Friday, May 21, 2010
Oh, go climb a tree!
Did you enjoy climbing trees when you were a kid? Think maybe it might still be fun? Any chance your kids would love it too but maybe you don’t have the nerve (or your parent’s benign neglect) to let your children scale to the heights that you dared when you were ten? You might think about trying it again. While we might not have surf, whitewater runs or granite cliffs, Carlisle does have trees; plenty of them.
Getting up into the canopy provides a whole new sense of “woodland” and once you get over the gulp factor of being at a “don’t screw up” kind of height it’s pretty tranquil. Really. There’s usually a pleasant breeze, fantastic views (Boston, Mt. Monadnock), sunsets and very few mosquitoes! If you really want to get away from it all, forget the hammock. Grab a rope, harness, drink (soft) and a book and find a big tree.
There are three basic ways to ascend. The easiest is to free climb as you did when you were a kid. You just need to add some fall protection. A rock climbing harness with two lanyards is sufficient. The lanyards are leapfrogged up the tree so that the climber is always tied in by at least one rope that is secured around the entire trunk or at the base of a major branch. A second method is to simply use a ladder to get into trees without lower branches – and then switch to the leapfrogged lanyards. The third method, favored by arborists, is to essentially climb up a rope that has been set up high in the canopy. Typically a small weight, or throw bag is tied to a light line and tossed into the tree and maneuvered into position. Out West they’ll use a bow and arrow to launch 200 feet of line into Redwoods. Once the light line has been isolated to a sturdy branch it is then used to haul up the larger climbing rope. The climber then ties his harness to the climbing rope and with one technique or another inchworms his way up the line.
Once the canopy has been reached the climber will generally free climb where possible. One combination is to use a ladder to gain access to the canopy, free climb (with lanyards) to the top, secure a rope around the trunk, enjoy the view and when it’s time to return to Earth you essentially rappel out of the tree. Using lanyards to go down a tree is really tedious. Once you have a rope secured up high you can “top rope” kids just like they were at a climbing wall, keeping them on continuous belay.
Believe it or not there is a whole world of recreational tree climbing out there. It’s one of the many “fastest growing sports. ”Just Google it and you’ll find numerous sites offering advice, chat rooms, books, equipment, lessons and guided trips. Most of the equipment is borrowed directly from either rock climbing or tree work but some is unique. You’ll find “tree boats” (special hammocks), swing seats and tents all designed specifically for hanging out in trees. You’ll see entire backyard trampolines hauled up and secured high into wide canopies.
Rock climbing line is made to stretch to reduce fall injuries and the harnesses are light, being used only briefly for the time it takes to regain the wall. Arborist harnesses are made for sitting/working for extended periods and the rope is much stiffer since falls are rare and rope stretch can be annoying. For recreational purposes any sound climbing line (5,000 pound strength) and harness is good for a start. You’ll probably need some guidance to come up with a combination of carabiners, slings, friction knots and other gear matched to whatever technique you choose. Wear a helmet, not so much for falling (won’t help at all) but for falling dead branches (helps a bit).
Hemlocks and Norway spruces are pretty good for free climbing. White pines are also great for free climbing once you gain the canopy – don’t trust those dead branches. Beeches are wonderful. Oaks are tall and strong but most have limbs that are pretty far apart. Norway maples can be like ladders; great for kids. Always inspect the base and trunk of a tree for any kind of damage and never climb or anchor a line above any decay.
In closing, I need to say “don’t try this at home!” If you have sufficient rope experience from rock climbing or perhaps sailing, you can pick up some tree-climbing tips from books or the internet. Otherwise you probably should seek out some lessons. This all might sound crazy but once you get up there it makes more sense. Find your inner chimp. ∆
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