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Tree Climbing: So You Want to Be a Tree Climber

Aug 14, 2008
When I was really young, climbing trees was like eating candy for me. If it had branches, I had to climb it. The steep hill behind grandma's house was covered with towering mango trees. I'd spend hours there climbing from branch to branch high in the canopies, even tree to tree without touching the ground. As an adult, it's fantastic to know that climbing trees doesn't necessarily have to be life or limb, literally. It's wonderful to be able to use ropes now. Wherever I go, all I'm looking for is the next tree to climb.

Tree climbing means ascending a tree and moving around up in the canopy. Many people aren't even aware that it's an actual sport. But then, it's only been recognized as one in the last 20 years. Your bare requirements are a rope, a harness and a helmet. That's it. And you don't have to worry if you aren't athletically fit. If you can walk a mile, you can tree climb. Even a minimally fit person can do it. And it's such fun!

There are some really good advantages to tree climbing. It's a great way to exercise. You'll probably discover muscle groups you've never noticed before. If you've got nice trees in your area and a good number of them, your scenery will keep changing. That'll add some excitement to the workout. No boredom there. High above the ground, maybe in mid-air, your whole perspective changes. Surely, at birds-eye view, the world is a different place. Who knows what you may realize about your life just by climbing a tree. And except for your initial investment in gear, there really isn't much else to spend your money on. Paying to use a climbing structure, or to build one, surely isn't necessary. Trees are all around us, almost anywhere, at any time of the year.

Because you'll be directly working with a large living thing, certain rules, or safety measures, must be followed to respect that life, and to honor the sport. The most important rules involve yourself. Stay "on rope" at all times by staying connected to your rope. Never forget the fall. And don't just rely on yourself to learn how to do it. Get training from a qualified instructor. Wear the right gear and have the right equipment--however basic it may be. Don't climb trees with branches near power lines. Just don't risk it. Electrocution is a tragic sign of complete disregard for one's safety. It is entirely avoidable.

Protecting the tree and its natural surroundings require their own safety measures. When you decide to climb a tree, you must inspect it thoroughly for any signs of danger or weakness before you climb. If you notice that something seems wrong, move on. If it's a go, on the other hand, you may want to use cambium savers. They protect trees with thin bark from rope friction. This will depend upon the tree you choose. And, please, don't willingly injure a tree, especially by using leg spikes or any other implement that you know must damage the tree in order to be used (such as a gaff). You don't want to go around leaving injured trees in your wake. Honor the sport, respect the tree.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to do a little branch trimming. Use caution, especially with dead branches. Make sure that all climbers are standing clear. Falling branches should drop unhindered all the way to the ground. Maybe you could use those trimmed branches as a landfill in adjacent areas.

Be watchful of living things in old growth trees. Special plant communities may be found anywhere on or near the tree. Do not disturb them. Nesting animals and their actual nests must be left alone. Be attentive of ground cover beneath and around trees. Take care not to damage what may be delicate or rare plants.

When it's time to ascend, you'll have some choices. If you want to be a free climber and not just a tree climber (ha!), the rope will be attached to you but only as a safety measure in case you fall. It will not assist in climbing whatever. As a free solo climber, ropes are used not at all. I repeat: Not at all. Your life is literally in your own hands. But you've only just decided to become a tree climber so you won't go there. Your focus is on tree climbing with ropes.

There are three basic techniques for tree climbing with ropes. There is the single rope technique (SRT), the double rope technique (DRT) and the lead climbing technique. In SRT, a throw line is used to reach a high branch. The climbing rope is then hauled over that branch and secured in place. You then ascend the climbing rope. With DRT, a high branch is attained using SRT. Then both ends of the climbing rope are attached to the climber with a sequence of climbing knots throughout (makes climbing much easier). A tug in either direction will move the climber. Using a modified Blake's hitch for the main knot, the climber only has to let go of the rope to stop in place. Very cool. The lead climbing technique involves a lead climber who ascends the tree as a free climber. Along the way, protection points are set up as slings banded around the tree's limbs. At the top, the lead climber can set up a belay (top rope) for other climbers to ascend. If not, the lead climber simply rappels down.

Tree climbing is an exciting way to stay fit and active. It's also quite peaceful and, somehow, rejuvenating once you're up in the canopy. If you know what gear you need, how to protect and not damage trees, if you know how to climb them safely, imagine the heights you could reach. The peace you may find. Trees are wondrous and life-giving. Enjoy them and be careful up there!
About the Author
Len Q. is a master blade sharpener. If you would like to learn more about - Knife Sharpening: How to Sharpen Knives, Maintain and Store Them - Sharpening Other Edges (i.e. Chain Saws, Lawn Mower Blades, Gardening Tools, Axes) Find it at http://www.MakeKnivesSharp.com
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