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.
Through this past year, the vast majority of climbers returned to the ground with a sense of accomplishment, feeling of pride, boost in self-confidence, and a big smile on their face.
We met parents who were supportive of their children, speaking with words of love and encouragement. There were participants who overcame their trepidation and ended up excelling and enjoying their time above the ground. A number of children and young adults had the exciting opportunity to participate in an activity alongside their parents and grandparents.
With so many fantastic memories and wonderful people, I was tempted to put together a year-end video recap of the year. We were able to capture many nice images of climbers, but there are too many for us to make a video with a realistic time length.
In this period of reflection, I am inspired to share your pictures in a series of videos related to our experiences with trees and tree climbing.
Inspired by Robert Fulgham's book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten... and our interactions together, I created this video to share a few of the lessons trees have taught me throughout my journey thus far.
Your day in the trees may have been captured in this video. If not, I hope you will keep an eye out in the coming months as I cycle through as many of the images as I can in upcoming videos. Other images will grace our website pages and posts on Facebook and Instagram.
Height: 85’ - Trunk Diameter: 34” (just under 3’) - Spread of Branches: 75’
State Champion: The largest known silver maple in the state may only have height and crown spread dimensions slightly larger than this tree, but its trunk diameter measures over 5 feet!
About the Tree
In the center of Firemen’s Park in Germantown, this tall silver maple grows amongst an assortment of other maples. Like many silver maples, the tree has developed a vase-shape form with large limbs reaching towards the sky.
This form is what makes this a fun tree to climb. It has few leaves throughout the center of the crown, which means you have a wonderful view beyond the tree when sitting high in the branches. The open structure can make you more aware of the height above the ground as well.
For most people, looking down to the ground feels like you are sitting higher than when standing on the ground looking up. Because of this, the energizing sensations associated with heights is enhanced.
Once on rope, this tree entices most climbers to try swinging from branches and flipping upside down!
About the species
The common name refers to both the silver color on the underside of the leaves as well as the characteristic bark. Saccharinum, the scientific name of the species, is derived from the Latin word for sugar.
The sap can be used to make maple syrup. Before you try it however, know that its sugar content is about ½ that of the sugar maple. You will need far more sap to produce reasonable quantities of syrup for your pancake breakfast.
If you have experience with silver maples in your own landscape, you may not think very highly of the tree because of the numerous ‘helicopter’ seeds and twigs that fall throughout the year. Their growth rate allows them to provide shade in relatively short period of time, but can also lead to outgrowing their space in most landscape situations. Silver maples get large, some reaching over 100 feet tall and nearly 100 feet from tip to tip.
They grow impressively below ground as well, developing a root system that reaches 2-3 times the height of the tree! It can utilize distant water sources to sustain growth even when growing in drier soils away from their native habitats near rivers and streams.
When you consider the spatial needs of silver maple above and below ground, you quickly realize that many urban and suburban landscapes do not provide adequate space for the species.
Despite the negative stigmas associated with the species, I am not afraid to say that I like silver maples. Then again, there aren’t many tree species I will proclaim as to not like!
Our climbing tree in Germantown has taken advantage of the room it has been provided, and therefore is developing into a mature tree that can be appreciated and enjoyed for many years to come.
(As published on the Waukesha County Center For Growth. See original article here.)
My wife Jennifer and I experience life from a perspective unfamiliar to most—the canopies of trees. Together we share a passion for tree climbing, and with our business, Treetop Explorer based in Waukesha, we can share our adventures and climbing experiences with others.
How did you start Treetop Explorer?
Combining my professional background as an arborist with Jen’s owning an Irish pub allowed us to establish a business based on recreational tree climbing, with a heavy emphasis on the customer experience.
Treetop Explorer gives families, friends and work teams the opportunity to connect with nature and themselves in a way that many haven’t experienced since childhood, or at all, by climbing trees and overcoming their own limitations. Offerings range from rec climbs and guided excursions to aerial yoga, all of which are conducted with professional equipment and certified instructors.
What sets Treetop Explorer apart?
Treetop Explorer sets itself apart by providing a unique product not many other outdoor rec companies offer, while maintaining enough flexibility to bring our product to communities all across Wisconsin. We are able maintain a large service area by identifying climbing trees in Wisconsin communities, and then bringing our equipment and services to our customers. We expose people to a recreational sport they didn’t know existed.
For us, Treetop Explorer means a lot more than simply exposing newcomers to exercise and the outdoors. We also see it as a business that allows climbers to reflect on themselves from a new perspective. We provide the tools to get people out of their comfort zone, but they do it themselves. We’ve received feedback from parents letting us know what a positive impact the experience had on their children.
What are your biggest challenges as a new business?
As our business continued to grow, we partnered with the business consultants at the Waukesha County Center for Growth to plan for the future and develop a growth model that would be sustainable for Treetop Explorer.
Since then, we have put financial tools and planning processes in place that will help our team make informed decisions as our business expands. Projecting the bottom-line impact of various decisions ahead of time is key to success, as a healthy bottom-line means Treetop Explorer can keep delivering exceptional recreational and social-impact experiences.
What have been your biggest successes?
Before doing all that, we had to spend a lot of time up front to understand our target market. Our business consultants helped us understand the financial aspects of the business and profitability of various offerings for outdoor recreation. Our business taps into a consumer movement driven by people’s desire to get in touch with nature.
We’d like to expand the number and reach of both our learn-to-climb classes and excursion climbs in the future. Treetop Explorer’s learn-to-climb classes cover what is necessary to safely solo-climb a tree; the excursion climbs offer half and full-day adventure climbs around one of Wisconsin’s beautiful canopies. We also plan to continue following the growth plan we’ve built, with the ambition of continuing to grow our internal staff of passionate climbers as well as growing to reach new customers. We’re excited to take Treetop Explorer to the next level.
A guided, mindful walk in the woods
This year, my wife and I spent a few weeks camping in North Dakota. The majority of our hikes took us through remote wilderness areas where we spent hours without seeing another person. There were a number of hours spent where we heard no sound of human civilization. No road traffic. No airplanes.
Recently we spent a few days hiking trails in some of our State Parks and natural areas from Milwaukee to Door County. It rained much of our trip, which meant we again found ourselves alone on most of the trails we walked.
For the past few years I have been focussed on improving the quality of the time I spend outdoors and the associated benefits. Simply looking at pictures of nature can have positive and measurable impacts on our well-being. Walking into a forested area is even more powerful in part because you are breathing in essential plant compounds. But, is there a way I can improve my experience?
I have been amazed at how much impact these benefits can have, and I created the following video to share part of this journey with you. You might feel better just watching it!
As the sun begins to set on the eastern coast of Australia & Asia on September 15th, hundreds of tree climbers and forest adventurers will take to the trees to celebrate the beauty of forests as part of the Big Canopy Campout.
As the setting sun progresses around the globe and dusk falls upon the diverse forests across the continents, people from all walks of life and cultures will be united during the world’s biggest coordinated canopy adventure. The community of passionate forest explorers will spend this night in the treetops or on the forest floor.
While camping in the canopy requires specialized equipment and skills, you can join in the spirit of the celebration by spending time in the forests, parks, and trees near you. Mark your calendar, and spend the day hiking through the forest, string a hammock, treat yourself to the energizing effects of relaxing in the presence of trees.
As the vice president of the Global Organization of Tree Climbers and a member of the global community of tree and forest enthusiasts, I work to introduce and connect people to the trees and forests of Wisconsin.
At Treetop Explorer, we are celebrating the event with public climbs in Wauwatosa and Greendale both days that weekend. I will then join the world-wide community that evening in a private stand of trees in Waukesha County.
We are excited to offer the opportunity for you to flirt with this kind of experience during our Camping-Climbing weekend, which will take place on October 26th & 27th. Visit www.treetopexplorer.com/2018campclimb for all the details and registration.
While we won’t be sleeping in the trees like in the Big Canopy Campout, you will have two opportunities to hang out in the canopy as the sun sets, spending your evening in a stand of oaks growing on a high ridge formed during the last glacial period. Return to the ground to enjoy time around the campfire and reflect upon your experience.
Wisconsin is fortunate to have numerous organizations and people dedicated to our forests and trees. But events like the Big Canopy Campout call attention to the value of and raise money for the protection of vanishing forest ecosystems.
The funds raised this year will be used to purchase forested land in the biosphere reserve of Sierra Gorda in Mexico, which includes a section of critically threatened cloud forest. The World Land Trust uses the funds to purchase biologically significant habitats and create reserves to provide protection for habitats and wildlife.
As the sun rises the following day, The Big Canopy Campout will have travelled the earth in a celebration of its diverse and complex forest ecosystems. Whether you climb with us, enjoy your local trees, or sleep under the stars, we are all part of this beautiful community.
Links of interest:
Height: 55 ft
Trunk Diameter: 46”
Spread of Branches: 85 ft
175-225 years old
About the Tree
This tree stands alone in a remote area of the park. With the spread of its branches a lot wider than the tree is tall, its long, swooping branches are like embracing arms. A few of these branches swoop to within feet of the ground, so it is easy to climb onto the lowest branches even without rope.
Climbing into the branches is how I really connect with a tree. It’s like the “heart center” of the tree. When I stand back and look towards the crown of a tall tree, I see a quiet retreat. Rope and saddle allow me to span the gap between the ground and the crown. It can feel like visiting another world -- one that very few people will ever visit.
In the case of this beautiful oak in Woodfield Park, the crown begins near the ground. Walking up to this tree and under its sheltering branches, you can feel its energy radiating. It is peaceful to simply lay beneath the tree and stare up through its branches. I can spend hours sitting at its base and reading a book.
We pass by numerous trees during our day. Most of them seldom receive a second glance from the people walking by. Other trees stand out and might even seem like a good acquaintance. This tree is one of those trees that has a character all its own. For me, this tree is a personal friend.
I use the tree often in my 2-day learn-to-climb classes. I enjoy aerial yoga in silks suspended from the branches. I offer a Rec Climb in this tree once per year. Basically, I love every opportunity to introduce others to the beauty of this tree.
We will climb this tree on Sunday, September 23rd. I hope you can join us. (Register through Waukesha Parks, Recreation & Forestry, or visit our website for the link).
By Sarah Schwab
My kids had several different reactions when I told them we were going to go tree climbing. “That’s cool” they said at first. It’s something different and even exciting.
Then, when we were on our way to the climb, my older son’s nerves started to kick in. “How high do we climb in the tree?” he asked. I told him it’s possible to get up pretty high, but assured him he wouldn’t have to go any higher than he was comfortable and could stop at any time.
Meanwhile, the youngest one was tired, hungry and a little cranky and decided he no longer wanted to go. “I changed my mind” he said. My daughter was quiet the entire time, just going along obediently.
“Oh boy,” I thought to myself, “this is going to be interesting.”
When we arrived and the kids started getting harnessed up, their demeanor changed. They learned the technique for climbing up the rope, and as their feet lifted off the ground, smiles spread across their faces. “Hey mom! Look at me!”
At this point, parents seem to make one of three choices…
Stay And Watch
Many parents stand on the sidelines, watching their kids ascend the rope and get up into the tree. They snap some pictures, enjoying the view from a distance.
As parents, we are used to sitting and watching as our kids play sports, perform in concerts, take lessons, play laser tag at a birthday party, or whatever. So it is understandable that many parents stand outside the roped-off perimeter, keeping their feet on the ground.
In some cases, when kids are registered to be climbing trees for a couple of hours, parents will drop them off at the beginning and pick them back up again at the end, taking the opportunity to have some time on their own. The kids are in good hands with the staff, and adults can get a little time to run errands or do something for themselves.
At the climb we did at Fox Brook Park, one mom ran around the lake getting her own exercise and checking in each time she passed by.
Tree climbing is one of the rare opportunities for parents to join in with their kids. That’s what I did! Once the kids were off the ground, I saddled up and started to climb as well. It’s really special to share an experience like that together.
When the kids said “Hey mom, look at this!” they knew I could really appreciate what they were showing me. We were able to laugh with each other, meet up in the branches of the tree, and try fun tricks together. I still got some great pictures, only from up in the tree rather than down on the ground.
Of course, I’m also the mom who suited up and played laser tag at the birthday party! I think parents should be able to try new things and have some fun as well, even if we feel a little scared or uncomfortable. If we want our kids to challenge themselves, then modeling that behavior is important. After all, kids are more likely to do what we do and not what we say.
Watch Your Words
Speaking of the things parents say, the rule of thumb is to say as little as possible. No matter which choice you make as a parent, one of the hardest but most important things is to keep your mouth shut.
Parents usually want to be encouraging, and it is tempting to yell things to the kids – “Climb higher! Keep going! Lift up your knees.” It is done with good intensions, but can actually end up negatively impacting everyone’s experience.
The kids are learning something new. Maybe they are focusing on the technique, maybe they are overcoming a fear of heights, maybe they just want to stop and enjoy the feeling and the view. When you aren’t up in the tree, you can’t relate to their experience. Even encouragement can cause distraction, both for your kids, the other climbers, and the staff.
An important piece of the tree-climbing experience is leaving the kids alone to do it themselves. Each kid learns in a different way, climbs at a different pace, and enjoys different aspects of the experience. It’s not a race, and there is no winning or losing.
My kids all had a blast, climbed different ropes, reached different heights. And in the end, we all had a shared memory we could talk about together. That seems like a win to me!
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.
Height: 50 feet
Trunk Diameter: 33 inches
Spread of Branches: 70 feet
Approximate Age: 100-150 years old
About the Tree
Pearl is a beautiful white oak standing in the transition area between the forest and prairie. With plenty of sunlight, it has formed a full canopy with numerous branches for us to play in!
Whenever you climb a tree on a slope, it enhances your height perspective. You feel even higher than you are as the landscape stretches off beneath you. With Pearl, the view southwest across the prairie is particularly enjoyable as the suns sets lower during our late afternoon climbs.
Pearl is an enjoyable tree to climb for a few reasons. With the large number of branches, there are many places to sit, stand, lay back on, and one of my favorite places to enjoy the sunset.
Experienced climbers are able to climb into a cozy spot at the top of tree, about 8 feet from the highest leaves. Our Climbing Club had the opportunity to enjoy this experience during our June Club Climb!
Located in Mukwonago Park, Pearl is a popular selection for our private climbs for scout groups and family adventure weekends. The park has a lot to offer… a lake for fishing, an archery range, a dog park, camping and hiking. As one of the Waukesha County Parks on the outskirts of Metro Milwaukee, It’s a great place get-away without having to drive too far.
Mark your calendar for October 27 & 28, 2018 for a camping-climbing weekend. We’ll be climbing a variety of trees, including Pearl. You will have the opportunity to join us for the camping-climbing experience, or simply purchase a day-pass.
State Champ for the species: The largest known white oak in Wisconsin at this time also grows in Waukesha County. This current champion stands 115’ tall, has a crown spread of 85’, and trunk about 66” (almost 5½ feet wide!).
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 Instructor, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.