Aaah yes, we all have memories of scaling up trees as carefree children. Sadly as age catches up with us, we lose that inclination to conquer trees. It’s strange considering that rock-climbing is such a common pastime, so why not tree climbing? By climbing trees you get into nature, see new perspectives and reach heights of up to 90m (at a push). Tree climbing is also an activity that can be undertaken anywhere in the world and on a wide variety of live tree species. This may not be a mainstream adventure for adults, but there are quite a number of passionate tree climbers around the world who regularly compete in tree-climbing championships. We catch up with three times world tree-climbing champion and Hampshire local, Josephine Hedger, about what professional tree climbing is all about.
What does it take to become a champion tree climber? Determination to see it through. You start off with a lot of ambition and energy, but it takes a long time to learn from your mistakes and improve skills. You have to realise winning doesn’t come easily and you have to learn from defeat. You also have to set a lot of time aside to train and travel to numerous events around the world.
Highest tree you’ve ever climbed? An Eucalyptus in Tasmania at 35m and an English Redwood at 36m.
What do you love most about tree-climbing? I love finding new trees that have never been climbed before – it’s a very special and unique privilege. I love climbing different species around the world, which I would never get to do at home in England. Recreational climbing makes me feel free and I’m exhilarated when swinging between branches.
Favourite trees to climb? I love climbing Beech, London Plane and Eucalyptus, as their canopies are generally open and allow for good movement and swings. The bark is generally smooth and easy on the hands. I also love large old English Oaks – they can be around 300-400-years old, very special.
What drew you to professional tree climbing? I’m passionate about trees and climbing and I’m an arborist by trade. My work involves planting, caring for and maintaining trees. Tree-climbing competitions are a continuation of my education and a great way for me to push myself. Tree-climbing is not only my job, but my favourite hobby. As a kid I loved being outdoors, so this path was a natural progression for me.
When do you train and compete? As an arborist, I climb trees most days and this keeps me physically fit. It also keeps my brain trained, which is vital for making quick decisions in the canopy when competing. In preparation for competitions I train after work and participate in weekend events. I also ensure that I eat well and do additional cardio exercises. Competitions happen all over the world throughout the year. In the Northern Hemisphere competitions are traditionally held from May to September.
Any big differences between male and female tree-climbers? Men are naturally stronger and more explosive. They tend to be much quicker on speed events. Men and women climbers achieve similar scores in the events that require technique and skill. Men and women are conventionally judged separately, but over the last few years the Masters climb has had the same tasks, time limits and judges for male and female climbers. This has allowed me to see how I compare to the male athletes. My intention is not to beat the men, but to challenge myself to the fullest. I see it as a huge achievement when I can score higher than the men.
How does a tree climbing championship work? There are different categories that are tested and each one requires specific skills. Here are the competition categories:
• Speed climb: Fastest climber from the ground to the top of the tree. The average height of competition trees is 19m. Required skills: Strength, cardio and stamina.
• Aerial Rescue: Competitors have five minutes in which to execute a realistic rescue of an injured person stuck in the tree. Required skills: knowledge on first aid, good communication, keeping calm, and equipment knowledge and skill.
• Throw-line: Competitors have six minutes in which to collect two out of a choice of eight targets placed along the tree. This is done with a throw-line and the installation of a climbing line. Points range based on the difficulty of the throw and its location. Required skills: throw-line skills and keeping calm under pressure.
• Work climb: Competitors have five minutes to complete a downhill race from the top of the tree to the ground. On the way down you have to visit four targets around the canopy, while performing specific tasks. Required skills: movement skills, good balance and high stamina.
• Foot lock: In this competition the winner is the fastest climber to reach 15.25m on a rope, moving straight up the tree. This is all about technique. Competitors have to wrap their ropes around their feet (in order to stand up), grab the rope and then repeat.
• Masters: The top male and female climbers from the preceding prelim events go through to the master tree, which is readied with four targets throughout its canopy. No ropes are pre-installed and you have 30 minutes to assess the tree, get your ropes in, move around the tree with great poise and ability, return to the ground and remove your ropes and equipment within the time limit. This requires a lot of climbing experience of reading a tree and choosing a good route around the tree.
One with Nature
So folks, now you know what it takes to become a champion tree climber. Even if you’re not going for gold, tree-climbing is a great hobby with plenty of benefits. It’s an excellent inner-core workout, its safe (if you follow the rules), trees are found everywhere, it’s cost-effective and you’ll feel at peace as you climb ancient beings that are actually alive.
Josephine Hedger is a three-time world tree-climbing champion and a two-time European tree-climbing champion. She is a NPTC Assessor, a Lantra Instructor & Assessor and the owner of Arbor Venture Tree Care. For more details see: www.arborventure.co.uk.