John Haller hardly needs anyone's encouragement to climb a tree.
PHOTO: JOHN HALLER
Shinnyin' up a giant trunk can do as much for a person—both physically and psychologically—as any game or sport yet invented. When you climb a tree, you'll experience recreation in its purest form, a pastime that shatters monotony, alters perspective, enlarges horizons, stimulates the body, and enlivens the mind.
As a boy, I spent most of my spare hours hanging from trees, and no activity intrigued me more. Today, I climb to make my living as a tree surgeon and can't imagine a more pleasant job. Still, I sometimes envy the natural climbers: the squirrels, cats, bears, monkeys, and all the other members of the happy arboreal tribe. But—not having claws or a tail—I've learned to use spurs and a half-inch-diameter security cord instead.
Sometimes I regret the need for a rope. In a sense, this piece of equipment takes away part of the thrill of climbing by eliminating most of the sport's danger On the other hand, however, the safety line actually adds to the excitement, since it enables one to swing in great arcs from limb to limb ... or drop vertically—80 to 100 feet—only to stop as abruptly as a spider on its silken thread.
The professional arborist, who works in trees eight hours a day, also avails him -or herself of belt and spurs. This gear is necessary to conquer the mast-like conifers—the Douglas firs, Ponderosa pines, and giant redwoods—of our Northwest. Like a telephone lineman, the climber passes a strap around the tree, digs in his or her heel spikes, and walks upward. When the trunk measures 10 to 12 feet in diameter, the strap becomes a 35- to 40-footlong rope, and the difficulties of jumping that amount of line up a pole become enormous. Nevertheless, there are some people who climb such trees with chain saws slung to their belts!
In other parts of the country—where deciduous trees with sprawling, open shapes prevail—spurs and straps aren't suitable equipment. To tackle such many-limbed monsters, the professional uses a length of half-inch rope, 80 to 100 feet long, and a harness which is strapped about the waist and legs. He or she then climbs the tree, passes the end of the rope through the highest, centermost crotch, fastens it to a metal ring at the front of his or her harness, and leaves a two-foot-long "tail." Next, the climber ties this "extra" rope around the ground line (that part of the cord which hangs from the crotch downward to the ground). Thus, the arboreal acrobat is suspended by two strands of rope (each of which bears only half of his or her weight) and—as the "human squirrel" moves about from limb to limb—he or she can pay out or take up slack and keep the tension of the cord constant. The "taut-line hitch"—which ties the tail of the harness line to the ground line—is an ingenious knot that tightens when subjected to pull and loosens only when that tension is released.) By this means—if a climber slips or loses consciousness—the knot will automatically hold fast, and the tree-scaler will dangle safely in space.
Amateur arborealists usually start out with no more than bare hands and courage. As these novices become more serious about their sport, however, they'll usually acquire spurs—in order to ascend the huge, often branchless trunks of giant pines or firs—and learn to use a rope to swing (like Tarzan on his vines) from limb to limb.
So if you're physically run-down, unhappy with the sterility of day-to-day life, and tired of contemplating the world from the same old position, scale upward to the wind-swept tip of a 100-foot poplar, then look down (if you dare!) to find out what heights really are. After you grow accustomed to the altitude, lean back on a convenient bough, relax, stare dreamily up at the clouds, and enjoy the peace that comes only in such leafy, lofty places.
When you wish to descend, sling your rope through the uppermost crotch, fasten it around your waist by means of the taut-line hitch (be sure you learn this knot WELL!), throw yourself out into empty space for an 80-foot drop, and bring yourself up shot two feet or so above the ground.
If that doesn't satisfy your need for excitement, you can—of course—leap from the swaying tip of one tree to another; sit on a limb and saw it off behind you; or even tackle the redwoods, Douglas firs, and eucalypti without a rope or spurs!
But don't take my word for it: Just find yourself a friendly tree and go "monkey around"!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Advanced tree climbing can be dangerous and requires the same caution and access to expert advice that mountaineering—or any hazardous sport—demands of its participants.