Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Extreme Tree Climbing

Meteor Shower Watching From the Treetops: Jan 3, 2012

Have you ever watched a meteor shower from the treetops? Here’s an extreme tree climbing adventure you’ll wow your friends with and remember a lifetime. You’ll get your chance Tuesday night, January 3, when the Quadrantids, one of the best but least-known meteor showers, will shine in the new year.

Peak viewing time:
3-4 AM EST
Where to look: North east. Look at the bottom of the handle of the Big Dipper.
Best viewing conditions: Clear sky. Away from city lights.
Peak meteor numbers: Up to 120 per hour!
Meteor details: Bright. Blue in color. Some will blaze nearly half way across the sky. Some may leave a persistent dust train. The meteors evaporate just 50 miles above the earth’s surface traveling at 250 miles per hour!

How do you watch meteors from the treetops? It’s easy when you know what to do:

Here's my viewing station — it's a Portaledge outfitted for comfort. The two bundles in the middle are pillows.
How do you watch meteors from the treetops? It’s easy when you know what to do:
  • First check the weather. You won’t see much if it is cloudy or worse, raining.
  • Select a tree next. Choose a hardwood that has dropped all the leaves. You want to be able to see through the treetop. You don’t have to go to the top of the tree. You only need a tree that allows you to set up a Tree boat or Portaledge.
  • Set up during the day. Nighttime rigging is risky and takes much more time. Use a fixed line you set up during the day to get to your hammock setup. It’s wise to leave your bed made up and ready for use.
  • Don’t want to leave your gear up in the tree? Use a single point suspension Portaledge you pre rigged with a rope during the day. Make your bed on the ground, hoist it up, tie it off at the trunk and you’re set to go.
  • Important! Prepare for extreme cold. You must use a Thermolite insulating pad or Treeboat Cozy. If you don’t use a pad, you loose enormous amounts of body heat from radiant heat loss. You’ll freeze!! Use a sleeping bag that will take you down well below the predicted low. Wear a warm head cover as well.
  • Bring food and a hot beverage. The hot drink is a major bonus! Which leads to the next important item.
  • Bring a pee bottle. It’s wise to practice the technique (using a pee bottle) at least once aloft before going on your star gazing outing. You can practice low. Remain tied in at all times- that’s the catch. Guys- use a large mouthed plastic bottle. Ladies- You can drop the leg straps of New Tribe saddles and easily reconnect them after you have done the deed. They make special pee bottles for women but I have been told Tupperware/ type plastic containers work just as well. Hang your pee bottle off the side where your feet are. You don’t want to mistakenly grab the wrong container for drinking. If you miss or get something wet- hey, it’s only yellow rain. It all comes out in the wash, no?
  • Use a red filtered flashlight. If you need to look at a map or find something, the red filter will not destroy your night vision like regular flashlights do.
  • Never go off rope. Always stay tied in.

So who’s going to give this adventure a go? We expect a report back on how it goes; good or bad. Calling all extreme tree climbers...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Throwing Into A Tree?

Throwing into a tree?
Don't throw if power lines near be!

Let's go tree climbing.
I'm feeling lucky today.
Not really!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tree Climbing Difficulty Ratings

What can a tree climber expect in a climb?

Tree climbers use difficulty ratings. I got the idea of tree climbing difficulty ratings years ago from the rock climbers. It's a kind of barometer reading for tree climbers to get an idea of what kind of tree climbing they're getting into on a given climb.

Who gives the tree a difficulty rating number? It's usually based on the experience of the tree climber who makes the first ascent. The number might also be arrived at jointly from the tree climbing team. Is it exact? Certainly not. It's really an estimate. If the lead climber is having a bad tree climbing day, the numbers might be higher. If the tree is wet and slippery, the numbers will certainly go up. But it's just a ballpark idea of how hard it is to climb a specific tree. You can bet that the tree getting a difficulty rating also has a tree name.

A long 95-foot climb (first pitch) to the incredibly high treetop of “Obama the Tree,” a 40-inch diameter tulip tree (Liriodendron Tulipifera Linnaeus). From there it’s a 30-foot climb (second pitch) to the “summit branch”, the highest climbing point in the tree. Difficulty rating: 5.9
The tree to the right is “Rosie Red Oak” It’s not unusual to traverse over to “Rosie” before coming down. Climbers use the other end of their rope to do this (double rope end climbing).
 What's the use of difficulty ratings? Some people use them for bragging rights. But I don't see that too often with tree climbers. For some reason, tree climbers just don't seem to have a lot of ego issues. Maybe it's the calming affect the trees give to the tree climbers.

Tree climbing ratings can be useful. Where I have seen it used to good effect is in describing how hard it is going to be to climb a certain tree. So if I tell you that we are going to climb a 5.9 tree today, you’ll probably need a 200-foot rope and a bit of stamina. If I told you we were going to go climb a 4.5 tree, you might want to invite your significant other along for a little tree climbing party/social. Get the picture?

I really wish people would use the difficulty rating more often. I think it would save some folks some grief and frustration from getting into a climb that could be exhausting and over their heads as far as skillsets. It’s really much more fun if the tree climbing team is together on the same page and up for the adventure.

What difficulty rating would you rate your favorite climbing tree?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The “Getting Away From It All” Factor of Tree Climbing

I don't want to sound trite, but tree climbing gives me a way to get away from it all. Tree climbing puts me in a completely different space. It's a place where I can get a little peace and quiet. My own little private spot. If you climbed trees as a kid, you know what I'm talking about.

I've done a little scientific study. Well, sort of scientific. Here's the question. How far do you have to climb to get a feeling of disconnect? I'm talking about the feeling of separating yourself from the world. I'm talking about a place in the vertical world, above ground; where you can get a little introspective. Become an observer of the world on the ground below.

I've come up with a figure: 25 feet. That's all you need. How did I come up with that number? I made hundreds of observations at the Tree Climbers International school. That’s my laboratory.

Laurie "Flash" Feig Sandoval gets "the disconnect" in a 90 foot white oak (Quercus alba) named "New Start". Difficulty rating 5.6
 I'm a big fan of psychology. One of the big things that has me interested is the reaction of people when they leave the ground and climb up the rope into a big tree.

At first people are hesitant. They are figuring out how to work the knots and building trust in the system. After they get past those early stages, it gets interesting. The new climbers are now suspended in air. We call it the “Peter Pan Effect”. They are floating in space. When they get to a branch the new climbers usually stop. Sometimes they stand on the branch, other times they sit on the branch. Or they just hang in midair. Then they just look around. This is “the disconnect”.

When you get “the disconnect” in a big tree, you become an observer. It's a shift in perspective. You are now looking down at the world below you. There's a separation between you and those below. It’s a visual kind of cotton candy fascination, and it lives in a 3 dimensional world of height.

This “other worldly” sense of height and disconnect is easy to read on climber’s faces. A light seems to turn on. It doesn't matter whether your are a new climber or an old hand at tree climbing. That feeling of wonder and peace isn’t too far away up in a tree. I think it takes only 25 feet. That is my own unscientific opinion.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tree Climbing Names

Tree climbing names is a tradition that started at Tree Climbers International nearly 30 years ago. Here's the deal. When you have mastered basic tree climbing skills, you are a different person. That means you need to have a tree climbing name. It's a tribal kind of thing. A right of passage.

My first tree climbing student. Tom “Lorax” Coffin-“I speak for the trees”. PhD Urban Forestry, Senior Arborist of Atlanta- now retired (defended countless trees against developers), and TCI instructor.
So who awards the name? Most people name themselves. I usually ask the student to name themselves after they've graduated the TCI basic tree climbing course. Most people come up with that name pretty quickly. However, sometimes people get a little flustered and can't think of anything. Now they are at the mercy of their instructor or fellow tree climbing students. It's really quite funny the names that come up for consideration.

I had this news reporter team that came out to the TCI school years ago around Thanksgiving. They did a live interview directly from school. So we got to talking about tree climbing names. The lady anchorwoman asked me to give her a tree climbing name. Then the anchorman piped up and asked for his tree climbing name too. I told them the rules but they insisted. They must have their tree climbing names. And they hadn't even climbed!

I looked at the woman. A handsome young woman; very athletic looking. “Sweetgum. That's a good name. I think it should be Sweetgum.” A sour expression washed over her face. “Hey! Sweetgums are great climbing trees. You've just got to put up with those spiny balls.”

The anchorman perked up. “Hey what's my name going to be? What's my name going to be?” I looked the man over trying to think of an appropriate name. Here was an aggressive kind a guy that got in your face. I was drawing a blank. Then I thought about the occasion. It was Thanksgiving.

“Flying Turkey. That's what it is. I’ll name you Flying Turkey.” Everybody got real quiet. “Did somebody say quiet on the set?” I looked over the anchorman's shoulder to the cameraman. He was trying to cover his face and conceal his laughter. End of interview. They were packing up and leaving in a hurry. Oh well.

What's your tree climbing name? How did you get it? Tell us all about it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's Time to Say Goodbye to One of the Best Tree Climbing Seasons: Fall

This is one of the tree climbing seasons that I hate to see go. Recreational tree climbers really flock to the treetops in this season. Fall is a transitional season. It's a season tree climbers love because it's in between the hot summer heat and the freezing winter temperatures.

Not all of the trees have lost their leaves yet. Take a look at the two trees pictured here. They are of the same species. One tree has its leaves, while the other tree does not. It's proof that trees act differently, just like humans. Every tree is an individual.
Two Post Oak (Quercus stella) trees we climb.
Tree names: Jock (left) and Jill
Difficulty rating: both at 5.6. | Treetop traverse: 5.7
The fall climbing has been particularly good this year in the Southeast. Leaf color was fabulous! The temperatures were pleasantly cool. And the acorns and other nuts were plentiful. The wildlife is going to have plenty to eat this winter around here.

Fall came early here. It's unusual for fall to start halfway through September. I think it's a harbinger of bad things to come; like a really cold winter. I know there have been some early snowstorms in the North. I’m trying not to think about it too much. So this is what I'm doing to get all I can from the remaining fall tree climbing season and get ready for winter.

I am logging in as many climbs as I can. I'm making the time to enjoy the trees. I know I'll have many down days coming up when the wind chill turns my fingertips white and the cold rains make tree climbing unbearable.

I am changing my diet. I am eating more fatty foods. I'm not talking about junk food. I'm talking about nuts, seeds, and other natural energy producing foods. You’ve got to eat food that will create heat to keep you warm. Saturated fats, like those in junk food, won’t break down quickly enough to give you the heat you need. They also build up in the body and create that excess weight we hate to carry around.

And lastly, I am pulling out my winter clothing. I'm making sure that every article is serviceable. Are buttons falling off? Are the soles of my winter boots in good shape for the upcoming icy times? I'm especially looking at my long johns making sure that the elastic in the waist hasn't stretched too far where it will sag down underneath my pants. There's nothing worse than having sagging underwear. You feel like your saddle is slipping off when in reality it’s your underwear. Try adjusting your underwear while you are on rope. It’s not easy.

What other things are you doing to prepare for winter climbing? Do you quit climbing completely during the winter season?