Hand, Charlie, Stroke!

(Disclaimer: This presentation does not advocate, endorse, guarantee, imply nor infer any person can safely climb utility poles based solely on reading its content. It is for informational purposes only.)

At the pole now, you stand at the base and put your arms out at shoulder level, slightly bent - gloved hands around the opposite side. Point the fingers slightly skyward, but do not exert too much effort to grab the pole. The lineman's gloves should do most of the grabbing. This is one reason why very little upper-body strength is used in proper pole climbing.

The first step, "Hand" means to place your right hand at forehead level. So take it and move it up there. The second step: "Charlie" may require a fair amount of explanation. "Charlie" refers to Charlie Chaplin. You are probably thinking, "What does this have to do with safe pole climbing?" Well, Charlie Chaplin always had the peculiar walk; the one where he kind of waddled with the toes pointing outward. That is the idea at "Charlie." Take your right heel and dig in close to your left one to the point where you can imagine yourself standing a little like Charlie Chaplin. And keep your knees locked at this point too.

Now, for "Stroke!" pick up your right foot 6-to-8 inches, step forward about 8 inches and stroke into the wood with the gaff hook. You have just completed the first cycle in a method that will ascend you to great heights! But you still have one foot planted on the ground.

The next step is identical, except you now move your left hand - "Hand" - above your right, stand up on your right leg, lock to "Charlie" and step and "Stroke!" into the wood with your left foot. You are now officially aloft. For good measure, go through one more cycle: right "Hand" - stand up on left leg (ungaffing the right foot), lock to "Charlie" and step and "Stroke!" into the wood with the right foot once more.

Stop here and take a moment to monitor yourself and observe your surroundings. This position, by the way, is the standard stopping position once you reach your desired height. The left leg is extended and locked, the right is bent; having stepped and stroked into the wood. This is universal in pole climbing - as it holds true for right-handed folks as well as left-handed folks. How do you feel? Do feel a little apprehensive? Or are you ready to go higher? Do you see those small gaff hooks supporting most of the weight of your frame? It is pretty amazing how the gaff hook system works. Very important: are you maintaining the 3-point contact with the pole we discussed earlier? Can you recognize what is meant by the 3-point contact rule?


Another universal rule of pole climbing is to keep the knees locked. More than anything else that needs to be reinforced is to keep the knees locked. Good instructors will constantly let you know about this. As soon as someone is observed breaking this rule, expect to hear a loud, "Lock your knees!" I know I always heard it. Right after you step up and lock to "Charlie," lock the knee of the leg that is gaffed in and keep it that way. The saying for keeping the climbers' knees locked is "Toe down, you go down." This means if you surely want to go down in a hurry, then simply point your toes down, your knees will bend, the gaffs come out and gravity will do the rest. It is true however, if you force the ball of your foot downward, point your toes upward then your knees will lock. Don't make the mistake I did by simply trying to curl the toes upward. This won't do you much good. You must really ride on the ankle joint and force the ball down and toes up, keeping the foot rigid. Then your knees will lock.

One of the greatest tendencies is to get close to the pole and grab onto it. This is actually the opposite of what one needs to do. Allow your arms to extend almost fully straight. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulder, down your back, down your locked leg to the gaff hook. The gaff hooks work best when this imaginary straight line forms approximately a 30° angle. The rule-of-thumb for achieving 30° is to allow your gloved fist to barely clear your chest and the pole. 30° should also exist on the leg that is currently stepped-up. Likewise, the rule-of-thumb is to fit your gloved fist between your bent knee and the pole. So, make a fist (remember to maintain 3-points of contact!) and check these two vital parameters. Remembering to maintain the 30° will help you overcome "pole hugging disease" - which is a metaphor for the natural tendency to get in closer to the pole, the higher you go.


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[ Welcome to Page One! | 3-Point Rule | Hand, Charlie, Stroke! | The Safety Strap | Intermission | Maneuvering, Part 1 | Maneuvering, Part 2 | Summary | Contact ]

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