Old school: Climber uses ladders and a pole saw to set and advance a climbing line in the tree.
New school: Climber uses a throw line and throw bag to set a pilot line high in the canopy with either a large sling shot, or the more skilled can throw by hand. The pilot line is then used to set a climbing line. Once the climbing line is set the climber can either ascend using footlocking for pruning, or can be belayed from the ground while spiking up the tree for removals.
Old school: Climber sets a climbing line relatively low in the canopy and performs some combination of either using a pole saw to reach out to make cuts on the branch tips (which results inevitably in sloppy and misplaced target cuts) or simply coming down the trunk and removing every 4th or 5th branch on the trunk. These tend to be large limbs that require the use of a chainsaw to remove. This is a common practice that can devastate a healthy tree, and is handled by some species far better than others.
New school: Climber will limb walk out to the branch tips and make cuts with a high tech handsaw, enabling him to remove weight from the branch tips, which is where the leverage is, while still making small, well placed target cuts, which the tree can easily seal over. New school climbers move through the entire canopy of a large tree with ease and fluidity. Because they can reach the branch tips and therefore do not need to make large cuts, they will often forgo the use of a chainsaw for pruning and simply carry an extremely sharp and sturdy hand saw. This technique frees the climber from the need to carry a heavy saw throughout the canopy, which is very cumbersome when limb walking and moving through tight areas. And it allows the climber to make many smaller cuts more quickly and accurately than could be done with a chainsaw.
The Friction Hitch: this is the knot that climbers use to control their position on the rope, when using doubled rope technique. All new school climbers use some sort of advanced cordage and knot, while old school climbers simply tie the “working end” of their line to their saddle, leaving a 3’-4’ tail, and then use that tail to tie a taut line hitch or prussic to the standing end of the line. This old school climbing system is awkward and clumsy in that is requires the use of two hands to advance the hitch, and the hitch has a tendency to lock-up or jam, making it very hard to release to descend.
The use of a slack tending micro-pulley in combination with an advanced friction allows the new school climber to take the slack out of his climbing line with one hand, or get belayed from the ground, so that slack is taken out of his system as he ascends. This is far faster, easier, and safer, making movement through the entire canopy more like fun than hard work.
Most old school climbers don’t even know the name of the knot they use to use as a friction hitch nor will they know what is meant when they are asked “what kind of friction hitch do you use”. Whenever I talk to another climber, one of the first questions I ask is “what type of friction hitch do you use”. When they don’t even know what that means, which is the case for the vast majority, I know they are old school at best.
New school climbers may use several types of friction hitches and vary the cordage used and the number of wraps and turns used to form the knots, depending on the amount of friction in the overhead tie in point, and their particular climbing style, which will often change depending on the type of work that is being performed. All climbers in ISA tree climbing competitions use advanced friction hitches and footlocking. Use and proficiency in these techniques is a minimum standard of competence in modern tree care. If your climber doesn’t know how to footlock, or isn’t using an advanced friction hitch, chances are pretty good that he is a hack, whether he knows it or not.