The past two days several classmates and I had the opportunity to learn how to climb trees with tree climbing spurs. As soon as I heard about this opportunity, I was eager beyond description to be part of this…and also slightly anxiety stricken.
Weather was warm and sunny for our first taste of this type of climbing. The order of the day was as such:
Step 1 – Pruning Your Tree
Our instructor pruned the trunk of the tree to make climbing easier (since we are all learning). He used a pole saw to reach as much as he could first. Then, he climbed the tree with climbing spurs to clear the rest of the way for us (and actually had one of the more capable students do this as well). You could of course just prune as you go, as he did after the pole saw, using a handsaw strapped to your calf or at your hip.
Step 2 – Know Your Equipment
We were introduced to the equipment for the day:
>PPE: Personal protective equipment is needed anytime you climb. This includes need eye protection, a helmet (better to have one without a brim for climbing), gloves (need to have sticky palms to better grip rope), and hearing protection (if one were to be doing any chainsawing in the tree).
>Friction Saver / False Crotch/ Belay Rope: our teacher wanted us to have some additional safety measures since we are just learning. So, he climbed up the tree without being roped in to establish a friction saver & false crotch (i.e. a thick straps of rope that wraps around a tree or limb which the belay rope can run through) and set up a belay rope. The belay rope is how we had climbed earlier this year, using a foot ascender.
>The tree climbing harness / belt: This is what you clip the safety lanyard (see below) to and in our case, this is also what the belay rope was attached to for an extra safety measure, for the reasons mentioned above. The harness has a belt that encircles your waist and also two leg belts (for lack of a better descriptor) , which together creates a sort of seat for you to lean back on when climbing.
> The safety lanyard: Essentially a rope (the orange one in the photos) that clips to your right hip, is swung around the trunk of the tree, and is then clipped to your left hip. This can be a bit tricky to swing around the tree depending on the diameter of the tree. There is an additional red carabiner that attaches to your harness which you NEVER touch / unclip when climbing. It is a fall back carabiner should anything happen to one of the other 2.
> And, the climbing spurs themselves! : They are strapped to your calf, over your pants and boots. You want to tie it as tight as possible. They are what they sound like: a pointed piece of metal angled straight down from your foot. (also known as “gaffs”, “spikes”, or “irons”)
It was at this juncture that I became dismayed to discover that one needs forestry boots to use climbing spurs…something I have not yet invested in. C’est la vie…at least I was able to learn by observing until I invest in some.
Step 3 – Climb On
The climbing process is hard work from the looks of it. You have to swing the safety lanyard up to about chest level and then jam the spurs into the tree and step up. Once you have both spurs in, you swing the safety lanyard up again, establish tension, and then step up one foot at a time again.
Some tricks of the trade:
* Step like you mean it. You really want to jam the spur in so it is secure, but not so hard that you can’t get it out (of course) to step onwards and upwards.
* When swinging the safety lanyard up it appears to help if you sort of hug the tree first and then swing up. There might be stobs of pruned branches or protruding growths on the trunk that get in the way of simply sliding the lanyard up. So tree hugging is your best best.
The two students who climbed looked like pros!
Day one came to an end and we agreed to come back the next day. I was feeling slightly deflated knowing I couldn’t climb myself, but, being eager to learn all about this (rope work, terminology, climbing technique, and safety), I didn’t think twice about signing up to come back as well. Plus, it is truly a lot fun to watch and to support others as they learn, even if you aren’t doing it yourself.
Today was foggy and cold, with some light precipitation periodically – much more to my liking.
Three of my classmates who had not climbed yesterday got to take a stab of it, and each climbed very well. I was learning a lot about the process, and reading about safety measures from a book our instructor handed to me. And, as I was asking around about what boots I should invest in so I could try climbing next semester, my instructor said that we could give the spurs a try on the hiking boots I had on and see how it went.
I was ecstatic.
Of course I played it cool on the outside. Because I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much in case my boots proved unworkable.
But they worked.
As I approached the young redwood, a light rain began to fall and a chilled breeze was blowing – the ideal setting for the task at hand. The first few steps, I felt a bit timid and unsure, and swinging the safety lanyard upward takes some getting used too, and proves challenging when it gets caught on a stob. There is something rather splendid about the feeling and sound of the spur sinking into the wood. And something equally pleasant about hugging the trunk to swing the lanyard up. The pull on your arms and legs from the activity ignites something in you, amplifying your energy. My hands were a bit cold from the damp conditions and the effort of gripping the rope tight. And dust from the bark was gloriously speckling my glasses, face, and eyes.
So in short – climbing was nothing short of extraordinary for me. Perhaps it is because I have wanted to learn to tree climb, not just learn but be confidently proficient, for a long while, and had so many doubts about whether I would be capable to do it at all, and feared failing at it – but whatever the cause, I was smitten at once.
At one point I stopped climbing. It wasn’t so much because I was tired (make no mistake, it is work, so this is not a bragging point here), but more because I just wanted to – well – soak it in. Climbing and being up in a redwood was such a thrill, I wanted to digest the moment, burn it somewhere into my memory retina. I could have stayed up there for several life times really, but I also know others wanted to climb and I didn’t want others to think I was stuck…so I finished going up and then descended.
Although I had said not to, the thing is – I have truly kind friends who don’t listen to what I say, and video recorded me anyways:
I know what I did isn’t anything crazy, it wasn’t even that high and we still had a belay as safety, but it was a a taste of something I’ve dreamed of doing and I am so thankful for the chance, and for our teacher who provides such opportunities.
I can’t wait to climb again…but until then, this tree-dusted face is a face of joy incarnate, quite the proper way to end the semester in thankfulness.