Urban Tree Climbing

In Amerika is boomklimmen een georganiseerde sport geworden. In Nederland word je nog raar aangekeken als je het doet, maar als je het eenmaal geprobeerd hebt wil je het steeds opnieuw doen. En niemand die je ziet als boven zit. In de zomer is het heerlijk koel en in de winter heb je een uniek uitzicht. Helaas vinden "gewone" rots klimmers het idee te kinderachtig of juist te gevaarlijk. Ik heb dus weinig partners waar ik het mee kan doen en moet daarom vaak soleren.


Inspiration

Climbing a tree is different from climbing a rock end even more different from the climbing-hall. It is a different experience to climb a living object that moves in the wind. The canopy has a calm, meditative atmosphere and invites you to stay for a while. I'm not that romantic, but I can understand that some people talk to trees:

My favorite tree

This tree is near my house and it was the first tree I ever climbed. It is a symmetric and healthy poplar tree 25m high and I dare to climb 18m high (6 floors). I'm not (so much) afraid when I'm high among the branches. The view is wonderful. I had to get used to the wind and the swinging branches. I found out that it get's scary at wind speeds above 5 beaufort.

I don't dare to climb into the highest branches. Theory says that 12 cm branches are usually enough to hold your weight. But my 80kg were easily held by 7cm oak branches. It depends on the kind of tree you climb.

The view

More people have stood on top of Mt Everest than on top of this tree. Not many others have seen this view. Notice the cherry tree in bloom (lower right corner). The view is very much dependent on the seaon:

Winter view Summer view
You can see that the summertime is not a good time to photograph the view from a tree. Therefore I had to come back in early spring. But the atmosphere up there is nice, quiet and thought-inspiring. And you're completely invisible. In early spring the view is magnificient. And even though everyone should be able to see you, no one cares to look up. So you're still invisible. It is colder, but the tree sways less in the wind. Therefore I dared to climb higher.

Nice experiences

Last summer I found a few spare moments to climb new species of trees. I tried the 30 year old oak trees along the railway near Terbregge. It was fun feeling the tree sway in the wind. I looked down on the roofs of the trains driving on the embankment but I was sure that no one could see me. I came home covered with green algae from the bark of the tree. I climbed another small oak tree with my son. The branches are thin but very solid.

During a spare moment I climbed one of the plane trees at the back of my apartment building. Very carefully I chose one where the neighbours couldn't see me. At 3d floor height (10m) I lay down on one of the thick branches and watched the canopy. I saw our local magpie visiting it's nest. It was very peaceful, now I know how a tiger lying on a branch must feel (look at a random wildlife report in the National Geographic and you will see this posture). This time some passers'by saw me, and thought I must be mad ...

Plans for future projects

I'm somewhat limited in my possibilities. Conventional (rock) climbers are usually not attracted to tree-climbing. Some find it too scary, others find it too easy or childish. So it's difficult to find climbing partners. So all of the pictures on this page were made while soloing in the tree. But my wife (wisely) insists that I shouldn't go tree-climbing alone. But if I can solve this dilemma I would like to:

Techniques for
getting up

If the lowest branches are reachable you can simply climb into the tree as if you were climbing a ladder. If you go any higher than 3m you should use some kind of belay and a climbing harness. A helmet would also be useful.
  • Here you see my son in an easily climable tree. He is secured by a top-rope. The anchor is a screw-carabiner hanging from a sling around the trunk. Never use just a sling as a top-anchor, it could be burnt by the rope.

If the lowest branches are unreachable you will have to use a ladder or an arborist rope to reach the first branch. You can see a demo of this technique here. I've used it often to get on top of billboards:

From there you can choose from several techniques to continue. I prefer the "secured free-climbing" technique:

  1. Loop the first sling (runner) around the trunk or a sturdy branch.
  2. Clip the first cowtail with a carabiner into both ends of the sling. Now you're secured.
  3. Climb 1m higher.
  4. Loop the second sling around the trunk or a sturdy branch.
  5. Clip the second cowtail with a carabiner into the sling.
  6. Unclip the first (lower) carabiner and untie the sling. You're still secured.
  7. Repeat as often as necessary.

I use a special cow-tail setup with a shock-absorber. It's the "Zyper" made by Petzl. I'm very satisfied with this tool.

The book "Mountaineering freedom of the hills" says the following about trees as top-rope / rappel anchors. It's also relevant to tree climbing:

  • The best natural anchor is a living, good-sized, well-rooted tree.
  • The trunk or branch should be at least 10cm (4 inches) thick.
  • You can throw the rope around an unquestionably stout tree branch rather than low on the trunk. This reduces the abrasion on the rope. But it puts more leverage on the tree and increases the danger that it will be pulled out.
  • Be careful using trees in very cold weather. They can become brittle.

Techniques for getting down

Officially the best way to get down is the same way that I showed in the "demonstration". The Blake's hitch can be used for rappeling. So you use the same technique but in reverse. Descend slowly, or the knot will burn the rope.

But because I prefer "secured free climbing" to get up, I use the classic rappel technique to get down:

Is it legal ?

I don't really know. I think that technically speaking it is illegal, but that you won't be fined. I suspect you will be chased away by the policeman or the forester. The issue was discussed on the Treeclimbing forum:

More information on the treeclimbing website

For this page I've used some information from the treeclimbing.com website. Very inspiring to read. Basic information can be found in the climbing-technique chapter. And if you have any questions or problems you can visit the message board. Even basic beginner's questions are handled in a patient and professional manner. These (and many other) links are shown on my links-page.

Books

This book tells you all you want to know. There's a second printing available. VERY GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY

Reactions to this page

After I posted this page on the treeclimbing message board I received several comments and new links. The comments are shown here - I feel very encouraged to continue treeclimbing. The new links are included on my links-page:


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Š 2001 Petr Kazil - 8 January 2001 - Have you climbed trees in your childhood ? How high did you go ? Mail me at (obfuscated) kazil a.t euronet d.o.t nl