Before Ropes and Before Knowing Better...

recreational tree climbingCredit: Peter de Vries

Tree climbing. Most of us did this as children. I know, I climbed my fair share of trees without ropes and without a care in the world. As adults, we know better, or at least know the consequences of our actions. But not much has changed since I was a child in this regard; my love for the outdoors, adventure and especially my love for trees and climbing them. Except now I do it with ropes, harnesses, carabiners, helmets and other climbing aids. I am a municipal arborist by trade, an ISA Certified Arborist, a landscape designer, and, as you may have guessed by now, an avid recreational tree climber. And now that you know it is a real hobby, maybe you are curious about trying it out yourself. 

To understand what recreational tree climbing is you first need to understand the basic concepts.


Getting Started:

Safety, Permission & Gear

recreational tree climbingCredit: Peter de Vries

The most important aspect of tree climbing is safety. That includes the safety of yourself, others climbing, the trees themselves, and private/public property.

Before climbing, you should also obtain permission to climb the trees, either in public (like a park) or private (home or land owner) areas. You, the climber, must assume responsibility for all your actions, which also includes all liabilities involved in this activity.


What Gear Do I Need for Recreational Tree Climbing?

recreational tree climbing gearCredit: Peter de Vries

Tree climbing gear can be minimal or extensive, depending on your skill and pocket book.

A basic climbing kit for recreational tree climbing could be as simple as having a helmet, harnesses, ropes, lanyards, throw-ball & throw-line, friction savers, hitch cords, carabiners, and pulleys. As you can imagine, based on the ‘simple’ list of gear, the sky is the limit when considering gear for tree climbing. More extensive gear could include ascending and descending devices, and chest, hand, knee and foot ascenders. Using all, or a combination of these climbing aids, can make the ascent into the tree much easier.

Climbing technique and skill level will also impact your equipment choice. I could go on and write an entire article just about gear and how it relates to climbing... but I suspect this would just be too electrifying and stimulating for this ‘recreational’ read.

Also, tree climbing gear should be inspected regularly and before each climb. Further, I recommend always climbing in pairs or groups, as well wearing gloves and some form of safety glasses.


A Brief Introduction to Climbing Techniques

tree climbingCredit: Kurt Visser

DdRT (a.k.a. dynamic double rope technique) and SRT (a.k.a. static (single) rope technique) are two climbing method to gain access to the tree canopy.

DdRT involves the use of a friction saver that your climbing line passes through which aids in rope movement and it protects the cambium (bark) of the tree from damage. With the aid of carabiners and hitch cords, you are able to hump up the tree. It is described this way because of your movements when advancing your rope. With this style of climbing, your rope is always moving, hence the name dynamic.

SRT involves more advanced gear (as noted above) as well as the basic gear used in DdRT. The difference with this technique is that the rope does not move, it stays static, as you ascend up and descend down the rope. I could continue this conversation with you later, if you desire.


How to Set Your Rope

recreational tree climbingCredit: Kurt Visser

Maybe you are thinking ‘wow this guy loves this tree climbing stuff!’ or maybe you are wondering ‘how do I get my rope in the tree?’. Well, yes, I do love tree climbing, but I will to tell you about the latter.

Once you find the tree you want to climb and have permission to do so, you will need to set your rope. There are several techniques to do this but I will just discuss one way for now.

First, you will use a throw-ball and throw-line and pass the ball through a solid central crotch in the tree by means of your meticulous eye-hand coordination. Once achieved, you attach the friction saver, set it and then follow it up with your climbing line for DdRT climbing; or just set your rope using a series of knots and hardware for a canopy or basal anchor for SRT climbing. Further, exciting steps are required to achieve the completed set-up for DdRT and SRT, which I will not bore you with at this time. You then complete your climbing set-up and check everything over before heading up.


Find Like-Minded Tree Climbers:

Join a Community

recreational tree climbingCredit: Kristen Visser

My love for outdoors, adventure and climbing trees as a child has grown into a career and a hobby for me as an adult. I attended Lambton College for an arborist apprenticeship and through practicing techniques with my peers at school, the acquired skill morphed into an exhilarating challenge I began to chase as a recreational activity, even after obtaining my job as a municipal arborist. But it’s not just tree lovers scrambling into the canopy...

As this recreational activity becomes more popular you will see more and more recreational climbing groups popping up. As of right now there are several groups that can be found throughout Canada, USA, and the world that caters to this activity. I have the pleasure of being a part of a couple groups, one in Ontario called Climb ON – Ontario Tree Climbers and one in Michigan called MiGrove. Both groups can be found on Facebook.

A friend and fellow arborist of mine, Joe Legate started the ball rolling for the Ontario group; I was lucky enough to be asked to help administrate the group along another arborist, Chris Sallows. We all live in different communities, hours apart from one another, but we all have the same goal; bring safety and knowledge about this industry and to the help promote this activity in hopes it becomes mainstream, like rock climbing. Not everyone has access to inside or outside rock climbing facilities, but there are trees everywhere, for everyone to enjoy.

The feeling up in a tree while it is moving in a light breeze is indescribable; it is an awesome feeling to be that close with nature. These groups try to meet regularly throughout the year at different locations. The Climb ON group is still in its infancy, but we have big plans for it in the future. Check us out on Facebook to see more of what it is all about.