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Ranking of trees in kN

In one of American Mountain Guides Association Single Screw InstructorProvider of continuing education programs, we discussed the power of trees. An SPI provider noted that he had tested a tree with a load cell and found that the tree was worth 17 kN.

17kN is a reasonably high value. One kilowatt (kN) is worth approximately 225 pounds. And most carbines and slings are rated 21-24 kN. 17 kN is not high enough for an independent anchor, but high enough for a rappel or anchor piece.

How good is that tree in the gap?

As soon as the presenter finished speaking, several people challenged him. “It was only good for that tree at that point,” said one. “It’s all about the root system,” said another. “You can’t say anything with a test,” said a third.

All three who challenged the presenter were right. An experiment on a tree in an area really does not give you any real data. You need something more …

A few weeks later I participated International Technical Rescue Symposium. This symposium brings together some of his best minds in saving the rope. Many participants in this event research and present articles. At this special symposium, John Morton, a rescue technician from Mount Everett and the snowmobile helicopter rescue team, presented an article on the kN value of trees.

Morton began working on valuing trees a few years ago with Mark Miller, a mountain guide and rescue instructor who was tragically killed in an accident in early 2015. After Mark’s death, Morton continued to work on the project.

Basically, he approached the problem in a new way. He looked at the trees as anchors that had already been tested by the wind.

When there is a windstorm, the trees are under a lot of pressure. In fact, they are tested just like any other piece of rescue or mountaineering equipment. They act almost like a sail and absorb a lot of wind. If they do not fall, then they have been tested to a certain level of kN.

Morton took this and developed a formula based on a combination of tree species characteristics and how wind storms affected those trees. In the process, he modified his formula to match the trees on the dry sides of the hills. And when he was done … he had a tool to actively rank every tree everywhere kN.

Click to enlarge

The previous cases show the environment of several trees in the Pacific Northwest and their kN rankings based on Morton’s formula.

For a Rappel anchor, we probably want something with a minimum value of 8 kN. A leader fall is usually valued at approximately 7.5 kN, so although Rappel should not have such an effect, we must be prepared for it.

For a mountaineering anchor, we want something with at least 20 kN. And for a rescue anchor, we probably need at least 30 kN.

With these figures, every tree in PNW that is at least 22 inches away is enough for one anchor to climb. And any tree that is at least 25 inches away is enough for a rescue anchor.

For SAR staff, Morton recommends having a field guide with you so you can look specifically at a particular tree species and determine how small you can shrink.

This is really cool. To see Morton’s full article, please log in http://itrsonline.org/papers/And search for John Morton, “What if trees have kN ratings? Tree anchor ratings are based on load.”

– Jason D. Martin

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