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!
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!
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.