The Art of Tree Climbing

In the tree industry, a wide range of tools and heavy equipment helps us reach high into the canopies of the trees we care for. Sometimes, however, lifts and bucket trucks just aren’t going to do the job—the tree could be too close to a structure to allow access with a truck, or the ground could be too soft. That’s where our professional climbers come in.

How tree climbing works

Plenty of people grow up climbing trees, but not everyone can do it for a living. In addition to plenty of physical strength and stamina, it requires a lot of training and practice to do safely. And the training never really stops.

Throughout the year, our climbing crews receive regular training on everything from reaching distant limbs to rescuing teammates in a worstcase scenario.

This kind of tree climbing probably looks a little different from the kind you practiced as a kid. Chainsaws aside, professional tree climbing involves a lot of planning.

First, climbers need to examine the tree from the ground to identify the best (and safest) strategy for accomplishing their task. Experts rely heavily on climbing gear like ropes and harnesses rather than just branches, so establishing a climbing line that can serve as their main support is crucial. In addition to knowing a wide range of techniques that they can adapt to the tree and situation, our climbers need to be experts at skills like knot tying and caring for gear.

Only once they’ve ascended can the real work begin. They’ll draw on their experience with tree structure to identify which branches should be removed and their knowledge of proper pruning techniques to ensure that the tree heals correctly.

Tree climbing competitions

Of all the skills that go into caring for trees, climbing is, admittedly, one of the most fun to show off.

Each year, to help promote the profession and unite climbers from all over the world, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) holds the International Tree Climbing Competition. Here, climbing experts compete in a range of events before a panel of judges.

However, there’s much more to becoming a champion tree climber than speed. While the speed climb and ascent events test how quickly climbers can make their climbs, there are three more major events.

During the Work Climb event, competitors move through five stations in the canopy, performing a task at each. In the Aerial Rescue event, they’re tested on their ability to climb to and lower a stranded climber. The Throwline event, meanwhile, gives competitors a chance to show off how quickly and accurately they can place a safe climbing line.

Competitors with the highest total scores move on to the Masters’ Challenge, with winners named the male and female World Champions.

Climbing for fun

If all this sounds fun, you’re in luck—there’s a widespread community of people who make tree climbing their hobby, rather than their day job.

Because of the risk involved, it’s crucial you learn the ropes from experts who know what they’re doing. Fortunately, many of the climbing schools and classes are run by arborists and other professionals who work with trees for a living, so you’ll be in good hands!

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