How Tree Climbing Works

Tree Climbing Safety

First thing's first: Never invite the possibility of a fall. It's vital to always have at least one safety line tied securely in place at all times, or you could be in for a potentially fatal, or at the very least, painful fall. Second, follow all the directions your facilitator or instructor gives you. There's a reason they're leading the climb and not you.

As for other basic safety tips, if you've chosen your gear wisely, you're already ahead of the game when it comes to tree-climbing safety. We mentioned several obvious safety reasons for purchasing the appropriate gear, but there are other aspects to it as well. Make sure everyone's saddle fits snuggly, especially children's. Too loose and they can slip out, while you watch your parent-of-the-year award slip away as well. Helmets should be worn by all climbers, and also by any spectators hanging around ground-bound in the vicinity -- they not only offer protection in the event someone falls, they help guard against injury from dangerous hazards like falling branches.

It's also important to take care of your gear. Make sure it's able to take care of you if you're in a pinch. Always check ropes for fraying or other damage, and if you do spot some, tend to it immediately -- you don't want a rope snapping when you're way up in the air, after all.

Once all the gear is good to go, it's time to choose an appropriate tree to climb. Seemingly harmless trees can be fraught with potential pitfalls that make climbing dangerous, so it's crucial that climbers perform detailed inspections for any risks every time they climb. The first thing to look for is the presence of nearby power lines -- any lines really, just to be on the safe side -- because electrical current can arc up to 10 feet (3 meters). In the case of high voltage transmission lines, that distance can soar up to 35 feet (11 meters). What's more, humidity and rain can boost both so they're able to zap unwary climbers from even farther away, and the results are usually fatal. Don't think if you climb up the far side of a tree you're safe either -- the branches can act as conductors.

Next, focus in on the tree itself, paying particular attention to any signs of damage on the trunk and root system. Landscaping practices, construction vehicles, lightning strikes, insect infestations and fungi can all make a tree unsafe for scaling. Even if insects haven't damaged the tree, still keep an eye out for bugs like wasps and bees, as well as plants such as poison ivy and poison sumac.

Another easy way to help avoid any mishaps is to climb what's known as a tame tree. Tame trees have been climbed by others and cleared of safety threats. Wild trees, on the other hand, are best left to tree climbing experts and arborists. For other must-know knowledge about outdoor adventuring and arboreal musings, visit the links below.

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  • Global Organization of Tree Climbers Web site. (12/9/2009)
  • National Tree Climbing Program Web site. (12/9/2009)
  • New Tribe Web site. (12/9/2009)
  • Ray, Daniel. "How to Tie Knots for Tree Climbing." (12/9/2009)
  • SherrillTree Web site. (12/9/2009)
  • Society of Municipal Arborists Web site. (12/9/2009)
  • The International Tree Climbing Championship Web site. (12/9/2009)
  • Tree Climbers International Web site. (12/9/2009)