Tree climbing connects

As a professional tree climbing instructor  (yes, there is a such an occupation that requires you to never grow up) and technical tree climber for over 20 years, I've had the pleasure of introducing over 15,000 people into the canopies around the world.  The type of tree climbing we teach and encourage, when climbing BIG trees, is to use safe quality tree climbing gear with proper instruction. BIG trees have their first branches growing way out of arms reach, which aren't that great for old school style of tree scampering. 

A few years ago, I witnessed a young child attempting to climb a small fruit tree on a neighbors farm. You could sense his intrepidness growing as he reached for that first branch, jumped with all of his might and started to pull himself away from terra firma - into the world of mystery and adventure. Just as his feet left the ground, his legs started hugging the trunk and he began inch worming his young body up into the realm of self confidence and self discovery. Less than a minute into his new found capabilities, his worried mother sternly told him to "get out of that tree, you'll hurt yourself."  The child now being caught between adventure and the 'seniority' of his mother, hesitatingly paused and then dropped back down to where the bottom feeders live. You could see his sense of adventure dissolve into a defeated slumber as he slowly walked back to the "grown-up" table. 

I asked his mother if it would be ok to take him on a technical tree climbing into a BIG tree, using professional tree climbing equipment. She looked at me in a very strange, but curious way, and agreed.... on one condition - she wanted to go too.  Of course I said YES and I jetted back home to grab some gear. Within an hour the three of us were hanging out 30' above the forest floor. We played and swung in the trees for about an hour. The two of them had a blast, both experiencing something new for the first time. The young lad wanted to climb higher so we watched him ascend out of our reach, towards the summit of the tree.  

While sitting on a branch, the mother started telling me stories of her childhood tree that she use to climb as a little girl. As our conversation faded into the sunset, I asked her why she was so nervous about her son climbing the small fruit tree earlier that day. Her reply was something along the lines "I have no idea on how to educate him on how to climb a tree, so its easier and safer not to let him take those risk."  I was speechless. As a child growing up in the 70s I took risk everyday and the days I didn't take any risk, I felt like I missed out on something and in my mind that was a wasted day, a day I would never get back.

I understand it may be difficult to let your children take risk, especially while you are observing them doing it. So next time you see your child itching for a new adventure why not join them and take a little risk alongside them. It may even create a lifelong bonding memory.  

So why not go climb a tree together. Remember you don't have to climb very high, you just need to get your feet off the ground and put your head in the clouds to experience life from a new perspective.

Below are a few suggestions / safety rules for free climbing in your backyard trees -

  • Be sure to pick a strong live tree, if its in the sumer time make sure there are leaves on all the branches you’ll be putting your weight on
  • always have at least 3 points of contact with the tree (2 feet -1 hand or 2 hands - 1 foot)
  • when climbing place your hands and feet near where the branch connects to the tree. This is the strongest part of the branch
  • do not climb on branches that are smaller size than your wrist
  • do not climb a tree where there are active bird nest, squirrel nest or bees nest. Also stay away from any power lines that may be going thru the trees
  • study the tree closely before you start off on your vertical voyage
  • climb trees in the rain or after a strong rain, the branches will be very slippery - beware. Do not climb when you hear thunder or see lightening!
  • don’t climb after an ice storm. Branches hold water and when branches freeze the water expands and makes them brittle
  • when resting in the tree, try to find a good place to rest your back
  • climb down out of the tree, it is best not to jump out of the tree*
  • *but if you must jump, or want to jump, out of the tree be sure to be low enough not to hurt yourself. I suggest to hang, using both arms, from a good strong branch and when you let go bend your knees and tuck and roll when you hit the ground. By bending your knees you’ll absorb some of the impact
  • when climbing up, don’t over reach for a branch. sometimes it more difficult to climb down than up and you don’t want to be stuck trying to come down
  • enjoy the view and the solitude of your climb. Don’t forget to breath and relax into the climb
  • Most importantly have FUN!
If you and your child would like to experience what it is like to climb a BIG tree, sleep high up in the branches of an old tree tree or go on worldly tree climbing expeditions to wild places like the ancient redwoods of California or the Brazilian amazon jungle, search out professional tree climbing school and sign up for a class or trip.
Tree climbing isn’t just for kids, it's for the whole family.  The best way to nurture your family tree, is to climb one.   
Tim Kovar
Founder, Tree Climbing Planet

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