Today I get to check one bucket list item off : rope-climbing a tree.
Of course I’ve climbed trees as a kid, but I wanted to truly climb a tree. After reading the book The Wild Trees, which is about botanists who climb and study the coast redwood, I have wanted to get a taste of rope-climbing a tree…and one day possibly working up to higher canopy climbing. Don’t worry – I was not so foolish as to imagine my first attempt would or should be a redwood (trees which can grow over 300 feet tall), but I was happy to discover today that my chance to get my feet wet in the endeavor arrived.
An employee from Davey Tree, a urban forestry company (for lack of a more apt description), came to speak to us about employment opportunities for our future and to give us a demonstration on tree climbing, which included letting us have a go at climbing ourselves. Among other service that Davey Tree provides, is the employment of tree trimmers. So, we got a full demonstration on all the safety measures tree trimmers take before and while trimming and an excellent explanation on how to climb and what equipment is used. I found it all fascinating, full to the brim of giddy enthusiasm.
I took rather copious notes about the equipment and techniques involved, which I’ll leave off of here for the time being, and jump right to the climbing experience. But in short there are lots of safety measures that go into the creation of each piece of equipment: rope that have very high minimum carrying capacities (incredible to examine up-close with how intricately and strongly they are woven), connective links (i.e. carabiners) with triple lock safety, the technique of tying steadfast knots and using a pendulum system to travel laterally in the canopy, etc.
We got to climb into (just up, not anything lateral) the canopy of a tree on campus, the highest point for our climb being somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80ft up. The demonstration of how to get a rope up in the first place was pretty interesting so in summary:
- Throw a throw line up until you get it through the saddle between the trunk and a sturdy branch
- Hoist up a friction saver using the throw line until it rests on the space joining the trunk to the branch
- Using the throw line, thread your climbing rope through the two rings of the friction saver (this helps limit friction on your rope that would occur if you simply slung your rope over a branch)
To ascend there are several different techniques that a more experienced climber can and will use, but since this was the first time for many in my class, we used foot ascenders. To climb up you essentially “step” up using the foot ascender, pushing down hard with each step while grabbing the robe above you with your (gloved!) hands and pulling up. Most of the work is done with your legs (thank goodness), but your arms still get a pretty good workout, your forearms especially. Once at the top, you release the rope from the foot ascender* and repel (slowly) down, giving yourself slack from a knot on your top rope as you go down. It was hard work for a girl straight out of an office job, but I LOVED every minute. I could have stayed up there happily for hours.
[By the By: For some of the instructive demonstrations, check out this YouTube playlist. NOTE – the climbing method is a slightly more advanced method than the foot ascender method most of us used today:]
So, as it turns out, although I get to take something off the bucket list, I’m adding the same something to my new hobbies-to-pursue list. I can’t wait to climb again and hope it is soon.
*I had a bit of trouble releasing the foot ascender – on the ground I had it, but at the top, as I came to find out later, I was forgetting one additional step – so I took off the ascender entirely in order to descend, much to my personal frustration and shame on not being able to do it right…well, now I am an expert on that portion 🙂