There are notable trees around the world that draw people’s attention for historic reasons or because they are sizeable. Old trees are respected as they can live for centuries and even millennia, providing us a connection to our ancestors.
Some of us are drawn to the tallest and largest tree of a particular species. We might be interested in knowing which tree is the oldest, the tallest, or the largest in the world.
These may seem like simple questions with straight-forward answers, but we do need to dig a little deeper when looking for the answers.
What is a Tree
When you think of a tree, do you picture a tree with a single trunk that divides into larger branches forming the crown? Some trees appear to have a couple trunks emerging from the same point at the ground. Trees like this could be the same tree or possibly different trees that are growing immediately next to each other.
If you are interested in measuring the tree, you’d obviously need to determine if it is in fact a single tree.
Most trees we come across are individual trees with a single trunk. This is the form of the trees we usually have in mind when talking about the oldest tree, tallest tree, and largest tree.
Oldest, Tallest, Largest
The oldest known trees are Great Basin bristlecone pines. One of these trees known as Methuselah, grows in the White Mountains in California and has been aged at over 4,800 years old. This tree is often recognized as the oldest tree in the world, yet there is another one nearby that has been aged to over 5,000 years.
Stay tuned as an alerce tree in Chile was estimated last year as close to 5,400 years old. Regardless of which one is truly the oldest, all three of these trees are remarkable beings that have survived for 5 millennia.
The tallest known tree in the world is a coastal redwood known as Hyperion, measured at over 380 feet in height. Coastal redwoods grow along the Pacific coast of northern California into southern Oregon.
While the tallest tree measurement focuses solely on the height of the tree, when looking for the largest tree, we are looking at total volume of the tree (which brings in height as well as width of the tree's trunk, branches, etc.).
The General Sherman Tree, a giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park, is currently the largest known tree in the world. To qualify, this title of largest tree is in relation to the measured volume of its trunk and crown. The amount of space this individual takes up is impressive, standing roughly 275 feet tall and its trunk measuring over 36 feet wide at the base.
To give perspective of the size of The General Sherman Tree, the climbing area we flag off under our climbing trees is often 35-40 feet wide. Likewise, most of our climbing trees are 65-70 feet tall; which at that same height above ground, The General Sherman Tree's trunk is still about 15 feet wide.
It is an impressive tree, but could there really be a tree larger than that?
The Tree is the Forest
All the trees mentioned so far are single-stem species; also referred to as non-clonal. Looking underground, you can view these trees as a root system that gives rise to a single trunk. Again, there are instances where another stem or stems my arise, but they originate from the same general point of the root system.
These new sprouts/stems/trunks can lead to a multi-stemmed tree whose life continues even after the original trunk dies off. This is a phenomenal characteristic that can extend the tree’s existence.
Clonal species, in comparison, send up multiple stems/trunks from the same root system, but at different locations along the root system. Above ground you might see several trees or individual trunks growing in an area. While it might appear that you are standing in a grove or grouping of different trees, they are in fact all part of the same tree. One large root system with multiple trunks. One tree.
When we bring clonal species into the mix, it's no longer a straightforward answer to the question of what’s the largest or oldest tree!
Quaking aspens are one of the more widely known clonal trees that you may be familiar with. As with many clonal tree species, a single quaking aspen tree can have 100’s-1,000’s of trunks all generated from the same root system.
While one of its individual stems may not be all that impressive in terms of the thickness of trunk or height, the overall spread of the tree can reach out over acres. It may leave you wondering, can a clonal tree's many smaller stems even come close to measuring up against the total volume of the massive giant sequoia?
Pando, meaning “I spread” in Latin, is a quaking aspen in south central Utah. This organism’s root system has over 47,000 stems/trunks and spreads out just over 100 acres. It grows across an area about the size of 80 NFL football fields!
The volume in all of Pando’s trunks and crowns exceeds that of The General Sherman Tree. Now who’s the largest tree?
You may not see that as an apple-to-apple comparison, but hopefully it puts things in perspective. I am truly impressed by the size of both trees.
Standing in the midst of a humongous clonal tree like Pando or at the base of The General Sherman Tree, I feel infinitesimal. Both are the largest known trees in the world; one the clonal giant, one the single-trunk giant.
You’re Only as Old as You Feel
Clonal species continue growing and generating new stems while older stems are dying off. This can result in the tree living far longer than any single stem.
Aging trees can be difficult, particularly when you are dealing with a clonal species like quaking aspen. The trunks decay relatively quickly after dying, therefore aging relies on methods beyond counting growth rings or measuring trunk diameter.
At the oldest end of the range, Pando most likely germinated after the last glacial period in the area. Scientists who study quaking aspen, estimate Pando’s age somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 years old. Does that make Methuselah and its unnamed neighbor feel young? I am in complete reverence standing in the presence of any of these trees.
Regardless of how deep I like to dive into any one tree or metric, I appreciate the ambiguities that arise from the seemingly simple question like, what is the largest tree?
Look For Yourself
Big tree hunters are in constant search of the oldest, tallest, and largest trees. Some will travel the world on this quest. Others may focus their efforts on the trees within their state or on a specific tree species. Whatever metric you are drawn to, there are many noteworthy trees in each county, state, and region.
If you are amazed by the age of Pando, I encourage to look into Old Tjikko in Sweden and the wollemi pine in Australia.
If height impresses you, maybe read up on tuliptree as it is the tallest known native deciduous tree species in North America. The Montello Cottonwood is a Wisconsin tree worthy of a visit as the tallest known tree in the state.
If you admire overall size of a tree, the largest known bur oak growing in Wisconsin is at Stone Fences Farm in Dousman.
Cold temperatures, shortened daylight hours, and lack of greenery can fool anyone into thinking there isn’t much reason to head outside in winter. It may seem like life and Nature have hit the pause button.
Don’t be fooled. There is a lot going on out there!
With less foliage present in the winter, there are many characteristics that become more apparent and less obscured by the sensory overload during the growing season. If you are not sure of what you are looking for, all you need to do is get out there and let your senses be the guide.
Fall leaf color is one of the more noticeable aspects of trees that people enjoy. One study estimated a 30-billion-dollar annual contribution to the tourism industries of the 24 states in the eastern U.S. alone.
While the fall color change can be enjoyed through the windshield, there are many more details to enjoy when you slow down and spend time in the presence of a tree.
Branches twist and wind their way to openings where their leaves can capture sunlight. This winding nature of the branches leads to an artistic framework. The abstract patterns can be enjoyed from a number of angles and perspectives, such as when winter leaf drop exposes the branching structure of deciduous trees.
Bark color and textures vary greatly between species. River birch’s bark layers peel and curl along the trunk, revealing salmon colored inner bark. This attractive coloration and unique look make it a popular tree in landscapes. It may take on added winter interest if you do a little reading on a potentially useful characteristic of birch bark. Birch bark contains a compound that repels water, keeping the tissue dry. It is also flammable. A perfect combination when needing to start a campfire.
I particularly enjoy the texture, colors, and patterns of sycamore bark. The flaking bark leaves behind an evolving camouflage pattern formed as the green, gray, and tan papery layers exfoliate to reveal bright white inner bark on stems.
In late winter, as we begin to anticipate the coming spring weather, the tiny leaf buds begin to swell and provide an early hint of the colorful season to come. This slight coloration is seen in the tops of the trees, contrasting against the brown and gray branches and blue skies. As winter draws to a close, we can enjoy the hint of red atop silver and red maples as well as the vibrant yellow cast along weeping willow twigs..
In Wisconsin we are fortunate to have northern white cedars. They make my personal top-ten list of favorite tree barks!
As northern white cedars age, their bark shreds into thin linear strips that run up and down the trunk. It has a slightly spongy feel in the outer layers of bark if you press into it with your fingertips and feels soft to the touch as you run your fingers along.
There are numerous areas where we can get out and enjoy northern white cedar across Wisconsin, with one of my favorite areas being Newport State Park in Door County. Closer to my home in Waukesha County, Retzer Nature Center has a few groves of cedars around the park, one of which forms the centerpiece of the parking lot.
Even your feet will notice the soft, cushiony feel of the leaf litter blanketing the ground under a grove of northern white cedar.
You can enjoy their bark at any time of year, but spending time with them in winter has far greater impact for me as they maintain their green foliage through the winter. Immersing myself in a canopy of green when brown and gray dominate the winter color spectrum is like a breath of fresh air.
I can seldom pass on the opportunity to bend down and smell a flower in bloom. Some have little to no fragrance. Some are enjoyable and others might not be so pleasant. Regardless, the experience of stopping to smell the flowers pulls me into the present moment.
Even with the lack of flowers in the winter months, there are a few trees that I have a hard time passing by without taking in their pleasant fragrance. Some may have soothing effects and others I find energizing.
Several of our coniferous evergreens stimulate my sense of smell on winter hikes. Northern white cedar and eastern white pine are two of my favorites. Hemlock and spruce also do the trick. Walking near any one of these trees is likely to awaken your sense of smell.
One place I enjoy immersing myself in these aromatic compounds is along the Ice Age Trail in Hartman Creek State Park. As the trail winds through rolling, forested terrain of oak, pine, and maple, you pass through pockets of spruce & hemlock. Even if you are not able to identify them by name, your nose will surely let you know it is time to slow down and breathe it all in!
The essential oil and aromatherapy industries promote these compounds for their beneficial effects on us; like relaxation, invigoration, enhancing concentration, decreasing hyperactivity, reducing stress, easing tension, and clearing the mind. I use them in diffusers at home and in my office; but they are no substitute for heading out and enjoying them right from the source!
I enjoy the distinct crunching sounds underfoot during a winter hike. Whether the trail is lined with fallen oak leaves or covered in freshly fallen snow, neither of these unique sounds were something I experienced while growing up in Puerto Rico and southern Florida.
Another one of the sounds I go in search of in winter leads me to stands of eastern white pine. Not only does the foliage dampen the stark sounds from traffic and other noise pollution sources, the fine and feathery texture of the needles emit a soothing “whoosh” as the breeze passes through.
Pair this calming sound with the soft texture of the needles and pleasant aroma and you may be able to understand why sitting on a branch near the top of an eastern white pine is one of my favorite places to be!
Tastes related to trees is most readily appreciated by tasting the fruits, seeds, and nuts. Therefore, this sense is more commonly enjoyed during the growing season as opposed to winter.
One of my favorite tasting experiences was the day I sat along the bank of a tributary to the Des Moines River in central Iowa. I was sitting amongst a stand of black walnut trees in late summer as leaves and walnuts fell around me. I’ve never cared for store bought walnuts (which are English walnuts), yet given the abundance of nuts I decided to try one. It was the best tasting nut I’ve ever tasted. The tenderness of the nut and the bold flavor, wow! I spent the afternoon feasting upon freshly fallen nuts and watching the river flow past as the sun sank closer to the horizon.
Since most of the edible fruits have fallen, rotted, or been consumed by animals come winter, I resort to enjoying a variety of tastes from various twigs. Some species have a distinct taste and often used by knowledgeable professionals as an aid in identification.
Black or sweet birch is known for its wintergreen taste, black cherry for its somewhat cherry or almond-like taste, and sassafras has flavors of spiced fruit. Since some of these species may also contain low levels of toxic compounds when ingested, you may opt for the alternative experience of scraping the bark of fresh twigs to reveal the aroma. Sassafras has a fruity aroma like that of Froot Loops!
Using the sense of taste should be approached with caution. Even if a particular plant is known to be edible, it may still contain toxic compounds, certain people may have a sensitivity, or there may be similar looking plants that may be toxic.
While we may spend more time indoors during the winter months, there are plenty reasons to get out and enjoy the season. If not just to get out in the sunshine or bathe in the green colors of pines, spruces, and other evergreens, I'm also drawn outside to witness the unique aspects visible in winter and appreciate the different experience they provide.
Acknowledging and engaging in the changing of the seasons helps to build layers of memories, can strgengthen your emoitonal attachment to a place, and grow your appreciation of life.
There are a few of reasons why certain trees are special to me for climbing. Sometimes it is for the connection I feel to the tree, a particular challenge it may present for climbers, or because it provides an experience unique for those who head into the treetops.
I am often asked if I have a favorite tree to climb. It's hard to narrow it down to a single tree, but here are four of them and what I enjoy about them. Each year I select a number of these favorite trees for our Treetop climbs (Open, Open-Advanced, Adult, and Girl Scout Open Climbs). Here's why they are special to me and may help you decide if you'd like to climb it with us.
Pearl is one of my favorite trees. Growing at the base of a ridgeline formed during the last glacial period, this white oak is one of the older trees in the stand of oak & hickory overlooking the restored prairie. While understory plants have filled in the oak savanna that stretches the length of the ridge, park management is returning the area to the splendor of the natural savanna and prairies common to southeast Wisconsin in it's pre-settlement days. (Pearl is our climbing tree in Mukwonago Park)
Having grown in open sun in its younger years, Pearl has developed a broad spreading crown with numerous large branches, an eye-catching form, and a broad trunk that is firmly rooted in the fertile soil. The number and span of the branches are part of what make this tree an enjoyable one to climb. There are several branches to explore and plenty of comfy spots to lay your head back and enjoy the hours pass by.
Taking time to look at the other mature trees along the hillside surrounding you, you can still make out the structure of the savanna before the understory and invasive plants crept in. Climbing late in the day may provide the opportunity to enjoy the rays of the setting sun. Winter climbs are a treat when the sun casts shadows of the weaving branches on the ground below.
After taking time to play in the branches, you can head to a special place at the top. A fork in the branches at the very top form a small cradle that you can stand in, placing your head within feet of the uppermost leaves. Looking south, an opening in the branches provides a window where you can take in the view of the horizon. That is one of my favorite places to be in Waukesha County.
The Woodfield Oak
Since first meeting this tree in Woodfield Park after moving to Waukesha over 20 years ago, I have returned regularly to sit in its shade. It has often served as a place to quiet my mind and enjoy my lunch break.
The form reminds me of the live oaks that grow in the Southeastern U.S. with their sprawling branches. It is about 55 feet tall and the branches reach out about 85 feet from tip to tip! Two large lower branches scoop down to the ground, ready to embrace you like outstretched arms. It is a special tree…and why I have not found the right name for it yet!
The tree is upwards of 200-225 years old. Having sprouted from an acorn in the late 1700’s to early 1800’s, this tree was already a modest sized tree by the time Wisconsin became a state in 1848.
With broad spreading horizontal branches, this tree is a favorite amongst climbers as they allow for long limb-walks and great for taking big swings on your rope. Since peoples’ comfort with heights varies, I love introducing students and public climb participants to the tree as there are great branches to practice skills or play from 7 to 40 feet above the ground.
As the crown spreads and trunk heads towards the sky, two main stems form to provide a pair of high points in this tree. Reaching the top of either one, you will find yourself standing with your head near the uppermost leaves of this amazing tree.
Fox Brook Park features a number of beautiful bur oaks & our particular climbing tree grows near the bank of the lake. Captain Tony is a great tree, providing shady branches to get out of the summer heat and enjoy refreshing views of the swimmers and kayakers on the lake below.
With an upright trunk that forks into a few limbs, there are some great spots where you can pause and explore. Some of the branches allow for swinging and a taste of moving about the branches.
Captain Tony has a nice trunk route, which is when your climbing rope hangs down alongside the trunk. I enjoy trunk routes because I can touch the large limbs, feel the bark, and form a closer connection to the tree. For many climbers the challenge presented by being against Captain Tony's trunk may prevent them from making it past a particularly tight spot on the way up.
Those who are able to adjust their ascent technique, use the trunk to their advantage, or able to persevere with determination are able to get past this point. Once above it, you are rewarded with a chance to stand at the point where the large limbs begin to form the crown.
Standing there, energized and beaming with satisfaction, you will look up to find a clear route to the top. Watching others successfully make it past that difficult spot and seeing them beam with pride for the accomplishment is a highlight of the day for me.
A Boost Up
It is not always about finding the tallest tree to climb. Most of the time I am looking for an experience or something unique a tree may provide.
The swamp white oak in Horeb Spring Park is a pretty tall tree for our area, but where it is growing provides something that all climbers can experience regardless of how high we like to or are able to climb. The tree grows on a hillside that makes for a popular sledding spot in winter. From spring through fall, this slope presents a unique experience for our climbers.
As soon as your feet leave the ground & you are hanging on rope, the slope is no longer a concern for you. What it does do for a climber is change your perspective of height depending on the direction you are facing.
Facing up-slope you can see the ground and may not feel anything different than when climbing trees on level ground. As you rotate and the view down the hill comes into your field of vision, you feel an interesting sensation of being higher than you actually are.
With trees growing at the bottom of the hill, when you look directly across to them you will be peering into higher points of those trees. Your senses will make you feel that you are just as high in your own tree. That sensation paired with the fact that you can still climb high in this tall tree will you give a boost of energy and allow you to check your comfort with heights.
The sensation of feeling higher than you are is due to your orientation relative to the surrounding trees and landscape. This is something I look for when heading out to climb trees in the forest. Walking a ridgetop, I don’t necessarily need a tall tree, I just need a tree that can provide a view over or between the tops of the trees downhill. We often drive or hike to cliff tops to enjoy the view. With rope and saddle in hand, I just need to find a good tree on top of a ridge, cliff, or hill to get that extra boost above most people's perspective..
(Note: some of the experiences and climbing techniques described above may not be available at all Treetop climbs. Advanced techniques like limb-walking or multi-pitch climbing to get to the very top are covered in our Learn-to-Climb classes and introduced with modifications in our Open-Advanced climbs. Open Climbs feature a hammock.)
This time of year is interesting. Holiday, year-end, and new year celebrations abound. We find ourselves reflecting on the past in one moment. The next moment we are looking forward to the future.
Outside, the cold has set in and often times we already have snow on the ground. Winter has arrived.
When does winter “officially” begin? In meteorologic terms, it began December 1st. Astronomically speaking, it begins at the winter solstice. (Here's a great article about the seasons, solstice, equinox, aphelion, perihelion)
At this point in our annual trip around the sun, the Earth's tilt has the northern portion positioned further from the sun than the southern hemisphere. Thus the reason the sun is lower in the southern sky rather than overhead during the middle of the day.
This year, December 21st is the day where the tilt will reach its peak and begin to reverse. This pivot occurs at 9:59am on Tuesday, the winter solstice.
I find inspiration in recognizing this day and moment as it means that we will start to see our daylight hours lengthening with each passing day. I love the cold and the snow, but can be challenged as there are days where I leave home before sunrise and return after sunset.
By taking time to acknowledge the solstice, I am energized with positive emotions. I am aware of this specific point in the journey and in-tune with the present moment. Brighter days are ahead both literally and figuratively.
Where will you be Tuesday morning?
I will be on the ground, but still outside amongst trees. I have picked out a trail with numerous pockets of conifers. WInter's color spectrum is dominated with browns and grays, which is why it is important to immerse myself in the greens of pines, spruces, cedars and hemlocks!
Some people perceive winter as a long and dark time of the year. By taking time to celebrate the winter solstice, I am able to keep my focus on the fact that the amount of daylight is starting to increase. This lends itself to a positive mindset.
Winter is the time to celebrate the daytime getting longer. Here comes the sun!
After spending the past few weeks camping and hiking in various forests of the eastern U.S., I noticed marked differences in my demeanor and state of mind.
Even with the sacrifice of physical comfort by sleeping in a tent rather than in our bed, I slept more soundly. I also noticed an improvement in mental clarity. In part this was due to the absence of the demands and distractions often encountered at home and work; but also from the peace that overcame me as I enjoyed the trees, sun, breeze, song birds, and sights in the forests and along the trails.
We were immersed in nature. We felt great!
My wife and I spend a fair amount of time outdoors throughout the year. Whether it is taking trips like this, regular walks in the parks and trails near our house, or enjoying time in our backyard gardens, I know my time spent in nature nourishes my soul and has a positive impact on my health and well-being.
Your personal experiences may be like mine and you also feel positive impacts from your time in nature. We hear about Nature providing benefits to our health and well-being, but are the claims real or do they just sound plausible?
Sounds Good, Can You Prove It
As it turns out, there are numerous studies that looked at and measured the impact of spending time in nature. There are also studies that looked at the human health impact when natural areas and trees have been removed from an area, as was the case in several communities who lost an extraordinary number of trees due to the invasive emerald ash borer.
Those of us who have been aware of the positive impacts we experience may have been self-medicating by making time spent outdoors a regular part of our weekly routine. Obviously medical professionals need to operate on hard evidence rather than opinion, so thankfully this information has been making its way into the medical field and showing up in doctor’s prescriptions!
Easier Said Than Done
I am fortunate that my work schedule provides the opportunity for me spend time in nature most days of the week. Even my hobbies of walking, hiking, and gardening draw me outside. Thankfully my wife is able to motivate me to get outside to play, exercise, or simply relax when I have found myself content with sitting on the living room couch.
With all the opportunities I have to get outdoors, I still look for assistance and guidance from professionals to help me maintain focus. A few years ago I found a health & wellness coach who has helped in my pursuit of a healthy life-style and other personal goals.
With her expertise in health, wellness, and nutrition education & coaching, she has been great to work with and learn from in regard to the role that spending time in nature plays in her clients’ success.
Recently she invited me to sit down with her and a colleague to discuss my experiences and our tree climbing programs. I know I need to be physically active and get outdoors, but that doesn’t mean I always have the motivation to move.
What Does It Take to Get Me Outside
My tips include:
As we discussed during our time together, part of the intent behind our tree climbing experience is provide a unique and exciting way to get outside, move, and connect with Nature. (The appeal of the climb lured her to join me in the tree for an additional segment you'll hear at the end of to the podcast)
With the energizing affect that comes with climbing tall trees, I hope it provides further motivation for participants to make spending time outdoors a regular part of their weekly schedule.
Where do you go to unwind, slow down, find peace? A walk at the end of the day helps to quiet my mind. My wife and I take weekend hikes which help us unwind and enjoy a peaceful morning together.
Walking in parks lends itself to providing a calming effect after a busy day. Crossing paths with others is almost a given in these situations, and I enjoy the sense of camaraderie I feel as I nod to others who seem to be enjoying the same experience as me.
However, there are times where I wish to be further removed. I like to find places that are accessible but where I may be one of the only people around.
These days it is often that I need to hike further distances to get away from the more heavily trafficked areas. I don’t necessarily need to find a completely secluded spot, but it is nice to find a place where I can be alone for at least a short period.
When I need further distance, I often find myself in the branches high above. Up there I usually only come across birds and squirrels.
I have yet to cross paths with anybody while I’ve been climbing a tree.
Energized yet at peace
The energizing effects take hold as I leave the ground behind on my way into the branches. Once I reach my destination, be it the top of the tree or one of the many branches to sit on, I can focus my attention inward.
The common city noises and chatter from others playing nearby may still be in earshot, but they are softened by the distance.
Laying my head back on a branch and gazing into the canopy above, those distractions are gradually drowned out by the rustle of leaves in the breeze. This is when I notice that I have already begun to unwind and calm my mind.
Up here I can enjoy the life in the canopy and the peaceful feelings that overcome me.
Taking it all in
Sitting alone, looking down, you enjoy a view and perspective most people seldom have.
It can feel like you’re floating above the daily grind and able to focus on the simple pleasures in your life. Back on the ground your worries and troubles wait for you. Up here though, those worries cannot reach you. You are free to enjoy your time alone.
You can take the time to explore your thoughts and emotions. With your heightened energy level that comes with the location, you are likely to reconnect with yourself in a way that may escape your reach during the demands of your day.
That’s how it is for me, which is part of what drives me to provide the opportunity for others to experience tree-time.
Climbing tall trees is fun and why we offer the recreational experience.
It is also therapeutic, and why I climb on my own or share a branch with a friend.
There is a sensation you get when sitting at the top of a tree, looking out across the tops of the surrounding trees and forest canopy.
Taking a look down to the ground below, your body buzzes from the excitement of knowing you are in a special place. A place very few people get to visit.
You have climbed to the top relying solely upon your own ability and determination. You have distanced yourself from the stressors of your day, quieted your mind, and can begin to reconnect with yourself.
Some of these experiences leave a lasting impression. I can close my eyes and transport myself back to specific experiences: sitting on a branch at the top of a 200’ redwood, inhaling the scent of the needles atop a 110’ eastern white pine, and watching storm clouds move in the distance from my perch near the top of a 55’ white oak.
Recreational tree climbers enjoy these types of experiences regularly, often searching out trees that provide the opportunity for a unique experience.
How High Can You Climb
One of the most common questions I am asked is whether I have climbed a redwood. The assumption being that the higher the climb the more enjoyable it is. My experience at 200’ was memorable and I do enjoy opportunities that allow me to climb higher than I have been before.
For some people, climbing high is energizing. For others, frightening. There is great variance in the height at which each person feels is high enough for them. If you have climbed ladders, towers, or trees, you were likely aware of the stark differences between being at 15 feet and at 40 feet. When secured by a rope and safety equipment, the height at which you are comfortable climbing to is likely to increase.
If you are looking for height, then you’ll obviously want to search out the tallest trees that grow in your area. Eastern cottonwood and eastern white pine are two species that can reach over 100 feet in Wisconsin. Even if you are not able to find a suitable tree for climbing to these heights, there are other ways to enhance the sensation of increased heights.
This can be done by climbing trees on hillsides, ridgetops, or atop a bluff. Once you leave the ground, your perception of height is relative to your point of view. For this reason, if your climbing tree is situated higher than the landscape in your field of vision, you will experience an enhanced sensation of your height relative to the ground directly below you.
While height is part of what makes climbing trees exciting, it is only one aspect of what tree climbers enjoy about climbing.
Out On A Limb
Since trees are 3 dimensional, for many climbers the joy of a climb lays more in the branching characteristics of the tree. They search for trees that have a lot of large branches that spread out over a large area.
When growing in full sun, oaks, maples, and others tend to develop a broad-spreading crown. This type of branching structure provides opportunities to maneuver around the branches. This shape also allows the challenge to walk on branches and traverse from one side of the tree to the other.
Lateral movement across the crown of a tree requires additional skills and techniques then what is used when climbing a tree with a strong central trunk like a pine or spruce.
Stimulate the Senses
If you are familiar with aromatherapy and its ability to promote health and well-being, you are likely to understand why climbers may spend an afternoon in the branches of a spruce tree. The essential oils industry is very much aware of the beneficial properties of trees considering the number of tree oils available.
With some climbs, my sole intent may be to head up to where I can find a branch to lay back on. With eyes closed, my body is tuned into the movement of my branch as the tree responds to the breeze. Your sense of balance falls into this rhythm in much the same way as when the waves gently sway your boat on open water. When a tree with nice horizontal branches cannot be found, a hammock can provide a comfortable place to rest high in the branches. Close your eyes and you will find it easy to drift off to sleep.
Bark texture varies widely between types of trees. American beech has smooth bark, bur oak is rough, and white cedar bark is soft and fibrous. Not only can you enjoy the different textures by running your hands across the bark, but the atmosphere within the tree canopy varies in a similar manner as the ambience between rooms with hard wood floors, tile, and carpeting.
Let’s not forget the mighty tree itself. You may be drawn to a tree simply because it catches your eye and inspires you to venture upward in search of the pleasures it holds.
Often times the trees we are climbing are much older than ourselves by a hundred or more years. They may have been planted by a relative a few generations back.
Trees hold a history of changes they’ve seen in the area around them. If you sit in the branches long enough, you may be able to find connection and heightened awareness of your place in time.
Given the number of experiences and reasons you may have to climb a tree, the best climbing trees might be found in your back yard, a nearby park, or along a river in a remote woodland area.
The number of experiences that await in the branches above are endless. All are exciting in their own way. You just need to decide how you want to spend your time and find a tree that is suitable for the experience.
The confidence you have in yourself has a major impact on your level of happiness through life.
When I am lacking in confidence as I take on a new task, I find myself immobilized by fear, uncertainty, and feelings of anxiety. My mind says things like, "I can't", "I don't know how", and "I haven't done this before". The view forward is obscured and the task appears overwhelming.
Have you experienced this? Have you seen it in your children?
Confidence plays an important role in everybody’s life. A person's level of self-confidence is directly related to the level of success they can achieve in pursuit of their life goals.
Fortunately, as it is with most skills, we can maintain and build confidence through regular practice.
Rock climbing and climbing trees are not only hobbies I enjoy, they provide opportunities for me to build confidence in my abilities.
Working through the challenges I face in these hobbies can either build or diminish my level of confidence. Since tree climbing is a hobby I share with others, it provides me the additional perspective of watching others work through their own challenges.
In working with many climbers through the years, I have noticed three important steps in building confidence: overcome self-doubt, split a large goal into a series of smaller goals, and focus attention inward.
Overcoming Self Doubt
"Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right."
Negative self-talk is the first thing that must go.
As the case with most challenges, if you are to have any chance at successfully climbing to the top of the tree you will need to overcome self-doubt. This doubt tends to be triggered by fear.
Each of us has our own fears to work through. Fear of heights. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of failure. Brand new experiences can be scary.
For those facing and working through a fear, self-doubt creates an obstacle.
Simply taking the initiative to try something new may be enough to help you overcome your fear. That first step might give you a boost in your confidence. Pair that with a little know-how and you are better able to pursue your goal for the day.
My role as a facilitator is to aid you on your journey to reaching your goal. I can show you the technique yet I cannot climb the tree for you. Once you are on rope, my words are all I have to help you. More often than not, they are more than enough if I use them to convey positive thoughts and encouragement.
Our fears express themselves in the words we use. This means that the words you use have a profound impact on how well you will perform. "I can't" seems to be the most common and inhibiting phrase I hear people say.
These words are typically uttered within one minute of trying to climb; which leads me to believe they are spoken more out of reflex or conditioning. A coach or facilitator can help present a positive environment, but your self-talk often has the biggest impact.
In order to move forward, we must stop the negative self-talk. We can replace it with positive words like, "I can do this" and "I am doing it." Speaking and thinking positive words and thoughts instills confidence.
Building on a Series of Smaller Goals
"What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"
Sometimes our goal is so lofty that we have no idea how to achieve it or even where to begin. In order to reach the goal, we will need to break it down into smaller steps.
There are many reasons why this approach leads to success, but I think a primary driver is that it allows us to realize successes at each step. With a small boost in confidence at each step, we are energized and ready to take the next step. With each successive step our confidence continues to grow.
When Thomas came to climb with us his first time, his sight was set on climbing to the top of the tree. He came with confidence.
As he began to ascend, his focus appeared to be strictly on reaching the top. Focused on that goal, he began to struggle because he tried to skip some of the steps involved in the climbing technique.
The sit-stand technique is the foundation of the climbing method. Given his struggle, he naturally resorted to trying alternative methods like pulling with his arms and kicking his legs out. When he realized he was still not getting higher, his frustration began to build and his confidence plummeted.
When trying to help a person build confidence, they must be allowed to work on their challenges. Personal growth happens through personal experiences of trial and error. Constantly telling a person how to do something or doing it for them robs them of these invaluable lessons.
By having Thomas turn his attention back to the basic steps in the climbing technique, he was able to focus on the fundamentals needed to ascend. The steps necessary to reach his overall goal.
With his focus back on using his legs versus his arms, he began to regain some of his confidence. After repeating the process a few times, he realized that he had ascended to 15 feet on his own.
In a short period of time, his smaller goal of reaching the first branch was achieved. After a short break to acclimate himself to the height he had climbed (it feels a lot higher when you are looking back down at the ground!), he proceeded to climb higher. Eventually, his ultimate goal was only a few feet away.
Thomas' goal of climbing to the top was unachievable until he broke it down into smaller attainable steps. With each success, his confidence grew. With each boost to his confidence, he was prepared to take on the next challenge. Gradually, his ultimate goal came into focus.
Do Not Compare Yourself to Others
"It doesn't matter what others are doing. It matters what you are doing."
Building confidence in yourself has nothing to do with other people. Confidence is understanding and knowing what you are good at or the value you provide.
In order to build confidence, you must be focused on yourself and your own experience.
When Thomas began to struggle, his frustration was further compounded when he noticed that others were higher than him. He lost confidence when he viewed his slower performance compared to the others as a reflection on his ability to succeed.
His ability to climb had absolutely nothing to do with how well the other climbers did. Comparing himself to others only allowed negative self-talk to return and diminish his confidence.
Almost like a light switch, when he returned his focus to his own progress, his confidence returned immediately.
Hobbies That Build Confidence
“The more risks you allow your children to take, the better they learn to look after themselves.”
I value activities that challenge and provide me opportunities for growth. Climbing trees for both recreation and work as an arborist has had a tremendous impact on me over the years. These experiences drive my desire to make recreational tree climbing available for others. In doing so, I have seen it have the same impact on those who climb with us each year.
From April through October, I am surrounded by people. My weeks are filled with facilitating climbs and teaching classes. One of the most common bits of feedback I receive is in regard to the affect that tree climbing had on the participant's self-confidence; whether it is a parent who has observed it in their child or an adult who has returned to the treetops.
The climbing you get to enjoy during our events is not only exciting and fun, it will provide a confidence boost that you can take with you as you pursue new challenges and goals in other areas of your life.
With confidence, happiness and success follow.
Our Beginning Tree Climbing classes begin in March and public climbs start in April. Until then I encourage you to seek out hobbies and experiences that can help you and your children continue to build confidence until you can return to the trees with us!
Growing up, my brothers and I spent most summer days outside. Even in the heat and humidity of southern Florida, we’d much rather be riding our bikes around the neighborhood, exploring the field behind our house, or hiking to the nearby lake to play along the shore and cool off in the water.
We often pitched our tents in the backyard simply because we enjoyed the simplicity and freedom of spending time detached from the television and electronic distractions inside. If it weren’t for my parents’ willingness to let us ‘rough’ it in the back yard and insistence that we get outside and play, I can only wonder where my life’s journey would have brought me to today.
When we were younger, we knew that spending time outdoors was the key to a happy life!
Benefits of Spending Time Outside
Countless studies support this notion, analyzing how crucial outside play is for us and our children. Further, free-play allows us to foster our creativity and decision-making skills. Children, in particular, benefit as they are developing motor planning skills and trying to discover their interests.
Studies have shown the benefits of spending time in nature is even greater than simply being outside. If you are one who enjoys hiking, camping, hunting, or canoeing, you are probably already aware of nature’s power to make you relax beyond how you feel when you take a walk around your neighborhood.
Reduced stress, improved short-term memory, reduced inflammation, improved concentration, sharper thinking, immune system boosts, and improved mental health are some of the benefits that I have experienced firsthand. I wasn't too surprised when I began looking into and reading studies showing the relationship between children who spend less time in nature and the likelihood they experience attention disorders and depression.
I have worked outside for most of my life. I've also had office jobs where I was lucky if I had a window to look out and take in at least the sunshine if not a landscape. Regardless of your age or what your workspace looks like, we cannot escape the fact that we need time in nature; and free-play.
Make Time To Play Outside
In the typical progression of life, things seem to get more complicated.
As growing adults enjoying our careers, it is quite easy to put in extra hours in pursuit of our goals. At the same time, we may have home repairs, a lawn to mow, meals to make, dishes to clean and so on.
If you have kids, this list expands ten-fold, which can make it seem more difficult to send the kids outside for hours on end. Their schedules are filled with structured activities. You may face pressure from people who have different priorities and approaches for their kids.
Kids aside, how about your own well-being? I am sure you still find time for fun, entertainment, and getting outside; but, what does your outside time look like these days? Does it primarily consist of yard work, relaxing on the back patio, or at the kids’ soccer game?
How much time do you spend in nature? Whatever happened to play time? Do you not have time for either anymore?
While I do not play nor spend time in nature nearly as much as I did when I was younger, I know it should be a priority. If the opportunity escapes me for too long, I know it is imperative that I make time as it is as important as proper nutrition.
I had many favorite climbing trees when I was a kid. In Puerto Rico, there was a magnificent rubber tree (Ficus elastica) at the school playground whose aerial roots and large limbs demanded I swing in the canopy like Tarzan. There was also a rubber tree in our neighbor’s yard in Miami which catered to my dream of living a life like I saw on Swiss Family Robinson.
I had a number of favorite climbing trees through the years. Every one of them provided me a place I could go to be alone. I could read a book, challenge my nerve, take a nap or simply lose myself in the serenity of the treetop.
Even today, the benefits I receive from tree climbing often exceed that of other activities primarily because I am outside, breathing fresh air and inhaling the essential oils and compounds emitted by the trees and other components of the natural environment. The further away from concrete & asphalt and the larger the forest ecosystem the tree is growing in, the greater the effect.
The climbing process itself heightens your senses and has a profound impact on your brain. You will feel energized once your feet leave the ground, yet you will find peace when you sit back and take in the view. Negative emotions, anxiety and stress will fade away, ushering in positive emotions and a boost in self-confidence and creativity.
Feel Better. Be Happy.
As much as I love hiking and playing in my gardens, much of my free-play during the summer is climbing trees for fun. Even though I can get in a personal climb during some of my work days, it is the climbing I do outside of work which impacts me the most.
There is no right or wrong way to climb a specific tree, which means you are free to explore as you desire that particular day. One rule: stay tied in on rope at all times…the rest you just make up as you go. Nothing compares to how I feel when I am playing out in the woods, high in a tree. Everything comes into balance. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
For me it is climbing trees. For you it may be hiking. Don’t wait for a doctor to prescribe it. Spend a few hours playing in nature this weekend.
We were right all along…playing outside is key to a happy life!
Are you ready to reconnect with Nature, your inner-child, yourself? Maybe it's time to join us for an Adult Tree-Time Climb?
What are some of your goals? Maybe they have to do with changing yourself or changing your situation. In order to achieve your goals, you will likely need to grow and develop yourself in some manner. This growth and development is change.
Sometimes changes to our situation are outside of our control. While this can be frustrating and at times intimidating, we still need to work through the challenges we are faced with. In doing so we are also working on our personal growth and development.
In both cases, change presents a number of challenges you will need to address if you have the determination to continue in pursuit of your goals.
Change, challenge, and growth go hand in hand.
Sooner or Later
When you come up against a challenging situation, how often do you find yourself giving up in hope of there being an easier path rather than working through the difficulty?
There have been plenty of challenges I have faced over the years. Some I tackled, others I turned away from. As you’d expect, some of the ones I took on resulted in failure. It seems most of the challenges I chose to avoid ended up coming back across my path at a later point.
In either case there were plenty more challenges ahead.
With this understanding, I find myself more inclined to approach challenges head-on. Even if I fail today, I can walk away with two things in mind: knowing I did not give up and gaining insight on where I need to improve.
Some Challenges Are Too Difficult...At This Point
Giving up when encountering adversity may be seen as self-preservation in some instances, but in many cases it has a detrimental effect. Giving up too soon means you are giving up on yourself, which can lead to lower self-esteem.
If you take on a challenge and fail, you have a better chance at walking away with insight on why the challenge was too much to overcome at this point in time. With that knowledge, you are better equipped to formulate a plan to strengthen yourself. By working on improving yourself, you will have a better chance at overcoming that challenge in the future. If your goal is worth it, you will face the challenge again.
When a problem is too much for me to handle, I look for ways to break the larger problem into stages. Smaller challenges can be easier to tackle. As I progress through the smaller challenges and stages, I am not only building my skills, but also experiencing an increase in my sense of self-worth.
This positive reinforcement of my abilities compounds as I progress through each of the stages, ultimately achieving success in overcoming what had previously been a challenge I couldn't handle. Successes like this provide me with a tremendous boost in self-confidence.
Our climbers experience this firsthand. When they show up without ever having climbed with rope and saddle, we start them off with a basic understanding of the technique necessary to climb. It is their determination and physical ability that will be required to reach their ultimate goal.
Your goal may be to reach the top of your rope. Seeing the goal and wanting to be there is not enough to get you there. You will have to work for it and it will be challenging. However, if you remain focussed on taking small steps upward, you will eventually reach that goal.
For those people who lose focus on or try to skip the steps required to take them higher, it is highly unlikely they will reach the top before they are exhausted and frustrated. While the encouragement we provide is powerful, our most effective form of assistance is to bring their focus back to tackling the small challenges.
When smaller, more manageable challenges are accomplished back to back, you are able to achieve your ultimate goal for the day.
Change Is Inevitable...Thankfully
When I do not have others around to help encourage and motivate me as I work through a challenging time, I have to rely on myself. This is best done when I face the challenge rather than avoiding it.
If it is too great for me today, then I will take it one day and one step at a time. In doing so, not only will I be more likely to succeed, but also better capable of achieving more difficult challenges that lay ahead.
Whatever changes and challenges await me tomorrow, I welcome them because I take comfort in knowing that they will keep me growing.
As a G.O.T.C. Recognized Facilitator & Master Instructor, I.S.A. Board Certified Master Arborist, and T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.