The project I run requires ascending huge Dipterocarp trees in Brunei, Borneo. Those are real giants with branches staring at about 30-40m height. Until the first brunch sticks out the tree trunk is smooth, wet and covered with mos. The leaf roof above is so dense that it is difficult even to see those brunches clearly and therefore there is always a challenge how to evaluate the safety of the climb. Not to mention that there is always a chance to stumble upon a colony of tree dwelling ants that will attack you without hesitation while you dangling on the rope
It would be terrific if someone could share his/her experience with Dipterocarp climbs!
I've spent a fair bit of time (3-4 weeks, climbing everyday) in Dipterocarp family trees in Borneo, though in East Kalimantan, opposite where you are. In general I found them to be a joy to climb. Aside from a few Shorea species that were common, I mostly only knew the genus of the trees I was climbing. One thing that was very striking was that you could have two Shorea side by side with similar age and crown structure, and one would be covered with epiphytes to the point that the trunk and main branches were barely visible and others would have smooth, epiphyte-free branches.
Will you be able to choose which trees you're climbing or not? Climbing some very epiphyte-laden trees in those forests would be a mission, and result in big impact.
In general I would suggest getting a crossbow or honing your bigshot skills so that you can avoid the lower branches. Easier climb, less impact that way. Get good binoculars to check your anchor and ALWAYS proof test an anchor by loading it with 2-3 people on the ground before anyone goes up.
Oh, and the ants were epic. I think about 40% of the trees I climbed contained colonies of biting ants. Not much you can do about it I'm afraid, but it is good for mind over matter training.
Hope this helps, and I've attached below one of my fave pics from up in a Shorea.
PS one thing I like a lot about Dipterocarps is that their large lateral branches and open crown structure make them ideal for traversing. If you're keen, maybe consider taking a grapnel...
Nice to hear from you! You seem very experienced tree climber. It is interesting that you have also noticed that phenomena with apparently similar trees being covered with epiphytes in different degree. In my research group we hypothesize that this could be due to regulation from the side of tree-dwelling ants. There are observations indicating that ants are using trees themselves as a foraging ground (not just hunt on them but literally grow their food on the leaf surfaces). We focus in certain groups of Camponotus [Colobopsis] cylindricus, or COCY ants. These are also known as exploding ants (although there are no official nomenclatures for them so far).
You mentioned crossbow as the means to install the rope. My impression however is that if I use a crossbow there I’ll get all my arrows lost pretty soon. The undergrowth there is so thick that even quite heavy missiles got stuck. The funny thing is that most of my missiles got stuck in spider nets. The air there is just filled with them on the level 0f 10 to 30 meters. I was actually thinking about buying a crossbow but I’m not an expert in them. Are there any easy to follow suggestions for buying crossbow for tree climbing? The main point IMHO is that you can’t regulate the strength of the bowstring and all the shoots are basically similar while with the bigshot you can select how far you shoot. May be I’m wrong and it will be a good idea to buy a crossbow and at least test it there.
We got money for next 4 years of research so we are planning to establish a good observational spots in the forest. I’m going to try everything.
That's very interesting about the potential relationship with the ants. I definitely have noticed a correlation in tropical and subtropical forests, but always assumed that it would have to do with the epiphytes providing habitat for the ants. As you guessed, tree climbing is my area of expertise not ants or tropical tree taxonomy!
I guess I should qualify my recommendation on using a crossbow. They are truly a pain to use, for many reasons. I don't relish having to lug them around or deal with getting bolts stuck or general maintenance on such a tempermental tool. But I also know that if you are climbing very tall trees often (over 50-60m, say), and these trees have lots of epiphytes, you probably will want to use a crossbow. A bigshot is probably not up to the task, unless you get very good with using braided fishing line and a 3m pole, in which case you can probably push the bigshot up to 60-65m. I have gotten shots even above this, but it's not common. You're right about not being able to adjust the strength of a crossbow's shot, but you can adjust the height by shooting heavier or lighter bolts.
Overall I would think you should get very familiar with both tools at home so you can judge which is better to take into the field. You will also want to consider how much of your climbing will be setting lines in unclimbed trees vs climbing trees that have been pre-rigged. If you're going to spend 4 years climbing the same trees over and over again you can just rig them with throwline, and you won't spend much time dealing with line-setting tools.
I should also mention that I think the future here is air-powered launchers. There have been some pretty impressive ones I've seen, but they are not in the commercial production stage yet. We'll just have to wait on that one.
Camponotus ants are known to be able to alter properties of the wood. In their nests there is a very peculiar symbiosis between ants, fungi and bacteria. Fungi grow on wood and modify it. As a result the wood gets lignified. So the ants create some kind of bastions which no one can penetrate. I stumbled once upon a dead tree trunk inhabited by Camponotus. It may sound unbelievable but my Leatherman couldn’t leave a scratch on it. The wood was as hard as a stone. The closer to the ground lives the species, the more extreme gets this symbiotic chemistry. Those at the bottom are the worst – they simply explode... The fungus also protects the nest from other species of fungi.
Ok, I’m not a scientist really, they send me there to sample and make some basic lab work on the station. I’m not a pro tree climber either. My rope experience comes from caving. With tree climbing I have the whole big new world to learn.
With the bigshot there was quite a big struggle last time so I know how hard it is. You may waste the whole day. My problem was that I didn’t have proper through line and missiles. The station was poorly supplied. I had to use stones from the river.
Thank you for the hint with bolts of different weight! It may work. But how much does it depend on the model of the crossbow? What do I have to focus on when buying? I googled a little and there is really more than one option out there. Some looks quite basic (with just one crossbow string) others are like from some alien weaponry.
The place is this: https://www.google.at/maps/preview#!q=4%C2%B0+32.804'%2C+115%C2%B0+9.500'&data=!1m4!1m3!1d15143!2d115.1583333!3d4.5467333!2m1!1e3!4m14!2m13!1m12!3m8!1m3!1d3173!2d115.1581318!3d4.5471152!3m2!1i1600!2i731!4f35!4m2!3d4.5467333!4d115.1583333&fid=7. There are not so many roots to follow. The forest is pristine, never been cut and as far as I know no one ever climbed there before. The only way to go is a path about 3 to 4 miles long which loops back to the station. There are might be about 10 trees along this path worth climbing for ants and that’s it. For more one has to go off-road and into the muddy “wild” which is tough and time consuming. So I’m desperately seeking for the most effective way of shooting the rope. If it will turn to be an impossible task or will be too slow in progress, my authorities will discard the arboreal part of the project and focus on the ground dwelling ants which would reduce the value of the whole thing dramatically (I’m a little emotional here sorry).
A short note regarding crossbows: I talk to the owner of a gun shop about crossbows and he assured me that it is possible to regulate the strength of the crossbow on site. At least, he said, for all models above basic level. At the same time he didn’t really have much idea about shooting bolts of various weights. Perhaps he wasn’t well informed since it is strictly prohibited to use crossbows for hunting in Austria where I live. The price range is nice: 500 – 1500 Euro. Surprisingly there were no crossbows in the shop. He said it is because it is not a hunting season now. And this is after he told me that it is not possible to hunt with them anyway. Weird!
That is interesting about on site regulation of the strength. I have never tried this on any of the ones I've used, but I'm not entirely sure it'd be useful. With the crossbow you are shooting at a shallow angle, more horizontal than vertical, then slowing down the line after it crosses the anchor you want. The bolts that we use are homemade out of fiberglass rod, with a hole for the line made using a drill press. Usually the weight is adjusted with tape on the tip of the bolt. The bolts for setting lines in trees are different from anything you'll find at a hunting supply store. They have no fletching (the feathers at the base end) and need to have centered notches in the base to hold the line. You will also want a rather powerful crossbow. Definitely a compound crossbow, not a simple one with just a single bowstring.
Also you mentioned that you haven't used a bigshot with proper throwline and throwbags. Perhaps you should try this before investing in a crossbow? The bigshot is cheap, durable and much easier to transport (we usually leave the poles at home and harvest a sapling as a pole) and it's much harder to get a line stuck because you are firing a heavy weight that is designed to be pulled over branches. Proper throwline and throwbags are cheap and widely available at arborist supply stores.
That's cool that you are getting in to tree climbing for this project, but I would really recommend getting as much climbing experience as you can under your belt before you leave. Tropical primary forests can be very challenging and dangerous places to climb; they are not beginner territory by any means. So you will just want to get proficient before you go, and always have good plans to self-rescue in case you encounter any adverse conditions in the canopy.
As far as myself, I am based in the pacific northwest region of the US where we have very tall conifers, so hence my experience with crossbows. I've worked all over though, and really love the challenges of tree species in different forests around the world. I've been to Indonesia a few times, and my last trip there I was part of a forest biodiversity study. Really general stuff, trying to get a handle on what species were in that part of forest, mostly focusing on mammals. I am a professional tree climber though, not a scientist.
About the ants that is really fascinating. There are many types of virus and fungi that have the ability to alter wood (think of burls or witches broom) but I've never heard of an ant pulling that one off. Or perhaps its associated bacteria and fungi are responsible? Either way that's very cool.
Best of luck with 'learning the ropes', and I hope the people that make the decisions don't cut your project. Really there is no reason why it should be difficult or time consuming process. Experience will teach you what to expect and how to work efficiently aloft. I know Austria may not have trees tall enough for you to practice on, but you can also test what height you can achieve by shooting straight up and measuring how much line comes out.
Many hanks for the intel on crossbows! These are very good points indeed. People in hunting stores hardly can imagine crossbows being used for tree climbing. Actually they don’t buy tree climbing in the first place. This is probably because, as you correctly mentioned, there are no tall trees in Austria and so no tree climbers.
It would be great to have someone experienced like you in the team. Unfortunately, although the total amount of money we got for the project is rather high, when it comes to actual sampling all that is left after collaborators took their share, amounts to about 15000. If not constrained by money I’d immediately propose you as a collaborator.
Did you ever try to rig rope from one tree to an adjacent tree? I’ve heard there is a certain technique for doing that but I didn’t really understand what it is about. There were some special bolts with a peculiar wired construction at the end. As far as I tried to imagine it, the thing has to come back to you while you are sitting on the tree otherwise it will be necessary to come down to the ground to pick the line.
Ha! Yes it's funny you should ask, I know a fair bit about rigging ropes from one tree to another. Check out this link:
I'm the one in the red helmet.
I believe the tool you're referring to is the grapnel, made by New Tribe. It is a special tool designed to snag the far end of a piece of throwline you've set over a branch in an adjacent tree. It's simple to use but hard to explain. Fortunately I made a video a while back to do just that: http://vimeo.com/42846771
Turn the volume all the way up or you won't be able to hear. This was shot in the Wehea forest preserve in East Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo.
The link for the Grapnel is
Please though, do get a lot of practice under your belt before you attempt this sort of stuff in an uncontrolled environment. The general motto for beginning tree climbers is 'low and slow'. Climbing trees in a tropical forest and traversing from tree to tree are both areas where it is easy to get yourself into BIG trouble if you're not very experienced. Always have a backup plan and an aerial rescue plan.
Looks like the Grapnel can solve some serious problems and significantly speed up the whole process. It might be that with the Grapnel one can access those trees which are otherwise inaccessible (totally covered with undergrowth, for example, so that one can't shoot line up to the branches).
I would also recommend that you check out magthrowbag.com for a really new take on the business of retrieving a throw line. It allows you to capture target branches at quite some distance, say for a long traverse, and it's compact.