Some people take on exciting and risky endeavors such as wingsuit flying, base jumping, and free-climbing rock faces. You might have even tried a few yourself. Maybe bungee jumping or skydiving?
Extreme sports tend to involve activities that take on higher associated risks, thereby increasing the level of danger for the participant. Often times the risks are increased through elevated levels of speed, height or mental and physical exertion.
Participating in these types of activities produces a rush of the epinephrine in the body, the hormone associated with the “adrenaline rush.”
The “adrenaline rush” is experienced as a reward by some people and thus creates a drive to participate in extreme activities.
What might be extreme to you may differ greatly from the next person, therefore we each experience adrenaline rushes at different levels of participation in the same activity.
You can experience the rush simply by stepping outside your comfort zone.
One Step Over the Line
On occasion I am able to get out with a friend to climb rock. Since all of our climbing is done on rope, we hike to the top of our chosen rock face in order to set up the top-rope system. Once he has all the gear in place, we take the shortest route down…stepping off the edge of the cliff.
Stepping off the side of a cliff is not part of my daily routine; therefore, I find it quite exciting. It tests my nerve every time! Once over the edge and hanging on rope, rappelling 50 feet down the side of the cliff is relaxing comparatively.
Then there are people like Alex Honnold, who free-climbed El Cap. No harness, no rope.
To put it into perspective, the wall routes at Adventure Rock reach just over 40 feet and our highest ropes in our climbing trees tend to be between 40-55 feet high. The El Cap route Alex climbed was 3,000 feet.
Chills ran down my spine as I watched his journey in the 2018 documentary, Free Solo. I feel an adrenaline rush just thinking about it!
As I stand at the base of a cliff or wall and look up, I recheck my safety system. Did we inspect all of the equipment? Is the fall protection system installed properly? Do I trust my belayer?
Until my confidence level increases during an ascent, I feel adrenaline release in my blood stream. It is invigorating.
Even if we might have grand visions of accomplishing feats like Honnold or simply jumping out of a plane to try skydiving, we know we lack the ability and usually the equipment to do so.
Or maybe we’re just a bit more cautious.
Do Something Out Of The Ordinary
Ziplining and High-ropes courses tend to elicit an invigorating adrenaline rush in many people. We are faced with the fear of falling. If you already have a fear of heights, the effect can be more intense.
While tree climbing may fall in the same arena of adventure activities like these, it tends to elicit different responses. Since climbers are in control during their time above the ground, you tend to experience less of an adrenaline rush, yet still feel energized and invigorated.
This feeling is likely caused by the release of hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These are some of the “happy hormones” as they provide a boost of feel good energy, without the stress-related impact of the adrenaline rush.
For most people, just getting ourselves off the ground is stepping outside of our comfort zone. This where the thrill of the climb begins. Those energizing hormones begin to release. I find it particularly enjoyable when these hormones are at greater levels than adrenaline.
As you climb higher, you will eventually encounter the height that registers for yourself as one where you are no longer near the ground. Meaning, you are acutely aware you have stepped outside your comfort zone. For many people this height is reached about 10-15 feet, and maybe 30 feet for others.
With tree climbing, you are in control of your next decision. Once you reach that first ceiling, what is your next move? Climb higher, hang out and enjoy the comfort of hanging in your saddle, head down?
Once acclimated to the distance above ground, most people opt to climb higher. Decide to climb higher, you’ll feel another flush of those energizing hormones.
This process repeats during your climb. When you reach the lowest branches of the tree’s crown. Getting onto or off of a branch, questioning whether you will still be held aloft during each transition. When you reach the top of your rope. Each time receiving a flush of energy.
What Level of Extreme Are You Looking For?
Recreational tree climbers live around the world and come from all walks of life. Many head out in search of the tallest trees in order to reach heights of 200-350’. Some are looking for trees and vistas in remote locations, taking them into jungles and rainforests shared by pit vipers, stinging insects and other critters that can cause harm when encountered.
Climbing arborists work in the trees daily. Their work requires precision skill to situate themselves into a proper working position to avoid straining muscles or being hit by the piece of wood being removed. Their work might involve operating a chainsaw with the chain rotating near 60mph as 1,400 cutting teeth pass by a specific point per second.
Can you picture yourself in either of those situations? Do they seem a little more extreme than climbing the tree in your backyard?
Maybe you have tried or have seen a tree climber limb-walking, where they walk out towards the end of a branch. In doing so, they are no longer hanging directly under their suspension point; therefore, now relying more and more on their ability to balance their weight on the branch. The awareness is very much present that if they slip, they will fall & possibly swing uncontrolled towards the trunk.
I mention all of this to put into perspective that many tree climbers experience and are often driven by situations that provide an adrenaline rush during the climb. The work is demanding, very rewarding, and ultimately provides the thrill that some of us spend our money on for recreation.
Do you think of yourself as someone who is not ready to throw caution to the wind and truly willing to risk severe injury or death?
It is fortunate, then, that you can search out experiences under more controlled circumstances where those consequences are not at stake, and push the limits of your comfort zone at your own pace.
All new climbers learn to ascend the rope using beginner techniques, which we teach at all of our events. With time, some people advance to faster and more efficient techniques that Curt demonstrates in this video. It’s the technique of climbing rope that gets you high up into a tree, no matter your level.
By Kevin Andrews
What matters most to you as the parent of a child between the ages of 5 and 10?
Research shows four items consistently rank among the top:
Would you believe there is a path to achieving all four of these?
Physical activity plays an important role in developing the brain and supporting essential mental functions. As an elementary teacher for the past 20 years I have witnessed the benefits that regular physical activity has provided to the vast majority of my students.
Physical activity helps develop students in a range of ways. Not only does it help their physical health, it also helps improve brain function and your child’s emotional wellbeing. Research shows that regular to moderate intensity exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with learning and memory.
Exercise also helps release growth factors, chemicals in the brain that affect the growth and survival of new brain cells as well as blood vessels in the area. Exercise leads to improved motor skills, better analytical and problem-solving skills, stronger attention skills and overall improved learning.
So how do we accomplish this in our schools now-a-days?
Engaging and Experiential
Most people would answer with the obvious PE and Recess. Educators of today are looking for new, engaging, and creative ways to meet those needs without the use of technology-based methods. One method my school has explored over the past few years is through tree climbing.
Companies such as Treetop Explorer are helping educators connect physical activity with a variety of learning opportunities. When children are physically engaged and “living” an experience, their retention rates show a dramatic increase.
Whether it be studying the biology of trees, using the peacefulness experienced in a vertical change of scenery for journaling or writing poetry, or studying the force of gravity on different objects, the connections between academics and physical activity are endless.
The best part………KIDS LOVE IT!
The #1 Field Trip!
In the four years since our school began implementing a tree climbing program with our third graders, the excitement from students and parents has grown exponentially. It is the #1 “field trip” 2nd graders are excited to experience in 3rd grade, and one of the top 3 memories our 5th graders have of their entire elementary experience.
Each climbing event is held during the school day, yet each year we have a growing number of parents taking time off of work to come watch their children soar into the trees. Not only has this experience become more and more popular with the parents in my school, but it’s now being implemented in all four of the elementary schools across our district.
The experience has been met with much enthusiasm from parents, students, and teachers alike. But beyond the enjoyment factor lies the connection between the academics, physical activity, mental health, and social experience that the tree climbing experience provides to each and every one of our students.
The tree climbing experience helps us provide students with an alternative learning experience that gets them out of their chairs and into the trees.
Kevin Andrews is an elementary teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. He has been teaching since 2000 and has worked with kids between the ages of 5 and 10 as a Classroom Teacher, Content Specialist and Instructional Coach. He introduced the tree climbing experience to his 3rd grade team in 2015, and it has since grown to being implemented across the four elementary schools in his district, reaching more than 400 new students on a yearly basis.
Name: Georgia Oak-eeffe
Trunk Diameter: 34”
Spread of Branches: 65’
Approximate Age: 50-70 years
About the Tree
At one time, the world’s largest known pin oak was right here in Wisconsin.
It was growing on the campus of UW Stevens Point since 1894, but was removed in 2017 after being infected with the lethal oak wilt disease. During its 123 years of life, it had reached 92 feet in height with the trunk being over 4 feet wide.
Pin oak is somewhat unique in its tendency to exhibit a strong central trunk rather than the sprawling nature of other oaks. This form, paired with a relatively fast growth rate, leads them to attain impressive heights within their short lifespans compared to other oaks.
Our climbing tree in Sun Prairie is the only pin oak in our current line-up of climbing trees. This tree is surrounded by a handful of other impressive pin oaks and I encourage you to come out and meet them during one of our climbs.
The scientific name (Quercus palustris) comes from the Latin word for marsh, palus, indicative of the habitat where it is typically found in nature. The species tends to grow in lowland areas of the Midwest states, however, it can be grown across the continental U.S.
Having the ability to tolerate pollution and compacted soils, pin oak has been one of the most widely planted oaks in urban landscapes. Before you decide to plant this tree however, beware that the tree can face nutritional issues when growing in clay soils.
Starting my career in Missouri, I was fortunate to work with pin oaks that reached 100 feet in height. Since the species tends to hold on to its dead branches and twigs, I spent a lot of time in these magnificent trees.
Although you may take it for granted, bark can tell you a lot about a tree. Get up close and personal with a tree and let Curt show you how interesting bark can be. Plus, he shares some of the things we do as climbers to minimize the damage we cause.
By Emma Koeppel
Baltimore Orioles are a brilliant orange and black bird. They migrate from Central America to the northernmost parts of the United States every year and herald the beginning of spring in Wisconsin. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes their song as “pure, liquid, whistling tones.” They can often be found singing their liquid gold song from the uppermost treetops, pausing between melodies to search for a tasty insect snack.
For years I never paid much attention to orioles. This spring that changed. I started seeing and hearing them everywhere. On my morning hikes, in my backyard tree, flittering ahead of me as I walked around the neighborhood.
Also around this time, I had my first experience with tree climbing. I hadn’t intended to climb that day but stumbled upon the opportunity. Within minutes of lifting my feet off the ground, I knew I was never looking back to a tree-climbing-less life.
On my most recent climb, I was perched on a branch high in the tree a couple of hours before sunset. I had been climbing all day so I was sweaty and tired. Gnats were swarming around my face and I had a good-sized blister that was letting me know it was there. As I sat, I let the quiet sink in. I let my breathing slow and let my body feel supported by the tree branch underneath me. And there it was. A female oriole dancing through the treetops. In some ancient cultures, orioles symbolize a positive change or a ray of sunshine entering your life. Regardless of whether or not animals hold any symbolic power over our stories as humans, tree climbing has certainly been a welcome ray of sunshine in my life.
When I climb trees, I feel invigorated and full of energy. At the same time, it’s like traveling back in time to childhood when I spent hours perched in my favorite tree. Climbing into a tree as an adult re-awakened feelings of wonder and awe that I didn’t know had been missing. It allowed me to literally perceive the world from a new angle. This awakened a desire to perceive more of my life from new angles.
While the feelings that tree-climbing will evoke are different for everyone, I do think tree-climbing has some inherent benefits that can be powerful to anyone who climbs!
Tree climbing provides challenges.
The nature of tree-climbing is such that you can choose any challenge that suits you. Maybe you are scared of heights and your goal is to get 5 feet off the ground. That is a great goal! Maybe you hope to climb high enough to sit on the lowest branch. Maybe you want to scurry as high into the tree as possible and look out over the city below.
Tree climbing can meet you where you are comfortable, while at the same time inspiring you to push beyond your comfort zone. And trust me, when you do push beyond it, you’ll feel great!
A chance to slow down and notice.
To notice the moss growing on the limb next to you.
To notice how your body feels as it pushes you higher and higher into the tree.
To notice the texture of the bark.
To notice your thoughts slowing down.
As our days speed up, slowing down and noticing are two things that often get thrown to the wayside. We rush from one place to the next, checking tasks off of our to-do lists. Kids may find themselves in this busy pattern, too. Many of the kids I know will gladly fill their after-school time with soccer, dance, theater, basketball, baseball, piano lessons, violin lessons, and the list goes on. Of course, all of these activities are enriching in their own right, but it’s easy to become unbalanced. A balance of the fast rushing with slow noticing creates important space. Tree climbing may be a place where you can devote all of your attention to a single goal for an hour, thus treating yourself to a much-needed break from the rushing that we all experience sometimes.
Tree climbing provides connection.
On my first climb I felt connected to the tree, to the other climbers, and to the facilitators. In order to participate in the process of climbing the tree, I had to have a baseline level of respect and trust in the people and environment surrounding me.
Connection breeds trust, respect, and shared values and experiences. If we don’t feel a connection to something or someone, we are much less likely to show them care and respect. We all know the benefits of feeling connected to other people; that connection makes us feel understood, supported, and valued.
But what about the benefits of feeling connected to a tree? Those are a bit harder to grasp or put into words. On a fundamental level, trees keep us alive. They provide oxygen for us to breath. Along with oxygen, trees give us shelter, material, food, relaxation, water, and beauty. If we don’t interact with trees in our daily routines, it can be hard to develop a connection to them. Subsequently, trees and the environment we call home may not always receive the respect and care that they deserve from us. Spend an hour in the canopy of a tree and maybe you’ll walk away with a new sense of connection!
Thanks to Hartford Recreation Department and TNF Videos for creating a fantastic video about the experience of tree climbing! See it from beginning to end and hear what it’s like straight from the kids and their parents.
“It’s a really good experience; something they’ve never been able to do before.” - Jennifer Schroeder
“It’s scary, it’s fun, it’s a blast, it’s a workout.” - Aldon Kaye
You’ve heard the expression “Stop and smell the roses.” How about the leaves, blossoms, bugs and even fungus?! Join me in the tree to appreciate the little miracles that are right above your head.
Trunk Diameter: 34”
Spread of Branches: 55’
Approximate Age: 60-90 years old
About the Tree
You are likely familiar with black walnut on some level. It produces a high-quality wood with beautiful coloring and grain patterns.
You might not know that it has the ability to use chemical warfare to hinder nearby plants from competing for valuable soil resources. The husks can be used to make a brown dye for fabric.
The largest known walnut in Wisconsin is near Dousman. This tree has been crowned current champion, in part due to reaching 100 feet towards the sky and sporting a trunk of 34" in diameter.
My appreciation for eastern black walnut trees really took hold while living in Des Moines, Iowa. Walnut Woods State Park is home to one of the largest natural stands of black walnut. I spent time camping and hiking amongst these glorious trees. I would spend afternoons sitting on the bank of the river, watching the water flow by as I snacked on freshly fallen walnuts.
Walnut’s strong wood and branching structure make them a fun tree to climb. Our climbing tree in Cutler park in Waukesha has a tall trunk with the crown sitting high above the park. As you ascend alongside its trunk, you can enjoy an open view across the park and appreciate the changing perspective that comes with height.
This tree hosts one of the highest climbing routes of all of our climbing trees. While most trees enable climbers to reach 30-40’ regularly, climbing to the top of this tree’s high route will have you sitting 50 feet above the ground.
This tree stands tall and proud, observing silently from a distance, the many social gatherings taking place in this park at the heart of the downtown. Live music is enjoyed through the summer months, including one special weekend in June.
One Sunday in June, the Carl Zach Cycling Classic rolls into town. Waukesha is one of the 11 stops in 11 days of the Tour of America’s Dairyland, the largest competitive road cycling series in the U.S. With a day full of races and a climbing tree situated along the course, climbers have the best view of the bikers racing by!
With many reasons to appreciate this tree, it is a real pleasure to be able to greet it daily as it stands across the street from our new office location. This location provides the foundation for great things to come, including our tree health classroom and tree climbing gym/training center. Stay tuned for more announcements!
EVERYONE needs playtime! Play is an essential part of life. Children get it. Some adults have forgotten. Play is vital for the enjoyment of life as well as social, emotional, intellectual and physical development. Picture yourself playing within this week’s video.
Come play with us! Register for a climb today and come experience it for yourself!
As an I.S.A. Board Certified Master Arborist, T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, T.C.I.A. Tree Care Specialist, and G.O.T.C. Recognized Senior Instructor, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.