each student, e.g. contact and health information; release from liability agreement; agreement for tuition payment; participation agreement.

2. Begin the Course
Review course agenda and site protocols.
Dispense course materials.
General discussion of tree climbing: public/private land, species, wild and tame, sanctioned climb.
Environmental principles.

3. Site Evaluation
Tree inspection, looking for signs of hazards in the area around the tree, and on the ground, trunk and crown

4. Equipment for DRT and DREC
Display and provide explanation of equipment
Choosing a set of personal climbing gear, sources for gear
Inspection, maintenance, and storage of climbing gear

5. First Climb
Facilitate a climb with students, join them in the tree
In-tree discussion of impressions of student’s first climb
In-tree talk on topics not seen or experienced on ground

6. Coils, Knots, and Monkey Fists
Coils for throw line storage (butterfly, stuff bag).
Coils for climbing rope storage (alpine, backpack, stuff bag).
Connecting knots: Throw line to rope, rope to rope, climbing rope to climber
Bridge knots and down rope safety knots, their proper names and functional names
Knots to be taught include: Figure eight, Figure eight on a bight, Blake’s hitch, Slip knot, Prusik hitch, and Fisherman’s knot.
Monkey fist: Closed, Open, and Modified, purpose and applications of each
Making quality knots: Tie, dress, and seat. (TDS)

7. Setting Lines
Shout signals Addendum C
Basic knot practice.
Throwing techniques: finger point, one hand cradle, two hand cradle, bender throw
Distance, accuracy, and positioning while throwing.
Rope techniques: open fist, closed and modified fists, vertical and horizontal helix
Placement of cambium savers.
Retrieval methods for throw line and weight, monkey fist and cambium savers.
Discussion of DRT single-anchor/pitch climbing, and DREC multiple pitches, multiple anchors.

8. Climbing Techniques
Safety practices, including using shout signals BACK and BACK DOWN.
Introduce any of these DRT climbing techniques: foot loop, foot lock, ascender assist, quiet climb, body thrust, ladder climb.

Movement in the crown: branch walking, setting and retrieving vertical and horizontal anchors and down pitches

Require participants to complete a minimum of six transfers/switchovers: in the crown, in mid air, on a branch; including rope repositioning, tying and retying climbing knots; and judging when it is safe to leave one system and go to the next.

9. Safety Issues
Safety Guidelines Addendum B
Using shout signals
What a basic climber is and is not trained to do
Weather considerations
Climbing in wild trees, wilderness climbs
Hydration and fatigue factors Solo climbing
Basic rescue techniques
Trimming and dead wooding in sanctioned trees
Practice "low and slow" until familiar with new techniques and equipment
Accept personal responsibility for using any gear or technique not taught in the basic course.

10. Testing and Follow-up
Climbing test for practical evaluation of student’s skill
Written exam on course content
Debriefing course experience by both student and instructor
Instructor is available to student for answers to questions that arise after course completion.
See Addenda, attached.

Addendum A: Contributing Instructors

  • Earth Joy
  • Tree Climbing Northwest
  • Dancing With Trees
  • Tree Climbers International
  • Tree Climbing Colorado
  • Tree Trek Exploration
  • Pathfinder Outdoor Education Inc.
  • Tree Climbing Kansas City
  • South Georgia Tree Climbing Association
  • Tree Climbing Taiwan
  • Tree Climbing USA

Addendum B: Safety Guidelines

Climbing Safety Guidelines:

  1. Climbers must stay tied in at all times. No free climbing.
  2. No climbing above anchor point.
  3. No fast descents.
  4. All life-support equipment used in GOTC-recognized training courses shall be made specifically for use with accepted rope-assisted climbing activities by reputable, well-known manufacturers and shall be used only in accordance with manufacturers' recommendations.
  5. This is a clean and sober activity. The use of alcohol, narcotics and illegal drugs is prohibited.
  6. Respect other climbers, the instructor and the tree at all times.

Personal Precautions:

  1. Remove jewelry
  2. Tie back long hair
  3. Secure eyeglasses
  4. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the weather and rugged outdoor activity.
  5. When in doubt, ask questions
  6. Respect fatigue

Environmental Principles:

  1. GOTC promotes respect for and responsibility to the natural environment.
  2. We strive for minimal impact on trees and the surrounding land.
  3. Intentional damage to any tree is never appropriate.
  4. We practice the rule of "pack it in, pack it out" to leave no trace of our visit to the climbing area.

Addendum C: Shout Signals

HELP! Call this ONLY in an emergency. Upon hearing this call, stop all activity, be quiet, and pay sharp attention.

STOP! Stop all activity. See if your assistance is needed

Throwing! Shout this before you throw a throw weight into the tree. This alerts others that weights will soon be flying so they can move out of the way.

Headache! Something is about to fall. Yell this before you drop something, such as a dead branch. Sometimes things fall unexpectedly, so yell this whenever you know an object is falling.

Clear! This tells the person on the ground that you, the climber, have ceased to drop things. This can also come from a person on the ground to signal that they are clear and away from the drop zone.

Free rope! Shout this when you are pulling a rope out of the tree. This call alerts others that a rope is about to fall so they can move out of the way.

On rope! This alerts others that you are attached to the rope and ready to climb. This lets others know you are on the way up.

Off rope! This alerts others that you have reached the ground and have unclipped from the rope.

Down check! This is a request for those who can see clearly to tell you, the climber, whether your rope is long enough to get down safely. You hold the ends of your rope in your hand and let the loop that is created dangle to the ground. Use this call when you cannot tell for sure if the loop is indeed touching the ground.

Down check OK! This call comes from the person who has made a clear visual observation of the climber's rope and determined that its length is sufficient to get the climber safely to the ground.

Below! This alerts climbers that someone is in or about to walk into the drop zone around the tree, so that climbers can avoid accidentally dropping something.

Gate check! This call lets people know that you are checking the main anchor carabiner gate to see that it is firmly closed and locked before climbing.

B.A.C.K. check! This call informs others that you are checking four safety points before putting your weight on the rope or continuing with your climb:

Belt - Check that your saddle is snug and all parts are fastened correctly.

Anchor - The anchor point is what your rope is attached to. Check that it is strong enough to hang your life on.

Carabiner - Check that it is attached correctly and locked, as in the "Gate check!" call.

Knots - Check to make you have all the necessary knots and that they are all tied correctly. If you are in doubt, ask for assistance or do not climb.


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