National Geographic


Published September 30, 2010.

Go Climb a Tree

Posted by Caitlin Etherton

This arrival of cooler temperatures has visions of fall road trips dancing through my head – winding through mountain tunnels into red and yellow speckled valleys in Pennsylvania with my Mom, or curving around the steep roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway with a bunch of friends to meet the rising autumn sun at the top of Clingman’s Dome. But why choose a view over or under the trees — when you can go up?

October 14 -18 marks the 9th Annual Tree Climbing Rendezvous at Beechridge Conference Center in northern Kentucky. Last year’s Rendezvous brought together some sixty climbers from as far away as Canada, Europe, Japan, and Taiwan. Beginning tree climbers can show up two days earlier, October 12-14, for a basic tree climbing course – which is all the experience necessary to participate in the next four days of activities.

Hosted by EarthJoy and the Global Organization of Tree Climbers (GOTC), the Rendezvous is an opportunity for tree climbers of all levels to climb together, share some stories, hold workshops and compare notes on technique and equipment. Workshops include treetop yoga and dance classes, a quiet climb with bird biologist Kate Heyden, and lessons on rope splicing and tree climbing history. At the end of the day most climbers stick around for cookouts and music by the campfire. Climbers can either coordinate meals and lodging on their own, or they can purchase a few package deals from nearby hotels or stay at the conference center lodge, a 19th century stone farmhouse (details are in the PDF found in the lodge link). Or if it turns out you really enjoy being up in the air, then you could just stay there. Some climbers camp and sleep up in the trees using four-point hammocks called “tree boats.”

“Tree climbing opens up a new geography,” explains GOTC president, Harv “Ponderosa” Teitelbaum. “It’s a whole new place of exploration and adventure. Instead of having to travel hundreds and thousands of miles from where you live, you can just go up 50 feet and you’re having a brand new adventure. The view, the swing of the branches, the exhilaration of being up high in the tree is life changing for some people.”

More details after the jump.

Harv will be leading the training session at this year’s Rendezvous, held just outside of Cincinnati, but no need to fret if that’s too far of a trip. The Rendezvous is held at a different site around the country every year (next year they are considering Florida, either around Tampa or St. Petersburg.) Additionally, there are all sorts of tree climbing gatherings, both formal and informal, that happen in groves across the country throughout the year – for instance the annual Blue Ridge Tree Climbing Rendezvous in North Carolina, and the rainforest expedition in Panama every February. The GOTC tries to hold a public climb as a part of every Rendezvous in order to give people in the area an opportunity to try out a new sport with the help of experienced climbers.

Tree climbing is open to people of all ages, and is great for kids and especially for families. Even going by the regulations of the GOTC, it requires relatively little equipment to keep both the climber and the tree safe. All you need is a saddle, a rope, carabiners, some sturdy shoes and a helmet. (Some climbers also opt to use little rope sleeves, or bark protectors, that sit over the branch so the rope slides through the sleeve instead of scraping the tree.) Most people bring their own equipment, but people who come early for the training session will have equipment provided. There will also be opportunities to buy equipment from the different manufacturers attending the event.

So check here for more details, grab your boots and a saddle and tell Harv Ponderosa we say “Hello.” Make sure you ask him how he got his name.

Photo: Both sites for tree climbing and communities of tree climbers are referred to as “groves.” Photos courtesy of EarthJoy. 

Go Climb a Tree” by Caitlin Etherton.