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.
I spend time with trees by sitting beneath them or hiking through the forest. Of course, I also like to climb them. I’ve enjoyed climbing trees for as long as I can remember.
The oak in our front yard in Miami was one of my favorite climbing trees growing up. It was a rite of passage when I could finally jump high enough to grab hold of the lowest limb and pull myself into the tree without any assistance from my older brothers or standing on my bike.
“I used to climb trees.” I hear this quite often when I tell people what I do.
After sharing enjoyable memories, some people follow up with, “it was so much fun.” Therefore, it begs the question, “Why did you stop?”
When most people think of tree climbing, they tend to envision free-climbing, using hands and feet to climb branches without the aid or safety of rope. Technical tree climbing utilizes ropes and saddles to climb trees.
Each style of climbing offers a variety of benefits and experiences for the climber.
Growing up in Puerto Rico and Florida, we climbed numerous rubber trees (Ficus elastica). Our hands coated in sticky sap enabled us grip and swing from their aerial roots like Tarzan! We could shinny up the schefflera trees and climb onto the roof of our house. We climbed and picked countless mangos, loquats and tangerines from trees around the neighborhood, bringing them home to feast upon them at the top of our favorite climbing tree.
Those days of free-climbing involved smaller and even some medium sized trees. For the most part, climbing a tree in this manner requires that the tree have enough branches to provide hand and footholds.
Free-climbing small trees calls upon our primal instincts as we explore these living jungle gyms.
Free-climbing a tree without the use of rope, you are exposed to a higher risk of falling. I think this is the primary reason people are discouraged or even forbidden to climb trees, even though playgrounds are filled with structures for climbing and enabling children to get off the ground.
The simple act of climbing develops a person’s hand-eye coordination and motor skills. Each step of the way while tree climbing, you are determining where to place your hands and feet to gain vertical height. Trees do not have a standard arrangement of limbs or spacing between branches like a fabricated jungle gym. Planning a few steps ahead is a necessity as the path is not a straight line up. Returning to the ground can be even more challenging.
An adrenaline rush and flood of emotions accompanies this type of play. During our time in the tree, we are also rewarded with releases of “feel good” hormones like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. You don’t need to know what these are because you can feel their effects even if you don’t know their names.
I love reading the research about such benefits today as that helps fuel my passion for providing an incredible experience for people to spend time in the trees. Back then, all I cared about was that climbing trees was a fun and exciting way to spend my day.
Technical Tree Climbing
When we moved to St. Louis, we had a sugar maple that could be climbed, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as my previous climbing tree. Aside from the maple, we had oaks, hickories, and elms that were too tall to climb since the lowest branches were about 20’ high.
If you have the desire to climb into taller, larger, older trees, you are out of luck if they do not have low and small enough branches for climbing. Thankfully, ropes, saddles and specialized techniques allow us to climb into these magnificent trees.
Climbing rope requires a unique set of motor skills and spatial awareness in addition to those skills we developed as free-climbers. It also requires the use of muscles you may not have known were there!
Sitting back in your saddle and letting the tree and rope support your weight has an energizing effect. Once you climb into the crown of the tree and can play in the branches, you are continuously transferring your weight and sense of security between sitting in rope and being supported by a branch. The transition back and forth brings new challenges. This is part of what makes technical tree climbing a lot of fun and different from free-climbing.
Once you begin to master the balance between using branches and using rope, you are better able to climb and explore the tree at will. You are able to enjoy the freedom of spending time in the branches without having to hold on.
Another key difference is that, with rope, you can climb much higher. Some of the taller trees in Wisconsin allow us to ascend over 100 feet above the ground. The tallest trees in the world allow climbers to reach heights over 350 feet.
While these heights sound impressive, the reality is that most people are challenged and impacted by reaching heights between 10 and 35 feet. The trees we climb around Wisconsin are perfect as they allow us to play in this realm. For those who like pushing the limits, I often include a few ropes that reach 40-50 feet during my climbs. In private excursions and guided climbs, we go even higher.
In the end, the height each of us is most comfortable at will vary greatly. Using rope and saddle enables you to progressively challenge yourself to reaching new heights.
As a kid, I free-climbed trees because I didn’t know any other way. These days I climb using rope and saddle. Thanks to this hobby, I am able to explore amazing trees and chase views that few people will ever get to enjoy.
I doubt my parents ever stopped to ponder the emotional and cognitive benefits I was receiving during my time in the trees. They knew it was important for kids to play outside because they could see the differences in my demeanor between those days and the ones I spent mostly inside in front of the tv and playing video games.
Today, I notice differences in myself during and following my time in the trees. When I reflect back on my childhood, I am grateful my parents allowed me to climb trees.
As long as you take into consideration that the tree you are climbing is a living being and do what you can to minimize your impact on the tree, I encourage you to get out and enjoy the trees. Take your children and loved ones with you.
*Fine print: prior to entering a tree, I perform a thorough inspection to assess its health and structural integrity. There are a number of issues and conditions that can make a tree unfit for climbing. If you are unsure of the condition of your trees, please contact an ISA Certified Arborist and have them assess your tree (yes, even the small ones). If you are interested in climbing tall and mature trees, give me a call!
I take a lot of pictures during our climbs. The experience is different for each climber, each person benefiting from it in their own way. Describing the different benefits that come from climbing trees can be difficult. But you can see it for yourself in this week’s video. Register for a climb today and come experience it for yourself!
Dr. John Gathright was an author and motivational speaker, not a tree climbing expert. He wrote a book about pursuing your dreams, and at one of his book signing events, he was approached by a woman. Speaking from her wheel chair, Toshiko Hikosaka told him of her dream to climb the world’s largest tree and that she wanted him to help her. He was not a tree climber and had no idea how to climb such a tree, but he wanted to help her achieve her dream.
Three years later, Gathright and Hikosaka reached the top of a giant sequoia. At 63 years old, she was the first paraplegic to climb a tree to this height. Her climb that day culminated in triumph, wonder and exhaustion. They spent the night in the top of that 243-foot tall tree, on the branches, under the stars.
Just as that day in the bookstore had set the ball rolling for their 3-year journey, the climb to the top of the sequoia was the beginning of the next chapter. Upon returning to Japan, demand for Gathright’s tree climbing adventures inspired him to cut his own path forward.
Given there were no tree climbing schools in the country at that time, he had to start at the very beginning.
It was a delight for me to be able to attend a presentation of Dr. Gathright recently. He is a pioneer in using recreational tree climbing in therapeutic and rehabilitation programs, and I have been inspired by his work for a number of years. To hear him tell his story of the legwork he had to go through was amazing.
Sometimes It Is About The Numbers
He had to find research that supported his idea of establishing tree climbing as an effective and legitimate form of therapy. No research existed at that time, therefore he realized his next course of action was going to have to be the pursuit of his PhD studying and testing his hypothesis.
His doctoral thesis looked at the physiological and physical differences in individuals between their climbing living trees and climbing a concrete structure. In both instances, participants were climbing to elevated heights and performing similar tasks.
In analyzing the data, there were clear differences between the 2 experiences. When climbing trees, participants experienced less pain and fatigue, experienced greater vitality and clarity of mind, and reported feeling a greater feeling of self-worth versus when they were climbing the concrete structure.
Tree climbing had produced an increase in positive emotions and reduction in negative emotions. His further studies revealed and measured reductions in participant levels of stress, tension, anxiety, depression, and anger after climbing trees.
Not only did his research show the positive effects of tree climbing, it revealed that it wasn’t simply the climbing that was providing the benefit. There was a marked enhancement of the effects when the participants were climbing trees.
Gathright had provided the scientific basis behind his TreeHab and Tree Therapy programs.
Meet Your Therapist
My first ascent of a tall tree early in my career had a profound impact on me physically and mentally.
My muscles enjoyed the physical exertion, but I was exhausted. I was energized by the height I had reached, at the same time nervous. Through all of the hormones flushing through my body, I found mental clarity and focus. I was energized, yet I was at peace.
I never measured the effects to confirm in what ways and by how much climbing trees changed me, yet I walked away from that climb relaxed and inspired. And every climb since.
Over 20 years later, I came across the research of Dr. John Gathright that identified and quantified the effects of climbing trees that I had personally experienced.
From its origins in 2000, TreeHab has worked with thousands of children with physical disabilities and emotional trauma. Gathright and Tree Climbing Japan have helped over 300,000 people of all abilities discover their inner tree-climber.
As I listened to him share his stories of people he has worked with over the years, I was reminded of those who have touched me during my journey thus far.
Tree Climbing Touches Lives
I am involved with tree a climbing program for urban youth and people who do not have the resources to leave the concrete and asphalt landscape at will. Counselors and therapists utilize our climbing experience in their dealings with children facing emotional trauma, such as that related to the loss of a parent.
It was interesting to hear him speak of programs developed for people with autism and ADHD. While the experience and benefits of tree climbing have a profound impact on these participants, it appears that TreeHab is also having a promising impact on breaking down the stigmas associated with them in his community.
I have seen the benefits first hand in dealing with a variety of people from all walks of life and backgrounds. While the majority of our climbers may not fall into any of these categories, every one of us benefits from the same effects that tree climbing provides.
His words brought into focus for me that we each have our own inhibitions, insecurities, and unique qualities. Each of us may be at a different point in our journey through life, come from different backgrounds and face our own challenges; but, every one of us can reap the benefits of time in the trees.
Stability provides comfort. Dealing with feelings of instability can provide for personal growth. Come along as we look at the tree climbing experience and the ways we transfer our feelings of security and stability from rope to branch.
A discussion of Stability and Instability - how to enjoy your climb even more.
Feeling stressed? Looking to escape? Need a break from the demands for your time?
It sounds like you could benefit from a change in altitude.
This past winter, Jen and I spent time on a tiny island off the coast of southern Florida. The 10-acre island had a handful of cottages, a walking trail, a restaurant, and a few chairs down by the water. No television, spotty cell service, and limited Wi-Fi access.
We rented a skiff one day to get to a neighboring island to enjoy a desolate beach. We saw more dolphins, sharks and stingrays than people that day.
The week gave us time to talk, sit, read, write, nap, and enjoy our time together. It was quiet. We were relaxed.
Trips like these can be a great way to decompress and recharge. They are a small part of the life component in the “work-life balance.”
Whether it is during your return flight, the moment you reclaim your suitcase or walk through your front door, there is probably a specific moment where your mind jumps back into your responsibilities and your To Do list. Vacation is over.
Even if that line for you is blurred more than the picture I describe, and I hope it is, there comes a time when you find yourself back in your daily and weekly routine. It is a feeling similar to wading across a stream.
You start by heading into the water, eventually finding yourself in the current. You are focused on heading in the direction you’ve set your sights on, yet not fully aware of the gradual increase in energy you are expending to keep your footing and head above water. At times, the current may pull you off course slightly. Your drive gets you to the other side, but you are exhausted.
Wouldn’t it be nice to take a break when the current of life seems to be unrelenting? Fast-forward to the next vacation?
Thankfully the current fluctuates. Some days are easier and more productive, others are more challenging. For you, it may seem like months before the current lets up. It might not let up until summer break. Or perhaps the slow-season in your industry, as in mine, doesn’t come until winter.
Thankfully, not even 15 feet above the ground, lies the same peaceful escape.
Days Like These
I do not like to wish my life away. It will pass by soon enough.
That’s why I love having the ability to change my altitude when stress seems to be building. It only takes an hour or two out of my day to climb to a different level, and the benefits are often as great as a week in the tropics.
Up there, your mind will find peace. It’s as if the worries of ground life are restrained by gravity. As your attention turns towards the mechanics of climbing the rope, your mind is left with little room for outside worries. All of that weight falls from your shoulders relatively quickly.
By the time I reach my resting branch, it’s as if I flew back to the island.
The sounds of the palm fronds in the breeze and ocean waves lapping against the mangroves are replaced with the rustle of the oak leaves unfurling ahead of the upcoming growing season. An assortment of birds singing and squirrels chirping help me connect to the present moment.
My senses are consumed with an appreciation for the unique perspective from where I sit. The tree holds and protects me from the chaos below.
Time is of no concern when you spend time in a tree. The breeze, movement of the leaves, and connection with Nature’s energy will consume you.
The change in altitude brings with it a change in attitude.
This all happens without intentional thought. You enter tree-time as if entering a 3-dimensional field of energy. You can climb trees for something to DO, but most of us discover it is actually a place to BE.
When you return to the ground and get your land legs back, you begin to realize your worries and demands are waiting patiently. One by one, you pick them up and head back into your daily routine.
Nature is in no rush. The trees carry on about their business. They will await your return.
Most of our Rec Climbs are hosted by municipal recreation departments. More times than not, you will find these climbs listed in the youth section of their activity guides, which may give the impression that tree climbing is for children.
In reality, tree climbing is enjoyed by people of all ages. Tree climbing is for people who want to stay young at heart and of healthy mind.
Come out and enjoy the benefits of a change in altitude.
One of the more common fears people face is the fear of heights, or fear of falling. Come along with me as we take a look at ways tree climbing allows you to challenge yourself and overcome these fears.
Click below to see how to take steps to lessen your fears.
Safety is a top priority when climbing trees. Here's an introduction to some of the safety measures we take in our climbs, including the equipment, certain parts of the climbing process (like the "safety knot"), the oversight of skilled facilitators, and even the tree itself. Check out the video and see what I mean...
At Treetop Explorer, we love seeing the excitement people feel when they first learn to climb tall trees with rope and saddle. Maybe you saw that same excitement in your son or daughter when you came to one of our climbing events. Even if you did not climb with them, did you feel a sense of adventure and excitement just thinking about climbing into large trees?
There are many ways to experience tree climbing. Sometimes I am simply looking to have a little fun and play with my feet off the ground. Other times I work on developing my skills and technique. When I have the opportunity to head out with friends, I enjoy the freedom of heading off in search of a new adventure together. A new tree to explore.
Given the variety of possible experiences, our climb offerings provide different opportunities with the intent of making these experiences available to you.
Our Rec Climbs are perfect for people interested in trying out tree climbing, with plenty of opportunities through the year to climb as often as your schedule permits if you enjoy it as an exciting way to get outside. Our Climbing Club is geared towards those who are looking to dive a little deeper into climbing as a hobby, developing your climbing abilities and learning about trees. Our Learn-to-Climb classes prepare you head off on your own to enjoy this unique and rapidly growing recreational activity and corresponding career opportunities.
Climbing For Fun
Our Rec Climbs enable you to climb as often as you’d like, leaving the logistics, permits, equipment and technical aspects to us. It’s the way most people are introduced to tree climbing and, in fact, doing a rec climb is a pre-requisite for joining our climbing club..
In this setting, it’s all about having fun and getting that rush of excitement, without worrying about the details. Our rec climbs happen all over Southeastern Wisconsin, and many of them sell out through the local recreation program, so it requires some planning and coordination.
If you are interested in an opportunity to climb multiple times, our Rec Climb schedule affords numerous dates and a variety of trees and parks to choose from.
If you have climbed with us and felt a connection or desire to progress further, it makes sense to consider the next level of our climbing programs.
Our Climber Community
Some people exhibit a natural talent for or connection to climbing trees. Maybe you are driven to challenge yourself in new ways. Learn new techniques. Engage more fully, all the while immersed in nature.
Our Climbing Club provides the opportunity for those seeking to more fully engage in tree climbing. It gives people the chance to have multiple climbing experiences over a period of time. We will learn more about how and why the system works the way it does and about the trees themselves, exploring a new topic at each climb. We will try new techniques to develop your climbing skills, climb to higher branches, and stretch in ways that aren’t possible at a recreational climb.
Whether on your own, for your child, or as a family, the Climbing Club provides a unique opportunity to explore tree climbing beyond the sheer enjoyment of playing in trees.
Thankfully, playing in trees is so much fun that you won’t even realize you were tricked into learning applied concepts of geometry, physiology, physics, or biology!
License to Climb
I made that up. There isn’t a climber’s license per se. There is, however, endless joy for people who decide to take up tree climbing as a hobby or for use in a career.
Do you remember the freedom you gained when you got your driver’s license?
I got a taste of responsibility thanks to the ability to step on the gas and pull out from under my parents’ control. I enjoyed the sense of freedom and control from behind the wheel.
These days, freedom feels like a saddle over one shoulder and rope over the other. Hiking through the woods in search of a tree, walking up to a tree I have been given permission to climb, or simply walking out my back door, my worries fall off my shoulder with each step.
When I reach my destination, I scan the crown of the tree to see if a particular branch is calling out to me. During the ascent, I keep my mind and eyes open for whatever unknowns may present themselves.
Once I find a spot to sit back and relax, I find it quite easy to dive into my journal. My thoughts flow freely. I’d probably never be mistaken for an artist, but creativity feels almost within reach on the days I doodle and sketch at the top of a tree.
I can share a limb with a friend. String my hammock between branches 35’ above the ground. Let my mind wander. Read a book. I am on my own schedule. I am in another world.
It is an incredible feeling when you realize that you may very well be the only person who will ever climb a particular tree.
This is why I climb.
Enrollment in our climbing classes continues to grow, which tells me I am not the only nut out here!
Which Experience Will You Choose?
Climbing trees opens up a whole new frontier for your adventurous spirit to explore. We have a variety of offerings designed to help you explore them at the level you desire.
Rec Climbs make it very easy to get outside and play in the trees.
The Climbing Club dives a little deeper into some of the intricacies of technical tree climbing.
Our Learn To Climb courses provide the training that forms the proper foundation for all professional climbers, arborists and recreational climbers alike.
See you in the trees!
Have you been enjoying the winter? I am fortunate as I have to get out and about each week in order to look at trees.
This month I decided to take you along for a glimpse into tree inspections, and to share a couple of issues that may be of interest for anyone who owns property with trees.
It has been rather chilly, but I think I was able to finally get my ideas across before frostbite set in!
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.