A couple of weeks ago I met up with my friend Guy Mott who runs Adventure Tree – a recreational tree climbing and experiential education organization. He invited me to come to a climb and I just want to share with you how awesome of an experience it was.
I first became interested in tree climbing a few years ago when I had the idea of installing a giant tree-swing on one of the large oak trees in my yard. It actually wasn’t my idea… my mother-in-law, (Curator of The Shabby Chateaux in #STL) made a custom swing seat for my daughter’s birthday a few years ago and it got me thinking about where to install it…
The best branch to use seemed to be about 40 feet high, so I started researching how to put a rope up there. So after researching the topic for awhile and learning about cambium savers (they protect the rope and the tree from friction/degradation), I started getting these arborist catalogs in the mail. From a gadget-junkie perspective – there were tons of cool things to look at and dream about.
Fast forward a few years and through a friend of a friend I met Guy, and I finally had a chance to get out for a climb. The “open climb” as he calls them took place at a huge tree somewhere in Florissant, MO and upon driving up, you see this massive tree with ropes hanging down all over the place.
Site of the tree climb
Guy and his assistant, Deanna, started talking to us about trees in general, mixing in a little educational content, and in no time at all we were putting on harnesses, helmets and gloves and going through basic training. The system works amazingly well – all using ropes in different configurations to hold onto the harness, and to provide a path for moving upwards and downwards with ease. After getting our gear on, Guy hooked us into the rope system. Once we were hooked in, we move the “magic knot” that holds us onto the rope as high as we can go. Then, we move the foot rope up so we have a platform to step on. From there, it’s pretty easy. Just stand up and then sit down. Do this and you move upwards about 8″ at a time. Move the magic know and the foot knots upward and repeat the action. That’s all that’s required – it really is simple.
To get down, all that’s required is placing both hands over the magic knot, and applying downward pressure. It works like a charm. To protect ourselves from inadvertently moving downwards if we apply pressure at the wrong time, we are told to put “safety stops” into our rope every 5 feet or so. We are told how to put these knots in place and it’s also very easy. When I was climbing I often forgot to do this until I looked down and saw how high I was. Then I would collect up the rope below me and put in the safety knots after the fact. No big deal.
Here’s a picture that someone took of me at about 40 feet or so:
The view of base camp from above
There were 3 other climbers there that day, so we had plenty of time to explore the tree at our own pace. Frankly, despite being very eager to get up there, I was simultaneously afraid of heights and didn’t know what to expect. The neat thing about climbing trees in this way is first of all that it’s extremely safe. Guy even has children climb 5 years and older. I also like that you move at your own pace (at least with smaller groups) – as I would progress upwards, I would occasionally find myself getting to a place of fear. So I would just stop what I was doing, sit in my harness, take a few deep breaths, and work through it. The amazing thing is that once you hang out for awhile, you get used to the height and it’s no longer a big deal. Then you continue on upwards.
To make the climb a little more interesting, they place horns and flags way up high in the tree as signal to those below that the climber made it to the top. Also, there are a number of ropes to choose from, each giving a different perspective of the tree. Once you make it up to the branches of the tree, you’re welcome to sit on them. Yet if you want to venture out on a branch, Guy recommends that you take his next-level course to learn how to safely traverse the tree.
Once you get up there, the views are pretty amazing – it’s neat how far you could see, and even more so, the change of perspective is good, too. One thing I noticed that I really loved was the sense of quiet that you experience up there. I imagine it would be a really great place to meditate, way up in the tree. Another nice thing is that the air gets cooler as you move up. The day we climbed was a warm one, so it was a treat to experience to cool breezes once you reach the canopy.
Full view of climbers in the tree
To me it was a completely awesome experience and I cannot wait to do it again, bringing my wife and daughter along. Guy also sets up climbing systems at other sites, zipline systems, and he even does birthday parties! I plan on eventually hiring him to install a rope system on one of my old oak trees to give me a place to get some perspective, solitude, and perhaps also read a good book!
Check it out and if you have any other questions, feel free to get in touch with me via twitter @dwechsler, or Guy via his website above.