Let’s get something straight. When we talk about tree climbing, we aren’t talking about being a pre-teen and heading out to the park or the tree in the backyard and getting up that one. When we say tree climbing, we are actually referring to technical tree climbing, which involves ropes and harnesses, and is generally a heck of a lot safer than you might think, though you can get REALLY high in some areas.
Climbing trees is awesome in a lot of ways, giving great exercise, getting you out of the rat race and into nature, you can do it all year round—and, hey, you literally have a place to climb just about everywhere! Another great benefit is the lack of bulky or expensive equipment. Just a bit of basic kit, and you are all set, pretty much forever. To get to some of the hot spots though, you will need to travel a bit. If you are already an avid tree climber, or someone who craves testing their physical skills against the best, we have a list of some of the most gnarly and awesome climbing spots in the world for you!
Know What It Takes
Climbing a tree takes some skill, especially if you don’t know the ropes. The first branches of most of these trees are usually 80+ feet off the ground, and you need to first get a weighted bag over a branch. After you do that, you then tie your climbing rope to your throwing line and tug it over. You then get into your climbing harness, and begin your climb. It takes a special technique and knowing some pretty specific knots, such as the Blake’s hitch, but once you get a handle on the technique, it will become second nature.
You then get to your branch, tie yourself off, and send that weighted bag up over another branch for the next part of your climb. While you have to get over anything in the way, and you continually have to test branches to make sure they are not cracked or weak, you basically keep repeating the same motions until you get to the top. You will also need to get special tree climbing rope, which is friction resistant, not like rock climbing rope. Check out this Popular Mechanics article on the basics.
The Pacific Northwest
In the Pacific Northwest temperate rain forest in Oregon, there are Douglas fir trees of literally astounding sizes. A few are more than 280 feet tall, and yes, they are climbable. The trees are amazing, and the height on some of the truly majestic ones will give you a breathtaking view which can extend for over 20 miles. The main climbing club there, the Pacific Tree Climbing Institute, has tours available for both new climbers and those with their own gear who want to try a new place. They also have specially made hammocks that they literally tie off to tree limbs about 230 to 250 feet above the Earth, and that’s where you spend the night. It’s a fantastic experience, and one of the better climbs you can find.
The Giant Sequoias and Coastal Redwoods
California is famous for their giant sequoias, and rightfully so. These redwood trees have amazing properties, with the giants being the most massive trees in the world, with 30-foot diameter trunks being the norm, and the trees living for over 3000 years! The coastal redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, being an average of 400 feet high. Check out some of their stats on State Symbols USA. Climbing these massive trees isn’t possible in the state parks, as they are protected, but there is plenty of private land which is available for climbers to take on the ultimate tree challenge. The only downside is that you can’t just schlep your gear with you to a tree, you have to take a guided tour, but it is completely worth it and these trees are no joke. They are the “top” of the tree climbing food chain.
Madagascar Tropical Trees
On the other side of the planet is Madagascar, a truly amazing place. It’s warm, humid, rainy, and basically the perfect environment to grow huge trees. The island has an amazing ecosystem, and getting up to the canopy of their forests is truly an experience. You can get up the trunk a number of ways, by hitting up Cornell University if you are still a student (you don’t have to be there, you can still sign up for a course through them), or one of the reserves in Madagascar, such as the Mitsinjo Reserve, which has at least 150-foot tall trees. While not as tall as the trees on the west coast of the U.S., the forest on the island is like nothing you have likely ever seen before, and you have a pretty good chance of being checked out by the local simians and hanging out with them.
Professional Climbing Is a Thing
While we have been talking about tree climbing in this post as an outdoor enthusiast and sport activity, if you are really gung-ho about it, you can make it a part of your profession and get to places that pretty much no one else is able to go. There are plenty of scientist jobs out there that need tree-climbing skills, such as an arborist (a tree surgeon), or an ornithologist, for example. Professional tree climbers get permits and chances to go to some awesome places, such as Thailand, Congo, and Sumatra, to name a few—and usually on someone else’s dime.
And believe us, the canopies in those forests are stupendous. There are even a number of national tree climbing academies that can prepare you for this kind of job, such as NETCA, or the New England Tree Climbing Association. If you are thinking about it, or just want to test your skills and see if you like it (trust us, you will!) give an organization such as theirs a call.
Most of the trees you hit won’t be 300-foot tall, but believe us, 180 to 200 feet off the ground seems like a LONG way down when you are holding on to a rope the size of your little finger and grabbing a tree trunk. It’s an amazing feeling, and worth the experience on every level. But don’t just take our word for it! Go out there and climb a tree!