Time really flies when you’re having fun. By the close of the weekend, Sunday, April 17th, I had learned how to tie a Michoacan knot, retreived foreign objects in trees, wore a BUFF, and made more than a dozen new girfriends. The itinerary for the Western Chapter Women’s Tree Climbing course was a packed schedule. Breakfast at 7 a.m., climbing instruction starting at eight, and the day’s events not ending until twelve hours later.
My interest in climbing trees budded during the summer of 2010 at the non profit, Casey Trees in Washington D.C.. While I was on vacation, the youth tree care crew got to experience tree climbing at the National Arboretum, and I remember feeling very envious of the students’ opportunity. My interest heightened into a fervor after reading about Steve Sillett, a botanist renowned for finding the tallest Redwood trees, in the enthralling book The Wild Trees by Richard Preston.
I free climbed trees as a tomboy growing up and have some recent experience rock climbing, but this animal was all together different. First, different equipment and knots. We used a termination knot, the anchor, to tie the standing line to the harness or if spliced just onto a carabiner, and we learned a few different tension knots or rather a tension hitch like the Michoacan and Knut. The system of climbing we used for ascending is what’s called Ddrt, doubled rope technique; the rope is secured over a branch or crotch of the tree and both ends hang parallel to ground and are isolated from other branches. The tension hitch, like the Knut, grips the running line so that when the climber pauses or rests, the main knot secures her safely in place. When ready to descend all you do is put pressure on top of the tension hitch. To let go mid air, take in the view, and put trust in the equipment and system is thrilling.
Body Thrusting and Footlocking
One way to get up the tree is to place your feet on the trunk and lean back and thrust your hips up. This exerts a lot of the upper body strength as you pull on the running line three times to get vertical movement. You can also use your lanyard to walk up the tree, but my preferred technique was using the secured foot hold or footlocking to inchworm up into the canopy.
Climbing is a Team Sport
The most challenging part of climbing I found was the actual first step. Getting the rope into the tree requires some determination in throwing a line over your tie in point. This is like vertical bowling. Though it is the same motion and throwing technique as in cornhole, I could not for the life of me get the line to go to my target. I was always throwing ahead of or behind me. Fortunately I had a great climbing buddy that set the line for us or I wouldn’t have made it up the tree.
There is an I in climbing, but the activity is really team centric. I got a high from the team comraderie and bonding we did as women collectively learning from each other. It was a very supportive environment, and high fives and yays were abundant. I am grateful for the instructors’ patience and willingness to share so much expertise and guidance.
OM the Sound of the Universe
Before lunch beak each day we were treated to a restorative yoga session. This meditation balanced well with the physical endurance required for the day. I’m not one to remember all the poses, but we did practice Warrior I and II. This stance strengthens the legs, opens the hips and chest, and stretches the arms and legs. Perfect for relaxing after body thrusting. It also develops concentration, balance and groundedness, and energizes the entire body. All important things required to remain alert and practice safety while climbing.
At the end as we all lay there in corpse pose, my thoughts just melted away. All the windows of the room were open and a breeze filtered in blowing away our worries and fears and the extranalaties creeping in from work and home. The smells of the great outdoors: woods, leaves, and the lake and the gentle sounds materialized in my mind the guest bedroom at my grandparents house. In summers past my brother and I would lay in each bunk bed, with our heads close to the screen windows, and listen to crickets and smell the night air.
Then we wiggled our fingers and toes back to reality. Emails were exchanged and goodbye hugs given. We were all physically tired but still reluctant to get in our cars and break the spell.
I’ll end with this quote from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I feel it captures the spirit of the weekend:
I laid there in the grass and the cool shade, thinking about things and feeling rested and ruther comfortable and satisfied. I could see the sun out at one or two holes, but mostly it was big trees all about, and gloomy in there amongst them. There was freckled places on the ground where the light sifted down through the leaves, and the freckled places swapped about a little, showing there was a little breeze up there. A couple of squirrels set on a limb and jabbered at me very friendly.