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Freeclimbing trees


Original Post
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Hey everyone,

So I should start by pointing out that I live in Chicago. We Chicago climbers get pretty desperate when home bound and not able to make the 2 hr minimum (3 for good) drive for real rock, and start to come up with some pretty silly ways of scratching the itch (buildering, retaining walls, etc). One thing that I've always been tempted to do is to climb some of the many trees in the park nearby, some of which get to be a bit too high to solo. I've looked into arborism but it seems to be too aid-focused and dependent on specialty gear, so I was contemplating what it would take to cleanly free climb a big tree. My thought was to just carry a bunch of long slings and hitch horizontal/constricting limbs in lead. Obviously, the usual rules for natural anchors apply (liveliness, girth), but I think it could be done safely.

Has anyone actually tried this? I remember seeing a video of Chris Sharma climbing a giant tree a few years ago, but I seem to recall that being a rope-solo setup.

brian n · · Manchester, WA · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 91

Last year I needed a 80+ foot tall Hemlock on my property thinned out. There was an abundance of dead and detached limbs just waiting for the next Pacific Northwest wind storm to bring them own. Once I discovered the cost, I decided to do it myself.

The first half of the tree had no branches so I shot a fishing line up, attached a parachute cord. Pulled that up then my climbing rope. I ascended with prusik knots but once I got to the branches I did what you are describing. Girthing the trunk itself which I could wrap my arms around.

Know the strength of the wood for the species you climb. Some wood, even live is weak. The Hemlock I climbed was very dense strong wood. Once the line was up over a branch (1 1/2 diameter) my friend and I pulled, wrenched, bounced together and tried to break it. It held. I weigh 140lbs and he is well over 200.

Hope that helps

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Ted, I think King lines has a sequence in it of Sharma just monkeying up a Monterey Cypress tree, no ropes. Maybe no shoes, if memory serves?

There was an arborists competition going on for several days in a local park here this summer. Some of what I saw them doing up in trees looked to be largely straightforward stuff with ropes, for one of the days. I wanted to stop and watch, but didn't want to miss my bus! You might want to dig further, maybe look for what they do in competitions.

Danny Poceta · · the gunks · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 40
dread-pirate-roberts · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 5

I'll chip in a video of a non-pro climber doing some tree freeing. I've got a large walnut tree in my yard that's served me well for practicing rope skills.

I'd check out "TREEfool"'s other videos on his youtube channel for advice on getting your rope up there to begin with. I struggled the first time I tried to put up my rope and then had sever "duh" moments when watching his tutorials

I live in Iowa so I'm sort of in the same situation. I'm interested in getting high in some trees over winter since I won't be doing any outdoor climbing unless I can cajole the wifey into a trip to Vegas.

youtube.com/watch?v=5-WLU73…

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Ha, nice find! Thanks!

Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25
Ted Pinson wrote: My thought was to just carry a bunch of long slings and hitch horizontal/constricting limbs in lead.
I've done it that way to get up 30' or so in our trees to trim branches. I felt perfectly safe but I didn't whip on any branches so take it with a grain of salt. I tried to put the slings at crotches, around the bigger or more vertically oriented branch. I have a pic somewhere of me hanging from a big silver maple in our backyard with a sawzall in one hand and a beer in the other.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Nice. Yeah, the plan would be to not fall and probably down climb rather than rappel, as I'm not looking to cause too much damage...

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
Danny P wrote:This video? youtube.com/watch?v=-4E-rw3…
This is super cool, but there's a bit of him somewhere just easily going from horizontal branch, to branch, pretty sure in a lovely old Monterey cypress that's slung low to the ground. I'm thinking it was talking about him as a kid, and climbing trees. This may even be one of his "kid" trees, and might be what made the image stick in my head. Haven't climbed a tree in half a century, more or less, but I did have a tree to hang out in as a kid. Plus, his home is Carmel, or close to that, I think.

Have fun, Ted!

Edit: just watched the really lovely redwood vid again, Santa Cruz, not Carmel. I've seen the redwood one, but not for awhile.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Hmm...looked like a rope solo setup with some sort of ascender underneath...but how'd he get the anchor up there in the first place?

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290
Ted Pinson wrote:Hmm...looked like a rope solo setup with some sort of ascender underneath...but how'd he get the anchor up there in the first place?
Ted, it's a pretty sure thing the researchers set him up, if you mean Sharma. I would assume they climbed it with the spiky boots and strap around the trunk, with such a straight shot up.

If you want to see some ridiculous elaborate rigging, search out the National geographic vid showing how they photographed an entire tree, top to bottom, for a non distorted photo foldout for the mag.

I've also seen, in one of these vids, someone shooting a crossbow sort of device with a line, far up into the tree. Probably another redwood one.

The other guy, I think could have just pitched a weight with a line, up and over, with a bare deciduous tree.
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,135

The way I knew that my favorite partner Sharon ought to get into climbing was when I saw her gratuitously free-climbing on a tree in my parents' back yard.

I think nowadays typically the more an outdoor rock climb is like tree-climbing, the more popular it is - (think like "tufa")

Many "Via Ferrata" routes in Europe have long sections which are more like tree-climbing than "normal" rock-climbing. And VF routes are generally much more popular in Europe than "normal" multi-pitch rock climbing routes.

Also a success strategy for indoor gyms is to make the easier routes on plastic more like tree-climbing and less like typical easier routes on outdoor rock.

My suspicion is that climbing trees is "deeper" in the human psyche than climbing on rock. Our nearest genetic relatives, monkeys + chimps + apes, most of them climb trees. also many Cats (of various sizes). Even some
Goats climb trees.

Ken

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

The New Year's goats! I loved that thread!

rockhard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 55

Recently met some tree climber dudes in Queenstown. All free solo, but they also used a short static rope to sling lower branches to assist getting started on high branches from the ground. Looked pretty scary, but they were stoked as. Apparently it is a legit sport in south america or somewhere... they were talking about hardest sends in the park and which trees are good beginners.

ColinM · · Boulder, CO · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 50

I'm an arborist and climb trees for a living. The easiest method to free climb a tree safely, and the method we most often use, is to use a lanyard and a climb line as a second lanyard. There's a carbiner on one end the line and a prussik with carabiner on the other so you can make an adjustable loop to put through a crotch in the tree. Use two so you can advance one to a another crotch while remaining clipped to another. When you get to the top you should use what's called a cambium saver with your climb line so you don't damage the tree when you rappel. I often describe basic tree technique to rock climbers as top roping yourself. Obviously there's more to it, other methods and loads of specialized equipment out there for tree climbing. There is an inexpensive book available which would help you a lot, Tree Climber's Companion by Jeff Jepson

Russ Keane · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 140
"how'd he get the anchor up there in the first place?"

You use a skinny tag line, with a heavy sac tied to one end (like a hackey sack) .... The other end is tied to your climbing rope... You use a slingshot device, or just swing between your legs.... and you launch the sack upwards, aiming at a nice fat junction as high as you can... Then you tease the bag up/down using the tag line, so it eventually falls the way you want, back to the ground, creating the "toproping" line through the canopy that is safest and best for your ascent. Then, as you pull the tag line, eventually the climbing line follows up, because it is tied, and voila, you have a climbing line set up 75 feet high without having to lead.
Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25
Russ Keane wrote:"how'd he get the anchor up there in the first place?" You use a skinny tag line, with a heavy sac tied to one end (like a hackey sack) .... The other end is tied to your climbing rope... You use a slingshot device, or just swing between your legs.... and you launch the sack upwards, aiming at a nice fat junction as high as you can... Then you tease the bag up/down using the tag line, so it eventually falls the way you want, back to the ground, creating the "toproping" line through the canopy that is safest and best for your ascent. Then, as you pull the tag line, eventually the climbing line follows up, because it is tied, and voila, you have a climbing line set up 75 feet high without having to lead.
75'? That's really high to be throwing something up and over a the branch you want without getting your weight or the line tangled up in other branches, forcing you to lead or solo to retrieve it. I've seen some clusterfucks ensue after people try that on 20-30' branches. Just lead it, it's way less of a headache.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Yeah, I don't know why you wouldn't just lead. I guess the main concern would be smacking branches on your way down, but a slung branch should hold. Good call about the Cambium savers, though.

Aleks Zebastian · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 175
Ted Pinson wrote:Hey everyone, So I should start by pointing out that I live in Chicago. We Chicago climbers get pretty desperate when home bound and not able to make the 2 hr minimum (3 for good) drive for real rock, and start to come up with some pretty silly ways of scratching the itch (buildering, retaining walls, etc). One thing that I've always been tempted to do is to climb some of the many trees in the park nearby, some of which get to be a bit too high to solo. I've looked into arborism but it seems to be too aid-focused and dependent on specialty gear, so I was contemplating what it would take to cleanly free climb a big tree. My thought was to just carry a bunch of long slings and hitch horizontal/constricting limbs in lead. Obviously, the usual rules for natural anchors apply (liveliness, girth), but I think it could be done safely. Has anyone actually tried this? I remember seeing a video of Chris Sharma climbing a giant tree a few years ago, but I seem to recall that being a rope-solo setup.
climbing friend,

Perhaps you are inventing new grading system for tree ascensions, such as the T-scale, for bold T16 flash. Also, be careful about judging other on "liveliness, girth," less you be judged your own self.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Haha. Fair point. There is a decent range of difficulty, and a lot of untapped potential there. I've found jugs, slopers, and even cracks that can be used, along with the usual tufa-like pinches. Trees can overhang, slab, and have a variety of features depending on the species and bark character...maybe we should invent a T system. ;)

Clint White aka Faulted Geologist · · Lawrence, KS · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 158

I cut down a 60' gum ball tree a few years ago using a handsaw. Starting with the lowest branches I would sling a branch near the trunk and cut it a couple feet from the trunk. Near the end of this six hour ordeal I had exhausted both left and right arms and had to use core to finish the last limbs.

My wife still uses my now famous quote of IT WILL ONLY TAKE AN HOUR any time I come up with a new project. I bought an electric chainsaw to chop the branches up and suffered for a few days in recovery.

As for a workout, you get scratched up from bark in just climbing trees, and it isnt like climbing intensity. Maybe 5.4 with big transitions.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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